Europe on the Move
From the 10th to the 17th September, 2014, twenty-three young Europeans from Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovakia and Sweden met in Estonia and Russia to discuss about life at a border and questioned the existence of a 'Baltic identity'. The 1st Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue was a joint initiative by the Körber Foundation and the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in cooperation with Narva College and EUSTORY.
After a quick start in Tallinn that familiarised the participants with each other and with the concepts of how identity is constructed (and deconstructed), and trying to implement these concepts when discussing 'Baltic Identity', the group moved to Narva, a city situated in the very eastern part of Estonia, right at the border to Russia.
Richard from Germany recollected that when "talking about the Baltic Identity issue I was surprised that we were indeed able to identify similarities in the way people view live all around the Baltic Sea, such as religion, sports and the economic and political system, but when we compared our results in the end no one took a stand declaring his or her Baltic identity. For my part I feel like I am able to answer the question about my personal 'identity' now more easily than before the seminar and additionally was introduced to a number of new designs of identity which may help to put oneself in somebody's shoes in the future."
The Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue was hosted by Narva College. Their director Katri Raik gave the participants important insights into the history and the present situation of Narva and its connection to the 'other side': Russia. This region, being the 'entrance gate' to Europe, as Katri Raik put it, was shaped by many different powers throughout history and offers a unique surrounding for discoveries and discussions.
Many of the students were really surprised to learn that approximately 98% of Narva's population are Russian speakers and that more than 20% of them only had an 'alien passport', which means that they have no citizenship at all, and therefore also no right to political participation. Benedicte from Norway noted: "What surprised me the most was that over 22% of the people living in Narva did not have any citizenship. One of the main reasons for this I understood was that many felt just as much Russian as Estonian, and did not want to choose between them."
During the stay in Narva the participants got input about the history of the Baltic region, discussed advantages and challenges of the life next to a border, had simulations about minority/majority issues and met with young people from the region to learn a bit about their lives, hopes and difficulties. They also met with the Estonian Minister of Education, Jevgeni Ossinovski, and asked him about his plans for the future of this region and how to improve the matter of integration.
But the participants did not only stay on one side of the border: on Sunday they crossed the border to Ivangorod, Russia. There they had the chance to discover the life on the 'other side' of the river and discuss with the Deputy Mayor of Ivangorod, Tatjana Sharova, the issue of co-operation between both cities and how they are connected to the daily lives of the inhabitants.
Bartłomiej from Poland stated: "I was surprised by the huge difference of the socioeconomic situation on the Russian side of the river in comparison with Estonia. Another really astonishing thing was the sight of so many monuments and other footprints of the Soviet past, even on the Estonian side."
After returning to Tallinn the young Europeans got the chance to share and discuss their impressions from Narva and Ivangorod with the German Ambassador Christian Matthias Schlaga.
One further important part of the Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue was the work on the virtual photo exhibition #BALTICEYE. Everyday there were sessions dedicated to finding a 'mission' for the respective room, learning how to think in pictures, select photos and create titles and interpretations, now all accessible on www.balticeye.net
The main topics the participants were dealing with during the program are displayed in a separate 'room' in the digital exhibition. The young Europeans were divided into four groups and started to work on the topics: "Identities", "Borderlife", "Shared Past" and "Our Generation". Each group had the same task: to take 30 pictures about one of the topics, 15 pictures in Narva and 15 pictures in Ivangorod, including a description for each; to write a 'mission', which describes how they understand the idea behind the room and what they want to show with their pictures; and to document their work process during their 'journey'.
Daniela from Germany concluded: "What I'm taking home from the First Baltic Sea Youth Dialogue, besides of a lot information about the history of the Baltic region, is a new perception on my own identity, a lot of new experiences and friends."