31. July 2013
“Why are citizens of the Balkans considered to be citizens of Europe?” was the topic of a panel discussion in Sarajevo on 22 July 2013. The event under the patronage of Željko Komšić, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, aimed at developing a quality discussion among young people on the similarities and differences between citizens of the Western Balkans and citizens of the rest of Europe. The conference concluded the project Plan Balkans: Europolitan, run by four FutureLab participants aiming to foster the youth participation in creating the mainstream ideas and public opinions about their Balkan countries’ European future.
“Do not allow everyday politics to affect your life. Be the artists who create a new vision and a new image. Allow yourself to contemplate the entire picture and move away from political turmoil, hate and chaos’’ Željko Komšić opened the debate. He called upon the young people who are educated, capable and innovative to use their huge potential and bring their countries closer to the EU. The panel discussion featured Jurgis Vilcinskas from the EU Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Duško Glodić from the Directorate for European Integration of BiH, Nedžma Džananović – Miraščija representing the BiH Academic Community, Jelena Babić from Center for European Integration of Belgrade Open School and Adnan Ćerimagić, euro-enthusiast from the young generation in Bosnia.
In contrast with the negative debates on integration inside the EU, the conference pointed out that the European Union still remains an attractive actor to outsiders. In BiH alone the citizens’ support for EU integration is around 75-80%, according to Komšić. In the Western Balkans the EU is mostly associated with freedom of movement, mobility programmes for the youth and the “European values” such as cultural diversity, peace or freedom of opinion. The point of being a citizen of Europe is to exercise rights. Jurgis Vilcinskas from the EU Delegation to BiH highlighted that Balkan citizens are still deprived of the rights that other 500 million people in Europe can enjoy, especially when it comes to cross-border travel.
The discussion moved from the perceptions and tangible aspects of European integration towards the changing notions of citizenship and belonging in the Balkans. In the regional context, citizenship is often interpreted as the nationality and nationality is connected not to belonging to a state, but as belonging to an ethnic group. Possible agents of change are political communities, political participation and citizen protest. “People who take their protest to the street demonstrate another meaning of citizenship, making it clear that their interests and the interests of their community are interrelated” summarized Nedžma Džananović – Miraščija. The young Europeans both inside and outside the EU will in a sense remain a lost generation, unless they embrace active citizenship.
Sense of belonging and active citizenship in the Western Balkans
The question, whether young people in the Balkans feel as if they are a part of Europe was one of the main topics of the project Plan Balkans: Europolitan. According to Irma Zulic, Adnan Rahimic, Danijela Bozovic and Jovana Mihajlovi, the role of youth as actors in the process of EU integration in the Western Balkans is underestimated. The main issue to be addressed in their eyes is a vain interest and poor knowledge of young people about the EU project, especially about their own rights and possibilities as future EU citizens. With their project they aimed to raise awareness amongst young people in the region about the importance of their active engagement in building the society and to foster the youth participation in creating the mainstream ideas and public opinions about their countries’ European future. The project featured a quantitative survey, a qualitative insight through an essay and photo competition and a panel debate in Sarajevo organized within the framework of the Sarajevo International Summer School.
The main results of the survey were processed into a publication on the perceptions of young people from the Western Balkans on their participation in society, the meaning and future of the EU. It looks at the attitudes and perceptions of respondents aged 18 to 30 based on snowball sampling among young people in higher education.
A regional essay and photo competition entitled “Why can people from the Balkan countries already be considered to be citizens of Europe?” invited participants to change the usual perspective and look at the European integration of the Balkans from a different angle – from the angle of an ordinary young citizen.
Croatia just joined the EU, what about the remaining countries in the region? Beyond discussions on political context, what opinions prevail among the young generation? “The answers we received were very positive and it can be concluded that young people from the Balkans consider themselves citizens of Europe, not only geographically, but also historically and culturally. Our respondents are educated, they travel throughout Europe, participate in seminars and conferences and meet many people from Europe, and they make friends from the Western Balkan countries, which is very important’’ claims Project Coordinator Irma Zulic. What does this mean for the European project remains to be seen.
Click here for the media coverage of the event.
Plan Balkans: Europolitan is a follow-up activity organized in the framework of the FutureLab Europe Programme 2012 that aims to enhance interest among young people in taking an active role in establishing the future path of European society and citizenship.