Remarks by President Martti Ahtisaari
at The Balkan Youth Summit in Helsinki on 9
Welcome to Finland.
And welcome to this very important gathering to
discuss a subject we all care about very much - young
people and the future of the Balkans. The many
organisations and individuals represented in this
room have years - even decades - of experience of
working in the region. We have tried to assemble a
small, but knowledgeable group to deliberate, debate
and hopefully agree in principle on a way forward.
Let us hope that you will do so in a way that adds
value to the work that all of you - and many others
who are not present - are already doing. This is my
goal, which I share with the organisers of this
Everyone accepts that
"prevention is better than cure", but the
world community still has a long way to go before
this principle is effectively put into practice.
Again and again we see fire brigades rushing to
tackle infernos. Not only do we have to pay for the
fire service, but then also for the reconstruction of
societies that have been wrecked because
international intervention was too little too late.
During my career with
the United Nations, in the Finnish diplomatic service
and now as President of this country, I have seen all
kinds of international disasters; how they evolve;
how the mechanisms of escalation work; how slow we
are to react; how urgent and welcome mediation is
when it comes; and then ultimately how difficult it
is to get the resources to create a new beginning and
heal the wounds.
Although I am an
optimist, I suspect that humankind will go through
the same experience in this new millennium. We have
gathered here to make our contribution to peace and
stability in the Balkans, not only for today, but for
the next generation. If we do not start this process
now, those who come after us may regret and deplore
it in addition to paying a heavy price for our
shortcomings and lack of leadership and vision.
It is my firm belief
that we must invest a lot of training, education,
care and love in young people. Their attitudes to
society, to their neighbours and to their own futures
are taking shape NOW. In ten years time it will
be too late to exert a positive influence and offer
them the chance to embrace values and norms that will
safeguard them against the poisons that have
traditionally blighted the region - ethnic and
religious hatred, mistrust and intolerance that
erupts into violence.
I also believe that we
can achieve good results only by mobilising resources
to support the young generation in their own
activities. We must identify and promote
opportunities that will help young people develop
meaningful life skills, working closely with other
young people from all groups.
I am well aware that
there are already a number of effective youth
projects up and running in many countries in the
region. Indeed, several of you are taking part in
them. However, we must all agree that these efforts -
no matter how good and effective they are - reach
only a tiny fraction of those in need.
Our task must be to
find ways of expanding these efforts and developing
new ones so that we can engage many more young people
and enable them to learn from each other.
The best way that we
can do that is by creating a regional framework for
supporting youth activities. That will enable us to
bring together the experience of all who are familiar
with the best practices and have the ability to
convert theory into practice. In the final analysis,
of course, the work will have to be done at country
level, and even community-by-community and
school-by-school. National youth policies are needed.
Community action is needed. But a regional framework
can provide a much-needed impetus and vehicle for
greater investment, engagement and learning.
I suggest we use this
day for a joint effort to analyse what we can do to
improve the situation of children and young adults in
the Balkan region. The obvious problems resulting
from the war and the destruction that it caused are
not only ones that must be addressed. There is also
the constant and difficult challenge of helping young
people develop the skills and values they need to
participate in society rather than being excluded
from it. There is the challenge of education; of
homeless, parentless, and abandoned children; of
pervasive poverty, and of youth unemployment.
I doubt whether anyone
could draw a comprehensive picture of the situation
in such a complicated, conflict-ridden and diverse
region. But we need to hear ideas about better ways
to channel support to a sector which can easily be
forgotten in a period dominated by material
reconstruction and a free-wheeling market economy. In
my view, far too little attention has been paid to
either the plight or the
promise of young
people in the Balkans. That is why I support this
dialogue so strongly.
I hope this summit
will produce a model for cooperation in the youth
sector in the Balkans - or perhaps several models.
This need not interfere with what is already being
done, but it should help to make the world community
- including the private sector - interested in
investing in youth development. Decisions concerning
the sums that multilateral and bilateral agencies
will invest in the region are now pending. The
decision makers must be offered a credible model
guaranteeing that money invested in youth development
goes to the best available projects, regardless of
their origin or organisational background.
When the International
Youth Foundation first approached me, as a member of
its Global Action Council, with the idea of this
summit, I immediately gave them a positive response.
Hundreds of NGOs are already working on a variety of
efforts in the region. Ive seen it. And a few -
a very few - donors have been supporting many
initiatives there for many years. Open Society is an
excellent example of a fully- engaged, thoughtful and
effective donor in the region. But I must believe,
that these donors, and even the NGOs themselves,
recognise the need for significantly more investment
and work on a greater scale.
This is one of the
reasons for our discussion. The International Youth
Foundation has an excellent reputation as a neutral
facilitator in working with a great variety of
projects, donors and organisations building on
what already exists; not competing but cooperating
with others, and in bringing new investors and
resources to the table. This combination could
provide useful value-added in the special case of the
Balkans. Let us all find ways to go beyond our
accustomed thinking, and perhaps even outside our own
institutional constraints and structures to find
innovative ways to strengthen, expand and build upon
the excellent work already being done.