From 8-12 April, I had the chance to stay in in the capital of Albania, Tirana, this year’s youth capital of Europe.
When you see Tirana, you realize the power of young people and their ability to create positive changes in their environment. If you had met an Albanian resident on the street only 2 or 3 decades ago and asked him if Tirana was an ideal place for young people, the answer would certainly not have been in the affirmative.
On the other hand, if you told a young person in Serbia 2 or 3 decades ago that Tirana would be a place worth visiting in the future, that young people from Serbia and Albania would create different programs and establish cooperation at different levels, few would believe you.
For these reasons, I dedicate the following lines to all young people from Albania and Serbia, whose work, commitment and open mind in previous years have contributed to making me, as a young man from central Serbia, feel at home.
How it started
‘I don’t know, if I were you, I wouldn’t have the courage to go there’.
ALT: ‘I don’t know, if I were you, I wouldn’t go there’
These were the words of my friend when I told him that I am traveling to Tirana in a few days, where I will be one of the representatives of Serbia at the Youth Trail: Together for Safety event, organized by the OSCE Presence in Albania.
Honestly, such attitudes are not strange to me. First, I come from a small town in central Serbia, where young people, due to various obstacles, such as poverty or underdeveloped youth policy, do not have enough opportunities to travel and meet people from surrounding countries, share experiences with them and understand that all young people in the region are facing the same challenges.
Secondly, the events of previous years, primarily in the political world, but also in the world of sports (which can so often and so strongly dispel unnecessary hatred between the two nations) have contributed to instilling in the people of Albania and Serbia fear and reluctance to meet that other culture, that other nation and that other state.
As soon as you arrive in Tirana, you are attracted by palm trees, city crowds, the intertwining of traditional and modern architecture, as well as the small letter T at every step – a visual identity that reminds you once again which city is this year’s youth capital of Europe.
Young people in Albania are not joking – they take the organization of every event seriously and they take care of every detail. A disease called ‘looking back’, so typical of the Balkans, seems to be non-existent in their heads. They are completely future-oriented, they have young people in leading positions and a plan to organize 1000 (!) activities for young people in 2022.
Tirana is a real European corner for everyone who loves a combination of old and new, traditional and urban. It is a place where so many different cultures intertwine and you get the impression that you are in Athens, Rome and Istanbul at the same time.
When I talked to young people from Albania, I realized that they used to be afraid of coming to Serbia, of contact with the Serbian people. When you hear that, you realize how much we, together, have the same problems, the same barriers that certain traditional and political structures do not advise us to cross.
But, as you can see, we did it. We jumped the first barrier, gave a hand to each other and were ready to listen to each other. After all, each of us, when we get up in the morning, faces different challenges and none of us, if we really think about it, care where the person across from us comes from, what religion, skin color or gender is.
I realized that young people in Albania view everything in the following way – how what we do can be better, more useful and more effective for all young people who will one day live there and create a new society.
No, they don’t race to ask you where you are from and no, they don’t have a bad reaction when they hear that you are from Serbia. They are kind, open to socializing, approachable and ready to learn again, research, try, make mistakes and then repeat that cycle until they achieve their goal for the benefit of all the youth in their country.
They are eager to learn so much about Serbia, to learn something about the Serbian language and culture, and I was more than ready to help them with that.
As an event, Youth Trail: Together for Safety really managed to create a stronger connection between the youth of Serbia and Albania, because we started to look at each other as allies. We are not interested in the past and we want only creative ideas, plans and, of course, as many young people from Serbia and Albania to cross our borders in the years to come.
Before leaving for the airport, I turned around several times and tried, as much as I could, to absorb Skanderbeg Square, the wonderful weather, the hustle and bustle of the youth in the Albanian capital. But it was time for me to leave, so I took this photo before I left, so that I could bring those five days in Tirana into my mind with one look.
A few days after returning from Tirana, I am still collecting impressions. I use every opportunity to tell the young people in my hometown, Cuprija, that it is really safe in Albania, that everyone from Serbia is welcome and that they will have wonderful, unforgettable experiences getting to know Albanian culture.
As I continue to tell young people from my town about my stay in Tirana, I know that I promised myself one thing – I will return to Albania as soon as I can!
Author: Filip Ćurić, participat at YouthTrail