On Monday 4th of July the Western Balkans Youth Conference “Connecting Youth” took place in Paris in the margins of the Paris-Balkans 2016 Conference that was scheduled on that same day, where leaders of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia came together to discuss future cooperation in the region.[modal_text_link name=”source1″]1[/fusion_modal_text_link] As a representative of International Perspective, I participated in this one-day conference, and gained some insight into the use and non-use of attending such a conference. In what follows, I will give my personal impressions about the event (Featured Image © European Commission).
Western Balkans Youth Conference
The idea of the Youth Conference was to discuss several pressing issues concerning youth in the Western Balkans region: education and mobility, employment and entrepreneurship, engagement and participation, and youth and media. The eventual goal of the conference was to formulate some recommendations for each of these topics. Subsequently, these recommendations were to be presented to the Ministers of Youth, Education, and Civil Affairs, and to the state leaders of the respective countries, which were to convene later that evening.
The idea of the Youth Conference was to discuss several pressing issues concerning youth in the Western Balkans region: education and mobility, employment and entrepreneurship, engagement and participation, and youth and media
The conference was organised by the European Commission in cooperation with the Republic of France, the European Youth Forum, SALTO-Youth, and Erasmus+. There were over a 150 participants from which about half came from Western Balkan countries. The other half was composed of people from EU member states. The participants were assigned to working groups on one of the four previously mentioned topics.
I myself participated in the youth and media working group. Freedom of the media and freedom of expression are rights which are very much under pressure in the different Western Balkans countries. Problems such as state interference, opaque ownership, and harassment of journalists are but some of the problems which journalists are confronted with in the region.
The second part of the conference consisted of a discussion with the Ministers of Youth, Education, and Civil Affairs of the Western Balkan countries, and the official presentation of the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO), a new project which is to foster more youth exchange in the Western Balkans region. The agreement to launch this project was eventually signed in the official summit that evening.
My Personal Experience
Although the discussions in the working group were stimulating and the conference was actually interesting, I left it with mixed feelings. A session of a mere two hours is simply not enough to profoundly discuss such issues and formulate concrete solutions. This was largely due to the fact that the conference lasted only one day. If it would have been two or three days, the input of the participants would have been a lot better, and the recommendations more specific. Because this was not the case, there arose a feeling among several participants that the conference was more of a symbolic event, rather than an event which was to deliver useful results. Some sense of disappointment was thus noticeable, as a lot of participants had higher expectations.
The ministerial presence and their input was very disappointing. Their answers to the quite critical questions of the young audience, were often very evasive.
Additionally, the ministerial presence and their input was very disappointing. Their answers to the quite critical questions of the young audience, were often very evasive. Due to the political correctness they had to bear in mind, this was not surprising, but still, the expectations of the audience were not lived up to. In this regard too, the youth’s presence was conceived as merely symbolic.
The logistics of the conference were organised into detail. However, here as well, the feelings were mixed. The organisers paid for travel and accommodation expenses of all the participants, but because the conference lasted only one day, some participants considered this to a certain extent a waste of money. 150 people flown into Paris just for one day, does seem a bit extravagant, and seems not very profitable in terms of cost-effectiveness. The effectiveness of the organisation could have been better as well: if a complete coach has to transfer only five persons, then one can indeed ask the question whether certain measures were not a waste of money.
In a time when networks are equally important as skills, this event presented an excellent opportunity to expand such networks, which is why I would encourage anyone to use such opportunities whenever they present themselves.
On the other hand, the conference was the perfect opportunity to meet young, motivated, and engaged people from all over Europe. Given the relatively large amount of time that was dedicated to receptions and breaks, networking was in fact an equally important part of the conference as the actual discussion on the recommendations. The fact that the participants came from more than thirty different countries, and all represented different organisations, made this aspect by far the most interesting and useful of the conference.
The conversations with my fellow-participants from the Western Balkans countries were very refreshing. They had first-hand experience in all the issues that were discussed during the conference, and as such, their views and opinions on these matters were unrestrained and right from the heart. In a time when networks are equally important as skills, this event presented an excellent opportunity to expand such networks, which is why I would encourage anyone to use such opportunities whenever they present themselves.
Engagement, activity, and participation as a volunteer, or in a non-profit organisation will eventually open doors, which would otherwise remain closed.
How I Got There
Perhaps the most important thing to note about the whole conference was how I got to attend it. It was in fact by chance that I stumbled upon the program and invitation of “Connecting Youth”, but it was not by chance that I was selected. My activities as contributor and event director at International Perspective and my internship at the Belgian Embassy in Serbia were both decisive factors in my selection. Membership and participation in a (youth) organisation was the common factor nearly all the participants shared. Where International Perspective opened a door for me, other organisations did this for other participants. This brings me to the most important point I wish to make: engagement, activity, and participation as a volunteer, or in a non-profit organisation will eventually open doors, which would otherwise remain closed.