A Balkan paradox

A Balkan paradox

It seems like a historical paradox, but after the end of the communist system, the far right made a strong showing in the Balkans.

In Bulgaria, Volen Siderov, leader of the fiercely anti-NATO and anti-European Union Attack party, won 24 percent of the vote in the 2006 presidential elections. In Romania, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the Greater Romania Party, garnered 33 percent of the vote in the second round of elections in June 2000. Meanwhile, Vojislav Seselj, the founder and president of the far-right Serbian Radical Party (SRS), took 49.10 percent in the country’s presidential runoff in September 1997.

The reasons behind the phenomenon are explored by Petros Papasarantopoulos in his book “Modernism and the Far Right in Post-Communism Balkans.”

The writer, who is an expert in Balkan political history, claims that after communism collapsed in these three countries, the Leninist legacy permeated both the successor socialist parties as well as the far right, with nationalism as the common denominator. It is precisely for this reason that all three countries experienced the rise of government coalitions of socialists and far-rightists. The phenomenon was unique in all of Eastern Europe (with the exception of Slovakia).

The ‘underdeveloped East,’ as many analysts understand it, was much less infected by the far-right virus than the developed West

However, over time, socialist parties modernized, shedding a significant part of their historical legacy; meanwhile, far-right parties remained attached to their communist past, evolving into a communist far-right hybrid which gradually became marginalized or disappeared electorally.

The disappearance of the traditional far right in the Balkans at a time when the far right is constantly gaining in strength in Western Europe gave rise to what the author refers to as “the Balkan paradox.” The “underdeveloped East,” as many analysts understand it, was much less infected by the far-right virus than the developed West. Many of the stereotypes of public discourse are challenged. The explanations provided by the author are worth reading carefully.

However, there is no room for complacency. In all three countries, mutated far-right parties have emerged in recent years which have very little relationship with the communist past. They are characterized by anti-Europeanism, pro-Russia sentiment and vaccine denial.

At the same time, in the rest of Eastern Europe, mainstream parties are evolving into far-right parties, as seen in Hungary and Poland. It is no coincidence that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban enjoys great popularity among the far-right audience in the Balkans, while he tries to cultivate political ties with conservative political leaders such as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and of course Nikola Gruevski, former prime minister of what is now North Macedonia, who sought asylum in Hungary after being sentenced to prison over corruption.

According to the author, one possible explanation is the perceptions and mentalities prevailing in Balkan societies – mentalities that are at odds with the liberal values of Western civilization. When these mentalities find the appropriate political offer, they gain electoral power.

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