Europe’s destructive influence in Croatia and the Balkans By Rüdiger Rossig Many Europeans might subscribe to the following view: “We have been opposing nationalism, promoting democracy and helping build open societies in former Yugoslavia for 20 years – but the people there are still as nationalistic, authoritarian and prejudiced as they were in 1991. Even in Croatia, which has just become a member of the European Union, public discourse is still often xenophobic and hostile to European values such as the market economy, rule of law and minority rights – despite all our efforts.”
It is true the West has done a lot to help ex-Yugoslavia since the wars of the 1990s. International and European politicians have vocally opposed nationalism msince they first intervened in the Balkans. But foreign organizations, including the EU, have aided the local nationalist elites on various levels. On the symbolic side, they have demonstrated false tolerance toward the division of Serbocroat, former Yugoslavia’s biggest language, into Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian, by acceding to nationalist requests to translate every piece of paper into each of those regional variations – therefore giving them full language status.
Structurally, the international community, including the EU, has given leading ex-Yugoslav politicians the material means to strengthen their parties and associations by financing pseudo-democratic elections and institutions dominated by nationalists – helping to prevent the development of alternative, non-national political players, and by pressing non-nationalist organizations into the nationalist discourse.
Economically, European companies in the ex-Yugoslav markets have not changed the authoritarian, chauvinistic culture within the firms they dominate. Media enterprises from Western Europe have not only retained the editorial politics of media they bought – but treat journalists there in a fashion they could never treat any employee back in their country of origin.
International organizations, European institutions and Western firms have partly worked against the nationalist forces in ex-Yugoslavia and Croatia – but at the same time strengthened their ideology, fattened their structures and, as collateral damage of their behavior as investors, undermined the hopes many citizens of the West Balkan states placed in words like “democracy,” “market economy,” or “open society.”