Rapid changes and new realities at the core of the 12th Bled Strategic Forum

The time has come to announce the 12th Bled Strategic Forum that will be taking place on 4 and 5 September 2017 under the title “New Reality”.

The world is rapidly changing, with globalisation and digitalisation significantly increasing the pace of our lives and bringing us closer together than ever before, as well as presenting profound challenges to our self-perception, politics, the economy, security, and society. Established political, economic and social elites are losing ground. Populist, nationalist and extremist movements are on the rise. It is difficult to keep up with the vast amount of information that bombards us daily, let alone evaluate its true value or meaning and put it in a proper context. Such challenges of the new reality we live in will be addressed through the panel discussions, round tables and one-on-one interviews at this year’s conference in the idyllic environment of Bled, Slovenia.

The leading conference in Central and South East Europe that provides the needed high-level platform for discussing pressing regional and global issues brings forth also the questions of the role of the business sector, big corporations and small businesses and the challenges of the younger generation in their aspirations for the better future. Therefore, the forum also incorporates the Business BSF, addressing the topic of “Innovating New Reality” and Young BSF, taking place on 1-3 September 2017, tackling the “(Dis)connected Reality”.

Attracting some one thousand participants, including heads of state and government, ministers, diplomats, businesspeople, scholars and the media from around the world, the Forum is a unique opportunity for bilateral and multilateral meetings with the foremost regional and global stakeholders and offers the possibility of extensive networking among political and business leaders of today.

We are excited to share some further details about the conference in the weeks to follow – stay tuned via our website, Facebook and Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Tourist Information Center (TIC) Bled, Bled Tourist Association.

Blog Entry On The Night Owl Session Entitled Ordinary Radical(S): In Search Of A Meaningful Response by Ivana Ponjavic

DISCLAIMER: The contribution is a part of series written by the table moderators of the Night Owl Session entitled Ordinary radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response, which took place on 5 September at the Bled Strategic Forum. Please note that the author contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his/her employer.

We all know what we should do. Do we have courage for that?

Author: Ivana Ponjavic

Last year 211 terrorist attacks were carried out in six European Union Member States. In only one year, 151 people died and over 360 were injured as a result of terrorist attacks latest EUROPOL Report revealed.

How did this happen to Europe? Is there a European Perspective towards terrorism and extremism, especially among youth population? What drives them and how can we get to the roots? Are there any solutions? Those were the questions for our expert Mr Matjaž Gruden, Director of Policy Planning at the Council of Europe. Capacity to deprive terrorists is in our hands because they can’t succeed without us, he explained. It is not only about their actions, but also very much about our reactions which became part of their strategy.

Mr Gruden pointed out three ‘I’ as main causes of extremism among youth:

  1. Internet
  2. Inequality
  3. Identity

Widely used internet represents very powerful communication tool and strong amplifier of actions and reactions. Mismanaged globalisation has led us to inequality and stagnation, to rise of unsatisfied generations; it brought polarisation even in culture and identity. Significant number of young people feels like they have nothing to lose which is dangerous. They need perspective; they need visions of meaningful future, something really important worth striving for. At the same time, identity became central background for politics in Europe. Instead of being positive and inclusive, it is negative and aggressive which is exactly where terrorists wanted us to be.

Our second expert, Mr Jakob Sheikh, author and investigative journalist at Politiken from Denmark helped us to understand difference between ‘radical’ and ‘radicalised’.  We have to pay attention to inner narratives of the radicalisation and be aware that the issue is when radical becomes radicalised. What gives them courage to choose ‘another way’? Many of them became radicalised just because they met wrong persons at the wrong time. But is it just that? Pressures of life and ideological confliction are very important triggers.

The discussion moved on potential preventive activities and we all agreed that apart from strengthening security apparatus, governments have to do more on anti discrimination and inclusiveness, to make education widely accessible, to include civil society in dialogue and actions as well as to communicate with media as partners especially in polarising societies. What was our initial thought, turned out to be common conclusion of well balanced group of experienced and young colleagues coming from Ireland, Greece, Slovenia, Hungary, Iran, the US, and Switzerland. Reasons for the increasing radicalization of young people lay in our wrong-doings, in lack of inclusion, possibilities for education and employment. What we are doing so far is not what is expected. Although this problem is very difficult to deal with, we all know what we should do. Do we have will and courage for that?

Blog Entry On The Night Owl Session Entitled Ordinary Radical(S): In Search Of A Meaningful Response by Marty Castro

DISCLAIMER: The contribution is a part of series written by the table moderators of the Night Owl Session entitled Ordinary radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response, which took place on 5 September at the Bled Strategic Forum. Please note that the author contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his/her employer.

Author: Marty Castro

We were not certain who would show up; let alone how many people would join us.  It was, after all, called the “Night Owl” session for a reason (from 22:00 to 23:30). It was also at the end of the first long, productive and intense day of the Forum, after a reception that was so successful and crowded that people were not even entering the reception room after a while because the event was so well-attended, and we’d also be competing with an open bar down the hall from our session.

Well, when all was said and done, the Night Owl room was packed! In fact, there were more attendees than seats at the World Café discussion group tables, but that did not deter attendees from sitting in the observers’ seats and intently listening to the subject being discussed.  Our topic:  “Ordinary Radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response” was one that was ultimately at the heart of the 2016 Bled Strategic Forum “Safeguarding the Future” hosted in Bled, Slovenia.  Our challenge was to explore the root causes of the increasing radicalization of youth towards extremism and violence.

Our keynote speakers were Adam Deen, Managing Director of Quilliam (UK) and Julia Reinelt, Violence Prevention Network (Germany).  Our experts were Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan, Religious Counselor of RRG Initiative (Singapore); Ambassador Ahmed Farouk, Consul General of Egypt in New York; Elena Gonzalez, freelance journalist (Morocco); Matjaz Gruden, Director of Policy and Planning at the Council of Europe; and Jakob Sheikh, author and investigative journalist at Politiken (Denmark).

The GDL Team consisted of Nicola Forster, Founder and President of foraus—Forum Aussenpolitik (Switzerland); Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, Transatlantic Fellow at the RAND Corporation (USA); Hanina Ben Bernou, Adviser to the EU Delegation to the Republic of Kenya; Kyle Matthews, Senior Deputy Director at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies, Concordia University (Canada); Ivana Ponjavic, Associate of the Head of the Negotiating Team for Accession of the Republic of Serbia (Serbia); Mome Saleem, Programme Coordinator, Energy Innovation, Resource Equity and Climate Change at Heinrich Boll Foundation (Pakistan), and me, Marty Castro, President of Castro Synergies, LLC (USA).

Dr. Kirchner opened the session by presenting us with some of the challenges we face:  “We need radicals to change things in society that need to be changed, but where does too much radicalism become dangerous?” I asked myself, so where do we draw the line?  Are there shades of gray in “radicalism”?

Therefore, part of our challenge as a world society is also coming to a common  understanding of what we mean by terms such as “radicalization,” “extremism” and “terrorism.”  As we see often in history, one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter or Founding Father.  Ultimately, however, there appears to be consensus that “terrorism” has at its core the taking of violent action toward a political and/or  ideological  goal, which elements may not be present in the type of “domestic terrorism” we see, for example, in the regular gun violence in my home city of Chicago.  To date Chicago has had 3,099 shootings is 2016, exceeding last year’s total number of shootings. People live in terror in those communities at the epicenter of this violence.  To put it into context, on September 11, 2001, 2996 people were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 93.  Both scenarios of extreme importance, yet only “international terror” draws the greater concern and resources for the “protection” of the “homeland.”

We also needed to address what could cause someone to become so radicalized that they would commit the kind of acts that occurred on 9/11 and on so many other days, and in so many other places around the world since then.

Mr. Deen presented us with an interesting case study in radicalization:  himself.  Contrary to what many participants believed to be the norm, he came from a wealthy, Western family and not from poverty.  At some point as a teen he became “enamored with Islam,” yet his elders were not answering questions he had about it, nor about the world around him, to his satisfaction.  He encountered another young man who preyed upon his questioning and eventually was able to recruit and “radicalize” Mr. Deen.  Mr. Deen explained to us that the key in his and in others’ radicalization is that it is a “process”.  That process seeks to exploit actual or perceived “grievances” a person may have.  Critical to the process of radicalization, Mr. Deen explained, is to split the world into a binary worldview of “good v. evil,” “Islam v. the infidels,” “The Islamic State v. the Land of Ignorance”.  This process, he shared, is further abetted by the use of lies.  He said, “The most effective lie is one that has an element of truth.” He joined a radical group and began to recruit others over time using the same process that had been used to radicalize him.  Ultimately, a few years after 9/11 he was taking part in a ceremony to celebrate the hijackers when he became disgusted by what he was doing and thus  began his process of de-radicalization.

Mr. Deen went on to discuss with us the de-radicalization process, the most critical part of which, he argues, is deconstructing the binary worldview.  Without first doing that, the “radical” will always fall back to this world view as an effort to block out or deny the effort to “reason” with him.

Ms. Reinelt discussed her understanding of radicalization based on the work she’s done through the Violence Prevention Network in Germany. She indicated that when you have three or four generations of Muslims in Germany, for example,  and the parents, while culturally Muslim, are not really actively practicing the faith, and you have young people who are wanting to learn more, who are not feeling like “real Germans”, but instead are feeling excluded by society, and lacking an identity that creates a sense of belonging and community–these factors contribute to radicalization.  She explained that there are efforts underway to address some of these issue by, for example, having German-speaking Imams, and offering Islam as an elective course in public schools. She indicated that radicalism is never an online only process, but requires real life, social contacts. She indicated that radicalization supposes empathy. Therefore empathy is also a big part of de-radicalization.  She stated that the more we know about the other, the more tolerant we are, and the more protected we are from radicalization.  She also stated that de-radicalization is not a one-size-fits-all approach; rather, it requires a very individualistic approach. If you know how and why the person was radicalized in the first instance it is much easier to de-radicalize them.

From this overview of the radicalization and de-radicalization processes we moved on to lively table discussions.  My table included participants from the U.S., Germany, India, and the Balkans and experts from Singapore and Egypt.

However, much of the discussion at our table involved the preeminence of poverty as well as the use of religion and ideology in the formation of a “radicalized youth.”

Our expert from Singapore, Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan, who works in the area of de-radicalization, spoke about what I’ll call the “locality of terrorism.”  He stated that someone who might be considered a radical in Singapore (because of local issues or politics, presumably) might not be considered a radical in the West.  This, once again, underlined the problem with the notion of “radicalism (like terrorism) is in the eye of the beholder.”

He went on to discuss his view of the demographics of radicalization.  He indicated that there is a pattern to the age of radicals. In Singapore, they are often young men around 35 years of age and have an online presence; are indoctrinated/affiliated to a group; and suffer a failure to integrate into society as a whole.

Our Egyptian expert , Ambassador Ahmed Farouk, stated that he believed we can agree on what “terrorism” means, but we do not want to do so.  He stated that every government and political group comes up with a definition to accommodate his or her needs, thus making the definition of “terrorism” extremely politically charged and one without consensus. The Ambassador indicated that as a result of the failure to have a common definition of terrorism we are unable to have a common strategy to fight terrorism.

The Ambassador stated that the causes of radicalization are poverty, lack of education, violation of human rights, civil liberties and the freedom of expression; and the most important and the most dangerous cause is an ideological conviction.  He pointed out that the 9/11 hijackers did not come from poverty, or lack education,  etc. Rather, they had a conviction to an ideology. He stated that today we have all focused on tactics but not on the strategy in our fight against radicalization and terrorism.   He went on to say that we cannot focus on an individual (for example Osama bin Laden) rather, we need to focus on an ideology.   This supports the view that individual leaders may come and go, but ideology endures.  The Ambassador went on to speak in depth about the conflict in Egypt, which did draw some lively discussion between the Ambassador and the participants at our table.

After much in depth discussion among our table participants and experts, I asked everyone to sum up in one phrase their takeaway from our discussion.  This is how our table participants summarized our discussion:

  1. Don’t politicize religion
  2. Fight terrorism on an individual basis
  3. Must go to the root of radicalization; look at the “big picture”
  4. Fight the framing of violence as a legitimate way to reach goals
  5. People everywhere need to have a sense of meeting and world view
  6. Fight evil ideology

Needless to say, this Night Owl session was not intended to solve the issue of youth radicalization, but instead to give us insight into its causes and potential forms of reversal.  Clearly much remains to be done to find commonality not only in our definitions of the challenges facing us all, but also on a consensus on the strategies to address these challenges and an agreement on the root causes.  I would say, most importantly, there remains a failure of human understanding and tolerance that must be addressed at the individual level before it can be a force for change, security and stability at the national and international level.  However, we must do more now to sow those seeds that will secure and sustain us in the future.

Blog entry on the Night Owl Session entitled Ordinary radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response by Hanina Ben Bernou

DISCLAIMER: The contribution is a part of series written by the table moderators of the Night Owl Session entitled Ordinary radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response, which took place on 5 September at the Bled Strategic Forum. Please note that the author contributed to this article in his personal capacity. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily represent the views of his/her employer.

Author: Hanina Ben Bernou

I’m glad to report back from the roundtable I moderated at the session on “Ordinary radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response.” The lively discussion benefited from inputs provided by BSF participants with wide professional backgrounds and from divers countries. Bringing in very different perspectives is particularly relevant given the complex and global nature of the threat.

During the roundtable discussion we had the opportunity to discuss a non-exhaustive set of reasons for individuals to turn to radicalisation and violent extremism as well as possible responses to this global trend.

We agreed that there is no single trigger leading to radicalisation and violent extremism. It is a complex, live long and multi-factor process with a very personal pathway. It is the combination of local and global factors which facilitate the recruitment process including frustration, harsh security measures, identity crises, insufficiently empowered teachers, inter-community tensions, Islamophobia, lack of employment opportunities and perspective, marginalisation, online indoctrination, over-mediatisation, political exploitation, stigmatisation as well as the unintended consequence of globalisation.

In terms of possible solutions, we discussed the need to create more space for dialogue, get better in telling success stories, improve the understanding of resilience, keep on diminishing social, political and economic inequalities which are fuelling the recruitment narrative, reduce fears, support an active civil society sector as well as think about the possibility of promoting a European Islam which would be defined by European Muslims. We also agreed that prevention needs to happen simultaneously at the local and global level. Finally, it is paramount for successful prevention measures to keep the balance between providing effective security and safeguarding individual freedoms.

2016 BSF concludes with success

The 2016 Bled Strategic Forum has now officially concluded!

With more than 31 separate events, 136 moderators and speakers, as well as around 1000 participants (including BSF, Business BSF and Young BSF), the 11th Bled Strategic Forum was the biggest and most successful event in its history.

We would like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Centre for European Perspective, volunteers, our moderators, speakers, guests, institutional partners, sponsors and everyone else who helped to make this years’ Bled Strategic Forum come true.

Wishing you all the best and looking forward to welcoming you all at the 12th Bled Strategic Forum that will be taking place on 4 – 5 September 2017!

Do not forget to save the date!


BSF Project Team

Can the media report on terrorism without promoting it?

The panel debate Terrorism and the Media: An Uneasy Relationship at the Bled Strategic Forum discussed various aspects of the relationship between the media and terrorist propaganda, including whether blanket bans on reports on terrorist attacks would work and who needs the other more.

Ambassador Dr Patricia Flor, Head of the Directorate-General for International Order, the United Nations and Arms Control at the German Federal Foreign Office, believes that the German media correctly report on the background of terrorists.

As terrorists attack our way of living and principles, and freedom of the media and expression, it would be wrong to restrict the media coverage, because this would be exactly what terrorists wanted,  Dr Flor added.

On the other hand, Senator Terry Mercer, Senate of Canada, argued that self-regulating media and accountable media should not play the terrorist game. “You should stop giving them credit, they want to be recognised, so don’t recognise them, this is what they want.“

According to Senator Mercer, one of the ways of preventing radicalisation is to stop saying that a terrorist group is taking credit for the attack, as the job of the media is to bring news, not to promote terrorists.

But Mr Aidan White, Director of the Ethical Journalism Network, UK, said that blanket bans created more fear and intolerance, and that terrorists had two objectives when manipulating the media – to spread fear and inspire their potential followers.

Mr White added that journalism had difficulties coping with the new media context as journalism leaned on accuracy and fact-based communication as well as impartiality, transparency and accountability.

“The media environment has changed dramatically, Facebook and Twitter are massive new players in the media, but where is the commitment to values,” he wondered.

Dr Klaus Unterberger, Head of Public Value at ORF, argued that the internet is a part of the problem. “What we are seeing is accountable media that provide some independence and quality,” said Dr Unterberger, adding that it did not make sense to criticise journalists focusing on bad news.

Prof Marko Milosavljević, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, said that there were no means to prevent broadcasting of violent attacks.

Public media should not be persuading the persuaded, but “we should be looking for people on the margins of the society” and go to the platforms where the young people are, Prof Milosavljević added.

Turning back to the media coverage of terrorism, Mr Emre Kizilkaya, Journalist and Digital News Coordinator of Hürriyet, said that terrorist organisations in Turkey actually owned media outlets.

“There are so many grey zones,”  said Mr Kizilkaya, wondering whether you should ban symbols or show IS members marching with their own flags. “Best thing to do is to stick to ethical principles, otherwise it is not journalism at all,” he concluded.

Trust in Institutions, Policies Decreased, Panel Hears

Running under the banner The Key Disruption of the Future, the hidden dimensions panel heard that people’s trust in institutions and policies has decreased quite a lot over the past years, especially during the economic crisis, while it is vital for ensuring a future of well-being and security, despite inevitable disruptions.

To jump start the debate, Ms Mari Kiviniemi, OECD Deputy Secretary-General, delivered a keynote, stressing that “trust matters a great deal to people’s wellbeing”, while she was also critical of  the delivery of major policies: “Low trust in government means low capability to act.”

According to Ms Romina Boarini, Head of Monitoring Well-Being and Progress at the OECD, the OECD average drop after 2008 was 10%, while it as much as halved in countries most hit by the 2008 crisis. “The numbers we have show that in the OECD, we see that the crisis has taken its toll on trust.”

Similar arguments were presented by Dr Mattia Romani, Managing Director for Economics, Policy and Governance at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), who pointed to the EBRD study Life in transition for 2016. While the figures have not been published yet, Dr Romani noted they showed that trust had decreased. Broken down to two major groups – trust in institutions and policies has increased more than trust in society.

Their figures were somewhat challenged by Mr Boštjan Jazbec, Governor of the Bank of Slovenia, who said that economic figures showed a slightly different picture. What people say and how they act show a slightly different picture, he stressed. Touching on trust as such, Mr Jazbec noted that in order to induce trust, one must be willing to trust. What is more, he added that the perception of trustworthiness of institutions should be linked to the people who run them.

Ms Martina Larkin, Head of Europe and Eurasia and Member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum, moreover noted that tectonic shifts were happening in the world, the 4th industrial revolution and the end of the age of reasoning – the fact that decision-making is more and more based on lies and misperceptions – among them.

Mr Ravi Chaudhry, Chairman of CeNext Consulting and Investment Pvt Ltd, meanwhile turned to  history and future: “There were five transformational moments in history.” The latest was the shift to knowledge economy, whose victim is trust. Those who have knowledge don’t have the power and those who have the power often don’t have the knowledge.” He, however, believes in a gradual transition from knowledge economy to wisdom economy: “As a leader, you can have, at the end of the day, something in the hand, something in the head or something in your heart.” According to him, leaders must possess three major qualities – integrity, compassion and transparency.

Touching on knowledge, Mr Alastair Teare, CEO of Deloitte Central Europe, pointed to the internet as a way of giving information. This has, however, led to much less plurality in debates because the internet is a magnet for people who want to promote their views.

Ways to Prevent Radicalisation Discussed at Night Owl Session

The Night Owl Session, held in cooperation with Global Diplomacy Lab (GDL) and dubbed Ordinary radical(s): In Search of a Meaningful Response, focused on preventive action, and on how to turn the trend of growing numbers of radicalised individuals. Participants addressed the reasons for the increasing radicalisation of young people and reflected on opportunities for education, employment and inclusion.

To kick off the debate at tables, participants were told a story of Mr Adam Deen, Managing Director of Quilliam Foundation, who had been a member of the Islamist extremist organisation Al-Muhajiroun.

Mr Deen urged the participants to understand that both radicalisation and deradicalisation were a process. The process of radicalisation is exploitative, building on an individual’s grievances, be it personal, partial or perceived, and it is driven by ideology. And the extremist ideology is driven by a binary outlook on the world; in the case of Islamic extremism, by the division between Muslims and others or infidels. To be effective in deradicalisation, understanding that radicalisation is a process is crucial as one can start picking at the radical outlook slowly.

His story was commented on by Ms Julia Reinelt of the Violence Prevention Network, who stressed that deradicalisation takes longer than radicalisation, as deconstructing the radical outlook takes a lot of patience and knowledge about the topic of radicalisation, be it right-wing or Islamist.

“Empathy is very important in this process,” because it is always easier to hate an abstract enemy than an individual, Ms Reinelt pointed out, adding that disillusionment was always the first step in deradicalisation.

Following discussions at individual tables, Mr Jakob Sheikh, Author and Investigative Journalist at Politiken, stressed that “we need to be very cautious about how we’re talking about these things”. It is important to distinguish between radical and radicalised individuals, he added.

Ambassador Ahmed Farouk, Consul General of the Arab Republic of Egypt in New York, meanwhile pointed out that terrorism was also a “heavily politically charged” term, serving the interests of different politics.

Building upon terrorism, Mr Ahmad Saiful Rijal Bin Hassan, Religious Counsellor of the RRG Initiative, stressed that politicians who are willing to fight terror groups “the hard way” should also invest in soft measures, such as efforts to support deradicalisation. “All of us have a role to play in fighting terrorism, extremism and radicalisation,” he added.

Ms Elena González, Freelance Journalist from Morocco and Mr Matjaž Gruden, Director of Policy Planning at the Council of Europe, pointed to the issue of media depiction of Islam.

According to Ms González, a wall is being built between Muslims and non-Muslims by both ISIS and Islamophobia. Mr Gruden noted that what it means to be a Muslim, “not a radical one, an ordinary Muslim, maybe even non-practicing one”, in Europe today was the key question.

He proposed that those who defy radicalization processes despite coming from similar backgrounds to those who become radicalised, should be analysed as well.