The Balkan wars of the 1990's ravaged not only millions of people, but also the social institutions that gave shape to their lives. Indeed, the changes brought about by Yugoslavia's dissolution and the wars of succession that followed annihilated large parts of the traditional education and training systems of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, and Kosovo.
Since then, stability and hope have begun to return to a region affected by the destruction of war and the widespread despair of social displacement. The Balkan Stability Pact of 1999 and massive international support have helped rebuild local education, while developing innovative vocational education and training systems that should boost long-term employment. The results of many projects in these countries are encouraging, with the current focus on training key groups, such as entrepreneurs, teachers, and young and unemployed people.
The same model can and should be followed elsewhere in the troubled lands that border the European Union. In a time of political and economic transition--for example, the shift from authoritarianism to democracy and from a centrally planned to a free market economy--many jobs are on the line. The redundancies that result are not only a waste of human resources, but also a source of stress for the people involved; both in economic and social terms, mass redundancies can be tragic and can lead to dangerous instability.
Vocational training can soften these blows. Indeed, universal access to primary education and vocational training programs are at the heart of any strategy to eliminate poverty and ensure stability. Developing skills and qualifications is all the more vital to establishing a more peaceful and prosperous future in areas already riven by conflict.