Ethnic discrimination is a significant security threat, experts say

06/02/2014

Experts say young people who were subjected to the trauma of the Balkan conflicts are more inclined to turn to violence, but Turkey can be a stabilising presence in the region.

By Zeynep Cermen for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 06/02/14

photo

In this file photo from 2001, young Albanians are seen observing Serbian policemen in the village of Miratovce. Serbia deployed forces in that small area at the southern tip of the buffer zone where Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia converge. [AFP]

Young people who were once subjected to the trauma of wars are inclined to turn to violence, experts said at a conference of academics from the Balkans and Turkey held recently in Istanbul.

The experts said youth in the Balkan countries show similarities to the youth living in the eastern and southeastern provinces of Turkey, where there has been intense conflict over the Kurdish issue.

The group, representing Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Montenegro, Kosovo, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, France and Serbia, met in Istanbul to discuss top issues related to human security.

During the two-day conference organized by Helsinki Citizens' Assembly in January, experts concluded that political and social instability, ethnic diversity, traumas of past wars and the issue of recognition are potential risk factors for further violence in the region.

Ahmet Insel, a professor at Galatasaray University and a member of Helsinki Citizens' Association in Turkey, said the situation in the Balkan countries was problematic and posing serious threats of ethnic violence.

"Ethnic discrimination is one of the hardest issues in the Balkan countries. Although they have established nation states, the citizens can only define themselves with their ethnic identities," Insel told SETimes.

"The trauma is very deep and intense especially among the youth. They have psychological injuries. They are very insecure. Most importantly they are very open to violence and at the same time they have the potential to produce violence," he added.

Insel said the conference aimed to discuss the issues more in detail with comparative examples among the countries in the region.

Vehid Sehic, a prominent Bosnian peace activist and the president of the Forum of Tuzla Citizens and Civic Alternative Parliament of BiH, told SETimes that "there is still the existence of political instability in the region. The huge ethnical diversity of the southeast European citizens poses danger of social instability."

Sehic said the biggest obstacle facing the EU membership aspirations of the Balkan countries is the ethnic variety. Sehic argues that the best way to provide security for all the peoples of the Balkans is to have a NATO presence in the region.

"If we are talking about human security and safety, we should integrate these countries into NATO so that we will provide physical security to the people of Southeast Europe to create circumstances that we will not have any more violence, clashes or war," he said.

Slobodan Tadic, the senior programme co-ordinator of UNDP's Sarajevo office, pointed to the issue of recognition and truth telling as the biggest threats against human security in Southeast European countries.

Since the fall of the former Yugoslavia, there are still countries seeking recognition by the international community, which Tadic said poses a serious threat for EU membership bids.

"We are moving toward the EU. But until we recognise ourselves and accept who we are, no matter from which minority or majority, it is not possible for the EU to recognise us," he told SETimes.

Experts agreed that Turkey had an important role to play in the region. According to Tadic, western orientation of the Balkan countries has been changing with the impact of Turkey.

"We are getting a balanced approach now between the west and the east, which was not the case before. The whole Western Balkans was very much western oriented before. But now with all these economic distribution of power, things are slightly changing. The east has been gaining importance," Tadic said.

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Ankara enjoys friendly relations with the Balkan countries, and experts called upon Turkey to continue to proceed with its positive politics, which would support the stabilisation of the situation in the region.

Helsinki Citizens' Assembly has been carrying out activities of the regional project Citizens Network for Peace, Reconciliation and Human Security since December 2012.

Taking the concept of human security as a reference, the project focuses on the traditional and daily life securities in the region and aims to forge national and regional alliances among the relevant societal actors.

How important do you think it is to create mutual understanding of ethnic groups in the Balkans in order to prevent future conflicts? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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