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Six Years of the Forum, Six Years of Changes

It is amazing how quickly six years have passed from the time it was born to the sixth Belgrade Security Forum, to be held this year in less than two months.

The Forum was inspired by the GLOBSEC Bratislava, Slovakia, the most important event dedicated to foreign and security policy in Central Europe, at the moment when the ministers of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland were speaking about the importance of the Balkans joining the EU. While listening to the debate, I was imposed by the thought that it would be necessary to organize an event in Belgrade, which would year after year gather people of the international scene, both opinion and decision makers. Only in cooperation with such individuals, Serbia and the region could become part of the global debate about the opportunities and challenges we are all faced with.

The Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, the European Movement in Serbia and the Belgrade Center for Security Policy were aware from the very start that they were undertaking a very complex assignment: Serbia and the region, still being at the global periphery cannot be overcome with mere economic and political development and inclusion in global trends, even though that is the basic and most important task. It is also necessary to participate in the reflections and efforts to find solutions of problems that the world faces. Such was the case with the “Balkan Route” which introduced us, without our influence or responsibility, to a Europe-wide debate on finding solutions to the crisis generated by the latest migrations. It was our responsible attitude in a major crisis that brought us recognition as a country which can be a partner in solving serious issues.

Tim Judah, a prominent British journalist and regular participant of our Forum pointed out two years ago that he had returned to the set because it was one of the few places where the region was not just focusing on itself, but the wider surrounding and the role it has in it. Unfortunately, in our hilly, beautiful and torn Balkans, these days we are again experiencing waves of a return to dangerous patterns of behavior, the revival of devastating, hateful emotions of all those unprepared and unable to cope with the challenges of the present and to work for the future. These people of dangerous intentions and dangerous policies are not a specificity of the Balkans, they are getting louder around the world. This however, should not in any way be our consolation – on the contrary, it is a serious warning that we have to work and invest greater effort in exposing the lethality of growing inequality, a system based on greed and partial interests gone wild  suppressing public interest.

The way of overcoming the fear of people who feel that the ground is slipping under their feet and because of that are subjects of manipulation by those who, instead of solving existential problems offer hate towards others, is only through open, smart, well-argumented public debate. This is why we invest a great effort in disseminating the discussions held at the Forum throughout the region and beyond, and with the help of media outlets include the general public in the debate. Every autumn the Belgrade Security Forum gathers several hundred participants, just last year there were more than 700. For three days at more than twenty sessions the participants discuss pressing issues facing Europe and the world in times of accelerated decay, where existing problems are strengthening and new, often disturbing phenomena and tendencies are on the rise. In 2011 the main theme of the first Forum was dedicated to what unites us and what separates us from the world and European trends, with special emphasis on economics, climate and bilateral challenges, while the 2016 Forum will reflect on the future of democracy in the face of the crisis of the global order.

Five years ago, the term “illiberal democracy” was unknown to Europe; today it is spoken by statesmen even at the forefront of some EU member states. We are faced with different understanding of political decency and decency in implementing policies, from the one we have advocated for and lived just a few years – on both sides of the Atlantic. Those who worked on the new Global Strategy of the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, and also those who need to implement this strategy will be the ones who will talk about answers to the latest security challenges to the EU, especially taking into account the Brexit and its aftermath. This is a necessity if we all want to preserve the most successful political and peace process in the history of humanity. It is becoming increasingly obvious that this process requires serious critical revision, primarily in order to survive and to stay appealing for future generations and other parts of our planet.

One of the foci of the sixth Forum will be migration, as every time since 2011. This year, even the Academic Event, which traditionally preceds the conference and brings together young, promising researchers, will be dedicated to the issue of migration. Questions on how democracy can deal with populism and international radicalism will attract some of the most outstanding experts and analysts who deal with this burning phenomenon that affects the whole world. We will open issues related to good governance through the digitalization process and the strengthening of partnership between the state and citizens in the context of strengthening institutions, as well as the recognition of the role of civil society in these processes.

There will be discussions about the future of the Brussels Agreement, as a step forward of the European perspective of Serbia and Kosovo, but also of the whole region. Several contemporary topics and discussions will be covered at the event, as well as lively debates on the margins and the creation of new ties and friendships. Our foreign guests regularly have bilateral meetings with officials from Serbia and the diplomatic, policy and academic community, and also meetings with representatives of the media.

The Belgrade Security Forum is the meeting place of good vibrations, creative dialogue, where Serbia and the region make new friends and together try to solve local and global issues. By doing so they are making themselves instigators of positive change and thus becoming recognized as partners, not as a creators and exporters of problems.

Sonja Licht

Printed in Serbian in Novi Magazin, No. 275 on August 4, 2016