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Balkan leadership conference "Western Balkan Countries and EU Relations – Challenges and Perspectives”.
Vienna, November 11, 2022.

Session 3: Youth, Peace and Security in Western Balkans-moving forward with the energy and optimism of the next generation.

Jennifer Miftarofska from the Austrian chapter of Youth and Students for Peace
Slobodan Martinović, advisor to the former president of Montenegro, H.E. Filip Vujanović
Aleksandar Savović, chief of cabinet of the former president of Bosnia-Herzegovina, H.E. Mladen Ivanić
Lirjetë Avdiu-Vejsa, the chairwoman of the K Cultural Association, Vienna
Kirsty Rancier, youth focal point for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Bogdan Pammer, International Association of Youth and Students for Peace president for Europe and the Middle East
Luka Čekić, an expert on the Western Balkans, International Institute for Peace, Vienna
Session 3 panelists (left to right): Jennifer Miftarofska, Lirjetë Avdiu-Vejsa, Slobodan Martinović, Kirsty Rancier, Luka Čekić, Bogdan Pammer, and Aleksandar Savović

Moderator: Ms. Jennifer Miftarofska, Youth and Students for Peace (YSP), Austria

Speakers:

  • Slobodan Martinović, advisor to the former president of Montenegro, Filip Vujanović
  • Aleksandar Savović, Chief of Cabinet of President Ivanic, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Lirjetë Avdiu-Vejsa, Chairwoman,  Cultural Association, Vienna
  • Kirsty Rancier, Youth Focal Point, UNODC, Youth Empowerment Accelerator
  • Bogdan Pammer, President of IAYSP, Europe and Middle East
  • Luka Cekic, Western Balkan Expert, International Institute for Peace, Vienna

Summary

The speakers shared their views and perspectives as youth leaders or activists in different fields of socio-economic and political life, such as corruption in leadership and important state institutions; political correctness being a big hindrance in the educational system, which needs be lifted in order to protect a good educational system that promotes good values; prevention of violence and drug abuse to create safer countries and communities and that has to be done in close cooperation with respective governments; freedom of movement and encouragement to return and implement the expertise gained abroad in their countries of origin and more.

But they also appealed to the new generation of Balkan countries to become pioneers of many new developments and not wait to receive help, but on the contrary inspire new ways of doing things. From their viewpoint, young people not only represent the future, but are also the present, and that is why it is very important that they are involved in the peace building processes, cooperate closely with the governments Leaders, and politicians need their attention.

People have to move from their past with true love. The youth might not have the solution to the situation, but they must be part of it. There is commitment on their side to work on mental health issues and strengthen family values. Another recommendation made was that the young people from the Balkan region should be brought together in places where atrocities occurred so that they can learn from factual history, in order to not repeat it.

Report:

The third session was moderated by Jennifer Miftarofska from Youth and Students for Peace (YSP), Austria, and was titled: Youth, Peace and Security in Western Balkans-moving forward with the energy and optimism of the next generation. In her opening words she mentioned that “Young people play a crucial role in efforts for stability and peace and in strengthening social cohesion in societies. It is very important to listen to their concerns and aspirations, supporting their active participation in the decisions that shape their societies and by fostering opportunities for young people to meet and build relationships across ethnic, religious and geographic lines. Placing young people at the centre is the right strategy for empowering a new generation to find the solutions to challenges yet to be resolved and for creating a strong force for a more peaceful and sustainable world.”

The first speaker was Slobodan Martinović, advisor to the former president of Montenegro, Filip Vujanović. Prior to that he worked as a diplomat at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Montenegro, dealing with bilateral relations with the neighboring countries. He was also a teaching assistant at the University of European Studies. In his words he described the atmosphere he and the youth of his generation were born and grew up with, and it is exactly that which was experienced after the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. He mentioned that there are three main issues that need to be addressed:

Firstly, the educational system has to change and meet the standards of the developed countries. Secondly, unemployment is among the highest in Europe and within that category, this percentage is even higher among the young people. The third issue he addressed was the brain drain. Young people are forced to leave and find their future in western countries and the USA.

A change of narrative is really needed, and this can be achieved through more cooperation with the Western Balkan countries and the EU, and we have to look forward to the future in a more optimistic way. “Conferences like this where we can exchange our opinions give me hope that things will work”, he concluded.

The second speaker was Mr. Aleksandar Savović, Chief of Cabinet of President Ivanic, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He expressed that the E.U. did not really have any strategy for dealing with the Balkans after the war. The justice system was reformed by installing new young judges and prosecutors without any experience or knowledge of the past.

Many people say that the problem with the justice system is corruption, but he expressed that the main problem is the immaturity of the people doing the task and the key to solving this problem is education. One of the key reforms in Europe was the Bologna Process, however he felt that in many ways the education system in B&H was better before the war than it is now. However, since it cannot get any worse than it is already, B&H would be a good place to try out new ways to improve the education system. In this way, B&H could become a pioneer and example for the rest of Europe. He expressed that more EU funding should be diverted to educational projects within the Western Balkans. Also, it is currently difficult for students from B&H to obtain visas to travel to other countries during their studies. In conclusion, he said that logic and reason, rather than emotions, needed to play a greater role in policy decisions.

The third speaker was Lirjetë Avdiu-Vejsa, Chairwoman,  Cultural Association, Vienna, who was standing in for Mr. Bahri Troja, Austrian Integration Fund; Director, Albanians’ Peace Council, who would have given a talk about the integration process In Austria, and gave her more personal perspective of such integration. She explained that she is from Kosovo, but her father is from Montenegro and her mother is of Albanian origin from Kosovo, but always teased her that she is Montenegrin, which she struggled with. Due to persecution during the regime of Slobodan Milosevic, her parents lost their apartment and their jobs and were forced to return to Montenegro. It took her a long time to adapt to this new community.

Also, because of the limitations of the education system there, she eventually moved to Austria to study. This was also possible, because Montenegro being a small country, they are obliged to learn other languages, so she already understood German. However, her integration was not so simple, because she was very much tied to her cultural roots. In this way, she came to organize activities for the Albanian community in Vienna. In conclusion, she hoped that many who have benefitted from western education with be able to help their own countries in the future and that European integration can best come about through the exchanging of our cultures, rather than changing them. Therefore, it is important to allow freedom of movement for the many bright, young people of the Balkans.

The fourth speaker was Ms. Kirsty Rancier, Youth Focal Point, UNODC, Youth Empowerment Accelerator, who explained that she comes from Canada and cannot provide any personal experience of the Balkans but is grateful to those who did. However, she does have experience implementing the UN’s Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS) agenda. She went on to explain that “young people want to participate in peace processes. Young people in many countries and communities are the majority of the population and, when the decisions are made about young people and for young people, they should be made with young people, and this is really the basis for them to be involved.” She explained that the YPS agenda stems from the ground-breaking resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security adopted unanimously by the UN Security Council, on 9 December 2015, which recognizes that “young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security”, and since then there have been several supplementary resolutions. This has led for the first time to young people briefing the Member States in the Security Council. She did, however, also mention the importance of intergenerational dialogue.

She went on to explain about the work of her organization, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in which she is involved in many anti-violence projects, but more recently in youth led efforts to combat terrorism. This includes the Balkans where it is also important to enable youth to develop their wellbeing and interpersonal skills that help prevent violence and drug use and abuse. She emphasized the importance of the Youth Empowerment Accelerator (YEA!) framework of UNODC which serves as a tool for UN entities to uphold the meaningful engagement of youth in different priority areas, including peace and security, and which will hopefully allow young people from across the world, including in the Western Balkans, to contribute more.

The fifth speaker was Mr. Bogdan Pammer, President of IAYSP, Europe and Middle East, who began by quoting from the founder of UPF and YSP, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, who herself as a young woman fled from North Korea and found a new life building a community of peace. She said in 2020. “Don't be an onlooker if you can't see the future. We cannot move forward with human centered thinking and ideology”. He explained that he had just returned from conducting a Peace Designer Training in cooperation with a large university in Pristina, where they discussed a great deal about peace. He also met a lot of young people on his recent travels around the Balkans region but concluded that young people don’t necessarily have the answer, because we need to go beyond human centered thinking.

Mr. Pammer said that “It is at the cracks of society where true innovations and true solutions come forward and that is why we should be inspired about the Balkan region. As we heard, the brain drain can become an asset if you see it the other way around, creating networks with communities, with people of international backgrounds.” He invited everyone to come to Pristina on May 16, 2023, on the International Day of Living Together in Peace, for the conclusion of the Peace Designer Training. He expressed that true innovation is more likely to come from places in the Balkans than elsewhere.

The last speaker was Luka Cekic, Western Balkan Expert, International Institute for Peace, Vienna, who began by asking where is the will of the people to change something in the western Balkans? “It takes small steps to make big steps”, he said. He then reminded us of the late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić, who had the ability to motivate the young people. Disagreeing slightly with the previous speakers, he said that we need leaders like this to come from inside the Western Balkans, rather than looking to the outside for solutions. “We should accept that the EU is not capable of solving our problems, because it has its own problems”, he said.

The International Institute for Peace has a Western Balkans Initiative with a Vision Plan 2030. One of their conclusions is that reconciliation is very much necessary, because we are still very much divided into groups and are blaming each other for the horrors of the war. Given that reconciliation has been achieved with the German people after WWII, he asked why it would not be possible to bring young Serbian people to Srebrenica, for example. In conclusion, he stressed that there is no future without the youth.

The session was concluded with questions from the audience that received multiple responses from almost all the panelists, which showed once again their engagement and commitment to the theme of this session.

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