Strengthening bonds between alienated neighbors in the region: Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia
For the second round of the project “Strengthening Bonds Between Alienated Neighbors: Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia” , SEE in Action brought together CSO's representatives from Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia, with the support of Friedrich Naumann Foundation, whose organisations are actively engaged in the field of human rights, anti-discrimination and gender issues in South-East Europe region. The second meeting occurred in Skopje, North Macedonia June 24th – 26th, 2022. The last event of this specific project will take place in September in Sofia, Bulgaria.
The project aims to bring together the youth of the three neighbouring countries, share issues that concern young people, and good practices that can be used as an example by other organisations in other countries. The representatives participated in a series of professional yet youth-friendly, round-table discussions that allow them to find similarities and differences among the three countries, but more importantly, common ground on which the three countries and the organisations can cooperate. Youth empowerment and good neighbouring relations are prerequisites for resolving key issues that concern young people at a trilateral level.
The participants were welcomed by Ms. Eleni Siapikoudi, representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Ms. Anna Bampili, General Coordinator of SEE in Action. Ms. Siapikoudi presented the history, the scopes of work and the values of Friedrich Naumann Foundation. Ms. Bampili gave an overview of the work of SEE in Action and the organisations' values and latest activities. The program of the upcoming days was presented in detail, and then the representatives of each organisational were given the opportunity to present themselves and their work. The organisations that took part were Diotima-Center for gender rights & equality from Greece, the Institute for Human Rights and Elizabeta Buova (Head of the SEA training center & representative of the organisational Radar) from North Macedonia and the European Women's Lobby-Bulgarian Platform and the Association Demetra from Bulgaria. The organisers expected for the participants to develop common policy recommendations to disseminated to all respective institutions and stakeholders in Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia. The project aim is to give young people a voice and a platform in order to come up with practices and recommendations based on their expertise on issues that concern them by engaging in a fruitful discussion and opinion exchange. SEE in Action, and FNF believe that the youth should be actively engaged in the decision-making process, especially regarding issues concerning young people.
During the first round table session on Saturday June 25th, Mr. Nikos Bakirtzis, founding member of SEE in Action, presented the EU Action Plan on Human Rights (2020-2024). He also focused on the interconnection between human rights and civil society. His presentation lead to a lively discussion among the participants. Dimitra Latsiou (Lawyer in Diotima Center) was excited to start the day by focusing on “difficult issues” regarding human rights because this was a solid basis for productive and in-depth discussions between participants. During the morning session, the group focused on "Protecting and empowering individuals". Ms. Anna Bampili was the moderator of the discussion. At first, the participants shared good practices and successful cases of their work. After that, the group was called to answer the question, "How can CSOs help others, if they can't overcome their own issues?”. Greek and North Macedonian participants agreed that in both countries, there is a lack of cooperation between the state and the Civil Society, which hinders the efforts to counter discrimination in all forms and on any ground and protect marginalized individuals, groups, and communities. Additionally, participants from all three countries underlined the need to promote further the values of liberal democracy, especially inclusion, since in all three countries, major issues exist due to poor political participation and alienation of large parts of the society. Furthermore, societal and economic inequalities and invisibility of the marginalized members of our communities create major difficulties for individuals who are looking for help.
During the afternoon session, the discussion focused on "Building resilient, inclusive and democratic societies". Ms. Anna Bampili was the moderator of the discussion. According to the participants, civil society organisations try to fill the gaps resulting from the state's lack of active support for marginalized groups. CSOs hold the state accountable, which is why strengthening of the civic and political space in all three countries needs to be supported on every level. All the participants worked together to come up with policy recommendations under the prism of trilateral cooperation. The state, civil society, and non-state actors must cooperate under an action plan that promotes fundamental freedoms and the rule of law and protects economic, social, cultural, and labour rights.
On Sunday, June 26th, Ms. Anna Bampili moderated the final round table discussion. The participants revised and reformed their ideas and the policy recommendations from the previous sessions and provided the organisers with suggestions on how these recommendations could be disseminated and promoted.The active participation of all the participants led to the formation of a series of policy recommendations on two levels. They agreed to make specific proposals for Civil Society Organisations and Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia authorities.Furthermore, they also agreed to include in the dialogue about human rights and give a platform to minorities and other marginalized individuals, groups, and communities.
Overall, the three-day event was extremely productive, the participants created an inclusive environment and came up with an impressive number of quality ideas, suggestions, and recommendations that will be included in the final policy paper that will be disseminated to the authorities in the three countries after the third and last event that will take place in Sofia in September and will focus on climate change and sustainability.
Event’s success was yet another proof, that it is vital to support such youth initiatives in the region and give the floor to young people, so that they can express their opinions and share their vision of the region.
Youth cooperation creates the right conditions for the reconciliation of the societies and overcoming disputes and animosities that have kept our region in the dark for too long.