May 3, 2019  |  Updated June 4, 2019

Pushing on an Open Door: Foreign Authoritarian Influence in the Western Balkans

By Kurt Bassuener

Nearly two decades after the cessation of violent conflict in the Western Balkans and efforts by the international community to support democratic reform, analysis suggests that most countries in the region are losing ground on the rule of law, media freedoms, and democratic accountability more generally. State capture, erosion of independent media, and the growth of corrupt patronage networks are features of this landscape.

Meanwhile, authoritarian powers such as Russia, Turkey, China, and several Persian Gulf states are exerting greater influence in the Western Balkans, with the effect in certain respects of corroding the integrity of democratic institutions. They bring significant economic and political leverage and have focused efforts on developing strong relationships with governments in the region. But their footprint extends to the wider societies through state media initiatives whose narratives intersect with and amplify illiberal narratives, while bolstering unaccountable governance systems throughout the region.

This publication is part of a new International Forum working paper series, examining the dynamics and impact of resurgent authoritarian influence in the era of globalization, including through networked transnational kleptocracy and manipulation of the global information space. For more on these themes, visit the Forum’s blog, Power 3.0: Understanding Modern Authoritarian Influence, and its related podcast.

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