Youth Activities in the Balkans

Ena, Aleksandra and Milena, North Macedonian team, North Macedonia

People in the Balkans share quite an intensive amount of experiences, including their intertwined past but also present, especially in the cultural aspect. They share the same food, with some small regional variations, same expressions and mannerisms, and to some extent the same preference in music. For neighboring countries to share similar cultural traits, it is nothing new under the sun. This can be mainly observed in the recent years, with the globalization process and social media takeover, where people started to realize that they are not too many differences between them. The reflection of this shared experience and later on globalization, can be seen in the Balkan youth distinctly. A domain where this remark is quite apparent, concerns the youth’s pastime activities.

What is obvious is that most of the youth like to spend their time with friends, going to bars and cafés and that constitutes the infamous “coffee drinking culture”. They can spend half of their days in cafés, not necessarily drinking coffee and talking, sometimes even working on schoolwork. So for them, this is not only some kind of activity, alas it’s a very important part of their days. But it would not be doing them justice if it’s said that going out is their only activity. Recently, a part of the youth has become very self-aware about their role in the society and what impact their persona can have. Hence, there is a large number of youngsters that participate in NGOs and activities they organize. Their participation could be divided in two large groups: those who are only partakers in exchanges and trainings and those who take one more step and become part time members of the NGOs. Nonetheless, both these activities groups fall under volunteering, so therefore it can be concluded that volunteering is becoming an important activity for the Balkan youth. There are many NGOs operating in the Balkans at the moment, the most important being RYCO which functions as an umbrella organization for all the Balkan countries.

However, one scene that has always been attractive for young people is that of festivals, be that film, wine, beer or music festival. In this area the Balkans have a long tradition of holding festivals, favoring mostly the youth, and they manage to appeal not only to young people of this very region but recently from a variety of different other countries. From one hand, most of the festivals which still take place in these countries have been happening for many years and have established their grounds as the standard of what other festivals aim to follow. That includes Exit in Serbia, InMusic in Croatia, Sarajevo Film Festival in Bosnia, DokuFest in Kosovo, Beer Fest in Albania, Struga Poetry Evenings in North Macedonia, etc,.

Having said that, on the other hand, a number of new and interesting festivals are emerging in the region and their main idea is to be as different, underground and fresh as possible. It is somehow clear that festivals of the later years are affected by the next generation of young people. Before Covid (and hopefully after), the festival scene in the Balkans was widely open for the youth, not only in terms of participating as a public but also in terms of volunteering and helping in such events. What is very important about engaging in festivals, is that it opens a way to volunteering even if it is for a short amount of time. It connects youth to different people from different backgrounds and it provides a platform to learn and experience.

To conclude, the culture of activism and activities is slowly changing, especially with the rise of international and national projects. With this rhythm maybe in the next decade there will be more of a “volunteering culture” and less of a “coffee drinking culture”.