Skills for a Better Future: Highlights from Peace Week 2023, Tirana, Albania

Peace and peace-building strategies have been a focal point of United Nations Association Albania’s (UNAA) efforts throughout the month of October. In collaboration with public educational institutions and various local organizations, UNAA  organized peace-themed forums, trainings and workshops in various regions of Albania, under its umbrella framework: “Peace Week“. It consists of diverse, yet complementary events spanning grassroot, local, and regional levels. It serves as the overarching framework for all the activities outlined, such as local initiatives along with the “Western Balkans Youth Forum”.

On October 27 and 28, the “Different but Equal” training took place in Kuçova, involving youngsters with special needs. During the event, the ERR (evocation – realization – reflection) methodology was employed to explore the significance of respecting and cherishing diversity and freedom of expression. On the same theme, albeit with different tools, the “Creative Workshop for Peace” was held in Pogradec on October 26, whereby youngsters received training through painting. On October 28, the “Sports and Peace Forum” was organized in Lezha, focusing on exploring the potential of peacebuilding through sports and the pivotal role of young people, parents and coaches, in this context.

On October 27, a Movie Night was held in Tirana. Screening the “Peace One Day” docufilm, the evening sparked dynamic exchanges on the current state of affairs, whereby “peace” remains a distant concept, in many regions throughout the world. War and conflicts remind us of the never-ending need for peer advocates and young peacebuilders, who strive to promote cooperation and integration. We also made a stop in Tropoja, where discussions focused on raising awareness in schools about the growing threats in the online world, under the theme: “Cyberbullying – We’ve Got the Skills to React.” At the end of the event, young participants utilized deliberations, intergenerational dialogue, and creative thinking workshops to critically reflect on threats and opportunities in the online world.          

Drawing back to its regional focus, from October 23 to 25, in Tirana, the “Western Balkans Youth Forum” was organized, as a flagship event featuring young participants from the entire Western Balkans region, along with activists, researchers, and representatives from various Albanian and European entities and institutions. Designed under its “Skills for Peace” theme, the Forum aimed at engaging, networking and activating a cohort of young peacebuilders, to advance reconciliation and integration across the region.   

The event was opened by Mr. Klajdi Kaziu, under his capacity as Programme Manager for Youth, Peace and Security, at the United Nations Association Albania. On the first day, the program was introduced to all participants during the opening ceremony. Mr. Kristi Cina, President of United Nations Association Albania, provided an overview of the project, its duration, main outputs, and its purpose. He emphasized the role of youth in peace strategies and the importance of innovation for greater social impact. H.E. Ms. Fiona McCluney, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Albania, discussed the significance of peace in the Western Balkans region and the factors affecting peace resilience. She highlighted the importance of dialogue as a key strategy for peacebuilding, while praising Albania’s role in the United Nations Security Council.

Ms. Ardiana Hobdari, Director of the Department for International Organization at the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs of Albania, talked about the evolution of the concept of peace, and its synergies with the country’ path towards joining the European Union. Moreover, Ms. Annelie Borjesson, President of the United Nations Association of Sweden, emphasized the role of civil society entities in sustainability and the importance of Peace Week in mobilizing and empowering young people. Mr. Gjergj Murra, Executive Director at the Western Balkans Fund, emphasized how events like this feed into the transformative mission of the Western Balkans Fund (WBF), to promote good relations and reconciliation in the region. WBF was also one of the co-founders of this initiative. In addition, To conclude, Mr. Denis Pipplas, representing RYCO, as co-sponsor of the event, addressed the participants, emphasizing the pivotal role of youth-led peacebuilding initiatives, including Peace Week 2023, in shaping a better, safer and more prosperous region.

Further building on the potential of these regional initiatives, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by representatives of the United Nations Association Albania and its Serbian and North Macedonian counterparts. This MoU, aims to strengthen cooperation, and foster regional synergies in advancing peacebuilding and reconciliation. The Opening Ceremony was followed by a special networking session, whereby participants were introduced to the three-day program and got to know each other.

Moreover, during the Night Owl Session: “Western Balkans: A Region on the Move – Making sense of its Present and Future”, panelists Adi Cerimagic – Analyst at the European Stability Initiative; Alba Cela – Executive Director at the Albanian Institute for International Studies; and Adri Nurellari – Political Activist and Researcher, delved into the challenges the region faces regarding EU membership and discussed efficient strategies in the membership process. They emphasized the importance of EU membership for stability and peacebuilding, engaging with participants through questions about the process’s significance for the region as a whole, and individual countries.

The second day commenced with a Workshop, and a Simulation Exercise on Negotiations and Conflict Resolution, led by experts from our partners at Rational Games Inc., including Mark Young, Philippe Gruca, and Alberto Restuccia. The young participants were divided into groups to learn effective negotiation strategies for peace through a hypothetical scenario, simulating summits as a template for future negotiations. Us at UNAA are convinced that gamifying conflict resolution remains an effective tool in escaping “zero-sum thinking” in our region.

Lunch was followed by researcher: Ms. Liri Kuci, who presented key study findings on      gender roles and feminism in Albania, whilst advocating for inclusive language and LGBTQ+ support. We are thankful to our UN Women partners, for supporting this session.

The afternoon agenda was devoted to the deliberations and drafting of the “Declaration on Youth Skills for Peace”. It would represent the main output of the forum, and compress the participants recommendations for future actions. The attendees split into three groups, led by Lutjona Lula, Eleni Nanaj, and Kristel Hasani, whereby they reflected upon civil society and youth’s meaningful participation in peace negotiations, reconciliation and broader regional and local policymaking processes. Different from previous years, the Declaration focused on innovative peacebuilding strategies, skills development, investment in education, and the role of technology in pushing forward reconciliation efforts.     

The digital age’s impact on peace was further explored, at the Evening Panel led by tech and diplomacy researchers and practitioners: Katherine O’Lone, Erjon Curraj, and Gezim Visoka. Focusing on the threats and opportunities that Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and digital tools present in themes such as security, privacy, ethical norms, and AI’s limitations, their discussion sparked public interest and interactions, on the topics of cyber defense, digital skills, regulatory responsibility, and liabilities. While emerging technologies have faced us with growing threats to societal security, there is untapped potential for their utilization in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.          

On the concluding day, the three-day efforts culminated with the presentation of the Forum outcomes. The “Declaration on Youth Skills for Peace” was finalized, addressing challenges, and recommendations, which were pitched by selected Young Rapporteurs. The declaration identified key skills for peace, including conflict analysis, problem-solving and data-driven advocacy. Some of the proposed actions recommended investing in political literacy, exploring the potential of youth quotas, enhancing professional skills and mediation training, advocating for public discussions and cross-balkan campaigns, and reinforcing CSO-Academia partnerships.

A discussion panel, to reflect on the main outputs of the Declaration, was organized. Featuring Ms. Erinda Toska – MOVE Grants Programme Manager (WBF); Ms. Selena Tasic – Public Diplomacy Manager at the Regional Communication Programme for the Western Balkans; and Mr. Ognjen Markovic – Team leader for the Western Balkans Youth Lab project, at the Regional Cooperation Council, the conversation focused on youth quotas, community activism, and youth-inclusive decision-making processes, highlighting the need for the introduction of meaningful, and youth-friendly mechanisms in policy design and implementation, at all levels.

The event concluded with Daniela Kortoçi (Local Coordinator of the Young European Ambassadors Network) addressing “Skills for Social Change”, emphasizing the impact of activism and best strategies for effective social change. Through sharing the experience of the YEAs Network, as one of our partners at this years’ Peace Week edition, Daniela showcased how structured and strategic youth cooperation can drive sustainable community development.

This Forum, its Declaration and the broader Peace Week framework have allowed us to grasp youth priorities and their solutions to shared problems in Albania and the broader region. These will guide UNAAs advocacy strategies for the coming years, with the purpose of constructing a safer and prosperous Western Balkans. We intend to maintain such initiatives in a practical manner with the aim of providing youth with ample space for expression and dialogue, thus building their influence in decision-making.     

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