Hugging the enemy?

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Two weeks ago the media was overwhelmed with news regarding the EURO 2016 qualification game between Serbia and Albania held in Serbia. The match was stopped three minutes before half time. The flag of Greater Albanian was flown into the stadium by a drone and captured the whole world’s attention.

Sitting on my couch writing my article about Balkan Training Days in Belgrade a few days before the match, my ears perked up, my eyes rolled above the computer screen and all of the sudden my heart was beating faster, goose bumps were arising all over my body and all kinds of terrifying images were occupying my mind. What was I capturing from the TV?

Out of nowhere a flag of Greater Albania was falling into the stadium, Serbian supporters were attacking Albanian football players and people were setting fire to NATO flags. What would happen next? It didn’t take long before my newsfeed on Facebook went all crazy with post from my Albanian and Serbian friends. Not long after that the media was reporting and the game went from a decent match between two countries to a political situation that reminded me of the past conflicts between Serbia and the Albanians in Kosovo. Both countries were aware of the tension and that was the reason why Albanian supporters were not allowed to watch the game from the stadium, in order to avoid trouble.

However, it seems like not everything can be predicted. It is incredible how much political impact this game has had, and also how much positive political activism has been done by the youth in the Balkans, despite how little attention has been played. This happened in Belgrade only a few days before the match.

The Balkan Training Days seminar was held for the 12th time this year. Hosted by Belgrade, Serbia, the seminar ran from the 8th to the 12th of October.” The event was organized by JEF (Young European Federalists) Norway and JEF Serbia.

The Balkan Training Days project is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and organized each year by JEF Norway and one of the JEF sections from the Balkans. The main purpose of the seminar is to supply JEF sections from the Balkans with key leadership and organizational skills, which will help these sections in their future development. With a different educational topic every year, this year’s theme of the seminar was “advocacy”.

The history in the Balkans has for decades been unstable with conflicts and wars between religions, cultures and tribal groups. Today, readers usually encounter news that is focused on the tensions between countries, caused by past conflicts. Is there really any tension between the countries? Do the civilians in each country still carry the hate of their national war heroes and their countries sacrifices?

There were 35 participants on Balkan Training Days (5 from each JEF section). I was fortunate to be chosen as a member of JEF, and this was my impression.

During the 1990´s there were thousands of refugees in Europe from the Balkans because of Milosevic’s regime that suppressed particular religious and tribal groups. My parents migrated from Kosovo in 1992 because of their Albanian ethnicity. Albanians in Kosovo at that time could not practice their culture, and without educational opportunities my parent’s future was less than bright. That was when they decided to start their journey towards a better and more stable future.

A few years later the conflict between Albanians and Serbians in Kosovo escalated to a war. Many men, women and children, and even entire families were killed. I lost family and relatives.

Even though I was born and raised in Norway and consider myself Norwegian with Albanian heritage, I was nervous about how Serbians were going to treat me. However I had no reason to be worried. After 4 days filled with lectures, debates and conversations from different perspectives of countries in the Balkans, I had learned that somehow all the Balkan states share the same issues, values and morals. I believe that the youth in the Balkans are open-minded and ready for a revolution. I left Serbia not thinking about hugging the enemy, but rather our dear friends.

What will EU-membership mean for countries in the Balkans? It’s a famous saying, “You forgive, but you don’t forget”. Europe has been through two world wars and many other conflicts; we will not forget the damage and the people who were killed because of the views of individuals. We certainly don’t carry hate for German people because of Hitler.
To forgive is the key to open up the door to a better future, with communication and cooperation so that we don’t see conflicts and wars happening again. Most of the Balkan states do not yet meet the criteria’s to be part of the EU, however the open-mindedness of the Balkans’ youth and their willingness to cooperate, is the first step to a unified Balkan.

But the EU´s role in the Balkans will be a supranational control for those who still sympathies with the past national war heroes, like we saw in the EURO 2016 qualification game between Serbia and Albania. Even though the game has somehow proven that Serbians and Albanians still cannot cooperate with each other it is important that the game doesn’t exemplify the whole Balkan and certainly do not represent all Serbian and Albanian people in each country. I strongly believe that with these revolutionary youths in the Balkans, their future will be on the European map, and furthermore with EU unity.

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