Youth United in Peace (YU-Peace)

“Somewhere between war and peace”, this is how the Serbian singer and peace activist Milan described the situation in the former Yugoslavia in 2013 during an appearance in the context of the celebration with former participants in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the project Vacation From War.

More than 24 years after the war was ended by the Dayton Treaty, there is still no peace in the region of the Former Yugoslavia.
Youngsters participating in the Youth Encounters of Vacation From War have not personally lived the war, but its effects determine their lives. Infrastructure and economic relations have been destroyed, there is a lack of perspectives for the future, youth unemployment is around 40% in all three countries. In politics, the old forces are back in power, nationalist tones determine the political climate.
Many young people don’t want to accept this any longer. In 2014, our partner organizations in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina founded the cross-border youth network “Youth United in Peace (YU-Peace)”. Since YU was the old country code for Yugoslavia, people in the Balkans understand that YU-Peace is dedicated towards the peaceful coexistence of people in the countries of Former Yugoslavia. This is the wish of most young people who no longer want to see their lives determined by the past and the division into ethnic categories.

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When the municipality of Jajce, Bosnia-Herzegovina, wanted to build its own school for Bosnians in 2016, students vehemently opposed it. They took their protest to the streets, wrote letters to local politicians and the regional government, and threatened to boycott the new school: “We will not be poisoned by the nationalism that underlies this state, which divides everything into three ethnic groups.”, they wrote. And their protest was successful:  the municipality gave up the plan to build the new school. One active student said in an interview, “The most important thing is that the students won, even though they were not supported by their parents, their teachers, and the local community, who ducked away during the entire argument (…) this is the proof that even students can undo political decisions with their actions. “(All quotes from the online portal Buka, Bosnia and Herzegovina).

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Every year young people from Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina meet at the Youth Encounters of Vacation From War and get the chance to break out of old thinking patterns. They get to know “others”, discuss their shared history in workshops, and find that there is not one but at least three truths to it. It is very important for them that in the Encounters, everybody is treated equally, no differences are made. The time together gives them courage and hope for a better future and the realization that they themselves can do something for change.

They implement this in their hometowns, with peace marches, public appearances, information stands or exhibitions. Their activities always attract a lot of attention. In 2012, they posted a video online in which they sing together “Samo Da Rata Ne Bude”, a song with which the singer Dorde Balasevic, in 1986, warned about the looming war. The video received great attention in all three countries: in the first two weeks, the clip was clicked about 70,000 times, the major daily newspapers took it into their Online-editions, on 129 platforms it was discussed controversially. There was nationalist hostility, but also a lot of enthusiastic support for the action, and many commentators reflected upon their own roles before, during and after the war.

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Particularly active members of YU-Peace meet each year in the “camp”, which takes place alternately in one of the cities of our partner organizations. In addition, groups travel twice a year to their (new) friends for a weekend visit, where they spend the night with at the families’ homes and regularly do something for the host city, e.g. refurbish playgrounds or assist with the renovation of a youth center.

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In December 2016, just two years after its creation, YU-Peace was honored for this work with the “Krunoslav Sukić Prize” of the “Center for Peace, Nonviolence and Human Rights” in Osijek, Croatia.

Meanwhile, YU-Peace has its own website and networks with other human rights organizations in the region.

In 2019, Sofija Todorovic of the “Youth Initiative for Human Rights-Serbia” ispired younsters with reports about concrete actions she and her fellow activists are taking. Ajna Jusic introduced her organization “Forgotten Children of War”, in which raped women and their children commit themselves to dealing openly with the consequences of mass rape. Together with YU-Peace and Medica Mondiale, our Serbian partner organization Link will organize a conference on this topic in early February 2020.