Interview / Marija Filipović Ožegović: “The only response to what we face – speak to each other”

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On the 28th of May, at the international conference “How to better respond to the European aspirations of the young generations in the Western Balkans?” I had the pleasure to speak with Marija Filipović Ožegović, the director of Foundation Tempus from Serbia. She holds a University degree in Economics for Executive Management. Mrs. Filipović Ožegović was active in events related to implementation of Bologna process in Serbia in order to support students’ perspective and has participated in National working groups focused on formulation of laws on higher education. She is currently coordinating the Erasmus+ Programme in Serbia.

After the results of the European Parliament elections, what is your overall vision of the future of the EU? How would the future composition of the European Parliament impact the prospects of Serbia’s accession to the EU?

It is very difficult to answer, because the results have just been announced and, I think, that it remains to be seen who will create the coalition, because no one has the majority. To me, it seems that the European liberals are going to be in majority that would mean, probably, all the fears that existed before the elections would disappear, because, definitely, will emphasize the need for more coherent Europe, which could and doesn’t have to be, at the same time, a strong message for the Westerns Balkans. It remains to be seen what is going to be the new policy of the European Parliament over the Western Balkans, whether they would like to first tackle the issues the EU has within the EU about the fiscal consolidation, the deficit, the overdraft in GDP of some countries. There are many economical issues to be tackled first, before there is, normally, the time to speak about the Western Balkans, and, then, it remains to be seen how this new European Parliament will look into some sensible Western Balkans’ issues. Like negotiations between Belgrade and Prishtina, for example. Whether the approach will be changed, the famous Chapter 35, the content of the chapter will be changed or not. It all has an impact on how the future will look like, but the first message we received after the elections, the composition of the Parliament – is a good message for everyone. What we fear, at least, some right-wing parties will have more influence. The future remains to be seen, but at least, the first news is promising.

To improve young people’s education in Serbia, you helped to implement two major education systems: Bologna and Erasmus+. What are the following measures or programs that you would intend to bring forward to your country’s policymakers in this field?

We manage funds, like your national agency, we give grants to universities, to schools, to everyone who is involved in the educational and youth sector. We will continue to do what we have been doing for this time, and, I hope, we are going to implement the new European program. But our goal is to have as many newcomers’ programs as possible. At the moment, we are very satisfied with the geographical balance, because from every border to another border there are organizations participating in Serbia. I don’t know the case of the statistics in Romania, but one real thing that happened is that geographical coverage of projects selected for funding shows that Belgrade doesn’t have proportionally the same the number of projects, as a very small town in the Southern Serbia. It would seem that the disbursement is really excellent and the municipalities that have a bigger GDP and the income apply less.

Marija Filipović Ožegović with SE reporter Alexandr Burdian

The Serbia-Kosovo relationship remains uncertain today, as the reconciliation process is at a stalemate. Implementing educational programs between young people from the two states would bring productive collaboration?

As you know we do not see Kosovo as an independent state; according to our constitution it is the integral part of Serbia. What happened today in that territory*…definitely, there are issues that happen every day. We foster cooperation between the citizens, the universities and the civil society organizations. But, very unfortunately, sometimes, like today, the daily politics disrupts these things. When I spoke during the panel, I told that fostering education reform in order to reinforce critical thinking in prevention of spin and the fake news, that we face in every country is maybe the only response to what we face when speak to each other; the understanding could be better and we will see the same problem with clear eyes.

*On May 28th, Kosovo police conducted a series of raids in Northern Kosovo, mostly populated by ethnic Serbs – an act described as a „provocation” by Serbia and its main ally in the East, Russia. During the action, 19 police officers were arrested and a UN employee was injured.

Interview conducted by Alexandr Burdian