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INTERVIEW

Nemanja Zekic - Messages of togetherness are more powerful than messages of misery

Nemanja Zekic, president of the Srebrenica Youth Council, discussed using social cohesion for the youth in a community dealing with the heavy burden of a violent past

Heather Jaber | 30.10.2015

In Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, communities are living in a post-conflict society, 20 years after the violent break-up of Yugoslavia and the massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks by Bosnian Serbs. Here, the burden of a youth unemployment rate of around 60% makes tackling nepotism, youth violence, and apathy all the more difficult. Nemanja Zekic, a participant of the session Youth, Economics, and Violence: Implications for Future Conflict, spoke to Salzburg Global Seminar of his experience working with youth initiatives in Srebrenica and other areas in the country.

Zekic is the president of the Srebrenica Youth Council, which started in 2002 to create more activities for the youth in town. Eventually, it grew into an umbrella organization for other youth initiatives in the area. 

“At the beginning,” said Zekic, “the prime goal was, ‘lets have some activities, change something, lets do some youth activism,’ but during that time people in our post-conflict society realized that youth activism is a really important and strong tool in reconciliation.”

In the spirit of reconciliation and rebuilding, one of the organization’s core values is social cohesion. A popular initiative stemming from this was the Silvertown Shine music festival, which annually brings musicians to Srebrenica.

“That festival brings young people together, young artists, to send a message of togetherness, to send a message of activism, and to send a different kind of message from the town that is known only for sad messages of genocide, of terrible crimes, and of sadness and misery.”

Zekic now works with The Complete Freedom of Truth, an initiative which uses the arts to encourage creativity among the youth. Practitioners and artists from dozens of youth centers participate in these workshops and activities, including many socially disadvantaged members of the youth. The initiative recently accepted the European Citizens Prize from the European Parliament.

Zekic highlighted some initiatives to focus on after the session, including encouraging the political participation of young people, who have the potential to sway the results of elections in their favor.

While he uses his background in economics to analyze the political, economic, and cultural climate, he also spoke about invaluable knowledge on youth violence that he gained from the session.

“They gave us really valuable lessons about how to divide different kinds of violence, how to recognize it, what motivates violence, and how to tackle it. So now with all this information, I can go to the bigger youth councils in Bosnia…I can go there and advocate, fight against hooliganism — that is the biggest issue of violence that we have in Bosnia, and no one seems to know how to approach it.”

While he may not have all of the clearcut answers, he spoke of being able to use the experience to build a path towards a solution to a problem that is a threat to the entire region. “I don’t have a clear idea,” he said, “but I have the knowledge that can help in building the strategy of how we’re going to address [it].”


Nemanja Zekic was a Fellow at the session Youth, Economics & Violence: Implications for Future Conflict, which was held in partnership with the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York. For more information, please visit the session page: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/549 

30.10.2015 Category: FACES OF LEADERSHIP, SOCIAL COMPACT
Heather Jaber