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Youth in the Balkans: the art of turning problems into opportunities

Whenever I tell my friends that I see my future somewhere in the Balkan region, I get a surprised look and the inevitable question, “but why?”

I have no precise reply. Usually, I just answer, “because I love it there”. However, I’ve always wanted to have a better response. Something that would really convince people that the Balkans are a beautiful, thriving place. I found some answers while travelling through and living in Italy, Croatia, and even Belgium.

The vibrant city of Brussels is the destination of politicians, decision makers, business people, and representatives of every country in Europe and beyond. It is a place where everyone should feel at home and where sharing thoughts and actions should come naturally to everyone. It did, in fact, to a group of young people coming from Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, as well as Italy and San Marino. I had the pleasure to meet them and discuss some of the most pressing issues that young people face in the Balkans and more generally in the Adriatic region.

Here are some of their ideas. I would love it if you, dear reader, reflected on them and formed your own opinion. Think about them and you will be able to create a better society where you feel satisfied, a society you can call a home.

Our voices are not heard

Sometimes, we feel powerless. It seems that governments do not take us into account and choose not to represent us. We are full of hope. We know our needs and just require someone to transform our dreams into reality. We know that we can make the difference. All that is missing is the how.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”, Gandhi once said. It might feel like you’re swimming upstream. But once other people see the value that you are creating, they will follow you, and you will beat the current. You don’t need to produce big changes. Something as simple as educating younger generations about a topic you care about, or organising a group committed to a goal can be enlightening for some. Small, local actions contribute to forming a new culture that will slowly make its way into the higher level of institutions and influence the decisions that your politicians take.

No one cares about the environment

Older people are building the world we will live in. They might not protect it as well as we would like. I bet you have heard the sentence “we have bigger problems than some garbage on the streets” a thousand times already. Poor water management systems contrast with rich natural parks, and pollution affects the vast biodiversity of the region.

Here, information is key. You are probably the most educated person on the matter in your family or among your peers. If you think you do not have enough knowledge, you can consult infinite resources. You can learn a lot from books, articles, and even the website of your local administration. Take people by their hand and show them how to separate paper from plastic. Or explain to them that building a rainwater collection system at home is easy enough and saves a good amount of money on water bills. Spreading awareness is the best thing you can do to impact people’s actions.

We are left alone

Taking from the words of Robert Schuman, a founder of the EU: “Europe must be a cultural community in the most elevated sense of the term”, building a common European sentiment came to be one of our priorities. We share the vision of shaping a better world, but policies and values differ from country to country. This is especially true for those coming from outside the European Union. Those who may not feel fully involved in its projects.

Accession and EU enlargement policies are admittedly not up to us, but we can certainly support each other by remaining open minded and promoting international exchanges. The more you expand your horizon, the more you will be challenged, while enriching yourself and learning. Common problems require common solutions which can be found more easily when working together! You will feel part of the bigger picture as you understand that seemingly dissimilar countries are closer to each other than you thought.

I hope that this article gave you some courage and ideas on how you can live and act in your own country, envisioning a promising future. Our region is absolutely wonderful, and we, young people, are its hope.

Let’s make things happen!