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A Young Politician Calls for Kosovo's Youth to Stay and Make a Difference

Kosovo is one of the world’s youngest democracies and has made great progress since becoming an independent state in 2008. However, corruption and unemployment — especially youth unemployment — remain challenges. That’s why Xhemile Misinaj, a youth changemaker, entered municipal politics. This is the second in a series that profiles members of the European Youth Democracy Network (EDYN), proudly co-sponsored by the International Republican Institute (IRI).

The United States isn’t the only country where you’ll find the star-spangled banner gracing flag poles and city streets. In southeastern Europe, you can find the Republic of Kosovo, a republic born from the tragedies of war. It’s here where Yugoslav dictator and Serbian nationalist Slobodan Milosevic waged a campaign of mass terror aimed primarily against Kosovar Albanians. Over 10,000 civilians were killed, and violence displaced roughly 1 million people from their homes. The U.S. and NATO intervened and pushed back Milosevic’s forces from Kosovo in June of 1999—a decision that earned them the affections of  Kosovars to this day.

Though Kosovars have made great progress since declaring independence in 2008, their battle against government corruption such as nepotism and bribery wages on. This is where we meet Xhemile Misinaj, a young changemaker who has committed herself to this cause by motivating the youth of her community to make a difference.

Xhemile grew up in the quiet countryside just outside the town of Dragash, located in the southern region of Kosovo. Here she would eventually work with her father as a manager for her family’s construction business, helping to build up Kosovo, the very country that Milosevic sought to tear down. After the war, the youth of Kosovo were eager to see change in their country—eager to see a fairer government, better jobs and a chance for a better future. Dissatisfied with the speed of progress, many young people continue to leave the country for employment and educational opportunities in Western Europe, depriving Kosovo of the talent the young democracy desperately needs.

This is something Xhemile knows must change. “I try to convince my friends that better days, better jobs, better universities are coming to Kosovo. If we all go to Western Europe, how will things change in Kosovo?” There are plenty of reasons that explain why Kosovo’s youth would rather leave than stay. More than half of Kosovo’s youth are unemployed. Nepotism and bribery have led many young people to lose faith in a better future for the country. “I have heard a lot of cases that mayors of municipalities or other municipal members give jobs to family, has caused the youth to be very disappointed,” Xhemile said.

Xhemile knows that Kosovo will overcome its current obstacles: “I want to tell my generation that we together can change Kosovo for the better.” And that’s exactly what Xhemile has done by successfully running for office. “I was elected to the Dragash Municipal General Assembly in 2017 to fight corruption, nepotism and unemployment. I decided to get involved to get my country back and change things. Parliamentary life has given me an excellent opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process.”

While being elected to office was a great step forward in fighting the problems facing Kosovar youth today, it became clear to Xhemile that more could be done. That’s why Xhemile decided to join the European Democracy Youth Network (EDYN). EDYN is an international network of European youth co-organized by IRI that gives youth the tools needed to improve and defend democratic values in their home countries. “EDYN is the best thing to happen to me. It is a great opportunity for me and my country. During sessions, we can exchange with others [from other countries] facing similar problems.”

One unique program that EDYN provides to promote international cooperation is the Membership Engagement Fund. Through this fund, members of EDYN collaborate to design official project proposals that address problems like youth engagement and corruption in their countries. “We are working on a project with EDYN members from Albania and North Macedonia here in Kosovo to help promote youth activity in society,” including participation from ethnic and other minority groups.

Xhemile continues her fight to end corruption and to empower youth to be the changemakers Kosovo desperately needs. As she stated in her message to young people when she decided to run for office, “New times require new people, changes in society require new energy. In a new century, new people are the best way to make changes because change doesn’t happen overnight, and good things take time.”

Read the first blog post in our series, a profile of EDYN member Diana Endeladze from Georgia, here.