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

One of the major developments in the Balkan region after the '90s was the adoption of constitutions, which brought the expansion of the constitutionalization of rights having in this way a relevant impact on the citizens to exercise their rights. Even though the constitutions in the Balkan region were adopted according to the western model, the space provided for citizens' rights may vary from one country to another. Therefore, our research question may be formulated as follows: what kinds of constitutions exist in the Balkan region? Which is the space for political activity provided for citizens in the Balkan constitutions? Is there a relation between the space provided in the Balkan constitutions for their citizens and the extent to which these latter exercise their rights? Furthermore, are civil rights stronger in terms of citizens' political engagement based on the constitutions' political character? Our main argument is that the space provided for political activism in these constitutions is that there is no direct relationship between the constitutions and the way people exercise their rights. We put forward a comparative study of two countries, Albania and Serbia, as two cases with distinct constitutional and historical backgrounds.

Key words: Balkans; civil rights; constitutions; social movements.

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). …

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