The European Union plays a doubly important role in the region often referred to today as the Western Balkans. On the one hand, along with American diplomacy, it has played, and continues to play, a pacifying role in conflicts. After several unsuccessful attempts to stop war and massacres in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, the EU succeeded fairly quickly in ending inter-ethnic warfare in North Macedonia (then called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), imposing in 2001 a political solution, and it managed to prevent conflict in Montenegro through mediation for a bilateral independence referendum agreed between Podgorica and Belgrade in 2006. Currently, Brussels continues to sponsor and promote negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo to normalize relations between the two countries. In addition, it maintains an active role in resolving high-intensity internal political tensions, as in Albania between the government and opposition parties.
Another relevant and even crucial aspect of the EU in the Western Balkans resides in the power of attraction that it exercises in each country in the region through the prospect of becoming a member of the European political family. At the same time, Brussels tries to use this power in its attempts at mediation and conflict resolution. This perspective is embedded even in the name currently used for the region: significantly, this name, “Western Balkans”, became official only after Romania and Bulgaria were admitted as members of the EU in 2007. Previously, and more and more frequently, it was called “South Eastern Europe”, avoiding the term “Balkans”, which carries strong negative connotations. Now, the “Balkans” has returned, but with the counterweight of the qualifier “Western”, which refers to the supposed destiny of the region. It is nothing but the identification between nomina and res, due to the mechanisms of the unconscious: symbolism will always be important in politics. However, to a large extent, the appeal of becoming an EU member state no longer corresponds to the same motives as at the time of the collapse of communism, to the great dream of being part of the free Western world. Presently, membership in the EU means economic support, for most of the people in the region and, consequently, for the governors and would-be governors. Material wellbeing is of course a good in itself, and socio-economic problems are largely acute in all our countries. However, are we satisfied with the degree of freedom that we have achieved?
Usually included among the many challenges related to achieving the degree of freedom that exists in the EU, and more precisely in the western part of the EU, are governance, rule of law, corruption and the fight against it, i.e. problems in the construction of that which some call “functional democracy”. Here we would highlight the lack of a public sphere independent from the state, in other words civil society. When there is a large gap between the private sphere and the state, then everything that does not belong to the private sphere is considered to belong to the state. And in our region the state is either viewed with distrust as a parasite, or idealized as the potential crowning glory of ethno-nationalist aspirations, or both at once, mixed in different ways. In these conditions, with this prevailing mentality, the common good is either seen as the good of no one, or rather as a pretext for corruption and theft by politicians, or it is seen in the form of an abstract ethno-national ideal that annuls the real members of the nation and that is fully compatible with corrupt behavior. However, the pursuit of the common good is conditioned precisely by the existence of civil society, as a public sphere independent of the state, and vice versa, is a condition for the vitality of civil society, such as the deontological quality of media, social activism, etc. It is no coincidence that the most powerful social movement in Europe after World War II was called “Solidarity”. It shook the foundations of a decades-long dictatorship in half the continent. Meanwhile, in post-communism, without an active and strong civil society, which constantly reclaims the expansion of rights and freedoms, it can be difficult to con-solidate the foundations of democracy, of a state accountable to free citizens.