youth participation – AEGEE-Europe | European Students' Forum AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe / European Students’ Forum) is a student organisation that promotes cooperation, communication and integration amongst young people in Europe. As a non-governmental, politically independent, and non-profit organisation AEGEE is open to students and young people from all faculties and disciplines – today it counts 13 000 members, active in close to 200 university cities in 40 European countries, making it the biggest interdisciplinary student association in Europe. Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:59:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.11 Open Call for Hosting Locals for EoT4 /open-call-for-hosting-locals-for-eot4/ Tue, 03 Jan 2017 12:12:05 +0000 /?p=6999 Dear AEGEE members,

Wishing you a happy New Year, we are presenting you an open call for hosting the 4th edition of Europe on Track

If you haven’t heard about us yet, here is a short description:

Europe on Track (EoT) is a youth-led project in which 6 ambassadors in 2 teams cross Europe (along 2 different routes) with InterRail passes for one month to inform and interview young people about their visions of a future Europe in relation to different topics.

At each stop, the ambassadors organize and participate in local events, generating content and creating spaces for dialogue and discussion. The journey can be followed on social media via blogs, videos and photos. At the end of the trip, a documentary and quantitative and qualitative data analysis will be created as a recap.

How can you and your local get involved?

If you are interested in being one of the Ambassadors, check the call here!

Your local can apply to be a hosting antenna, which would involve organising a local event where the ambassadors can present the project to a wider audience.

Imagine a one day AEGEE event with a group of 20-30 people (or more!), some sessions and discussions, interactive games, and an event that is also open to non-AEGEEans in your city. The EoT project team will fully support the locals and provide a toolkit on how to organise your perfect EoT event.

This year’s topic for Europe on Track will be Civic Education.

The hosting local is required to:

  • Support the ambassadors by providing them with accommodation and meals for one or two nights

  • Arrange a place/room for the presentation/discussions and print materials

  • Organise a local event/activity* – in cooperation with the EoT Coordination Team

    *Possible options:
    The more you manage to organise the better!

  • Workshop

  • Signature collection for the ECI

  • Ambassadors delivering civic education classes in high schools

  • Visit another NGO or local media

  • Panel discussion with stakeholders/externals (teachers, politicians…)

  • Any other interesting idea that you might come up with!

Unfortunately, as things stand right now, there will be no economic support for the locals but we have and are working really hard on fundraising, should we be successful we will communicate that to the chosen locals.

To apply please send the motivation letter of your antenna to europeontrack@aegee.org until the 10th of February.

Europeanly yours,

The Europe on Track project team
Nicola, Maria, Tola, Luca, Hector, Denno, Eleanor, Sofia, Benedetto, Ksenia, Alp, Luka

]]> What do Greeks think about a borderless Europe and the refugee crisis? /what-do-greeks-think-about-a-borderless-europe-and-the-refugee-crisis/ Sat, 16 Jul 2016 16:16:01 +0000 /?p=6684 By Hanna Polischuk

The next stop where we experienced the refugee problem and raised the question about the borderless Europe was Greece. We asked some students, whom we met in Athens and Patras, for their opinions. Most of our respondents have already been travelling around Europe either for holidays or for education and cultural exchanges. Many of them have gained international experience by being members of international organizations and studying in other countries via Erasmus amongst others.

Fly athens

On the question if there are borders in Europe, almost everyone said that they are, but only in our minds:

I think that borders are mostly in the European minds, because now with everything that has been happening, we have more prejudices towards what’s going on in Europe and the people who are coming to Europe. The government is following that mindset, which means that they create policies resulting closing borders.

Theodora Giakoumelou, 19

However, it is not possible to notice the border problem inside the Schengen area:

If we talk about the Europeans, there are no strict borders, but the other people outside of the EU have problems to visit Europe. I know it from the experience of my friends from Asia and Africa.

Dimitris N., 22

There are not really visible borders in most of Europe, but if you check better, you can see that in some countries there are completely no borders: you can go between countries just passing by, while in other countries it’s harder to do that, you have to follow some procedures or some paperwork, especially if you go from the West to the Eastern side of Europe. Nowadays, it is going harder and harder to realize that once we did not even care if there were borders, but now, with the refugee crisis, they are coming back to the reality. Many countries are even building a visual borders.”

Dimitris Bouloubassis, 23

For Greek people as well as fo13265980_615852725229035_4493971792193996963_nr other EU members it is very easy to cross borders and travel from country to country. In the world passport rating Sweden, Finland and Germany are ranked the country #1, for which most of countries are open (visa free). Greece is a bit lower in the list; however, it also has a high position. Many Greek students confirmed that it is not hard to travel for them.

When we went onto the streets, we met many refugees. As we understood from what we saw and heard from locals, the refugee problem is growing bigger every day and Greece accommodates currently more than 50,000 refugees at its territory:

Many refugees, especially in the Greek islands like Samos, Chios, the ones that are actually very close to Turkey. I believe the number is something like 50 thousand people or something, which is related to the population, it is low I guess. But imagine all those people have gone through this situation with women and small children, it is difficult. So, it is not so much problem for us as it is for them I guess.

Orestis Panagiotidis, 21

Greek youth feel mostly safe in their country, being able to understand the reasons why people moved there:

I feel safe because I do not think that these people want to harm us, Greeks. They want to find a new home and job. So, I don’t feel afraid, and I am fine with them.

Vasiliki Petrakou, 21

I think that it is difficult for them too, and I think th13237683_615852638562377_227857386974934013_nat we should have solidarity and help them to integrate here in Greece. Because there is a war at their home, I would be afraid too. It is not safe not only for me, but also for them. It is difficult; ok, I am afraid, but it is not only me here. I live with other people, so… If I had a war in my country too, I would go away, it is true.”

Yiota Mitropoulou, 20

Yes, I feel safe in Greece. I am very proud about the behavior that Greece shows to refugees, and I think that the other European countries do not have the behavior that they should have. So, it is important to inform people about the problems that refugees have, to be more open-minded about these problems, and to understand that we need to help to solve these problems.

Dimitris N., 22

I think that the refugees are the people who have a lot of problems in their countries and they come to Greece or to other countries because they want to find a better life. So, I think we must help them, because all of us, we are the same, we are people, and we should help people who have problems. So, in a lot of cases refugees do not make lots of problems to people who live in the places where they come; but in other cases a lot of them make problems because in such conditions in which they live, they have nothing to eat, they don’t have a house for living. So, it is possible that they will start robbing because they do not have money to eat. And so, it all feels strange: in lots of cases you feel safe, in other you don’t feel safe.”

Akis Tripolitsiwtis, 21

In the opinions of many Greeks, the European Union has failed to solve the refugee crisis. As the EU is trying to find a compromising solution, and it is really hard (almost impossible) to find a compromise between so many countries, the problem becomes bigger instead of being solved. The latest solution was an agreement with Turkey and Greece in order to stop refugees from going further. But even with huge efforts and the financial support, only two countries cannot cope with such a huge problem.

So, should borders be more open or closed at all? This question is difficult because on the one hand we all strive for the mobility, and at the same time we want to be secure and protected:

I think that the borders must be open, but in cases when people come from other countries, they should not create problems to people who live in the country they visit. For example, in Greece we have many economic problems, and many people don’t work, because they don’t have work. So I think when people want to come for vacation, is ok; those who come for living is also ok, but I prefer to take the work which they might take instead of me. This situation is very difficult for us.”

Akis Tripolitsiwtis, 21

13227200_613653185448989_3924533945965814428_nIn my opinion borders have to be open, but when you visit a place, you have to respect the local culture, traditions etc. You have to explain them not to implement them in your life, but you have to respect them. So, open borders with respectful physicals, let’s say. That’s my opinion

Orestis Panagiotidis, 21

When we talk about the Greek-EU relationships, what positive and negative points can you think of?

“Positive? Hmmm… Because we’ve been born and grown up in Europe and having all the privileges of the EU already, we do not perceive them as positive. But, of course, being able to travel around Europe without a passport is a great positive point; Schengen is great, as well as Erasmus and other mobility and educational programs. As for negative points, I think right now when the European Union is facing a great amount of existential problems, meaning that we do not really know what we are doing with the EU, how do we want to change it in order to be able to adapt to the new circumstances, both in economical and the social field.

Elena Panagopoulou, 24

What would you wish for the future of Europe? The most common responses are: being more united, open-minded and helpful. Here some of the responses:

13226936_613653178782323_5795814118772003586_nI would like to say something to be changing the European Union at the moment, because I think that Europe is not only the EU but it really affects the situation around Europe. So, I would like to say changing something in how the European Union is working right now.

Erifyli Evangelou, 21

They should understand that it is not only our problem, of Turkey and Greece, and the Eastern Europe; it is a problem that affects us all.

Vasiliki Petrakou, 21 and Yiota Mitropoulou, 20

I wish a more united Europe in terms of diversity, borders also, and understanding, because if Europeans cannot understand each other, there is no solid future for us. And there is no actually future for this generation. We need to understand our needs, and satisfy everything that needs to be covered. There are actually should be more reforms.”

Dimitris Bouloubassis, 23

To be more open-minded and to feel as European citizens instead of feeling the citizens of a single country that has borders, and to be more secure about economics, about technology. I think there are many people who have the abilities to succeed.

Dimitris N., 22

It was a big pleasure not only to discover this wonderful country, but also to hear the voice of youth, which gave us the insight about the situation and attitude in the country. We sincerely hope for the improvement of the refugee situation and rational, effective actions from the EU side. We would like also to express our gratitude to AEGEE-Athina and AEGEE-Patra for helping us with organization of our activities, for their hospitality and care. Moreover, huge thanks to Interrail for the opportunity to cross borders fast and with comfort!

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Position Paper in Youth Participation in Democratic Processes /position-paper-in-youth-participation-in-democratic-processes/ Tue, 18 Nov 2014 09:54:54 +0000 /?p=5590 01 | Introduction.

The AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’Europe/European Students’ Forum) was created in 1985 with the vision of creating a unified Europe, based on democracy and a respect for human rights, by bringing together students with different cultural backgrounds. Today, AEGEE is Europe’s largest interdisciplinary youth organisation with 40 countries, 200 cities, and 13,000 friends. The extensive AEGEE network provides the ideal platform for young volunteers to work together on cross­border activities such as international conferences, seminars, exchanges, training courses and case study trips. To combat the challenges young people are currently facing in Europe, AEGEE’s work focuses on four main  areas:  spreading “Europtimism”, improving youth mobility, increasing youth employment and implementing civic education.

As an organization that promotes and supports the involvement and engagement of young people in their communities all around Europe, AEGEE­Europe is concerned about the difficulties that citizens face participating in every stage of the political process. Active political participation of all citizens, and especially of all young people, is the basis for a well functioning European society. Based on the provisions of the article 10.3 of the Treaty of the European Union, which recognizes every citizen’s right to  participate  in  the  democratic  life  of  the  European  Union,  AEGEE­Europe  aims  to  be  a non­governmental organization that empowers well­educated and informed citizens to have an active role in developing political actions and policies.

02| Current practices and challenges for youth participation in democratic processes among the members of AEGEE.

Recent studies have shown that the earlier young people are acquainted and engaged with democratic participation and democratic processes, the higher their level of satisfaction and involvement with their community[1].

In 2014, AEGEE carried out research determining how often its members participate in the democratic process, and to understand the challenges that prevent them from participating efficiently, in order to illustrate the main barriers to real political participation of young people.

In spite of increased interest and use of alternative and innovative ways of participation, voting is still seen as the main instrument of participation for young people participating in the study. Yet, it is important to stress that although they consider voting to be the main participation tool, they do not necessarily believe it is an efficient tool. The results of the European Parliamentary election demonstrate this contradiction perfectly, with only 29%[2] on young people taking part in the elections across the EU.

Another relevant form of participation is through Local, National or Regional Youth Councils, which serve as intermediaries between young people and political representatives. In many countries with an established youth council, the latter has become a respected and efficient tool to advocate for, and represent the need of young people. Our research analysis shows that classic forms of youth participation in democratic processes, such as belonging to a political party, are seen as less efficient than participating in Youth Councils in the current political climate. Youth platforms are not taken into account seriously for policy development, even in the case of youth specific policies. Further, they are not provided with the necessary economic means that would allow them to work professionally to advocate for youth needs.

Another interesting research finding is the affirmation that geographical proximity to an issue results in higher youth engagement. For this reason, participation in democratic processes at the local level is believed to be more efficient than at the international level, where youth believe that they have low impact. One of the factors that drives this situation is the complex processes and the bureaucracy that young people have to face in the EU and at the international level, where decision­making is more complex and less accessible to the average citizen.

The dissatisfaction with politicians, together with the lack of trust towards the governments, is seen as the strongest barrier to participation that young people face; around 40% of the respondents expressed that this is their main obstacle to participation in democracy. Other studies covering European youth, such  as  the  one  published  by  the  London  School  of  Economics  in  2013[3],  have  found  similar percentages. In addition, AEGEE members believe that they do not have a direct influence on politics (63% think that their opinion is not taken into account) but that they are able to lead initiatives (48%). These figures show that youth are capable of having an active role in policy­making and that platforms need to be improved to express their opinions. The feeling changes depending on the area of policy making; the participation potential in decision­making processes on the local level is higher than on the the international level, where it is seen as very difficult.

AEGEE members also expressed their lack of time for participating in a more active way in politics (25%),  which  could  be  related  to  the  fact  that  policy­making is  built  upon  a very passive and institution-­dependent system rather than a more participative one. At this point, the results reflect that young people see lack of information as the biggest problem for not participating more actively in society (14,3%).

03 | Position of AEGEE­Europe

AEGEE strives for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe, which is socially, economically and politically integrated, and values the participation of young people in its construction and development. Youth participation is understood as the commitment of young people to have an active role in the topics and decisions that affect their lives.

AEGEE believes that young people are major components of the society and are crucial actors in the process of building of their future. Our goal is a system in which young people are allowed to have a direct impact on the decision­making process, sharing the political arena with adults. The tools that are now available due to the Internet and new technologies provide opportunities for all to express more easily their opinions and have a say in the different issues in which they are directly involved to. A sustainable democratic system, with a focus on the integration of minorities, is seen as a feasible scenario only if governing institutions stand for a renewal in the standards of participation strengthen the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010­2018) signed by the Council of the European  Union  where  it  is  stated  the  willingness  to  support  “young  people’s  participation  in representative democracy and civil society at all levels and in society.”

In order to achieve a healthy, participative and strong governmental system, a proper education with an emphasis  on  democratic  participation  is  crucial,  as  well  as  introducing  measures  to  avoid  the manipulation of the students. The collaboration of all responsible institutions is needed in order to shape a plural, independent and not politicized teaching curriculum that provides the necessary information for young people about the options they have to influence their society. Working towards this goal will result in empowered youth, with participation competences and open minds that more easily accept collective decisions and strengthen of the sense of community as it is recognized by the provision 5.b of the Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7 adopted by the Committee of  Ministers of  the Council of Europe when it is stated that “education, especially in the field of citizenship and human rights, is a lifelong process.”

AEGEE also wants to welcome projects, such as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), as a way of enhancing the participation among Europeans in EU policy­making, which will bring their concerns closer to the EU representatives. Another remarkable example of these projects is the Structured Dialogue as a mechanism to recognise young people as key actors in the development of policies suggested by the trio presidency.

4 | Recommendations for the increase of youth participation in democratic processes.

04.01 |Recommendations for educational centres

AEGEE­Europe recommends that universities, high­schools and other educational centers provide the students’ community an ideal foundation for prejudice­-free discussion and self­organization, particularly through the creation of associations and participation in the councils of the institution. Because young people’s early involvement in the processes is a key element of their belief in democracy, these centers are also called to facilitate a valid platform in which their students can get informed about the political happenings and the way they can participate. AEGEE­Europe wants to promote the implementation of elements that would improve the current democratic system among the students leading to a greater engagement of the society with the political order and the democratic procedures.

First, AEGEE­Europe encourages the educational centers to empower their students’ councils with expertise on topics that concern the institutional organization, and also on speaking and voting rights on all issues with which students are involved. This would ensure a co­-decision process where the voice of students are not only heard but, above all, taken into account.

Second, all democratic processes are based upon the principles of freedom of expression and a right to objective information. On  the one hand, AEGEE­Europe believes that educational centers should promote debates among their students providing them with spaces, facilities and means to do so in an open minded atmosphere without discrimination for  any of  the parties. On  the other hand, these institutions should provide fair information to all their students, offering them the possibility to get involved in any democratic process.

Third, the introduction of a course dedicated to democracy is a step that governments should reinforce by allocating means and human resources that guarantee a quality and independent teaching method. Thus, AEGEE­Europe demands that all the educational centers assure the training of their staff by providing them with specialized knowledge and promoting the introduction of non­formal education through the collaboration with local and international NGOs.

04.02 |Recommendations for policy­makers

AEGEE­Europe believes that one of the most important faces of youth participation in democratic processes is the possibility to take part in the development of the policies that affect them. Policy­ makers at European, national and local levels play an essential role in this.

Currently, there are mechanisms of youth participation that increase the possibility that young people have a say. Nevertheless, these mechanisms have to be developed by integrating a more efficient and continuous form of participation in which youth becomes a main stakeholder.

First, the low representation of minority in the parliaments causes their exclusion from the political debate. This situation decreases their opportunities to influence policy­making processes and have a say in  the development of  policies that directly influence them. AEGEE­Europe, with the purpose of increasing the representation of young people in decision­making forums, recommends that governments lower the voting age to 16 as countries such as Austria have already successfully done.

Second,  AEGEE­Europe  proposes  that  policy  makers  open  new  forms  of  e­participation  and strengthen the existing ones. Online tools are a basic tool for the inclusion of minorities, as they facilitate direct feedback from people of every background in society. E­voting as the flagship action in relation to e­participation is a necessary step that local, national and international governments have to take in order to provide a secure and trustworthy system. AEGEE notes that it will be needed to provide facilities, such as public computers with Internet connection, to allow the voting and other means of participation.

Third,  AEGEE­Europe  understands  that  young  people  should  have  proper  information  about democracy, human rights and how to participate in society. Consequently, it is recommended that political education becomes mandatory at school. However, we stress the importance of properly preparing the professoriate, as it is critical to have teachers with knowledge and experience in the field of civic education or education for democracy, such as work with NGOs and Informal tools.

Fourth,  in  order  to  place  young  people  as  a  main stakeholder in the decision­making process, AEGEE­Europe recommends an increase in the number of  young people involved in the political institutions, including the governmental positions. To achieve this goal, full transparency in the election process and in the administration period is needed.

Fifth, in order to increase participation among young people, AEGEE recommends a reduction in bureaucracy and a simplification of processes. A well structured and user­friendly system that enables participation in all fields of the democratic process is needed in order to encourage people to join all the options they are offered. Specifically, AEGEE demands that governments to improve the remote voting procedures and implement online tools aiming on increasing the current low participation in voting from people living abroad.

Finally, as was mentioned previously, ECI and Structured dialogue are a great chance for citizens to take an active position in policy making. Nevertheless, AEGEE has followed the implementation of these tools and concluded that there is still room for improvement. On the one hand, ECI is presented as a means for deeper citizen involvement in EU decision­making, whereas in reality even when an initiative achieves the criterion of having at least one million signatures, it can be turned down by the European Commission. AEGEE believes that there should be a stronger commitment from the EC to take into account the concerns of citizens. Until now, the only ECI that has prospered is one about water quality where the parliament has launched a consultation on this issue[4]. Moreover, AEGEE recommends that the European Parliament provide support and guidance to ECI proposers with the objective of presenting solid and valuable initiatives, and increasing the options and members to be taken into account.

On the other hand, the Structured Dialogue process is a very important tool for the contribution of young   Europeans   to   the   policy   development.  In   order  to  become  influential  stakeholders, AEGEE­Europe recommends fostering a greater involvement of the decision­makers during the whole process, in order to have real discussions and joint recommendations that could be usable by the EU and National governments. Likewise, AEGEE sees the need for better dissemination of the European Commision recommendations, paired with the Presidency of the EU’s inclusion of a direct method to transform the EC’s recommendations into policy. These measures would transform Structured Dialogue into an efficient tool for participation, which would allow young people to believe in their ability to influence policy. In addition, AEGEE­Europe encourages all national governments to implement a similar process within the sphere of their internal competences.

In conclusion, AEGEE­Europe believes that youth participation is one of the main pillars of a healthy and strong democratic system where there is mutual understanding between people and institutions. Democratic processes are presented as a basic tool for a sustainable society and young people have to be closely linked to them.

[1] Page 9, EACEA 2010/03:  Youth Participation in Democratic Life, Final Report, February 2013, LSE Enterprise Limited. London.

[2] Data from the article from the YFJ about “High youth absenteeism at the European Parliament elections is directly linked to the failure of political parties to address young people and youth issues”.

[3] EACEA 2010/03:  Youth Participation in Democratic Life,  Final Report February 2013, LSE Enterprise Limited. London.

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/environment/consultations/water_drink_en.htm

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To vote or not to vote? Should that still be a question? /to-vote-or-not-to-vote-should-that-still-be-a-question/ Fri, 30 May 2014 19:02:34 +0000 /?p=5289 by Monica Nica

In Sofia, the Europe on Track presentation was part of a larger event dedicated to the Y Vote project, also organised by AEGEE. The format comprised an initial debate on compulsory voting, followed by a panel debate on voting and youth participation, ending with our presentation on the European Parliament elections.

During the debate, two teams from Sofia Debate Association brought up their best arguments in favour and against compulsory voting. The debate was carried out in Bulgarian, but we had Angel translating for us. Although he did a great job, he conveyed just the big picture, providing us with the main lines along which the debate developed, without going into details. Basically, the team arguing in favour of compulsory voting said that this measure would cause the receding of right-wing parties’ influence; furthermore, being obliged to vote, citizens would develop an increased interest in politics, give more informed votes and would become more active in holding politicians accountable. This last argument, has been reversed by the opposing team asserting that arbitrary and unreflective voting would take hold of most of the apathetic electorate. With regard to the winners/losers of mandatory voting, the other side of the coin was emphasised, as they said that big parties would profit if everyone would vote. Moreover, the team kept reiterating the ‘not voting’ or ‘not expressing one’s opinion’ right.

10371534_318146711666306_3262859861645054090_nAlthough I do not fully agree with some of the arguments on both sides, since I could not grasp the debate in its entirety, which might have included some nuances making me more amenable to them, I prefer not to rebut them. But I will mention some rebuttal coming from the public. Compulsory voting was compared with taxes, as a duty citizens have and the white vote was mentioned as an option for those who do not want to express their opinion on the political offer. Finally, several participants said that young people’s low turnout does not equate a low interest in politics, conclusion also derived by research on the topic.

An interesting position, which I cannot recall hearing it from a young person before, held during the ensuing panel debate, stated that young people do feel represented; and if they do not, it is because it is normal for them to be against the system. Furthermore, a real dialogue between politicians and the citizens instead of mandatory voting, was mentioned as a different and maybe more effective way of inducing a higher turnout. One very memorable metaphor used for compulsory voting was comparing it to an imagined obligation to buy tomatoes, just that the only ones available on the market are rotten. This statement is quite revealing on how young Bulgarians relate to their politicians and national political arena.

Although research shows that given a congenial setting, compulsory voting seems to be the only institutional mechanism able to raise turnout in the range of 90%, questions remain, for example, how would everyone voting change the politicians’ approach to the citizens? Politicians respond to the interests of those that participate. Hence, could this provide them with an increased incentive to have a real dialogue with citizens mentioned previously? How would outcomes change? Apparently it would not make much of a difference on the outcome as the preferences of non-voters are similar to those who vote.

Although it might be difficult for any of the sides to have an indisputable victory in this debate, it is definitely worth having an exchange of arguments on the topic .

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How the hero of Lviv became Putin’s worst enemy /how-the-hero-of-lviv-became-putins-worst-enemy/ Wed, 21 May 2014 11:22:19 +0000 /?p=5275

Ambitious youngsters strive for a European, free Ukraine

If there is one question that comes to the minds of the Europeans when they read or hear news from Ukraine these days it is: “what to think about the situation in this country?” After the first massive enthusiasm, support of Euromaidan and the condemnation of the Russian annexation of Crimea, opinions drifted apart. We were greatly touched by our discussions in Kyiv and Lviv and would like to share with you what we have learned from the young Ukrainians and which conclusions did we draw from our visit to the country that is on everyone’s lips. We feel this is especially relevant now when opinions are drifting further away than ever, the news keep bombarding us with significant events that change the context of the debate and because we were shocked by some of the arguments of people and media in Ukraine and abroad. As a reaction to the deaths in Odessa, the first contributor on the Debating Europe platform, where our topic about the role of young people during Euromaidan was discussed, stated:

“The Euromaiden thugs are a bunch of Neonazis who burnt alive 42 people last night”.

This standpoint, one that seems to be shared by most of the Russian propaganda channels, appears to be picked up by European politicians at the far left and the far right. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French party Front National, openly supports Moscow’s position and many other right wing parties in Europe (even in the UK) follow her lead. Even more, some American journalists openly support a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia, one of them stating that: “seventy years ago, Russia defeated fascism in Europe. It is time to deliver that honourable blow again”.[1]

So, wait a minute… is it really the case that Ukraine is involved in a conspiracy of Neonazis, backed-up by the CIA in order to get rid of all Russians and Jews?

Courageous as we were, we dared to visit the country itself in order to ask young people in Lviv about their views on the situation.

Lviv: beautiful, peaceful and hopeful

Lviv 2One of the first things that strikes you when you enter the city of Lviv by train is its beautiful train station. Upon entering, the long-gone spirit of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire can be sensed in all the little details: the small stones in the road, the pretty houses and the magnificent buildings like the opera theatre. This student city in the West of Ukraine breathes a peaceful atmosphere with old trams slowly passing by and old people selling traditional clothes at the market. Apart from this old heritage of a perished empire the city contains a lot of ambitious young people and great innovations. Some of the highlights of its small-business innovations are its bars that are slowly becoming world-famous. One of them is the “House of Legends”- a 4-floor establishment with a dragon attached to it and great thematic decorations in all its tiny pubs. Another is the place called “Communal” where we had our presentation, a sunny and welcoming cafe that is open 24 hours a day. People could use flexible workspaces, get free drinks and food and even sleep in this place for only one euro an hour.

In this great environment we had a discussion with students from Lviv about the current situation in Ukraine. We considered the new ways of youth participation in Ukraine and the impact of Euromaidan on this phenomenon. Moreover, we asked about their attitude towards the happenings in the country with regards to the separatist movements in the East and the role of Putin in the conflict. It seemed that all of them agreed that the Euromaidan movement has fundamentally changed something in the attitude of the youth in Ukraine. For months it had been a daily fact of life: after university was finished you went to the square in order to join the other protesters. Lviv has a unique position in this respect while it is the place where Euromaidan started and the university professors; clerical leader and even its mayor actively supported the movement. Euromaidan has boosted many youth initiatives and made youngsters more interested in joining organizations that support their social surroundings; it opened up their eyes to the importance of building a strong civil society.

As for political participation, the impact of Euromaidan was different. The events showed the corrupted, greedy and undemocratic nature of Ukrainian politics, which doesn’t make it very attractive for young people to get involved in it. Though their stance had changed from a-political before Maidan to very political after Maidan, none of the participants was considering joining a political party. At the same time, they had a very strong stance on the current political situation in the East. When we asked them what do they think Ukraine should do in case the Eastern part of the country would be in danger of being lost, almost all of them agreed that Ukraine would have to fight for it. Especially as long as the influence of Putin in that part of the country remains so strong and there is no chance for an honest debate about the position of these regions, Ukraine should not accept separation and counter it with military intervention if necessary.

After the discussion, our impression of Lviv was one of a wonderful city with young people that live between hope and fear. How did this beautiful place become the centre of so much anger and hatred from the side of Putin and its supporters? How did it become a place where fascists would be roaming the streets and attacking those who don’t support the Ukrainian state? In order to find out about this we have to dig a bit into the Ukrainian history.

Kryjivka, the most dangerous restaurant in the world

Lviv 2Interestingly, part of the answer to these questions can be found in one of the famous restaurants of the city – Kryjivka. It has become a popular place for tourists from within and outside of Ukraine and has a very peculiar way of serving its guests. It is build like a bunker of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during and after the Second World War and upon entering each guest has to state the password “Heroyam Slava” (“glory to the heroes”) upon the welcoming words “Slava Ukrayini”(“glory to Ukraine). The personnel are all dressed up as members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army carrying guns and looking for Russians amongst the guests. If they suspect a guest to be Russian, they arrest him during the dinner and he gets send to a prison cell in the restaurant (this even happens with Dutch people that pretend to be Russian). In the cell, the guest has to answer a couple of questions like “who is Yanukovych” and “who is Putin”. Although this show seems very entertaining and innocent for the unknowing tourist, it has become a subject of controversy in Ukraine and reflects a deeper historical context. A pro-Russian Ukrainian politician who wanted to enter the restaurant but refused to state “Slava Ukrayini” was denied entrance. This became a scandal in the country and this politician later even stated that anti-Semite propaganda was being spread at Kryjivka.

The historical context of Kryjivka reveals the anti-Russian sentiments in the region and the Russian conviction that Lviv is the root of all evil in Ukraine. This goes back to the artificial famine of the 30’s that was caused by Stalin’s Soviet regime and killed millions of Ukrainians in Eastern Ukraine. Lviv and its surroundings have been a source of resistance against any external power that would deny them their cultural and political independence as Ukrainian people. The leader of the Ukrainian resistance was Stepan Bandera, a nationalist and a freedom fighter. He is hailed as a hero in Lviv, but is a very controversial figure in parts of Ukraine, Russia, Poland and the EU in general. Kryjivka is a symbol of Bandera’s heritage and the Ukrainian resistance against its oppressors.

What do these experiences tell us about the situation in Ukraine? First of all it shows that history is still very present in Western Ukraine and in the conflict in the region. Secondly, it teaches us that we should be weary that the images we see and the reality we experience do not always coincide. Although the sentiments in the region are indeed centred on a controversial figure this does not imply that the people are in any way fascist or xenophobic. Reality can only be sensed when actually being in Lviv and talking to the people. What you see then is that the youngsters are mostly fighting for a better future in which they can fully develop their ambitions. They’re fighting for a free, European Ukraine.

 

 



[1]http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/05/04/putin-send-troops-ukraine-finian-cunningham/

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The fight for tomorrow /the-fight-for-tomorrow/ Sun, 11 May 2014 17:52:57 +0000 /?p=5166 Over the course of the last few months Ukraine has been a topic of great interest and concern; not only here in Europe but around the world. Killings, fire, barricades, tires, Berkut, corruption, Yanukovych- those are the words and those are the images that we have heard and seen almost every day in our national newspapers and TV-programmes: a peaceful country in the heart of Europe suddenly exploding and turning into a new conflict zone. How did this happen? Did anyone see it coming? Who were the people who took part in this revolution? What did they want to achieve? What was the role of the young people in this historical movement? Is there a continuation of such strong social and political activism? These were some of the questions that we had in our mind when we crossed the border between Belarus and Ukraine.

From the land of last dictatorship to the land of revolutionaries

Interview at MaidanYou cannot avoid noticing the striking difference between Minsk and Kyiv when you are travelling in the region. Whereas Minsk breathes order and stability, Kyiv is the complete opposite. It seems to be chaotic and uncontrolled. The traffic is your worst nightmare and the drivers seem to have completely forgotten about the parking rules. The advertisements have taken over not only the metro but also all of the surfaces including pavements. But despite this chaos in the transportation and administrative systems, people in Kyiv are not afraid to talk about politics. You hear them discussing who will be the next president and why is this or that person not good enough everywhere: on the streets, in the metro, in the private conversations. And as Maidan has shown, such interest clearly goes beyond a plain talk. On our first day in Kyiv we were invited to attend a presentation of the political party – Democratic Alliance in one of its local offices. Democratic Alliance is a new but fast growing political party. One would think that after all the corruption scandals and dramas within the political parties Ukrainians would be too tired and uninterested to trust any political party. To our greatest surprise, the room was full of people who wanted to join this young party and they were ready to ask tough questions about what makes their party different to all of the old political forces. Yaroslav Yurchushyn explained that the Democratic Alliance is the only party in Ukraine that publishes lists of their sponsors and they are going to continue this practice, as this is the only way out of the political deadlock in the country. Opening party finances is also the only way to make sure that the oligarchs stay out of politics and stop buying their own parties.

People of Euromaidan

Filming at MaidanIn Kyiv, we had very interesting talks with the young people that were active during the Euromaidan and are still involved in many social initiatives post-revolution. Anastasia Rozlutska a volunteer from Euromaidan-SOS, explained to us how a movement that helped to coordinate activities of thousands of people and hundred different organizations started; how they managed to collect and share firsthand information via social media and keep the public informed about what was happening on the streets of Kyiv.  “Euromaidan – SOS was founded in the morning of November 30 after we switched on our computers and saw the shocking images from the main square where peaceful students protesting for the signature of the Association Agreement with the European Union were brutally beaten by the Special Forces. Most of our volunteers were young people from all over Ukraine and not only. There were also people from Russia and Belarus coming to help us”. The struggle for the better future did not finish on Maidan for the volunteers of the Euromaidan-SOS. “We are also trying to work after Maidan but of course it is harder to organize people in peaceful times. One of our initiatives is to make a historical summary of the events on Euromaidan. We also continue to search for 84 missing people. The hardest thing for me to do as a volunteer of Euromaidan – SOS was to go to the hospitals and talk to all those injured men and later informed the families that their husbands and sons were no longer with us”.

We were surprised to see that there were still barricades and tents on the central square. In one of the tents we found 3 men, one of them was ready to talk to us and explain why they are not going home. “Even though, the new government does not want us to be here we will stay as long as it is necessarily and at least until the elections. They need to know that Maidan can happen to them too if they follow the path of Yanukovych”. Some people stayed at Maidan while many others started their own movements, businesses or NGOs in order to start changing the Ukrainian society. One of these people is Iryna Koval. Together with her friends Iryna initiated Employment Center for the Free People. This center helps people who lost or left their job because of the Euromaidan to find new employment opportunities. Having a lot of experience in the HR, Iryna felt that this is the area she can contribute the most. Initially the focus was to provide employment for the people from Maidan. However, because of the situation in Crimea, Iryna’s organization is also trying to resettle the people who are fleeing the disputed region and would like to move to the mainland Ukraine.

The visit to Kyiv has been an inspiration and an eye-opener. It made us better understand the motives of the people who took part in this struggle for tomorrow. We were inspired to see the energy and determination of the young Ukrainians who want to change their country for good and turn it into a place where they can flourish.

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Fences are not made of sausage abroad! /fences-are-not-made-of-sausage-abroad/ Tue, 06 May 2014 17:41:40 +0000 /?p=5134

by Monica Nica

A last minute change introduced a detour in our route between Zagreb and Belgrade. The name of this fortunate twist is Pécs, in Hungary. Although we only spent 17 hours in the European Capital of Culture of 2010, they were filled to the brim both with challenging debates and soaking up some local traditions.

Even though they sometimes needed a push to take the discussion forward, the Hungarian participants had fruitful and interesting debates on all three questions they received: What are the advantages/disadvantages of mobility? Do you imagine yourself working in another country? What is the best way to defend your interests as a young person?

On the mobility matter, the advantages brought up were similar to what was mentioned during the discussions we had with youths from other locations: job/education opportunities, cultural sensitivity, self-improvement, breaking down stereotypes, to cite just a few. In the disadvantages corner, one point stood out among the usually mentioned ones: ‘losing your national identity’. What Leila Abbas meant with it was the fear of one having to relinquish his/her own culture, the fear of a ‘European melting pot’ which would erase the existing cultural differences. A strong attachment to national identity was present throughout the debates on all three questions, although twined with a criticism of the Hungarian government to the same intensity, if not even greater.

DSC01681 (1)Working in another country was regarded by most participants as a short term option. Both types of arguments – pro and against working abroad – boiled down to how despite the dissatisfaction with many things, it is better to live and work in Hungary. For them, a good reason to work abroad is to gain experience which can be later used back in one’s native country. An even more powerful expression of their national attachment came in the form of a reason against working abroad: ‘leaving your country is a kind of selfishness’. Zoltán Bagoly mentioned one Hungarian saying which can help to better understand how they feel about ‘abroad’: in other countries ‘fences are not made of sausages’, in a literal translation. Considering how kolbász (sausage) is one of the staples of Hungarian gastronomic culture, one can easily grasp why sausage fences are regarded as the crest of well-being. Going beyond the tastiness of the aphorism, what Zoltán was trying to convey with it is that they think they have an undistorted view of how things are abroad. Despite the situation in Hungary not being satisfactory, abroad it is not much better. Someone said, to the approval of the rest: ‘as a nation we are too proud to confess that we can learn from other nations’.

The literature on youth participation says that young people prefer alternative channels of action to influence decision-makers. The Hungarian youths confirmed this when they mentioned the best ways to defend their interests: peaceful protests, student organisations and social media campaigns. Although they also brought up establishing relationships with officials, most of the options represent new forms of engaging with the political. When asked why they did not even consider engaging with formal politics they said it is because politics in Hungary is a realm of corruption. Politicians are very protective of their seats and joining their ranks would entail becoming like them.

Knowing perfectly well the feeling of nausea when thinking about how politics is carried out in my own country I could comprehend their stance. Time and the European Union’s influence were two of the cures prescribed by the participants to alleviate the state of affairs in the national political arena. Given that their results are slow and unreliable, I further asked them what can we do now to meaningfully influence policy-making if engaging with formal politics is not a viable option?

A bottom-up approach still remained the preferred course of action. Associations like AEGEE, they said, have an important role, especially through the patronage which alumni can provide to the initiatives of current members.

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Europe on Track 2 empowers European youth to become actors in the construction of the Europe of tomorrow /europe-on-track-2-empowers-european-youth-to-become-actors-in-the-construction-of-the-europe-of-tomorrow/ Tue, 15 Apr 2014 08:17:55 +0000 /?p=4549 AEGEE-Europe launched on Wednesday 9th April the project Europe on Track 2 in the European Parliament. After presenting in the press conference, six travellers divided in two teams began their routes, crossing the European continent by train during one month, with the objective of interviewing young people from various backgrounds about their vision of Europe.

To set the context, the results and the documentary from the first edition, winner of the 2013 European Charlemagne Youth Prize, were presented to the audience. Then the project coordinators introduced the features of Europe on Track 2, which this time focuses on encouraging young people to get involved as active citizens and capture possible ways of participating in the construction of the European Project.

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“At a time when European integration is being questioned and young people’s future prospects have become hazy, in Europe on Track we want to act as a loudspeaker for the youth, bringing their opinion, their realities and their wishes to decision-makers” Réka Salamon, project coordinator.

 

The six travellers will pass by 25 cities in 16 countries, reaching the Baltics, the Balkans and Ukraine. In the local events they will discuss about mobility programmes, youth employment, the European elections, youth participations and europtimism. All the discussions and insights will be documented with videos, pictures and articles shared in the Europe on Track blog and through social media.

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In order in order to overcome the geographical and time limits, Europe on Track partners with Debating Europe who will host online debates on two of the topics: youth mobility and youth participation. “With this partnership we hope to spark online discussion that can add to the project’s results, engaging more young people and even not-so-young people from all European countries” Rocío Leza, project coordinator.

Speaker from the Youth For Public Transport presenting the concept of carbon footprint calculation

Speaker from the Youth For Public Transport presenting the concept of carbon footprint calculation

 

AEGEE also counts with the support of Interrail, who makes this ambitious project possible. Besides, our partner Youth For Public Transport supports the sustainable transport of the travellers by providing them with a carbon footprint calculator created especially for the project. “We thought that there was no better way of contributing to the project then supporting the sustainable transport of the travellers, providing them the possibility to really think about their mobility choices!”Jerome Kisielewicz, Y4PT.

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Reaction to the draft law of Spanish Government shutting down the Spanish Youth Council /reaction-to-the-draft-law-of-spanish-government-shutting-down-the-spanish-youth-council/ /reaction-to-the-draft-law-of-spanish-government-shutting-down-the-spanish-youth-council/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 17:28:17 +0000 http://aegee.blogactiv.eu/?p=917 On 17th January 2014, the Spanish Council of Ministers approved the draft law of Reform of the Public Administration that, based on an alleged duplicity of functions with the governmental body Spanish Youth Institute (INJUVE), formally abolishes the Spanish Youth Council (Consejo de la Juventud de España – CJE), turning a blind eye to the recommendations of Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, encouraging for the reconsideration of this measure.

AEGEE, as a youth organization striving for the participation of young people in decision-making processes, is strongly disappointed to see such a decision taken from the Spanish government, and calls for the Spanish Parliament to amend the Draft Law of Reform of the Public Administration and preserve the Spanish Youth Council. AEGEE, whose representatives in Spain are members of the Spanish Youth Council, is concerned by the lack of vision from the Spanish Government, which ignores the mandate of the Spanish Constitution (see art. 48) and eliminates the organ that has the representation of Spanish youth to defend their interests.

CJE is an organism founded in 1984, and nowadays gathers 76 diverse national organizations. It voices the interests of the young people on topics that are crucial for them, such as employment, sexual health or education. Shutting it down would worsen the situation of a collective that is already suffering the hard consequences of the international economic crisis. Therefore, AEGEE believes that this measure is a wrong approach to solving their issues problems, because it causes a lack of representation.

The same 17th of January, the Spanish Youth Council published a press release regarding the approval of the draft law showing their disagreement. In this document they highlight that “Spanish Government commits a big mistake that would let the Spanish youth without a valid representation” mentioning that this decision is not taken from the alleged “administrative efficiency criteria”, but with the objective of eliminating an “inconvenient organism”.

The European Youth Forum also reacted against this announcement calling “on the Spanish government to recognise young people, through their representation by youth organisations such as the CJE, as critical components of a healthy democracy”. They base their argumentation, as Martin Schulz also did, upon the European Union’s White Paper on Youth, emphasizing the importance of democratic platforms such as Spanish Youth Council in promoting youth participation through independent institutions.

Written by Pablo Hernández, Policy Officer of AEGEE-Europe for Youth Participation

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Europe on Track 2: Mobility and EUrope /europe-on-track-2-mobility-and-europe/ Wed, 01 Jan 2014 16:38:34 +0000 /?p=4107 Following the successful achievements of the first edition of the project, Europe on Track 2 is also aiming to tackle issues that are of great concern for young people, giving them the chance to speak up for their needs, demands and express their proposals for changes. Only this time, a stronger emphasis will be put on encouraging young people to take action and become actors in the construction of “the Europe we want for our future!”

The choice of the two main topics heavily depended on aligning the thematics with AEGEE’s mission of empowering young people across the European continent and providing them with information on the programmes and possibilities being part of the European Union offers them. Hence Europe on Track 2 is going to put Mobility and EUrope in the focus of its interactive workshops, sessions and discussions during the whole trip of the six travelling ambassadors.

Download the project dossier and read more about the concept and the realization of the project!

Europe on Track 2 – Dossier

 

 

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