In the picture Ms. Jana van der Velde, Head of the Division Central and South Eastern Europe from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Alessandro Rotta, from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities .
By Nynke van der Heide.
The Austrian Embassy hosted a panel discussion on ‘Vision 2030 for the New Balkans: The Importance of South Eastern Europe for the Prosperity, Stability and Security of the EU’ at the beautiful Austrian Residence in The Hague. This discussion is part of the dialogue that started in December 2018 with the initiative “New Horizons for the Young Generations in the Balkans”.
The initiative gives a voice to the vision of a young generation growing up in the Western Balkans. Resulting in the study published in December 2019: ‘Vision 2030 for the New Balkans: Towards Alternative Horizons’, which was presented by co-author Vedran Džihić, Senior Researcher at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs.
The Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia H.E. Ms. Dubravka Plejic Markovic, Head of the Division Central and South Eastern Europe from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jana van der Velde and Senior Political Adviser, Alessandro Rotta from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities contributed valuable insights from different perspectives to the discussion as well.
The discussion was moderated by Security Expert Dr. Arlinda Rrustemi from the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies.
The panel discussion was opened by a speech from Ambassador H.E. Ms. Heidemaria Gürer whom emphasized the importance of the theme of the discussion for Austria in light of the 2018 Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Stability and security in the Western Balkans are important topics for the European Union and in particular Austria, which has close relations with its neighbouring countries. 2018 became known as the “Year of Hope” in which EU enlargement in the Balkans had a high priority. Especially the topic of today, the ambassador stressed, is vital. The Western Balkans orientating to the future through the lenses of a new generation.
The paper provides a platform for young people to let their voice be heard. It gives them a chance to set out their hopes for the future, Dr. Džihić explained. According to him there needs to be a horizon that guides the Western Balkans to a different future. This also means the present outlook is not so good. The vision of the European Union is still endangered within the region. Old-fashioned politics, loss of normative power and lack of economic, educational and social perspective were pointed out. But the paper offers a perspective of hope. Although a lot of energy and enthusiasm for the future has gone lost in the region – it is still visible with the young generation.
The major elements that the paper touches upon are about positive democratic feelings. The youth is more optimistic about a future together with the European Union than the older generation. In the paper the writers put their focus on sustainable economical, social, educational and environmental change.
They are lesser concerned with the problem of nationalism. Important is that the Western Balkans needs more identification with Europe. It needs to find a voice on European level, be part of the shaping forces of Europe. Young people believe in the possibility of change: an atmospheric change in politics. One of joy instead of fear, Dr. Džihić concluded.
In context of the current Croatian Presidency of the Council of the EU the ambassador H.E. Ms. Dubravka Plejic Markovic pointed out the importance of looking at the problems. She stressed the struggle of the brain drain, young people leaving the region to work elsewhere. The Western Balkans have a good market, but the region is still relatively poor which stalls process.
Initiatives are being done, but it is not enough. There is a need for greater engagement on higher level. This needs more domestic homework. Reforms should be put in place, but this is difficult. It needs support. Therefore, the people need to understand their own value. They can make necessary change happen by becoming politically awake citizens. The ambassador pointed out that it is possible to work out these issues with the right amount of dedication.
Head of the Division Central and South Eastern Europe from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jana van der Velde highlighted the Dutch position on the Western Balkans in regard to the accession in the European Union. It is important to make a distinction: the Western Balkans are six different countries.
“Each country is different and has its own problems”, she pointed out. The Netherlands care about these countries and where they stand. But their accession is determined by strict and fair criteria. The pace of accession is decided by the countries themselves and it takes hard work. The Dutch concerns are regarding the rule of law and regional issues and stability. Ms. van der Velde agreed that the focus on youth is important. The older generation is over represented in politics. Therefore, more engagement is necessary. But it is a package, she concluded. Europe is one continent and many issues are relevant to all of Europe. Working together is vital.
An outlook on instability regarding minorities in the Western Balkans was put forward by Alessandro Rotta from the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. He explained that the societies in which minorities are integrated are most stable. The framework – composed out of many elements such as rights, legislation and policy arrangements – for the Western Balkans is complex. It cannot always combat the daily political discourse in which minority issues are being used as a tool to divert attention from other problems such as corruption or other social-economic problems, he pointed out. Another important problem in these societies is the segregation of education. This is the recipe for a divided society, but it is very difficult to change.
The different views brought forward by the panel stimulated an engaged debate with the esteemed guests. Many interesting questions were raised and answered. The debate ended with a small reception where guests could share their thoughts on the subject.
The study by Dr. Džihić can be read here: https://www.oiip.at/cms/media/2019-12-concrete-proposals-young-generations-for-the-new-balkans-2030.pdf
Photography by Gualtiero Buonamassa.