SEATTLE, Washington — Kosovo is Europe’s youngest nation both in terms of its founding and population. The conflict-affected nation has an extremely young population with 53% of its citizens under the age of 25. Despite this, Kosovar youth have little say in the country’s decision-making process, although they experience the long-term effects of these decisions. The young nation exemplifies the importance of the Youth, Peace, and Security Act, a bill in Congress that looks to increase youth participation in the policy-making process within conflict-affected nations. The Youth, Peace, and Security Act may benefit Kosovo since youth participation in peacemaking efforts has been widely successful and the strategy can help ease inter-ethnic tensions within Kosovo.
War in Kosovo
In the 1990s, war broke out in Kosovo. From 1989 to 1999, more than 800,000 Kosovar Albanians fled to neighboring nations to escape genocidal actions by the Serbian military. NATO intervened in 1999 on behalf of ethnic Albanians and Bosnians, completing a three-month bombing campaign of joint Yugoslav and Serbian forces. Thousands of both military combatants and civilians were killed in the conflict.
While the war has ended and Kosovo has since become an independent state, there is still massive tension between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs in the country. Serbia does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, while much of the Serb population in Kosovo refuse to integrate, preferring to maintain close ties to the Serbian government. The two nations remain at odds as Kosovo instituted a 100% tariff on Serbian imports. Ethnic tensions within the country remain at boiling point.
The Youth, Peace, and Security Act
The Youth, Peace, and Security Act was introduced in March 2020 and seeks to increase youth participation in the decision-making of conflict-affected nations. This policy goal will be completed via four main avenues. The first is to create a Youth Coordinator position within USAID. This individual will spearhead youth-related activities in conflict prevention, resolution and recovery efforts. Youth in Kosovo are already doing this on a small scale, but with increased assistance from USAID, such efforts can grow exponentially.
Secondly, a U.S. strategy to integrate youth consultation, support youth peacebuilders and create standards for analyzing age and gender data will be developed and implemented. Thirdly, the Department of Defense and the Department of State must integrate these strategies into their post-conflict-affected area plans, while ensuring that nongovernmental organizations get involved. The final avenue is to provide youth-led civil society organizations with the funding they need to make a real difference. This means providing grants, emergency and technical assistance.
Right now, the Youth, Peace, and Security Act has only four co-sponsors in the House and Senate. That number needs to dramatically increase and Kosovo is just one example as to why.
UN Kosovo Youth Assembly of 2017
Youth involvement is key in the peacemaking process and this is why the Youth, Peace, and Security Act may benefit Kosovo. The strategy has been wildly successful in South Sudan and Somalia and it can work in Kosovo too if ample support is provided. Kosovar youth are already engaging in such peacemaking processes and the implementation of the Youth, Peace, and Security Act would vastly increase the chances of success.
The UNMIK (U.N. Mission in Kosovo) held the first U.N. Kosovo Youth Assembly in 2017, giving the youth an enhanced voice in the peacemaking process. The objectives of this assembly were clear. Not only to increase youth participation in the political process but to increase dialogue and communication between ethnic Serbs and Albanians to ease inter-ethnic tensions.
The youth assembly developed a list of recommendations such as implementing “youth-sensitive budgets.” Of the 120 young participants, all considered peace and tolerance between Kosovo’s ethnicities and religions as the main goal. Serbian Kosovar attendees considered security as a prerequisite of peace, however, since ethnic Serbs do not feel safe when traversing the nation.
Importantly, many of the youth attendees were not hopeful that any real change could take place under the present government. Despite this negative sentiment, they unanimously agreed that the role of young Kosovars in the peacemaking process will spur the government into action. Additionally, there was a general desire to increase inter-ethnic communication and hope for youth gatherings to occur more often. Through the Youth, Peace, and Security Act, the U.S. can help make these hopes a reality.
Kosovar Youth Want Peace
While many of Kosovo’s younger population are not hopeful that the current political climate will push for peace, they strongly believe that involving the youth could be an important way to achieve peace and security in the nation. Many of Kosovo’s current decision-makers are veterans of the war and previous leaders of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), the ethnic-Albanian led insurgency against the Serbian state. These leaders understandably harbor deep skepticism with regards to the opening of relations with Serbia and the easing of inter-ethnic tensions within Kosovo.
Most of Kosovo’s youth were born after the war and many wish to move on and heal the wounds of the past. These voices must also be heard within the Kosovar government and influence the policy-making process. The United States can enhance such pro-peace voices in Kosovo by funding youth peace movements throughout conflict-affected regions. UNMIK is already doing great work in Kosovo and through the Youth, Peace, and Security Act, the impact of such movements can be increased, creating a more peaceful and secure world in the process.
– Marcus Lawniczak