Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kosovo Youth Neglected

Despite making up half the population, Kosovo's youngsters feel their political leaders have neglected them
By Shenoll Muharremi

Young people in Kosovo's capital Pristina usually have one of two responses when they are asked about the upcoming municipal elections.

Either they try to avoid the question altogether, or they complain that Albanian political parties are not paying much attention to their quality of life, even though they are expect to receive their votes.

"When the politicians speak about their programmes, we never hear any of them talk about projects directed specifically at the youth - most of the parties have ranked us third on their list of priorities," said Arben, an 18-year-old in downtown Pristina.

Fatime, a waitress in a bar in the Dardania region of the capital, said she still had not decided how to cast her vote. "I don't hear either the parties or the individual candidates making any statements about the young generation or women," she said.

Donika Tahirsylaj, a 17-year-old pupil at the Ali Sokoli middle school, said the new local government should focus on problems such as drug abuse, which is increasing daily.

"We need more educational projects here as an alternative to wasting time in Pristina's bars," said Tahirsylaj who is also a member of a special youth parliament that deals with the kind of problems teenagers encounter every day.

She also recently co-ordinated a group of 70 teenagers who painted posters with the slogan "Tolerance, not violence", as part of a programme sponsored by various non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK.

Catholic Relief Services, CRS, are organising 20 similar projects all over Kosovo. "We usually go to the schools and ask the kids what they would like and then sponsor those ideas," said Alex Schein of CRS.

"Some of the students want a cleaner environment and plan to clean their school courtyard, while others voluntarily whitewash fences or trees. They all say they like to do such things instead of going to bars or sitting at home watching television."

Driton Lajci, co-director of the UNMIK youth department, said at the beginning of October they had initiated "Youth Week" to commemorate the student protests three years ago.

"Such activities could serve as a signal to the political parties to pay more attention to the youth when talking about their programmes," he said. "Youth make up half the population of Kosovo and their needs are ignored in many of the parties' electoral campaigns."

But UNMIK's budget for these programmes is too small to conduct any far-reaching projects. According to Lajci, his department only received 100,000 German marks for six months, which just about covers the staff's salaries and other administrative costs.

Youngsters say political parties would win their vote if they proposed plans to restructure high school education, which is still based on the old communist syllabus.

However, some say the party they vote for is not important, as it is more significant that Kosovo is holding its first free and fair elections. Others are more cynical, saying the ballot is of little consequence as the new local authorities won't have any real power.

Shenoll Muharremi is a journalist in Pristina.