To young people in the region, the idea of European unification is seen in terms of stability after a period of conflict.
By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 06/10/12
Participants discussed the role of youth in achieving EU values. [Youth Alliance in Krusevo]
The youth population remains one of the region's most creative and productive assets, whose ideals and aspirations are directed to creating a prosperous, democratic and stable region within the EU.
About 50 young leaders and representatives of youth organisations from across the region gathered in Krusevo, Macedonia, this week to attend the 10th annual youth conference European values for the future of Southeast Europe.
The conference, sponsored by the Youth Alliance in Krusevo and the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe, drew participants from 15 countries to discuss "the role of youth in achieving EU values in their societies in Southeast Europe, and developing recommendations and proposals for further youth actions for promotion of EU values among youth in Europe."
Young people in Southeast Europe say they are skeptical about the European future of their countries due to ongoing unemployment, lack of participation in decision making and the indifference of the political elites about social trends.
"It is a pity that the young people who are open minded in some socialites become marginalised group. I sincerely hope that is just a momentary trend, which in the close future won't be a familiar occurrence," Metodija Stojceski, from the Youth Alliance in Krusevo, told SETimes.
Stojceski said that to young people in the region, the idea of European unification is seen in terms of ensuring stability after a period of conflict.
"The general 'no perspective' situation is a deterrent to the young. Instead of trying to solve problems together, they divide themselves by party, ethnic and religious bases," Kire Vasilev, a conference participant from Macedonia, told SETimes.
"I hope that the young people will choose the right path -- the path of democracy and human rights, although that doesn't have to be connected to the EU automatically," Vasilev said.
Many young people in Croatia and Serbia are overwhelmed by skepticism in the matter of their countries' participation in EU, conference participants Mateja Stankovich from Serbia and Marko Boko from Croatia told SETimes.
"In Serbia, the young people have divided opinions about the EU, because very few of them know what EU actually is. A lot of them don't see any use of EU and they consider that it is unfair to Serbia, and that is why Serbia shouldn't be a member in the EU," Stankovich said.
"On the other hand, the number of progressive young people who think that EU is the only way to the peace in the region, and to the economic prosperity of Serbia, is big. I think there is a lot of work to be done, so [the future] will be bright for the young people."
"The [majority of] Croatian youth is very indifferent to this question, but there are some who look at it positively. Their biggest issue is unemployment and the bad political situation. The state institutions have a hard time accepting that young people should be part of [the decision making process, in order to find] solutions to the problems," Boko said.
Youth in Turkey live in fear and uncertainty for their future, conference attendee Asija Deril from Istanbul told SETimes.
"Young people in Turkey don't see hope. Unfortunately they only see fear. The biggest problem is that they are being limited in their thinking and they are not aware of their opportunities. The politicians don't take care of them at all," Deril said.
Albanian youth is dedicated to regional peace and stability, and constantly encourages the country to continue with constructive approach to the European integration.
But statistics show that the country is facing a crisis in terms of unemployment of the young population, and serious problems are present in the educational system as well, Marseda Petraj, who attended the conference from Albania, told SETimes.
"The quality of education, corruption and the infrastructure of the educational institutions are the most frequent problems. Even after 17 years, the organisational structure of the education system can't fulfill the market requests for skilled labour, which hampers the young in providing suitable employment. The process of democratsation in Albania is one of the most difficult, considering its tumultuous historical heritage and its difficult economic situation," Petraj said.
Neighbouring Kosovo is facing an unemployment crisis as well.
"Many young people, including those who have completed university, are desperately waiting to hear some news for them that will be employed. Young people in my country think that joining the EU is very useful, because there are more opportunities in every field," Arianit Iljazi from Kosovo told SETimes.
However, even in the regional EU member countries, problems still exist.
"We got opportunities to intern at the European institutions and [participate in] programmes specially designed for young people and funded by the European Commission. But it should be said that there is still high unemployment, and we have problems with the education system," Ivelina Atanasova from Bulgaria told SETimes.
Nita Starova, from the Foundation Friedrich Ebert, said that the worst thing that can happen to the region is a passive youth without visions and ideas.
"A society without youth is a society without future. We are witnesses to the present, in which the young people in enormous number leave their countries, in the hunt for better living conditions and working places. The [large number of] unemployed led to a large percentage of young people to see their future abroad, which is a bad," Starova said.
The final document that emerged from the conference, comprised of a declaration for European future and common actions and for overcoming the problems the young face, will be sent to regional governments and to the representatives of the European institutions. Besides the declaration, a list of recommendations for joint action will be sent to youth organisations working on regional projects.