The recent electoral successes of parties that pay great attention to environmental issues in their programs in ex-Yugoslav countries, as well as the growing public significance of these topics, indicate that green parties could play an increasingly important role in the region's political life.
After the first round of the Zagreb mayoral election, the news that Tomislav Tomašević, the mayoral candidate of the left-green coalition Možemo! (We Can!) would move on to the second round of the election by a large margin echoed throughout the region.
With 45.08% of the vote, Tomašević left his second-placed rival, Miroslav Škoro trailing far behind, with the backing of 12.18% of Zagreb’s citizens, and the two will face off in the second round of the battle for control of the capital city of Croatia. Green topics and actors have been gaining ever more prominence, as well as voter attention in the Balkans, and these events from Croatia have only served to intensify this trend.
The Greens as an Important Factor in European Politics
The 1970s first saw the emergence of ecological or green parties in the European political landscape. The ecological movement played a vital role in raising ecological awareness, which was then echoed in citizens’ political choices. The German Greens have certainly stood out as the most successful of the green parties throughout the three phases of the European green movement’s development, especially in the last few years.
In certain Western European countries, these parties are an important part of political life. For example, the German Greens were part of a coalition government, and have been represented in the Bundestag, whereas in Austria, the President was backed by the Greens, who are also currently part of a coalition government with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP).
However, this has not been the case in Central and Eastern European countries, where the situation is quite different. This may be due to the decades-long influence of Communism and one-party systems, as well as the slow process of transition and democratization, still incomplete in many countries. Still, the absence of an ecological movement in these countries may be the primary reason. As a consequence, green topics have not resonated with voters in these parts of Europe, which is best reflected in European parliament elections. Since the Big Bang EU enlargement of 2004, Central and Eastern European green parties have not had any great success.
Environmental Protection as an Electoral Consideration in Ex-Yugoslav Countries
Tomislav Tomašević’s first round success allows us to draw another interesting parallel. Namely, soon after Dritan Abazović from the Civic Movement URA (United Reform Action) came onto the scene in Montenegro as a young, new face, Draško Stanivuković also won the mayoral election in Banja Luka. Tomašević’s win is seen by many as a continuation of the electoral successes of these two forerunners, with all three being new political personalities, and heralding changes in this part of Europe. The reason for these success stories may be found in the disillusionment with mainstream parties which have been in power for many years now. These victories show that they are not impossible to beat.
The aforementioned URA is not a typical green party, but its programme and political positions are green to a large extent. Last year, it became a member of the European Green Party, which only serves to highlight its ambitions.
Compared to Montenegro, the situation in Serbia is far more complex. Though green parties have existed since the advent of the multi-party system, they have been short-lived. The Green Party has had the longest lifespan, but without any significant electoral success, in spite of their frequent participation in pre-electoral coalitions.
Similarly to Zagreb’s Možemo! coalition, The Ne davimo Beograd (Don’t Drown Belgrade) movement is active at the local level in Belgrade. This initiative, though not entirely ecological, managed a positive result at the previous city elections, but the next Belgrade city elections will be a major test for them.
On the other hand, when it comes to green parties in Croatia, the local platform Zagreb je naš!, led by Tomašević, is just one part of the coalition that managed to get into the Zagreb City Council along with ORaH (Croatian Sustainable Development), Nova ljevica (The New Left), Radnička fronta (The Worker’s Front) and ZA GRAD (For the City). The Možemo! coalition, led by Tomašević at the Zagreb mayoral election, is obviously a well-functioning national-level political platform, made up of parties with a similar green-left orientation.
The Future of Green Parties in the Balkans Politics
This overview of examples from ex-Yugoslav countries shows that there are many similarities between them. Namely, all of these actors function in the form of movements, drawing in large numbers of associations and activists. Additionally, they fare much better at local elections than national ones, except as part of larger coalitions. Their voters share a similar profile with those of green parties in Western Europe - younger people, highly educated citizens living in urban environments and interested in solutions to environmental protection issues.
Civic activism, which is the bedrock for these movements’ political work, is often accompanied by left-wing ideas, which is largely a characteristic of green parties. Therefore, these parameters largely correspond to the long development path toward becoming visible and important political actors, taken by earlier green parties.
It is also important to point out that these movements all support each other, raising the possibilities for cooperation as well as the common development of green ideas in this part of Europe. What brings them even closer together is their shared membership in the European Green Party, which is extremely important for green parties and movements. This importance is reflected in the EGP’s support, advice and experience sharing, and other activities important for the development of these parties.
Green parties in the Balkans may continue to surprise in the coming elections. Increasing citizens’ awareness of the dire state of the environment, and the emergence of alternative green movements and parties, also increase their capacity to produce more success stories, mostly at the local level. It is also possible that a regional political organization may be created by these parties to enable their further growth.
Article taken with permission from Klima101