The Slovenia Times

Bled Strategic Forum looking for ways to bridge the divide

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Despite the recent technological advances and the numerous communication tools available it seems that the world is more divided than ever and this is what the BSF, taking place on 10 and 11 September at the lakeside resort that gave it its name, will discuss this year, according to Grk.

This year, as many as 24 panels will be held, which is the most in the 13-year history of the forum, while the number of guests is expected to be similar as last year, when a thousand from more than 60 countries attended.

Thus, the BSF is exceeding the framework of a regional forum. "We're evolving into a forum where the most burning issues of not only the region or the EU but the world are being broached."

The organisers are striving to make the panels topical. "We foremost want to find answers to the most important questions concerning not only the security and political situation in the world but the society as a whole.

"It is impossible to find answers in a vacuum in this globalised, digitalised world, so we must look for them in the wider social context, different groups must exchange views, both the civil society and politicians, economists and representatives of the academia," Grk said.

The title of this year's forum, Bridging the Divide, refers to the different views that are being expressed in the social discourse in various regions or even within the EU.

"For example, we can hear many different voices on what the EU should be like in the future."

While admitting that it is harder to build bridges than to destroy them, Grk feels that given the situation in the world today, forums such as the BSF must produce answers.

This year, the BSF foremost wants to "bridge the divide between politics, the economy and the civil society".

In this context, several respected guests have been invited to Bled. Next to Slovenia's top politicians, a prominent guest will be the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who will present his view of the EU.

UEFA president Aleksander ńĆeferin from Slovenia will talk about ways to bridge the divide in sports, while the situation in business will be discussed by one of the most influential economists in the world, Christian Ketels from the Harvard Business School.

Foreign ministers of various countries, including from the Western Balkans and as far as Sri Lanka, are also expected.

"The panels will be very diverse, ranging from debates on artificial intelligence and cyber security to development cooperation and meeting the goals of the 2030 development agenda of the United Nations."

The forum's "traditional" topics, from the Western Balkans to the EU, will also be discussed.

A special panel will mark the 20th anniversary of the International Criminal Court and the court's chief prosecutor Fatou B. Bensouda will again come to Bled.

The business section of the forum - Business BSF - will feature debates on the future of labour in the face of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and how these changes will affect ordinary people.

The Young BSF, a meeting of future leaders, also attracted a lot of interest. "We've received some 400 applications from 60 countries. 65 young people from 35 countries have been selected to take part."

Several partners to the forum also expressed the desire to hold their own panels this year, Grk said.

Thus, Slovenia's demining fund ITF - Enhancing Human Security will mark its 20th anniversary, while the Office for Slovenians Abroad will host a conference on the role of Slovenians in the international communities.

Another partner of the BSF is the Government Office for the Protection of Classified Information, which will organise a conference on cyber security.

"We're also cooperating with AmCham and the Economy Ministry," Grk said, noting that a panel would also discuss cultural heritage and tourism in the light of new technologies.

Since the BSF has grown to be a major forum in South East and Central Europe in terms of the number of panels and participants, Grk thinks that the team behind the event should also be expanded.

All these years, the forum has been organised by a group of about ten people from the Foreign Ministry and the Centre for European Future (CEP), and the budget has been stagnating for years at some EUR 250,000, he noted.

The forum is very important for Slovenia and its foreign policy also because of networking and bilateral talks on the sidelines of the event, he stressed. "Here, information is exchanged about the future guidelines of the international policy in the coming months and years."

Grk therefore believes that the BSF brand should be expanded and promoted throughout the year. It could cover various other events not only the forum in Bled in mid-September, he told the STA.

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