Between 31 May and 3 June Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in cooperation with Alfred Mozer Stichting and the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity organized a seminar for young and promising politicians and members of social democratic parties from the countries of former Yugoslavia and Albania. The seminar, in which 20 participants participated, took place in Bečići in Montenegro.
Since 2003 the seminar has been organized three times annually and the course includes seminars on political ideology, media and communications skills and EU integration. The aim of the course is to introduce young politicians to the various aspects of social democratic ideology, political campaigning, governance and the dynamics and structures of party policies. In addition, the organisers aim to create a network among young and politically active persons and to improve their knowledge on the political developments in the countries in the region. This seems increasingly important as many participants never had the opportunity to seriously discuss politics with people from neighbouring countries and all believed that integration in the EU would start with regional integration.
In the region there exists a variety of social democratic political parties, some in government others in opposition. The topic of the seminar was political ideologies with focus on social democracy and its polices. This seminar therefore brought together a group of young people, of which many see similar problems in their respective countries, who all work, or are affiliated with, social democratic parties. Together they on analysed what social democracy means on an ideological level and what the role of social democracy is in the Western Balkans.
The seminar started off with two introduction lectures, Dr. Michael Ehrke, director of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung office in Belgrade focussed on the political challenges in the Western Balkans. He stated that there is a new chance for social democracy, but only if the political parties redefine their stance on post-material value, such as social justice, ecological transformation, new direct ways of political participation, integration and a redefinition of the relation between the nation, the EU and globalisation. Ehrke is worried that social democratic parties, while being more peaceful and pro-EU, basically adopt the same policies as their liberal counterparts in most countries. A distinction has to be made between ‘empty economic growth’ and true economic development in which the society as a whole can benefit from economic prosperity, the latter is lacking seriously in the region, according to Ehrke. A second lecture was held by Rene Cuperus, director International Relations at the Wiardi Beckman Stichting, a think-tank for Dutch social democracy. He focused on the fairy tales that exist when it comes to EU accession, while many believe all will be better once the country joins the EU, the EU itself is in a serious crisis of faith. By explaining the current wind of populism that is blowing through many western EU countries Cuperus warned against a too optimistic vision on prosperities in the EU. Many participants recognized similar trends of populism in their own countries.
Thereafter Milan Živković, director of Croatian Political Academy Novo Društvo, presented how to go from theory to practice and how policies are developed. This was followed by workshops on social policy, economy and education in which the participants were divided into three groups, a liberal, conservative and a social democratic group. Each group was assigned to develop policies on these topics that would give an insight in the priorities of each political mainstream theory that was appointed to them. This part was especially important for many participants as often the lines between liberalism, conservatism and social democracy appear weak.
The seminar concluded with a workshop on bringing a central message across, by Martijn Beckers, trainers of the Alfred Mozer Stichting. While earlier the seminar had focused on the ideological and theoretical part in this part participants had to define the main challenges in the region from a youth perspective, by coming up with 10 main points of improvement. The three points that were marked as most important were then presented, in which their message had to be concise, clear, compelling, connected, contrasting and credible.
Finally, Daliborka Uljarević, director of the Centre for Civic Education, discussed the political situation in Montenegro from the perspective of the civil society sector. She warned that it is dangerous to think that Montenegro is a relative success story in the region. Many important challenges remain, such as the rule of law, administrative capacity and organized crime and corruption.
The second promising politicians seminar on media and communications skills will be held in October in Croatia.