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Ethnic Relations: Democracy is a Lengthy Process

There are no ready-to-use models for managing ethnic differences, which could be applied across the board to all countries and all relations between the majority and the minorities – this was the main conclusion of the roundtable ‘’Democracy, multiculturalism and ethno-cultural policy in the Western Balkan countries” held on April 19th in Belgrade.

The event participants launched the initiative to establish a Balkan Academic Network, with the support of PERFORM, aiming to study multiculturalism in Southeast Europe as network of Social Science Researchers.

Managing ethnic differences

Speaking of the importance of developing research and education programmes dealing with multiculturalism, Dr Goran Basic, Director of the Belgrade Institute of Social Sciences, said this was the need of complex and developed societies: 

"The world we live in is burdened by cultural and ethnic differences and requires models to manage those differences. Answers on how to manage diverse and complex societies requires reliable data and good analytical support in order to find the best solutions.”
According to Basic, one of the reasons why the policies of multiculturalism are unsuccessful lies in the fact that decision makers often lack the ability to recognise how research can be used for sustainable policymaking.

Sinisa Tatalovic, Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb, pointed out that there were no ready-to-use models for managing ethnic differences that can be applied to all countries and all relations between the majority and other minorities:

“In a political system, it is necessary to determine the relationship between the majority ethnic group and the minorities. If that fails, we have conflicting societies leading to conflicts. Twenty years ago, the region of former Yugoslavia was exposed to serious conflicts with a highlighted ethnic dimension. It took a lot of political will and skill to find models of regulating the relations between ethnic majority and minority.’’ 

Director of the Institute of Social Sciences said that his impression from encounters with politicians is that they do have the knowledge, but political decisions are not based only on effective solutions, but wider political circumstances, particularly in the context of a post-conflict region with some of its part being under a threat of new conflicts.

“The process of democracy building is a lengthy one requiring patience. The democracy in Europe was not built in two decades, the process has been going on for 200 years and it is still ongoing’’, said Basic.

The goal of the Balkan Academic Network

The goal of the Balkan Academic Network, which will be officially launched in Brijuni on May 22nd, is to point out the hotspots in the Balkans and put out potential fires by providing scientific approach and cooperation of researchers free from daily politics and ethnic tensions.

“We will try to investigate the reasons behind the conflicts. It is important to research ethno-cultural policies from the past, but it is even more important to see how to prevent new conflicts, how to establish sustainable mechanisms within political systems so that ethnic communities can function together in times of populist politics and crises in the EU. How to harmonise between the majority and minority ethnic groups, how to treat issues arising in the region, such as the status of large nations - Serbian and Albanian. Those are the issues asking for solutions. We can try to find these solutions through research, and propose them as basis for discussion.”

Finally, Professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb pointed out a very important fact that the issue of national minorities should not be observed solely in the context of a single country. And this is where he sees the main role of the Balkan Academic Network:

“This is why we are developing this network, to share our experience and provide good advice to other countries about good practices from our own countries; and to warn them about solutions that in our own countries yielded no results.”
PERFORM Deputy Manager, Mr Nenad Celarevic said that PERFORM will continue to support the work of the Balkan Academic Network as a sustainable international research network with high academic and research potentials. By the end of the year, members of the network will prepare high quality international publication on the issues related to multiculturalism, contributing to the reform processes in the Western Balkans.