Democracy Digest: Frustration Looms Over Western Balkans

Live: Coronavirus Updates

Pandemic Boosts Support for Europe's Autocrats

Linda Van Gelder, the World Bank's director for the Western Balkans, was unequivocal in stating that the coronavirus "is wreaking havoc on lives around the region — taxing health care systems, paralysing economic activity and undermining the wellbeing of people".

The International Monetary Fund — which has also projected economic contraction this year for all the countries of the region — expects an economic rebound in 2021.

IMF experts estimate that economic growth in 2021 will range from 3.5 per cent in Bosnia and Herzegovina to eight per cent in Albania. Yet with all the recent volatility, that might not be enough to provide much reassurance.

Recession will result from a drop in domestic and foreign demand. Without a vaccine, scientists say a second wave of the pandemic is likely. Continued travel restrictions, physical distancing guidelines and other protective measures will continue to hit tourism and services that dominate the economies of the Western Balkans.

Unlike their counterparts in Western Europe, countries here have weak economies plagued by low wages, high poverty and unemployment and weak growth.

The closure of many small and family-owned businesses plus a strain on public budgets and a lack of financing opportunities all pose big challenges for local economies. 

But even as economies suffer, the pandemic has highlighted critical political and democratic deficiencies in the region.

Even as economies suffer, the pandemic has highlighted critical political and democratic deficiencies in the region.

In Serbia, people have expressed their dissatisfaction with the autocratic rule of President...

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