Strengthening the role of youth in promoting increased mutual understanding, constructive narrative, respect for diversity, and trust in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Kosovo*
The project focuses on partnering with young men and women to address divisive narratives and hate speech – increasingly pernicious threats to sustained peace in the region – to enhance social cohesion within but especially across the zones involved. It aims to promote constructive narratives and counter hate speech and patriarchal gender norms in order to increase inter-group dialogue, mutual understanding and gender equality. It will build upon and leverage existing capacities, organizations and mechanisms as much as possible, and to reach marginalized youth.
Overall objective of the project is to enhance young people dialogue and trust across the region by promoting fact-based, positive narratives and gender equality in the media and public spheres by contributing so to achieve SDGs 4, 5, 10, 11, 16, 17.
The project is focused to work locally in six Balkan countries of Albania, North Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo, while creating synergies at regional level. Locally implemented activities will ensure linkages with other parts of the region. These regional synergies and linkages will focus on sharing outcomes and learning from the locally implemented activities.
*All references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in the context of Security Council resolution 1244 (1999).
Over the past three decades, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia Serbia, and Kosovo have witnessed significant change and undergone major processes of transformation, beginning with the collective experiences of the breakdown of communism across Eastern Europe, and then the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the accompanying violent conflicts. Several peace agreements and constitutional arrangements successfully helped transition most parts of the region out of conflict. Authorities have also embarked on ambitious socio-economic, administrative and governance reforms, and have committed themselves to the EU accession path.
Yet certain challenges to peace and regional stability remain. There are considerable gaps in social, economic and political inclusion and/or participation in political and civic life. In many critical domains there is limited constructive dialogue, there are differing narratives about the past, present and future.
The increase in divisive narratives and rhetoric has highlighted the need for more constructive, fact-based narratives and respectful public discourse within and across communities, countries/territories. Divisive narratives are taking place on the internet, particularly on social media, as well as in public debate, political rallies, sporting events, and in everyday social interaction, and have the potential to aggravate regional dynamics, mistrust and grievances.
With the region witnessing high numbers of youth emigration, young people, particularly those who remain in the region, continue to experience legacies of the past. This is particularly the case for those living in segregated ethnic majority areas and learning in segregated schools and education systems, with no direct memory of joint peaceful coexistence. Some commentators see youth, with the inter-generational transfer of trauma and constructed nationalistic narratives, more hardened in their identity and their views of the “other”.
Traditional gender norms to a large extent prevail in the region. The “negative legacies of the past” are notably the result of toxic and militarized masculinities in the region; as well as the absence of women from public life, and peace negotiations in particular. Those legacies impact the level of violence, with violence against women (particularly against women human rights defenders or women in politics) considered to be the most widespread forms of violence throughout the region. Hate speech in the region builds on misogyny and homophobic discourses, notably in the social media. Divisive and polarizing voices have notably leveraged the so-called “gender ideology” and given rise to more rigid gender stereotypes that young men and women are expected to fulfil.
The COVID-19 pandemic and misinformation have only aggravated these dynamics. There has been an increase in divisive rhetoric that targets women and girls disproportionately, new forms of violence and cyber-bullying, inter-ethnic tensions, and intolerance and discrimination of minorities and marginalized groups. The pandemic has reinforced traditional gender norms, deepened gender inequalities and exposed violence against women as one of the most far-reaching and persistent rights abuses in the region. The pandemic has also plunged most of the region into economic downfall, affecting the livelihoods and economic prospects of young men and women across the region, and undermines the possibilities of many young men to live up to societal expectations to be economic providers, protectors or decision makers.
The project targets the need for action in support of a regional approach to promoting constructive narratives as a countermeasure to the prevailing discourse of division. It is aligned with the EU enlargement strategy and accession requirements, with the Western Balkans Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Strategy and Work Programme 2020 – 2022, guided by the Joint Declaration on a Western Balkans Agenda on Innovation, Research, Education, Culture, Youth and Sport 2020, and the EU Youth Strategy 2019-2027.
Outcome 1: Collaborative youth platforms advance dialogue, mutual understanding and gender equality across the region.
Outcome 2: Youth journalists and activists across the region create and promote constructive and gender sensitive narratives in the media and through education, culture and sport.