Connecting Youth of the Western Balkans

Date: 4 July 2016

Country: France, Paris

Youth_ConferenceOver 150 young people from the Western Balkans and EU countries gathered at the Connecting Youth conference in Paris on 4 July. They  discussed challenges for  youth in the region, mostly in areas of education and mobility, employment and entrepreneurship, participation and the media.

The Media Diversity Institute representative at the Connecting Youth “Western Balkans Youth Conference”, Ivana Jelaca, talked about similarities between young people in different countries in the region. “Initiatives like the Youth conference are very important because only by increasing the cooperation between young people in the region they will be able to see that they face similar challenges and that the differences between themselves are not as big as their societies and often the media, tend to highlight,” said Jelaca.

Participants at the Youth Conference in Paris had an opportunity to address ministers in charge of youth sector in six countries of the Western Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Since there were six ministers, all of them men, one of the participants asked a simple, but important question: “Where are the women?” There is a lack of female politicians in the Balkans, but also more young people are needed. For example, only 3 per cent of the Serbian Government is made of people up to 30 years old. Without their representatives, young cannot influence the decision making process.

Participants at the Youth conference concluded that more mobility schemes are needed in order to foster intercultural understanding and cooperation in the region, as well as that media and information literacy should be introduced in the school curricula and that there should to be stronger links between formal and non-formal education. Media working group also concluded that cooperation between Western Balkans journalists and their European colleagues should be encouraged. Officials at the European Union were  advised to create a funding tool that would support alternative media outlets which would push for more accountable, unbiased and citizens-linked journalism.

At  the conference in Paris, the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) was presented.  RYCO will be aiming to “promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region” through exchange. This is an important step forward since the leaders of the Western Balkans countries have given their consent to this project that as one of the main objectives that is dealing with the past and is building peace among divided communities.

The Youth conference was organised and supported by the European Commission, Government of France, European Youth Forum and Salto-Youth South East Europe Resource Centre.