24.2.2015. PASOS, PASOS project polling: Military institutions most trusted groups in Balkans

PASOS, 24.2.2015.

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National and international military institutions are generally the most-trusted groups in the Western Balkans, according to polling conducted as part of a PASOS project on open government.

The polling found that a military institution was the most-trusted group in 4 out of 6 countries, ranked second in one country, and ranked fourth in one country. The polling was conducted as part of Advocacy for Open Government, an EU-funded project to encourage governments in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia to become more transparent.

The military institutions that ranked highly in the surveys included national armies, NATO, and KFOR, the NATO mission in Kosovo. An interactive presentation showing which institutions are the most- and least-trusted in the six countries can be viewed here.

In Albania, NATO was ranked the most-trusted public institution. Macedonians gave the top honors to their armed forces. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country’s military was ranked the second-most trusted institution, while in Kosovo, KFOR was named the most-trusted.

In Serbia, the most trusted and least-trusted institutions were both associated with the military. Citizens there ranked their armed forces as the most trustworthy element in society, and ranked NATO the least-trusted. Serbia was the target of a NATO bombing campaign in 1999 that forced the then-Yugoslav government to withdraw from Kosovo.

Montenegrins, however, put greater trust in their healthcare and education systems, and the Serbian Orthodox Church, than they do in their military, which ranked fourth in the polling done in Montenegro.

Analysts at think tanks that conducted the polling attributed the results to a variety of factors.

“The military is generally a stable institution and distant from public affairs,” said Qendresa Sulejmani of the Center for Research and Policy Making in Macedonia, where 71.5 percent of respondents said they had some level of trust in the military. “We don’t hear about scandals related to the armed forces, so there are few reasons not to trust them.”

She added that the polling results in her country, however, showed significant differences in the levels of trust in the country’ armed forces when the ethnic background of poll respondents is taken into account.

“The opinion of ethnic Albanians is divided: 48.1% say they do not trust the armed forces, while 42% say they do,” Sulejmani said.”Their distrust in the armed forces likely results from the ethnic conflict in the country in 2001, but affirmative action to improve equitable representation in the armed forces since then is contributing to raising their level of trust.”

Irina Rizmal of the Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies in Belgrade said that Serbia’s armed forces have traditionally enjoyed high levels of trust among the public.

“Despite the army not being spared from certain affairs that arise from time to time – and especially given the fact that security sector reform in Serbia is arguably still incomplete and that our history as a country also includes civil wars and war crimes committed by parts of the security sector – citizen trust in the institution is not significantly affected,” she said. “Individuals may be implicated – although this too is also very rare – but the institution as a whole is not affected.

“This can explain why levels of trust are higher for the armed forces in general, compared to the Ministry of Defense as an institution. The army is linked to matters of honor, it is seen as close to the people and there to provide them and the country with security, defending the homeland. One example that could be cited is the engagement of the army during the May 2014 floods.”

In Albania, Gjergji Vurmo of the Institute for Democracy and Mediation said the fact that 71 percent of his fellow citizens said they trust NATO showed that Albanians continue look to international institutions to place their trust in, not national ones.

“We have a saying – Albanians trust the most in the United States, EU/NATO, and God … in this particular order,” he said. “All surveys conducted in Albania throughout the past two decades confirm the same. We don’t trust our own institutions because we see them as corrupt.”

The six PASOS members who conducted the polling are: Institute for Democracy and Mediation (Albania), Analitika Center for Social Research (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Riinvest Institute for Development Research (Kosovo), Center for Research and Policy Making (Macedonia), Center for Democracy and Human Rights (Montenegro), The Monitoring Center CEMI (Montenegro), and Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (Serbia).

The project participants are monitoring the impact of governmental actions being undertaken as part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Initiative. The project also draws on experience from new EU members, critiques commitments, and is creating advocacy plans for open government.

OGP is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. To become a member of the OGP, participating countries must embrace a high level Open Government Declaration; deliver a country Action Plan developed with public consultation; and commit to independent reporting on their progress.