Is the co-existence of the Balkans people a victim of the bad policies that have been conducted in recent decades? Our interlocutors with whom we spoke on this topic agree that politics is the only thing that divides us, and that politicians often use and abuse inter-ethnic relations for particular party interests and goals.
The professor from the Faculty of Law, Jasna Bachovska-Nedić, points out that the political leaders of the Balkans, instead of doing their main task of promoting inter-ethnic relations, still use negative historical experiences and traumas in the everyday politics in order to build their interests.
“Political leaders and parties can help a lot in civilized resolution of the traumas of the past, but here in the Balkans, our politicians do not do that. In their daily political engagement, they should, at the very least, implement European values. They need to show a high level of social responsibility, and not harsh political pragmatism which is especially expressed during elections,“said professor Jasna Bachovska-Nedić from the Faculty of Law “Justinianus Primus” in Skopje.
Professor Ljubljana Malaj from the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tirana analyzes: “There are many challenges that are related to historical tensions, conflicts, nationalism, economic differences, security concerns, infrastructural difficulties. Dealing with these challenges requires sustained political will, diplomatic efforts, dialogue between countries, cooperation with civil society and youth exchange”
The citizens we met in Ohrid also agree that there is a coexistence and togetherness in the Balkans, but that the divisions created by politics are a serious problem.
“If politics were not to interfere with us, coexistence would be very good. There is no difference between Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma and Egyptians, there are no problems and insults. As a taxi driver, I drive all kinds of people – Macedonians, Albanians and Turks, and never had any problem.
The interviewees emphasize that they are tired of political divisions and that it is high time to focus on the positive things that connect us and to build cultural bridges between people in these areas.
“There is coexistence – my first neighbors are Macedonians, Macedonians and Albanians live in my street, we live in peace and nice”- said Sebair, a resident of Gostivar.
This coexistence is a legacy of today’s generations from their ancestors for whom language barriers were not an obstacle to be able to understand and help each other even though they, traditionally, spoke different languages. Nikola Zafirov, a resident of Valandovo, is of the same opinion, who says that even though the older people of the time did not study foreign languages in school, they still understood their fellow citizens much more easily.
“It seems to me that the elders used to understand each other much more. I mean, they cooperated and were close, they communicated. So I can say that our elders, although we live in a more advanced age, knew other languages even though they did not go to school and understood each other as neighbors,“said Nikola Zafirov.
The region is also recognizable by the Balkan cuisine, which abounds with the most diverse traditional food from burek, kebabs, baked beans, sarma, etc. In general, there is almost no generation or ethnicity in the entire Balkans that does not enjoy traditional coffee and tea.
The next thing that the peoples of the Balkans are recognizable for is the promoted culture of warm and hospitable hosts. There is almost no foreigner who has visited these areas without being warmly received and served with traditional food and drink. The Balkans have a great love for folk dances and music, and as a center of intertwining of these different cultures, religions and traditions. The many bazaars testify as reminders of the historical heritage of the Balkan countries.
True to their past and tradition, today’s generations actively continue to strengthen the mutual networking, cooperation and friendship, but they are still more the result of individual initiatives than of organized activities.
“They take us from our school, sometimes of all ethnicities, to another country where we make friends with other students from there, communicate with each other and discuss various issues”, the young high school student Eda Jashar told us, adding that even more projects and cultural events are needed to connect and network young people from Macedonia and the region. How to intensify this cooperation and communication between the first neighbors.
“Political issues can affect young people in different ways. Rich education, effective dialogue and initiatives by young people are the best way to create peace in the region”, said professor Ljubljana Malaj.
Professor Jasna Bachovska-Nedić adds to this, saying that:
“We need to urgently the solve inter-ethnic tensions. We need to do it on the broadest social grounds – via media outlets, education, economy, culture, non-governmental sector and with implementation of constructive policy, or rather political will. The best way is to follow positive policies from other regions that have successfully overcome their historical traumas. Take Scandinavia, for example. The EU membership would speed up the processes. But to get there we need awareness and work. “
The common message of all citizens is that we need cultural bridges, not divisions!