Kristof Bender


Kristof Bender is a bookworm interested in democracy, human rights and socio-economic issues, with a focus on Europe and its peripheries. Since more than two decades he explores and travels extensively to South East and Central Europe. Since 2005 he is the deputy chairperson of the European Stability Initiative, a non-profit think tank registered in Berlin.

Kristof was born in 1972 in Dornbirn, a small town in the Austrian Alps close to the Swiss border. He studied sociology and philosophy in Vienna and Paris. As a student he created radio shows for Austria's public broadcaster ORF and then worked as an editor at Passagen, a publishing house specialising in humanities and social sciences. In 1997 Kristof moved to Sarajevo to work for World University Service Austria, an NGO that at that time helped universities in the former Yugoslavia to catch up after the wars of the 1990s.

In late 1998 he returned to Vienna for half a year as an academic researcher at the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), focusing on questions related to EU enlargement. In 1999 he worked in Serbia as humanitarian attaché at the Austrian Embassy in Belgrade.

The ESI team at a reatreat in Brandenburg. 2021. Photo: Gerald Knaus

Since early 2000 Kristof dedicates most of his time to the European Stability Initiative (ESI), a non-profit think thank that works for a Europe capable of defending its democratic institutions and its human rights standards against illiberal forces. ESI wants Europe to extend those values and standards further to its periphery, in particular to South East Europe. ESI pursues these aims by developing concrete policy proposals.

Kristof moved to Podgorica to lead ESI's Montenegro project. With ESI extending its focus, he worked throughout the region and spent a lot of time in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia (where he lived from 2002 to 2004), Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary. Since 2015 he also closely follows developments on asylum policy and challenges to the rule of law inside the EU.

Kristof occasionally publishes articles in newspapers and journals. Sometimes he performs short consulting or teaching jobs (most recently at the Central European University and the Hertie School of Governance). In 2022/23 he was a Europe's Futures fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna.

Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF) board members and senior staff at a board meeting in 2019. Photo: KCSF

Kristof sits on the board of the Kosovo Civil Society Foundation (KCSF), an association aiming to develop civil society based in Pristina, and on the advisory board of Institute Alternativa, a think tank from Podgorica (Montenegro) focused on public policy.

Kristof is a jury member of the Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence run by BIRN (Belgrade) in co-operation with ERSTE Foundation (Vienna). Every year, 10 young journalists from Eastern and Southeastern Europe are selected and awarded a stipend to produce, supported by a top-level editor, longform features, analysis and investigations. The jury selects 10 fellows each year and awards the three best stories.

With Elvis Nabolli, winner of the third price of the Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence in 2016. Photo: BIRN