WESTERN BALKANS – September 15 is celebrated as the International Day of Democracy after being established in 2007 through a resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly. This day aims to encourage governments and societies to strengthen efforts and policies that promote and consolidate democracy. It also highlights that stronger democracy needs the participation of all citizens.
Democracies work to ensure that everyone in a society is represented, included, and protected. Moreover, in true democracies, citizens take an active role in their government and are involved in the system of rights, freedoms, and responsibilities.
One way to ensure that governments under a democratic system are consolidated, just, and inclusive is by increasing young people’s civic engagement and political participation.
In the Western Balkans, young people often find themselves marginalized from mainstream politics and decision-making processes. They struggle to make their voice heard and to engage in political activities that bring concrete change to their communities.
What emerged from the study Shared Futures: Youth Perceptions on Peace in the Western Balkans, conducted by RYCO in cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), was that young people’s democratic values were importantly linked to those of social cohesion and peace.
Yet, the study also showed that this positive attitude towards democratic principles was combined with a lack of participation of youth in the civic or political spheres of their societies and a general sense of dissatisfaction in governance systems. The most commonly given reason for this detachment of youth from politics and government was the belief that activism would make no difference with 47% of the young respondents indicating so.
Lastly, in Shared Futures, 25% of youth told us that for them, a well-functioning democracy, peace, economic prosperity, and dialogue between leaders were also seen as important factors for long-term peace and stability.
It is therefore important to observe young people’s perspectives, address their concerns and meet their needs.
To create new opportunities and avenues for engagement, together with our partners, RYCO works on empowering young people to be active contributors to the democratic and social prosperity of the region. Our supported programs and activities have helped young people to build skills, knowledge, and confidence while empowering them to express their voices and break down socio-cultural barriers to democratic participation.
However, there is still a lot more work to do. There is a need for more joint action and concrete measures for youth policy development that can facilitate young people’s access and exercise of their rights for political participation and engagement.
On this day, RYCO affirms its support to young people, so that they can keep unleashing their potential and creativity in addressing common challenges and creating a better Western Balkan region for all.