Serving as youth representatives on the RYCO Governing Board offers a chance to make your voice heard in relation to issues that matter to us all and to contribute directly to the decision-making processes that help shape responses to such issues. Such a chance is proof that effective youth participation only happens when young people are treated as equals and have a place at the decision-making table.
The governing system at RYCO embodies a shared responsibility and equal say in decision-making as we jointly discuss and take decisions together with the Western Balkan ministers. This co-management system of governing proves that it is possible to hear young people’s voices equally to those of the officials and to take our perspectives into consideration, especially when youth issues are at stake.
Our engagement as youth representatives in RYCO involves a great deal of preparation, intensive processes and shared discussions with a focus on youth-oriented initiatives and activities. But most importantly, it is an experience where we learn from each other, identify best practices, share lessons learned and work constantly and tirelessly to reach our goals.
It is clear to us that young people are the backbone of our society. They are its present and its future. It is equally clear that none of the desired changes and progress is achievable without our active involvement and participation. Moreover, we cannot allow political agendas to disregard our interests within public policymaking. We share the belief that youth participation is both a responsibility and a right. If we want our societies to thrive and enjoy democratic development, European integration and social and economic prosperity then we need to take action and lead the change as opposed to giving into a sense of hopelessness and simply waiting for change to happen by itself.
It is when we are provided with coherent and timely information that we become aware of the existing challenges and opportunities and get motivated to participate, to raise our concerns, and to contribute to better decisions and outcomes that can be made.
However, it is not always easy for us and the youth in the Western Balkans to stand up and lead the change. Our active engagement and independent cooperation as youth representatives is sometimes hindered by the political situation in the region, alongside the lack of inclusiveness and diversity that we also witness. There is a need for more support and more cooperation to be strengthened at all levels – local, national and regional.
Moreover, all youth in the Western Balkan region face the same challenges. We are often confronted with distorted and negative narratives, prejudices, stereotypes, media influences and youth issues being put at the bottom of the political agenda. On top of that, the current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way we engage and interact with one another within and across borders.
To address these challenges, we know that it is important to have more inclusive approaches in decision-making that involve youth from diverse backgrounds, marginalised groups, more policy implementation and action rather than talking, more positive narratives that focus on opportunities and solutions and more unity and togetherness.
Even though we face constant and various obstacles, we are ready, eager and open to solve them. We will keep working to change things, to improve by learning from each other and having common interests in mind. That is what holds us together and helps us solve the common challenges with unified forces and approaches.
Our fragile region needs its progressive youth to step up and engage in policy and decision-making processes, to advocate for the best interest of their peers, as this might prove to be the only way to bring positive social change and to move the region toward a more resilient and opportunity-rich future. Young people should contribute and play a key role in peacebuilding, reconciliation and cooperation in the region, whereas politicians and stakeholders should realise that it is crucial to allow young people to assume their corresponding responsibility and necessary leadership roles.
We are often perceived as the future of our societies but we are foremost of the present, because how we act today affects the world we will be living in tomorrow. It is up to us to build a better future through our shared commitment to cooperation and through our persistence and participation in policy and decision-making. Every day should serve as a chance for the youth of the Western Balkans to take matters into their own hands and become agents of change.
We hope that our cooperation as Youth Representatives in the RYCO Governing Board and our friendship as young people of the Western Balkans serve as an inspiring example to every young person, to every policymaker, and to everyone in the region and beyond. By being united, engaged and committed to honest cooperation, we can lead the change to a better tomorrow.
Our region needs youth participation, unity and cooperation in today’s challenging times now more than ever.
Françeska Muço, Youth Representative of Albania
Edis Papashtica, Youth Representative of Kosovo*
Andrea Mićanović, Youth Representative of Montenegro
Vladimir Gjorgjevski, Youth Representative of North Macedonia
Marko Kostić, Youth Representative of Serbia
This article is a part of the RYCO publication “A Better Region Starts with YOUth” which can be accessed here. The central part of this publication is a scientific research conducted by the team of researchers from the University of Vienna. The research focuses on young people in the Western Balkans and their participation or non-participation in regional youth exchange programs supported by RYCO.
*This designation is without prejudice to positions on status and is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo Declaration of Independence.