Interview with General Secretary of SEELS Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva
An insight into the work of the SEE|EU Cluster of Excellence

Establishing a joint network for the cooperation and coordination of research and teaching in the area of European and International law with a special focus on EU neighboring policy: This is the aim of the SEE|EU Cluster of Excellence in European and International Law. The cross-border cooperation network consists of the Europa-Institut (Saarland University), the law schools from Belgrade (Serbia), Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Skopje  (Republic of North Macedonia), Tirana (Albania) and Zagreb (Croatia) and is supported by the DAAD with funds from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The program is part of the South East European Law School Network (SEELS). One of its Secretary Generals since the beginning in 2011 is Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva. She is responsible for the daily management of the activities including project development and project implementation. Dr. Zdraveva is a Professor in Civil Law at the Iustinianus Primus Faculty of Law.


Ronja Karnbach, Student Research Assistant Europa-Institut: Prof. Dr. Zdraveva, why did you decide to work as General Secretary at SEELS?

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva, General Secretary of SEELS: The creation of the South East European Law School Network in 2011 was something that I was really passionate about. I strongly believed then in SEE we need a network of law faculties that closely collaborate and cooperate, share experiences and jointly create new ones, generate new approaches and ideas and strive for excellence in the legal education, research and publishing. The establishment of the network came as a result of cooperation between the law faculties in SEE in the establishment and delivery of joint master program in EU Business Law. The cooperation proved beneficial on many different levels and its it was identified that it could and it should be intensified. The process was supported by the Open Regional Fund for South East Europe - Legal Reform of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Through series of meetings and workshops, the aims of the network were established. I was active participant in those processes, as one of the representatives of the Iustinianus Primus Law Faculty of the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje. The faculties decided that the seat of the network i.e., the administrative body that will coordinate the activities will be at the Law Faculty in Skopje. It was decided that this body – the Centre for SEELS will be managed by Director and administered by a Secretary General. With all activities I had by then and personally believing in the and I wanted to continue. That is how it begun more than a decade ago.  

In the past years I had the opportunity to witness how those ideas develop, how exiting ties are strengthened and new links are established. In particular it was good to see that the new generations of young researchers and teachers are provided with the opportunity to collaborate in research, to meet and discuss, to further develop their skills. The opportunities created for the law students enabled new channels of communication, and beside the academic exchange also a cultural exchange. I am very glad to see that there are a number of networks within the networks, networks of colleagues and networks of friends. 

R.K.: Together with its predecessor project, the cluster has now been around for seven years. What is your conclusion? 

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva: Having in mind all of the activities that were undertaken within the Cluster of Excellence, I can only conclude that it addresses specific needs in a manner that enables long lasting effects. The Cluster provides unique opportunities both for junior and senior researcher, but it also enables new teaching environments for the students. 

R.K.: What is special about the cluster as opposed to other programs? 

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva: The Cluster has a thematic focus, dealing both with traditional and modern topics of the International and the European Law. In the same time, it enables and fosters multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. This is also specific for summer schools organised within the cluster – the chosen topics are discussed from different angles and with different approaches. Overall, the Cluster is a unique program that enables increased collaboration for towards a joint vision of excellence. 

R.K.: What is the added value for SEELS?

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva: The Cluster was and is one of the mechanisms for reaching our goals. We aim towards excellence in legal education, research and publishing. The Cluster was one of the venues for this, very important one.  It supported and strengthened the network as well. But it also inspired new ideas and lead to new projects and forms of cooperation between the SEELS and the Europa-Institut of the Saarland University. 

R.K.: Has the pandemic impacted the work? How? 

It changed the way we do it. We had to adjust and adapt. The communication between the Centre and the Europa-Institut hasn’t changed a lot. We continued our regular coordination, now from the home offices. But we missed the planning meetings in vivo.    The networking, at the beginning and at the end, it is about the people and the ideas they share and further develop. The video platforms brought us together in a different format, but the real ‘magic’ happens when we brainstorm, plan, discuss in the ‘traditional’ format.  

R.K.: Is digital learning like the Online Campus the future of learning? 

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva : I hope not. To elaborate… the Online Campus is a very important aspect of the work of the Cluster. It provides long-lasting and easily accessible educational platform. It includes modules that are not traditional in the legal education. This is very important for the students. But, in my view, nothing can replace the classroom interaction. The education is not only about providing knowledge. It is also about developing skills and attitudes and this is rarely successful in a digital environment. 

R.K.: Where is there still room for improvement in terms of cooperation and coordination of research and teaching in the area of European and International law? What is the next step? 

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva : The European and International Law change. Not only in terms of their content but also the context in which they operate, the relations that they regulate, the needs that they are expected to meet, conflicts to prevent, problems to solve. Therefore, there is always a need to explore the novelties or to go further and more in-depth an existing one. The Cluster set the base for this and developed specific capacities to continue. Dozens of researchers had the opportunities to do this so far as well as hundreds of students who were participating in the different educational events. But there are always new to come. We hope to provide new opportunities for research, but also new modules and models for teaching especially on the topics related to the European integration.   

R.K.: What role do institutions like the Europa-Institut play in this context? 

Prof. Dr. Neda Zdraveva : The position of the South East Europe as a region and the countries of the SEE in the EU integration processes is very specific one. A number of factors influence it. There are country-specific developments, but there are also common denominators for all. In the past years Europa-Institut and its academic staff shown preparedness to listen, so to say, and developed understating of these specificities. In my opinion, it is one of the rare institutions that has specific expertise not only on the legal education and research in the SEE but in the overall legal reform processes. This, further, provided identification of areas where intervention is needed, that lead to new projects and extensions of partnerships. The strong and competent leadership of the different programs and projects we were implementing together enabled new opportunities for growth. And this what excellence is all about.  

R.K.: Thank you for your time. We wish you all the best.