Published on June 17, 2021

Listen to the young when planning for just transition, say Slovakian students

By Jana Magdolenová and Mária Balková

The young generation will be most affected by how just transition plays out in Upper Nitra and other coal regions around the world. We want to have a say in the process.

We both come from Prievidza, the most important town in Upper Nitra, and are currently studying at the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava. This means we live between the two places.

We are very interested in the transition of our region. We’ve been naturally thinking about it since we went to university in Bratislava and discovered the opportunities that the capital provides for us: social activities, culture, gastronomy, job opportunities. Like any other young people, we liked to discover our piece of freedom, but always at the back of our minds were wondering ​​why something like this cannot be found “at home”.

So we decided to send a short questionnaire to our friends and acquaintances, asking them how important various factors are for them when they make decisions about their future, including about where they want to eventually live. We were pleased that people responded positively to our questionnaire and were interested in filling it out. We understood on this occasion that we are not the only ones who think about the future more actively: for all of us young people, it is important to feel that we can influence things around us and we are happy when someone asks us for our opinion.

When it comes to the outcomes of the questionnaire, we were not surprised to learn that the most important factor for young people is the job position, which should ideally be both well-paid and interesting in terms of its content; people also commented that such a job, even if they study for it at the university, might sometimes not be available in our home region.

Another important factors was family. Young people would like to go back to the places where they grew up and have the extended family close, but for this to happen, opportunities in the region would need to match some of the other key needs identified in the questionnaire.

The next important thing for young people was, for example, the overall quality of the environment, including the quality of architecture and the availability of modern infrastructure, such as bike paths, but also parks and public greenery. Culture, social activities, the offer of rental housing and quality civic amenities also play an important role.

We presented the results of our questionnaire at a workshop organised earlier this spring by the Ministry of Investment and Regional Development, whose conclusions in the end matched very well our own research. The participants to the discussion agreed that our generation expects to find in the region a vibrant place full of life, which offers them opportunities for financial security, but also active leisure.

If we are to create such conditions in Upper Nitra, then youth need to be involved from the start in the planning process. We expect to be heard and we have hope that it will be the case.

During the workshop, representatives of the Ministry of Investment and Regional Development were themselves stressing the importance of having us on board from the start: “The Ministry considers the systematic involvement of young people in the preparation and implementation of the Territorial Just Transition plan to be key within the transformation process,” Peter Balík, General Director of the Section of Innovation, Strategic Investments and Analyses (HUB) at the Ministry, said during the event.

“We want to give young people a space to discuss, express their priorities and needs, including proposing specific activities and areas of support, through active participation in the regional working groups. The aim is for the supported measures to be initiated by the creative attitude of young people, which will have a real impact on them, as the consequences of transformation in the regions concerned can have a significant impact on them. Due to this, the resources from the Just Transition Fund will be specifically focused on the support of activities of young people and for young people.”

“Brno, Prague, London, Bratislava – these are the places where the children of my acquaintances live. If we do not offer attractive jobs within a few years, the catastrophic forecasts of the aging population of our region will be fulfilled,“ Lenka Ilčíková, one of the members of the Just transition fund working group, said. „In October 2018, the Slovak Academy of Sciences published an Expert Study, according to which Upper Nitra will lose significant parts of its children (0-14 years) and the best age population (24-54 years) by 2040 and may be among the 10 Slovak districts with the oldest population.”

“Involving young people in the preparation and implementation of changes in Upper Nitra is just beginning,” Lucia Macaláková, a local lecturer in non-formal education, primarily focused on young people’s participation, said during the event.

“What we offer them is a partnership-based approach and respect for their needs. But what will keep them here is the quest to satisfy their needs and making the whole process available to them. Talking about what is possible and what is not, letting them look for solutions and overcoming obstacles. Only when they become a living and full-fledged part of the city’s ‘ecosystem’ and feel its support will they stop leaving to live and start families elsewhere. We begin to believe that they know what they need.”