Young Political Leaders: Issues in Democracy Promotion
Following the Serbian revolution in 2000, political instability remained a huge concern. Tension remained high among differing political parties and there seemed to be lack of unity in the political state. This case study takes a look at the efforts taken by Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE), a non-profit organization, in order to reduce this tension and promote engagement and collaboration among political parties. The title of their project was Five Hundred Political Leaders of Serbia. From the years 2004-2008, BFPE hoped to provide political training to 500 young political leaders in order to achieve their objective. Through the application of various seminars, BFPE’s goal was to target the youth belonging to diverse political parties and teach them the necessary skills to live politically active lives that would later encourage better understanding among party lines. By encouraging youth participation in the political realm this would create dialogue and constant cooperation among differing groups. This cooperation would help build harmony among the critical political and social issues facing the Serbian state and society. The project turned out to be a huge success among the youth and raised both individual and party capacity in the political field. The seminar raised awareness on crucial issues in Serbian society. Youths from differing political parties learned to engage with one another as well. This case study will specifically take a look at the project in years 2006/2007 and see the steps that were implemented to create the seminars and their results.
Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence
The Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence has operated in Serbia since November 2003.[i] It is a part of a Network of Schools of Political Studies in South East Europe.[ii] Their main goal is to help promote and create a more democratically leaning political leaders through training and practical skill building. They want the political elite to have the necessary abilities for the democratic transformation of Serbian society. They believe more democratic Serbian leaders and a more democratic political range can eventually move the country towards European and Euro-Atlantic integrations.
Under the regime of Milosevic, Serbia faced growing discontent among its people due to the worsening economic and social situation. In October 2000, huge political changes took place in Serbia. Serbia underwent a revolution and former President Milosevic was ousted out of power. After the revolution Serbia faced increased internal tensions over fundamental policy choices. During this time, the transition processes in economic, social and political life became difficult. This was in part due to divisions in Serbian political society and the assassination of Prime Minister Djindjic in March 2003.[iii] None of the democratic parties in Serbia were able to attract sufficient votes to form a stable government. Tensions between different political parties were high and there was difficulty in getting each of them to cooperate with one another, which limited the government’s capacity to implement economic and political reform.
Due to the political instability at that time, the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence decided to organize a series of seminars aimed at trying to diffuse this tension between political parties and show how mutual cooperation could be useful for them. The project was titled Five Hundred Political Leaders of Serbia. Their primary goal was to engage young leaders from various backgrounds who associated themselves with democratic political parties in Serbia. They would do this by providing political training for young political leaders all over Serbia as well as establishing a network for young leaders and alumni. This would further help with better understanding and cooperation among different party members as well as increase political engagement.
The 500 leaders program was implemented in October 2003. According to the President of BFPE, Sonja Licht, “timing was very crucial.”[iv] The revolution served as a window of opportunity to inspire young leaders to lead a new political culture through education. Timing also determined how the projects were “tailor made” to the specific climate at that time.[v] The major goal for this project was to create a culture of dialogue for people of different ideologies, attitudes, and cultures so they were better able to understand each other’s differences and discuss them publicly.
BFPE received funding from various international donors. The major donors included European Commission, Balkan Trust of Democracy, Rockfeller Fund, European Agency for Reconstruction, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and the Open Society Institute. Some of the local institutions they worked with to develop their seminars were National Democratic Institute and the Belgrade Open School. The lecturers came from Belgrade University, University of Westminster, Singidunum University, EU Integration Office of RS, MFA of RS and diplomats from various Embassies, various NGOs.[vi]
The duration of this project lasted from 2004-2008. However, activities for the 2006/2007-year began August 6, 2006 and lasted for 12 months. During the first month the project started they outlined the seminar program and selected their participants. They targeted those individuals who would benefit most from this program. Participants were chosen from youth organizations, heads of youth political parties, and university student parliaments. Throughout the second month, they spent their time preparing for the seminars. This included searching for a venue and finding lecturers. During months 3-6 and 9-11, they organized the various seminars to engage the youth and finally during month 12 they prepared their reports. The series of 9 seminars provided political training for young leaders all across Serbia. Seminar topics ranged from Values in Politics, Party Building Skills and Euro-Atlantic Integrations. There were 40 participants in each seminar and 10 lecturers per seminar. The seminars were structured in a way to engage participants and be as interactive as possible. In order to prepare these seminars they reached out to respective parties and asked for suggestions of topics/speakers, promoted the initiative on the web, and looked for motivated, passionate speakers who could teach the youth and provide necessary training in the fields mentioned above.[vii] Participants could express a need for more topics through final evaluations. If there was a need for a topic that wasn’t addressed it was added into the curriculum. An example of this was after reading evaluations it was clear that there was a want for more information regarding LGBT population/rights so they included this information into future seminars.[viii] Another example was the issue of climate. They realized climate concerns were largely ignored, so they added sections to address this in the seminars.[ix]
Once the program was implemented BFPE was surprised by the degree of misunderstanding of party differences. Parties’ political profiles were weakly designed and there were conflicting philosophies within the parties. Many of the parties also did not have a clue as to what social democracy was, so BFPE attempted to bring in more content on this subject and educate them on the difference between social democracy and liberalism.[x]
Five Hundred Politcal Leaders of Serbia was very successful. A large number of people wanted to partiicapte in the semianrs, so they had to decide who would be chosen. Politcal youth leaders were engaged together in various forms of activites. They identified similarities on individual and party level, which led to the creation of a youth and political network on the regional and national level.[xi] The trainings and lectures ensured capacity building for parties and individuals. Awareness about very important issues in Serbian society developed. The youth were able to obtain knowledge and practical skills such as campaigning which are necessary to live a politically active life. The series of seminars helped promote stronger enagagement of the youth and provided them with important knowledge to take an active role in the process of democratization. Many of the participants also moved up in positons in their youth organiations and youth branch of their parties. They also learned a great deal about the EU and Euro-Atlantic integration process, which they began advocating for within their parties and local communites. Participants in this program were eager to learn from the lectureres as well as one another. After the seminars, they created the Parliament of Youth Branches of Political Parties (POPSS) in November 2006.[xii] Specifically, in the city of Kragujevac, after attending BFPE’s seminasr, youth branches decided to form the first City Parliament of Youth in Politics.[xiii]
From this project BFPE learned that educating decision-makers is something we need in all societies. Helping leaders to receive proper education from every sector such as business, civil society, political parties, etc. helps develop trust and builds relationships that allow for better channels of communication.[xiv] They also learned that education serves as a platform for political dialogue, in order to discuss and better understand each other’s differences. When interviewed, Sonja Litcht stated, “we often forget there is a lack of communication between different levels of society and by gaining channels of communication, society is less prone to corruption, less prone to pursuing individual interests, and there is an increase in care for the common good.”[xv]
Something BFPE would change about the 500 leaders project is it would encourage participants to continue their education while still remaining in the political sphere. Many people who are highly educated would leave the political world to pursue higher education. The president of BFPE, Sonja Licht would also ensure that the seminars would promote more interactivity such as including more workshops, homework for the participants, and make more time for discussions following seminars so that participants are able to deliberate and discuss ideological differences.[xvi] According to her, “we must transfer knowledge and allow them to deliberate.”[xvii] She also regrets the program could not continue after 2008 due to lack of funding, which happens with these types of projects.[xviii] When asked the question if this program could be applied in other countries, Ms. Licht response was “yes, of course this type of capacity-building can be repeated but it must always be “tailor-made” to the specific climate in which you are working in.”[xix]
[i] "Beogradski Fond Za PolitiÄku Izuzetnost." Beogradski Fond Za PolitiÄku Izuzetnost. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.
[ii] "Beogradski Fond Za PolitiÄku Izuzetnost." Beogradski Fond Za PolitiÄku Izuzetnost. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.
[iii] "Serbia Country Report." Www.bti-project.org. Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2014
[iv] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[v] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[vi] Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence. FIVE HUNDRED YOUNG POLITICAL LEADERS OF SERBIA 2004-2008. Bfpe.org. The Balkan Trust for Democracy, 2006. Web. 27 Mar. 2014
[vii] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[viii] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[ix] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[x] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[xi] BFPE. FIVE HUNDRED YOUNG POLITICAL LEADERS OF SERBIA. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print
[xii] BFPE. FIVE HUNDRED YOUNG POLITICAL LEADERS OF SERBIA. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print
[xiii] BFPE. FIVE HUNDRED YOUNG POLITICAL LEADERS OF SERBIA. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print
[xiv] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[xv] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[xvi] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[xvii] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[xviii] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
[xix] Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014
- Licht, Sonja. "Interview with Sonja Licht." Telephone interview. 19 Mar. 2014.
- "Serbia Country Report." Www.bti-project.org. Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2012. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.
- BFPE. FIVE HUNDRED YOUNG POLITICAL LEADERS OF SERBIA. Rep. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
- Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence. FIVE HUNDRED YOUNG POLITICAL LEADERS OF SERBIA 2004-2008. Bfpe.org. The Balkan Trust for Democracy, 2006. Web. 27 Mar. 2014.