The Drug Policy Network South East Europe held its 2nd regular annual General Assembly in Belgrade, Serbia from 3rd to 5th December 2017. It was the opportunity to meet, analyse the work looking back on the year that almost ended and decide about the future work.
Thanks to the generous support from the Office for combating drugs of the Republic of Serbia, the Assembly was held in the Palace Serbia, the governmental representative building. Representatives of 15 out of 22 member organisations participated, including 2 newly recognised members.
Our distinguished guests at the Assembly were His Excellency Ambassador of Portugal Augusto Saraiva Peixoto and Director of the Office for Combating Drugs of the Government of Serbia Milan Pekić.
The Assembly adopted the report about the work in 2017 and financial report presenting the Network’s main activities. The plans for 2018 were also adopted, based on the strategic priorities proposed by the Board and ideas for possible projects and partnership building.
Changes in the Board were introduced to ensure that this governing body is active in implementing the action plan. Vlatko Dekov (HOPS, FYRO Macedonia) is elected new Chairperson and Nebojša Đurasović (Prevent, Serbia) new Vice-Chair. While Denis Dedajić (Margina, Bosnia Herzegovina), Marios Atzemis (Positive Voice, Greece) and Saša Mijović (4 Life, Montenegro) remain members of the Board as Secretary, Treasurer and Member, newly elected Board member Anna Lyubenova (Initiative for Health Foundation,IHF, Bulgaria) will serve as Deputy Secretary, and Erlind Plaku (Aksion Plus, Albania) as Deputy Treasurer.
In order to establish common positions, small group work was organised on key issues for which DPNSEE will issue statements in the future. Cannabis and Drug checking were specific topics for sharing and generating ideas.
During several events which happened in October, DPNSEE have deepened existing and established new relations with Portugal.
Our staff member Irena Molnar had an unofficial visit to APDES (Agência Piaget para o Desenvolvimento), a non-governmental which promotes integrated development in their headquarters in Vila de nova Gaia, near Porto. APDES main goal is to intervene with vulnerable communities and people, in order to improve their access to healthcare services, employment and education, working for the empowerment of institutions and individuals, as well as for the reinforcement of social cohesion. They developed several activities in this municipality and cities like Porto, Barcelos, Guarda, Viseu, Setúbal and Lisbon. The services they deliver are related to health, harm reduction and human rights, among others. Irena had a special opportunity to spend a day with the outreach team of GIRUGaia project, inter-disciplinary outreach team that works with drug users. Guided by principles related to harm reduction, it promotes the use of aseptic material and the adoption of lower risk use practices. It also provides services that promote citizenship, health and social inclusion. During several days, with good help of Joana Francisca Canedo, Advocacy and Policy officer in APDES, Irena got introduced to the Portuguese policies and functioning of the system itself, but most important also situation on the ground.
As a part of the TWIST project at Lisbon Addiction 2017 conference, several days later, member organisations representatives and Staff members had an opportunity to meet with various officials and activists from Portugal and learn about their policy and activities. We got an opportunity to informally meet with executive director of APDES, Jose Queiros, with whom we discussed future cooperation of APDES and DPNSEE. We presenting the DPNSEE work and discussed various issues and potential future cooperation. That included support which APDES could offer to DPNSEE member organisations through study visits, know-how exchange and other activities. Lisbon Addictions 2017 and the TWIST project haven’t served only as a great opportunity for learning from academia, but also to reconnect with old and make new connections with wider European specialist in areas related to substance use.
Just after returning to Serbia, DPNSEE staff members had a meeting with the Ambassador of Portugal His Excellency Augusto Saravia Peixoto and the Deputy Head of Mission Ms Graça Costa Macedo. The meeting was scheduled on the DPNSEE initiative for cooperation.
We had an interesting exchange about the Portuguese drug policy, which is usually seen as one of the most effective in the European Union, agreeing easily that a comprehensive approach involving all stakeholders is necessary for obtaining good results. DPNSEE representatives presented their recent cooperation with their peers in Portugal, especially APDES. The Ambassador and his colleagues offered support in ensuring a wide array of contacts for the visit to Portugal, where a delegation consisting of governmental and NGO representatives from Serbia would have the opportunity to get a full insight into the policy and field activities. Following that visit and on the basis of the priorities established by the new Action Plan Against drugs in Serbia 2018 – 2020, the Embassy will assist with finding most suitable experts that would come to Serbia and bring their experiences to local stakeholders.
His Excellency is also interested to extend cooperation to other countries of the region where he represents Portugal: Bosnia Herzegovina, FYRO Macedonia and Montenegro.