Writers Series Part V: Dr. Petya Murgova on the Mediation Sector in the Balkans

This is the fifth article in Mediators Beyond Borders’ five-part series answering, “What would your company/industry/field, and region, look like if adversarial decision-making systems were replaced by collaborative ones?” This article explores the mediation field in the Balkans.

In a multicultural society, there are different notions of justice and variations of moral concepts. Different economic, social, and personal issues overlap with linguistic differences, making it difficult to find a universal understanding of “justice” that addresses the interests of all stakeholders. The Balkan countries, having traditionally been a focus of political turmoil and power plays, are faced with this problem.

Finding a solution to a dispute through a mutually beneficial compromise, achieved by the parties themselves rather than a decision from a third party (e.g a court), increases the sense of justice between the disputants. The sense of justice depends on individuals’ ethical and moral views in light of the region’s ethnic and cultural contexts. This is why the Balkan Association for Dispute Resolution (BADR) believes that the combination of lawyers’ and mediators’ knowledge of the legislation of each of the countries affected by the dispute, and the use of mediation techniques, will lead to the quickest, most adequate, and efficient solution to commercial disputes.

It is time to establish new conditions for dialogue—stimulating the contact between individuals of different cultural and religious backgrounds. There must also be an education in tolerance and mutual respect— so as to learn to hear through the ears, and look through the eyes, of others. The Balkans needs a new global culture of solidarity, empathy and collaboration. BADR has is uniquely positioned to change from the norm and resolve disputes through mediation in the Balkans.

As a litigation lawyer with more than 25 years of practice, I became aware that mediation is one of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods that should be sought— and that conciliation between adversaries can be achieved out of court. As Rumi states, “beyond the ideas for right and wrong there is a field where we shall meet.”

BADR is a unique alliance which has brought together lawyers and mediators from nine countries: Bulgaria, Macedonia, Turkey, Romania, Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Collaboration between these countries can thrive on the fertile soil of our political, legal, legislative and economic differences.  These differences bring us closer, giving us the chance to exchange experiences and ideas, and establish a new, communicative, culture.

No other organisation in the Balkans has the breadth of representation as ours — the founders act on behalf of Balkan states (representing a combined population of over 120 million people -of  different in ethnic, national, religious, political and other identities). This critical mass has attracted the attention of the developed countries and international organizations, playing a crucial role in the development and dissemination of mediation as a contemporary means for ADR.

Global practices prove that mediation reduces the workload of courts and tends to prevent corruptive practices. In comparison to court trials, the mediation procedure allows disputes to be handled and resolved in an effective, peaceful and economically efficient manner. The mission of BADR, is to develop and establish mediation as an out-of-court procedure for dispute resolution in each State represented in BADR. This will be achieved through the mutual and cooperative efforts and advocacy of the mediators in the Association.

That is why the mission of our association is for every member, through the support and cooperation of other representatives and partners, to validate and develop mediation as an extrajudicial procedure— as well as to affirm the moral principles, stands and culture needed to implement mediation in general.

  Cooperation among members of our association could contribute to several spheres :

  1. Assertion of the professional and individual qualities of each BADR member
  2. High visibility of the name of the association as a joint effort of specialists in the field of ADR
  3. Interaction and exchange of experience with countries of established normative regulations and practices in ADR
  4. Identification of innovative dispute solutions, both at EU and international level and enforcement of mediation agreements

Collaboration between mediators from nine Balkan countries has enhanced our personal and professional growth as well as given us novel skills for resolving trans-border conflicts in the specific environment on the Balkans. Furthermore, our established standards and good practices in ADR could serve as an example for legislative reforms at Balkan, European and international level.

Another key goal of BADR’s members is to contribute to the improvement of the national legislation of the member states and trigger the adoption of mediation as an absolute prerequisite for court procedures. The knowledge and research into the legislation of the member-countries  allows the members of BADR to use the best practices and speed up and enhance the opportunities for intoduction  of compulsory mediation in specific types of legal cases – family, consumer disputes and trade and civil cases with low material interest.   BADR will facilitate the study of legal and other aspects of mediation and arbitration as ADR – methods for settlement of disputes of international business character and establishment of the best European and international practices in the member-countries.

BADR envisions the creation of mechanisms to enable  the member-countries to work out court programs to refer to mediation—which would inform and encourage the parties to family, trade and property disputes to resort to this effective dispute resolution mechanism. This would contribute to the increase in the number of cases resolved through mediation, which in turn, will lead to faster and more effective court proceedings, leading to a decrease in the work overload of courts and improvement of the quality of the court rulings.  As an indirect consequence all these measures, corruptive practices in the legal system will be mitigated.

In view of their extensive experience and professionalism the lawyer-mediators, members of the Association will also aim to resolve cross-border disputes between companies, carrying out their business not only in the Balkans but all over the world. The settling of cross- border trade disputes and online resolution of cross-border disputes will certainly enable the transition from adversarial policy towards collaborative policy of consent.Peaceful settlement of disputes between companies, trading in the Balkans will pave the way for the establishment of a sustainable business environment.

The search and establishment of common regulations in the legislation which aim to ensure fulfillment of agreements, reached in a mediation procedure and the opportunity to seek enforcement, acknowledgement and fulfillment of such agreements, will increase the credibility and trust in mediation.

The uniqueness of our organization is that it is the only organization in the Balkans, composed solely of lawyers-mediators. One of our immediate goals is to educate lawyers and judges to utilize mediation.

The challenge we face in overcoming the differences in the Balkans is to create working mechanisms to harmonize and homogenize the legislation of the member-countries—targeting fulfillment of agreements, reached through mediation during trans-border disputes.  The study and application of the best practices in the sphere of trans-border disputes will contribute to diminishing the hostility of the conflicting parties and develop  facilitated procedures in national legislation to fulfill agreements using mediation.

At the moment, working groups from the member-countries are studying the best practices to establish financial stimuli which render mediation economically more attractive for the parties instead of seeking court proceedings. Through the specific techniques for dispute resolution the experts of BADR will assist their clients to resolve each relevant issue before it has escalated.

Through organizing  national and international seminars, trainings, mediation competitions and roundtables we educate professionals from the nine Balkan countries on the value of mediation. BADR has established and maintains contacts in close cooperation with local and international organizations as well as individuals who share the same values. Having expert knowledge of the legislation of the member-states we seek to establish a novel culture of communication.

Bringing together our expertise and experience as attorneys-at-law and mediators, and combining the knowledge of our national legislation with different mediation techniques, we can build a bridge in communication and improve cross-border dispute resolution. 

I believe that BADR’s professionals have the will and potential to establish mediation as a new culture and way of peaceful communication in the Balkans.

Dr. Petya Murgova is the Founder and Chairperson of BADR, and a Managing Partner of Murgova & Partners Law firm, Sofia, Bulgaria.