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International Conference on South-East Europe: Educational Co-operation for Peace, Stability and Democracy
Expert Conference in the framework of the Enhanced Graz Process. Stability Pact for South-East Europe - Working Table 1 - Sofia/ Bulgaria, 12-14 November, 1999

The conference held in Sofia in November, 1999 marked a new stage in diverse moves over recent years for a reform in educational policies in and around South-East Europe. The aim of this conference was outlined clearly, namely that a paper should be compiled which would serve as a working model for the meeting to take place between the members of the stability pact, i.e. 'Working Table 1' on 24 January 2000. The need for a paper of this kind and at this particular point in time should be obvious to anyone who has recently been involved in issues of education in South-East Europe. During the past 5-10 years, a multitude of moves towards improving education have been initiated, but over the passage of time it has become almost impossible to keep track of the parties involved, the recipients, financiers or organisers. A conference was consequently called by the Austrian EU council presidency and took place in Graz in November 1998. The conference, entitled 'European Educational Co-operation for Peace, Stability and Democracy', aimed at finding an efficient means for co-ordinating past work as well as finding a systematic approach for documenting it. A process was also to be found which would allow various initiatives as well as international parties and action groups in the countries and regions of South-East Europe to be networked. In 1999, five workshops were held during which (and in accordance with the theme discussed) they set about planning short-term, medium-term and long-term targets for future educational activities in South-East Europe. The results of these workshops served as the basis for the conference in Sofia. The preparation time was long and complicated but justifiable considering the importance of the conference. ( is the Internet address for the 'Enhanced Graz Process', where comprehensive information about the 'Graz Process' is available, including reports from the workshops and conference as well as information on further educational initiatives in the Balkan region).

The organisers of the conference, - the Bulgarian Ministry of Education, 'Culture Contact' acting as the co-ordinating agent for the 'International Task Force of the Enhanced Graz Process' and the Balkan College Foundation - were faced with the none too easy task of not only being responsible for the event but also having to look after the large number of participants (estimated at approx. 160). Expectations regarding the conference varied a great deal among the participants. The Bulgarian Minister for Education, Vesselin Metodiev, expressed the hope that the conference would contribute towards the structuring of a regional dialogue as well as towards co-operation on a 'cross-institutional' level. Donald Kursch, representing the Stability Pact in Sofia, stressed the importance of the Stability Pact as a new form of co-operation in Europe, but at the same time, warned people against overestimating the degree of its impact in the short-term. Madlen Serban, the Rumanian Minister for Education, reminded everyone that international aid, as welcome and as necessary as it may be, should however not lead the South-Eastern European countries to forget that they themselves, more than anyone else, are responsible for the development of their region. Milika Dhamo from the University of Tirana poignantly remarked that ten years ago a large majority of people believed that democracy could be imported along with a market economy (probably not only true for this region but also for many of today's countries undergoing transformation). People are only now slowly becoming aware of the fact that democracy is a long and complicated process and that education has a key part to play in its development.

Probably one the most difficult problems facing the educational sector in South-East Europe is that there is no common basis to start from, since each country is in a different situation. Thus, unlike Bosnia-Hercegovina for instance, not all of the countries have had to cope with the aftermath of a war. Moreover, the educational budget of each country varies. One of the most complicated 'cases' to date is undoubtedly that of Serbia which is not a member of the Stability Pact and therefore has no official right to claim international support. Subsequently, it was all the more impressive the way the Serbian and Montenegro NGOs presented their case in Sofia, seeing perhaps the conference as a good opportunity for taking part in international debates and laying the foundation for possible long-term changes.

After two days, and despite the differences at the outset, the conference managed to pass a paper both in the plenum and also in the working groups, entitled 'The Sofia Recommendations'. The paper will be presented at the Stability Pact's meeting in January. The depth of work which went into the months of preparation before the conference was clearly an important contributing factor. While the 1998 conference in Graz was structured, albeit inductively, towards the first steps for co-ordinating activities, and was also the first attempt to take stock of the situation, the months following have brought a strategy which uses concrete data to form short-term, middle-term and long-term plans.
In their final document, the members of the Sofia Conference spoke in favour of creating an inclusive European educational territory. Educational programmes devised by the European Union and other European educational institutions should provide means for countries from South-East Europe to be included so that there is an equal opportunity to exchange experience and knowledge. This investment, like any of its kind, will require a period of at least 10 years before a programme can come into effect. This is because processes of change which have to do with education can only be regarded in the long-term. Financing has to be optimised and made more effective with new sources being mobilised. In addition, it is still important to co-ordinate and network existing initiatives. Isolated pilot projects which are seldom linked are not efficient enough to support a systematic development within education. One of the most important points here was the idea of establishing a future 'South-Eastern European Co-operation Centre'. This would need to undergo a 'Feasibility Study' by the European Commission.
The Georg Eckert Institute, with its wealth of experience in international textbook research and development, will also be involved. Its main task will be to observe on-going and planned projects in textbook research in South-East Europe, to network and enhance them. This is to provide a systematic and co-ordinated approach (both in the short-term and long-term) for all the projects concerned with research and educational policies in textbook research and the compilation of learning material in and around the region. The Georg Eckert Institute has been co-operating for many years with partners such as the European Council, UNESCO or EUROCLIO, and can build on these partners for a future co-operation with other organisations and initiatives.
Last but not least, the members of the Sofia Conference repeated the need for keeping institutional structures which emerge from these co-operation and co-ordination projects open and accessible so that innovative projects can also be given a chance to develop in the future.

Heike Karge
Celler Str. 3 D-38114 Braunschweig
Phone: 49 (0)531-59 0 99 62
Fax: 49 (0)531-59 0 99 99