Two decades ago, Zoran Đinđić was assassinated, and in the same year, the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro was established, becoming a part of the Council of Europe. In Thessaloniki, the EU Summit adopted a declaration of readiness to admit Western Balkan countries to membership after meeting the prescribed conditions, and on October 28, the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence (BFPE) was founded. Driven by a vision of a modern and democratic Serbia and encouraged by the democratic potential of that time, the organization’s priorities were focused on strengthening the professional capacities of women and men for responsible participation in political and social life.
What has BFPE brought new? We adopted a proactive approach and, in line with the principles of lifelong learning, dedicated ourselves to the political education of those involved in policy-making and decision-making. The emphasis was placed on programs that, in addition to acquiring new knowledge, enabled future representatives of state institutions, political parties, local governments, and public administration, civil society organizations, media, and businesses to learn and cultivate a culture of dialogue, engage in political debates with the aim of finding solutions rather than fueling disputes. With faith in the power of knowledge and education, among other things, in developing mutual trust, social and political elites were directed towards the modernization, democratization, and European integration of Serbia, the rule of law, respect for human and minority rights, and finding solutions to current and future challenges of sustainable development, as well as promoting dialogue among relevant actors.
We proudly highlight that we placed topics such as climate change, sustainable development, green economy, migration, human security, the role of parliament in poverty reduction strategy among the first on the agenda in Serbia.
We changed our name in 2021 because as we entered a ‘mature’ phase, we concluded that we must send a new message with our name – the Foundation BFPE for a Responsible Society, still aiming for political excellence, which can only be achieved if citizens become more actively involved in building a responsible society. We have succeeded in making BFPE recognizable for its political education program and for bringing together representatives of political parties, civil society, media, and many others ‘around the same table’ for 20 years.
Currently, the BFPE alumni network includes over 2,000 men and women who have participated in one of the political education programs and come from almost all segments of political and public life. These are the individuals who can contribute to change and would not otherwise come together at the same place for a quality and equal dialogue. Through its programs and work with its participants, BFPE encourages the exchange of opinions and reasoned debate, fosters respect for diversity, and provides opportunities for those who want to change things in their environment to do so through advocacy and activist initiatives. Additionally, BFPE connects those who recognize the importance and value of a democratic society and encourages critical thinking, as well as addressing current and future challenges of sustainable development. It also empowers vulnerable groups to fight for their rights through all available means provided by the constitution and the law, offering them mentorship on that path.
From the very beginning, BFPE became part of the Network of Schools of Political Studies of the Council of Europe. Together with partner schools from the Western Balkans region and beyond, it continuously encouraged and deepened regional cooperation and dialogue through the exchange of opinions and experiences of decision-makers, with the ultimate goal of Western Balkan countries becoming equal interlocutors at the table, rather than being the topic or problem on the table. With continuous efforts to develop regional cooperation, BFPE also operated on an international level through various initiatives, raising issues of not only local, national, and regional significance but also global importance. For example, in November 2007, we organized a conference in Belgrade with partner schools from our network on the achievements of regional cooperation between Black Sea and Balkan countries, and at the Belgrade Security Forum in October 2018, we discussed the situation and challenges in the Middle East. Unfortunately, at that time, they were only of interest to a selected audience; today, they would capture the attention of many.
Therefore, it is not surprising that in 2011, BFPE was the initiator and founder of the Belgrade Security Forum. Timothy Judah, the renowned author of the term “Jugosphere,” called BSF “the most important event from Istanbul to Vienna” because it represented more than just a conference; it was a platform for dialogue among actors who rarely shared the same stage, including presidents and prime ministers of states, as well as local activists from around the world. For 11 years, every October, participants from Washington to Seoul arrived in Belgrade to include the Western Balkans in global debates and bring those debates “home.”
BFPE promotes and encourages decentralization by implementing various programs throughout Serbia, where changes happen, always in cooperation with local partners. Most of the participants in various BFPE programs come from different parts of Serbia. With new knowledge and support, we empower them to be agents of change in their communities, while they provide us with a better understanding of the needs of all our citizens, helping us build our programs more effectively.
After 20 years, there is still much work to be done in the field of political education, and BFPE’s task is to continue dedicating itself to it, just as it has in the past 20 years. The new era brings new problems, challenges, but also new ways to address them. What we certainly do not lack are ideas on how to inform, empower, encourage, and motivate people for change.
At the beginning, the BFPE team consisted of three individuals, and then dozens contributed to achieving our mission. Currently, the BFPE team comprises thirteen selfless and dedicated individuals who design and implement ideas and initiatives daily, following the impulses they receive, primarily from our numerous participants and partners. Along with numerous partners from our country, the region, and beyond, BFPE is committed to realizing its vision of a evenly developed Serbia, based on democratic values and principles. There is still much hard work ahead of us, but we believe that a ‘small but dedicated group of people can change the world,’ and that’s why we will continue to work diligently and responsibly on promoting change and nurturing a culture of dialogue.