The Western Balkans saw significant turmoil during the 1990s war, and although subsequent years have brought an ostensible peace, the legacy of those conflicts continues to affect the relationship between the countries in the region and the day-to-day lives of people.
After the announcement of early elections in Macedonia and Serbia, there is evidence of political crisis, instability and internal insecurity, and there have been mass protests in Kosovo and Montenegro calling for early elections. This has almost become the norm over the last few years and is partly due to large-scale protests by opposition parties, indicating existing tensions within and among countries, as well as unstable governments that have reduced the space for civil society, freedom of speech, and a free media.
At the same time, and perhaps contradictorily, countries in the Western Balkans have made progress in integration processes, such as EU accession. The current backdrop to this already tumultuous context is the refugee crisis, which heavily affects Europe and especially the Western Balkans. The crisis has led to deteriorating relations between countries in the region, strengthening and closing of border controls, erecting fences, and a climate of finger-pointing that is increasing tensions.
Saferworld has worked in the region since the mid-1990s, developing an approach to our security and justice work that puts the experiences of local people at its heart. Our ‘community security approach’ was piloted in the Western Balkans, putting people affected by conflict in the driving seat and bringing them together to analyse the causes of conflict in their community and giving them the skills and opportunity to hold security and justice providers to account. Our subsequent focus on Kosovo for over a decade ended during 2014-15, with the formal transition of our country work to a more regional focus on conflict prevention and peaceful political integration within the Western Balkans. This draws on Saferworld’s successful model of partnership in Kosovo. We continue to feed into regional political and security processes, for example calling upon parties to improve the way the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia has been carried out. This includes supporting local civil society in their efforts to improve governance, rule of law and accountability of government institutions and create greater space for civil society and freedom of media.