Will a pandemic like COVID-19 strengthen or weaken democracy in the Western Balkans?

Credit: Harryarts/Freepik

During the past six months, the Western Balkans has faced many challenges posed by the COVID19 pandemic — as countries in the region struggled to adapt their health, social and financial institutions on how to the deal with the subsequent consequences that the pandemic has caused.

And while health systems across the regions are still faced with one challenge after another as the pandemic enter the fall of 2020, for many countries and governments, there were also several political and democratic challenges in the past few months. For instance, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro were all faced with the challenge of organizing parliamentary elections during these conditions, and more or less all of them managed to successfully complete their electoral cycles.

Governments and institutions across the region have also shown maturity and willingness to cooperate with one another when it comes to implement measures relating on how to stop the spread of the pandemic, and this indeed offer a new hope that countries in the Western Balkans can work together towards a bigger goal — which in this case would mean to ensure the safety of their citizens.

The pandemic also showed that countries can be most efficient when they work together, and this can indeed be a great lesson for Western Balkans, and can also help towards strengthening the democracy in the region.

Although throughout the last decade, there have been many challenges, such as mutual disputes or issues, that have threatened to again gradually erode the peace in this fragile region, in my opinion, the pandemic has also in a way acted like a wake-up call for these countries and has reminded them they issues of this magnitude can only be overcome by mutual cooperation.

And the countries have indeed embraced this opportunity so far, and acted towards closely working with each other in order to strengthen their capacities when it comes to fighting the deadly disease. Of course, many of these countries are still dealing with a lack of infrastructure or institutional capacities like the ones that their Western counterparts have, which makes the struggle against the pandemic a lot harder.

But, nevertheless, the willingness to cooperate and to make a difference is there, and there is also another important aspect of it all — these countries have again started to act in a good faith towards each other, and all of this can contribute greatly towards the strengthening of the democracy in the region.

Another important aspect of the pandemic is that countries are also willing to work together on their economic recovery, which will be especially important during the post-pandemic period, when many business sectors will begin to consolidate. Since better economies can also mean better democracies, too, than this indeed represent a good opportunity for these countries to progress, and to take steps in the right direction.

The economic cooperation of the region is definitely one of the biggest challenges that has kept the region from being a more prosperous one so far, so if countries manage to overcome this and finally begin to implement efficient domestic and regional economic policies, in turn this would also benefit the democracy in the region, too.

All things considered, the pandemic can indeed be an opportunity for the Western Balkans to have a fresh start when regional cooperation, relations between one another, and development of democracy are concerned, and given that during this past six months governments and authorities have so far shown a maturity to do so, then these developments can definitely contribute towards strengthening the democracy in the region and offer a more prosperous future for the Western Balkans and its citizens.

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Bojan Stojkovski

Bojan Stojkovski

Freelance journalist based in Skopje, Macedonia. Contributor for @ZDNet and @ForeignPolicy