The movement to advance liberty in the Balkans is evolving into a well-consolidated network. Liberalni Forum in Bosnia & Herzegovina and Lucha Institute in Montenegro have partnered to establish the Balkan Liberty Network to reinforce the work of several independent classical liberal institutions in the region. The Balkan Liberty Network will even be hosting a three-day conference on entrepreneurship and freedom in November 2018 in Sarajevo, where academic papers will be presented in addition to marking the founding of the regional network dedicated to the promotion of a scientific approach to free market research and capacity building of relevant nonprofits.
“Balkan Liberty Network is an umbrella organisation that gathers pro-liberty think tanks in Balkans region,” said Danijal Hadžović, president of Liberalni Forum. “Other organizations that have joined our network so far are Multi (Bosnia) and OHRID Institute (Macedonia). Through our partnership, we saw the need to form such a network for two reasons. The first is political. All societies in the Balkans face similar or even identical problems such as: a communist legacy and insufficiently reformed societies, domination of populist nationalism, large and distorted states, low levels of economic freedom and high degrees of corruption. The other reason is cultural: most of us in the Balkans speak the same South Slavic language, we have similar cultures and have experience of living in the same country (Yugoslavia). Therefore, as a logical solution, we want to unite our forces with the aim to offer liberal solutions and policies for common problems that we share.”
Upwards of 300 people from Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are expected to attend the Balkan Liberty Conference. Liberalni Forum has also been active in promoting liberalism in the Bosnian context. Its School of Practical Liberalism is to increase “availability and exposure” of free market principles and thinkers to students in an effort to help them develop necessary skills for applying classical liberal ideas to practical issues. Twenty-five students were chosen to participate in the project that included weekly classes from February through June 2018.
“The participants in this project visited the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina, talked to state arlamentarians, wrote a policy document, had a final debate on the topics of liberalism and through all of that had the opportunity to research and discuss numerous social issues,” said Hadžović. “But most importantly, each of them is now tied to our organization and interested in exploring and expanding the idea of classical liberalism and the free market.”
Another of Liberalni Forum’s projects is “Strengthening Freedom Through Dialogue.” The series of five public debates included 230 participants — among them politicians, political analysts, journalists, professors, economists, and subject matter experts — in four Bosnian cities, with thousands of views of the recorded versions on YouTube. These high-profile debates introduced well-articulated arguments in favor of the principles of free societies to a much wider audience in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
“With this project we attracted public attention to our organization and showed that we are able to organize events at the highest level with the most prominent personalities in Bosnia,” said Hadžović. “Since this project was very successful we are planning to continue it starting in September, and we will raise it to an even higher level. Through the series of debates, the citizens have heard various opinions and new information followed by a thorough analysis and argumented discussion. This gave them a good basis for creating their own opinions and searching for more information, but also for developing critical thinking which is a crucial tool for shaping a healthier society.”
The work of Liberalni Forum comes at an important time as Bosnia’s general elections are coming up in October, and the purpose of its projects is to better inform citizens of the choices available to them on the ballot. It has created an “Ideological Compass” to analyze the political ideologies of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political parties.
“The basic idea is that political ideology can be measured on a two-dimensional axis,” said Hadžović. “The economic one (horizontal) measures the opinion on whether the government should have more or less impact on the economy. The other one (vertical) is more focused on social issues and analyzes the attitude of political parties concerning the level of liberalism or conservatism. So, we want to see which parties are in the correct sense left, right and center, through economic and social attitudes. Given that the results of our research on the ideological positioning of the parties will be announced before the October elections, and that they are going to be the main topic in the country then, we are sure that this project will attract great attention of the media and the general public.”
The fact that several independent organizations in the Balkans are experiencing success in engaging younger audiences about free markets, free people, and freedom points to a blossoming movement to advance liberty for the region.
“In the end, I want to thank Atlas Network, without whose selfless support and help most of these projects and goals would be much harder to accomplish,” concluded Hadžović. “In our efforts to spread liberal ideas and to contribute to our society we will keep broadening our areas of work, finding new ways of creating useful and educational events and projects, and we believe that the best days are just ahead of us.”
Liberalni Forum received an Atlas Network grant in support of its School on Practical Liberalism.