Dafina Peci, National Youth Congress of Albania, Tirana
The Western Balkan societies share both common heritage and many common challenges. Conflicts of the past decades have brought with them different forms of prejudice and intolerance, while its aftereffects have continued to be underlined by a lack of opportunities for youth resulting in massive youth unemployment figures and heavy brain‐drain across the region. Additionally, young people are facing numerous obstacles often created as a consequence of administrative barriers and mental barriers caused by lack of trust, lack of information and existing prejudice.
Civil society’s commitment to regional cooperation is deep and sustained. Some initiatives were started long before political will was present. While regional cooperation is beneficial in many fields, improving mutual understanding, exploring and discussing difficult episodes of the common history, remain important aspects of regional cooperation where civil society can and should play an important role. As such, existing regional civil society networks and groups should be supported as mechanisms of confidence building and regional cooperation.
Government led regional cooperation should engage with these initiatives. Regional cooperation as a result of political or administrative cooperation is often top-down, paying little attention to the broad support regional cooperation enjoys or the existing civil society initiatives in the field. Even when it is not obviously linked to civil society, such as energy, policing or infrastructure should include strong consultative mechanisms for civil society inclusions. If civil society organizations were included in different regional cooperation initiatives, they have a strong potential to contribute and to push EU integration further.
Time has shown that only through joint action in promoting tolerance, solidarity, mobility and cooperation we, as a region, can progress. The establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) puts the concepts of friendship, reconciliation and cooperation at the forefront. It is inspired by the experience of the Franco‐German Youth Office, along with other successful European youth cooperation projects, which established new relationships and significantly improved cooperation. Limited exchange experiences that youth organizations from the Western Balkans have been promoting indicate that young people place great value on regional understanding, networking and cooperation. At the same time they transmit another important message: without active institutional support from the highest levels of their governments, they will fail to fully accomplish their missions and goals.
This understanding between governments and civil society in the region highlights the importance and necessity of this initiative. Establishment of RYCO was initiated at the “Western Balkans Summit” in Berlin in August 2014, as part of the “Berlin Process”, which aims to strengthen cooperation within the Western Balkans in conjunction with the European integration process of the region. The subsequent signing of the Joint Declaration on the Establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office of the Western Balkans at the “Western Balkans Summit” in Vienna in August 2015 offered important moment towards the formalization of a mechanism that will open the door for regional youth cooperation and exchange.
RYCO is an international organisation established by regional governments in partnership with the civil society to create the conditions and support activities that promote reconciliation, mobility, diversity, democratic values, participation, active citizenship and intercultural learning, with the spirit of the European integration process of the region in mind. The vision of RYCO is a diverse region in which young people, as the group with the most interest in investing in the future, have an awareness of the past and play an active role in building their, and their societies more prosperous futures. RYCO, as an institutional mechanism for cooperation is established on values of peace, trust based on mutual understanding and acceptance, respect for human rights, diversity, dignity, solidarity, cooperation, tolerance, and respect.
RYCO aims to apply an inclusive and equitable approach to youth exchanges that will enable young people to use a supportive international mechanism to realise regionally owned projects that will make a strong contribution to meeting, making acquaintances, engaging in regional dialogue and improving their understanding of the realities of each other’s societies and historical. To bring this dream project to life, it was needed a hard work form the OFAJ (Franko-German Youth Office) as a moderator in this project and o called the Working Group (twelve youngster from the WB6, six civil society representatives from each country and six governmental representatives), which have been working since November 2015 till now to prepare documents, to keep the momentum, to push the process and also to monitor it till hopefully the office will be established. The Western Balkan Summit in Paris, on 4th July 2016 will ceremonially decide the fate of this project and why not a new approach to policy making in the region, a new approach of the youngsters life.