SECOND-YEAR masters students at the Faculty of International Relations of the University of Economics in Bratislava (EUBA) each year get to step out of their normal roles and act a part: the chair of the African Union perhaps, or the director of the World Bank; the global head of Amnesty International, or the head of a leading firm like ESET. The course project, entitled Negotiations in Diplomatic Practice, offers students the opportunity to assume the role of a diplomat or the leader of an important international organisation and to try to find solutions to the problems the modern world faces.
“Students want to join the course because it is the only real practical experience during their studies of international relations and economic diplomacy,” Peter Rusiňák Jr, the current coordinator of the course, told The Slovak Spectator.
His father, the vice-dean of the faculty and a former ambassador, Peter Rusiňák Sr, started the Model Conference project in 2006 and later established a fictional platform called Forum for the 21st Century which became a space for students to present their suggestions and ideas. His son believes the project brings an innovative aspect to the students’ education.
Creating the team
At the beginning of the project, which is an optional part of their degree course, students can choose to work within the organising unit or serve as a negotiating representative in the Forum for the 21st century. Depending on their choices, the organisers adjust the number of students so that they have enough staff in both groups, said Rusiňák Jr.
Students elect the head of their team, who becomes the chair of the whole forum, and also the chairs of the four main sections – security, economy, environment and intercultural relations. The sections then choose the participants who will try to reach agreement on the problems to be debated. Students try to choose the main relevant world players which will be represented, according to Monika Izáková, the chair of the Forum for the 21st Century for 2011. She added that, for example, in the discussion over development aid the section ‘welcomed’ representatives of both donor and recipient countries.
Because the course is voluntary, students do not always have the chance to choose all the countries or bodies that might otherwise be represented.
“On the other hand, because it is voluntary the whole project was, in my eyes, really successful because everyone was, to a certain extent, enthusiastic about it,” said Tomáš Jurka, chair of the security section for 2011.
Finding solutions to current problems
After creating the teams within the four main sections, students have to start defending their opinions and fighting for their proposals. The discussed issues are usually chosen by lecturers in cooperation with the student head of the team.
During the semester students are taught how to speak and behave in the discussions, and how to seek consensus. The whole course is divided into several parts resembling the real process of international negotiations in which they have to prepare, discuss and negotiate three drafts and two position papers. They also have to play the role of the negotiators of the side they represent.
Because of their varying opinions, the negotiating sides spend a lot of time together before reaching agreement.
“In the economic section it was very difficult,” section chair Jana Drutarovská told The Slovak Spectator. “We had ten hours of negotiation.”
Tomáš Jurka added that the negotiations were really hard, and that it was not easy to reach agreement.
Except for trying to defend and fight for their own suggestions, students had to be aware of the formulations they used in the documents.
“Sometimes the negotiation was like playing with words,” said Mária Maťavková, the deputy chair of the economic section. “We had to discuss one word for two hours.”
Presenting the documents in front of diplomats
After ten weeks of negotiations the forum, in cooperation with the department for translation and interpretation at Comenius University in Bratislava, convened a final conference during which they presented their final resolutions in front of real experts and representatives of state and international authorities.
They typically invite around 13 guest speakers, including diplomats accredited in Bratislava and experts in the field, who can critically evaluate students’ performance and the deals they have struck during negotiations.
“I think that there were several comments that were more argued, but nevertheless we are really glad that we could hear respected comments and positions from experts from the international community, the corporate sector, the public sector and even from [real] diplomats,” Tomáš Jurka said of the results of the final discussion within his panel.
This project is not only a starting point, according to Adam Takáč, chair of the environmental section, but something valuable that also will serve as benchmark for the Faculty of International Relations.