First EUSTORY Summit: Diverse, controversial and creative
The first EUSTORY Next Generation Summit came to an end on 9 October 2017 in Berlin with standing ovations for the impressive work of the 100 young European participants. After three intensive days of exchange, discussion and reflection, the 16- to 25-year-old winners of the EUSTORY Network's National History Competitions presented the results of their six workshops in a public closing event in Radialsystem V.
After a turbulent start of the Summit - storm 'Xavier' had swept across nothern Germany and it had taken many young people from Germany longer than Russian or Israeli participants to reach Berlin - Marianne Birthler opened the EUSTORY Summit with an impressive speech on her experiences in dealing with painful history.
As Former Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic, Mrs. Birthler encouraged the participants to actively work for a vibrant culture of remembrance that comes as close as possible to the truth and does not hide the dark sides of our history. She also encouraged the young Europeans to be inspired by the European liberation movements when looking at future challenges for our democracies. After her keynote, she she discussed with two EUSTORY alumnae, Yolanda Trujillo Adriá from Span and Anna Sievälä from Finland, about the different ways in which civil wars and dictatorships were dealt with.
Which keys does history hold for the understanding of the present and the shaping of the future in Europe? The participants of the Summit in Berlin approached this question from very different perspectives. The focus was not only on classical formats of educational mediation, but creative approaches also demonstrated great potential. Together with the musician and composer Marc Sinan, the actress Elmira Bahrami and the dramaturge Holger Kuhla, the members of the workshop "Resist Violence" developed a touching and startling performance in which they staged historical and current experiences of violence through dance, music and poetry.
The team of the Berlin-based research collective "Vajswerk" together with the young participants were also impressively successful in bringing history to life through an artistic examination and linking it with the present. In a scenic reading they presented a kaleidoscope of biographies of children with experiences of migration and persecution. Pain, violence, feelings of uprooting and homelessness: the experiences of the affected children were surprisingly similar, whether in Nazi concentration camps and deportation trains, during forced resettlement in the Spanish civil war or during the current exodus in Ukraine.
“Populism is both historically significant and has a high political relevance in Europe", summarised Morena from Germany when looking back at her workshop "Analysing Populism". Together with Karolina Wigura and her colleagues from the Polish NGO "Kultura Liberalna", Morena and fifteen other young people examined political radicalisation in the media in an international comparison. In intensive discussions with international experts such as Franck Düvell of Oxford University and Paolo Mancini of Perugia University, they found out that populists pursue similar strategies in many countries. During the final panel discussion, Anna-Luisa from Germany emphasised the abuse of collective memory and emotional images by populists.
And Shahar Edelmann from the Israeli EUSTORY History Competition countered the trend towards ever shorter messages and simplifications in the social media with a plea for intensive exchange and appreciation of complexity. “Only through dialogue can we build bridges to defend our liberal, democratic core values and counteract radical voices with strong answers", stated Karolina Wigura in her conclusion of the discussion on stage.
The participants of the workshop "Fake or Real?" also wanted to build bridges and find concrete solutions for a current problem. Together with historian Tina Gotthardt, they developed strategies for dealing with the phenomenon of 'Fake News' in the media. The results of the workshop were directly linked to the world of the young people: they created their own Instagram profile with which they interactively explain the topic, and programmed a browser plug-in for reporting fake news on the Internet, which is freely available on the usual platforms.
The varied closing event of the Summit was complemented by the elaborate video animation of the participants of the "Europe on Display" workshop, who, together with Blandine Smilansky and Laure Goemans from the House of European History in Brussels, opened up European paths of remembrance in lovingly detailed work and created an impressive compilation of their shared historical heritage.
Under the guidance of representatives of the MEMORIAL Society Moscow, other young people set off on the trail of the Russian Revolution in Europe. They discussed with the Ukrainian historian Andrii Portnov about the revolutionary heritage, and searched for traces of the revolution in Berlin's cityscape with the journalist Nikolai Klimeniouk.
Some participants of the workshop spoke with journalist Natalia Konyashina about the impact of the revolution in their home countries and their experiences in Berlin.
For the participating young people, the EUSTORY Summit in Berlin offered exciting encounters, deep thematic insights and inspiring moments. Leonardo from the Italian EUSTORY History Competition, who was accompanied throughout the Summit by the filmmakers (“Schatzfilm”), was fascinated by the special atmosphere during the event, which triggered new ideas and broadened his horizon. Sara from Slovenia was also enthusiastic about the atmosphere during the Summit: "You come together, create a place that different people, different cultures share in order to accomplish something together that can change other people and maybe even the world".
We should talk to each other instead of about each other - this was the principle agreed on by the participants as well as by the more than 30 experts of the Summit. Elena from Spain came to the conclusion: "If we don't talk to each other, we live in the same world but we are separated from each other. We have to try to understand each other”. The young people appreciated the fact that the Summit offered plenty of room for this. Jonas from Denmark was inspired above all by the exchange with young people from different countries about topics that are important to him - despite of or even especially because of their cultural and linguistic differences. Similarly, the take-home message for Ronja from Germany is the realisation that diversity does not have to lead to conflicts, but can also open many doors.
The organisers of this first EUSTORY Summit concluded that the knowledge of history offers many connecting factors to understand current problems and to develop strategies for the social challenges of the future. This is the message that many young people took home to their respective countries. The workshop leaders and partners at the EUSTORY Summit impressively managed to bring history to life and to make history’s impact on the urgent problems of the present and the future tangible.