Photo: Dardan Rushiti


What do young people in the Western Balkans think about the society they live in? With conflict in the not-so-distant past, peace and social cohesion are real issues present in their everyday lives.

Our just published regional study Shared Futures: Youth Perceptions on Peace in the Western Balkans, shares views from more than 5,400 young people aged 15-29 years from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo,* Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. It highlights the voices of youth and their perceptions and experiences related to peace and social cohesion in their societies and in the wider Western Balkans region. 

Six young writers from the region give voice to some of key messages emerging from the study.

FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE

Agon Rexhepi, Albania

The armed conflicts that occurred in the Western Balkan region are still fresh in the collective memory. Dealing with the past is a difficult yet necessary step in the reconciliation process.

More attention should we placed on creating safe spaces for people to exchange ideas, perspectives and their experiences of the past and present. Starting conversations on how the armed conflicts and overall political tensions have impacted us would be the first step to reconciliation. Taking responsibility for wrongdoings, listening and empathising with others and acknowledging the damages caused and the damages experienced will help us all develop healthy and cooperative relationships among our societies, and thus a better future for all.

 

JOINT EFFORTS FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE

Mahir Sijamija, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Western Balkan societies have faced various challenges and problems in recent decades. From high unemployment, poor economic and political governance to lack of democratic principles only made worse by manipulations of corruption and division. Regional cooperation is recognized as the key to the success of all of our societies. “The past” has not been a topic that connects Western Balkan societies, and the fear and hate speech from those wounds are becoming weapons of corrupt systems. What we do have in common though is the commitment to full EU membership. Governments and leaders should work together with the youth of the region to actively solve the problems that are common to the region, so that together they can one day be the driving force in Europe.

 

TRUST, RELATIONSHIPS AND INTERACTIONS AMONG PEOPLE

Amina Kaja, Kosovo*

We are not born hateful - we are raised so. A tiny seed planted, nourished by certain teachers and books with hostility woven into them, and then kept alive by media until we’re little more than wizened sacks of disdain.

To forgive and forget only exists in fairytales. I cannot tell Kosovar people’s grandparents to forgive and forget when some were betrayed by neighbours with whom they drank their morning coffee. I cannot tell my mother’s colleague to forgive and forget when she witnessed the killing of 40 family members in her own house. I will never know their pain, but I acknowledge and hold space for it. Some consider hate the only thing that life has left them with. But hate is not hereditary. Let’s teach children and students better.  Speak from love and empathy. Teach them history not in a way that creates more enemies, but to teach compassion. Past bloodshed cannot be erased, but future gore can be prevented.

 

YOUNG PEOPLE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

Nikoleta Radevic, Montenegro

We live on a planet with almost eight billion people. The internet and easy access to travelling has created a global village; so today, when various customs, traditions and societies are only a few steps away, understanding and tolerance among cultures are more important than ever. Although we face similar challenges, we all have the same goal – to live a happy life. But to do so, we must develop a strong society with progressive ideas and refuse to engage in hatred, intolerance, and indifference that is so widely spread in the Western Balkans.

Every individual has the power to impact their society, but young people are the only ones who can break the vicious cycle of division and let go of the ghosts of the past. We must use our voices to spread empathy and tolerance, to make positive changes, to exchange knowledge. Let our differences be the bridge that connects two sides, not the abyss between them.

 

HATE SPEECH IS NOT FREEDOM OF SPEECH

Emilija Bozinovska, North Macedonia

The internet means "freedom of speech" for most people, in a way that they can enjoy this right immeasurably without consequences. Thus, it has brought countless opportunities to spread hate speech. Blogs, online portals and social media platforms are full of hate speech and discrimination based on ethnicity, political views, religion, etc. While the spaces provided by online media are often mediated and monitored, the same cannot be said for social media and different forums.

There is a need to monitor cases of hate speech and discrimination. But we also need better and more efficient ways to report such problems, and for authorities to appropriately address them. We must raise awareness that hate speech online is as much a crime as hate speech in the real world, with similar consequences on youth relations in this already conflict-ridden region.

 

THE VOICE OF OUR GENERATION

Nikolina Bonic, Serbia

Considering that in our region there are groups of people who undermine peace and thus bring our societies back to conflict, it is extremely important what kind of official stance stakeholders towards these groups have. Are they building their power on subservience to such groups or are they determined to build peace and stability regardless of the number of votes that promoters of conflict-mongering ideas bring?

Declaratively, everyone is in favor of peace, but the facts show that for previous generations, past wounds haven’t healed. This keeps societies from progressing, and thanks to this we have been spinning in a circle for thirty years. Fortunately, there are young adults who want to build better communities out of those they grew up in.  Only when decision-makers show a willingness to listen to our opinions, when public institutions show readiness to stand behind these ideas, provide them with support and start cooperation, only then will we know that our societies have moved forward.

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Shared Futures: Youth Perceptions on Peace in the Western Balkans was conducted by UNDP, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO). It was developed through a uniquely participatory research process which involved a youth advisory group, representing youth across the Western Balkans region, in the design of the study framework and the analysis of its findings. The study is based on quantitative and qualitative data collected through a regional survey and several focus group discussions between December 2020 and April 2021.

*For the UN, all references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999). 

For RYCO, this designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with Security Council Resolution 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.
 

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