Zlatiborka Popov Momčinović
A conference entitled “Young Academics in Dialogue” was held in Tuzla on May 21st and 22nd, 2013. The conference organizers sought to bring together young academics at the outset of their careers from all of BiH’s major universities (Banja Luka, Mostar, East Sarajevo, Sarajevo and Tuzla). These young individuals, who represent a wide variety of disciplines, had the opportunity to become better connected, with the hope that it will be easier for them to overcome institutional and epistemological boundaries in their future work and cooperation. Participants were especially pleased with the conference’s interdisciplinary nature.
The conference was supported by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung’s (KAS) Sarajevo Office, and organized by The Center for the Empirical Research of Religion in BIH and the Center for Political Culture. The conference was comprised of a number of panel sessions, which allowed the young academics to present their research and expertise, address various issues of academic and public concern, and become more empowered in public discourse, an area which has traditionally been reserved for older professors.
Sabina Wölkner, KAS Director in BiH, opened the conference by welcoming the young academics and providing information about KAS’ projects throughout the country. In particular, Ms. Wölkner noted the foundation’s work regarding parliamentary reform, political academies, and the work of the BiH Interreligious Council and its recent “Meeting of Young Theologians.” The current stalemate status quo in BiH is problematic and failure to implement the Sejdić-Finci verdict means that BiH is only slowly progressing towards democratic consolidation, according to Ms. Wölkner. The KAS Director believes strongly in the ability of young people, and especially young academics, to be a creative force for addressing and solving societal problems.
Mr. Vuk Miljanović of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of East Sarajevo, opened the first panel on Philosophy and Social Reality. He referred to the Methodenstreit, which took place in nineteenth century Germany between so-called positivists and hermeneutics, that is to say between those who aimed to explain phenomena within the well established path of natural sciences and those who stressed the value of understanding and gaining deeper insight into particular, specific phenomenon. A certain type of Methodenstreit still exists today regarding the role of philosophy in society. Mr. Miljanović compared the famous ending of Voltaire’s Candid, where the philosopher decides to care for his own garden in the end, with Marx’s 11th thesis on Feuerbach, which states that though philosophers only differently interpret the world, yet it should be changed and transformed. In his opinion, philosophy can deal only with phenomena that are eventually real (Carl Schmitt) because any kind of revolutionary change ends in violence and the production of more social evils.
Ms. Valida Repovac, of the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Sarajevo, gave the second presentation. Ms. Repovac’s research focuses on cosmopolitism and the crises of theories of multiculturalism, which are often interpreted as forms of Western domination in a thin disguise. New developments within the so-called postcolonial theories offer a necessary basis for finding solutions for problems not resolved directly by multiculturalism theories.
Ms. Ita Lučin, of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Mostar, moderated the discussion. She noted that theories of multiculturalism applied in western states are frequently misinterpreted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where comparisons cannot easily be drawn. In western European countries, multiculturalism has emerged as a solution for addressing growing immigration. However, it is difficult to apply this theory in BiH, where different ethnic communities are autochthonous to the country. Ms. Sabina Wölkner, KAS Director in BiH, explained that the application of multiculturalism in Germany has actually had the effect of leading to the isolation and exclusion of immigrant groups. Ms. Wölkner further commented on the current collision between the German idea of a Leitkultur and the various cultural traditions of diverse immigrant groups. This conflict poses an ongoing challenge to the German state, with experts, academics and politicians still searching for answers.
Today, Leitkultur can rather be interpreted as the need for those seeking German citizenship to speak the German language fluently and understand the basics of the political system as a perquisite to fully enjoying the rights that citizenship provides. Immigrants should accept the German constitutional and democratic order as a precondition for integration into society. Thus, Leitkultur in no way requires that an individually be ethnically German. Rather, each immigrant has the freedom to express his or her own cultural, religious and ethnic identity in Germany while integrating into German society. Integration is not assimilation, and, as such, calls for acceptance of certain political, economic and societal norms, which are based on a democratic constitutions and European values including human rights and equality for men and women. The term Leitkultur frequently creates confusion and has been widely misinterpreted. Ms. Wölkner helped participants define the term, while also responding to questions about its various interpretations and the misunderstandings it has generated.
Mr. Samir Forić, of the Faculty of Political Science, University of Sarajevo, opened the second panel, entitled Sociology and Social Responsibility. He explained that the study of sociology is currently in crisis, as it is often considered a discipline, rather than a science. Forić believes sociology has lost its public reputation and is becoming ever more watered down via the production of different sociological disciplines. Despite these negative trends, in Forić’s opinion, sociology – and sociologists in BiH – should seek to understand the logic and functioning of society. He views BiH as a socially passive state, but also believes that sociology offers the tools to define a diagnosis and offer an appropriate cure. Social passivity may be viewed as a consequence of the transition from socialism, at which point the state lost the privilege of being the main social actor. The current Bosnian and Herzegovinian reality, in which more individuals are unemployed, than employed, leads to major social deflation. A new ethic of social responsibility, in which different social actors work in partnership to encourage social cohesion, will be necessary in order to overcome the current situation. Despite the crisis of the socially passive state, there is also an impetus for sociological, critical articulation, which should take place not only within academic institutions, but also via new media (for example, through blogs).
Amila Ždralović, a sociologist teaching at the Faculty of Law, University of Sarajevo, gave this panel’s second presentation. Ms. Ždralović focused on the duties of sociology in contemporary society, referring specifically to Anthony Giddens’ notion of constant reflexivity as the main feature of society in this phase of modernity. In responding to questions about sociology’s duties, she noted the need for a theoretical-practical framework for understanding society, the creation of realistic utopias, and a constant search or struggle for emancipation. According to Ždralović, sociology in BiH has not fulfilled its duties, as evidenced through the absence of a BiH Association of Sociologists, that fact that more books are written about methodology for sociological research than actual research as such, and because methodologies for teaching sociology in secondary schools are extremely outdated. She believes it is necessary to compose a bibliography of all recent works in the sociology field, which would serve as a creative basis for both defining the status of this science, and helping it overcome its crises.
Krešimir Tabak, of the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Mostar, moderated the discussion. Tabak helped participants address issues including the lack of political responsibility and Weber’s notion of politics and science as a vocation. Participants also referred to the paradoxical situation that the BiH state is currently in. Specifically, the hyper-production of administrative positions and sheer number of individuals working in the administration has actually led to a weak state.
The third panel, Media and Ethics, is of critical importance in contemporary society as there is almost no event that is not influenced, interpreted and presented via the media. Zarfa Hrnjić, from the University of Tuzla’s Faculty of Philosophy, focused her presentation on online media, explaining that violations of media ethics most often occur online. Any individual with elementary literacy is capable of writing or posting on the Internet. Thus, we are living in a reality where anyone can be a “journalist.” Given the Internet’s heavy deregulation, it is often in conflict with established ethical media codes. Problems also exist regarding fragmental information and information that has been taken out of context. Hrnjić equated the consumption of online media to the consumption of fast food, arguing that we are now overwhelmed with low-quality information.
Dragana Rašević, of the University of Banja Luka’s Faculty of Philosophy, spoke about violations of ethical codes in the BiH media concerning children. Media companies interested in increased publicity and profits often expose the identities of minors who the victims of various crimes. Journalists frequently fail to ask parents for permission to reveal their children’s identities. Given that a law on media literacy has been passed, the Department of Journalism at the University of Banja Luka proposed introducing a course on this topic. However, their proposal was rejected, with the Ministry of Education claiming that a “similar” course (Journalism Informatics) already exists.
Vuk Vučetić, from the University of East Sarajevo’s Faculty of Philosophy, moderated the discussion and gave particular focus to the issue of media literacy. Vučetić views media literacy as a long-term project through which individuals, from an early age, should be taught how to consume media and demand both quality information and greater responsibility on the part of journalists. Despite relatively good legislation in this field, violations of media ethics in both the regulatory and self-regulatory media frequently occur. This is due largely in part to the fact that journalism is not a sufficiently mature field in BiH. Cooperation between journalists, academics and NGO representatives is important. It is necessary to take into account that media functions in a paradoxical situation. Namely, it operates in a framework that can best be described as having a “surplus of laws and lack of information.”
Dražen Barbarić of the University of Mostar’s Faculty of Philosophy opened the fourth, and final, panel on Religion in Democratic Society. Barbarić claimed that religion finds itself in a split position within modern democracy. Moreover, democracy as a system in in crisis and must be redefined. He feels that religion should play a constructive role in democratic revival. It should not turn towards the old regime, but rather play a liberal role in expanding the democratization framework. The term liberalism can be interpreted using the works of John Rawls, who defined it in his work Political Liberalism, particularly with regard to the idea of overlapping consensus. This indicates that religion should play a role in democratic processes. However, it should not act from a dogmatic position, or from the position of religious fundamentalism, as this would endanger the very idea of overlapping consensus necessary for democratic revival. In the public space, religion should be reasonable and not seek to exert a disproportional presence in public discourse if social justice is to be achieved. The concept of public reason is deserving of emphasis, especially in light of recent writings by Juergen Habermas.
Zlatiborka Popov Momčinović, of the University of East Sarajevo’s Faculty of Philosophy, followed Mr. Barbarić’s presentation. She stated that religion and democracy are frequently perceived as incompatible. However, she believes that the so-called third wave of democratization occurred simultaneously with the process of religious revival that we are still witnessing today. The speaker drew on the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and in particular, his Social Contract, stating that if a group of people are a people of God, they will rule themselves democratically. In democracy, individuals are perceived as imperfect, as rulers are easily corrupted by power. Hence, they should be democratically controlled. The same may be argued about religion, where humans are also viewed as easily corruptible. In Christianity, although Jesus allegedly bore the sins of mankind, this did not fulfill practical consequences even in the Protestant idea of sola fide. The protestant idea of vocation and accountability (Luther’s Beruf) can lead, stated Momčinović, to either in-world ascetism (Weber), or to the involvement in this world within the framework of radical division between this world and God’s kingdom, which do not interact (Jürgen Moltmann, Slavoj Žižek).
In the context of BiH, Popov Momčinović claimed that deep social cleavages exist between religious and secular populations, in addition to existing ethno-national cleavages. This may be the consequence of misunderstandings and the false equation of religion with religious communities and/or churches, as well as the equation of politics with the state. The speaker believes that religions can and should contribute to political life (i.e. through civil society) within a democratic framework.
Damir Banović, of the Law Faculty of the University of Sarajevo, moderated the discussion. Banović presented an interesting idea, arguing that religious dogmas are often incompatible with the very notion of democracy. Such dogmas pretend to possess the ultimate truth and exclude those who do not adhere to this truth from the demos. Barbarić responded by arguing that this problem can be solved via the idea of overlapping consensus. In this application, religious dogmas are placed in a background culture and have neither the leading role nor final word. Rather, they are simply one of many legitimate voices in a plural society.
Alison Sluiter from KAS and Zlatiborka Popov Momčinović, the conference coordinator, then led a discussion focused on drawing conclusions based on the many interesting presentations given. A particular focus was placed upon the importance of cooperation, interdisciplinary work, and the role of young academics in BiH. The resources, knowledge and enthusiasm of these individuals are often neglected within both university and societal hierarchies. The positive climate of the conference, and the spirit of enthusiasm and egalitarianism, helped produce constructive discussion in line with Immanuel Kant’s idea of the public usage of reason, for which freedom of expression is a necessary prerequisite.
Particular attention was paid to how similar activities could be supported in the future. Both the organizers and conference participants look forward to a second event in Pale in the autumn of 2013. Pale would represent an ideal next location, as it, like Tuzla, is a frequently overlooked university center. At the next conference, representatives from all of BiH’s major universities, as well as an expanded group of young academics, should be involved.
As a result of this activity, an informal network of BiH young academics has been formed. The participants are dedicated to working together in the future, across both disciplinary and geographic boundaries. As Krešimir Tabak noted during the closing session, Juergen Habermas has noted that the subject of research evaporates if it remains limited to a single discipline.