Networking for Democracy seminar 2002

Mon 1 Apr 2002

Goal: To train young contactpersons for the European Forum
Partners: European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, Miloš Adamovic and Miljan Djokic (Social Democratic Union), Dr. Karl Renner Institute (RI; Austria)
Financed by: Alfred Mozer Foundation (Netherlands) and Dr. Karl Renner Institute
Target group: Young people active within political parties in South East Europe
Venue: Belgrade
Date: 27 – 31 March 2002
Trainers: Gregor Niessen, Christian Rischawy (RI), Maaike Timmers and Liesbeth van de Grift

The Networking for Democracy youth seminar is organised each year by the European Forum to train new contactpersons for the European Forum and can be realised with the financial help of sponsors. So far, the seminar has taken place three times, respectively in Prague (1999), Velenije (2000) and Sofia (2001). At the seminars in Prague and Velenije, the main focus was on the use of internet. In 2001, when the seminar took place in Sofia, the organisational set-up had been changed. The seminar now includes a practical and a theoretical part. In the practical part, the participants are trained in writing skills and use of internet. The theoretical part deals with politics in general, networking etc. After the seminar, the participants have the possibility to become a contactperson for the European Forum. This means that they keep the European Forum updated on the developments in their country. In addition they can help the European Forum organise international events. This year’s Networking for Democracy seminar for example had been organised in co-operation with two of last year’s participants. This year fifteen young representatives of the Stability Pact countries were attending the Networking for Democracy seminar.

Goals

  • To train young contactpersons in their objective writing skills
  • To select criteria which can be used in order to write a country-update and to find reliable information
  • To extend the network of both the European Forum and the participants


Report
On Wednesday 27 March most of the participants arrived in Belgrade (Hotel Metropol). At 18.30 an introduction took place, during which the participants presented themselves and each other by way of doing an interview or giving a short speech. It was decided to do this before dinner, instead of the next day, to get rid of the ‘formal’ atmosphere.

On Thursday the seminar started. It had been organised in co-operation with two contactpersons in Belgrade, Miljan Djokic and Milos Adamovic. They did a very good job in making sure that accommodation, catering and seminar facilities had been arranged perfectly well.

At 9.30 Maaike Timmers and Liesbeth van de Grift started by giving an introduction of the European Forum (history, objectives, activities) and the country-updates (information sources, structure). Emphasis was put on the possible value of a contactperson for the European Forum.The introduction was followed by the first training session, done by Gregor Niessen. Christian Rischawy was going to arrive later that day. During the training sessions on Thursday several issues were touched upon:
- What kind of information is relevant for a country-update?
- How to describe a general trend in a country?
- SWOT-analysis
- Writing a mission of the party

The overall character of the training was practical. Participants spent most of their time behind computers, writing and rewriting assignments. Ten computers had been installed in order to make this possible. The first day started with a brainstorm about subjects that should be mentioned in the country-update. The subjects which the participants proposed turned out to be similar to those mentioned in the recent updates. Furthermore, the participants were asked to describe a general trend in Eastern Europe: while the country is getting closer to the EU, the gap between the EU and the population of the country is getting bigger. It appeared to be quite difficult to write in an objective way about the situation in one’s own country, from a so-called “helicopter-view”.

After this, the participants were asked to do the SWOT-analysis of their own party and their main rival party. In general the participants gave their parties a positive judgement, and surprisingly, they gave their rival parties a relativally positive judgement as well – even when it came to issues like the party programme. According to Gregor Niessen’s observation the participants were just being somewhat too polite.

The next assignment was to write the mission of one’s party. The participants had to describe in a very short text what their party is, what it stands for and what its aim is (who, what, where, when, why). Afterwards, the participants judged each other’s results on conclusiveness and clarity of the text.

The second day was mainly spent on describing the political situation in one’s own country – one of the parts the country-update consists of. Under ‘political situation’ the main problems and issues of a country are dealt with. Here it is important not to eleborate too much on too many issues, but rather to emphasize on the main issues and to keep it short and objective. The participants worked on this assignment very actively. After everybody finished his/her first text, the participants again judged each other’s products. Here it was very interesting to see that attention was paid to remarks made earlier by the trainers on the objectivity of the text. While judging each other’s products, participants realised that the ‘faults’ they noticed had been made by themselves as well. This was a very active approach towards the assignment. This active approach was once more made clear by the willingness to rewrite the ‘political situation’ at the end of the day.

The third day was a more theoretical day compared to the first two. The idea was to organise three lectures on the subject of democratisation in the region, which could then be followed by a discussion among the participants and the speakers. Speakers were Olaf Tempelman (journalist for the Dutch Volkskrant), Mr Prokopijevic (Serbian political scientist) and Mr Ratkovic (Stability Pact-coordinator for the Federal Parliament). The result was two-sided. The lecture of Olaf Tempelman was very open, inspiring and illustrative, but Mr Prokopijevic’ lecture was found somewhat too boring by the participants. Unfortunately, Mr Ratkovic cancelled his lecture. As a result, a real discussion did not follow, however some interesting conclusions were drawn. The overall picture of democratisation that was drawn by Olaf Tempelman and Mr Prokopijevic was rather pessimistic, but the way to improve the situation according to the speakers, would be to connect the small democratic ‘islands of hope’ to each other. The participants agreed with this and together with the organisers drew the conclusion that this is just the main aim of the Networking for Democracy-seminar.

Conclusions
During the evaluation the participants made clear that the seminar had lived up to their expectations. Great enthusiasm was shown when it came to the practical character of the training – the participants had the idea to have learnt concrete things and to have improved their writing skills. The proportion practical – theoretical sessions was considered to be a good one. Moreover, the networking-aspect of the seminar was very much valued; it was considered a positive experience to meet young people in a similar situation with the same kind of problems.
The trainers and organisers also considered the training a success. According to the trainers it is always a good sign when participants show willingness to actively participate in the seminar. The organisers were very content with the active participation and with the improvements the participants showed. Furthermore, they trust to have invested in the skills of valuable future contact persons, since critical comments on the current country-updates have already been made as well as promises to update the present country-updates. Moreover, some participants proposed to organise the seminar in their country next year (Slovenia and Moldova) – which can be regarded as a sign that Networking for Democracy functions.