WESTERN BALKANS – Each 12 August marks the celebration of the International Youth Day, designated by the United Nations (UN) in 1995 and first observed in 2000. This day recognizes the promise and power of young people to improve their communities. It also celebrates young people’s contributions as catalysts for peace and prosperity not only in local communities but in the whole global stage.
The Western Balkan region is composed of diverse and dynamic young people that have consistently proven their will and might to make a solid long-term impact. Through our supported projects and initiatives we have grown convinced that youth are not only central actors and beneficiaries, but our key partners in building a sustainable and peaceful region.
Young people’s role for bringing positive change becomes more evident and of paramount importance each day we face the challenges and prepare for the work that lies ahead of us.
For youth aspirations to be met and for positive change to unleash, young people should be enabled to participate and engage in activities with diverse needs and interests as well as to connect with one another. Their needs and interests need to be met and their ideas need to be heard.
That is why, within the Shared Futures study, a joint initiative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and RYCO, we drew on the voices of over 5,400 youth from different walks of life focusing on their perceptions on peace in the region.
The findings showed that over 65% of youth are interested in becoming more active and engaged in the society, giving hope to the premise of stronger youth cooperation in the region. On the other side, 24% of youth said they did not trust other groups in the region and another 42% of all respondents across the region reported concern over divisive narratives.
These results represent an acknowledgement of the urgent need to engage young peacebuilders in promoting peace and stability in our region and to support them in taking joint action to bring desired change.
Despite any obstacle, today’s youth bring great leadership and resilience. They are the most connected, the most outspoken and the most open-minded generation we have ever seen in the Western Balkans.
Furthermore, they are taking an important role in our work – the Youth Representatives in the RYCO Governing Board are equally heard and valued as the voices of the Ministers of Youth, whereas more than a half of the RYCO staff are young people themselves who tirelessly work together in fulfilling the promises of our mission and dreams of young people.
Together, we will work to create an enabling environment in which youth are empowered to be loud and take action. We will support the development of a political and social environment that empowers and facilitates youth exchange, mobility and cooperation. However, this cannot only be achieved through the work of RYCO.
This International Youth Day, once again, we reiterate that the Western Balkan governments should provide proactive support to youth exchange and youth engagement in decision-making processes within and across the region. Our young people are willing to take their role seriously and we should accelerate our actions to support and empower them.
Standing firm that a better region starts with you(th), we wish a happy and active International Youth Day to you, the young people of the region, our partners in making the Western Balkans a better place for all.