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National Platform for Dialogue – one of the main activities of Dialogue for the Future project – was held on the sidelines of the 9th Belgrade Security Forum on October 16, 2019. National Platform for Dialogue gathered high officials as well as experts in the fields considering social cohesion, and the improvement of the dialogue between Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina in that field with the main focus on the dialogue between relevant stakeholders in Serbia. National Platform gathered more then 100 representatives of youth, civil society, academy, media, and citizens to jointly promote and implement activities in building confidence and strengthening social cohesion in Republic of Serbia and in the region.

To start with, First Vice-president and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Government of Republic of Serbia, Ivica Dačić, had an opening speech, during which he emphasized the importance of youth in the social system. The minister mentioned how this project is ought to consider making this dialogue and cooperation between countries stronger, as well as to develop and maintain a good relationship and friendship with neighbors. On the other hand, minister also mentioned the importance of youth when creating a better future, making contributions in politics both in Serbia and the region. Moreover, minister emphasized the Agenda 2030 – The Sustainable Development Agenda, which has a great meaning for all the three countries and is mostly affecting the young people, meaning that they are the key to solving the issues considering the future upcoming. The meaning of this dialogue is to develop opportunities for everyone to get decent jobs, to create a ground for gender equality as well for the economic growth. Furthermore, one of the most important goals is to create long-term peace and prosperity and it is politicians’ role to help strengthen the cohesion, cooperation, and involvement of youth in those fields. It is in the interest of all three countries to cooperate and not to confront each other, but to support each other. Nevertheless, it is in the region’s interest to be the common ground for future and mutual visits. In the end, minister wanted to emphasize how honorable it was for him to be a part of the opening ceremony and this very dialogue, which has such a seemingly impact for our future.

Minister of Youth and Sports in the Government of the Republic of Serbia, Vanja Udovičić, had an opportunity to share his pleasure in the name of the Ministry for being a part of such an important event. Moreover, he pointed out that the organizers of this event chose an important topic for facing challenges. He said that there is no way of talking about the future if we do not start reacting accordingly, starting today. Also, the most important thing that minister wanted to reiterate is that we should not look back to our past, but rather move forward to our bright future. Furthermore, minister thanked the youth for wanting to participate in such a great project. On the other hand, he reflected on the fact that Serbia is giving its best so that youth could be strong agents of our society. Minister Udovičić wanted to underline that today is the day when we are taking our first step, where we are ready to move forward and forget what happened in the past. We should be investing in ourselves and be smart and bold. Lastly, the minister finished his speech by accentuating what was his leading thought throughout life – every day he wanted to be the day of his victory. That could also apply to this moment, because this region has the highest quality people in all aspects, regarding sports and experts in diverse fields. In the end, he said, today is the day, when everyone should look up to us.

On behalf of the one of the UN agencies that is leading this project in Serbia, resident representative of the UNDP Program in Serbia, Francine Pickup, spoke about the importance of youth in creating future. Ms Pickup belives that we should be listening to youth voices and participate more in public debates since beyond voting, she accentuates, youth has only so much to say. Western Balkan countries can shape an entire future based on young people’s potentials. Therefore, she asked a question – what does it take for young people to stay in the region? Youth are supposed to be providers of better future and advocates of new changes. Dialogue is meant to serve as a ground for mutual understanding and building resilience. A representative also reiterated that UNICEF, UNESCO and UNDP are freely discussing about each other’s priorities, and so the impact should be made here, in the region, where youth will stay and try their best to pursue sustainable development in it.

Lastly, a Deputy Director of UNICEF in Serbia, Severine Leonardi, contributed to dialogue. Ms Leonardi started out by stating that UNICEF’s goal is to protect and promote children’s’ rights throughout the world. Therefore, when it comes to Western Balkans’ region, it is supposed to be a region where youth will fully participate in nowadays dialogue considering future. She said that ”young people are not waiting for change to happen, because they are the change happening“. Ms Leonardi finished her speech by claiming that children are the present and the center of development.

Dragana Jovanović Arijas as a Team Manager of the Team for social inclusion and reduction of poverty started her speech with the dialogue with the youth present in the room by asking all of them what does social inclusion and cohesion meant for them. The importance of her question was seen through her wish for as many young people to get involved with the issue of recognizing and understanding what those terms mean, because in order to create a future, one must understand those concepts. On the other hand, Ms Jovanović Arijas said that it is important for youth to engage in all aspects of social life, starting with the question of poverty. She claims that young people should start the initiative, which will lead to reduction of poverty in all three countries, where youth would address the government and non-profit organizations considering this issue. In the end, she added that the government is providing its citizens with initiatives, which could help resolve this issue, however, it is in youth’s hands to tackle it and fight on the eradication of this core problem.

Then floor was given to the three organizations that presented their story of success. Nikola Božanović on behalf of the Club for Youth Empowerment 018 presented Come to Amfi project that gather a young team of artists who, through various disciplines, rap music, graffiti, hip hop, video and photography, contribute to empowering young people and developing cooperation at regional, European level. Zorana Milovanović from European Movement in Serbia presented Share Your Knowledge program that opens opportunities for women’s personal and professional development. It is based on the concept of mentoring, and is focused precisely on building mutual support for women through sharing knowledge, experiences, strengthening solidarity, promoting good role models, networking and empowering women. And Dobrila Marković from OPENS2019 presented Youth Dialogues that gathered adolescents and young people, civil society organizations, informal groups, at-risk youth, youth offices and decision-makers gather to discuss, identify and agree through youth dialogues social cohesion priorities.

The work was continued through interaction between young people, citizens and decision makers via dialogue. All participants, youth, civil society, academy, media and citizens, were encouraged to jointly identify challenges for social cohesion and to find a way for improving it and recommend what need to be done, but also to further promote and implement activities in building confidence and strengthening social cohesion in Republic of Serbia. They also had an opportunity to discuss their recommendations with decision makers coming from the cabinet of President of the Republic of Serbia, the cabinet of the Prime Minster, Ministry for Youth and Sport, Ministry for Culture, Province Secretariat for Culture, Public Informing and Relations with religious communities, Office for Cooperation with Civil Society and team for the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government.

Joint Regional program “Dialogue for the Future: Fostering Dialogue and Social Cohesion in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia”, is implemented by UNDP, UNICEF and UNESCO, financed by the UN Peacebuilding Fund (PBF).

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