Within the RYDE project funded by the European Union, ADD organized the first in a series of regional debates in Belgrade, held at the Miljenko Dereta space, Dobracina Street 55. The event took place on Thursday, December 14th, strategically scheduled before the onset of pre-election silence in Serbia, preceding the elections on December 17th. This timing was deliberately chosen to address the debate topic: “Youth Participation in Political Processes in the Western Balkans.” Participants included Natalija Stojmenović, a parliamentary candidate from the Serbia Against Violence list; Sofija Kirsanov, a youth activist and co-founder of the NGO “Network for Youth Activism” in Montenegro; Sofija Todorović, director of the Youth Initiative for Human Rights in Belgrade; and Damir Zejnulahović from the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory in Belgrade, with journalist Mia Bjelogrlić moderating.
Attendees concurred that youth participation in political processes in the Western Balkans is significantly below desired levels, with substantial room for improvement in both developing existing mechanisms and creating new ones to ensure their engagement. Often, while formalities are observed, young people remain distanced from decision-making positions. This situation discourages and demotivates them from participating in their countries’ political processes, with their involvement typically limited to election participation, which is also lower than other age groups across the region. Young people who actively engage in politics and join political parties often do so for material rather than ideological reasons, typically choosing the ruling party in hopes of securing employment or other material benefits rather than out of conviction or a genuine desire to contribute to societal change. There is particular concern about the percentage of young people holding radical, far-right views and research indicating that young people have more conservative attitudes on certain social issues than older generations. Young individuals entering political processes, whether through NGO youth activism or political parties, often face discrimination, belittlement, and challenges in advancing within party hierarchies or asserting their views. This is especially true for young women and those from marginalized groups. As a result, a significant number of young people seek their future outside the region, either actively preparing for or expressing a desire to leave their country.
At the debate, there were 29 young attendees, of whom 14 were women. (ATTACHMENT: attendance list) Additionally, through the Zoom platform, another 37 young individuals from various youth organizations and organizations dealing with youth issues followed the debate. Out of those present at the debate, 20 are active in civil sector organizations or actively collaborate with them.