The CDRSEE, in partnership with the European Movement in Serbia implemented two Hands on the Balkans seminars in July and August of 2014 with funding from the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and the Balkan Trust for Democracy. In addition to exceeding all established benchmarks for project evaluation, both seminars were overwhelmingly successful. Our outreach garnered over 200 qualified applicants to submit applications for the July or August sessions. Following a selection process, we selected 28 applicants to participate in the seminars, our maximum logistical and planned capacity.
We highly valued the feedback that we would receive from those that participated. Upon the completion of the seminars, we asked the participants to submit anonymous feedback forms which asked them to rank the success of the program through a serious of questions, as well as provide commentary. For two of the most critical questions, participants were asked to rank their answers between 1 and 5 with 5 being the highest score. On the question of how satisfied were they with the seminar overall, the average rank was 4.8 with no score less than a 4. On the question on how likely they were to refer the seminar to a colleague or a friend, all but one participant ranked their answer with a 5, with one participant ranking it a 4. The average rank for the second question was 4.96.
During the seminars, the participants were the beneficiaries of an experience that is unique in its approach as we strove to spend as much time in the field and little of it in one confined space. Participants had the opportunity to meet with civil society organizations, media, international organizations, and public officials, as well as spend several days in Kosovo to get a feel for the contrast in views and opinions from meetings in Belgrade, North Mitrovica, and Prishtina respectively. Leaders and influential individuals provided the group with insight that can often be difficult to find in academic text. Milan Antonijevic, Director of YUCOM (Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) shared his views in that “the new government doesn't like criticism. They see it as something disturbing government [procedures] and ultimately destructive. They take it all too personally and don't see the need for open criticism in a country." Dubrovka Stojanovic, a historian at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade spoke on the CDRSEE’s Joint History Project and history education in general, noting that "it’s not just about history - it’s about the misuse of history... whoever controls the past also controls the future." When the participants were in an academic setting, whether it be at the facilities of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade or Universum University College in Prishtina, they received frank and open insight from professors who taught during the seminars. Filip Ejdus, in his Serbia after Milosevic lecture, proclaimed that “as long as you have questioned borders you can’t really focus on democratization.” Alejtin Berisha, Executive Director of Universum University College in Kosovo, spoke on his experience in running for MP during the Kosovo Parliamentary Elections in 2010: "voters were more interested in short-term gains rather than long-term promise and vision ... I'm now in the education sector [so that] I can help support better political awareness." Such insight was at the core element of this seminar and provided the participants with a hands-on experience that complements either their education or early career endeavours.
An added value and particularly important sustainability element of the seminars is the network that the participants from both groups were able to form. In establishing a HoB Alumni online group we are affording the participants the opportunity to remain in contact, as well as collaborate together towards future endeavours in the HoB context and bilaterally with their own careers. The Alumni group discussion is active and an important aspect ensuring that the seminar experience lasts well beyond its ten day period.Overall, we are confident that the HoB seminar experience is of particular benefit to each student and young professional that participated. We are encouraged by the feedback and endeavour to build on these positive developments with future seminars and expand the HoB alumni network which will continue to develop the careers of future policymakers, civil society activists, and public servants. Our HoB seminar session in planned for December 12th to 22nd. Follow the seminars on the program’s website and facebook pages: www.hobseminar.com and www.facebook.com/hobseminar.