Balkans Panel 3: The Diversity in the Balkans
The Promotion of Culture of Peace

After suffering years of war, Balkans is now the target of international efforts to reconstruct and democratize culturally divided societies. The global community’s strategy is focused on NGOs, media and youth in building peaceful and cohesive societies in the Balkans. In this regards, Peace Islands Institute hosted the “The Diversity in the Balkans: Promotion of Culture of Peace” on 10 May 2016 to discuss the role of the NGOs, the media and the youth in peace building processes in the Balkan region.

Balkans-Panel-3-NYMonica Bajractarevic, who currently serves as an elected official on the Citywide Council on High Schools, delivered the welcome remarks. Mrs. Bajractarevic mentioned that the Balkans have been one of the most diverse and culturally rich region of the world. According to her, during the integration process the NGOs, media, and the youth play an important role in building peaceful coexistence among people from diverse backgrounds. “It is crucial that civil society is integrated into the socio-economic development of the countries.

The media with its influence over the public is significant in peace- building. Youth can serve as the peace ambassadors of building a prosperous and peaceful future for all”.

Balkans-Panel-3-NY-1The first speaker of the panel Eljasa Jashar, the Principal of Brooklyn Amity School started his speech by giving a defining the Balkans as consisting of 11 different countries and consequently being the most diverse region of the world. “The multiculturalism we see in the United States is there for 100 years”. Mr. Jashar indicated that the NGOs, media and the youth influence the democratization and peace building process. There are many NGOs in the Balkans that are supporting the peace building process actively. According to Mr. Jashar the success is visible, “all Balkan, countries one by one, are reaching the standards of integrating into the European Union”. However Mr. Jashar said that the media is questionable. He indicated, “There are many limitations in media and direct intervention of the publications. Consequently many people follow the social media, especially the new minds and new generations”.


The next panelist was Dr. Aras Konjhodzic, who is the president of Federation of Balkan American Associations. Dr. Konjhodzic focused on NGOs and their impact and influences in the peace building process in the Balkans. He said that the location of the Balkan regions lead to conflicts between nations and civilizations, as there were many Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim civilizations living in 11 different countries. Dr. Konjhodzic said, “This can be an advantage but also and disadvantage. If you want to do trade it is more effective to make it in a multicultural region, e.g. at Times Square. But at the same time you will also see many conflicts and accidents at Time Square compared to rural regions”. He added that peace is a dynamic process and that the history has shown everyone that people living in the Balkans can live in peace.

Balkans-Panel-3-NY-3The following speaker of the panel was Mithat Gashi, who is a lecturer at Lehman College’s Department of Middle and High School Education. The main focus of his speech was on the youth as active advocates of peace in the Balkans. “Thinking of possibilities and positive outcomes can be very powerful and effective”, he said and quoted the Sufi Poet Rumi, who once said “If your thought is a rose, you are a rose garden”. According to Mr. Gashi, in the process of building of peace, there is a need of a cycle of forgiveness and apologize in which the youth can play an important role and added a famous Quote by Gandhi “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children”. Therefore civil societies and NGOs have to involve the youth in the peace building process, e.g. through organizing long and short term exchange programs, which will be promote sustainable peace among different civilizations in the Balkans. Mr. Gashi said “The promotion of critical thinking is the key to overcome such challenges”.

Balkans-Panel-3-NY-4The last speaker of the panel was Erol Avdovic, who is a senior diplomatic correspondent at the United Nations Headquarters. Mr. Avdovic focused on the demolition of the society through media. He said that media can be part of solution but also can be the dilemma and problem. “Before the process of democratization started we had only one political party and only two television channels. Now we have multiple political parties and television channels”. He added that we still have the situation that political leaders want to see media as a political series and create a one-mind system. As an experienced journalist, he mentioned his fear that the current journalism can develop to journalism without critical thinking.

At the end of panel discussion, Peace Islands Institute`s intern Isabelle Rabin, studying in Columbia University, presented her research on the promotion of peace in Balkans. The results of the research have shown, that the media, NGOs and the young generation play crucial roles for the growth of stable civil society. “If we focus on the youth as peace builders and facilitators for a stable future, we are providing more incentive to make that future possible. It is a prerequisite for strong economies to have stable civil societies. And while we rely on media and NGOs for their contribution, we must depend on these young generations for their input, their inspiration, and their ambition“, Isabelle Rabin mentioned.

The last speaker of the Balkan Panel was Adis Bajraktarevic, who is an alumni of the Young Peace Ambassadors Academy, which is Peace Islands Institute`s global studies and peace education program. Adis, who nearly spends every summer in the Balkans, especially in Montenegro, shared his own experiences. He told about his two best friends, who were a Serbian and an Albanian whose parents did not allow spending time with him. But nearly every day they play soccer together and each night they go out as one team from different ethical and cultural background. Integrating the youth into the society can solve more problems as you can imagine. “Youth is the main facilitators for sustainable civil societies” Adis concluded his speech.