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.

Kosovar journalist defines Kosovo as the first non-State failed State.

Subheading: and he does not realise it.

Yesterday, EuObserver published an article written by the Kosovar journalist Ekrem Krasniqi. I strongly recommend you, dear reader, to have a look at that article and, if you do not faint because of the,  somehow intoxicating use of the modal verb “shall”, I beg you to come back to this blog and read what I have to say on the matter.

Welcome back.

One can be disturbed by Krasniqi’s article for many reasons: some could be Serbian nationalists, and therefore angry at a Kosovar journalist by default; some could disagree with his vision of the EU as a weak political actor; some might simply hate his writing “style”.

However, the reason why I utterly despise the article is the idea it carries, the image Krasniqi gives of the Kosovar government, scoring the clumsiest, goofiest auto-goal ever against Kosovo. I humbly deplore his article because he brutally demonstrates that my criticism of EU’s enlargement and neighboring policy towards the Balkans might have theoretically solid base, but it has to face the abrupt reality of ignorance and political idiocy of Balkan ruling class. And apparently, also of Balkan media.

I am pretty sure, dear reader, that if you ended up reading this blog you are somehow accustomed with the concept of acquis communautaire, the pantagruelic sum of norms derived from EU’s legal production, with which every candidate country has to comply before joining the club.

Lately, in my MA thesis which hopefully will be published soon, I compare EU enlargement with the theoretical backbone of colonisation: the “standard of civilisation“. I am not alone in criticising the very core of the acquis: in 2003 Silva and Sampson theorised that the acquis communautaire can be defined as the 21st century genealogy of new colonial paradigm within the EU borders. Why?

The concept of standard of civilisation originates from the early theories of international law. Prerequisites to be considered a State were (and still are) effective control over certain territory and legitimate rule over a populace subject to the State control. But those prerequisites were not enough to define entities worth to be considered as equals by the European powers. The standard of civilisation can be described as the law of those nations which are “civilised”, as opposed to “non-civilised barbarian tribes”:

“One can define a “law” or “standard of civilization” as an expression of the assumptions, tacit and explicit, used to distinguish those that belong to a particular society from those that do not. By definition, “hose who fulfill the requirements of a particular society’s standard of civilization are brought inside its circle of ‘civilized’ members, while those who do not so conform are left outside as ‘not civilized’ or possibly ‘uncivilized’.”

(Silva & Sampson, 2003).

Therefore, standard of civilisation had three major functions.
First, it has been used as a legal framework, as a principle of international law dividing the world in three major categories: civilised countries, semi-civilised countries and barbarians. This division reflects the need of modern European powers for reliable and equal partners in the colonies. Civilised and semi-civilised countries were considered as such in case they could bear the burden of reciprocity with European countries, in terms of rights, obligations and expectations of the political interaction.
Therefore, the second implicit function of the standard of civilisation is to it sort among different territories and cultures, legitimizing the European colonisation over certain territories rather than others, basing such legitimisation on the level of civilisation encountered. The “white man’s burden” and its French version “mission civilisatrice” were internationally applied by the Berling Congress and were further used by the League of Nations in order to legitimise the protectorate, an international law instrument to perpetrate colonialism.
Thirdly, the standard of civilisation became an hegemonic idea. No relations between European and non-European countries could take place without the compliance of the latter with the European standards.

Now, doesn’t it look like EU’s enlargement strategy? No? Substitute the words “standard of civilisation” with “acquis communautarie“, “civilisation” with “European identity” and the game is pretty done. Therefore, one might say that the enlargement process is in fact a revised version of the French “acquis colonial”, i.e. an attempt to “civilise” barbarian, philistine, inferior cultures and elevate them at the European level. One might also say that this is what is happening right now in Serbia, or in Montenegro, or, even more, in Kosovo, where the “mission civilisatrice” has a clear name and an international mandate: EULEX.

Bismark dividing Africa: will we experience Merkel ruling Kosovo?Image: Congo Conference, Berlin, 15 Novmember 1884 to 26 February 1885, “Everyone gets his share”, French caricature; wood engraving from “L’Illustration”, 1885/I.

Of course, it is not that easy. I have discussed these theories in my MA thesis, describing the current enlargement process and providing a solid theoretical base to each and every word posted on this article. My point is not to demonstrate that the EU is in fact colonising the Balkans. I am rather trying to stimulate a critical thinking over the way certain EU’s policies are developed and put in place. So, now that I have ironically used the “lite version” of my MA thesis’ arguments as a crowbar to dis-embed your belief over the EU’s neighborhood policy, it’s time to go back to the objective of this article: the Kosovar journalist’s proposals for a German restoration of Kosovo.

Let us assume that EU enlargement and neighborhood policy are in fact driven by neo-colonial practices. What Krasniqi is proposing in its article is a brutal, consensual taking over of Kosovo by German authorities, which shall in fact establish a real State over a territory which is now in the lap of the gods (and therefore, as Krasniqi describes it, it is not a State…). The Kosovar journalist foresees a better future for Kosovo and for the whole region if the Germans would export their education system, their political system, their economic system (and I guess he didn’t went further just for editorial reasons…), on the base of 20-years long contract.
To my eyes, in the light of the previous part of this article, Krasniqi’s proposal looks like the African/Indian/Asian/you name it local chieftain requesting the support of the East India Company. Quoting from Krasniqi: “Germany should install its experts in key Kosovo government departments” as, for example, the UK did in India, Iran, Burma, or as France did in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, or as Germany and later Belgium did in Congo, or as other European powers did in countless other political entities scattered on the globe, disappeared because of the colonial era.

To use modern terminology, Krasniqi implicitly defines Kosovo as a non-State failed State: Kosovo declared its independence, but apparently it is not able to enforce it and therefore it is not a State; however, Kosovo represents a threat to the security and stability of the whole region because of its failed government, its criminal economy and its bad relationships with neighbors, making it a look alike to a failed State.
Amazing. This goes beyond the wildest dream of the craziest CIA political analyst.

I find Krasniqi’s proposal simply ridiculous. It is in fact so ridiculous that I am seriously challenged to consider it is a badly made attempt to criticise the Kosovar government and the international community (which is responsible for the current situation in the Balkans, as Krasniqi rightfully reports). If it is not a boutade, and if there are people in Kosovo which would agree with such a proposal, I believe that most probably what they deserve is indeed a neo-colonialist regime, at the edge of Europe, in the 21st century, over a territory which experienced war, perpetual instability and a fake 5-years freedom.

Maybe it is true, as Santayana says, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Apparently Kosovar journalists and politicians should go back to school.

“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.

From your own correspondent: time for change

Dear All,

Thank you very much for have followed my (mis)adventures linked to the research for my MA Thesis.

As Abruzzo traditions impose, I have celebrated properly the successful defense of the thesis, which granted me the highest mark: 110/110 cum laude.

This would not have been possible without the support of many professionals, professors and friends who supported me morally. academically, financially and emotionally until the moment I walked the stairs of Gorizia University’s aula magna.

Apart from drinking and eating and dancing, I have also continued my personal researches, trying to follow the possible future outcome of next Serbian elections. My opinion will be out in few days.

Overall, I can confirm that writing my MA thesis resulted in the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had. I said “confirm” because I had the same impression while writing my BA thesis on Montenegro independence. Thus, after attentive scientific experiments, I can corroborate my previous theory with fresh, brand new findings.

Some of you might be interested in the non-emotional, less introversive findings of my MA thesis. Fair. Let me thank you in advance for such curiosity.
As a matter of fact, the outcome of my research might be published soon by a Serbian institution. I will keep you posted. However, from time to time, I will make sure that a selection of arguments exposed in my thesis will be published on this blog, in a brand new section.

So, what’s next?

My eagerness to keep researching will not be stopped by the lack of perspective in the academia, nor for the objective difficulties our generation has to face when it comes to “finding a job”.

It is clear though (as demonstrate by my recent inactivity… I beg your pardon), that the time I will be able to devote to such research can be effected by the weight/mass of my wallet, by the emptiness of my fridge and related emptiness of my stomach. I am not trying to touch you, to make you feel pity for me: personally I don’t like easy challenges. What I really mean is: unite we stand, divided we fall. The Bridge opens its doors to any international relations expert, anthropology aficionado, international law student, European law critics willing to share clever discussions, sleepless writing nights and vivid debates on the topics of this website. The objective is simple: as a very good friend of mine uses to say: “life’s too short to read bad books or stupid news!”, ergo  the goal is to provide impartial, alternative, high-quality commentaries on issues afflicting the Balkans, Europe and their relationship. Honestly, many write about these topics, but very few provide something more than a placid re-interpretation of facts. Apart from “imaginative” ultra-nationalists, of course…

For this reason, I am announcing you that The Bridge is changing. both graphically and content-wise.

I hope that you will keep staying connected to us.
I also hope that many more  of you will actively join, walking a mile with us, on The Bridge.

From your correspondent… Eating in Novi Sad (with no money and lot of sarcasm)

I’m in one of the few Novi Sad cafes where the smoke curtain is rare enough to allow me to see the screen of my computer.

Cheap music on air, cheapest images on the screen (MTV Serbia, I never experienced anything cheaper…).

The waiters are making the place ready for the vibrant Novisadist saturday night. Light down (even if it’s just 20.00…), cheapest music (if possible) pumping out from the speakers. But the connection’s good, so the coffee. I shall stay.

As I twitted few days ago, culinary speaking Novi Sad has much to offer.
My student wallet is just too small to allow me to taste every single Fruska Gora wine, or to take a sip of the infinite varieties of rakija I’ve encountered, or eat every delicious meal prepared in local restaurants.
I shall rather describe how to spend your money wisely, eating in Novi Sad.

Going at one of the local markets (close to the Ribar, the former fishermen neighborhood, or along Jevrejska) is not only a tasteful experience, but also an healthy chance to feed yourself without drying out your pockets. Don’t worry you, agoraphobic, distressful, frightened Western reader! At the market people is just not used to fool you (unlike tourist restaurants…). Prices are displayed on the merchandise, which looks good and tastes even better.

Don’t waste your dinari eating low quality grilled meat in one of the thousand rostilj of the town. There is only one place, and one place only where you should taste a decent pljieskavica. Why you shall want a pljieskavica if you don’t even know what it is? I assume you wanna eat like a Novisadist. If you don’t want go to KFC and choke yourself with a chicken wing. Otherwise reach this hidden rostilj. The place, as far as I know, does not have a name, so forget to search it on your smartphone, even if you can enjoy free wi-fi pretty much everywhere. It is placed next to a cross road, in the pedestrian area of the town center, behind the cathedral, close to the funtain. The outer shutters are horribly red, as the neon sign on the wall, as the chicks of the “cook”, a skillful, tidy, meticulous cross-eyed girl on her mid twenties. The place is small and smelly, as every respectful rostilj. But it’s clean, as every respectful rostilj. Don’t waste time trying to interpret the menu written in cyrillic or asking the aforementioned cross-eyed girl for information in English: go for a gourmanska pljieskavica, with some kajmak on top. I would not order a gourmaska pljieskavica anywhere else. The idea os a gourmanska pljieskavica itself is disgusting: 250g of spiced Balkan minced meat made of local veal meat (originally the recipe was “imported” from Persia via Ottoman Empire), mixed with young white grated cheese. Well, actually our cross-eyed (did I underlined it too frequently?) cook grates the cheese, and mix the meet “live” for every gourmanska. No big chunks of half melted cheese. No other addictions. The cheese just melts in the already juicy meat, making it delicious. But once more: don’t dare to order a gourmanska anywhere else. As garniture, we already mentioned kajmak, which has to be put over the meat few seconds before the latter is ready, so to melt a bit on top. Kupus (white cabbage) is a must as well. As you probably noticed, we in the Balkans we do not really suggest; life’s just simpler when everything is black or white (please apply sarcasm). Don’t mess up this fine street food with ketchup or mayonnaise: most of the times they are too liquid not to be suspicious. Go instead for ajvar (sauce/salad made of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant roasted and blended), or pavlaka (as kajmak, it is not translatable… It vaguely more thick thank Greek yogurt, and less acid). Onions and tomatoes are always present in my plijeskavica as well (the concepts “the more the better” does not apply to most situations on earth, apart when it comes to the quantity of onions). You don’t drink while eating pljeaskavica. You have drunk rivers before, and you need some solid, comfortable, trustable food floating in your stomach and fill the gap evidently left open by alcohol.

If you wish to survive a week in Novi Sad, you shall also eat something more healthy. However I might comprehend that cooking kiselo kupus, sarme and the epic punjene papkike by yourself (maybe in a hostel) might be difficult. A fair compromise among your insatiable hunger, your laziness and the threat of a striking cancer is Foody (yep, this place has a name…). American 50-ish look-alike restaurant, with a professional open at sight kitchen. And when I say “open at sight” I mean that a) you see the young cooks preparing your food; b) there is no smoke (incredible, eh?). Take one of the daily soups, dribble the grilled meat and point the specialités du jour. There’s a great choices of vegetable side dish. Make your own salad, filling your plate as much as you want. There is no dignity for salads: no matter what you put on your salad cup, you’re gonna pay a fix lump sum for that. If you’re spending more the 5 € in this place it means that a) you’re still trying to fill the gap left open by the plijeskavica. In this case I have a bad news for you… b) you’re eating together with a friend (recommended). Forget alchools: it’s a family place, with kids, teen age couples and workers.

Coffee is averagely good. turksa kafa (domaca kafa might be appreciated more in Belgrade, but here people call things by their name…) costs less then water and will help you getting rid of all the plijeskavice, the drinks, the heavy food, the vomiting Balkan trips by bus. Most probably a turks a kafa will also help you getting rid the hole food and alcohol did not managed to close (if you’ve somebody to share the coffee with). It’s just miraculous.
Espresso is a virus which by this time infected every city on the other side of the river Soca. If you’re cappuccino lovers make yourself a favor and do not order one here. Rather choose an ice coffee, and institution from Nova Gorica to Kotor.

Surely the biggest problem for an Italian student traveling through the Balkans is breakfast. Even if you’ve recently robbed a bank and thus you decided to sleep in a 5 star hotel somewhere downtown, the so called continental breakfast rules the breakfast buffet. Forget cookies, forget croissants, forget jam and forget also smoothies. So what to do? Since most of us did not (recently) robbed a bank, the cheapest option is to reach the closest pekara and try to find, among the as vast as homogeneous variety of products the word “eurocrem”. This usually identify a cheap briosh-a-like pastry filled with wannabe Nutella (dear Balkan reader, this is a “translation” for our snobbish Italian Nutella-fundamentalists readers… Ja volim Eurocrem!). Eat it with some yogurt, walking the road of Novi Sad.

Desserts are good as well. I can’t choose my patisserie. One thing is sure: the Viennese masters who trained the ancestors of nowadays Novisadist pastry cook must have been giants: portions are just pantagruelic. And very cheap.

Drinking is mandatory, it does not really matter how much does it cost. Avoid drinking in discos. And please, avoid drinking alone, or along the streets: this is not Belgium.

For the rest, suite yourself.

From your own correspondent: Pristina

Which means wet feet, deadly cold, mud everywhere.

Apart from the white blanket of snow covering Pristina, I was touched also by the news reported on the most important Balkan newspapers.
Apparently, following the withdrawal of Serbs from the barricades in North Kosovo, the Council sent a clear positive message. A “carrot”, if you allow me this wording.

The importance of this carrot is huge: if by any chance Serbian expectations would be let down, I prospect an escalation of the situation in Kosovo. Even if the decisive support of the majors of Serbian municipalities de blocked a long deadlock, I cannot see substantive political ameliorations of the situations.

I will discuss the issue with some experts I had the chance to contact, here in Pristina.



My point is that the “carrot and stick” policy undertook by the EU since the beginning of the Kosovo barricade crisis allow a series of speculations which, in the end, won’t result in any good, nor for the pro-European Serbian government, nor for the far less pro-European Serbian society, nor for the wannabe Russians Kosovo Serbs.

First, a (still very possible!) negative decision of the Council against Serbian candidature will definitely undermine Tadic power, which will lead to his total defeat in next elections, most probably paving the way to nationalists parties success. So much for Merkel glorification of “multiculty” societies.

Secondly, even if the Council would grant Serbia with the candidate status (rather then frozen pseudo-idiotic half-effective semi-statuses, as Austria proposed…) , no effective steps towards the reconciliation with Kosovo have been made in last weeks. Au contraire the management of the crisis by Bruxelles (Berlin? Amsterdam? Vienna?) lead to an exacerbation of the conflict, which ultimately resulted in last hate speech made by several Serbian politicians.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the EU managed once more to pass for the “bad guy” at the eyes of Serbians. The way arguments in favor of the continuation of the Belgrade-Pristina negotiations, paired with the direct attacks led by several MS leaders to Serbian government managed (once more) to polarize the general impression of the EU, shifting it (if possible) towards a pro-Kosovar position. It does not matter if this is the case, if this is the real position of most EU countries. What matters is the way such position has been communicated to the public.
It seems that no one, nor the EU, nor Serbs, are learning from their past mistakes.

Which leads me to a conclusion: most probably change is guided more by ambition and blind will, then by wiseness.

Fourthly (an in the end), nothing changed in Northern Kosovo. Or, better to say, the IBM (the big “achievement” brought ahead by the Cooper) still remains on paper. I will try to move North, so to get some more informations on the matter.

Apart from everything, I have to communicate you all that the cappuccino in Pristina is extremely good. And when I say extremely, I mean that is the best I ever tasted in my life.