By: Yuliya Bila
Twenty years ago, Europe experienced its bloodiest conflict since the end of World War II. The theater of war was Bosnia—a country deeply divided along ethnic lines between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks. During the four year long engagement, the three groups perpetrated atrocities of genocidal proportions against each other, spreading violence into the neighboring states of Croatia and Serbia and eventually enveloping the majority of the former Yugoslavian state. To this day, the people of the Balkans remain locked away in segregated ethnic communities characterized by an uncomfortable coexistence. Despite efforts to promote reintegration, they continue to be divided by a bitter history and a hatred for each other that cannot be easily erased.
Considering the unpleasant local realities of the region, something unexpected occurred in October of this year at European Congress, an international student conference held by AIESEC. Fifteen college students from Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia took the step that their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles had been unwilling to take: on stage in front of 200+ delegates, they embraced each other and shocked the crowd by singing a song they had collectively written to demonstrate their pride in zemlje sa Balkana—the Balkan countries. These children of war, born during or immediately preceding the onset of the bloodbath in their countries, stood up in unity despite incredible pressure to succumb to the hatred that characterizes their communities.
They were an inspiration.
This unity, however, did not develop overnight. These students picked up values of sympathy, humanity compassion, and progress through repeated interactions at national and international forums such as this conference. Their personal journeys began with a simple tolerance of each others’ existence and eventually grew into a deeper understanding and, with time, even friendship and love. Their lives have been changed, their minds broadened and their eagerness to spread the message back home is infectious.
The world has seen the power of youth. In recent years, young people have proven that they can be a mighty force of history, capable of toppling oppressive regimes and bringing entrenched dictators to their knees. For this reason, it is the duty of the current generation to invest in the development of these future global leaders. If we can foster cross-cultural dialogue to channel that power and youthful energy for peaceful, progressive purposes, the future of international security begins to look much more promising. Going abroad and connecting with individuals from other corners of the world is simply the best way to set the new generation on the right path. They will discover that underneath the shell of physical, religious, cultural, and socio-economic differences, we are all the same lost souls in search of something to do, someone to love, and something to bring us happiness.