Party Politics in the Western Balkans is a volume of articles edited by Vera Stojarová and Peter Emerson about the realities facing the political parties in the Western Balkans from the 1990s dissolution of the Yugoslavian Union and the fall of the communist regime in Albania onward. The book presents a meticulous analysis of the Western Balkan countries and their efforts during the transition process. Each chapter takes into consideration the birth of pluralist parties in the region while always giving an explanation of the roots of the parties’ problems. Considering the historical facts, these countries have faced several ordeals involving escaping from different forms of warfare and violence while trying to build their own path in establishing democracies and resolving conflict. Other essential facts that make this book important are the tables and charts that provide accurate data to help explain the evolution of the political parties in each Western Balkan country. Therefore one can easily perceive the changes that occurred during the years of political transition in the Balkans and the differences among countries.
This book is the second edition published in 2013; thus it is important to consider that the data and analysis address the political situation for the period up to the year 2010. Party Politics in the Western Balkans is composed of twelve articles written by well-known experts on the region in the field of international and political relations such as Florian Bieber, Jakub Sebo and Daniel Bochsler. As stated in the introduction, considering the region’s tensions over national identity and territorial claims, the authors are careful about the usage of terms to avoid siding with the representation of any party (p. 5).
The first chapter introduces the political and party reality of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, (North) Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. It analyses the electoral system, how it has changed over the years, the implementation of democracy, the rights of minorities and the inclusion threshold to be passed by small parties for each Western Balkan country. It is evident that electoral reforms shaped the party systems while the overall trend has moved from a majoritarian to a full proportionality system (p. 23). Emmerson and Sebo elaborate on historical connections and background while assessing issues such as the Albanian minority’s struggles with Serbia (p. 13) or the status of minorities in Kosovo.
The second chapter mostly focuses on the legacy of the communist past in the region and how the successors of the respective communist parties were transformed into socialist or socio-democratic parties, including their journey into finding a place in the European left. Vera Stojarová groups these parties, first according to the development of their changes and second pursuant to their ideologies (p. 37).
The third chapter shows the face of nationalist parties in the region which pursue mostly xenophobic trends and desire a mono-ethnic population in their country while following an agenda to expand their country’s borders. These parties have peculiar features that vary from country to country, while the support they receive from the mass electorate is also changeable. For instance, in Serbia, the nationalist party’s support increased during the period examined and it preserves the idea of a Great Serbia, while in Croatia the number of supporters for the nationalist party, Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica (Croatian Democratic Union), considerably declined (p. 43). At the same time, the ethnic Albanian political parties in Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia were not advocating en masse the idea of Greater Albania. The cases of Bosnia and Herzegovina or Montenegro are shown to retain yet a different perspective.
The fourth chapter of the book, written by Florian Bieber, explains the place of the national minorities in these countries’ political systems. First, Bieber identifies four types of parties: mono-ethnic parties, ethnic parties with minority candidates, diversity-sensitive civic parties and multi-ethnic parties (p. 62). Subsequently, he shows examples of these parties in the region while analyzing their agendas and their place in the electoral system. The background and the difficulties that minority parties face are explained, while admitting that some of the minorities, such as the Romani, have gathered into NGOs to fulfill their interests and needs since they were unable to pass the threshold to enter parliament as a party (p. 71).
The following chapters break down one by one the regional and national party systems of all the Western Balkan countries. These chapters analyze all of the factors that influence the system, such as national dilemmas, religions, minorities’ influence, institutionalization, (de)centralization, freedom reports and the longevity or stability of governments. They conclude that the parties demonstrate different results, some of them showing a swing from a bipolar to a multi-polar system, except for Kosovo which is not still developed enough to be set into a pattern (p. 198).
Meanwhile, throughout the book, the authors note resemblances and make comparisons between countries and their counterparts that share the same historical background, such as the Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. The authors explain how the CEE countries set a positive example to be followed for the ultimate goal of the democratization and integration of the Western Balkans.
Party Politics in the Western Balkans can be seen as a handbook for understanding the Western Balkans’ policies and internal political activities. Considering the recent and somewhat complicated developments in the region, the swings of power in the internal politics of the Western Balkans and the efforts to settle and integrate better into European structures, this book provides new scholars, students and readers interested in Balkan politics with helpful insights into the above-mentioned issues and the region as a whole.