THE ROLE OF CONTACT IN REDUCING SOCIAL DISTANCE OF YOUTH FROM THE BALKANS TOWARDS MINORITY GROUPS
Keywords:social distance, contact, minority groups, Balkan countries, youth
Research on intergroup relations in the Balkans typically reveals low trust and high prejudice, even in the young generation born after the conflicts in the 1990s. The intergroup contact is documented to be an efficient means for prejudice reduction, and it is expected to work through enhancing perceived out-group heterogeneity. A total of 1046 young people aged 13 to 18 from five Balkan countries (Serbia, Montenegro, FYRoM, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo) were interviewed for the research. We registered their attitudes towards five minority groups: a dominant ethnic minority in the country, Roma population, gays/lesbians, and very poor and physically disabled people. We also registered their contacts with the out-group members and perceived heterogeneity of all five groups.
Data showed the similar pattern of social distance in all five Balkan countries: it was the highest towards gays and lesbians, followed by ethnic minorities and Roma population, whilst it was the lowest towards physically disabled and very poor people. However, the young people from Kosovo consistently reported somewhat higher distance towards all five groups. As expected, a path analysis revealed that more contacts with the out-groups led to a lower social distance both directly and indirectly, mediated by perceived out-group heterogeneity. We also registered a positive relation between ethnic identification and distance towards minority out-groups.This research highlights the importance of fostering different types of intergroup contacts. It also suggests that it would be more informative if we broadened its scope, and investigate both ethnic, and other social groups, especially different types of stigmatized minorities.
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