Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

A Comparative Perspective on the Balkan Constitutions and the Space Provided for the Citizens

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

A Comparative Perspective on the Balkan Constitutions and the Space Provided for the Citizens

Article excerpt

I Introduction

The Balkan region is known for wars and nationalist extremist leaders but little is known about what is called "history from below", the human side of history and citizens' influence of governments' policy-making. As Krastev puts it, democracy is marked not only by free and fair elections but also by the fact that citizens can also influence public policy. Democracy, in this view, is less a matter of institutional settings than of the relations between governments and citizens (Krastev 2002, 45). What citizens think and their actions matters at least as much as what governments do.

Making a clean break with the communist past is complicated by the fact that the region's previous communist regimes were to a large extent 'home grown' (Batt 2007, 61). The end of Communist Party hegemony and post-war international order weakened the state (Bunce 1997, 352-353). A number of Balkan countries were classified as weak states because they were unable to implement development policies and to provide for all their citizens with human, financial and social security. Similarly Krastev (2002, 45) defines as "weak" a state that is unable to deliver the rule of law or protect human and property rights. Another source of weakness lies in the lack of state tradition, which does not go back very far. The Balkan states, for the aforementioned reasons, remained economically and politically weak (Danopoulos and Messas 1997, 8).

Assessing also legitimacy proved to be a serious challenge, which stemmed from profound social, political and cultural divisions linked to ethnic and national minorities, established within the boundaries of these states (Diamandouros and Larrabee 2000, 25). Arrogance and disregard for the rules of the game, and in particular for the opposition, was persistently displayed from the government side (Vejvoda 2000, 233). The current movement for citizen participation has its origins in the '60s. In the politics of affluence and optimism, which it spawned, the belief was widespread that policy could and should be both more responsive to the people and more rational (Kweit and Kweit 1987, 34).

After the '90s, an unprecedented pattern of deindustrialization has taken hold parts of the region. As large-scale industry collapses and individual workers turn back to the countryside for survival, supplemented by ad hoc unregistered earning in the 'grey* economy (Batt 2007, 63). In the Balkans during the first decade, the demands of state building, national identity and ethnicity have to a significant degree distracted from the priorities of democracy- building and economic reform (Pridham 2000,1).

A source of legitimacy of the state comes from its success in fulfilling its obligations towards its citizens. (Rakipi 2007, 265-266). Citizens' influence may range from a position of policy dominance (value decisions) to one of minimal or non-involvement (technical decisions) (De Sario and Langton 1987, 216).

Therefore, in order to study the citizens' role in the public policy and their dissatisfaction towards the state, we will focus in two countries, Serbia and Albania in the last two decades. The first part of the paper proposes a theoretical distinction of the constitutions, by describing the different categories of constitutions and in the second part we will go through the empirical examination by identifying the category where these two constitutions fall, the space provided for its people and the extent to which these latter exercise their rights. The empirical evidence will be analyzed through the referendums and the mass protests since the early'90s until now.

2 THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS ON THE CONSTITUTIONALIZATION OF RIGHTS

Constitutions are codes of norms which aspire to regulate the relationship between the government and the public by handling serious internal ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences, while others are written for a homogeneous population (Finer, Bogdanor and Rudden 1995, 1-6). …

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