Southeast European Youth wants a decent future

Ethno-nationalism still features prominently among young people’s worldviews, for different reasons in each country. Leading the list are Albania and Bulgaria, where 58% or 65% respectively believe that it would be best to live in a mono-ethnic society, shows the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) ground-breaking reports on the experiences and aspirations of youth in Southeast Europe.

A wish to belong to Europe

Youth demand fairer economic arrangements while remaining supportive of open markets and entrepreneurial initiatives. Strong and responsible leadership is seen as fundamental to economic and social security but also as necessary to restore trust that a decent life at home is indeed possible. Not delivering institutions and precarity continue to push away those who have lost this trust. This should be a clear call to action for decision-makers.

Migration and mobility do not have to be zero-sum

The desire to emigrate is still high but has been decreasing over the past 5 years. In fact, few young people who demonstrate the willingness to migrate have actual emigration plans. The strongest drivers of emigration are pessimistic views on the future of their countries and economic insecurity (for a period of more than six months) ranging from 26% in Montenegro to 43% in Albania, with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia falling in-between.

Investing more in socio-economic development would not only benefit the whole population but create the necessary conditions for circular migration. Remarkably, youth from EU member states Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania report a significantly lower desire to leave.

Fighting corruption as a crime, not as a concept

Youth in Southeast Europe have a good understanding of how corruption delays progress. Corruption, poverty and social injustice are reported as top concerns. Specifically, corruption is seen as rampant and on the rise in education and labour markets across the region. At the same time, tolerance towards informal economic practices such as using connections, bribery or cheating on taxes is high and has substantially increased since 2008.

Strikingly, in Montenegro, Albania, Romania, and BiH informal practices are tolerated more than homosexuality or abortion. More commitment to implementing the principles of the rule of law is needed to fight back normalised corruption.

High rates of unemployment negatively affect youth

High rates of unemployment continue to negatively affect youth, slowing their transition to adulthood and pushing them to leave their countries. However, for youth in SEE, the transition to adulthood is not solely about employment. A notable highlight of the regional report compares the precarious conditions under which employed youth work and live. For instance, in Montenegro and Serbia, the share of non-standard work in total youth employment is as high as 67%, and 50% and 58% in Croatia and Slovenia respectively.

Participating in parliamentary elections

Youth across the region are quite eager to participate in parliamentary elections. They feel poorly represented and want a stronger say. At the same time, the vast majority are not interested in taking on a political function. From 50% in Macedonia to a staggering 84% in Bulgaria, youth are saying ‘no’ to traditional politics.

Southeast European Youth wants an active welfare state, i.e., a stable system of democratic governance reining in the sense of economic insecurity currently permeating all aspects of their lives. This support is substantially higher among youth with lower socio-economic status. Noticeably, the perceived lack of a welfare state is pushing youth towards both political extremes: a point that should instigate discussions about the welfare state model for the region.


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