Inform Newsletter #1: On the importance of informality

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Although we study informal institutions, we do not see them as “primordial” or resulting from the unchangeable” culture of Balkan societies. Quite the contrary. We think that in every cycle of important changes in these societies, there comes about a specific intertwining of formal and informal institutions that regulate social life jointly. And that these “new”, post-socialist informal institutions are partly shaped by cultural tradition, partly by experiences from the socialist period, and mostly by adjusting to, confronting, and evading the formal rules of the emerging game defined by neoliberal policies and policies of Europeanization.

We do not claim that informal necessarily implies undesirability or harmfulness. Some of the informal practices and informal institutions serve as examples of genuine human experiences. Informal rules are essential for all well-functioning institutions.

The crucial question, however, is whether the formal and informal rules are in harmony with each other or not. The starting premise of our project is that, for a number of reasons, as Western Balkan countries move closer to the European Union, paradoxically, the gap between formal and informal institutions is not getting smaller, but, in fact, ever wider. This is what represents the key challenge for their European integration.

Predrag Cvetičanin
Empirical data gathering working group leader



First INFORM Newsletter

Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” – Skopje as part of a consortium of universities and organizations led by University College London is implementing an international scientific research project “INFORM: Closing the gap between formal and informal institutions in the Balkans “.

The main focus of this research is the interaction between formal institutions, many of which

have been created or undergone change as a part of the process of EU integration, and informal institutions in the process of the institutionalisation of EU rules and regulations in the Western Balkan societies. The key research question is to what extent the harmonisation and transposition of EU rules and regulations within the national legal, political and economic systems lead to substantive changes in practice and procedure or alternatively to what extent the imported rules remain “empty shells” with little influence in social life. Following Douglas North, in this research institutions are defined as “rules of the game in a society, or more formally, humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction” and that “taken together,the formal and informal rules and the type and effectiveness of enforcement shape the whole character of the game”. The primary goal is, by observation of the interplay between formal and informal institutions, to contribute to closing the gap between them, which has the potential to contribute to their better functioning and to more successful institutionalization of EU rules and regulations.

Read more about the Inform project on the following link:

“INFORM: Closing the gap between formal and informal institutions in the Balkans “


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