Young people in Kosovo, Europe’s newest country, are impatient. They make up half of the population and are keen to see Kosovo integrated into Europe as a democracy, but they struggle to have a voice in the democratic process. Many youth activists are turning to social media to make their voices heard. NDI is helping them.
With the aid of NDI’s New Media School, young activists in Kosovo are taking advantage of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to promote social and political causes on the national stage. Their advocacy has been so successful that members of parliament (MPs) and Kosovo’s Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning have taken up their causes.
The six-month program — which teaches communication strategies aimed at turning citizens’ concerns into concrete government action — began with a series of three-day “boot camps” early this year that trained four groups of young people from political parties and civic organizations. The training covered media relations and policy development, how to conduct research and use data effectively for campaigns, and how to develop compelling messages and communicate them through new media.
A “Save the Cave” campaign rallied national support to save the Cave of Gadime, an unofficial national landmark and internationally important geographic site that was in danger of permanent damage from overuse and water seepage. The group organized cave inspections by local and international experts from Slovenia, who found that construction of a reservoir above the cave, as well as cultural and musical events inside the cave, were causing damage to crystals and unique formations of marble limestone.
They used these findings to draft a report, which was sent to Kosovo’s parliament in June, recommending that the cave be declared a national protected area and that all construction around it be stopped. “The [Save the Cave campaign] group is suggesting drafting a specific law according to European Union standards that would protect the cave,” said Aferdita Berisha Shaqiri, a member of parliament, at a plenary session where the group’s findings were presented.
The campaign also launched a Facebook page, which won 1,000 “likes” within three months, for an international campaign to make the cave a national heritage site. In September, Kosovo’s Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning decided to close the cave to tourists temporarily and to stop all activities around it until maintenance improved. A press release said that “while the cave is closed, the ministry will establish a unit for administration of natural monuments of particular importance that will act in accordance with the law on environmental protection.”
Another campaign, “Half the Population, Right Representation,” found that women’s representation in the local assembly was less than 30 percent in six municipalities despite Kosovo’s law on gender equality, which requires that 40 percent of public servants be women. Additionally, all of Kosovo’s 38 municipalities are led by men, and as of mid-2013, women held no leadership positions in 11 municipalities— as mayors, municipal assembly members or officials in municipal departments. The group drafted a report on its findings and shared it at a roundtable during the International Day of Democracy Parliamentary Assembly on Sept. 15. Their Facebook page generated 1,000 “likes” and their findings were broadcast on public television as well as printed in newspapers. The group has since received public commitments from MPs to advocate for gender equality. Women MPs used this information during the November 2013 local electoral campaign period to encourage the election of more women in municipal government, and for the first time, a woman was elected as a municipal mayor.
A “Don’t Smoke” Facebook campaign partnered with the Ministry of Health to develop brochures to educate the public on new legislation that prohibits smoking in public spaces. With the ministry, the group distributed the brochures on the International Day Against Smoking.
A fourth group used Facebook to promote the establishment of dog shelters and dog adoptions to stop the illegal but widespread practice of killing street dogs. More than 3,000 people supported the campaign through Facebook, which generated media and local celebrity interest around the practice of killing stray dogs. The group’s online presence caught the attention of a Holland-based international organization that is partnering with the group to promote dog adoption.
NDI’s New Media school helped the young activists to use their skills to open new doors. The New Media School is part of a four year Political Party Support Program in Kosovo funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
“My experience at New Media School was extraordinary,” said Saranda Bllaca, a participant from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) who went on to serve as a party spokesperson and even ran for municipal office. “I am continuing to share my knowledge with other people, in particular with women and youth forums of LDK.”
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Published Dec. 11, 2013
Updated Dec. 12, 2013