Three lessons I’ve learned from building peace as a young person

This article originally appeared on UNDP Europe and Central Asia and was written by Liridona Osmanaj, Municipal Project Officer at UNDP Kosovo* and One Young World Ambassador.

Being from Kosovo, and growing up in the 90s, I know intimately the development challenges that arise post-conflict. Rebuilding societies torn apart by conflict is more than just about silencing guns. The real complexity lies in working to restore trust and reconstruct the shattered social fabric.

My war story is a reminder of how old nightmares can rise from the freezer of history. Before the war, we thought that Yugoslavia buried the idea of national and religious identity, but we saw it spring back to life with pitiless savagery.

I have since nurtured a fierce passion for conflict prevention and transformation, youth empowerment, social inclusion and development; in a way to do my part so that ethnic conflict does not return to haunt this region ever again. So that people don’t have to go through the experience I went through.

Today I want to look back and reflect on some lessons I’ve learned from my time taking part in initiatives related to youth, peace and security.

Lesson 1: Leave politics aside

In conflict resolution workshops, camps or any other meet ups, bringing politics to the table often means risking the social safety net or deepening the divides that already exist. In contrast, try to gather around an issue which all parties are passionate about. Commonalities help to dismantle preconceived judgments, and advance contact and collaboration.


Lesson 2: Keep communication lines open between generations

In my experience, building bridges among younger people tends to be a smoother process than amongst the older generation. Perhaps because young people did not experience conflict, were very young to remember it or they are better educated and thus tend to be more open and tolerant.

For instance, when I participated in the Eurasia Regional Consultation on Youth, Peace and Security, one of the major discussions revolved around the difficulty of sharing more open views towards inter-ethnic collaboration with the older generations.

In a way, this is understandable, because older generations carry heavier trauma. But that makes it all the more important for all of us to nurture mutually empowering relationships between different age groups.


Lesson 3: Involve all sides

When designing initiatives, the tendency is often to target a specific group of people. For example, we assume that achieving gender equality means working only with women. However, if we want to make any lasting change in our work, we need to think beyond that.

We must work with all sides of the story, such as youth from different religious, ideological, ethnic, political and social backgrounds. We should target not only the perpetrators or the victims of a conflict, but all sides. In the reality of the Western Balkan countries, what we often see is that groups such as football hooligans and men’s clubs are often not included in peacebuilding work. Regardless of the reputation that is attached to these groups, we must remember that they have a key role in the social structure and working with them can only bring about more desired results.

*References to Kosovo on this text shall be understood to be in the context of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999)