19. February - Belgrade
Social identities of youth in Western Balkans: The importance of and relationship between ethnical, religious and national identities – presentation of research results on a final conference
On February 19th 2016, at Faculty of Philosophy, Belgrade, a conference promoting the results of project «From inclusive identities to inclusive societies: Exploring the complex social identities of Western Balkan youth» was held. The project launched in 2014, and is supported by Freiburg University and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) through Regional Research Promotion Programme (RRPP). The project explored the interplay between ethnic, religious and national identities of young people in Western Balkans, and how these findings can be used to improve intergroup relations when groups share difficult past. Close to 900 young people from Belgrade, Novi Pazar, Skopje, Tetovo, Banja Luka. Sarajevo, Prishtina and Kosovska Mitrovica were surveyed or took part in focus groups or case studies.
The results were presented by regional research team, and introduced by their research mentor, Felicia Pratto, a social psychology professor at the University of Connecticut, and a coauthor of Theory of social dominance, one of the most influential theories in the intergroup research. She highlighted the specificities of the region and the focus on young people as comparative advantages of this particular project. Representatives of governmental bodies and NGOs from the region took part in the later discussion.
The main findings show that ethnic and religious identifications are generally more salient than other forms of identifications (local regional identity, the Balkans or European identity) in all surveyed regions Ethnic and religious identities become salient in competitive events, like sporting matches, or in presence of cues to the past conflicts - historical commemorations, national holidays, war monuments. On the other hand, national or regional identities become more salient when a person is abroad and communicates with persons outside the region. Young people recognize educational system and media as sources of current intergroup division in these countries by strengthening own group narrative and making the outgroup narrative invisible. Historical narratives (e.g., school curricula and textbooks) largely differ between ethnic groups, supporting one-sided perceptions of the past. Media also commonly address only ingroup issues, creating parallel rather than complementary versions of reality. There is also evidence of different practices – e.g. Macedonian bilingual television ALSAT, multiperspective history textbooks or a project aimed at making minorities more visible in dominant majority narrative.
Despite the challenges though, the results also reveal potential in overcoming the divides. Surveyed youth from both majority and minority groups are generally aware of the existing discriminatory practices. Moreover, they appreciate group equality, indicating that a fairer society is highly valuable for them. They are ready for collective action, as long as it is not for an obviously political goal (political cynicism is very high). It seems that young people are ready to build a more inclusive society, but on their own terms.
For additional information on research results check the following links