Giving Kosovo’s youth a viable future beyond the scars of the past

‘Yours truly’ was present on the 5th March 2012 at the conference ‘Sustainable Kosovo’ organized by ThinkYoung (a Brussels-based advocacy NGO for young people), in collaboration with the European Stability Initiative and the Robert Bosch Foundation. Four noteworthy speakers shared their views and analysis with the audience: Mrs. Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Mrs. Doris Pack MEP, Kosovo’s Ambassador to Belgium Illir Dugolli and the General-Secretary of ESI, Mrs Alexandra Stiglmayer.

If one country in Eastern Europe has to face up in age demographics lectures, for sure it’s bound to be Kosovo. Why is that? Over half the population consists of persons under the age of 25! This means a great potential for a widening labor market and bright upcoming scholars and students you’d think. Think again. The underperforming economy is anything but a fruitful, nurturing climate for the youngsters to find employment or start a business on their own. Also, on a political level, the neighboring EU has been entangled in a long series of Council negotiations over its sovereign status, with 5 EU Member States not formally recognizing Kosovo as an independent state.

So why this conference at this particular time? ThinkYoung has been working on the Kosovo issue since July 2009 and kept track of the civil society through publication of essays and documentaries, in-depth conferences and educational field visits. At this year’s edition, key themes that were investigated through a survey were the public views regarding the function of the political system. Some of the more interesting figures were the following:
A majority of 71 percent of young Kosovars doesn’t feel confident enough to engage in politics under the current political institutions. One key reason for this is a sizeable lack of confidence with regards to the reliability and efficiency of their institutions (40% of the survey respondents feel this way).

The statistical evidence suggests that Kosovars have relatively more trust in the parliament as a political institution, relative to their president and government. That could indicate that the consolidation of parliamentary functions, as crucial part of a novice democracy, is viable among the general population in Kosovo. Yet, only 17% believe that the EULEX Rule of Law mission is an efficient and reliable actor on the ground… which is not good news for the EU.

Researchers (among which EUISS staffers) amply described how the EULEX mission has been troubled at the outset with changes in its very mission objectives and planning concept upside down due to changes on the ground, like the unilateral independence declaration in February 2008 (forestalling its implementation), and a messy transition between UNMIK and EULEX personnel, along with planning deficiencies. Nonetheless, the EULEX mission is expected to reach pre-set benchmarks and get its partners to adopt proven methods and safeguards, now that efforts have become streamlined and proceeding on matters like corruption, amplifying professional advice for the legal branch and assisting with judicial reform.

As many as 45% of interviewed persons believe none of the indicated institutions are either reliable or efficient. It’s not surprisingly that many people are quite skeptic and weary of the foreign pundits that arrived under the pretension of securing the country and pretending to do something about the political apparatus, stabilizing foreign relations and kick-starting the economy. But a “kick-start” is not quite what has transpired meanwhile on the ground.
Getting back in touch with the changing world and especially investors and business enterpreneurship outside the Kosovar borders are principal aspirations that the locals repeatedly voice. Even though many have not been able to travel to exchange views, ideas and knowledge meanwhile, as many as 30% of respondents would “encourage young people to learn each other’s culture”. And that means a sizeable deal of incentives may be borne out of activities in the context of future Youth in Action programmes. JEF has always been on the forefront of the ability of free movement all over Europe, and the ability for young citizens to connect with one another and pursue an intercultural dialogue without barriers.

ThinkYoung’s board believes that involving young people in the political discourse in Kosovo doesn’t just make sense – it’s a tool for active citizenship and political awareness. About 79% of the survey respondents support the use of internet and public actions on the street would help attain those goals. Indeed, the attentive reader easily spots the parallels with the core paradigms of the JEF family of member organisations. Although JEF has been advocating for many years for a proper change and voicing support for the democratic rights of citizens in Belarus, it’s a bit regrettable that actions about the European Neighborhood Policy, and the Kosovo issue in particular, are less frequent or streamlined as the well-known Belarus action is. Maybe because the impetus at EU official levels is largely absent in the order of focus points?

Some of the core documents distributed for the audience were pointing out that the EU’s actions in the immediate vicinity of Kosovo, and a asymmetrical, inconsistent Balkan policy is particularly harmful to Kosovo’s interests. In short, the progress made to giving Kosovo a proper roadmap for its peaceful future has been piecemeal – and that is still a “careful” statements according to some critics. A symbolic dossier is the absence of visa-free travel for Kosovar citizens to go to other parts of Europe.

The discrete factors leading to these unfortunate and tantalizing relationships are multifold, and would take too long to describe here. For a more thorough read, I’d suggest the reader to have a look at ESIweb’s report ‘Isolation Confirmed. How the EU is undermining its interests in Kosovo‘ from November 2010 (available online).

In conclusion, while EULEX is moving on, there ought to be more done in parallel about keeping the region sustainable, and focus on future investment opportunities. The local economy is struggling to augment income from in-and-out tourists, rarely seeking to buy property there or taking up lasting investements. But Kosovo’s future generations of well-educated youngsters will be a core component to start up and attract new businesses, research centers, and innovative, cutting-edge industries. But the brighter ‘ideas’ and business plans must be paired with quite a deal of foreign investment first. These matters are key to offer a brighter future for the Kosovars.

-Nico Segers