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Young Political Leaders: Youth Political Participation

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Executive Summary:

This case study looks at the effectiveness of two programs spearheaded by the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE) in promoting the increase of youth political participation within Serbia. The two major projects launched were the multiyear Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004 – 2008 with an analysis of the 2006/2007 cycle and the Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs in 2010, the later building on from the efforts of the former. The main goals of these two programs were:

 

  • To create a culture of dialogue for people of different political ideolgical backgrounds
  • To provide capacity building training of young political and civil society leaders from all democratically oriented political parties and NGOs
  • Allow participants to learn key insights into local development and EU integration, participatory democracy, rule of law, human and minority rights and civil society[1].
  • Develop an informal youth network for participants to utilize

 

 Both programs used seminar style education in promoting the organizations objective of building a network for youth political participants from across various political parties to come together. Prominent experts and political practitioners engaged as seminar lecturers, trainers and consultants were enlisted to help lead the seminars and provide the necessary education and resources outlined in the respective programs objectives. However the nature and target focus of both programs vary. The Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008 served as a grassroots campaign to raise awareness for the need for youth political participation after the 2003 Serbian revolution[2], while the Increasing Particiaption Through Education was more focused and aimed at a specific group of people, some of whom had already gone through the former BFPE program. While the multiyear educational program cycled through nearly 100 broad youth political participants each year, the later project had a more narrowed down focus group of 40 participants with specific female presentation, a diversifid pool of participants from distinct regional poltiical parties and NGOs.

The results of both programs were deemed successful from evaluations of participants and stakeholders respectfully who took the practical political skills learned such campaigning and put it to immediate use in their student parliaments or youth organizations[3]. Additionally, the programs provided a new political space for women to take advantage of. Furthermore, political parties quickly realized they fell short on understanding major social and global issues and were able to form better political profiles and platforms to address their short falls.

These two programs serve as good case studies for how a local organization has helped provide a new generation of leaders the tools and resources to better serve themselves in the name of public service and help in democracy promotion initiatives. However this report will also look into the weaknesses of such programs and provide recommendations for future implementations within Serbia and internationally.

 

Organization Summary:

The Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation who’s primary aim is to facilitate the process of building and continuous development of new, democratic leadership in the political sphere, as well as leaders in other segments of public life who will be leading Serbia and Montenegro towards European and Euro-Atlantic integrations[4]. It has a particular goal of training young men and women in public affairs with a focus on facilitating the process of building and continuous development of new, democratic leadership in the political sphere, as well as leaders in other segments of public life who will be leading Serbia and Montenegro towards European and Euro-Atlantic integrations[5]. Through their successful endeavors, BFPE has gained national creditability as an organization portrayed as fair, impartial and recognized for their high level of professionalism and networking capabilities[6]

Since its inception in 2003, BFPE has served a key role in providing the necessary capacity building framework for youth political participation in Serbia. BFPE has held several ongoing multi-year educational programs tailor made to respond to political needs of its primary stakeholders (MPs, party officials, mayors, women politicians participating in local government, youth leaders of political parties, NGO and media representatives)[7]. Particular emphasis has been placed on topics dealing with the democratisation of Serbian society and European integration processes.

Aside from their youth political participation seminars, they hold various public events such as but limited to conferences, lectures, round tables and other highlight events that aim to contribute to the quality of public debate on important social issues and, subsequently, to accelerate the processes of European and Euro-Atlantic integrations of Serbian state and society[8].

 

Project Description:

Situation Analysis

The lack of participation of young people both within political parties and civil society remains as one of the important issues and acute problems for the consolidation of democracy in Serbia[9]. Many young people in Serbia have no opportunity to play an active role in shaping their environment, to improve their personal situation, or to use their potential to make a positive contribution to their society’s development[10]. Serbian youth in rural areas are often marginalized and isolated from the political process in their communities[11]. Furthermore, the political arena in Serbia has severe drawbacks; political participation and activism are not sufficiently promoted, and political parties bear a negative public image. The negative stigma towards Serbian political parties stem from a misunderstanding of party differences and divisions ideologically, mistrust in representatives, people understand parties as a mechanism to fulfill particular interests and finally the general population view parties not attempt to serve for the common good[12].

            The goal of the 500 youth program was to tackle the then growing effects of the inability of political parties able to attract younger and energized voters and restore the faith in political parties in finding mutual and effective ways for cooperation. Youth political participation took a severe hit after the Serbian Revolution of 2003. During Serbia’s semi-authoritarian rule, youth participation through the primary group Otpor played significant role in bringing about the end of Serbia’s then regime. They distributing campaign materials, getting out the vote drives, and served as the backbone of the 5,000 domestic election monitors in Serbia during the elections[13]. Otpor received substantial international support from the American democracy promotion community, with financial aid and training in non-violent techniques particularly helpful.

After successfully overturning the semi-authoritarian regime in Serbia, the young activists who had been part of these processes faced a common question: what to do the day after? Many student leaders promised, in the course of the revolutions and after, to maintain their distance from whatever new government would emerge and, like their older counterparts in the NGO community, vowed to serve as watchdogs of the new regime[14]. Soon after, mass mobilization of youth ended shortly after the victory of the electoral revolutions. With the end of election-related activities and the establishment of more democratically oriented governments, efforts to mobilize youth ended, and most young people returned to their normal lives.

            Even with programs in place to increase youth political participation, more than 90% of young people were still not members of any political party, nor are engaged in any civil society organization (including student’s organizations, cultural and art associations, and sports clubs)[15]. This lack of presentation poses serious threats to a nation that was still trying to build its image as a democratically functioning entity on a local, regional and global scale. To the target population, there were very few young role models in political and public life who would motivate students, future intellectuals, to engage more in their local communities and provide the necessary tools and resources for the new younger generation[16].

The need for dynamic and politically engage youth would be fundamentally essential to the promotion of democratic consolidation, establishment of the rule of law and human and minority rights, as well as Serbia’s vision of further progress to EU integration. Concurrently, the eventual dialogue and constant cooperation through the integration of youth in political participation would contribute to the building of necessary consensus on the crucial political and social issues facing the Serbian state and society at large.

 

Project Methodology & Analysis

The Five Hundred Young Political leaders of Serbia as mentioned before was a multiyear program at educating a generation of policial leaders in capacity building and cross party networking. The overrall budget for the year 2006/2007 was $149,145 USD for a 9 month working duration[17]. Funding outlets included the European Commission, Balkan Trust of Democracy and Rockfeller Fund to name a few. The objective for the year long project was to provide political training for young leaders (roughly 100) from various regions of Serbia, stimulate establishment and continuous functioning of a network of young leaders which would contribute to better understanding and cooperation across party lines and create conditions for successful implementation of joint projects of the alumni network, aimed at raising standards of their political engagement at the local level[18]. The expected results of such a program was to create a conducive political environment necessary to raising the level of political culture and activism, a better functioning of political parties’ youth branches and their stronger influence on party policies and the continuous cooperation of young politicians across party lines and implementation of several (3-5) alumni projects aimed at improving conditions of political engagement in their local surroundings.

            To fulfill their objective and achieve their expected results, BFPE would build upon the foundation of seminar style learning and provide with relevant knowledge and skills, which will help them to take active role in the decision making processes and democratization of their parties’ environments. Seminars and networking events spanned the 7 months of the 2006/2007-year, with an additional 2 months dedicated to the outlining and preparing of the seminars themselves.

 

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Organisation of seminars and alumni events

 

 

 

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Preparation of reports

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Figure 1: Timeline of the program phases for Five Hundred Young Political leaders of Serbia in 2006[19]

 

Organizers knew the potential risks involved with the organization of this type of seminars. These included the possibility of having an unstable political situation, the breaking up of government coalitions which could have brought about early elections and therefore hinder the envisaged pace of the program, lack of interest on behalf of prospective participants, and inability to commit to further activities through the alumni network[20]. To prevent such cases, BFPE attention to partnerships were key in promoting such a project and limiting risk factors. BFPE sought the consultations of relevant political parties to best understand the specific needs that BFPE could enrich their members with. Furthermore, BFPE sought out motivated and passionate speakers who were thoroughly screened by the organization.

At the conclusion of the 2006/2007 cycle, participants recorded that they were satisfied with the seminars. The success was greatly determined by understanding the locals and their wants and needs within the political landscape. Futhermore, leaders identified various similarities on individual and party levels. However, organizers also realized their limitations with such a program. They quickly realized that more could have been done such as promoting more interactivity such as but not limited to more workshops, homework for the participants, and incorporate/make more time for discussions following seminars so that participants were able to deliberate and discuss ideological differences further[21].

 

            The Increasing Participation Through Education initiative was a supplement program to the initial 500 youth campaign that BFPE introduced in 2004. However, its more narrowed focus group of 40 participants and shorter working duration (4 months) it naturally had a much smaller budget of $48,942 USD[22]. The focus group would entail 30 participants from different political parties’ youth branches and 10 representatives from three University Student Parliaments and youth NGOs with at least 30% of the participants being young women activists. Additionally the age limit was restricted to those under the age of 30. Through a strict application process, BFPE chose ideal candidates whom they believed would be most effective in furthering the political environment in their respective organizations. Much like its predecessor program, the following program structured the educational program through seminars however the total duration of the seminars were limited to 10 days (2 three-day seminar sessions and a 1-four day session). Each session infused guest lectures that spoke on a set theme such as Democratization, Serbia-EU integration and Public Policy tools and within each seminar participants were required to work in groups to prepare either policy briefs or structure campaigns on particular issues. This new strategy sought to expand upon the limitations that were seen in the 500 youth program by having more interactive activities.

 

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Curriculum Development of seminars and workshops and preparation of readers

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Selection of participants - young political leaders from local communities in Backa

 

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Technical preparation of seminars

 

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Figure 2: Timeline of the program phases for Increasing Participation Through Education in 2010[23]

 

Program Impacts

          The effects of each program had both direct and indirect beneficiaries. From direct beneficiaries such as the participants themselves, the political parties they represent to indirect beneficiaries such as local communities, public organizations, local government and institutions and finally the general public of Serbia. Following each program cycle, participants responded that they had achieved a better understanding of the political landscape and were equipped with the necessary tools, skills and resources to expand their respective communities campaign for youth empowerment. After the 2006/2007 cycle of the 500 youth leadership program, several participants from Kragujevac went on to form the first City Parliament of Youth in Politics[24]. This is just one example out of numerous cases but it showed that participants had a renewed energy in cooperation and engagement with their local communities.

            The programs incorporation of women helped influence their presence in their political parties. Often seen as the minority group in politics, women were able to gain much success after the seminars due t the change in the election laws. Since 2012, each party was required to have at least 30% women participation, every third member of Serbian National Parliament was a women and less than a year after the 500 youth participation was initiated, the first ever women caucus was established[25]. Being the untapped resource in the political environment they have proven that they are less corrupt, provide new and fresh ideas that are brought to the table.

 

Conclusion & Future Implementation:

            BFPE’s dual educational program for greater youth political participation has greatly influenced youth engagement within their respective political parities, communities and has provided the necessary democracy promotion in a region that had suffered from years negative political image. The case has been made that with fixing the nations lack of political engagement has brought about a new generation of leaders dedicated and committed to public service (locally, regionally, nationally and on a supranational level).  The two approaches of targeting a large audience then later focusing on a more core group has seen results within the community. Greater cooperation between political parties through better dialogue and communication, an increase in alumni efforts and better political platforms on issues that were once non exist have seen a resurgence of youth membership and engagement.

            Such programs can been translated to nations outside the Baltic region but must be however tailor made to the specific climate and needs of the audience it wishes to capture. Using seminar style and group activities to bridge the gap between political parties to spark dialogue and cooperation can bring about greater cohesiveness of a nations political arena and better the nation’s population at large with better leadership, educating decision makers on the needs of its society and effective governance. The need to build effective networks of communication across all sectors (business, civil society, political parities etc) helps develop trust and form relationships to better society at large by making the necessary decisions that will serve the common good.




[1] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[2] Licht, Sonja. (2014, March 19). Video Skype Interview

[3] The German Marshall Fund of the United States. (2013, January 30).Serbian Fund Educates Youth on the Importance of Political Participation. http://www.gmfus.org/archives/serbian-fund-educates-youth-on-the-importance-of-political-participation/

 

[4] The German Marshall Fund of the United States. (2013, January 30).Serbian Fund Educates Youth on the Importance of Political Participation. http://www.gmfus.org/archives/serbian-fund-educates-youth-on-the-importance-of-political-participation/

[5] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2005). Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[6] Licht, Sonja. (2014, March 19). Video Skype Interview

[7] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[8] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[9] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[10] Lambertz,Britta (2012).Strengthening the structures for youth empowerment and participation

Context [Abstract]. Deutsche Gesllschaft Für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) http://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/21213.html

[11] The German Marshall Fund of the United States. (2013, January 30).Serbian Fund Educates Youth on the Importance of Political Participation. http://www.gmfus.org/archives/serbian-fund-educates-youth-on-the-importance-of-political-participation/

[12] Licht, Sonja. (2014, March 19). Video Skype Interview

[13] Wolchick, Sharon & Bunce, Valerie. The Johns Hopkins University Press (2006). Youth and Electoral Revolutions in Slovakia, Serbia and Georgia. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/sais_review/v026/26.2bunce.html

[14] Wolchick, Sharon & Bunce, Valerie. The Johns Hopkins University Press (2006). Youth and Electoral Revolutions in Slovakia, Serbia and Georgia. http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/sais_review/v026/26.2bunce.html

[15] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[16]  Wolchick, Sharon & Bunce, Valerie. The Johns Hopkins University Press (2006). Youth and Electoral Revolutions in Slovakia, Serbia and Georgia.

[17] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2005). Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[18] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2005). Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

 

[19] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2005). Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[20] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2005). Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

 

[21] Licht, Sonja. (2014, March 19). Video Skype Interview

[22] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[23] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Application Form. (2010). Increasing Participation Through Education: Training Young Leaders of Serbia in Democracy and European Affairs. Belgrade, Serbia: Sonja Licht

[24] The Balkan Trust for Democracy, A Project for the German Marshall Fund: Final Report Form. (2006). Five Hundred Young Political Leaders of Serbia 2004-2008. Belgrade, Serbia: Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence

[25] Licht, Sonja. (2014, March 19). Video Skype Interview