Editor   01 May 2012   Internet Governance

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Nikola Božić writes: The first Serbian Internet Dialogue was held on 19 April. It was a pleasure to be part of this event, and to moderate the panel on Content Control with Vladimir Radunovic. It was the final result of a long process to develop a multistakeholder forum for Internet governance (IG) issues in Serbia.

Back in 2004, Vladimir and I were the members of an informal, mostly NGO-oriented, group of ICT experts working on an idea to create a national ICT forum. This would have been one of the results of the newly declared Strategy of Telecommunication Development of Serbia. At the time, we were part of DiploFoundation’s network of alumni, and were already taking part in the WSIS process. This helped us to explain the importance of the IG process, and even organise small local events in collaboration with the Serbian telecom regulatory authority RATEL. However, there was not enough institutional support for initiating a formal national dialogue.

Nikola Božić and Vladimir Radunovic moderating the panel on content control during the first Serbian Internet Dialogue

Meanwhile, I started working at Petnica Science Center, an institution that works with gifted children, and also became a Diplo associate on IG projects. I continued collaborating with Diplo’s network of professionals around the world, and participated in WSIS and the annual IGFs as part of the Diplo team as well. 

With Diplo’s support, we succeeded in bringing the European Dialogue on IG (EuroDIG) to Belgrade in May 2011. At last, everyone here had realised the importance of IG on national, regional, and global levels. All the decision-makers started speaking about IG issues. Subsequently, the idea of a national dialogue attracted the support of the national Digital Agenda authority – and that is how the first Serbian Internet Dialogue was born.

Although it took eight years, we are happy that the event finally and successfully set in motion the IG dialogue in Serbia. Our public and our decision-makers have proven again that multistakeholderism is the way forward for a successful IG policy dialogue.

For this first IDS, we decided to organise a highly interactive panel on a controversial and increasingly important topic: content control. Previously, there had not been any formal discussions between stakeholders about online content issues, apart from sporadic debates on ACTA and similar issues.

To showcase the multistakeholder model, Vladimir and I, as moderators of the panel, decided to do away with panelists, opting instead for the audience to be our discussants. We believe all participants have something to say – something important. We therefore prepared the list of themes we wanted to cover, and a list of persons that we knew would join us,  and would have something to contribute on these issues. We hoped the others would join in as the discussion developed.

And it happened: as soon as we started debating content issues, members of the audience called out to join the debate. Myriad views came forward during the session, many of them highly polarised, especially on the issue of copyright. Almost everyone in the room took an active role in the panel, so much so that only a few remembered to tweet! On our tweet-wall, set up to allow parallel discussions, one of the tweets said: ‘This panel is so good that nobody is tweeting’. The main challenge, therefore, was not to encourage contributions, but to moderate such a wide and ardent discussion, and to keep to the agenda. Indeed, the technique of using two moderators proved to be successful.

One of the main outcomes was that we realised that in Serbia, some topics are not of the same priority order as in other parts of the world. It might still be too early to map the national IG topics clearly before moving on to a more structured and productive discussion. A second outcome is that local ICT companies have become more aware of the strategic importance of IG issues and are ready to take part in the discussion with other actors.

In the last decade, we have been building our expertise from the foundation  of students, to  the perspective of professionals. We invested this time  working to involve Serbia in the global IG process and to echo parts of the process in Serbia. We finally succeeded. Of course, it was very important to have the support of the State Secretary for the Digital Agenda who understood our aim and the needs of our country - the formal support of the ministry is indispensable for the success of the dialogue.

Although it was a personal challenge to write this post, expressing myself quite candidly at times, I wanted to convey a message to all the members of Diplo’s community to make them aware of the importance of Diplo’s work, and the support it offers to its community members, and to share with them the success of national initiatives such as the local IDS.

The concept of multistakeholderism that Diplo is striving for is not only very important for the global process but also for national initiatives.

Nikola Božić is a DiploFoundation associate and the CEO of the Petnica Fund for the Development of Scientific Education in Serbia.

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