Thursday, June 19, 2008

Education is Vital in the Western Balkans

As membership in the European Union becomes increasingly competitive, post-conflict countries in the Western Balkans must focus on strategies to increase their levels of development. Dr. Arben Hajrullahu, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, is currently conducting research on strategies to achieve peace and stability in the Western Balkans. His work reveals that shifts in development usually come in three stages: dependence, independence, and interdependence. However, he concludes that countries in the Western Balkans face three main challenges; they lack:

  • Functional states
  • Regional cooperation
  • Sustainable economic and social development.

Remedying these shortfalls will presumably elevate Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro to the standards of other nations in the EU.

According to Dr. Hajrullahu, education is the catalyst that will transform the Western Balkans into functional, cooperative, and developed states. Improving education will supply the younger populations in these countries both with the tools to negotiate peacefully with their neighbors and the ability to focus on economic and social growth. The most beneficial educational reform is to allow young people to travel freely, especially on study abroad programs. This will reduce stereotypes and broaden the worldview of the next generation of Western Balkan leaders. Such exchange will also demonstrate to other European countries that the Western Balkan region is more than just a security threat. This shift in perception will stimulate much-needed investment and interest in these post-conflict countries.

Unfortunately, education is a relatively low priority for most countries in the Western Balkans. The few international groups working on educational initiatives have not created a sense of ownership among local populations. Consequently, their initiatives fade away relatively quickly. Responsibility rests with governments in the Western Balkans to improve their educational systems and reduce travel restrictions. Eventually, leaders will emerge with the knowledge, understanding and tolerance necessary to lay aside age-old differences and focus on economic and social development.

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Sponsor: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Date: May 28, 2008
Time: 12-1 pm
Representative Attending: Kate Lonergan

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