Interview / Dimitrije Jovićević (RYCO): „Many young people would leave Montenegro if they have the opportunity”

At the “How to better respond to European aspirations of the young generation in the Western Balkans” conference organized by the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the team from Știri Europene had the opportunity to speak to Dimitrije Jovićević, invited as a speaker in the panel entitled “Re-imagining the Balkans panel in Europe. Building Trust and Consolidating Resilience for a Common Future”, moderated by Lect. Univ. Dr. Miruna Butnaru-Troncotă (Director of the Center for European Studies SNSPA).

Dimitrije Jovićević is the Youth Representative of Montenegro in the Regional Youth Cooperation Office (RYCO). He works with youth organizations, where he gained experience in working directly with young people and making policies. Among his interests we can find international relations and political economy. In 2016 he was European Youth Delegate at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. In the same year he became RYCO Governing Board Member.

1. After the results of the European Parliament elections, what is your overall vision of the future of the EU? How would the future composition of the European Parliament (EP) impact the prospects of Montenegro’s accession to the EU?

The results of the elections did not come as a surprise, to be honest. Those were the results that were envisaged by some authors, intellectuals and also some civil society organizations. And that is something that also EU member states should have taken into consideration prior to these elections. We’ve seen that populist and right-wing parties had really strong campaigns while the pro-European parties didn’t really take that into consideration and I think that’s something that should have been changed. I am glad to see that still, the pro-European parties are the majority in the EP. I think that is a hope for all of us, but also a warning that in the near future we need to work towards making sure that right-wing parties and populist parties do not get more votes.

It also means that communicating European values to the citizens of the EU is definitely required, which is very important and the main difference between the Western Balkans and the EU member states. In that regard, people of Western Balkans, in particular, young people do understand the necessity of having a European community, of living in a safe and secure society where the rule of law, democracy and human rights are respected values. However, people in the EU, and especially young people are not aware of this. They were born and raised in these very well-developed societies and they do not understand how difficult it is if you were born and have lived in a society that was not based on these values.

Thus, I think there is a lot to be done for the future in terms of discussing and saving the EU. Furthermore, it is also important to discuss about changes that EU needs to face. The EU is now facing a lot of challenges and that is something that has been happening for quite a long time now and it definitely requires important topics on the future of European integration. Whether it will remain like this or it will go through some structural changes in terms of development of federalism or something else, however, the changes are needed; the current structure definitely needs a change.

And that brings me to my perspective on how the new composition of the EP will actually impact the Western Balkans countries and, in particular, Montenegro. I don’t think there will be a huge change. I still believe that the EU enlargement will be a topic, although maybe not as hot as it was until now. Yet, it is up to the Western Balkans to put themselves on the Agenda of the EU, because now, the EU is definitely facing crisis and I think everyone is going to become more aware of it.

In particular, with regards to Montenegro, it is a small country and as long as some criteria are met and chapters are closed, I think that the accession will go smoothly, simply because of the fact that Montenegro is quite small and it will not make huge changes in the EU.

Yet, we need to discuss also the issue of many small countries joining the EU, also the matter of proportion, the matter of equality of votes, because you cannot compare Montenegro, which has less than 1 million inhabitants to Germany or some other country and give them equal rights to vote on some topics.

These are also the future questions that need to be raised and I think, in this regard, the dialogue within the European Union is needed, but also a more meaningful dialogue between Western Balkans and the EU is most certainly needed.

Dimitrije Jovicević alongside SE correspondent Paula Artin

2. What is the level of involvement of young people from Montenegro in European projects? Do you think the projects conducted by RYCO influenced young people, motivating them to focus on European ideas and values?

What we see in Montenegro and also in the Western Balkans is a huge support for the EU. It is mostly because people perceive the EU in a positive way, because of the single market, the freedom of movement etc., but also because of the values, opportunities, because of the security, safety, the cooperation and freedoms that do come along with the EU accession. In that sense, I think many projects have helped increasing the awareness, yet what I do believe is not very well communicated within the Western Balkans: that becoming a European citizen doesn’t just mean enjoying the rights. It also means having some duties and most importantly, the duty to save the EU and to make sure that the EU continues working and functioning.

When it comes to RYCO, our strategic documents clearly state that the European integration is part of our values. European values are something that we fully endorse in RYCO and thus, all of our projects are based on the values of regional cooperation, of reconciliation, of good neighboring relations, of respect for human rights, democracy, rule of law. It is great to see the European Commission is supporting RYCO, because it sends a strong message that we, as RYCO – six governments, representatives of young people, our entire Governing Board – are ready to endorse these values through everyday decisions that we make for RYCO.

3. Given the current political context in Montenegro, do you think young people will remain in the country and fight for a European future?

Montenegro has a very specific political situation. That means that many young people were born and have lived under the same political regime. Yet, there are many challenges that Montenegro faces. The statistics show that many young people would leave Montenegro if they have the opportunity. As a non-EU member state, it is more difficult for young people to actually freely move, as it requires obtaining a visa, residency permits, working permits etc., so it’s a more complex procedure. I want to believe that people who have left the country will go back to implement their knowledge and I also want to believe that young people in Montenegro are willing to make a change. That is something that is really necessary and it is the only way that we can actually keep young people in Montenegro and become a really prosperous European member state.

Interview conducted by Paula-Camelia Artin