National Constitutions and European Democracies in Times of Crisis
Twenty-thee participants from Poland, Denmark, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Italy, Wales, Israel and Slovakia met in Oslo in order to study democracies in their full spectrum. They wanted to discover what role political parties, governmental and nongovernmental organisations or institutions and the media play alongside the elected political institutions, and how political decisions as well as public opinions are formed and compromises are reached. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the Norwegian constitution they also discussed the content and history of their own institutions.
The programme during week was intense and balanced. It offered excursions and lectures as well as simulations, group discussions and meetings with experts.
One highlight of the week was the visit to Eidsvoll, the place where the Norwegian constitution was formed and signed in 1814. Participants also got a tour of the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament) in Oslo and heard a talk about the concept of trust in the Norwegian democracy by Stefan Heggelund, member of the Conservative party. Thus, the participants could get a better impression of the reality of politics in Norway. To complete this, the participants visited and interviewed representatives from trade unions, a climate research institute, a publishing house, an organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, a newspaper, the Law Students pro bono organisation, as well as the Ombudsman for Equality and a member of Parliament. The participants worked in small groups and each group presented the different organisations and institutions and their reflections about their roles in a democracy. During a visit to Amnesty International they got the chance to gain an insight into the situation of human rights in Norway and discussed challenges and dilemmas.
The situation of minorities and the challenge to reach a consensus in politics also stood in the centre of the simulation ‘Sleepyville’, where they simulated a town council meeting.
Shir from Israel commented: “I've learnt how important the role of trust in a democracy is. I realised that democracy can’t exist if the people don't have trust in their governments. Also I've realized that the different parties or organisations have to have trust each other as well. (This was expressed in the simulation activity we had). I am still wondering how this could be applied better in our reality, or in my country.” During that activity, the participants simulated a city council meeting discussing the rights of minorities and also exchanged their views on the situation of minorities in their own countries.
Heledd from Wales added: “When we did the minorities task I learnt about the different minority groups which exist across Europe, it was interesting to see similarities between countries. I found this task especially interesting because it showed people’s perspective on the situation in their own country.”
Dr. Iver B. Neumann, Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at London School of Economics, gave the participants an overview of the way peace treaties and international agreements were done and about their role in history, focussing mainly on the treaties of Vienna (1815) and Paris (1919) and their impact on contemporary Europe.
The attendance of the Europe@debate event on the topic of “New Social and Digital Media in the European Public Sphere” triggered a discussion about the role of the media in democratic societies and prepared the floor for a discussion with the journalist and writer Halvor Tjønn and also for the joint work on an online magazine.
The participants used their time in a very productive way. They put a lot of energy in participating in the program, creating an interesting magazine and enjoying each other's company. Or, to say it in the words of Jan from Czech Republic, summarising his learning experience: “I learnt how to create my personal results, present them, analyse and compare them with others. It was great to interview someone who is working in a governmental organisation, which is protecting the people from discrimination (Ombudsman for equality). During this experience I learnt to listen carefully and form my opinions and become aware of dilemmas. Especially in our interview there were many dilemmas to talk about. I learnt how to work with information and how to work in groups, especially during the online magazine work.”
If you want to read more about the whole week, check out the Online Magazine here.