Bled Strategic Forum Aims to Bridge Many Divides, With Youth Getting a Key Voice (Feature)

By , 28 Aug 2018, 10:00 AM Made in Slovenia
Bled Strategic Forum Aims to Bridge Many Divides, With Youth Getting a Key Voice (Feature) This year's logo

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Interviews with BSF secretary-general, Peter Grk, and programme director Meliha Muherina. 

STA, 25 August 2018 - Slovenia will host in mid-September the 13th annual Bled Strategic Forum (BSF), which will be the biggest so far in terms of the number of panels. The main topic of the pre-eminent foreign policy event this year will be bridging the divide, BSF secretary-general Peter Grk has told the STA.

Despite the recent technological advances and the numerous communication tools available it seems that the world is more divided than ever and this is what the BSF, taking place on 10 and 11 September at the lakeside resort that gave it its name, will discuss this year, according to Grk.

This year, as many as 24 panels will be held, which is the most in the 13-year history of the forum, while the number of guests is expected to be similar as last year, when a thousand from more than 60 countries attended.

Thus, the BSF is exceeding the framework of a regional forum. "We're evolving into a forum where the most burning issues of not only the region or the EU but the world are being broached."

The organisers are striving to make the panels topical. "We foremost want to find answers to the most important questions concerning not only the security and political situation in the world but the society as a whole.

"It is impossible to find answers in a vacuum in this globalised, digitalised world, so we must look for them in the wider social context, different groups must exchange views, both the civil society and politicians, economists and representatives of the academia," Grk said.

The title of this year's forum, Bridging the Divide, refers to the different views that are being expressed in the social discourse in various regions or even within the EU.

"For example, we can hear many different voices on what the EU should be like in the future."

While admitting that it is harder to build bridges than to destroy them, Grk feels that given the situation in the world today, forums such as the BSF must produce answers.

This year, the BSF foremost wants to "bridge the divide between politics, the economy and the civil society".

In this context, several respected guests have been invited to Bled. Next to Slovenia's top politicians, a prominent guest will be the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who will present his view of the EU.

UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin from Slovenia will talk about ways to bridge the divide in sports, while the situation in business will be discussed by one of the most influential economists in the world, Christian Ketels from the Harvard Business School.

Foreign ministers of various countries, including from the Western Balkans and as far as Sri Lanka, are also expected.

"The panels will be very diverse, ranging from debates on artificial intelligence and cyber security to development cooperation and meeting the goals of the 2030 development agenda of the United Nations."

The forum's "traditional" topics, from the Western Balkans to the EU, will also be discussed.

A special panel will mark the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Court and the court's chief prosecutor Fatou B. Bensouda will again come to Bled.

The business section of the forum - Business BSF - will feature debates on the future of labour in the face of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and how these changes will affect ordinary people.

The Young BSF, a meeting of future leaders, also attracted a lot of interest. "We've received some 400 applications from 60 countries. 65 young people from 35 countries have been selected to take part."

Several partners to the forum also expressed the desire to hold their own panels this year, Grk said.

Thus, Slovenia's demining fund ITF - Enhancing Human Security will mark its 20th anniversary, while the Office for Slovenians Abroad will host a conference on the role of Slovenians in the international communities.

Another partner of the BSF is the Government Office for the Protection of Classified Information, which will organise a conference on cyber security.

"We're also cooperating with AmCham and the Economy Ministry," Grk said, noting that a panel would also discuss cultural heritage and tourism in the light of new technologies.

Since the BSF has grown to be a major forum in South East and Central Europe in terms of the number of panels and participants, Grk thinks that the team behind the event should also be expanded.

All these years, the forum has been organised by a group of about ten people from the Foreign Ministry and the Centre for European Future (CEP), and the budget has been stagnating for years at some EUR 250,000, he noted.

The forum is very important for Slovenia and its foreign policy also because of networking and bilateral talks on the sidelines of the event, he stressed. "Here, information is exchanged about the future guidelines of the international policy in the coming months and years."

Grk therefore believes that the BSF brand should be expanded and promoted throughout the year. It could cover various other events not only the forum in Bled in mid-September, he told the STA.

Youth Will Play a Key Role at Bled Strategic Forum (Fnterview)

STA, 25 August 2018 - Young people will be a stronger voice at this year's Bled Strategic Forum (BSF). Starting out as a side event for youth with its own agenda in 2011, the Young BSF will more closely mirror the main event, a decision that programme director Meliha Muherina thinks will contribute to the quality of the debate.

The slogan of the main event is Bridging the Divide, while Young BSF, running between 7 and 9 September, will be held under the banner of Sustainable Security: The Role of Youth in Bridging the Divide.

The main event has shifted its focus slightly this year. Whereas it used to be a pre-eminently political event, it has been expanded conceptually to give experts and the civil society a greater role. This is more in line with Young BSF, which has always been more inclusive and less concerned with pure politics.

The decision to bring Young BSF to the main event was deliberate. "When I took over, my first question was: why are we making a separate event, why are youths being pushed to the background with their own, separate event?" according to Muherina, a project manager at the Centre for European Perspective.

"It did not seem to make sense to distinguish between a youth and a main event, particularly because young people can contribute a lot to the main event; you can't really set a clear dividing line."

Muherina says the young have perhaps even more to say about certain topics, for example artificial intelligence, while in issues such as intergenerational solidarity they should be treated as equals in any case.

In the past some have remarked that at the main event a lot of discussion was dedicated to youth, for example when the topic was brain drain, but the young were not present in the debate.

"It is odd to discuss solutions to youth issues when you don't hear what youths have to say about that," says Muherina, who feels that young people often have more innovative and actionable solutions because they are not yet set in their ways.

Aside from more closely matching the main event thematically, Young BSF participants will be selected for the first time to participate as panellists in three panels of the main event.

They will come equipped with policy recommendations formulated to reflect the deliberations of the entire cohort of Young BSF participants, according to Muherina.

Additionally, two Young BSF panels will actually double as side events of the main forum. One, in partnership with Doshisha University from Japan, will focus on conflict prevention and peace building, the other, in cooperation with the Italian Embassy in Slovenia, will debate the Mediterranean dimension of the OSCE.

Overall, there will be two overarching themes permeating Young BSF, sustainable security and interregional cooperation, according to Muherina. The former seeks to tackle the root causes of security issues, the latter is a way to nurture interregional exchange of best practices.

A total of 65 participants between the ages of 18 and 35 from a total of 35 countries will attend Young BSF. In previous years the participants were nominated by embassies and other institutions, this year they were selected in an open call for applications.

Muherina says that originally the idea was to have only 30 participants, like last year, but in the end there were so many good applications it was difficult to narrow down the selection so much.

Like the main event, Young BSF is organised as a joint effort between the Centre for European Perspective and the Slovenian Foreign Ministry, with the involvement of additional partners sponsoring individual events.

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