Photo credit: Saferworld
Photo credit: Saferworld

From Batken, Jalal-Abad and Osh to Frankfurt and Marburg: sharing ideas on diversity, tolerance and peacebuilding

A recent youth exchange from Kyrgyzstan to Germany highlighted some of the shared challenges young people face around the world, and also provided some lessons and cultural insights for its participants.

“[In Germany], I was surprised to learn that all ethnicities and representatives of different religions seem to be part of one nation”, said Akmaral, a youth representative from Kyrgyzstan. “I found it interesting that Germans do not seem to dominate others, but respect and enable participation in decision making, and encourage tolerance as a national ideology.”

A group of youth representatives from Kyrgyzstan recently travelled to Marburg, Germany, as part of a study tour supported by Saferworld and partner Foundation for Tolerance International to bring young people from both countries together to share their experiences, challenges and ideas for inclusive peacebuilding.  

Young women and men in Kyrgyzstan face a range of challenges – from limited economic opportunities, social pressures and mass unemployment to early marriage, bullying, and violence against women. Some of these challenges would be shared by young people around the world, while others are unique to the region.

“Here everybody seems to respect each other’s faith, culture and choices”, said Altynai, who chairs a youth committee at a university in Jalal-Abad. “Different religions live together because of their more tolerant attitudes and the rule of law.”

Others, like Janarbek, noticed differences in day-to-day interactions. “In Frankfurt, I saw two young men of different ethnicities who accidentally bumped shoulders in the street. After seeing them apologise and move on, I saw the ways in which the idea of tolerance is spread among regular people. In Kyrgyzstan, something like this might cause a conflict which could escalate and have violent consequences.”

Another participant, Aijan, reflected on the responsiveness of authorities: “I learnt that if youth have issues, the authorities immediately respond to them. Unfortunately in Kyrgyzstan, authorities do not respond quickly enough or encourage youth participation. But now I know that there are many things that youth can do themselves – that it depends on their own activities and determination.”

In addition to getting a taste for daily life in Germany and visiting local hotspots, participants were able to speak with German students and youth, and heard from the Youth Parliament and vice-mayor of Marburg, as well as the Centre for Conflict Studies. “I appreciated the presentations at the Centre for Conflict Studies, where the researchers shared their findings”, said Altynai. “I think that many issues are similar to Kyrgyzstan, and some of the solutions can be applied to Kyrgyzstan.”

The participants of the study tour all took away different impressions from the trip. Some who worked for government bodies in Kyrgyzstan – such as a representative from the Department of Education, Culture and Sport – had concrete policy ideas they could take back home. Others, like Akmaral, were inspired by the efficient and well-organised service provision they saw in Germany, including garbage collection, policing, healthcare and transportation. “I liked the attitude of people to the environment, such as sorting out garbage to make for easy recycling. Another good example is that so many people ride bicycles. I want to promote this idea in Kyrgyzstan because it helps the environment and is a cost-effective solution and safe way to travel.” 

Saferworld works with youth from across 24 communities in the south of Kyrgyzstan. The primary goal of the project is to promote youth leadership and inter-ethnic collaboration on community security in southern Kyrgyzstan. The project helps develop ethnically diverse activists into leaders, and supports constructive cooperation between them, their communities and security providers. The main focus of this cooperation is on mutual security challenges and promoting inclusive policies and practices.