What European Youth Event 2018 taught me about Europe?


Written by Sonja Barać from Serbia

June 2018

The EYE2018 took place on 1-2 June 2018 in the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg. It is a unique opportunity for young Europeans to make their voices heard.

“This might be your only chance to join this kind of an event. It’s may be now, and never again” – this kind of a sentence (with few varieties) I heard couple of times while I was present on European Youth Event 2018 in Strasbourg, 1 – 2 June. 8000 people going around the European Parliament and hanging in front in Yo!Fest actually made me understand why people said the sentence above. It can be a matter of possibilities and in some case a matter of choice.

Dozens of workshops took place during the 2 days, both in EP and Yo!Fest. Topics were different – gender, migration, policies, sustainable living, lots of panels, art performances and idea labs. Many of them were promotion for some organizations and campaigns. All in all, in the program was everything that could potentially engage young people into discussion and further understanding of nowadays concepts and ways how the world works.

Or how it does not work?

Aside from the organization of the event itself that was everything but organized (waiting in line for 2 hours to get inside the EP, 3 food trucks located outside for 8000 people, etc.), the workshops that took place, of course, also had an impact of my complete overview of this event. I was personally interested in topics like languages, migration and biodiversity. Since I applied for them few months ago (you had to apply fast through an online form – first come, first served), I was really looking forward to it.

Myself and Betty, a EVS communication volunteer, had a chance to do one workshop as well (see more in the text below), so this is my overall impression:

Workshop: Biodiversity and wildlife crime: On safari to extinction

What can the European Union and the member states contribute to stop criminals and to protect threatened animals? Support park rangers and local communities against poachers?

According to two of the speakers, it is “absolutely acceptable” to protect the animals and support park rangers by creating more violence, and that means – enabling those rangers to kill the poachers in case they try to take into possession some of the animals. For them this is one of the strategies that should be implemented – and this was their answer once they got a question from one participant on should violent measures and military approach be taken into consideration when it comes to concrete steps to stop wildlife crimes.

The third speaker, Catherine Bearder (Vice President of the European Parliament), remained silent on these comments. Which, in my opinion, makes it worse.

No one tried to tackle the problem from its roots and ask themselves why poachers even exist, and do they even have an opportunity to do anything else to feed their families? Do they have an alternative? And is it so that this business exists because there are still customers all around Europe, Asia and other continents. The problem is way more complex. The time was limited indeed, but I am concerned we didn’t discuss these things in more details.

And it made me think – why through EU funded projects we still learn about non-violent conflict resolutions and peace building, when we witness these kinds of statements? When we witness constructions of fences across EU external borders to stop migration and when we witness fascists and anti-migrant political parties winning elections in Italy, Slovenia and elsewhere, ready to use forms of violence for reaching their goals?

Workshop: Languages: An endangered species

Language diversity is a fundamental part of European diversity. Is it a strength for Europe or does it weaken its cohesion? Do we even need minority languages? Join experts and youth activists to discuss these questions.

Interesting workshop organized by World Esperanto Youth Organisation that raised many questions in small group discussions (should minority groups still learn their native language beside the language of the majority and how to make this happen properly, and does the language diversity make our lives easier or harder, etc.). But, as one of the speakers was Catalan, the political side quickly came to surface and, instead of discussing language diversity we discussed the Catalan case, having a participant with prepared agenda on his laptop and getting applause for the things he said.

Lack of moderation and fair discussion – I left the room soon after even though I feel the struggle of these people and I am sure it is hard. But this is not what I applied for.

Also, myself (Building Bridges campaign volunteer) and Betty (communication volunteer in IS), were part of an SCI Youth Representation group, and we did a workshop called On the road from ‘apart’ to ‘together’: The first step

How can we include people from different cultures in a Europe which is as diverse as ever? Come along to our workshop and take part in two games focused on self-insight: what possible prejudices might European societies have against refugees and migrants? Put your own experiences under the microscope and (re)consider your actions for the future integration of young refugees and migrants in European society.

We were satisfied with the outcome of the workshop, people were engaged and they talked even after the workshop ended, but it would be nice if some of the participants could say more. ☺ To be completely honest I am sure we could have done it better, because there is always a space for improvement. But I also think we raised some important questions and made some people think about different contexts. We pointed out that the strength in overcoming barriers lays in volunteering and intercultural dialogue.

After the event I read a lot of posts on EYE2018 Facebook group that counts more than 6000 members. Some people thought the event was amazing and that it gave a chance for young people to connect. Some people had a feeling that they came there to hear the ‘’loud euro-enthusiast pushing their liberal agenda’’. Some, on the other hand, (finally) started questioning European values. And I have to say all of this is true. All of this happened, and all of this is representing nowadays Europe.

What in my opinion represented it the most is the situation on the Closing ceremony of the European Youth Event 2018, where one young Polish girl expressed her concern about huge influx of refugees and migrants coming to Europe. She said that she is questioning in which way EU citizens are protected from it. The panelist almost immediately turned off her microphone and didn’t give any answer to her question. Almost everybody in the room boo-ed the panelist for doing such a thing, but the ceremony went on.

Strangely, I did not find the video YouTube or on any official channel of EYE2018.

But, you know: It is a unique opportunity for young Europeans to make their voices heard.

I was constantly having a feeling that in case you do not think like a majority – you just do not fit. Not everything is black and white, or left or right. There are shades of experience, circumstances, way of living and our personal beliefs.

And next time when somebody says that this kind of controversial statements are not part of somebody’s Europe (whatever that means?!), I would like that this person steps back and realizes that there is millions and millions of Europeans, millions and millions of souls seeking for the truth. And saying that something is ‘’not your Europe’’ just because the thought does not fit in your little bubble it does not mean somewhere, out there, is not the truth for somebody else.

We will witness transformation once we all take a standpoint in understanding and ‘’going into somebody’s shoes’’, without judgement. This event did not give much space in doing so. And this is what I realized during EYE2018: we are not ready to understand, and we are not ready to have a discussion and also, we do not know how to properly have it. We need to learn those things, to acknowledge our differences and learn from them.

And as much as I do not agree with the statement of the Polish girl I can understand from where this opinion and, most of all, fear comes from. I am sure there is a lot of people understanding this statement from a same perspective but it seems this was not allowed on a larger scale. The dialogue was not possible and I am sure it will have an impact on many people witnessing this situation on the closing ceremony.

I also had a feeling we are attached too much to the terms and we put labels on everything. Nobody listens and observes anymore. It’s only important that fits ‘’good’’, democratic and liberal standpoint.

Who cares if those things are actually implemented? Who cares, for example, that EU agency Frontex got an increased budget of billions of dollars to protect external borders from immigration in the following years? Is anybody aware that means more killings, deaths and suffering? But I guess that is not our concern. We might not be able to see it with our own eyes – so it’s equal to non-existence of the issue. Our little bubble will be safe and saved. Long live democracy and freedom of movement.

What European Youth Event 2018 taught me about Europe?

I will say I have no intention in participating in this kind of event anytime soon. The situation with the Polish girl, the fact that my friend that participated on the workshop on Western values only remembers 2 cameras automatically moving towards a person in the room that is speaking (and actually not having any clear point on what the workshop was about – and I very much believe her judgment) and many other things I mentioned in this article, do not give me motivation to participate again.

I have to say I am also critical to myself – the fact I am writing this article now and not being able to say these things on the spot during the workshops also made me think on how much I am contributing to all of this. We all need to reconsider our position and, maybe, take a look at things from different perspective.

On the other hand there were many smart, talented, amazing young individuals thinking with their own head, that can make a change in this world.

And that is our power – not institutions, but people.

I am thankful that movements like SCI still exist in this world because these kind of grassroot initiatives and projects do make a change and create space for exchange on different levels. And after this event I am even more convinced that this is an absolute necessity in nowadays world – things that are really based on non-violent conflict resolution, re-humanizing the ones that are dehumanized, and searching for a fair play and justice on every single level. I truly believe we can still be in unity while thinking with our own mind and heart. Because when you do, there is no such thing as fear, hate, ‘’us’’ against ‘’them’’, thinking only about our own privileges, and not realizing that when somebody out there is not free – no one actually is.

We need to be directly involved and passionate about making a change, stepping out of the comfort of our own beliefs and challenge ourselves to think about the other, maybe not so like-minded person. Sometimes I tend to be in my own bubble as well, and this is something I rediscovered again. I personally felt a lot of injustice and discomfort in Strasbourg and that something ‘’just does not fit in here’’ – but it seems to me I cannot completely put it into words at the moment.

And last but not least, I would kindly ask EYE organizers to reconsider the wordings on their website and, in case they will shut out somebody’s microphone again next time, delete this sentence from their online platforms, just to avoid confusion in the future:

It is a unique opportunity for young Europeans to make their voices heard.

Or they could, for instance, let people express their opinion and learn how to make a dialogue out of it.

You can still join!

Want to have your own volunteer experience for peace?

Read more Voices of Volunteers