The situation in Slovenia regarding young people is quite complex. On one hand you have youngsters who are very interested in youth policies, projects and cooperation, but they are a minority. The big majority of young people are somehow empathic to what is happening around them and within society. They do not care about problems of disadvantaged people, minorities, and social problems. They see life from an individualistic perspective, and they care only about the things that concern them directly, which are to finish school, to have somewhere to go on Friday night and to have some money. But there is another reason for this. There is very little information available for them about the EU, its programmes for youth, international cooperation and so on. I think if they knew about these programmes they would like to participate in them. Youth Centre Celje is trying to get this information to youth and involve them as much as possible. But this is only a local organisation, so the problem on a national level is still quite serious.
The situation can be viewed from both sides, as positive with many opportunities, good conditions and willing people, and as from the other side for many unfortunate young people who had lost, or never gained any or few perspectives in their lives. The last one is maybe more true for the area where I come from because of the weak economy of the region and the problems that accompany poverty.
I think that we are not much different from youth in other European countries. We were accepted in the EU a few months ago and this will for sure affect our future when one considers jobs, the educational system, money, etc. I can say that we are living in a nice country with a lot of possibilities for education but fewer chances to get a job. We have a free life with enough possibilities for culture and leisure and we are becoming crazy and mentally poor children of postmodernism and consumer society. Because of our history and geographical site I can say that we have an inferiority complex due to our smallness, and as a result we youths try to learn many languages, try to adopt all foreign cultural characteristics and live in the shadow of bigger countries. This reflects in our characters, filled with narrow-minded horizons. But in general I can say that we have great fun here and we are living a fairy tale.
I think that youth in Slovenia is getting, from year to year, more possibilities to gain new knowledge, see cultural differences, experience life in a foreign country, etc. However, I think that the flow of information is still a bit low or maybe just not functioning as it should since not everyone is aware of the possibilities one can get through different projects, organisations, so on and so forth.
If we look at youth organisations they seem very inactive, and that is a big problem. We also have drinking and drug problems in our youth population. But it is not all too black as I describe. I am also a journalist so I know youth problems, ranging from those in education to leisure time activity.
I think that our situation is very similar to that in other European countries. The biggest problem now in Slovenia is the lack of interest of young people to be part of some organisation, to work there and to share their skills with others. That I can say also from my organisation on a local level. They see this organisation as being too much political but I can say that if there would be 30 young people working together and also sharing thoughts together they would change their minds. In my town we have 35 members in the organisation but only 10 people are really active. I think that it is the biggest problem. A lack of active members. They need stimulation but we still have not found the right formula. Maybe in a couple of years young people will change their minds. I hope people would not look only for themselves but also for the community. Especially we would like to involve younger people from age 15 to be members of some organisations and work there. We need to make a campaign to involve young people in high schools to work and participate in the community. But also our parents should start thinking a little bit differently about young people, and they should give them the opportunity to show what they know and what they can do. If these problems would diminish and ultimately fade away, I think the situation will be really different. On that we will work further.
When discussing with colleagues from different parts of Europe, the situation for young in Slovenia does not differ a lot from the situations in other European countries. When we talk about youth, the first thing that crosses our mind is school and education. All kids should go to primary school (33% of active people had only finished primary school) and most of them go on to the secondary school (54% of active people). At this point I should mention the Gypsies because usually they do not even finish primary school and so they are not incorporated into the wider society. This prohibits them from developing and so they stay marginalised all their life. After secondary school, some of the teenagers already start to work and some of them continue their study at the faculty (13% of people with higher education). These are statistics gathered in 2002 and we should keep in mind that a higher percentage of people are getting a higher level of education as the trend grows further. The second important factor in youth culture is civil engagement. What do they do in their free time? Do they participate in different clubs, groups, associations, organisations, events, and things like that? If we take a general view, Slovenian civil society is not developed enough. If I start with students, since I am more familiar with this field, many of them are part of a student club or student association. The problem is that they are passive members. Not many of them really participate actively in activities. The same we could say for youth in Slovenia in general. There are many local organisations, and they are really focused only on local environment. Their activities are mostly cultural and from my point of view they lack educational content.
The field I am most interested in is folk music, identity and youth empowerment through music. A number of small scale projects are constantly coming up, but there is a need for more coordinated action, also supported by theory. Students are mostly concentrated strictly on their field of studies, not interested in what is going on around them. This is, in my opinion, a wide scale problem, not specific to Slovenia. They are not critical or demanding. They should be stimulated to understand and recognise situations, not only passively accepting them with the excuse of cultural differences, etc. Meeting people of different background can provide a challenge to question their own position.
It is not as easy as it seems to write about young people in your country. It is an extensive topic and I wish not to moralise about bad habits or to praise all the qualities of the Slovenian youths, which I believe all young people have. Being 21 years old and a student of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, I would rather concentrate on the topic of my studies. When we go to high school, we have to learn a lot of data and we all enter university with enthusiasm and feeling oh-so-smart. Suddenly we are forced to realise that we are full of prejudice and that we have to restructure all the knowledge in order to start working and learning properly. In Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology there are many terms that throughout the history have been misinterpreted or misused and therefore have negative connotations, for example the word ‘˜Aborigines’ (the correct term is Australian natives) or the term ‘˜primitive’ (it can only be used if you really know how to use it, in other cases it is a ‘˜professional suicide’). We do a lot of field work too. Right now we are working on a project concerning an old Slovenian village, Smokvica, which is being more and more abandoned and is falling apart. Because of its location, it is far from the roads and town, many people have moved away and the houses are mostly in ruins. It is impossible to renew it because of unsolved paperwork and problems with dividing inheritance. People who still live in the village have invited us to help them with the renovation and to figure out how to make people move back to the village. Last year the village has invited Biotechnical University students who wanted to make a plantation of figs in order to promote the village. This is because the name Smokvica, or as it is also known Figaruola, is connected with figs; ‘˜smokva’ means ‘˜a fig’. This is the perfect example why inter-disciplinal work is so important. The Ethnological view of the fig plantation is of great importance, because we know that a fig is a plant which grows on house yards and abandoned ruins, and definitely not in plantations. So we could say with lots of exaggeration that we prevented an ethnological and cultural catastrophe. Being a new generation and eager to learn from our professors, especially Dr. Vito Hazler and Dr. Janez Bogataj, who are leading the Smokvica project and who are also responsible for my knowledge and my words that you are reading just now, we hope to be able to participate in such projects in the future. It is an interesting field work, a good way to practice our theoretical knowledge in practice and a wonderful opportunity to learn from our professors and other people.