Friday, March 17, 2006

Tomorrow's politicians

Back in January I travelled to Cardiff from a weekend of seminars and workshops organised by the New Politics Network and British Council's UK-South East Europe Forum. Tomorrow's politicians had bought together young politicians and political activists from Southeast European countries and the UK.

The workshop was the final event within the Tomorrow's politicians project and resulted in an e-toolkit for emerging politicians, party trainers and political parties themselves, aimed at identifying and developing skills needed by effective politicians.

This toolkit will be an open e-resource, styled upon Wikipedia, and therefore open to reader contribution at any time.

During the Cardiff workshop, along with some others I was interviewed about my motivation to become politically active and about my experience in politics. I was also asked about my political heroes are and what skills I thought are needed "to do the job". I have copied a transcript of the interview below.


1. Adnan Papovic
President of the Youth Council of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

2. Natasa Vuckovic
Member of the City Assembly of Belgrade and Member of the Executive Committee of the Democratic Party, Serbia and Montenegro

3. Slavica Grkovska
Member of the Macedonian Parliament, Social Democratic Union, Macedonia

4. Adam Nazir Ahmed Teladia
Regional Executive Member, Liberal Democratic Party, United Kingdom

5. Ana Bumbak
President of the University Organisation of the Croatian Peasant's Party, Sibenik County, Croatia

6. Jason Robinson
Policy Officer of the Alliance for Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

7. Bogdan Tuchila
Vice-president, Youth wing of the Social Democratic Party, Romania

8. James Graham
Press and Campaign Officer, New Politics Network, United Kingdom

9. Georgeta Ionescu
Executive Secretary for Human Resources in the Liberal Party, Romania

10. Goran Jutrisa, moderator
Youth and Politics Projects Manager, British Council Croatia

Goran Jutrisa: What was your motivation to be active in politics? Who did you find as your political hero? Who do you look up to? Who was or who is and who remains your political role model?

Adnan Papovic: The reason why I joined politics was trying to change something after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I do think we have done so much and the situation has improved, especially regarding politics. I would say Bill Clinton because he struggled and did not get everything from just being born into a family and, of course, because the decisions he made were good and made an impact worldwide.

Natasa Vuckovic: The reason why I became active in politics was the fact that I wanted to contribute to the democratic change in Serbia and the development of a modern and a democratic society. Apart from that, being involved in politics is also a kind of a family history – almost everyone was involved in politics. Political heroes. Well, Zoran Djindjic is one of them, Francois Mitterand, Bill Clinton, also.

Slavica Grkovska: I was involved in politics when I was a student and my reason was really idealistic and it still is, and is keeping me. I wanted to contribute to changing society in Macedonia, to building new ways of our country's development. I believe that the social democratic idea, which is ideologically connected with my party, is the option which will lead citizens in the right way and thus provide future development.

I can not say that I have only one hero - I have a couple of politicians I admire, and from each of them I could take one or two characteristics and if I connect them maybe I would have an ideal picture. But none of them was the reason for my involvement in politics and none of them is an ideal I look up to in my political career. I believe that everyone should make their own stamp in history.

Georgeta Ionescu: The reason why I joined politics is a very strong wish, shared by many people in the early 1990s. That was to be a part of the changes, to improve something in our way of living, to be active and to be different than we were in the former years. I do admire my party leader - the President of the Liberals - Mr. Calin Popescu, who is also the Prime Minister of Romania, as well as the Vice-president of the Liberal International. He has a character that can impose a model for young people, especially as he had had a very good career in politics, starting as an activist, being also executive secretary of the party and now a full president. He is a very active and a very charismatic person, but is also full of ideas, which is really motivating to a lot of people.

Adam Nazir Ahmed Teladia: I became politically active because I wanted to fight against ignorance and poverty and I wanted to do as much as possible to make sure that people can reach their potentials and that is why I joined Liberal Democrats. I look up to David Lloyd George, who was the founder of the welfare state in Britain. I think Margaret Thatcher is a person people should look up to because even though a lot of what she did was not popular, she did argue that it was better for Britain and did it. Let me also mention people like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela who fought for the freedom of the people.

Ana Bumbak: I wanted to change something, especially problems which students and young people have, specific problems they need to work out on their own. I saw an opportunity in politics to do that. I don’t have a hero like a real person, only an imaginative person. I see an ideal politician as a very hard working person, 100% involved in politics, persistent, with integrity and the will to fight for other people, not his or her own interests.

Jason Robinson: Why did I choose to be politically active? I think the main reason was the love for the people the way I would see an issue - in equality and justice, in society and in the world, both nationally and in the international arena. I realized again that the real and the only way was to get involved in politics. There are times when you get tired and think that nobody is really listening, and you can't really do anything. And political heroes, again, there is no specific person, it’s the characters and qualities of different individuals who see areas and issues that need changes, who have seen areas that need changes and against the odds have stood in and have beaten weaknesses in themselves or aspects of the society that has pushed against them, they still stood their ground and viewed the issue as their driving force and the thing to promote them. So you got people like Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and people like that who have come against the odds and have been successful like Martin Luther King.

Goran Jutrisa: Has anyone ever regretted joining politics or becoming socially active?

Adam Nazir Ahmed Teladia: Sometimes it’s frustrating because you don't seem to be able to see the progress being made. I am a member of the third party in Britain and it is very hard to make a difference unless you are in Government. It can be very frustrating thinking I'm giving all this time and doing all these things and what is it coming to? But I think if you look at the bigger picture, politics is not necessarily about winning elections or being in power, it's about using the opportunity that you do have to influence change and making a better world.

Ana Bumbak: I still don't have regrets but I am prepared because politics is all about ups and downs, it's a constant struggle.

Natasa Vuckovic: Yes, very often actually, when I am very idealistic, especially when I see that people are very pragmatic and driven by their own interests alone, and it's very disappointing it's some sort of a clash between value and some kind of other people's failure.

Slavica Grkovska: It's more disappointment than regretting, it is normal that all professions have disappointments, not only politics. It is very disappointing when the perception of politicians is bad and when you know you are not like that, though most of the population thinks you belong to the same class of politicians. For example, once, when I had a meeting with the citizens, a woman came to me and said that there is an empty apartment in a building across the street and asked me if I can help her to get it. She said that she lives with her family in a very small apartment and that I don't know how it is to live like that. And, actually I do live in a small apartment. Somehow, people think that we have huge apartments, that we have cars, drivers and I am a completely opposite example of that. So it was very hard to explain that it is not easy to get a big apartment just like that, just because she wants to or she thinks that we can provide it to her.

Georgeta Ionescu: I had a big disappointment in November 2004 when I ran for parliamentary elections. And despite the fact that I fought hard and had a very good campaign, I didn't get elected. It was a moment or let's say two weeks of sorrow, but after that, and realizing that party is a winner, not depending on one mandate, I had to make peace with myself and understand that politics was not for one year or one mandate, it was for a very long term, and that you have to think, like Adam said, about the bigger picture, and the long term advantages. One failure does not mean that you have lost the war.

Goran Jutrisa: Thank you. A question for James: what did you hope to achieve along with the British Council with this project? What's the overall aim of the project?

James Graham: Well, the ultimate aim, we hope, is that the final resource that comes out from this conference and previous two conferences is something that people can download form the Internet or get a CD. If someone is a member of a political party for 6 months, it will give them an idea on options available, what skills they have to acquire, develop some sort of a personal action plan about how they are going to achieve that to find out how to use resources which can help them in their careers. The other end of the scale – we are hoping that a youth organization or a political party could take the materials that are on there and use it in small groups and use it for their active engagement. If we achieve that, we have achieved a lot, but we see it as evolutionary process. I think that as soon as we finish the project, we are keen to evolve after that, it's the next a big challenge.

Goran Jutrisa: Thank you. James mentioned skills. What skills must politicians have? If you had to list two or three, which ones would you list?

Bogdan Tuchila: Knowing how to listen, because if young people see a leader who doesn't listen to them, they can loose motivation to join politics. Secondly, in modern politics you have to have good image and know how to keep it and improve it and present it, sell it. It's about political marketing. And third, this politician has to know how to communicate, how to give an interview, how to maintain a relationship with the media, because it is very important now days.

Jason Robinson: Thinking of skills, I would say its confidence, you are not going to get people follow you or believe in you if you don't believe in yourself or you don't appear to believe in it. So, the confidence is really the ability to put you point across in a clear and concise way.

Georgeta Ionescu: I think it is very important to have a clear voice, to have something to say and to know how to do it. Of course, every person is different, and individual, but your point has to be obvious to the other and to have those inner convictions very strong and bonded onto your beliefs and motivate other people to follow.

Adnan Papovic: I think you should be also persistent. If you don't achieve a goal at the time, you have to continue no matter what. You have to stick to your ideal or you will not be successful in anything in life if you give up so easily, so I think persistence is really important.

Natasa Vuckovic: Yes, I agree that persistence and presentation are very important and apart from communication, I think that a politician should be persuasive.

Slavica Grkovska: A politician should be honest, patient, committed to the interests of the citizens and be brave to make reforms for the benefit of the country, even though it may not be popular at the moment. A politician must look forward and that is why not everyone can be a politician. They must convince people that even though something is not popular at the moment and may even cause people to loose jobs, they will benefit for the introduced reforms in the long run. People have to know what the purpose of the reform is.

Adam Nazir Ahmed Teladia: A lot of people have pointed out communications, but there are several types of communication. Politicians have a feeling who they meet; it also comes across in newspapers and television, as well, when politicians meet with the media or small groups of people. In a small room like this, a good politician would be able to get everyone motivated, excited, interested. They also need to have the ability to speak to large audiences, because at the end of the day, that is the way they are going to communicate with big groups of people, holding big speeches. Another thing is compromising. Sometimes you have to be aware that everything you want is not going to be achieved and you have to settle for a little less at that time with the ambition of achieving that bigger goal at a latter date. And there is that X factor, all great politicians have that X factor but you don't really know what that is.

Jason Robinson: I would point out two skills. Empathy because I think people who get involved in politics tend to think that anyone who disagrees with what you say has some evil, wicked agenda. To see other people's point of view is a crucial skill. The other thing is independence of mind, because it seems that if you are involved in politics, you are expected to think party line and you are encouraged not to think outside of the box. So the skill to keep your own thought and the body of your own idea is very crucial skill.

Goran Jutrisa: How would you in terms of these skills define political success? Would you say that political success is pushing your agenda, being a successful politician or winning elections?

Slavica Grkovska: It's hard to say that it is only one thing. Of course, every political party is trying to win the elections and if it does not win, we can not say that it was successful. The main purpose is for the political party to succeed because if you are not in power it will be very hard for you to achieve the goals of your political party. Otherwise, when your political party is in opposition, you have other goals that you should achieve and you have a completely different set of measures as to what makes you successful. It is a very complex question and I'm not sure that you can pick just one answer.

Natasa Vuckovic: I don't think that a politician is only an elected politician. There could be very talented and excellent politicians within the political party which are actually not very good at being elected, in running their campaigns. But they are very good politicians, they push their agendas and are very important for the political party.

Adnan Papovic: If only one of your goals is achieved you have political success basically. You don't need to have all of the points in your agenda achieved in order to say that you are successful politician, if you achieve even one goal, you started to change.

Georgeta Ionescu: I think that a successful politician might be someone who succeeds to inspire other people, who makes the right decisions in the right moment.

Adam Nazir Ahmed Teladia: Sometimes, it's not about making the changes but getting the issues being discussed. I don't know about your countries, but in Great Britain in 2005 there was a massive campaign about trying to eradicate poverty across the world. International development was a political issue but it was never seriously discussed with aims and targets of achieving this goal. In 2005 there was a massive movement, involving a great number of organizations like Oxfam, a number of groups which aren't necessarily political organizations. It got on the agenda and people started taking care of the issue, and during the general elections in Great Britain, politicians found it necessary to outline how they would try to achieve this goal. Therefore, I think that sometimes getting an issue discussed is very important.

Ana Bumbak: I think that if you are elected, it is a success considering that you got the votes and are chosen, but the success is complete if you keep that confidence of the voters.

Georgeta Ionescu: How you manage that success is very important.

James Graham: Just to put it slightly cynical. It is said that all political careers end in failure, so you are either defeated or you die or whatever. I think that in order to evaluate success it is not about if you are successful at a certain point of time, you can't really know political success until you have looked back at it from a certain distance. But I think that the only thing that matters is not political success or failure but integrity, it’s whether someone can keep to their principles throughout their careers.

Bogdan Tuchila: It's like in economy. If you have good profit, you are a successful company. In politics, if you win elections, you are a successful politician. But even though you have won the elections, if you don't achieve you program, you will be bankrupt.

Moderator: And now the last question. James talked about the purpose of the project and producing a tool kit for young or emerging politicians. What do you hope this resource will achieve and do you see a place for it in your day to day political activities?

Adam Nazir Ahmed Teladia: I think so because obviously it will promote yourself; increase your strength, so as a politician you are able to do your job more successfully. However, it is also a guide to encourage the others. If we go back to the success question, it is not about being a one time politician, as you said before not all politicians are being elected. You are not always in the party in power but it doesn’t mean that you are not successful because you are there to make a change. It’s about bringing others forward as well. I think that this package would be great because it help us mentor other politicians, improving their abilities and finding the best way for them to act.

Slavica Grkovska: I also think that it is going to be very useful. These three days we had a lot of interesting ideas, sharing experiences form different countries, which can be useful not only for young politicians but also for politicians with experience. Adam just asked me what is interesting for me considering that I have a lot of experience in politics even though I'm young. I would say that meeting people is very important, sharing experiences. You can always learn something more, something new, and maybe you can not use it at the moment but sometime a chance will appear to promote that idea or share that experience at a different place which will be very useful to other people. I am very positive about this project and I think it is great.

Ana Bumbak: It is good that you asked us about our problems and we have to work on these problems we all have.

Adnan Papovic: It is going to be up to date, as far as the problems are concerned. We talked about what is going on, what is the matter with us, what we don't have and what we need, so if older politicians opened the materials and started realizing problems point by point, we would have a really successful campaign.


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