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Analytical Studies
Learn about the role and effects of external actors in the Western Balkans in a series of 7 analytical studies produced by our regional experts and 2 reports providing a comparison across the region and a summary of all the studies



A Final report on the External Actors' Influence in the Western Balkans and Croatia


         Edited by Markéta Slavková, Anja Grabovac and Tamara Grabovac

         August 2023

This final report offers the results of a research conducted between fall 2022 and spring 2023 whose goal was to identify and analyze various influence activities and approaches used by external actors (namely Russia, China, Türkiye, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf) in the Western Balkans, including the special tactics and mechanisms of their projection of influence. The research also explored how the local political actors contributed to the in/stability of the countries and the region more broadly, including the frequently discussed phenomenon of democratic backsliding. The reports comprehensively showcases each country and the level of influence of the foreign actors. 


A Comparative Overview of the External Actors' Influence in the Western Balkans and Croatia


         Written by Adnan Huskić

         August 2023

This final comparative study provides a comprehensive overview of the influence exterted by external powers, namely Russia, China, Turkey and the The Arab States of the Persian Gulf (Gulf States) in the Western Balkans region. It represents a novel endeavor that seeks to establish the degree to which democratic backsliding in the region’s countries can be linked to or attributed to the
influence of non-Western actors. At the same time, the study also takes into account the domestic players, the local political actors combined with the issues of corruption, weak rule of law or economic stagnation. These factors combined are essential in understanding the region itself and the democratic backsliding. 


Završno izviješćeZapadni Balkan na raskrižju: Demokratsko nazadovanje i utjecaj vanjskih aktera


         Urednice: Markéta Slavková, Anja Grabovac, Tamara Grabovac

         Kolovoz 2023. godine

Ovo završno izvješće daje pregled analiziranih zemalja u vezi s utjecajem vanjskih aktera i isto tako daje političke preporuke.


ZФинален извештајЗападен Балкан на раскрсница: Демократско уназадување под надворешни


         Уредници: Маркета Славкова, Ања Грабовац, Тамара Грабовац

         Август 2023

Овој финален извештај дава преглед на анализираните земји во однос на влијанието на надворешните актери и исто така дава препораки за политиките.

                                                                      STUDY 7. 

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Geopolitical Strife Fuels Local, Regional Crises


         Written by Srećko Latal

         June 2023

Over the past decade, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been falling deeper into a major crisis stemming from growing internal political divisions. The steady weakening of the EU presence in the Balkans in recent years and months has made BiH even more vulnerable to the influences of the two main regional power centers – Belgrade and Zagreb – as well as other geopolitical actors, especially the USA, Russia, Türkiye, and China, as well as Iran and the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. This paper provides an overview of the divergent interests and activities of the key internal and external actors. This paper explains the complicated political situation that has been established after the October 2022 elections and outlines key scenarios that may be developing in the near future in BiH and the rest of the region. Additionally, it offers a few key recommendations on how to halt and hopefully reverse the crisis in BiH and prevent new ethnic violence in the Balkans.

                                                                      STUDY 6. 

Albania amidst the External Actors’ Influence. The Open Balkan initiative:
A Russian Trojan Horse or a faster approach to Regional Cooperation?


         Written by Klodiana Beshku

         June 2023

This study analyzes Albania’s position in the middle of the political „chessboard“ created by the most influential external actors after the EU and the USA in the Western Balkans, namely, Russia, China, Türkiye, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. Firstly, this analysis examines Albania’s position among these various actors by categorizing them as either benign or malign toward the country. It explores Albania’s multifaceted attitudes within the context of regional dynamics in the Western Balkans. Second, the study sheds light on how the Open Balkan (OB) initiative has shaped these regional relations. Third, it focuses on Albania’s attempt to become a crucial actor at the regional level concerning its European integration path through the Berlin Process and, lately, through the Open Balkan initiative. 

                                                                      STUDY 5. 

Vulnerable Democracies: The Effect of Foreign Influence on the Political and Social Life in North Macedonia


         Written by Vlora Rechica

         June 2023

This study analyses the effects of foreign influence on political and social life in North Macedonia, focusing on the effects of the prolonged EU integration process, as opposed to the influence excreted by non-western actors, particularly Russia, China, Türkiye, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. The study assesses the vulnerability of the political subjects and citizens to external influence, investigating how political party behaviour contributes to the polarisation and undermining of North Macedonia’s democratisation efforts. 

                                                                    STUDY 4.

Understanding the Key Players and Influence of External
Actors in Kosovo


         Written by Shpat Balaj

         June 2023

This report examines the external influence in Kosovo and how these influences manifest themselves. Focusing on key players such as Türkiye, Russia, China, Arab states of the Persian Gulf, the EU, and the US, the report evaluates their political, economic, and social impacts in Kosovo. The report contends that the historical context in which Kosovo emerged as a state has determined how external influence is perceived in the country. The West’s support for Kosovo’s democratization and statebuilding efforts has resulted in the internalization of Western influence in Kosovo’s institutions. However, the countries that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence pose a political challenge to the country. 

                                                                          STUDY 3.

The West is Dear, but the East is Dearer: Policy Pressures and Actors’ Preferences in Serbia


         Written by Vladimir Vučković

         May 2023

This policy paper aims to investigate the influence of Russia, China, Turkey, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf on the process of (in)stability, including democratization, in Serbia from 2008 to 2022. By using various soft power means, these external actors have underpinned its foreign policy actions and strategies to strengthen the politics of the alternative, consequently giving legitimacy to democratic backsliding trends and consolidation of a semi-authoritarian regime under Aleksandar Vučić. The policy paper claims that all powers tend to contribute to the democratic backsliding in Serbia as they fit into a general tendency of weak governance and erosion of the rule of law, which is reflected in the nontransparency of economic-infrastructural projects and security cooperation and the glorification of the cult of autocratic leaders - Putin, Jinping, and Erdoğan. 

                                                                       STUDY 2.

Croatia: A Stable Western Ally and a Playground of External Contestation

      Written by Višeslav Raos

      May 2023

Croatia is a committed member of the EU and NATO and a stable ally of the United States in the region. Yet, it has been experiencing illiberal tendencies since becoming an EU member, marked by widespread corruption and a weakening of independent institutions which should control the executive. This stems from the dominant position of the HDZ party and not from external influence. However, non-Western external actors can use these illiberal tendencies to expand their influence. Find out which instruments have been employed by these actors in the pursuit of exerting greater inluence in Croatia.

                                                                       STUDY 1.

Democratic Vulnerabilities of Small Systems: External Actors’ Influence in Montenegro

     Written by Nemanja Stankov

     May 2023

This paper analyzes the external influence of Russia, China, Türkiye, and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf on democratic processes in Montenegro. By looking at the various dimensions of influence (economic, political, and cultural), the paper argues that Russia and China have significantly contributed to the process of democratic backsliding in Montenegro. The extent of the influence was facilitated by the (1) stateness problem – the unresolved statehood issue of Montenegro based on societal polarization on “us” versus “them” in terms of identity-based features and (2) by the partial failure of competing external influence of the EU grounded in conditionality policy.

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