Conference e-mail

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki

Past Aleksanteri Conferences

The Western Balkans between the European Project and Russian Ties

Chair: Jouni Järvinen (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland)
Discussants: Saša Obradović (Embassy of the Republic of Serbia in Finland) and Brendan Humphreys (Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland)
Marina Vulovic (University of Helsinki, Finland): Serbian Foreign Policy between EU and Russia
Justyna Pierzynska (University of Helsinki, Finland): Popular Perceptions of Geopolitics of the East/West Relations in Serbia
Andrew Graan (University of Helsinki, Finland): Anthropological Analysis of EU Conditionality in Macedonia and its Unintended Consequences

The Russian Foreign Policy concept adopted in 2016 does not explicitly mention the Balkans anywhere. However, the international media is buzzing with news of an increased Russian influence on the Balkans in recent years, pointing to the necessity of the EU and USA to increase their visibility and presence in the region to counter the influence of Moscow. This has been done mainly through NATO expansion and EU integration. What the Russian Foreign Policy concept does mention in Article 61 is that “the geopolitical expansion” of NATO and EU caused a political crisis in the relations between Russia and the “West”. It also mentions the need for using “soft power” in foreign diplomacy, as stated in Article 9. All these statements make it clear that in the wake of EU and NATO integration of countries previously under the Soviet sphere of influence, Russia is going to focus on countering this integration through, but not exclusively, the exercise of “soft power”. At present, however, most Western scholarship portrays Russia as a destabilizing factor in the region. Russia has been accused of using its political, economic and military influence, as well as its media reach, to interfere in the politics of Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Perhaps tellingly then, power relations between the Balkans and EU/USA also appear to be shifting, with the “West” willing to pay a price to appease the Balkan countries in the hope of stability and a decreased Russian influence. However, the Balkan states are in no way passive observers, but rather actively shape the negotiation processes. The panel seeks to explore this shifting geopolitical landscape through analyzing the discursive and political practices of Western Balkan actors as interlocutors between Russia and the West. As a result, it will address how the agency of the Western Balkan actors will affect potential relations between the region and Russia, as well as the region’s EU integration in the upcoming years. The paper by Marina Vulovic will focus on how political actors in Serbia in the recent past have used the beneficial role as interlocutors between “East” and “West” and will tackle the question what this dual position may mean for a future comprehensive Serbian foreign policy leaning on the geopolitical multi-polarity of the current world. In order to supply the subject of the panel with a bottom-up perspective, the paper by Justyna Pierzynska will focus on the popular perceptions and representations of geopolitics of the East/West relations by analyzing how readers of prominent daily news outlets in Serbia make sense of these categories, with special focus on the “Russian factor” in the Serbian public sphere. Andrew Graan will present an anthropological analysis of EU conditionality in Macedonia, with a survey of its unintended consequences. Within this analysis, he addresses how some Macedonian political actors and parties have cultivated ties with Russia, especially over the last few years, in order to gain greater leverage within the conditionality process.