Due to turbulent history in the Western Balkans throughout the 20th century and especially violent process of dissolution of former Yugoslavia, official cooperation among countries in this region is not yet properly developed. Particular governments’ interests and lack of sense for regional dimensions of mutual problems and joint efforts for progress influences this cooperation. This situation has significant impact on youth generations. YIHR finds it important to provide young people with tools for creating new ties among post-war generations and gaining personal experience about neighbors that will be free of stereotypes inherited from official narratives, political discourses, media reporting and official educational systems.
Since its establishment in 2003 YIHR Regional Network is conducting various informal cross-border and visiting programs among different ethnic groups within countries and among the countries in the region. Parallel to this YIHR is advocating the establishment of official channels of communications for young people in the Western Balkans. Through its rich experience in bringing young people from post-conflict countries together, YIHR realized that such circumstances are created in the region, which opens space for establishment of official channels for youth exchanges.
Therefore YIHR believes that in the process of establishment of an official youth exchange program in the Western Balkans region it is important to follow these criteria:
– Governments as founders of the program: Respective goverments of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania should establish and support this program. They should be in charge of its functioning and sustainabilty. This will be a sign that regional governments are dedicated to strengthening regional cooperation and willing to take active role in providing space for young people to tear down existing barriers, break down prejudice and create atmosphere for tolerance that will replace xenophobic attitude of young people in the region of former Yugoslavia towards their neighbors.
– The role of civil society: It is extremely important to have regional governments as founders of this program and their dedication to the idea of regional cooperation among young people through certain financial sources that will be invested in the program, but civil society should also play a significant role in outlining its mandate and designing its activities. Organizations that have valuable experience in dealing with cross-border programs that involve young generations as well as those that gather great number of young people through their activities should contribute to this process, especially in its initial phase.
– Enabling mobility where obstacles still exist: The role of this program should be to inspire mobility of young people and intensify it in circumstances where it is needed. Special focus should be put on the issue of mobility among people from Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as on finding solution for visa liberalization between these two countries. Additionally, the procedures of acquiring visas for regional countries which are EU members should be simplified for those that still can not travel freely through Schengen zone. In this regard the issue of enabling foreigners to enter Serbia through Kosovo (instead of traveling through Macedonia) should be solved.
– Opening official schooling system for participation in regional exchanges: In order to involve greater number of people, gain multiple effect and ensure full support for various programs that involve schools in exchanges, special focus should be put on enabling cooperation among elementary and high schools as well as universities with no obstacles.
– Ensuring recognition of university diplomas in the region: Since the borders in the Western Balkans region are not ethnical and lot of students are gaining their university degree in some of neighboring countries in their native languages, it is important to create mechanisms for simpler process of diploma nostrification. General diploma recognition might have an impact on higher flow of young people in the region.
– Raising awareness among young people about multiperspectivity of historical narratives in the Western Balkans: The issue of dealing with the past should play important role in this program and may not be ignored. It is not to be applied only for programs whose content is related to this topic, but also to other programs that do not necessarily deal with it. Participants of this program should be inspired to learn about differences among exissting perspectives and think in this spirit. This is why this program requires qualified people who will be handling these visits. Awareness on existence of parallel and conflicting narratives might create more understanding in political terms among young people in the region.
– Dedication of governments to promote good neighboring relations and serve as promoters of need for enhanced regional cooperation: It is important that in official discourses of regional governments, through synchronized activities of different ministries, media and general spirit in educational system regional cooperation is highlighted as necessary tool for progress and brighter future. The freedom of movement should be especially promoted in areas with existing division in communities and where, despite nonexistence of formal obstacles for mobility, people have psychological barriers to visit neighboring communities.
– Program Sustainability: From the very beginning of establishment of this program special focus should be put on its sustainability. It should be secured through precise fundraising strategy, but the financial contribution of regional governments should play significant place in operationalization of regional mechanisms that will enable youth visiting programs.
In the light of above mentioned criteria, Regional Network of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights offices finds mutual interest in advocating establishment of the Regional Youth Exchange Program and commits itself to contribute to the process of establishment of this program in the Western Balkans.