Empowering Youth to Promote Peace in the Western Balkans

In the Western Balkans, IRI established a regional network of young leaders from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia who are committed to promoting reconciliation in the region and who have developed an action plan to pursue this aim.

More than 20 years after the brutal Yugoslav wars, the Western Balkans remain divided, and reconciliation and peacebuilding are long overdue. Recognizing that such fragility threatens democratic gains made in the region since the conclusion of the conflicts, IRI and six Balkan organizations created a network of young leaders committed to advancing reconciliation.  In late 2022, IRI, the Divac Foundation, the Belgrade Center for Security Policy, the Faculty of Political Sciences SarajevoPRONI Center for Youth DevelopmentPeer Educators Network Kosovo, and the Kosovo Center for Security Studies launched the Regional Youth Partnership Network to connect 60 young change-agents from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Serbia. The network’s whole-of-society approach includes young leaders from arts and culture, academic and policy research, business and entrepreneurship, media, politics, and sports. Given the tensions still prevalent in the Western Balkans, this cross-ethnic and cross-national collaboration is significant.

In the network’s early days, politically charged comments fomented mistrust among the group. However, IRI leveraged this to put reconciliation best practices into action and worked with participants to ease tensions and help them move forward.  This year, the network, with IRI’s support, achieved several notable milestones including 24 meetings, nine community outreach activities, and four training sessions on trust and peacebuilding for more than 100 individuals. The network has (1) defined a clear goal, which is to achieve reconciliation and peacebuilding in the region; (2) committed to using its platform to engage the broader public to ensure the project’s sustainability; and (3) commissioned research activities to empower participants to feel more understanding and empathy toward those on the other side of the conflict.  Through the network, IRI is connecting young people from different groups to interact purposefully and is building more resilient social ties in the Western Balkans.

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