The International Youth Conference “European Values for the Future of SEE countries” that took place this year from the 5th to the 10th November, was initiated in 2003 in order to give a voice to young people from the SEE region and to give them the opportunity to follow the advancement of the region they live in towards EU integration. This conference usually takes part in Krusevo but, given the current situation, this year it was held online, hence giving the opportunity to even more people to attend and actively participate in the discussions during the Q&A moments but also during the more informal meetings planned.

The panel on “Solidarity in crisis: humanity beyond Covid-19” brought together, although physically far, Dr Vengo Filipche, Minister for Health in North Macedonia, Professor D.R. Nenad Markovikj, Ms Sofia Pereira, Mr Erwan Berjonneau and Mr Jason Nardi to discuss access to healthcare in the SEE countries, the impact of physical distancing on human development but also economic collaboration. 

The presentation of Mr Erwan Berjonneau focused on access to health care for rare disease patients in the time of Covid-19. Evidently, the presentation, based on a survey, highlighted how damaging the pandemic was for these patients considering that a high amount of them couldn’t access their usual treatment, as he noted “Between March and May 2020, 83% of rare disease patient`s care has been disrupted due to the COVID-19“.

Another topic that was brought up by other speakers was the impact of physical distancing on human development and mental health. The higher rate of depression was put forward as well as the need to truly differentiate physical distancing from social distancing. Indeed, if the physical distances need to be kept, it is paramount to keep social contacts. 

During the panel, all the participants, at least 60, sometimes more, had the chance to express their views, debate and ask questions in the chat room, that was very active and then during a Q&A session with the panelists. 

Another session was focused on information and misinformation, another very relevant topic today. Mr.Borut Pahor, President of Slovenia, participated via a video message in which he reasserted that it is up to us to decide in what kind of digital society we want to live, it is up to us to decide what kind of messages we want to spread online. This idea of responsibility but also the question of trust were then put forward by the other speakers, Mr. Gianni Riotta and Mr. Ognen Janeski. 

Among the other sessions, the one entitled Towards “World risk society 2.0” was focusing on nationalism and racism, gender inequality and youth detachment. 

The presentation of Dr. Panagiotis Paschalidis was particularly interesting as he focused on the rise of nationalistic discourses since the economic crisis but also on the misrepresentation or lack of representation of migrants in the media. The question of patriotism and nationalism was largely discussed by the participants of the conference. The topic of gender and inequality was discussed by Ms Zefi Dimadama and Ms Carolina Pereira who highlighted, among other issues, the damaging consequences of Covid-19 on women and LGBTQ+ communities, for example in Poland. Finally, the idea of youth detachment and also youth representation was presented by Ms Andrea Ugrinoska. 

The conference also comprises sessions on youth unemployment, youth for sustainable development goals in the region and on the future of education. Finally, the last 3 days were dedicated to building a common vision for the SEE region. 

Overall, this conference is, as said before, an amazing opportunity to bring young people together to discuss the region and the world they want to live in, and to give food for thoughts to all participants. As the motto of the conference goes, “be a voice, not an echo”!