The Balkan peninsula has always, throughout history, had a special place. That is why maintaining security and brining contemporary values in life is very important! But every topic is still very sensitive in the Balkans – particularly with regard to human rights. When we say “human rights” we mostly understand “protecting the individual against the public and the state”.
This is a term important for all democracies, because the preservation of human rights indicates that that country has democracy and maintains the rule of law. But the US State Department’s annual report on human rights applications points to many countries in the Balkans being unable to reach sufficiency in human rights. The police continue to be seen as an element of fear in most Balkan countries.
While the young democracies of the Balkan Peninsula attempt to unite with the Western world on the one hand, they are struggling on the other to improve those human rights that would strengthen their system. It is very difficult to say that freedom of the press is “absolute” in most Balkan countries. And unfortunately mistreatment and corruption are not exceptions. As demand increases around the world for greater freedoms, Balkan prisons are becoming all the more crowded.
The absence of an organised society and the continued prevention of developing one are both identified as a common direction for Balkan countries. From the world’s perspective – especially in terms of global and regional systems – the protection and support of young democracies is a priority issue. But in Balkan countries, where the generation that witnessed the bloody process of Yugoslavia’s disintegration is now in power, there is a problem of hate. The events of recent history, the difficulties of economic conditions and tension regional relations makes it difficult for these countries to define human rights as a priority.
The hate-filled remarks of politicians and their attempts to garner support through such statements are factors that direct their public in a negative direction. The US State Department report – the sufficiency of which could be a separate matter for discussion – says that Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia “generally” show respect for human rights. But human rights is something that gains respect not generally, but when it is enforced continuously.
The US State Department’s report says that there were some positive signals from Romania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but that the problems were continuing. For instance, in terms of prisons, it says that the only country “believed to be in accordance with international standards” is Kosovo. As Balkan countries advance along the path towards becoming developed democracies, they are naturally encountering certain difficulties. Balkan countries need to make the necessary legal arrangements on the one hand and effectively implement these on the other.
Balkan countries have some serious deficiencies when it comes to the freedom of press element of human rights. Freedom of speech and freedom of newsgathering is under the political, economic, trade and ideological pressure of current administrations. This is a place where corruption is widespread and a time when attacks against the press are on the rise. The incentives of full EU membership or inclusion in the EU’s neighbouring countries policy are not generating the expected level of excitement among countries in the region.
The political and economic conditions, which are as about as hard as the climatic conditions in most countries, deter the ruling and opposition parties from making long-term plans. This situation is at such a concerning state that, in spite of Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU in 2007, the EU commission is still monitoring the two countries in their “judicial reform” and “combating corruption” processes. This tragic situation is doubly so when we consider that EU politicians say that candidate countries will only be admitted to the Union when they are fully prepared for it.
The US State Department says that Romania is “ineffective” in the battle against corruption and that Bulgaria is “insufficient” in bringing those responsible to court. Seeing as democracy means “responsibility more than rights” and “equality at the minimum”, it is the hardest regime to develop and protect. For this reason, when we consider that even little Macedonia is criticised frequently for its violence, electoral fraud and elections that do not meet standards, the difficulty of the situation can be better understood.
As the United States said in its report, these young democracies are struggling to meet their international obligations. Expectations have yet to be met regarding the preservation of disabled, women, minority and children’s rights. It is difficult to see either the EU or the United States’ expectations for a “full” and “developed” democracy in each of the Balkan countries as conceivable, because however much these countries might try to be quick, they have not yet reached that level of maturity.
The break-up of Yugoslavia, the subsequent wars, the enforced peace and unfulfilled peacetime expectations have made it difficult for Balkan peoples to trust. For many people today, someone coming from another religion or nation is still not one of good connotations. The “lowered threat perception level” dominant in the Balkans covers foreigners as much as it does those who are “different”. In this region where poverty exists and is on the rise, human rights face a great difficulty in developing.
People need bread more than they need rights. For example, from the point of view of a child who needs to work to contribute to the family budget and his family, education in the mother tongue and the quality of that education is not important. As unemployment, lack of employment, lowered living standards and security concerns continue, waiting for reforms on human rights and the judiciary seems a little off the mark.
There is not a single poor country among those countries where human rights, minority rights, an organised society, an open society and full democracy has developed and continues to function. For this reason, it is important to be realistic regarding the steps that might be taken and implemented by administrations based on sensitive ethnic balances and regional tensions.
It is vital that Balkan countries acquire healthy democracies. The supremacy of law and human rights are needed to achieve this. But to artificially induce in order to speed this birth in Balkan countries will only worsen the pains of labour.