The future of Europe: dismantle populism

This evening I attended the most interesting event host by Open Society at the Hub Brussels, aimed at launching Counterpoint‘s report on the spread of populism throughout Europe.

I am still eager to go through the whole study, but screening it with studious frenzy and after having listened to the discussion in the Hub, I can say that the work is worth to be analysed in detail. Briefly, the report aims at underlining some of the causes of the rise of populist, xenophobic nationalists parties in Europe, focusing of the French, Dutch and Finnish cases. Apart from a detailed statistical analysis, it also provides some valuable policy suggestions, claiming that a majority of populist voters are in fact “reluctant radicals” attracted by populist parties for very different reasons, which derives from common identifiable causes: lack of education in primis.

Populism: a matter of education

The discussion over the findings of the report, however, spread far beyond the geographical and thematic boundaries of the reports itself, touching the very essence of the crisis of democracy we are all experiencing nowadays in Europe. I have to say that I found myself pretty in live with the point made by Prof. René Cuperos . e basically affirmed that the “stigmatisation” of far right/populist/xenophobic parties is useless and dangerous, given that the rise of those parties is linked – not to say caused – by the failing mainstream political parties, which suicided politics in the last two decades. Descending to a more practical level of discussion, European political elites belonging to the so called “mass parties” did not managed to retain contact with the voters; instead they detached themselves more and more, failing in manage the (inevitable) changing process Europe and the concept of European democracy in a globalised world. In the very end, European political elites are failing in managing transition, change: populists parties are therefore legitimate claims of part of the populace, the one more affected by globalisation, by a knowledge-driven economy, by immigration.

While listening to those valuable contributions, I could not refrain from thinking at the Balkans and at their European path. In the last chapter of my manuscript (which will hopefully published soon), I have “unleashed” my critical vision of the European Union, affirming that the halt of the enlargement process shows all the limits of a cracked European identity: our leaders did not nurtured the European ideals enough to make them root within our democratic system. The greediness of local and personalistic interest harmed the Union more than anything else, including the economic crisis. In more than 50 years of “life together”, EU Member States are still not enjoying all the EU instruments at their best. This lack of committment, the general lack of knowledge of the EU is due to the narrow-mindness of most European politicians, which de facto halted the development of an European identity. That is why, I believe, we are still talking about populist movement in Europe. That is also why EU Member States national policies are driving the Balkans towards suicide foreign policy trajectories, like the one Nikolic is taking towards Russia.

The big question, however, remains: how to manage change? How to manage fear derived from change? I cannot provide an answer at this moment, mostly because, regarding this particular topic, I am the objective of my own research.

Curiously, though, I find myself more comfortablein discussing the future of Europe from the Balkan perspective than from the Italian one.

“Kill a Đurđe, save a lamb”: Serbian politics in need for new ideas

The international community of journalist engaged in the Balkans analysed next Serbian elections with wealth of details. As you will read soon, I lack of such zeal. I also lack of interest for political bargain, thus I believe it is useless to discuss “political programmes” brought up by the various candidates. Partially endorsing Radio Free Europe perspective on the issue, I shall, however, express my opinion, starting from congratulating with Boris Tadić.

Psychologists played a far more important role in Balkan politics than other professional guild. Radovan Karađić was a psychologist, enough said. Philosophers might have played a more important role, but their representative did not have enough time…

Tadić managed to interpret Serbian society better than others; he was the mastermind behind the smart move resign so to force the organisation of presidential and parliamentary elections together; his politics of balance between the two “missions” of the country (EU and Kosovo) kept, somehow, internal stability.

Thus, is the Sarajevo-born psychologists likely to become, for the third time, the new Serbian President? Well, it does not seem so sure.

Last news from Serbia report the arrest of eight Albanians accused of war crimes, in the southern village of Bujanovac close to the South-Eastern administrative delimitation with Kosovo. The move shall be interpreted as a clear retaliation of Belgrade against Pristina, after the EULEX-Kosovar mixed judges-panel found Fatmir Limaj not guilty of ordering and conducting torture in a Kosovo camp in 1999. The case deeply moved Serbian society, which, of course, did not welcome the recent sentence.

Ivica Dačić, Minister of Interior until tonight seems the most suitable candidate to transform Limaj-look-alike social unrest’s causes in votes. His move against Pristina looks also like a last minute attempt to convince part of the electorate that a stronger, mode decisive Serbian government is needed in order to face the challenges posed by the international community.

Yes, dear reader, that is what we are talking about. The role played by the international community is extremely important in (last four…) Serbian elections. Sticking to current elections, foreign actors’ relevance is such that the only substantial difference between the programmes of the two forefront candidates (the aforementioned psychologist and the economist Nikolić) is the timeframe by which they embraced the EU Membership as the country’s mission. Tadić got they idea first, recently followed by the (once) more radical Nikolić.

Dačić’s position is quite different. Although he is expected to collect merely 12% of the ballots, he’s proving to be the candidate showing the closest contact with population, translating the belief of more than 50% of Serbians, willing to abandon the EU path so to embrace the one which leads to Moscow. As I analysed in my recent academic researches on the matter, EU-commissioned statistical findings depict Serbian society as averagely opposing the EU.

So, why Dačić is expected to hold the balance of power rather than compete for the presidency?
First of all the game is over when the game is over: I pay the due respect to political analysis, but I would not be surprised if Dačić would get more votes than expected.
A more comprehensive analysis of the issue would take in consideration also the widespread status of drowsiness, insensitiveness of Serbian electors.

The real news, in fact, will be the grand total of Serbian voters. Data related to citizen trust in politicians dropped dramatically in the last years. The collimation of the two biggest parties’ policy watered the level of political confrontation, leaving the rhetorical arena to “extremists” (both nationalist and of course liberals, which, in my understanding of Serbian politics, remain an extreme group).

As Florian Bieber smartly wrote, these elections will be everything but historical. Is this a step forward the normalisation of Serbian political life, including the abandonment of XIX century rhetoric? I do not think so.

Be that as it may, I believe that todays biggest event for many Serbs remains Đurđevdan. I have bought some lamb myself, although there is no Spring to celebrate in Brussels…

Saint George Statue in Upper Zagreb is the only one in the Balkans which depicts the famous saint while praying over the freshly dead body of the enemy dragon. A rare example of pity and respect.