As the other countries in the world, the Western Balkan countries in the past 10 months were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as well. The effect of the virus outbreak caused significant political, economic, health and social consequences. Currently the numbers of infected persons are rapidly rising in all WB countries threatening to cause even bigger negative effects at national and regional level.
In order to lower the cases of infections and to establish control over the outbreak, the national authorities in all Western Balkan countries have imposed severe measures such as state of emergency, curfews, closing of the national borders, bans on traveling, bans for public gatherings, mandatory self-isolation orders and other restrictions. As never before the citizens of the WB countries witnessed numerous limitations regarding their fundamental freedoms and human rights. Although in the majority of the cases, the authorities imposed the restrictive measures based on the existing legal provisions and based on the WHO recommendations, still there were evident practices in which the executive powers of the national authorities have increased significantly. Moreover, some patterns of infringements of the fundamental citizens’ rights were noticed, especially in the domain of privacy and personal data protection (i.e. publishing of the names of infected persons in the media) or regarding the freedom of movement (i.e. banning own citizens from entering the country). Additionally, during the pandemic some undemocratic and anti-rule of law tendencies have increased in the Western Balkan countries as well. In this context for example non-transparent and corruptive public procurement procedures (especially in the field of procurement of medical supplies from uncertified providers) have increased. Also "fake news" regarding pandemic almost led to collective panic and stress and therefore national authorities hurried to introduce new more restrictive legislation against spreading “fake news”. However, this also enabled the authorities in some of the WB countries to increase the control and the pressure over the critically oriented media and journalists who informed about the flaws in the health and economic management of the pandemic as well as about the authority manipulation with COVID-19 data and death rates caused by the virus.
Furthermore, during the pandemic almost all Western Balkan countries have held regular or early elections and therefore many of the state mitigation measures against the economic and social effects of the crises were purely populist in nature without any real long-term effects. Actually, many of them can be seen as typical pre-election bribing. During the pandemic in many of the WB countries in fact there were ongoing political crises between opposition political actors and parties in power, which were even followed by two mass protests despite the declared state of emergency. Without exception, in all WB countries, on many occasions we witnessed practices which have shown that established legal procedures and democratic checks and balances were often ignored.
It is evident that democratic forces and actors in all WB countries together with the European Commission should join the efforts as never before in order to overcome the challenges of this pandemic as well as the democratic stagnation and rule of law backsliding practices.