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Berlin Declaration of the WB Youth Forum: An example of youth agency and commitment

Photo: Western Balkans Youth Forum

BERLIN — Building resilient democracies, working together towards achieving inclusive peace and security and taking action for sustainable future of our planet are the topics of great importance to the youth of the Western Balkans, as shown in the Berlin Declaration of the Western Balkans Youth Forum 2022. Young people want to take part in solving the most pressing issues of today and make their voices heard on all levels of decision-making, with this Declaration being an example of that commitment. 

Youth representatives from all Western Balkans countries had the chance to present the Declaration to the leaders of their countries and stakeholders from the EU on the Western Balkans Summit held on 3 November in Berlin. The Declaration was a result of a four-day joint work of over 70 young people from all over Western Balkans and it provides a youth perspective on the most important issues of today, such as resilient democracy, inclusive peace and security, and sustainable living. 

Secretary General of RYCO, Albert Hani, explained that all of the crisis the world is facing today  “triggered the response mechanism of unity among youth,” who want to be included in dealing with the issues of pandemic, war or energy crisis and to offer solutions.

“Young people have always been ready to openly discuss various important topics, sometimes more constructively than politicians. The Declaration is another example of their readiness to tackle the most burning issues of today’s world and to propose concrete recommendations to decision-makers. With their unique perspective which is often interwoven with ideals, dreams and hopes, they constantly remind the political leaders that peace, democracy and solidarity are the key values of each and every society that should be nurtured and protected,” Hani stated. 

Anja Jokić from the National Youth Council of Serbia (KOMS) was one of the participants who not only worked on Declaration drafting, but also presented the Declaration to the political leaders on the Summit. She explained how the Declaration was created “from young people for young people, reflecting their values, expectations and commitment” and that it is an invite for partnership in solving these issues directed at the national governments, EU institutions and regional organizations. 

“It is very important that young people formalize their position and their unity through a document, even if it’s not legally binding, and present their goals for the future and what topics are important to them. The Declaration is also important because young people from the WB worked on it together with young people from the EU, but also with relevant stakeholders like academics, researchers, youth workers et cetera. The voice of young people is the basis of the Declaration, but it was created through the synergy of all these actors,” Jokić pointed out. 

The youth calls for democracy, peace and sustainability

The Declaration consists of four segments — the preamble, where young people identify their concerns and aims, as well as parts dedicated to establishing resilient democracies, building inclusive peace in the time of war and ensuring a sustainable and green future. 

In the preamble, “young and engaged Europeans”, pointed out issues such as socio-economic challenges caused by the COVID pandemic, climate change and environmental threats, the lack of progress of the Western Balkans countries on their path towards the EU, as well as the flawed state of democracy and the rule of law in their countries. 

They also expressed “solidarity with the war refugees and the victims on both sides of the Russian invasion of Ukraine” and acknowledged the “transgenerational re-traumatiation” as a consequence of the wars in the region. Young people recognized their own agency in solving these issues and called upon the “governments, international actors, as well as stakeholders from civil society and the economy” to join them in taking actions in the three thematic areas. 

Concerned by the state of democracy in the Western Balkans, the young people used the Declaration to call for incorporation of civic education in the curricula, support for the local development through capacity building and enhancing youth mobility in the region. 

“We request that those in positions of political authority work along the principles of good governance and refrain from polarising statements and actions, particularly those involving hate speech or the spread of falsehoods about other communities or political beliefs; and provide more opportunities for meaningful youth participation,” it is stated in the Declaration.

The youth of the Western Balkans also recognized the need for building inclusive and sustainable peace at the times of war in Ukraine, but also rising levels of extremism, polarization and gender-based violence. They called upon their governments and institutions to include the youth and their organizations into reconciliation and peace-building process and to work together on the implementing the Youth, Peace and Security agenda. 

“We, the young people, are fully ready to selflessly invest our energy, skills and knowledge into this joint call of protecting our societies from any penetration of hatred or aggression and including all its members in our decision-making,” it is declared.

The last part of the Declaration is dedicated to sustainable living, where the participants stated they “want to become actors for change towards a low-carbon and climate resilient future, hold decision makers accountable and push towards green solutions.”

Declaration recognized the need for establishing green mentality through education and awareness raising and for inclusion of all groups in society — including the youth — in the advancement of the Green Agenda. They also tackled the issue of energy security and called for energy democratization.

“We believe that the Western Balkans have a huge potential to produce renewable energy, especially by solar, water and wind power. To make use of these sources we request our governments to further the process of energy democratization. It is essential to ease the conditions and bureaucratic processes for (young) citizens to produce energy themselves, providing new tax exemption policies on sustainable energy, creating and linking a solar panel energy network,” as the Declaration explains. 

Where do we go from here?

It’s important to acknowledge that this year’s Western Balkans Summit gave youth the opportunity to participate in the meeting with the leaders of their countries for the first time in the framework of the Berlin Process. This came as a result of determination of young people to be included in decision-making, but also of the dedication RYCO has shown in providing space for youth voices in the past couple of years. 

“RYCO has been facilitating the dialogue between young people from the Western Balkans ever since it was founded. Moreover, RYCO amplifies the youth voices making them heard at high political levels such as the Berlin Process. This year was special as it was the first time that youth representatives had been invited to join the Summit and got an opportunity to meet the leaders of the EU and Western Balkans to present them the conclusions of the Youth Forum. This is a significant step forward in regard to youth participation and we hope this will remain the practice in the future. Young people are ready to take on more responsibilities and be part of the solutions. RYCO is fully committed to supporting them in this role,” as Albert Hani stated. 

He reminded that the Western Balkans Youth Forum, organized by young people themselves, was an opportunity for mainstreaming youth perspectives and achieving meaningful participation of youth “not just as a topic but as an active part of those discussions.”

Hani also added that the most of the politicians at the Western Balkans Summit were interested in the Declaration and that “RYCO will ensure its further use in advocacy processes in the Western Balkans and EU.”

Anja Jokić stressed the importance of having young people present as the leaders’ Summit and expressed hope that next time there will be even more youth representatives. She agreed that the politicians have shown interest in the Youth Declaration and said that being there as youth representatives was an important step by itself. 

“It is important that we were there to remind all who make decisions on our behalf that it is important to take into account the perspective of young people and to show that topics such as EU integration, common regional market, recognition of diplomas and qualifications are all important topics for us, but so are the topics of democracy, peace and security and sustainable living,” Jokić concluded.

The Western Balkans Youth Forum 2022, organised by the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO) gave the opportunity to young people to voice their opinions on the current regional and global political issues, but also to reflect on the role of youth in the Western Balkans and provide specific input for decision-makers who need to include the youth perspectives in order to successfully tackle these issues.

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