Six Balkan countries have agreed to a new youth initiative aimed at promoting regional cooperation and understanding. Kosovo's Krenare Gashi tells DW why this initiative is so important for the conflict-torn region.
Following the violent and internecine Yugoslav Wars throughout the 1990s, the youth of the Western Balkan countries grew up in a turbulent postwar environment. Prejudice and intolerance are omnipresent, while the economic and political situation is still difficult. The result: widespread disappointment, hopelessness, and unemployment. In Kosovo alone, unemployment figures are bleak: over sixty percent of Kosovar youth are unemployed, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
Looking towards a brighter future, six Balkan states (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia) have set up an initiative in order to “promote the spirit of reconciliation and cooperation between the youth in the region” through exchange. Their heads of states met to sign the founding document of the RYCO (Regional Youth Cooperation Office) in Paris on the occasion of the Western Balkan Summit, at which German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Austria's chancellor and Italy's finance minister met with the Western Balkan leaders to discuss a host of pressing topics including migration policy, security and economic cooperation.
According to the agreement, the parties to RYCO agreed to “support the regional exchange of youth, and their sharing of ideas, as a ground for future cooperation based on the values of co-existence, tolerance and respect of human rights and diversity, as well as commitment to inclusion and security.” The office is to “ensure implementation of joint programs for young people with the focus on the principles of democratic governance, sustainable economic development, education and innovation.”
Krenare Gashi, the Kosovar civil society representative to the Regional Youth Cooperation Project, spoke to DW about the benefits of new initiative:
DW: Krenare Gashi, what is this new youth project about?
KG: I am a representative from the Civil Society section established within the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), which aims to support youth exchanges in the Western Balkan regions. This RYCO aims at cooperation in a diverse region by keeping in mind that young people who are aware of the past look forward for a prosperous future.
What will happen after the signing of the RYCO agreement?
KG: Actually this RYCO is an idea that was brought from the Berlin Process, initiated at the Vienna Summit. And since last summer the working members have been working on a document and getting everything in order to be prepared for the signing at Paris summit by six prime ministers. Then we look forward to be fully operational in January 2017.
What can be expected from this center?
Actually starting in January 2017 will be the most beautiful part of the whole idea of RYCO: it will be fully operational. It means that we will support projects and activities, activism and youth participation along the four RYCO objectives: on culture, youth, education and research. All young people from the Western Balkans who look forward for a common regional project in these mentioned fields are more then welcome to be beneficiary of the RYCO project. The headquarters will be in Tirana, but there will be six local branches in each of the six countries of the region.
What will be the benefit of the center?
[Having a physical location] is necessary for moving forward. I do believe that the establishment of such a regional youth cooperation office is very important. Speaking geographically, the territory of the Western Balkan is small if we divide it into countries. But if we come together, work together and increase mobility and cooperation among each other, we will contribute to the development of the region overall and of course in the process of reconciliation which is an aim that each country of the Balkans should be looking at for a while. Another important thing: all Western Balkan [states] look for European integration but everyone has to be aware that a European integration without a regional cooperation cannot be imagined.
How much is invested in the project and by whom?
Two million euros, part of which will be direct contributions from the six countries. The rest is supported by European institutions such as the European Commission or the European Union.
How do you bring your message to the public?
There are channels of communication of RYCO, such as the official website, where young people and other interested parties can get information about what is happening and what is going to happen. Another important channel of communication is the Franco-German youth office, which has been facilitating the whole process and through which people can get information about RYCO.
I am very optimistic that this RYCO - as we call it "our little baby" - will be a window of opportunity for us, for the youth of the Western Balkans.
This interview was conducted by Adelheid Feilcke.