At the beginning of the 21st century, the real challenge of the reconstruction of South-Eastern Europe (SEE) is its re-invention.
The "Agenda for Civil Society in SEE", a three-year-long research project coordinated by the Central European University Budapest (CEU) and involving the New Europe College in Bucharest, the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin, and other institutions, starts with the assumption that the invention of the region requires the construction of a common regional vision and the emergence of a regional public debate. The project - surrealistically nicknamed Blue Bird - is an attempt to formulate such a vision and to assist the emergence of such debate. Till now, the region has been perceived in terms of risks; the idea of the project is to reformulate the debate on the future in terms of opportunities.
The idea of the project is to come up with a policy document titled "Agenda for Civil Society in South-Eastern Europe" within three years (by 2003) that will serve as the vision paper for development of the region over the next 20 years. The paper will address both governments and publics and should offer coherent policy strategies. The work on the Agenda is intended as a stimulus for opening the discussion to various sectors of society and for initiating regional policy debate.
The primary ambition of the project is to reflect on the reconstruction of SEE, both as an intellectual and as a policy challenge. The current debate on SEE has never addressed the production of knowledge and innovative ideas about the region as a distinctive problem. The international community fails to recognize that the lack of local knowledge is a specific and powerful obstacle to the development of the region. This is one of the reasons why the academic community and the intellectual community in general remained marginal in the initial stages of debating what to do in the Balkans. The urgency of the problems and the extremely limited time for debate resulted in the recycling of old ideas and approaches.
The present project starts with the assumption that the reconstruction of the Balkans is an intellectual problem. In the last decade, Western Europe and SEE have developed in completely different directions and have worked with completely different maps of the future. In the Western part of the continent, the process of integration has reached a critical stage with the launching of the common European currency, the Euro. This has led to fundamental reconsideration of such basic concepts as the nation state, sovereignty, the national economy, national security, human rights, and so on. At the same time, the process of disintegration in the south-eastern part of the continent has brought back some of the 19th-century ideas about the role of states and borders, the value of economic independence, and so on. There is an urgent need for a policy dialogue about the future of the Balkans that can help local and international players involved in the process to "see" the difference between their perceptions of the existing situation.
The existence of the EU and SEE's will to join it make the dialogue on the future more difficult, rather than easier. The temporal utopia of communism has been replaced by the spatial utopia of the present EU. Consensus on joining the EU conceals the lack of debate on the future.
Understanding the intellectual challenge of development has persuaded the research group to avoid the "accession" type of questions in searching for new innovative ideas regarding SEE and to structure the project around four research groups rather than around 24 individual research projects. The ambition of the project is to stimulate researchers to integrate their findings in the common product and not to focus on projects of their own. Four basic questions were formulated about the future of the region and organized the project's intellectual dialogue in the context of these four questions. The selection of the groups' research agenda was based on three basic principles:
the research topics are broad enough and permit a multidisciplinary approach
the research topics are formulated in policy language
both the intellectual and the policy community recognize the research topics as critically important.
The research is organized in four research groups, each consisting of six scholars living in or born in the region, each focusing on a specific theme. It is significant that the groups are composed of scholars from different fields of knowledge. The themes of the four groups are:
1. How the Politics of Social Inclusion are Possible in South-Eastern Europe
This research group will analyze the uneasy process of "socialization" in the region. Who was included, when, and why? What are the risks for social cohesion? Which social and political groups will drive the social agenda? Gender, ethnic, and youth problems; access to education and the characteristics of the social agenda in the region; the role of NGOs and universities. What will be the social effects of "accelerated" or delayed EU integration?
Research Coordinator: Dr. Mihail Arandarenko, CEU
2. How the Regional Economies can be Integrated in the Global Economy
This research group will focus on the economic consequences of establishing a regional market and of introducing the Euro as a common currency; on the region's comparative advantages and disadvantages; on the institutional environment; on factors that will affect foreign investments long-term; on expected strategies of resistance to globalization; and on the role of the national states in blocking or promoting competitive strategies.
Research Coordinator: Dr. Ilian Mihov, INSEAD, Paris
3. What is the Future of the Nation States in SEE?
This research group will focus on the internal dynamics of state-formation in the region; on the sustainability of the existing states and statelets; on the existing constitutional regimes and their effect on the economy and society; on the risks of the weak states; on the prospect of introducing regional institutions and on the effects of EU enlargement on the functioning of the national states in the region; and on the prospects for ethnically "clean" or multi-ethnic states.
Research Coordinator: Dr. Ivan Vejvoda, Fund for Open Society, Belgrade
4. How SEE Identity is Possible
This research group will re-think the common history of the region; the construction of the national identities' educational systems; and the dynamic of the construction of European, national, and regional identities. This group will also focus on the role of religion and of clashes between religions in the formation of SEE identity.
Research Coordinator: Dr. Alexander Kiossev, University of Sofia
The major objectives of the research can be classified in five groups:
- To map new research areas bringing together the latest methodologies used in the social sciences and to stimulate interest in case studies and the techniques of micro-analysis, focusing on the study of local practices and their policy potential.To set up a new model of intellectual communication between scholars from different countries and disciplines.
- To formulate the problems of the reconstruction of SEE in a way that makes them intriguing to the broader intellectual community. This is why the project encourages non-scholarly products coming out of the common research: op-eds, public lectures, and participation in NGO activities.
- To assist the creation and distribution of significant scholarly works. Drawing on the lessons of similar projects, we realize that research by-products - individual articles or books - are usually more influential than the common product.
- To structure and organize the project so as to make the intellectual potential of the region visible and to foster a new generation of social scientists.
Ivan Krastev (Coordinator of the "Blue Bird" research group) February 2001
Neben dem Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin unterstützen die Vereinten Nationen, die Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Schweden und die Niederlande, der Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft und die VolkswagenStiftung das Projekt.
Dr. Andrea Krizsán, Central European University, Budapest