The education system does not prepare young people for the labour market nor for participation in other processes. This is one of the conclusions of the focus groups with young people from Bijelo Polje, Kotor, and Podgorica, conducted by the Centre for Civic Education (CGO) with the aim of qualitatively deepening the previous empirical research on the attitudes of young people throughout Montenegro. Qualitative research on the attitudes and opinions of young people within focus groups in Kotor, Bijelo Polje, and Podgorica was conducted during February and March 2023, with the support of the agency Damar, as a part of the project “I act – I change!”, implemented by the CCE with the financial support of the U.S. Embassy in Podgorica through Democracy Commission Small Grant Program.
Young people from various regions believe that the Montenegrin education system cannot adequately prepare them for the labour market. “Our education system is outdated and relies on the educational system of the former SFRY, which no longer exists, but we still use some of those educational materials. Besides not keeping up with the times in terms of literature, there is also a lack of practical training,” explains a young resident of Podgorica who participated in one of the focus groups. In addition to their own experiences, they also point out the results of the PISA assessment as an indicator that the education system does not provide them with enough knowledge to be competitive compared to young people from the rest of Europe. “If you want to destroy a country, destroy its education. I think that our education has been brought down to zero, and everything starts from there. There are uneducated people becoming teachers, doctors, judges, politicians… We need to address education first, and then everything else,” warns girl from Bijelo Polje, a participant of a focus group.
In general, the focus group participants have a positive attitude towards volunteering, considering it as an activity that helps develop various skills such as teamwork, flexibility, critical thinking, leadership, etc. They perceive volunteering as an opportunity to compensate for the lack of practical training in formal education and to help young people better prepare for the labour market, but they also state that non-payment is a deficiency. “I fully support volunteering in terms of helping the local community through ecological or humanitarian actions. On the other hand, I don’t support the concept of unpaid internships at all,” says a young person from Kotor.
Regarding employment, in addition to motivation and self-confidence, young people often emphasize connections and relationships as very important factors. However, when it comes to choosing between a job in the public or private sector, it is noticeable that the interviewees primarily point out the disadvantages of both options, which suggests that they are choosing the “lesser of two evils” when deciding where they would like to work. They cite the lack of work ethics, political appointments and an increasing number of surplus workers each year as the biggest flaws of the public sector, while the biggest flaw of the private sector is non-insurance of employees, i.e. working illegally.
Most of the young participants from Kotor, Bijelo Polje, and Podgorica mention that at some point, they have considered leaving Montenegro, pointing economic and political situation in the country as the main reasons for this. The strongest desire to leave their environment was expressed by young people from Bijelo Polje. However, language barrier and scepticism of foreign companies about the quality of the Montenegrin education system affect the fact that young people from Montenegro, when they initially go abroad, often work in positions that require a lower level of expertise than what they possess.
The results of the research on the attitudes of young people from all over Montenegro led the research team to dedicate a set of the questions to the attitude of young people towards religion. Some young people emphasized that faith is important to them. “If there were no fear of God’s hand, no matter what that God is named, I think we would live in a completely anarchic world. I believe that faith is like our conscience,” explains a young person from Podgorica. Some young people make a distinction between faith and spirituality, and the majority state that they do not feel the need to publicly express their religious identity. In this regard, young people from Kotor give the least importance to religious identity, stating that both Christmases and both Easters are celebrated in their environment, with the note that the Islam is less represented there, while young people from Bijelo Polje and Podgorica emphasize that mixed marriages are not accepted in the best manner within their communities.
Young people recognize individuals in their communities whose religious identity is “their sole purpose of existence”, and they also point out the existence of so-called “internet believers” whom they believe do not adhere to religious principles in their lives. “Since the adoption of the Law on Freedom of Religion, i.e. its amendments, I think we have become a rather religious society, although it didn’t seem that way a few years ago. Now it is very important whether we are part of the Montenegrin or Serbian Orthodox Church. I see that people wouldn’t stand up for a great injustice that happens to someone in Montenegro or to themselves, but if Christianity or Islam is the issue, everyone will stand up,” says a young person from Podgorica.
Young people generally do not believe that religious communities contribute to improving their position, emphasizing that they are primarily interest groups that represent the interests of their members, and that on the scale of their priorities “the lives of young people and their position in society are not high ranked, or we don’t get the impression that they are.” However, some young people also highlight the assistance of religious communities to young people in overcoming addictions such as alcohol, drugs, and gambling, as well as providing humanitarian aid.
Overall, young people from Kotor, Bijelo Polje, and Podgorica, who participated in focus groups, are not overly prone to engage in activities that involve defending their religious identity. When it comes to protest marches, most young people in Podgorica and all young people from Bijelo Polje expressed readiness for such activities, even though they had previously stated that religious identity does not play a significant role in their lives. Young people in Bijelo Polje said that they attended processions that took place during 2020. On the other hand, respondents who emphasize that they would not attend protests to defend their faith cite the politicization of the entire process as the main reason. Similarly, young people are not willing to join a political party that has a religious issue at the centre of its programme.
Regarding their attitude towards politics, young people criticize politicians for not focusing more on the economic situation and not making efforts to ensure Montenegro’s functioning as a democratic system, instead prioritizing religious and national issues.
Young people see personal wealth and the initiation of issues related to interethnic relations in the country as the main priorities of politicians, considering that politicians primarily take care of their own interests rather than the interests of the citizens. “We saw that through various agreements on forming the Government – no one cares about how people live and what people want or what they should do. We have party quarrels and battles over who will be the Prime minister, from which party the department minister will be, who will get positions… From that, it is clear that there is the least concern for the interests of the citizens,” concludes a young person from Podgorica. Young people no longer see the European Union among the priorities that Montenegrin politicians deal with. “We have turned from that path so much that it is no longer mentioned as something important for our country and something we aspire to,” says a young person from Kotor.
The increase in the number of young people in the Parliament of Montenegro faces positive reactions. However, young participants also point out that political parties do not involve young people in the decision-making process because they are concerned about their position. Instead, the reasons are more pragmatic – younger MPs are, in their opinion, a product of the necessity of political parties, which, due to the deterioration of the reputation of some other cadres, are approaching the change of generations. Therefore, young people serve as a simulation of reforms and party rejuvenation, and in their opinion, nothing fundamentally changes the position of young people.
Opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations presented here are the views of the focus group participants and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the U.S. State Department/ U.S. Government.
Željka Ćetković, Active Citizenship Programme Coordinator