A better future in the Western Balkans will be possible only by working closely together, but overcoming separation is not an easy task, much like the prevention of migration of highly skilled and educated young people. Exchange and mobility activities are one way to contribute to the improvement, while the other is to create more avenues for youth engagement in decision making. These are some of the takeaways from the interview held by EWB with the new Secretary-General of Regional Youth Cooperation Office Albert Hani, on the occasion of the start of his mandate. We focused on the successes, challenges and future of RYCO.
“Supporting diverse projects that connect youth on topics varying from reconciliation, dealing with the past, intercultural learning, peacebuilding, to education, sports, entrepreneurship, and culture is a key pillar of our work,” Hani said revealing that numerous partnerships with donors, friends, and stakeholders have been built in the region and beyond for this purpose. “Anyhow, what is the key point in RYCO’s evolution is the fact that we help young people make friendships across borders. That is what we always underline – these friendships are our most important result and we are convinced that they will change the region for the better.”
Further on RYCO’s Secretary-General said that the organization he heads brings together six governments and their societies, similar, yet so diverse, and this in itself comes with a variety of backdrops to regional peacebuilding and reconciliation. He listed as main challenges of the region the political situation, the migration of highly skilled and educated young people, while narratives of the past and disinformation, according to him, pose a challenge. “That is why we aim to create an open and safe space for youth to share their experiences and ideas.”
Hani praised the cooperation with the six governments of the Contracting Parties, whose representatives also take part in the highest decision-making body of RYCO, its Governing Board. He noted RYCO needs the governments’ support to meet its aims successfully both at the regional and local level.
In a comment on the issues of the non-papers, the Secretary General said the youth of the region are so lively and dynamic, each with their own aspirations and dreams, and the future of the region lies in their hands. “However, a better future will be possible only by working closely together. Overcoming separation is not an easy task, nor is building unhesitating understanding between people who suffer from damaged relations due to conflicts. Our key objective in this regard is to foster youth cooperation through shared experience and exchange so that new pathways for true and sustainable reconciliation can be built.”
According to him, 85% of young people who have participated in the RYCO-supported activities have found these activities relevant for their future goals.
Touching upon the pandemic he said that the health crisis proved that no matter the distance, whether near or far away, youth of the region are ready to build new friendships, meet and create a better region together, and this helps the organization to continue prioritizing youth exchanges and mobility programs.
Asked about spreading Euroscepticism, Hani said that many active and committed young people in the Western Balkans already contribute and are willing to continue contributing further to the EU integration process. “Nevertheless, opportunities for concrete engagement are not always accessible to all groups of young people in society and youth often perceive that their voice is not taken into account. It is important for governments, civil society, and other relevant stakeholders to tackle these issues and create more avenues for youth engagement on EU integration topics. More focus should be given to youth’s readiness and preparedness for helping the region integrate and move closer to the EU.” /argumentum.al