News Overview 2015

"Travel to Europe" Begins in Berlin

"The future of all Balkan nations is in the European Union - and you are all ambassadors for this vision. Bear that in mind as you travel through Europe in the next few weeks." With these words, Doris Pack bade farewell to her audience of 150 young people. Although it is a somewhat unspectacular statement, the idea is far from self-evident when you consider that Hungary, an EU member, is building a wall to stop all migration from the Balkan states; and when you consider that 40 percent of asylum seekers in Germany come from the Balkans and that nine out of ten requests are denied.

Pack, a 63-year-old Christian Democrat, worked as an MEP for many years, during which time she focused primarily on political processes in the Balkans. She knows Europe well. The students from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro to whom she is talking at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities hardly know the continent at all - except perhaps as a political idea, the promise of a brighter economic future, or a closed-off fortress. Yet certainly not as a cultural entity. After all, they haven’t even been to Barcelona, Brussels, or Stockholm yet - in some cases, due to a lack of funds and in others due to visa restrictions. Over the next four weeks, however, they will travel through Europe. Since 2007, the Robert Bosch Stiftung has been supporting the project of the same name in partnership with the Balkan Trust for Democracy. In order to enable them to embark on a four-week trip through the countries of the European Union, the students are provided with health insurance, Interrail tickets, and spending money - as well as a free Schengen Visa, if necessary. An intercultural dialog that starts with a train ticket. An intercultural dialog that is badly needed, as shown at the kickoff event in Berlin.

Dino from Sarajevo, for instance, asked Pack the following questions: "Who can improve the situation in my country? Who can stabilize Serbia within Europe?" Pack’s response was both passionate and pragmatic: "Only you - the next generation. You have to vote for parties that are committed to democracy and joining the European Union. It’s not a problem that can be solved from the outside." Law student Maria from Bosnia and Herzegovina is troubled by the idea of the region having to shoulder all the responsibility. "Our eduction system is totally corrupt. The textbooks and universities have been contaminated by the old nationalist ways of thinking. And anyone who criticizes it is at risk. How are we supposed to bring about political change all on our own? I don’t think it’s fair. The EU is leaving us to deal with this huge burden all by ourselves."

Pack’s view is clear: the Balkan countries have no other credible, long-term alternatives to joining the EU. Beforehand, however, she feels that they have to tackle their democratic and economic deficits. And their nationalism. "A nationalism that stands in the way of reconciliation after all the atrocities that have been committed."

If it were left to Biljana, a 25-year-old medical student from Macedonia, her home country wouldn’t even join the EU: "I’m scared that EU membership would change Macedonia completely and that we’d be plunged into a similar crisis to Greece if we adopted the euro." Nevertheless, Biljana cannot wait to go on her first tour of Europe and is particularly looking forward to Scandinavia: "Although I’m not a politician, I really admire the values held in the region. They respect their neighboring countries, for example, and at least don’t do anything bad to them." This is the commendable message that this young woman from Skopje wants to take through Europe over the next few weeks.

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