Strengthening bonds between alienated neighbors in the region: Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia
For the completion of the final round of the project “Strengthening Bonds Between Alienated Neighbors: Greece, Bulgaria, North Macedonia”, which is supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the organization SEE in Action, brought together CSO's representatives from Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia whose organizations are actively engaged in the field of rural and urban aspects of the environment in South-East Europe region. The third meeting took place in Sofia, Bulgaria from the 21st until the 23rd of October 2022.
The overall aim of the project is to bring together the youth of the three neighboring countries, and share issues that concern young people, as well as good practices that can be used as an example by other organizations in other countries. Our aim was for the participants to become part of a series of professional, yet youth-friendly, round-table discussions, that allow them to find similarities and differences between the three countries, but more importantly to find common ground in order to encourage active cooperation in the future among the three countries and the organizations. Youth empowerment and good neighboring 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, goals, and values of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, while Ms. Bampili gave an overview of the work of SEE in Action and the organization's values and latest activities. The program of the event was presented in detail, and then the representatives of each organization were given the opportunity to present themselves and the work of their respective organizations.
The organizations that took part were Sustainable Development of Civil Society, Green Association, Green Balkans and Man Eco from Bulgaria, EKO Zivot, Eco-Life Kavadarci from North Macedonia and EKO Greece, Blue Green Development and Learning Seed from Greece. The expectation of the organizers was for all participants to come up with common policy recommendations that would be disseminated to all respective institutions and stakeholders in Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia. The project aims 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. Both SEE in Action and FNF believe that the youth should be actively engaged in the decision-making process, especially regarding issues that concern young people.
During the first round table session, on Saturday 21st of October, Mrs. Eleni Vasdoka, founding member of SEE in Action, gave a presentation regarding the environmental situation in several aspects concerning all three countries. Her presentation provided important facts to the participants that offered them useful information, necessary for round-table discussions. Mira Alyakova actively participated in the discussions by shedding light on the challenges and demands that rural areas face, encouraging that way all the other participants to share their views based on their experiences. Her participation acted as a strong basis for productive and in-depth discussions between participants. During the morning session, the group focused on the topic of “Sustainable agriculture in relation with biodiversity”. 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 we can minimize the deterioration of the natural environment and also answer the need for decarbonization”.
All the participants agreed that in both countries there is a significant lack of funds and vocational training that would allow people to move into rural areas with greater ease and assurance. Due to urbanization though, and the concentration of the funds towards other purposes, rural areas remain underdeveloped. It was also underlined that there is a pressing need for improvement in legislation, resulting in the enhancement of the protection that is provided for workers in the agricultural sector. For the efficient management of the existing problems, it is also required to enhance industries and their products, as well as their marketing and selling processes.
During the afternoon session, the discussion focused on the topic of the urban environment. Specifically, we attempted to figure out sustainable solutions for turning extremely polluted cities green. We focused on a highly popular and important topic which is recycling. We furthermore tried to locate hindering factors and ways through which recycling could permanently take root in our lives. Ms. Anna Bampili was the moderator of the discussion. According to the participants, a key aspect to achieving that goal is to cultivate that habit from a young age, or among the adult population, provide rewards, and positively reinforce the desired goal. Through the proper incentives, there is a higher chance of establishing greener patterns in our behavior.
As in most cases, if we wish to effectively implement that, support from the state is also needed. CSOs have recognized and underlined the increased responsibility of the state, which is why the 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 alongside civil society and non-state actors needs to cooperate under an action plan that promotes the strengthening of the rural areas but also aims for the de-pollution and environmental “rebirth” of the cities.
On Sunday, October 23rd, 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 organizers with their suggestions on how the dissemination and promotion of these policy recommendations can be achieved. 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 both for Civil Society Organizations as well as the authorities of Greece, Bulgaria, and North Macedonia.
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.
The success of the event was 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 societies and the overcoming of disputes and animosities that have kept our region in the dark for too long.