When the European Council on Foreign Relations published its Ten Trends for 2012, it dismissed one widely predicted phenomenon, the coming Youthquake. Yes, Europe’s young will suffer most from recession and austerity, the council said, but any attendant protests won’t affect mainstream politics.
“Pitching tents, founding single issue groups like the Pirate Party and liking things on Facebook doesn’t translate to the kind of voting power enjoyed by Europe’s pensioners …” it wrote.
But a multi-part feature in the new issue of Finance & Development, published by the International Monetary Fund, says leaders should take the Youthquake threat seriously. With ballooning youth unemployment threatening to create a global lost generation, “young people … may well have reason to up the ante in their protests in coming years,” building upon the unrest in the Arab world or the Occupy Wall Street movement, Harvard economist David E. Bloom writes.
The pieces in Youth Finding a Voice range from the academic to the personal. In Voices of Youth, Irma Boracic, a 24-year-old Bosnian, says she’s still job-hunting two years after graduating from law school. Youth unemployment is around 50 percent in Bosnia, and most of the jobless have been so for over two years.
If any part of our coverage area is ripe for youth unrest, it’s the western Balkans. Youth unemployment is stratospheric throughout the region, including among the college educated, which security experts call a toxic mix. And Kosovo, with 70 percent of the population under 30, has a so-called “youth bulge.” Scholars have long linked youth bulges to historical instances of social instability and even wars, especially when combined with high unemployment, though Bloom cautions that the empirical evidence is shaky.
Over dinner in Skopje last summer, a friend told me that young Macedonians feel lost. You sense the same despair in Tirana and Pristina, where the cafes are full morning to night. ”It’s impossible to find a job if you don’t have” connections, a 27-year-old Kosovo Albanian told me in 2008. ” … every day you get more depressed.”
Throughout the region, young people describe feeling betrayed by a corrupt political elite. The frustration is bubbling over and even having political ramifications. Skopje saw youth anti-government protests last summer, as did Pristina. And the youth-led Self-Determination Movement, an opposition party in Kosovo, has risen rapidly in the past two years from grassroots agitator to political insurgency. Its leader, Albin Kurti, might even run for president this year.
None of this means a Balkan Youthquake with profound political implications is imminent, but we shouldn’t broadly dismiss youth issues and their potential ramifications. In Kosovo, civic groups, international agencies and even the government have begun to take youth unemployment very seriously. Most of the big international organizations have launched youth entrepreneurship programs in partnership with local banks and NGOs in an effort to create jobs in an economy that remains repulsive to foreign investment.
These programs probably won’t make much of a dent in youth joblessness, but they’re a positive step. As one civic activist told me recently, the youth of Kosovo, jobless and listless, are a “time bomb.”
Picture of a June anti-government protest organized by Self-Determination by Samantha Hammer/flickr