Identity and citizenship of the young Europeans

Identity and citizenship of the young Europeans I always wanted to have a chance to be able to work on a project that involves research and results oriented thesis. After finishing my Masters’ studies in Communication at ISPII, UKIM, Skopje, Macedonia I was looking for an interesting project to get involved in and to volunteer in a challenging activities that are encompassed in it. What I must say is, that I was really glad when I read the British Council Skopje announcement that Alistair Ross, Jean Monnet ad Personam Professor of Citizenship Education in Europe Emeritus Professor of Education, from the Institute for Policy Studies in Education within the London Metropolitan University and a Visiting Professor at the University of Bedfordshire was looking for volunteers for his project Moving borders, borders crossing, that was aimed to depict the young Europeans’ construction of identity and citizenship. The project was investigating how young people from secondary schools are constructing their personal identities, becoming aware of their actual potential European citizenship. It will last 5 years (September 2009 – September 2014) and it includes the four EU candidate states of Turkey, Croatia, Iceland and Macedonia, as well as most of the countries that have recently joined the Union (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Czech Rep, Slovakia, Poland, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus). Macedonia was one of the last countries to be analysed. Professor Ross wanted to gather the views of the young people, and where possible the teachers’ observations about ‘border crossing of Europe and their perceptions about: What is their image of Europe in relation to themselves and their future? How do their teachers recognize this, and how those responsible for teacher education? We are aware that the social identities are multiple, constructed contingently within a context that includes the idea of Europe. Young people are developing identities that may also include a range of intersecting dimensions, including gender, age, the country and the region. European integration depends on the development of a shared construction, of at least some elements of Europe, particularly among the young people. Understanding how new young Europeans construct their idea of Europe, their role in it, and what it means to be European, can be of value and importance to a very wide audience. This sounded exciting enough to get involved! I have helped Professor Ross to convey his interviews in 5 focus groups in 2 educational institutions in Skopje: Centre for foreign languages Skopje and Language planet-foreign languages school in Skopje. The atmosphere in the focus groups was really thrilling. Since these were pupils that were learning English as a foreign language, my interpreting to many of them was not needed, but it was nice to be there and hear their views on their points of view about becoming European citizens. Everyone spoke to questions, smiled, discuss what it meant to them to be a citizen of their specific country, what they think is special, distinctive and different about this, and who they are ‘different’ from. The three days in Skopje passed quickly and Professor Ross was already on his next trip to his next segment of the research. When all parts of the project were completed the results summarized, Professor Ross has taken the outcomes of the project to seminars and roundtables in each of the areas that were being investigated. The dissemination of the work was through a series of four round-table discussions about the findings on young people’s identity and citizenship that happened at accessible locations in 2010-12. Some were free-standing events, or a part of an existing event with target audience among the academics involved with these aspects in teacher education. Alistair Ross is now in the final stages of his analysis, and will be announcing his findings in a book to be published in 2014. At this preliminary stage of synthesis, he suggests that the Macedonian data – which included other focus groups in Skopje, Prilep and Tetovo – shows that, as in other countries in the Balkan region, many young people see themselves as being on the border between a ‘European’ and a Balkan identity. The Balkans is seen as being not quite the ‘real’ Europe, which they thought was to the west and north. A sense of pride in the country was largely focused on the cultural and historical aspects of Macedonia, rather than on its political institutions. A distinctive European identity only was evident when comparisons were being made with territories such as Russia or Turkey: such contrasts allowed them to identify some elements they thought they had in common with the rest of Europe. They also saw themselves as a distinctively different generation to their parents and grandparents: they had all been born after Macedonian independence, and were aware of the struggle of earlier generations, but had no direct memories and experiences of this. Much of this was very similar to the views expressed by young people in other countries in the survey. Where Macedonia was distinctive was in the very obvious and contemporary contentions between those with a Macedonian background and those with an Albanian background. Expressions of tensions abounded, particularly when these young people had little direct experience of ‘the other’. Both groups expressed feelings of fragility and insecurity about not just ‘their’ people, but also about the international position of Macedonia and continuing tensions with neighbouring countries. Overall, it has been an excellent experience to be able to assist in a project that will be used to get a clearer picture of the young generations’ points of view, on their life expectations and how they see themselves in the European environment. Author’s bio: Aleksandra Arsik is the Founder and Owner of www.onlinecultus.com