Exploring the future of the Western Balkans through art and dialogue

Exploring the future of the Western Balkans through art and dialogue

Over the past three months, Chevening Alumni from across the Western Balkans have been working together on a series of events to improve collaboration in the region. As part of this project, Chevening Alumni from Montenegro organised two big events: a regional alumni conference, and a regional art exhibition featuring pieces from an open competition. The project was funded by the Chevening Alumni Programme Fund (CAPF), and delivered by the UK Alumni Association of Montenegro (MAUK). 

Democracy, Dialogue and Innovation

From 8-11 November 2018, Chevening Alumni gathered on the coast of Montenegro to take part in a conference entitled ‘Regional Development: Challenges and Opportunities’. Building on the success of a regional conference hosted by Macedonia in September, the event aimed to strengthen the relationships between alumni associations in the Western Balkans and foster discussion on democracy and human rights. The vast knowledge and experience of Chevening Alumni, from diverse fields and backgrounds, was channelled towards pertinent discussions regarding the development of the region, with topics ranging from youth empowerment to robotics.

The purpose of the event was to showcase the positive impact of Chevening Alumni in pursuing a stronger democracy, fostering freedom of expression, and protecting human rights in a globalised world. To reflect this, MAUK invited Chevening Alumni from both within the Western Balkans region (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia), and also from further afield. The conference featured guest speakers from Belarus, Colombia, Egypt, Malaysia, Algeria, and Germany, who shared their valuable stories in a series of panel discussions, talks, and interactive workshops. The conference ended on a positive note, with alumni committing to continue their collaboration and organisation of regional events, which will serve as an important force for unity in the Western Balkans. They will also continue to provide a platform for raising and solving important issues of regional progress and development in various fields.    

Art and Human Rights

As part of the same project, MAUK organised the art exhibition ‘Goodbye Balkans? Goodbye, Balkans!’ which featured exciting submissions from young artists across the region. Around 50 pieces were entered into the competition, and the winners were selected for the exhibition by an expert committee. The selected artworks were displayed from 2-16 November at Perjanički dom (the Centre of Contemporary Art of Montenegro), a gallery in Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital.

The project aimed to raise political awareness about important democratic issues in the Western Balkans. Entrants were encouraged to use their artistic talents to acknowledge the problems faced by youth in the Balkans, and to propose possible solutions. The exhibition gave young people and their ideas a voice, and helped them to shape how they are perceived in their countries. These themes carried through to a panel discussion held on the opening night of the exhibition, exploring the purpose of art: ‘Is art purely decorative, or does it have the power of a weapon?’

The title of the exhibition–‘Goodbye Balkans? Goodbye, Balkans!’– is designed to draw attention to the ‘existential, moral, and ethical problems faced by the youth in the Balkans,’ said Bojana Popadić, a member of MAUK. This is particularly pertinent as young people contemplate ‘whether to stay in their homeland, accept the socio-political situation, and work on building a better society, or leave in search for better conditions for life and work.’

‘Additionally, it emphasises the problem of brain-drain in the Balkans,’ Bojana added. ‘A great number of young, educated people decide to leave, deeply convinced that change is not possible, and that what they need can be found elsewhere. Consequently, those who decide to stay are deprived of their support and intellectual strength in the fight to incite meaningful changes. This exhibition also came as a result of the need to support young, talented artists from the region, to promote their work, and present their views on the state of democracy and human rights. In other words, it not only promotes art, but also creates a platform for art and politics.’

To find out more about any of the activities mentioned above, please visit the MAUK Facebook page. Many thanks to Ferida Mandic (Chair, MAUK) for providing us with a write-up of these events.