20 June 1996 - 22 June 1996

The Prospects for Democracy in the Balkans

Chair: The Hon John Brademas

The gunfire and the pain of the collapse of Yugoslavia had echoed through several of our conferences in the past four years, with emphasis on anxious concern that the chaos and the killing should end. For this weekend we turned our focus towards what could be done more positively to exploit breathing-spaces won or imposed, and to encourage and entrench healthy democracy and civil society across the region as a whole.

Definition, both verbal and territorial, tested us initially. Some though not all of us preferred “South-East Europe” to “the Balkans”, as carrying less historical deadweight and pointing towards the future’s best hope; and we knew that for one or two countries such as Croatia “Balkan” classification was a contentious issue. But the general scope and character of the region was evident, as was its inheritance of being perceived too often as a cockpit - a stage for the contentious rivalries of others. We reminded ourselves constantly that if the region was to prosper, policies and outlooks must increasingly be home-grown and responsibility-fostering, not externally imposed (however benign the intent). We recalled, too, that there was far more to the region’s importance than the Yugoslavian calamity, and that other parts - where minorities mostly bulked less indigestibly large than in ex-Yugoslavia - could show both encouraging success stories and admirable traditions of tolerant democracy sustained or resurgent.

There was however no escaping the fact that inter-ethnic or inter-religious divisions marked much of the region, and that legacies such as those of Communism had in many places created conditions in which pluralist democracy and the rule of law, slow-maturing plants at best, could not easily flourish, especially given that seasoned political leaders often came from authoritarian backgrounds. In states where there were communities with a strong sense of minority identity state-wide elections were in themselves by no means a sufficient guarantee of true democratic health (as, it was hinted, United Kingdom experience in Northern Ireland might suggest). Elections were necessary legitimising events, and the risk of their highlighting differences and producing combative community champions was an inescapable reflection of reality; but we heard vigorous argument that purpose-built electoral systems of innovative kinds might be necessary in order to create electoral incentives towards cross-community reconciliation and against narrowly-extremist appeal.

The special case of Bosnia - a severe and in some ways salutary warning to the rest of the region - brought out the difficulties (which in turn raised awkward questions about election timings) of conducting effective democratic business and escaping from strident nationalism in circumstances where the individual’s prime concern for safe living in reasonable freedom for himself and his family was not securely met. In such conditions authoritarian or demagogic leaders could too easily overbear opposition - including moderates within their own community - by nationalist invocations which deepened divisions and nourished hatreds.

Several of us were gloomy about whether, in Bosnia, any solution could now genuinely take hold that did not involve (as, sadly, in Cyprus) greater geographical segregation of the communities - the scars were perhaps too vivid, the fears too strong and the recent taste of independence (however threadbare) too addictive for “interwoven” structures to endure. Even if that were so in this acute instance, however, we regarded it as profoundly important that the region should find and implant working models of pluralism, giving minorities a firm sense of a stake in the state - a sense of double membership, as in the United States and Austria. We recognised that this could raise complex questions, though we did not plumb them, of whether or not individual rights needed a complement of explicit collective rights. And we acknowledged briefly that Kosovo - with its tense combination of massive Albanian majority and special religious significance for Orthodox Serbs - still looked intractable.

We were however convinced that successful pluralism was utterly essential if the Pandora’s Box of re-drawing state boundaries was to stay shut (and in any event there were parts of the region where ethnic intermingling went so deep that no amount of re-drawing could create neat homogeneity). There remained in some places a pernicious feeling that perhaps boundaries were not immutable. Particular dangers of this arose when, as was often though not always so, there was a contiguous state seen by a minority (or by itself) as having something of a protector’s droit de regard. This might pose a double risk - irredentism among the minority, and a perception (or demagogic portrayal) among the majority of “fifth-column” danger, legitimising the denial to the minority of full civic participation. Moreover, unless secession were accepted as being out of the question the use of constitutional devolution and decentralisation as one means of meeting minority concern could too easily be feared by the majority (and provocatively welcomed by the minority) as a move down a slippery slope towards a separatist end-point. We were reminded in this regard that the history of Yugoslavia was scarcely perceived as recommending federalist solutions; and that the dependable implementation of individual human rights amid inter-communal pressures might well need (as history in the United States and elsewhere suggested) strong central authority.

Our discussion of the significance of religion in the region’s political problems and structures noted several strands. Its intrinsic influence, following decades of Communist-driven marginalisation, might be overrated, but it was sometimes a powerful tribal marker, manipulated (often by the irreligious) for divisive political aims. Many clerics - especially at grass-roots level, where quality was uneven - had contributed more to the fostering of grievance-history and threat-perception than to reconciliation in charity; and both Islam and the Orthodox tradition within the region had, in different ways, an underlying sense of beleaguerment that was by no means always groundless. Nevertheless, there were significant voices for moderation and understanding both within and between religious groups, and we believed that their influence was growing. It was highly desirable that they should be further encouraged to give a constructive lead against the tribal-badge temptations.

We recognised the special difficulties of handling the region’s history, both recent and more remote. Communities had powerful myths, often perpetuated in their education. As in other societies like South Africa struggling to break free from a scarred inheritance, acutely difficult issues also arose about whether to pursue or to forgive the past. Reconciliation, we knew, needed a component of justice and of confronting truth, but a relentless pursuit of all past wrong (especially where no community was guiltless) could corrode cooperation, divert energy and keep hatreds alive. We wondered whether more could be done, for example through cooperative effort in schools and universities, to broaden awareness of “other” understandings of the past; if the presentation of history could not be fully harmonised, perhaps it could at least be de-toxified.

Most of us doubted whether external security need be a major regional preoccupation. Concern was voiced about any alliances that might appear to revive balance-of-power manoeuvrings within the region. For several countries the preferred course would be full membership of NATO; for a mix of reasons that could mostly be no more than a distant prospect, but Partnership For Peace had useful dividends to offer meanwhile, not least in dialogue between armed forces.

The more important context for regional aspiration was however membership of the European Union - again not an early prospect, but the most positive one, and sometimes perhaps the most powerful lever of constructive Western influence. We wondered whether outside influence - which, we hoped, was progressively becoming better-informed and more sensitive to regional realities - might exploit the potential of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe more fully, but we were warned against overloading that still-modest institution. We debated inconclusively the awkward test posed to external actors by recent Albanian elections which plainly fell short of proper standards of legitimacy; the character, wisdom and likely efficacy of corrective sanctions were not easy to assess, but several participants expressed grave concern about precedent and repercussion if so plain a defiance of democratic norms were let pass.

Time prevented our doing justice to economic aspects of our theme, for all that we knew progress in this regard to be essential if individual citizens were to feel themselves as having a true stake in the flourishing of their state. The region had great potential in several directions; but it must be able to offer stability to outside investment, and that required dependable commercial law, efficient banking systems, sensible regulatory frameworks and the successful curbing of corruption. Conditions in these respects varied widely across the region, but much of it was still engaged on a difficult transition from the very different environment of Communism.

We touched, albeit too briefly, upon the significance - for the moment perhaps largely latent - of Russian approaches to the region, and upon the importance of Turkey’s involvement and concerns, both because of the Ottoman past and for a complex of contemporary reasons. In another dimension, we recalled the long-term value of a flourishing non-governmental sector, especially where it could be given a form crossing the boundaries of states and of ethnic consciousness.

The fostering of such activity was one of several respects in which our debate saw particular interest and opportunity in the possible establishment of a Centre for Democracy - an idea which had already begun to emerge from recent conferences in Thessaloniki and New York. Several participants believed that a new institution of this kind - privately funded, Balkans-wide and (most importantly) genuinely inspired and run not externally but from within the region, perhaps with a base in Thessaloniki - could play a valuable part in stimulating ideas, sharing experience, reinforcing cooperation and disseminating standards in the working of pluralist democracy and key supporting mechanisms such as the NGO sector, civic and historical education in schools and universities, and effective communication through independent media of good professional quality. The thrust of the concept was towards the role of clearing-house, networker and bridge-building facilitator rather than directly as policy-former or position-taker. It was not Ditchley’s role to arrive at decisions or formulate action on these ideas; but it seemed clear that within our debate they were found widely attractive.

This report reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference. No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.

Chairman: The Hon John Brademas
Chairman: National Endowment for Democracy; the American Ditchley Foundation


Mr Robin Barnett
Deputy Head, Eastern Adriatic Department, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Mr Christopher Cviic
Associate Fellow, European Programme, The Royal Institute of International Affairs
Dr Jonathan Eyal
Director of Studies, Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies
The Revd Canon Richard Marsh
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs
Dr Michael Pinto-Duschinsky
A Governor, Westminster Foundation for Democracy
Mr Francis Richards CMG CVO
Director (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Professor Adam Roberts
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, University of Oxford
Dr Tim Winnifrith
Author of “Shattered Eagles, Balkan Fragments” (1996)

HE Mr Sefan L Tafrov
Ambassador of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Court of St James

Dr Mihailo Cmobmja
Department of Political Studies, McGill University, Montreal; Member of Economic Planning, Republic of Serbia (1986-89); Ambassador of Yugoslavia to EC (1989-92)
Monsieur Gilles Landry
Director, Southern Europe Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Mr Don McCutchen
Principal, Emerging Markets International; formerly Director, European Bank for Research and Development
Mr Gerald Robinson QC
International lawyer, member, Election Appeals Sub-Commission, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Mr Ivo Škrabalo
Vice President, Liberal Party, and Shadow Foreign Minister, Republic of Croatia

Monsieur Gilles Andréani
Directeur, Centre d’Analyse et de Prévision, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères
Dr Jacques Rupnik
Director of Research, Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales

Dr Marie-Janine Calic
Senior Researcher, Stifung Wissenschaft und Politik, Ebenhausen
Ambassador Dr Hansjörg Eiff
Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to the OSCE

Mr Costa Carras
Historian; businessman
Mr Nikos Efthymiadis
President & Managing Director K & N Efthymiadis SA
Mrs Ekaterini Tzitzikosta
President, Association of Interbalkan Womens Cooperation Societies

Mr Ion Pascu
Minister-Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of Romania, London

HE Ambassador Antonio Pedauyé
Ambassador at large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Madrid

Mr Cengiz Candar
Columnist, SABAH (daily newspaper), Istanbul

Mr Charles M Bauccio
Senior Executive Vice-President, Chase Manhattan Bank NA, London
HE The Hon Clay Constantinou
United States Ambassador to Luxembourg
The Hon James G Lowenstein
Senior Elections Adviser to Head of OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina (1996)
Ms Audrey McInerney
Special Assistant to the Chairman, National Endowment for Democracy
The Hon Matthew Nimetz
Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, New York
The Hon John Shattuck
Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Department of State
Ms Laura Silber
Balkans Correspondent, The. Financial Times
The Hon Monteagle Steams
United States Ambassador to Greece (1976-78)

Professor Kalypso Nicolaidis
Assistant Professor, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.