Youth Perceptions in the Balkans: A Promise for Better Regional Cooperation

Last month, a training titled ‘Violent Extremism vs. Intercultural Dialogue’, funded by the European Youth Foundation was held in Durrës - Albania.  Participants came from nine countries in the Balkan region: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. The average age of the participants was about 25 years. The reason why I decided to write about this particular training is that I consider it important for the youth of the region to have an opportunity to meet their peers from the region. The importance lies not only in spending time together but also discussing important topics that affect daily life. And, I have the impression that there is limited information about opportunities to apply for non-formal trainings or similar events.

In one of the sessions during the training, called Community Mapping, there was a task that required participants to answer questions about their countries. After which they would  introduce themselves, and we would learn about the profile of each country, the similarities, and differences. When we talked about the problems among the different ethnic groups within the countries, almost everyone had some, mostly with minorities who are of the same nationality of one of the other participating countries. When we talked about problems with another country, we all realized that we had issues with one or more countries.  In some cases, the problems were from the past,  while for some they are  still present, and some have moved forward.  

In other sessions, when participants had to work in groups and identify ways to improve relations between groups within states, or improve relations with the states we had problems with, it was very nice to see that all were constructive, the will for co-existence exists, the desire to move on was present. The participants were more open minded than some previous generations. And yes, of course, their positions reflect differently from their respective governments. Thus, state policies were not in proportion to the thoughts and wishes of young people. Importantly, it was obvious that reducing hate speech was considered a must from everyone, because lack of cooperation and moving forward as a region, starts from there. As in the region, critical thinking is not present among the majority of common people. They are often ‘infected’ by the hate speech spread by different stakeholders. So, the vicious cycle of division between countries continues to exist. 

I would also like to mention the impressions of the participants had of Albania. For all of them, it was the first time they were there, and this was special in itself. Some of them had some bias as a result of what they have heard from their parents or peers. Nonetheless, after experiencing themselves, their thoughts changed completely. The visit to Tirana and Durrës left a positive impression and made them curious to see other places in Albania in the future. However, I will not hide that I am a little bit angry and sad, when I see that there is still fear, installed in the minds of our youth in regards to visit each other’s countries. Again, all of this reality is due to the negative perceptions that have been transmitted to us for a long time. It is also important to mention, that in modern times the main source of information/or misinformation, I must say is the media. As long as media is controlled by the Governments, they will no doubt transmit accurate things but will also influence people in their countries to have a certain opinion about the country and the political developments. This fact, only makes it more important for the youth to visit the neighboring countries, and form their own opinion about the situations that surround them, and from experience, I can say that they are always more positive and different from what the media serves us.

Most importantly, I want to end this blog by mentioning that the best outcomes of this event/training were the relationships created between the participants. It was just wonderful… one of the best I’ve been. Everyone lives tens of kilometers from each other, and I have the impression that the contacts will continue, and certainly, they will visit each other in the future. This way youth of the region have the desire, and the positivity to cooperate to move forward jointly for a better, and more prosperous future for all, and in return, they only ask for opportunities.

Author: Migjen Krasniqi