This research asks why the prison culture in the contemporary Western Balkans – a region of major significance for the EU – is so resistant to change after over two decades of endeavours on part of the EU and Council of Europe to reform the Balkan penitentiary establishments in line with the European humanitarian standards. Influential modernization theorists such as Max Weber predicted that democratization of society will lead to the democratization of prison culture. While in the Western European context democratization has indeed led to positive changes in prison culture, the political changes in the Balkans have not led to the abolition of the repressive penal practices of the totalitarian past. The NGOs working in the area report about the deplorable carceral conditions and ill-treatment of ethnic minority prisoners in the Balkan prisons – the practices that violate both the European human rights norms and the respective international standards to which the Balkan states earlier subscribed. The hypothesis behind this research is that the contemporary Balkan prison system inherited a dual penal culture modelled on both the fascist and communist forms of imprisonment, which makes it today a site of “harsh” treatment of inmates, despite the changes in the political system. The research examines this premise by studying the state of correctional systems in the Balkans, with the continuities and repercussions of the historical penal practices for the Balkan EU aspirants’ ability to adapt to the European humanitarian standards of treatment of prisoners being a major research problem to explore.
Olga Kantokoski is a post-doctoral researcher at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Helsinki. She holds PhD degree in world politics from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Helsinki. She is part of Professor Judith Pallot’s research project sponsored by the Academy of Finland: “The Yugoslavian Penal Nationalism and the Politics of Punishment in the Contemporary Western Balkans: Testing the Limits of the European Human Rights Regime in the EU's Southeastern Neighbourhood”. She has engaged with this research not only due to her interest in the still underexplored Southeastern part of the EU's periphery, but primarily because of her long-standing passion for complex historical projects. Through this project she intends to contribute to a better understanding of the complex socio-political fabric of the Western Balkans and hopefully help to construct ways for the EU to deal with this region