For eight years, this regional conference format has brought together innovative youth and decision-makers to debate the current situation in the Western Balkans and prospects for the future.
For this year, the participants looked at the topic of EU Enlargement and prospects for membership of non-EU countries in Southeast Europe under the title "The European Project in the Western Balkans". Looking from the perspective of the Western Balkans, the strong support to EU accession seems to be declining.
However, according to results of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung's regional comparative report on aspirations and attitudes of young people, youth in Southeast Europe are overwhelmingly pro-European. At the same time, youngsters from the EU Member States in the region are less likely to emigrate permanently, and employment in these countries is higher as well. One of the authors of the regional report, Mirna Jusic, shared these and more insightful findings with the participants of the Vucko Regional Conference during the panel "Who are the agents for change – youth? ".
Gazela Pudar Draško (University of Belgrade) commented on the study and said that it provided a rarely-found, bigger picture to the situation of youth in Southeast Europe. Delara Burkhardt (Member of the European Parliament) and Aleksanra Tomanic (Director, European Fund for the Balkans) also shared their positive impressions on the Youth Study.
Ms Pudar Drasko, a renowned researcher herself, says she was appalled by the fact that young people are satisfied with their lives in WB in high numbers. She also points to the "privatization of lives", which had taken over completely and consequently led to youngsters thinking and reacting only to their immediate surroundings, their family and friends. This narrow circle of trust, in turn, made them feel satisfied in spite of quite challenging social context. Ms Pudar Drasko concluded that as a solution, the emphasis should be put on quality education and critical thinking, both of which are declining in most of the countries according to the study's findings.
The regional Vucko conference once again showcased the potential and importance of addressing pressing issues with the inputs and bright ideas of youth in Southeast Europe.
The full youth study is available online.