Opportunities for political gain: the instrumentalization of COVID-19 in four Balkan countries

June 16, 2020


Alejandro Esteso Perez
European integration and enlargement issues, political relations with EU Member States
Marije Renate Luitjens-Tol
peace and conflict studies, human rights, identity studies and political science

There are fewer democracies in Central and Eastern Europe in 2020 than at any point since 1995. On top of the current democratic erosion, the spread of COVID-19 poses another threat to the stability of the remaining democracies. This paper will focus on the question if, and how, the COVID-19 crisis has been instrumentalized for political gain, be it, for example, in the form of increasing authoritarian power, electoral benefits or ideological wins. Moreover, the previous months have shown that citizens have become particularly vulnerable in the midst of the chaos the pandemic created. We will therefore also focus on the ways in which the instrumentalization of the pandemic has affected human rights in the respective countries.

            To do so, we analyse the political exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic in four Balkan countries: Kosovo, North Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia which, based upon their most recent political developments, provide cases worth exploring. After introducing the latest happenings in each country, we delve into four different interpretations of political gain. First, we will observe if and how the pandemic has been instrumentalized for political gain in the form of power concentration. This is followed by the achievement of political gain as a rhetorical victory in the field of the domestic political debate. Linked to this is the political gain through electoral profitability, aiming to instrumentalize the virus to build a front of supporters for upcoming elections. Lastly, COVID-19 clearly affects the adherence to human rights; this is analysed as political gain through control over the social agenda, whereby the social agenda steers and affects the respect of civil rights and freedoms.

Policy Analysis

Opportunities for political gain: the instrumentalization of COVID-19 in four Balkan countries

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