Ι. Youth Cooperation Without Borders
Borders and nation-states remain quite important in Southeast Europe. The bilateral issues and tensions shape the countries' foreign policies and affect the interaction and cooperation between the neighboring states in the region.
Over the last decades Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia have been alienated due to political developments and the prevalence of toxic and divisive rhetoric because of bilateral disputes. To date, this multi-directional lack of trust and respect in public affairs has negatively impacted the youth of all three countries. So far, young people of the region already had limited opportunities to meet and cooperate with each other. Nowadays, existing stereotypes and ignorance further widen the gap between them, making it impossible for them to work, create and advocate for their rights jointly.
It is widely known that the situation has improved over the last decades, with counties joining the EU, promoting economic relations, and increasing dialogue on a local level. The signing of the Prespes Agreement helped towards that direction.
In 2022, SEE in Action with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Greece and Cyprus has materialized the project “Strengthening bonds between alienated neighbors in the region: Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia”. The ambitious and innovative project aimed to bring together the youth of the three countries in an environment of cooperation and mutual understanding and provide an open space for dialogue on issues that concern youth in the respective countries.
The project involved civil society organizations from all three countries in three separate meetings, where all sensitive and essential youth issues were discussed; education and employment, human rights, anti-discrimination and gender issues, and natural/civil environment and sustainability.
Education and Employment
The first meeting took place in Thessaloniki and the discussed topic was “Education and Employment”. CSOs from Greece, North Macedonia and Bulgaria worked intensively on those crucial topics and came up with policy recommendations, common perspectives and cooperation initiatives for the upcoming years.
It is worth mentioning that, Education and Employment are for utmost importance for the region. CSOs focused on the digitalization process and the proper connection between educational system and the market. Lack of government spendings on education and alternative private options have been highlighted. Lastly, brain drain is common element observed on all countries and needs to be tackled.
Some of the policy recommendations focus on:
- States and the private sector need to work together to provide all the necessary tools and equipment for both teachers and students to transition smoothly, yet quickly into the digital age.
- Redistribution of funds from the governments to the digitalization of schools and further training of educational staff is more than necessary.
- An educational system based on incentives and promotion of excellence inside and outside the university
- Provide students and teachers with modern hardware and software, and greater training for teachers in how to use these resources effectively.
- Further investments in tertiary education are needed in order to improve the quality and diversity of the offered fields of study and available research resources and equipment. This will create favorable conditions for aspiring highly educated and skilled individuals to pursue their academic goals without having to migrate.
In this vein, the organizations identified many commonalities and space for collaboration between the three countries. This interconnection could provide better knowledge and understanding, empower local and national initiatives and create a network of like-minded young people who are eager to achieve change in their societies.
Suggested Trilateral Initiatives
⇢Podcasts and online informative sessions
A series of podcasts and online informative sessions focusing on the aforementioned issues will be created. Good practices of local businesses, formal and informal education institutions and communities from Greece, Bulgaria and North Macedonia will be shared hoping to inspire and engage the audience and promote regional cooperation and communication.
⇢ Joint Facebook group
The first direct action will be the creation of a joint Facebook group where participants will have the opportunity and responsibility to update partners and followers on recent trends, news, activities in tackling all issues mentioned regarding education and youth employment, human rights and sustainability.
⇢ Bring more CSOs and activists on board
The expansion of the trilateral network beyond the persons, NGOs and institutions that participated in the project by inviting, introducing and involving more CSOs in joint activities is encouraged and supported.
The article was written by Eleni Siapikoudi, Project Assistant of FNF Greece & Cyprus, based on the final policy recommendations of the project.
The project “Strengthening bonds between alienated neighbors in the region: Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia” was made possible with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. Views and opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.