Senad Alibegovic: I Thought People In The EU Parliament Were Not Working

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Senad Alibegovic, who grew up in Visoko in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is one of those rare individuals who speak up to say, “It matters”. Senad’s activism started early in his high school days. Coming from a small city, it can be hard to reach the stars, but it is always hard to reach the stars no matter where you start out.

A new world opened up to Senad after he became an educator at the Youth Communication Center (OKC) in Banja Luka as a sixteen year old boy – a whole new world of activism, and he was able to see new colors he had never seen before. It was his first and most important experience. From a passive youngster from a small city he developed into one of the most important young activists in B&H. Today, Senad is studying towards a master’s degree in Political Science at the department of European Integration at the University of Sarajevo, while at the same time he is also studying towards a master’s degree in Architecture at the International University of Sarajevo architecture school. At the moment he is a member of OSCE Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina, active member of Youth Council of Municipality Visoko and Project coordinator at youth association ‘Youth Pulse’.

I know that you are a fellow of Humanity in Action (HIA), and you were an intern in the European Parliament (EP).

Yes, the biggest crossroad in my life after activism in high school, the one which opened new horizons for me and shaped me as a person was Humanity in Action (HIA). HIA is one huge family with a large number of members, partners, coworkers; they open many doors for young people. Thanks to HIA I traveled through Europe and got an opportunity to meet and talk with the most important names from the field of Human Rights (HR). It lasted one month, in the summer period. The program happens in five European cities: Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris, and Warsaw. Every person who attends has an assigned topic on which she/he will work, and usually it is from the HR field. The topic for 2014 was based on a famous quote from Angela Merkel: “Has multiculturalism died?” During the program the most qualified, most accomplished professors came and shared their knowledge and thoughts with us. On the other side, standing shoulder to shoulder to all highly educated and smart students for the world’s best universities was both challenge and honour.                                      

Then further, after I participated in their program, they gave me an opportunity to be an intern at the European Parliament (EP), through a Pat Cox Fellowship under patronage of Mr. Cox himself as former President of European Parliament. With this experience I grew up.

What is the concept of an EP intern, what were your responsibilities, what did a day at the EP look like? 

Firstly, I want to emphasize that working at the EP changed my mind about the EU and EU institutions in general. Because when you come from a sleepy place where people complain all the time, you start at some point to think the same way. So, I thought that people in the EP weren’t working. I actually did not have a reason to think that, but I put the EU politicians and ours in the same box. Then when I actually got there and started working, I realized that they really work hard and there only one policy is valid: your life in Brussels is your job. Every person who comes to work there has to be conscious of that. I was lucky, and Cristian Dan Preda, who is the EP reporter for B&H and its European Integration, recognized my potential and chose me as an intern.

At that time I was one of only three young people from B&H who got that opportunity. My work in the EP was also connected with my own country, I was directly lobbying for a better future for B&H and for its European integration. I worked on the EP report for B&H 2014. Our duties were to become active in the committees and sub-committees where our bosses were working. To be specific, my boss Cristian Dan Preda was on the committee for foreign policy and the sub-committee for HR. My task was to follow everything connected with these fields. I wrote reports for an urgent debate in the session in Strasbourg. Also we got the opportunity to represent our offices at various, important events.

Each day was divided into three parts, and each had its essential tasks.

Morning was usually reporting part about current issues happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina and press clipping of most important news in Bosnian language; then I would do all required office jobs. Afternoons I would work for the committee and the sub-committee. I would attend meetings, write reports for my boss and his assistants, write amendment proposals for resolutions and declarations that the EP had under consideration. The third part of my working day consisted of attending events. 

Can you tell me your perception of the EU?

The EU is a peace project, and many have forgotten that. We should know history better and go back to the time when the EU was created. From those days until today it has changed continuously as it is organic, and changes are normal. Until such time as the main actors forget that core idea I will be for the EU. I think it is important for us. So far we are not well situated without it, so it makes sense to stay with it. Of course the EU has its problems, but there are many positive things the EU does for us including scholarships, investments, social mobility, jobs, etc. There will be new crosses to bear, I do not deny, but still it may get better as time passes. Tomorrow the EU will have to be more objective, more rational, and it will have to adjust to its new demographic structure, if we want to live in peace and, as much as possible, in equality.

Until now we have mentioned only positive things, but were there any hard times, negative experiences along the way?

Of course. I will give an example from when I was president and counselor at IAESTE (The International Association of Exchange Students). Our task was to increase the number of internships for technical studies. We had a situation where one international agency in B&H had only six internships to offer; you get very disappointed. You want to change it, you give your knowledge, experience, time, everything. It is painful when you are trying to explain to big companies why it is important for our students to find out how it is when you work abroad, why it is important for these huge companies to support young people’s hopes; and when you are refused, it is painful. However, in the end we made progress, from only six internships we jumped to 31; impressive, but not enough.

It is hard to be an activist in B&H. You must rely on yourself, and believe in yourself, in what you do, you have to be stubborn in maintaining motivation and avoid drowning in a lake of depression.

What do you think about unpaid internships?

It is a version of volunteerism that I see as a sort of extremism. It has to be changed! How? I am not sure, but it has to. I agree that every young person has to pass through volunteerism as a noble experience and learn something new. But today you volunteer endlessly without learning new things, on the contrary volunteers are mostly used as a free labor force. We have all read about a young fellow, the New Zealander David Hyde, who during his internship with the UN spent his time in a tent. He sent a powerful message to everyone. We shouldn’t be exploited; we should be rewarded for our trouble.

Advice for young people out there who are struggling in this world, how to survive and also succeed?

In many cases young adults don’t know what they want from their lives; which is normal, I am the same, I have my thoughts. But we should be stimulated and motivated for a better tomorrow. If they are not content with their current situation, complaining won’t be any help, but action will. There is a great saying: “I don’t want to hear your opinion, I want to hear your proposals.” Today, each of us has an opinion, but let’s start with something concrete. We don’t have to have well-known names to do something, we can all start on our own, beginning with our families, our communities, etc. And then continue building on what we’ve started.

It will sound, at the very least unusual, to combine Political sciences and Architecture. What was the reason to connect these two disciplines?

At first sight political sciences and architecture seem incompatible. However we are witnessing today hyper-production in many fields, we produce professions which aren’t competitive. This hard, thankless situation made me think and I came to conclusion that the best thing to do would be a multidisciplinary approach. As I am myself a multidisciplinary person. It was always hard to decide to which world I should belong. I decided to create my own world, to connect love and passion, create synergy. Architecture was always my love, but human rights were my passion. Actually that synergy was produced by my concern for the rights of persons with disabilities, who are the most endangered group of people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Especially since the war, they are a large percent of our population. On the other side, there is small number of people who are fighting for their rights. Architects are part of that group which is fighting for their rights as they are the creators of the urban environment.

At the end can you share a personal story that reminds you that it matters?

I was happiest when I could influence change. I like to influence young people, because in them I see myself. I don’t change or influence thousands, I am not a charismatic speaker. But even if I can influence one, two, I will be happy. Because then those two will influence two more, and it will go on and on. I see many of them growing into noble activists working for their communities. During my studies one girl with whom I worked mailed me and she expressed her gratitude towards me. She said: “Senad, thank you for helping me to be a better human, a better activist, and thank you for helping me to realize that coming from a small city without a lot opportunities will become my advantage and in no case an obstacle.“

When you realize that your life story is changing lives outside your own borders, too, you know you did a good job, and you reach that kind of happiness where you can be at peace with yourself.

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