Ten Years European Forum

Mon 4 Aug 2003

Theme : The changing role of political foundations in the building of (social-) democracy

In co-operation with : Kalander Foundation & United List of Social-democrats Slovenia (ZLSD)

Financed by : European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, Westminster Foundation/Labour Party, Alfred Mozer Stichting and Dr. Karl Renner Institut.

Venue : Velenje, Slovenia

Date : June 28-29

Political context

In March 2003 the Accession Treaty to enlarge the European Union with eight East Central European countries was signed, this historic moment will change the European Union. It will also have an effect on the mission of the European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity and the political foundations working in this field. Our work will enter into a new phase.

In 2004 the EU will have new neighbours. While we are already active in the Wider Europe, it is clear that there are a number of challenges that the political foundations face when “going east”. To address these challenges the role of the political foundations in Central and Eastern Europe will be of crucial importance. They are often more capable in grasping the problems that political parties in the wider Europe face and have more recent experience in facing and overcoming repression and building democratic political parties. More and more we will see these foundations becoming internationally active themselves. As a result they will become crucial partners in the building of (social-) democracy in the wider Europe.

Aim of the project

Address the changing role of the political foundations and evaluate the work of the European Forum in the past 10 years. To discuss the future of working on (social) democratisation in Eastern Europe. To discuss the shift of focus of the foundations and parties after EU enlargement and see if there is a new role for Social-democrats in general. Establishing, enlarging and maintaining our network. To get insights in new technologies and developments.


About 50 representatives from foundations and parties from all over Eastern and Western Europe took part in the conference. See the attached list of participants.


The Chair of the European Forum Lena Hjelm-Wallén opened the conference with an introduction about the challenges of the European Forum in the years to come. She stressed the fact that this conference is meant to discuss the future of our work and not so much to look back to what we have achieved. She noticed that the network of the European Forum has been enlarged over the past ten years with a lot of new partners; foundations and parties from western and eastern Europe. The fact that a lot of old and new friends were sitting around the table of this conference to look at new technologies and new possibilities of cooperation, she regarded as a very positive sign.

After introductions and welcoming words of the President of the European Forum, Lena Hjelm-Wallén and Peter Bohinec, the chair of the Kalander Foundation hosting the conference with the United List of Social Democrats of Slovenia, MEP Jan Marinus Wiersma highlighted the issues that are raised by working in the Wider Europe, followed by a plenary discussion.


The Wider Europe is a concept in the European Commission, which focuses on intensifying the relationships with the new neighbours, the so-called ‘ring of friends’. Something to bear in mind is that the Wider Europe includes countries from the Mediterranean as well as the former Soviet Union. Since Libya differs profoundly from Ukraine there is a need for differentiation in policy towards the countries of the Wider Europe. The Treaties of EU provide for the future possibility of becoming a member of the EU for the countries on the European continent, since it says that all these countries have the right to apply for EU membership.

Unfortunately, the EC is not paying enough attention to former Yugoslavia, Albania and the Caucasus. It is time to come up with more concrete policy proposals for these countries. The question of the possibility to become a member of the EU has not been answered, with as a consequence that the pressure for making reforms is lowered. Turkey is a special case and the foundations should consider starting working in this country.

Furthermore, with the upcoming enlargement the development of two Europe’s should be avoided. The Eastern European partners are of the highest importance to prevent this. Stability and security as well as economic arguments (energy dependency) should convince people of the necessity of paying special attention to our new neighbours. The role of Russia is also something not to forget. For example, by sending congratulations to Lukashenka for his victory in the OSCE rejected elections in Belarus, Putin’s influence can be regarded, as negative and this should be subject of criticism.

The United States of America are already extensively involved in the region, investing many experts and money on bilateral base. To maximize benefits for the region it is logical the European foundations and institutions should search for cooperation.

After the plenary discussion Boris Guseletov (Russia), Gayane Sargsyan (Armenia) and Olena Primak (Ukraine) gave a short presentation on the main challenges their countries are facing. Unfortunately Milkalay Statkevich from Belarus could not be present.

In Russia the upcoming parliamentary elections in December are a main challenge. It is questionable whether the social democrats can get through the 5% barrier. To reach this a bloc should be formed (possibly with The Russian renaissance Party of Duma-speaker Seleznev and the new party of the regions of Sergei Glaziev), more money should be available and media should be less biased towards parties not supporting the presidential office. The overall attitude of the Russian public is negative towards political parties. 20 to 25% of the people participating in the elections vote against all candidates, which is a possible choice on a Russian ballot paper. Russian campaigns are extremely expensive. 1 minute on Russian television costs 30.000 US Dollars. It is expected that Jedina Russia, the party that supports the president, will spend around 200 Million US Dollars in the election campaign. Boris stated that the fact that western European parties also have contacts with the party of power is not helping the social-democratic movement in Russia. Ann from the SAP reacted that at the moment it is very unclear which parties are social-democratic and that we can find social-democrats amongst a lot of parties. It is important to keep a wider look.

In Armenia lack of civic initiative and political stability as well as the conflicts are the main challenges. Gayane mentioned it is too early to judge upon the social democratic content of parties, since the party landscape is not crystallized yet. In Armenian society there is a lack of tools to prevent conflicts.

In Ukraine a crucial moment is coming up in August, when the referendum on the change of the constitution might be held. Changing the Constitution can keep president Kuchma in office until 2007 and will diminish the influence of the parliament. The parliament is divided equally over this issue; constitutionally this move is not legitimate, but according to Olena it is still possible.. The unified front against Kuchma is still important, but somewhat more on the background since the most important thing is to make sure presidential elections are held at all. When this will be the case the expectation is that the most important leaders of the opposition Yushchenko, Tymoshenko and Moroz will unite behind the strongest candidate (most probably Yushchenko.) SPU is strongly in favour of a parliamentary republic in Ukraine.

After the lunch attention shifted to the other new neighbours in South Eastern Europe. Arben Ahmetaj (Albania), Dragana Petrovic (Serbia and Montenegro) Nora Annanieva (Bulgaria) and Zoran Ruzicic (Bosnia Herzegovina) shed light on the main challenges their countries are facing at the moment.

For Serbia the main challenges are the still prevalent nationalism and militarism in society. There is a large potential for social democracy, but the problem is people still associate it with Milosevic. The divisions within the social democratic parties are not helping to combat this. People should be motivated to become active in politics, because political parties are important. The values of social democracy should be brought to Serbia with the help of the international foundations.

In Albania the three crises of the last decennium have past (War 1991-1994, 1997 Pyramids, 1999-2000 Kosovo) and the country is focusing on European integration, as well as internal integration, uniting the different parts of the country. Albania used to be the most closed society in south-eastern Europe and therefore the change was also very radical. Now foreign investment is very low, the lowest in the region, and improving that is a priority of the Albanian government. In the political sphere the absence of a good, well-organised opposition is regarded as an obstacle for change. The lack of a good opposition does not stimulate openness and transparency in the Socialist Party. Albania should focus on four levels of integration: - inside the country; - regional; - European; - Euro-Atlantic.

In Bulgaria the Kings party is causing some upheavals in the political landscape by using populist expressions. However, at the same time the Bulgarian Socialist Party is getting more popular. Another important issue is the future integration of Bulgaria into the EU.

The difficulties Bosnia Herzegovina has today, are related to the fact that the country is in the process of a so called “double transition”. The first is a transition from totalitarian communism to a democratic society and a market economy, as is the case in other post-communist countries, and the second is a post-war transition from a military to a peaceful society. The double transition is specific for Bosnia, it marks it and makes it different from other post-communist countries. The Dayton peace agreement stopped the war and established the peace but left a number of constitutional problems, which hinder further economic development, and political and social progress of the country towards Euro-Atlantic integration. 5 billion Euro’s were invested in Bosnia Herzegovina, but still 70% of the people want to leave the country and 40% is unemployed. Although the return of refugees was a success and is expected to be finished next year, Bosnia Herzegovina will probably be the last country to enter EU from the former Yugoslav countries.

During the discussion it was clear that the whole region suffers from the problems connected to organised crime and trafficking (women, drugs, weapons, cigarettes etc.) This in fact is also one of the main problems facing the EU and the countries belonging to the Schengen area. International organisations like the OSCE see it as one of their main priorities. The problems related to trafficking disturb the internal peace in countries like Serbia and the citizens of the European Union are getting increasingly afraid of the consequences of EU enlargement for their countries.

The session continued with a presentation by Nick Crook on the book ‘Social Democracy in Central and Eastern Europe’ . The presentation gave rise to discussion on the future activities with political parties in Central and Eastern Europe.

One important question is whether the European Forum and the political foundations should continue to work in the countries in Central Europe that are going to be part of the enlarged European Union in 2004. The European Forum will finish working in the new member states, while at the same time stepping up the work in:

1) Eastern Europe: The Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova

2) South Eastern Europe: Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia & Montenegro, and FYROM.

3) South Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia

Another issue that was raised is whether to search for broader cooperation with parties that are not clearly part of the social democratic family. Especially in the Wider Europe, where sister parties are not always clearly defined this was seen as a realistic option. Not only to make contacts with your friends, but also to step out in society in general to promote social democracy was also valuated positively.

In the new members of the European Union this policy is already a reality. Requests from non-classical social democratic parties to become member of the Socialist International are honoured in order to strengthen the social democratic component for the upcoming European elections. This is the case in Slovakia (SMER) and Latvia (People’s Harmony Party).

Issue coalitions with non-social democrats were mentioned also as a possibility, but until a certain level. When the party landscape has sufficient crystallized it is expected that these coalitions will fall apart.

A new aspect of the work of political foundations was highlighted by the presentation of the online training websites. The Internet offers techniques that can be used in the work of the foundations.

Susanna Lif presented the E-democracy site, which is an educational tool on democracy where knowledge is reached through interaction with the World Wide Web. The site is available on www.contento.se/opctraining and passwords can be gained at the Olof Palme International Center.

Arjen Berkvens presented the website of the Alfred Mozer Foundation which contains the trainer manual, available on: www.politicalskills.org as well as the new website of the European Forum ( www.europeanforum.net ).

After the online presentations attention was drawn to another new aspect in the work of the political foundations. Since democracy consolidated in Central Europe and the EU will absorb these countries the geographical working area of the foundations has spread in Eastward direction. After 14 years of transition in the Central European countries and political educational activities for the sister parties and foundations a lot of expertise that can be used in the work in the Wider Europe is concentrated in the Central European organizations. Also culturally and historically the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have more in common than the Western European and Eastern European counterparts, which makes the work of these foundations in the Wider Europe valuable and desirable. Seen from a Western European perspective one might consider foundations in Central Europe as being bridgeheads for extending the work effectively in the Wider Europe. That this is true was shown by the work of OTPOR! (Serbia and Montenegro), FEE (Poland) and Kalander Foundation (Slovenia), as was presented by respectively Milos Milenkovic, Kasia Matuszewska and Peter Bohinec. For example, the presence of Serbian OTPOR trainers at seminars in Belarus, organized by the Polish FEE with support of the Western European partners (Fondation Jean Jaurès, Alfred Mozer Foundation & Westminster Foundation), proved to be a success and were highly appreciated by the participants.

The first day of the conference was festively closed with a celebration evening of 10 years European Forum at the castle of Velenje. During this celebration special attention was given to the presence of two former secretary generals of the European Forum: Conny Fredriksson and Friedrich Roll. They were thanked for their work over the years.

The following day the meeting continued after a welcoming address by Borut Pahor, leader of the United List of Social Democrats in Slovenia.

Heinz Fischer, the first Chairman of the European Forum and one of the founders explained the history of the European Forum. Again it was emphasized that it is necessary to keep on reaching out to our Eastern neighbours, as history has proven to be successful in this respect. The new start of the Forum, doe not mean that we should forget our past.

The last session was devoted to the work of the Gender Network . The presentation of Dasa Silovic and Sonja Lokar showed that the work of the Gender Network is still of great importance. Some improvements of representation of women in public functions can be noticed but there are also worrisome signs, not only in for example former Yugoslavia, but also in SI and PES women seem to disappear from functions. EU accession is not a panacea – issues of gender equality remain a task both in new member states and EU/EP in general, as well in those in line for future accession, and especially in SP/SDP. This poses the question whether our foundations should continue working in the (soon to become) EU-member states. A comment was made about the depth of the work of the Gender network. Besides the necessary basic trainings for women (the “ABC”as it was called…) there should be a new focus on the second stage (“advanced strategy”), especially for women from our sister parties. It was also mentioned that men should be a focus point of the work of the Gender Network, because the change should be supported by them as well. There should be more political engagement to the work of the Gender Network.

After the closing of the meeting we watched Vivisect , an impressive documentary that showed the public reaction of a Serbian audience to the photographs of Ron Haviv, which chronicle the war in Yugoslavia, at an exhibition in Novi Sad, Serbia in autumn of 2002. This film showed once more that aggressive nationalism is still present in Serbian society and that social democratic parties (in this case LSV, which supported the presentation of the film) can combat this and helps to bring it under the attention of the public.

Conclusions and comments for the future

The conference was considered to be successful. Discussion on the work of the foundations shed light on new developments and challenges that are faced in the future. These can be summarized as following:

- Extending the work to the East/ South East, including Turkey and the Caucasus

- Intensifying cooperation between Central European and Western European foundations for extending the work in the East.

- Including non-classical social democratic parties in the work where necessary

- Using new Internet technologies for democratization.

- How should the European Forum react to the EU enlargement? Will we still be active in the 8 countries that will enter EU after they become EU members?

- The fight against organised crime; trafficking of women, arms and drugs, was identified as an important topic for all the countries concerned.

The European Forum should remain its function as a network, offering the possibility to share information and experiences, as well as drawing attention to important issues such as the Roma issue, gender equality, transparency and human trafficking.

The meeting was well used for networking among the participants, which is of great value for intensifying and continuation of the work of the foundations; especially for the newcomers. The almost equal representation of Eastern and Western Europeans made the meeting interesting and valuable since information on political developments and the work of the different foundations could be shared.

The focus on the future with attention for practical issues can be considered as valuable and offers policy ideas for the foundations working in the area of supporting (social) democracy in Eastern Europe. Finally, the conference attracted a lot of media attention in Slovenia. Television, radio stations and newspapers commented on this event.