The Fifth Annual RRPP Conference on Social, Political and Economic Change in the Western Balkans was held in Belgrade on May 24-26th 2013. More than hundred researchers from the region and beyond took participation in this event. During the first day of the conference, the opening ceremony, key note speeches and the research fair took place.
Opening and keynote speeches
Dejan Eric, Director of the Institute of Economic Sciences opened the event with a welcome note on behalf of the RRPP local coordination unit for Serbia. He expresses his gratitude to the RRPP and hope that this programme will continue to contribute to social sciences in the region.
Jean-Daniel Ruch, Swiss ambassador to the Republic of Serbia and to Montenegro spoke about the challenges to the region from the perspective of Switzerland. Mr Ruch stresses three challenges: challenges of transition; challenges of education and challenges/opportunities that scientific cooperation can provide. He pointed out that the transition to the EU is a transition to a system of values, particularly related to human rights, transparency, accountability, rule of law, social justice and equal opportunities. He sees the challenges of education in the following: the education systems in the Western Balkans often do not match the demand on labour market. He adds that much too often young talents have a desire to go and work abroad and not to stay in the region.
Nicolas Hayoz, RRPP Programme Director gave a presentation on the achievements of the RRPP, and the future initiatives. Throughout the 2008 –2013 period, under the umbrella topic, “Political, Social and Economic Change in the Western Balkans”, RRPP has supported 50 research projects (26 regional and 24 national) valuing 3.7 million CHF. The funded projects are relevant to topics on transformation and its processes. RRPP also financed individual mentoring sessions and participation at international conferences for research teams and institutions supported by the RRPP in order to improve capacity building impact and research quality. A total of 16 regional trainings have therefore been organised and conducted by international specialists for research methods and management, gathering some 270 participants. Four Conferences have been organised since 2008, gathering 412 regional and international scholars. Aside from those benefits gained via networking, such conferences provide researchers an opportunity to present their work, exposing it to critical peer review. Furthermore, the RRPP initiated several projects related to “National Policy Dialogues” in all countries within its objective. These focused projects are aimed at influencing necessary systemic changes in social science research, concurrently involving a number of relevant stakeholders.
Radomir Zikic, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development pointed out that there is a problem of mobility which is a one-way street in Serbia at the moment. The best scientists are leaving the country. The Ministry plan to invest 300mil RSD in research infrastructure, which should stop this trend.
Susanne Zumstein, Programme Manager Serbia, advisor to the SDC Research Programme in Western Balkans Federal department of Foreign affairs FDFA, Swiss agency for development and Cooperation SDC stressed that research enables access to knowledge, which should inform political decisions. Research is a global public good and it has a potential to shape political decisions and social reforms. However, the relevance of the research remains below potential in the Western Balkans. There is a need for strengthening the research community and linking with the reform processes and public debate.
Mladen Dragasevic, Regional Cooperation Council talked about the activities of the Regional Cooperation Council, which promotes integration of SEE countries. He pointed out that regional activities rely on national efforts. The RCC introduced a regional strategy for research and development for innovation for the WB. Regional platform for research and innovation will be established and based somewhere in the region. The role of the social sciences is the most important in the whole process of making the strategy and establishing the platform
Mihail Arandarenko, Professor of Labour Economics at the Faculty of Economics, University of Belgrade and director of the Foundation for the advancement of Economics stressed that the unemployment rates in the WB countries are among highest in the world. However, unlike in the Caucasus, Tunisia, Egypt, there are not so much social unrest, which is probably due to the high levels of remittances – around 10% of GDP in the Western Balkan region. He pointed out that socialism transitioned into political capitalism in Weberian terms. Failed socialist modernisation in 80s and captured transition resulted in lasting and unprecedented increase in poverty and unemployment. Large share of GDP serves for horizontal not vertical redistribution. Selective social protection, weak social assistance – less than a half of those in need receive social assistance in the WB. Political elites in the region are disinterested in the rule of law, full employment, equality and social cohesion. Political elites in the region created institutions of exit not of voice.
On the first day of the conference, a Research Fair was organised with the aim of presenting the books and studies resulted from RRPP activities, as well as providing an opportunity for exchange of produced knowledge in the region and beyond. More than 100 books, studies, papers of different authors and institutions have been displayed at research fair stands. Participants had the opportunity to hear more about the Swiss National Science Foundation’s SCOPES programme and it’s current call for project proposals presented by Evelyne Glättli. Additionally, Nikola Savić, from the Data Centre Western Balkans, presented this RRPP funded pilot project explaining the necessity of sharing the data in the region for better usage and multiplying effect of research results. Claire Gordon and Marko Kmezic, co-editors of the Joint Volume, Stagnation and Drift in the Western Balkans, The Challenges of Political, Economic and Social Change presented this publication resulted from RRPP Annual Conference 2011. Abdylmenaf Sejdini and Esmeralda Shehaj presented the study Brain Circulation and the Role of Diasporas in the Balkans resulted from RRPP funded project. The study shows that the high propensity of students consider emigration primarily as a temporary move for educational purposes. This is in contrast with the widespread view that young people from the Balkans are mainly driven by dissatisfaction at home and lured by unrealistic expectations of a better life abroad. Finally, Marko Vladisavljević provided the participants with brief overview of the recently published research study Gender Pay Gap in the Western Balkan Countries: Evidence from Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. The study was published as part of the RRPP project implemented by the Foundation for the Advancement of Economics (FREN).