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The Challenges of Young Europeans

May 11, 2013

(My keynote in Rhodes Youth Forum, 2010)

Honored participants,

I fall within a minority percentage of young people of my country who have the opportunity to visit abroad, In Europe or further. Later you will learn why. I came from a small and newly established country.  It is a country not yet three years old. A country which emerged after much difficulty and sacrifice. Some of you might have heard of it already, others perhaps not. It is called the Republic of Kosova, situated in the central part of Western Balkans Peninsula. Incidentally, the country youngest in age is home to the youngest population in Europe: above 50% of the population of Kosova are younger than 25, while youngsters belonging to the age group ranging from 15 to 25 amount to 21% of population. This is why Kosova is known as the country of the Young Europeans. They are the very soul and the most vibrant part of the Kosovar society. Those are the people who try to give a boost to New Kosova to put its first steps. “There is no path, it will emerge from walking” says a proverb and Kosova has started to put its first steps in this emerging path. These are steps headed towards braking Balkan stereotypes, leaving behind bitter history which the Balkans region underwent during the last decade of the previous century, set forth towards a future in which the young will have the main say.

While tourists wander about the main European centers sightseeing the cityscapes of these metropolitan cities, famous museums – like the one in Louvre, Paris, high statues – such as the Statue of Liberty in New York, old cathedrals – lie the ones in Vienna or Milan, large squares such as the San Marco of Venice, in the capital city I come from you will not find sights similar to the ones I just mentioned. Not because there aren’t any, but because they are much more modest in their dimensions and fame. What you will find, however, in my country, is the youth spirit and soul. It’s these very two components which give meaning to the notion of Optimism. Each time the word optimism is mentioned, it reminds me of the famous saying of Winston Churchill: “the pessimist sees difficulty in every possibility, whereas the optimist sees possibility in every difficulty”.


The Challenge of Transition

As any other country under transition, the difficulties and the problems emerging in many domains touch on the life of the young. Therefore challenges which the Kosovar youth is facing are manifold, starting from schooling, employment, health, family ties. These are the main components of transition for the young. The period prior to and during the war in Kosova made the young be traditionally and emotionally attached to their families. The young find it difficulties to separate from their parents, the main reason being poor financial incomes which they manage to generate in their life outside the family. They are, so to say, financially dependent on their families.
The employment possibilities are limited due to slow development of the private business. Employment in the public sector is also not easy due to limited possibilities for employment and lack of strict and transparent employment policies. Those few young individuals who manage to get employed in administration have little say in decision-making. Many young express freely that in administration and in public sectors there is a need for a new approach, new energy and dynamics to boost up the reforms which the sector has started to apply. Do to these limitations of the labor market, the unemployment among the young has been increasing, especially with the girls. Currently in Kosova there are about 530 unemployed registered, aspiring for the same job.

The Challenge of Higher Education

Knowledge is an indicator of general social emancipation in a country. This is why the education of the young is a priority issue requiring sensitization of the entire society and full commitment of all institutions and governmental structures to fulfill the responsibility they have to guarantee the youngsters their right to education.

University of Prishtina is the main higher education institution in Kosova, established in 1970.  Courses are run in 17 faculties, training specialists in 57 different subjects. Post-graduate studies are offered in 14 faculties for about 30 different subjects. Recently a University running in Serbian language was established in northern part of Mitrovica, alongside with 10 private universities in Prishtina. According to the UNDP Human Development Report the number of students in higher education has shown a lot of change throughout the years. In academic year 2003-2004, the number of students enrolled was 25.200, approximately 1440 students in 100 thousand inhabitants. The number of applicants for a vacancy in UP is on average three times larger than the number of students admitted in this university, which shows that 2/3 (two thirds) of the young wishing to pursue higher education courses in UP are deprived of the opportunity. This is all due to limited capacities of the higher education institutions. Another problem which deprives the young from higher education are the limited financial opportunities of the families, mostly of those living outside the capital Prishtina, where the monthly incomes for most Kosovar families do not exceed 150-200 Euro per month. This is an extremely low amount to meet expenditures of a student living and studying in Prishtina.

The Challenge of Free Movement

If you recall, I mentioned above that I belong in this small portion of Kosovar youngsters who manage to visit European countries or other countries further away. And I will tell you why. I am fortunate to receive official invitations from time to time to participate in different conferences, trainings or seminars, which enables me to obtain visas with speeded up procedures. Not all of the youngsters have this opportunity. A large majority of them are deprived of visas and thus they are the freedom of movement. Many youngsters struggle for weeks in a row to collect the proper documents, often undergoing many bureaucratic procedures, standing for hours in queues outside embassies to obtain a visa and paying different fees needed for a visa application. While their European peers move freely, being thus in continuous contact with the latest trends and developments in education, training and employment and obtaining the best experience which make them better prepared and skilled for the labor market; a labor market which is becoming more aggressive by the day. This is why I believe that the Kosovar youth is isolated in an ‘island’ in the Balkans, suffering though not out of their own fault, but because of some bureaucracies and carelessness of the political elite which could make a decision to fix this situation, a situation which is limiting the scopes and opportunities of the Kosovar youngsters.

An old African word of wisdom says: “He who puts on the shoes knows exactly where they hurt him”. This shows why the young have to be included in treating issues which pertain to them, as they know their own problems better than anyone else. They need more support from others then instructions from others. Thus i call on all youngsters not to give up for even a single moment. Let them continue with their dreams to the very end and united raise their voice for every problem they face. As Satoro would say: “Individually, we are each but one drop. Together, we make an ocean”.

rhodes youth forum


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