Recent economics graduate Mejra Mustafić felt unsure about her professional future. She is from Novi Pazar, a majority Bosniak city with one of Europe’s highest youth populations and among Serbia’s least developed areas. Young Bosniaks and other communities similarly isolated from Belgrade have struggled to find opportunities with central state institutions, Serbia’s largest employer, challenging their community’s stability and prosperity. Surveys repeatedly reflect disillusionment, lack of trust in government institutions, and, as a result, a feeling of hopelessness and not belonging in Serbia.
In early 2019, with financial support from the U.S. Mission to the OSCE and the government of Switzerland, the OSCE Mission to Serbia launched the “Legal Learning Project for Southwest Serbia.” Through experiential learning, this project is building the skills of more than 50 young professionals from Novi Pazar and its environs—with an emphasis on legal professionals—to better understand and operate within Serbia’s legal and public administration system.
The project features a trial simulation program, legal training for the bar exam, and a professional internship program with state institutions. Practicing professionals mentor law students to simulate criminal and civil cases, while internships with central institutions both acquaint young professionals with rule of law institutions and provide them the opportunity to become part of Serbia’s wider legal and professional community. Through study visits and trainings, participant interact with state officials, further increasing their understanding and connections with state institutions. Former Novi Pazar Higher Court President Izet Suljović explained: “practical experience provides students an outstanding opportunity to apply theoretical knowledge gained at university—something missing from generations of law students.”
After completing her first year of an OSCE-supported internship at the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self Government, the Ministry of Finance offered Mejra Mustafić a one-year contract to continue to work in a similar field. The Ministry of Interior recruited several other alumni, contributing to the ethnic diversity of Serbia’s institutions. As one central government internship mentor described, “Young, educated people are becoming acquainted with the complexity of public administration, its importance, networking of institutions, employee professionalism, and the implementation of reforms.”
At the internship program’s concluding ceremony, covered widely by local media, OSCE Head of Mission to Serbia Ambassador Andrea Orizio emphasized that, “The contributions you made to the institutions you were placed with were balanced with a great deal of learning, specifically about public administration in Serbia, how laws and regulation relate to the daily work of civil servants, and how the vast public administration apparatus impacts the lives and offerings to citizens.”
With practical education and experience within the country’s rule of law institutions, young people like Mejra are excelling and finding a future in Serbia. The initiatives will become replicable for years to come, with government institutions already preparing for their next rounds of participation.