Europe Workshop in Zittau
We are Europe is back in Zittau: The initiative of the Stiftung Zukunft Berlin, the Humboldt-Universität Berlin and the International Journalists’ Programs (IJP) were a guest in the city of Zittau for the second time on Friday and Saturday, March 25 and 26, 2022 to engage in conversation with citizens from the region. The Europe of today is different than it was at the first Zittau “Europe Workshop” in early summer 2019. In the meantime, we have been confronted with many new challenges which became noticeable in the mood of the participants – uncertainty and at the same time hope and solidarity left their mark.
However these circumstances also made the discussions during the different events and workshops more enriching where we could discuss what is the meaning of Europe in these times, how can we look into the future and what can each citizen contribute to get involved on the civil society level to help shaping the future of Europe. We would like to take this opportunity to record what we took away from the meeting.
RescEU: “What if the EU no longer existed? ”
Under the provocative and yet very relevant question “What if the EU no longer existed?”, we tried to show playfully in the context of an “Escape Game”, what value the EU has for each individual. Positive mood during the realization of the RescEU Escape Game in the classrooms of the Richard-von-Schlieben-Oberschule in Zittau was abundant, both among the students and our game leaders. The informal learning environment created by the project with the help of games and puzzles awoke the young people’s interest in the value of the European Union, which is often taken for granted, especially among young fellow citizens.
Young people worked in small groups on various tasks in different thematic areas, thereby addressing the question of how much Europe is in their daily lives. With the help of a concept based on the principle of gamification, we were able to test and extend the knowledge about geography, history, climate, European values, energy supply and migration/refugees. In addition, there were opportunities for discussion and exchange of opinions on the various topics within each group and at the end during the plenary session. Overall, new positive insights were gained, especially for the region between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Periphery, Borders and Culture
The main questions during this discussion were how the cross-border cooperation in the cultural sector between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic in the region around Zittau works, and especially what it needs to be developed further and whether the cultural work that is done reaches and can influence the citizens. Due to the fact that the regions in Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic have their own specific historical background, they bring with them different levels of already existing infrastructure in cultural work. These differences are also present in the in the perceptions and opinions of Europe. However, there is a willingness for cross-border cooperation and good strategies have already been developed. For example, in existing projects, the remembrance of a common and shared history in the region across current borders is used to create a sense of belonging and interest in the “other”. The border experiences in the area of culture were not considered solely in Zittau and the three-country region but were considered in an European context and the outcomes of the discussion will be incorporated as an example in the discussions around periphery also in the Spanish-Portuguese region of Extremadura. Especially the people of Zittau were convinced to share their experiences and insights with other European citizens.
Explorations in the City: Places and Memories in Zittau
The explorations in the city brought together seniors from Zittau and younger participants from other cities and regions for an intergenerational dialogue. The walk on the topic of Jewish history in Zittau offered the latter the opportunity to get to know the city through a very specific historical perspective and represented an opportunity for the former to explore their own city through new eyes. Through conversations involving the personal history of the Zittau citizens, a multi-layered picture of the city’s history emerged, depicting the entire twentieth century from both personal and collective perspectives. The tour also clearly illustrated the void left behind by the historically displaced and now defunct Jewish community and how little knowledge about it exists today. In addition, and due to the visible vacancy in the city, the question of the future of Zittau also arose, which has shrunk from 45,000 inhabitants after the war to 25,000.
“There is a lot of media cooperations between France and Germany, but in the border triangle of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic we are still waiting for it since the borders disappeared.” Journalist Axel Arlt from the Sorbian daily Serbske Nowiny in Bautzen was one of 15 journalists from Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Poland and the Netherlands who explored the opportunities and possibilities of greater cooperation between the media in Saxony and the neighboring regions in Poland and the Czech Republic at the Zittau media workshop.
But there are several reasons why media cooperation between the three countries is not easy. While the state of Saxony has its own budget and media policy, the neighboring regions in the Czech Republic and Poland are more dependent on the budgets and decisions of the national governments in Prague and Warsaw for international cooperation. In addition, language plays a major role in the region: only fluent bilingual or even trilingual journalists can easily work across borders and thus have access to all the information they need.
As part of the workshop the entire group of participants visited the newsroom of the Zittau office of the Sächsische Zeitung. It was concluded that there is interest and need for cross-border media cooperation, but in order to fill the gaps, not only a clear policy to promote cross-border media cooperation is needed, but also concrete funding models and infrastructure.
You can find a more detailed report in the article from Onno Falkena on our website:
Youth Think Tank
On Saturday the members of We are Europe met in the café of the Hillersche Villa to exchange with the youth of Zittau. Democracy in Europe needs a functioning public, which starts early, therefore young Europeans were invited to join. The Russian invasion of Ukraine offered a sad occasion to discuss democratic values in Europe. In this context we invited Alex Guzenko to talk about the situation in Ukraine.
Oleksandr (Alex) Guzenko is a Ukrainian journalist who has worked for several NGOs and the Ukrainian parliament. He joined us live from the west of Ukraine via Zoom. With very impressive words he described us the current situation in his home country and talked about the difficulties he and his family have to face every day. The participants asked how they as young people in Germany can best help the Ukrainians. Alex Guzenko expressed his gratitude for the generous help that refugees from Ukraine are currently receiving in Europe. However, he also appealed to us that this help must be thought of in the long term, because there is still no end to the war in sight.
This appeal concluded the Youth Think Tank, which made us aware of how fragile peace sometimes is.
Open Space Europe
At Open Space Europe the citizens of Zittau had the opportunity to exchange ideas with representatives from politics and society, with cultural workers, journalists and activists in the field of Europe. Many topics were addressed and we decided to highlight here in summary the following points:
- Cooperation between the regions in the border triangle already exists in many areas, and there are functioning structures (e.g. Oder-Neisse region since 1990, cross-border cultural work) in place. What all three regions share is the fact that they are each on the periphery of national and european attention. Structures in the countryside are weaker, and resources are limited. It is important to draw attention to these issues, and voices need to be louder. The problem of coal production and Turów are important issues that are being dealt with and decided on the borders of Europe – therefore these should become the focus of attention in the respective countries and in Europe.
- Language plays an immensely important role, benitnand it is important to recognize language as an opportunity. It was emphasized that language learning should start in early childhood education and be strive to establish continuity. There is also an imbalance in the region, as the German population often does not speak the language of the neighboring countries, but it is expected the other way around. In this context, the willingness to learn the language of the neighbors says a lot about the willingness to cooperate. Only, for this to happen, it is necessary to create the infrastructure and raise awareness of how important it is to be able to talk to your neighbors.
- A strong civil society is central to cultural and European progress. In 2019, there was a strong civil society momentum due to Zittau’s application for the title of European Capital of Culture 2025, but this momentum has lost impetus due to the events of the last few years. The question at hand is: How do you manage to continue motivating the population to get involved in the development of their city despite difficulties and divided opinions?
- A major challenge in Zittau represents a development that is typical in many small towns: demographic change and the departure of young people from the region. At the same time, young voices in the audience criticize the fact that although it is the European Year of Youth – there is no activity in this area. It is extremely important to enable young people to engage with European values and bring them closer to them. A structure for participation of children and youth is in place, however it can be expanded and must be further strengthened. In addition, topics that affect future generations, be it Corona, war, or the climate crisis, must be brought into focus.
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