On the 15th of April, 2017, the ambassadors and project team started arriving in Budapest and Monday evening we finally all gathered together, offline, for the first time.
Starting the Monday “fashionably” late, we went on a city tour, led by Luca Búr, to admire the beautiful architecture and fascinating history of the city. Budapest being known for its ruin bars, we ended the day at Szimpla, the city’s first and most famous ruin bar, known for its disoriented but charming environment.
Our training as ambassadors officially started on Tuesday, and the past few days have been intensive, motivating and full of caffeine-derived energy. During the training, we prepared for our workshops, conducted mock-interviews, and performed team building activities. Benedetto, one of the ambassadors from last year’s Team Blue joined us to share his experiences and knowledge transfer in order for us to learn from previous mistakes and best practises. Although we will probably face many challenges on the way, we now all believe that we are better prepared for any obstacles that may cross our paths.
On 27th April, the day before our opening conference, the annual Report by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe was released, in which states that “the Europe-wide project on democratic citizenship education should be implemented as a priority.” This statement proves the importance of the topic of our opening conference “Education for the present, Democracy for the Future”, which started on 28th April, officially launching Europe on Track! It is organized by AEGEE-Budapest, the Europe on Track Project Team and the Civic Education Working Group, with support of the Associations des Amis de Franck Biancheri.
The conference started with an address from the Comité Directeur, Maarten de Groot and Joanna Pankowska, followed by the president of AEGEE-Budapest, Ákos Glaub. Then followed a speech by the representative of Central European University, Serge Sych, who expressed his admiration of the unique bond of the AEGEE family after witnessing our dynamic energizer. The main organizer of the conference, Petra Buruzs, shared a fairytale story about the birth of the conference, that started with a “marriage proposal” from María Ballesteros Melero and Nicola Guida, from EoT and CEWG.
During the conference we had parallel workshops on The Concept of Civic Education, The Evolution of Democracy and The Power of Knowing. Using AEGEE’s democratic tool of finger gestures to communicate, the early hours did not withhold the participants from engaging in intense debate, breaking down definitions and constructs. During coffee(candy) breaks, we got to enjoy different candies brought from all over Europe! Furthermore, Marie Heller’s spoke about Civil Society’s role in shaping active and responsible citizens, using the complex history of civil society in Central Eastern Europe. This talk was followed by four different focus group sessions on Economics and Democracy, Current (European) Democracy, Civil Society and Euroland.
Not only did we listen to lectures, but the participants also came up with their own projects that they presented at the final day of the conference, promising to execute their ideas and move forward in creating a better Europe together.
The conference with 80 participants and speakers took place at the Central European University in Budapest, in the midsts of current struggles regarding academic freedom, and thus, according to many speakers, the perfect location at the perfect timing for this conference. Hungary is not an exception – right-wing populism is rising across Europe, bringing the future of democracy in danger, highlighting the responsibilities of all of us to gather against such forces. Democracy is not a given, but its dynamic and fragile nature requires citizens to be active, responsible, and critical.
We want young people’s voices to be heard, and we can’t wait to hear the thoughts of young people from all over Europe during the next one month. It’s almost amazing that we’ve only known each other for less than a week now, for it feels like we’ve known each other for years, and we are all incredibly excited for the journey ahead of us!
By Rut & Ele