An exclusive interview for ISSDMacedonia with professor Alon Ben- Meir. We talked about a lot of hot issues starting from the Balkan affairs, world power competition, EU integration, democratic transformation, corruption and border changes. Interviwed by Selim Ibraimi from the ISSDMacedonia.
- First, it is important to remember that the Balkan states have no traditional form of democracy; certainly not under the Ottomans nor under the communist regimes in Yugoslavia.
- The US and the EU’s encouragement and support is and will be extremely important, but the governments themselves must do more.
- Unfortunately, the Balkans have not overcome as yet territorial disputes; the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo offers only one example.
- Since the future of the Balkans states, as I said rest on integration with the EU, the Balkan government should remain true to the national objective and in so doing they be in a stronger position to lessen other foreign powers’ influence while advancing toward integration.
- Serbia should maintain some distance from Russia if it really wishes to end the conflict with Kosovo.
ISSDM: Professor Meir, how do you assess the situation in the Balkans, especially after the colonial world of the Ottoman Empire and Communism in the context of the today’s democratic transformations supported by the US and the EU?
Alon Ben-Meir: First, it is important to remember that the Balkan states have no traditional form of democracy; certainly not under the Ottomans nor under the communist regimes in Yugoslavia. Even though today the Balkans are considered democratic, the transformation to a truly functioning democracy rests especially on free elections, full adherence to the rule of law, equality, human rights, free press, free judiciary, and of course, no corruption. Whereas all Balkan states have and continue to make efforts to meet these requirements, there is still some ways to go before they realize, more or less, those objectives. Certainly, the US and the EU’s encouragement and support is and will be extremely important, but the governments themselves must do more. Let me repeat though, the democratization process takes time, but the success depends largely on the governments’ commitment while taking corrective measures as needed to stay the course.
ISSDM: According to you, where the importance of post-colonial theory lies in interpreting the transformations in the Balkans?
Alon Ben-Meir: The conditions in these countries in the post-colonial period were not necessarily ripe for democracy. But the model of democracy the West has provided, coupled with the powerful desire of the public to be free under a democratic form of government, created the momentum necessary to seek a democratic form of government. One must keep in mind though, not all democracies are equal; the democratic process evolves and countries eventually settle on a democratic system that meets the public requirements, especially when the population consists of multiple ethnic and religious groups.
ISSDM: States that emerged from the former Yugoslav Federation, especially Serbia, Northern Macedonia, Bosnia and Kosovo have a high degree of corruption and a dysfunctional rule of law. What do you think in terms of the role of the governments in fighting the corruption and promoting stability and peace between ethnic groups?
Alon Ben-Meir: Obviously, corruption severely undermines the pillars on which democracy rest. The problem in some of the Balkan countries is that the government itself is corrupt, which makes it extremely difficult to eradicate it. The public must play a much greater role in combating corruption and use national elections to vote for those who are clean and are willing to fight corruption in any form. Needless to say, when a government is corrupt it often filters down to many public institutions, hence an uncorrupt government is central.
ISSDM: The Balkans has been a constant field for testing national ideologies and ethnic projects, do you think that the Balkan states have overcome territorial problems?
Alon Ben-Meir:Unfortunately, the Balkans have not overcome as yet territorial disputes; the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo offers only one example. The answer, however, to territorial disputes does not necessarily rest on ceding territory or even making territorial swaps. How to settle such conflicts depends on the special circumstances of the conflicting parties. In the case of Serbia and Kosovo, I happen to believe that given that their population is intermingled and fully established, territorial swaps or ceding some of Kosovo’s territory where there is a large Serbian community is not the answer. In this case, they should establish a political territorial line (on the map only) that separates the two countries, but allow for free movement of people and goods between the two sides. There are a variety of ways to deal with citizenship; the case of Northern Ireland could offer a beneficial example.
ISSDM: Turkey, Russia and China are completely in different roles compare with the US, how do you see the process of the enlargement of the EU towards the Balkans?
Alon Ben-Meir: I believe that the future of the Balkan states rests with Western Europe. I maintain that the EU should accelerate the process of integration, which would achieve two critical things: a) the Balkan states will have a greater incentive to undertake social, political, and economic reforms that the EU requires as a precondition for integration; and b) it would help the Balkan states withstand the pressure coming from Russia, China, and Turkey, all of whom want to establish a greater presence in the Balkans and exert undue influence.
ISSDM: Where do you see the Balkans in 21 century?
Alon Ben-Meir: This is a tall order. Many developments can come into play that could change the geopolitical dynamic to the advantage or disadvantage of the Balkans. One thing however should be kept in mind. Since the future of the Balkans states, as I said rest on integration with the EU, the Balkan government should remain true to the national objective and in so doing they be in a stronger position to lessen other foreign powers’ influence while advancing toward integration.
ISSDM: Can the Trump administration succeed on normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia with the project of land swap or the partition of Kosovo?
Alon Ben -Meir: I am sorry to say that given the political domestic turmoil in the US, I do not believe that the Trump administration is in a position to take any major initiative. Trump may be impeached soon, but then once the dust settles, the US will be in a much better position to articulate foreign policy, which is really lacking at this juncture. American efforts to mediate between Serbia and Kosovo will then be more likely, albeit I happen to believe that the EU is better positioned to find a solution. That said, Serbia should maintain some distance from Russia if it really wishes to end the conflict with Kosovo.
(Selim Ibraimi, ISSDMaqedonia-@CSSDMacedonia)
*Dr. Alon Ben Meir is a professor and Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Ben-Meir is an expert on Middle East politics and affairs, specializing in international negotiations and conflict resolution. In the past two decades, Ben-Meir has been directly involved in various negotiations between Israel and its neighboring countries and Turkey.
Ben-Meir hosts “Global Leaders: Conversations with Alon Ben-Meir,” a speaking series of debates and conversations with top policy-makers from around the world held each semester at NYU. He also regularly briefs at the U.S. State Department for the International Visitors Program. He writes a weekly article that appears in scores of newspapers, magazines and websites including the Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post, Middle East Times, Times of Israel, Epoch Times, the Political Quarterly, the Harvard Review, and many other publications in Arabic and English.
He has been featured on networks such as ABC, Al Jazeera (English and Arabic), Al Arabiya, al Hurrah, CNN, Russia Today and NBC. He has authored seven books related to Middle East and is currently working on a new book about the psychological dimension of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dr. Ben-Meir holds a master’s degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. (www.alonben-meir.com)