It has been said that the future of a country lies within the power of its youth. In Kosovo, a small country of two million inhabitants, more than a half of the population falls under the age of 29 making it the country with the youngest population in Europe. However, more than a half of them are jobless.
It is not easy to build a future when there is a lack of opportunities for quality education, capacity building and, eventually, job finding. The youth unemployment rate in Kosovo (53,3%) is the highest in Europe and one of the highest in the world. Young women are particularly affected by the situation with a higher unemployment rate (64,8%) than that of young men (48,6%).
After two decades of conflict between the Republic of Serbia and its ‘Autonomous Province’, in which 13,517 people were killed or went missing between January 1998 and December 2000 – Kosovo has a new generation who wants to fight for their new country which declared itself independent 10 years ago.
However, they need a change which apparently has not come from the corrupt governments that have ruled during these recent years. Kosovo scored 39 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Its lowest record was 28 points in 2010.
International organizations and the growing private sector are some of the pillars helping to improve the situation, followed by young people who are now also making their own decisions.
When the diaspora comes back home
The bleak hope to make a living in Kosovo was forced a lot of Kosovars to go abroad and take part in the so-called “Kosovo’s Diaspora”. Particularly, in 2015, 100 000 Kosovo citizens emigrated due to an agreement of free movement between Serbia and Kosovo. Kosovars used this new route to head towards Schengen countries illegally.
Bayram Gashian, 20, fled to Italy and later to Germany after he had barely finished secondary school because he did not see any outlook for him in Kosovo. However, as an illegal immigrant, he could not find a way abroad and decided to return to his home country. Like him, an estimated 17,000 persons have returned to the country for similar reasons.
Once here, Bayram realized that he did not have the skills to work and decided to apply for a UNDP’s Active Labour Market Programme which offers “on the job training”, mainly to the repatriated job-seekers.
“Kosovo has youth with great potential but they do not have practical experience. They are given the opportunity to go for the training first, through the United Nations Development Program on employment generation. We focus on professional’ schools to prevent people from registering themselves as jobless,” explains the project associate of the Active Labour Market Programme of the UNDP, Merita Isufi.
For three months, Bayram Gashian has been learning how to weld and how to assemble metal parts in a private company in the region of Mitrovica. “When I was abroad I did not know what works means. But when I came back to Kosovo I started to understand what a stable life means”, tells Bayram. “I hope that these new skills allow me to do this job on my own”.
From a `state factory´ to self-initiative
Apart from the lack of skills that youth shows to incorporate into the labor market, Merita Isufi identifies a dependency on the public sector which is still very much alive in the Kosovar society. Although, it seems that it is changing in the new generation.
“We are people who came from a socialist country, so for us, it took about two decades to understand that this is no longer “a factory state”. The youth themselves are thinking differently now. They are understanding that the private sector now has to be the main course of finding a job”, Merita explains.
Besnik B. Avidiaj, 21, and Vegim Hoti, 21, studied Management and Informatics at the University of Pristina. Both of them have already found a job.
“It is true that the government is not offering us a lot of opportunities, but I just see students pointing their fingers at them. I think that doing nothing is not giving us opportunities, thus, why not create them ourselves?”, explains Vegim.
Two years ago, the pair set up the University of Pristina International Conference which attracted more than 80 students from 35 nationalities at the second edition.
“The Minister of Education called us `the best ambassadors of our country’ because we brought people from countries that do not even recognize Kosovo, Russia for example”, tells Besnik.
This hard work and the self-initiative offered to them was a type of training that is not currently being provided to students. “It would have been more difficult for us to find a job without this self-learning because our university did not offer us an opportunity to have experiences which makes difficult for youth to find a job. We are working as a result of this experience because we’ve shown that we can work hard”, adds Vegim.
Women Youth: the forgotten step
In terms of female youth unemployment, the situation is even worse. The Balkan and in particular, the Kosovar culture is based on Patriarchal roots. The share of women aged 25-54 that are inactive due to personal or family responsibilities in Kosovo lags seriously behind even those at the bottom of the pack in Europe. Further, only 1 out of 10 young women are employed or looking for a job.
“Gender inequality is definitely a thing and women domestic harassment is huge here. What is happening in the labor market is a consequence of gender stereotypes. Women belong to the private sphere whilst men are the public actors. It is a deep seeded problem here”, explains the Gender Analyst of the Kosova Women’s Network, Iliriana Banjska.
However, Bardas Ruhani, 18, feels that something is changing, and women might have more opportunities than her mother and grandmother had.
“We just need the old generation to leave their jobs in order to allow us, the new ones to replace them. We are better prepared, we have more creativity. Having this older generation still in some places at work means we remain the same, we are not moving forward. I feel very proud to be a woman even though in this country we do not have as much privilege as boys but, I still feel that I can make changes not only in Kosovo but also in the world. I want to see how women take the power, more and more”, explains Bardas.
Even with high walls still waiting to being demolished, it seems that the young Republic of Kosovo can trust in their youth. “I love my country, we all do actually. But the thing is that we want more success in our life and we cannot really see it here. But if I can speak for everyone, if I can study abroad, I will definitely come back here and make changes”, adds Bardas.