While most of Europe decided to unite in the 20th and 21st century, a country in the Balkans split into seven independent states. Despite the efforts of the countries of the region and of the EU, a lot of work is needed before these countries will become sufficiently mature in political, economic and societal sense to become members of the European Union. The process is still not fully resolved and has resulted in a series of civil wars in the Balkans territory. The conflicts have been characterized by brutal violence between the different ethnic groups in the region.
But how much we learned from these conflicts? Is all of that behind us, or is still fresh in our memories, and still linger on through all of these years? I come from Macedonia, which I think is a unique example of country in today’s diplomacy. Having in mind the political situation, the problem that we are having with Greece about our name and nationalism in my opinion is not that big as problems and conflicts that we are having with Albanian citizens that live in our country. And how we can continue to live together with them, on the same territory if the reconciliation process is stuck in reverse? Reconciliation process is related to emotions, emotions which are easy to inflame, which follow to that, that social reconciliation is more important than both political and economic reconciliation.
“There is not short cuts to reconciliation, but sure there are roads”
We are now in a situation that for sure is not a war. But if it’s not a situation of war, it’s a situation of peace? Are we had enough talked about what was happening in the near past, or we are not bothering to mention it at all, and leaving that problem for the next generation? Maybe we were not directly included in these conflicts, but our parents were, our relatives were. It’s very important to know that we were not the only one who suffers. The other side is also having victims, having closest one as we do. I think that its time my generation to make a step forward, to take a responsibility towards our unique history, to be more aware about that specific things which unites us, and that is, living together, carry and love each other…that is something that we can build on. We can never forget, but neither can we remain on the battlefield. The very first step toward real reconciliation can be trying to say something together, even if you cannot really talk about it. The history of the Balkans does not start with the bloody civil war almost 20 years ago – and it does not end with it either.
“The difficult is what takes a little time. The impossible is what takes a little longer”
Surely, the reconciliation process will take time a little longer, and it will be difficult psychologically and emotionally as well, because of the reason that victims and perpetrators live in the same state, the same town, maybe even the same streets and villages.
On one side, if conflicts were considered from the same perspective at schools, future generations could profit by acknowledging the events of the past and learning to leave them behind. Citizens still need to feel closer to each other. This is especially true of the young generations that grew up during the war period learning xenophobia and hatred of neighboring nations. Education, both formal and informal, is key to overcoming these problems. The educational process maybe works slowly, but that is the spirit of reconciliation. Facts need to be accepted. A mature, responsible society striving for reconciliation can do this. We can do this!
However, deliberate actions to facilitate reconciliation, especially within mass media, education, and culture, can only be beneficial. Changes are already visible. No wonder: almost two decades have passed since the wars broke out and a whole new generation has grown up. However, if this new generation is the one to watch in order to measure the improvements and the speed of social reconciliation, then the news is not good. There are surely many exceptions among these youngsters, but it proves that nationalist values still color the younger generation. Yet while this miniature portrait of my generation gives little reason for hope, I’m going to give my best, and make at least a little step of contribution in order to achieve reconciliation this century.
On the other side citizens are collaborating across state borders. Sending out positive signals about neighbors is a big step, but it is still a short-term policy. But, it is important for EU to continue with these cross-border projects and these initiatives should not be limited to dialogue between political elites such as the inter-ministerial or inter-parliamentary dialogue – something that is already being undertaken to a certain extent, but also include those related to ‘ordinary’ citizens, especially the young ones. We as local organizations , as youth reconciliation ambassadors, we can build stable, peaceful societies in the Balkan region, and much of our work will be focused on improving relations between different ethnic groups who have been divided by the wars. Trainings and seminars that are organized at this time, are very good and beneficial for the reconciliation process. Once we see what happened to the other side, perception is changed at that very moment. So, the things are already in our hands, it’s just depend on us what we would do with that.
It will be a challenging work. Answering to all of this questions that are bother this region is hard to obtain, and finding acceptance for them in any society is even harder. But in order to succeed, reconciliation programs must deal with them at all levels and areas of society, and for that the political will to strive for reconciliation must exist. Again, reconciliation does not come easy and it takes time, but it might take less time and be easier if there were real will and dedication, starting at the top. This might motivate reconciliation from the bottom-up as well. And, at the very least, I would like to imagine that such an approach is worth trying, given the failure of the last 15 years.