On the 3rd of December 2018, a panel discussion was organized and hosted by the embassy of Austria in The Hague, held at the Austrian residency.
During the panel discussion, the results of the initiative “New Horizons for the Young Generations in the Balkans” were presented by representatives of the Austrian Karl-Renner-Institut and the International Institute for Peace, as well as the Austrian Institute for International Affairs and the Austro-French Center for rapprochement in Europe, based on a recent conference in Vienna. In addition, young experts from the region discussed their visions on how to overcome old- fashioned politics and nationalism and the lack of perspective for younger generations. The Hague was the first place in Europe after Vienna where the results of the mentioned initiative would be presented to the public.
Both managing partners attended the panel discussion. Accordingly called “Young Generations for the New Balkans/South East Europe: Beyond Emigration, towards Alternative Horizons”, the panel discussion focused on what the youth of the Balkan could mean for the future development of the region. One the greatest problems that is currently impacting the region is brain drain. Young adults of all walks of life, regardless of their socioeconomic standing, are looking to leave the region in search of a better future abroad.
One interesting point was the apparent irrelevance of factors pertaining to the job individuals already have or the potential to obtain one. In particular, even when there is work available with a salary that is above the local average, with prospects of growing in the job, people would still choose to leave. To paraphrase one of the panelists, Adi (Adnan) Cerimagic of the European Stability Initiative;
We must consider the complete picture. Even when people have a decent, above average job, what would be the prospect for their children? What kind of opportunities would they have? And what about quality of healthcare and education? There’s a general distaste for the state of affairs in Balkan countries, and people may be rightfully moving to places that offer a better future perspective. Regardless, it is clear that the youth and young adults will have the most important role to play in the development of the economy of Western Balkan nations. There’s enormous potential there, still waiting to be unlocked. The trick may lie in stimulating those that left for a better life to return to their home countries and use their acquired knowledge, skills and wealth to help build a better future.
So how does one stimulate the flow of knowledge, skills and wealth back to the Western Balkan region in a sustainable manner? WBBG believes that the best way forward is by stimulating and facilitating business and trade. By creating opportunities for all people, not just natives, it will pull jobs, investments and industry into the region. Inadvertently this will make it more attractive for people to go to the Balkans to live, work and build on their future. In the long run, it will even stimulate some people to stay in the Balkans, and others to return.
After the panel discussion was over, the crowd continued the discussion during a networking session with finger foods and drinks. Interesting conversations were had and we got to know more interesting people from all over the Balkan and Europe. Everybody had their own ideas on the future and the way forward. Other attendees found WBBG an interesting addition to the group as we were one of the few attendees with a business background among mostly governmental workers and politicians. During the questions of the panel discussion for example, where the topic of most other questions was about policy and politics, Sandro was the only one to ask the panelist a question about their views on how business in the Balkans may play a role in the development of the region.
One thing was clear however, everybody also had the best intentions. Whichever path eventually is chosen, WBBG will keep working towards a stronger connection to the Western Balkans and help stimulate its development any way we can. We truly believe in the potential of the region and its people, and we hope that our efforts will bear their fruits in the future.