Mayors from South East Europe join in a Shared Societies effort

Hosted by the Major of Sarajevo(Bosnia & Herzegovina), it gathered majors from Belgrade (Serbia), Podgorica (Montenegro), Tirana (Albania) and eight other Bosnian cities to join forces and overcome social divisions, intergroup tension and hostility and to building inclusive Shared Societies in the region. The Conference was led by two Club de Madrid Members: Zlatko Lagumdzija, former PM of Bosnia Herzegoina and Iveta Radicova, former PM of Slovakia. The participants of this gathering, jointly organized by the Club de Madrid, also agreed on setting two Networks of Cities for Shared Societies: one focusing on Bosnia and Herzergovina, and another for cities from all countries of South East Europe.

In the Declaration, Mayors and local authorities have included the Ten Commitments for a Shared Societies as guiding principles in their local policies and agreed to have the next conference of South East European Cities for Shared Societies in Podgorica, Montenegro. The main purpose of this inititiave was to discuss the relevance of the notion of Shared Societies  and to introduce the Project´s recent publication on Local Governments. Moreover, it provided an opportunity to share experiences and ideas about how to overcome the constraints when building an inclusive society.

Ivo Komšić welcomed the participants to Sarajevo and explained the aims of the meeting. In Europe there have been attempts to impose homogeneity on societies and the recent history of Bosnia and Herzegovina had shown the importance of resisting such dangerous ideas. Club de Madrid Member Zlatko Lagumdzija stressed that in the current global dynamics, with growing xenophobia and the impact of the refugee crisis, the idea of building shared societies is more relevant than ever. Former Prime Minister of Slovakia and Club de Madrid Member, Iveta Radicova, highlighted three important challenges that need to be addresed in order to stregthen democracy: participation and social cohesion at the local level – descentralization, transfer of competences and resources and transparency and accountability.

Daniel de Torres, Adviser of the Shared Societies Project, stressed that the idea of sharing and working in a Network of Cities increases the opportunities to break down barriers in societies, and allows for more efficient solutions to end discrimination and exclusion. In this regard, Prime Minister Radicova draw attention to the potential of strengthening the notion of shared responsabilites among local people in order to improve efficiency in delivering local services to all citizens and rebuild trust in the region.

Francesca Lionetti, representative of the Intercultural Cities (ICC) program of the Council of Europe, presented their methodology as a Network of cities working in inclusion and in advocating for diversity. She said that ICC and the Shared Societies Project have a common vision that promotes mixing and interaction among different cultural communities. Joe Austin, former member of Belfast City Council, brought into the debates lessons learned from the Northern Irish conflict and good practices in dealing with religious and cultural tensions. “Shared societies is not an option, is a compulsory element of peace”, Austin pointed out.

In addition to presentations from the mayor of Podgorica and the Deputy Mayor of Tirana, representatives of more than 10 Bosnian municipalities participated in this conference. They stressed the relevance of the Shared Societies concept in the country and expressed their interest in creating a National Network of Shared Cities as a way to support good practice’s exchanges and promote new areas of collaboration in employment, social care, education and urbanisation policies.

Our Shared Societies Project defines a Shared Society as one in which all individuals and constituent groups holding equal statuts as contributing participants, free to express their differences while integrating their voices within the broader population. Through this project and other activities, Club de Madrid is working to strengthen the crucial role cities and local communities can play in healing identity-based division across the region and the need for placing inclusion and diversity at the center of efforts in building sustainable, resilient and shared cities. 

Read the full delcaration here.