When I enrolled in college, my first impression was situation that happened on a lecture from Theory of Conflicts. Assistant on this subject came to our lecture, and under the impression of some event that happened that day, he asked: “How many of you think that we are better from Hungarians/Bosnians/Macedonians/Croatians?”. Most of the present raised their hands. I turned around myself and saw about 300 raised hands and I was shocked. Our assistant, and few more people who haven’t raised their hands were petrified. That was the day when I decided I will give my best to change attitudes like this.
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” (Eleanor Roosevelt, 1958)
We, members of young generations, have to correct things that happened when some of us were not even born. And exactly like Eleanor Roosevelt said it, we have to fight for those things in our small worlds. We cannot expect that we will make an impact on a state level that is not up to us. Important thing is to start talking about things that happened in the past, and to open other people’s minds, and make them think “out of the box”, the same way we, youth reconciliation ambassadors, started to think after this programme.
Of all the seminars I have visited, I can easily say that this one had had the biggest impact on me. Though I consider myself as generally liberal and well educated person, there were too many things I heard about for the first time. Only because I didn’t have the chance to inform myself objectively about everything that was going on in the region during the ‘90s, and because our media has distorted the picture about the past. And after everything that I have heard, I decided that I will spread the word about it, and that I won’t be quiet in front of those who do not agree with me. I firmly believe that most people who support nationalism today are not informed, and they believe in ideas they know nothing about.
There are still many people who are not ready to start cooperating with our neighbors, and they are poisoned with hatred towards neighboring countries. And society often does not even react to these kind of attitudes, or reacts affirmatively. Most of those people do not have reason for these attitudes, but they have formed their opinion based on something they have heard on the TV, read in the newspapers, or heard from their friends and family. So, if they are forming their opinion that way, we can be the ones that will make an impact to what they believe in. And maybe they will learn something new, like me and my colleagues ambassadors have learned during the programme.
We all know that Southeastern Europe is the most unstable area in Europe, as a consequence from wars and authoritarian political regimes. However, we all share the same goal – to become a member of European Union. Thus, it is necessary to stop thinking about whose fault is what, and start thinking about real questions. Reconciliation, cooperation and dialogs are our imperative.We have to realize that our history and destinies are inseparably connected, and we will not have any prosperity until we start cooperating. Regional cooperation is the key for fighting against problems in this area, both past and current problems, such as corruption and organized crimes. Also, we cannot forget that we can learn a lot from each other, because we are in similar situations.
We have France and Germany as role models how people can cooperate, work together and live in peace after conflicts. Difference is that today we have European Union as a union of states living with single market, Eurozone, its own legal system, and without borders. So if we have European Union as a goal to which we all aspire, isn’t it logical to work together and to cooperate in achieving our goals, in order to achieve good for all of us? We have European integration as a tool for reconciliation, and we have our goal, all we have to do is start working on it.
So, how can we contribute to the reconciliation process? I believe – by spreading the word about it and about its importance. During this programme I have met young and prosperous people that will definitely spread the word about it in their surroundings. They motivated me to realize how important this is. We will never achieve reconciliation if we accept attitudes of hatred that dominate in our society. But if we decide to put a stop on that, and to work towards life in peace and good, neighborly relations.
After all, you do not have to change opinion of whole world. It is enough to have 100 people in right positions who think right. And up until now, there are 85 reconciliation ambassadors, who have spread the word about reconciliation in the region through the media and group discussions. Having in mind that ambassadors are all active people in their society, we can conclude that we are on a good way to create 100 people that think right and that will hopefully one day be in right positions!
Roosevelt, Eleanor, at the presentation of “IN YOUR HANDS: A Guide for Community Action for the Tenth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” New York, 1958.