What was probably the first attempt at a National Dialogue took place in Sarajevo from October 28 – 30 2016. It was national in the sense that some 40 participants were people already active in civil society and voluntary organizations. There was a good male/female balance, with representation of youth groups and older people, some of whom had experience of work in the field over the last 20 years. The conference was in no way nationalistic, and the major towns in both the Federation and the Republika Serbska were represented. The organization was wholly Bosnian, assisted by some planning and input from the British charity, “The Soul of Europe”. The latter has worked in Bosnia and Kosovo over the last 15 years.
The Conference started by considering the current needs of the country, in particular its high unemployment and poor prospects for many of its young people. This leads to a serious brain-drain, which affects some communities more than others. For example, Croats may move from Bosnia to Croatia, acquire citizenship and then move to the European Union.
There was much discussion about the economy, including its assets in organic food production and green tourism, and also health care for visitors, for example from the Middle East. We explored the connection between the education system and the economy, especially as regards entrepreneurship and new businesses. Education for women and their role in the economy received special mention. An adult education centre, using distance learning could be helpful. There were proposals for a Labour Market Database, for better career guidance and for school meals.
We debated whether institutional religion is providing problems or solutions. We noted the current planning for an Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim mobile art exhibition. The Conference wanted all religious leaders to attack and prevent hate speech. It wished to see much closer connections between such leaders and civil society generally.
The participants avoided political argument, but favoured the development of minimum consensus across the country between politicians and all other types of leader. They hoped to see a multi-disciplinary centre of excellence set up, as a pilot project, using existing resources as much as possible, to be a tangible fruit of dialogue
The Conference agreed on an immediate follow-up meeting, probably to be held in Zenica. It also identified other places where different communities adjoin each other and where local contributions to the national dialogue would be specially valuable.