Restoring Links in the Balkans

The Balkan Youth Office aims to breach wartime divides through cultural diplomacy

July 08th, 2016

The cross-Balkan youth cooperation office formally known as the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), aims to restore links between young people whose countries were in conflict during the Yugoslav War. The organization hopes to begin a new era of reconciliation.

The Yugoslav War has caused a profound impact on the individuals living in the region. Many young people in the region were raised hearing narratives depicting neighboring states as enemies. Although many were too young to experience first hand the war, stories told by their parents, narratives outlined in history books and television screens have instilled a distinct sense of otherness and hatred towards individuals living in neighboring countries.

Djordje Bojovic was 19 years old and fearful the first time he visited Kosovo. He reflects, “I was full of hatred from the very first history book lesson until the last news I saw on TV before I went to Kosovo”.

A new government-sponsored initiative is looking to create an institutionalized system of student exchange programs in order to reconnect the youth of the Western Balkans. The prime ministers of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia signed and approved the establishment of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO). The idea for the organization is based on the reconciliation project that brought French and German youth closer together after World War II.

The student exchange program is a powerful tool in repairing the long-standing regional divisions that have existed in the Western Balkans since the early 1990s. Bojovic stated, “The exchange programs give you another perspective by allowing you the possibility to meet ‘the others’, the ones who you have been taught are your enemies”.

The RYCO will fund and facilitation exchange programs between the participating states. Youth from different states will be able to apply for a variety of grants and programs in various fields such as education, activism, research, sports and culture.

Anita Mitic, the director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights (YIHR) in Serbia, an NGO that has been facilitating cross-regional exchange program in the Balkans for the past 13 years says, “We see the establishment of RYCO as an opportunity to have a real game changer in the region.”

While there is a lot of positive momentum and support for the new office, those involved are staying realistic about the two current social and political situations in the Balkans. Two of the six participating countries, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, do not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Therefore, the written agreement of RYCO is carefully worded as a joint declaration between “the Prime Ministers of the Western Balkans participants”. Any mention affirming or denying Kosovo’s claim to statehood is negated.



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Cristina Stoica, CD News