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A comparative view on educational interventions in the Western Balkans

The successor states of the Former Yugoslavia continue to deal with social divisions rooted in the wars of the 1990s. The “post-memory” generation of youth in the region has been taught to value democracy, human rights, critical thinking, and intergroup peacebuilding, yet their societies have continued to struggle with ethnonationalism, denial concerning the atrocities and crimes of the past, political deadlocks, intergroup prejudice and high unemployment. Research consistently shows that young people in the region, while eager for a better future, continue to struggle with the influence of the past on their identities in the present and remain burdened by a chronic sense of powerlessness and pessimism. Twenty-five years on, how are educational actors addressing these concerns? What approaches to dealing with the past and building a brighter future are education actors promoting and adopting in these neighbouring states? How well are they addressing historical and contemporary sources of social tension and is there coherence between these initiatives at the regional level? Based on interviews with key education actors in six Western Balkans countries (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and North Montenegro), this paper maps a range of formal and non-formal education approaches to dialogue, peacebuilding and reconciliation that are currently being implemented in these interconnected, although unique, post-conflict settings. It compares the Theories of Change and methodologies they employ, the benefits they appear to offer to participants, as well as the challenges, needs and gaps that remain unaddressed. The mapping raises questions about the implications of similarities and differences observed between countries and draws attention to some recent initiatives whose use of the arts, media, technology and entrepreneurship are opening up new possibilities for peacebuilding among youth in the Western Balkans.