The End of Empires: New Borders, New States, New Loyalties?
From 6 - 13 October, 2013, twenty-three young Europeans from Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Poland, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland met to discuss the consequences of the First World War for Europe.
The first morning was dedicated to getting to know each other and each other’s background better, including the research works with which they had participated in their national history competitions. The participants then worked in smaller groups in which they had to find common as well as distinctive points of their individual work and presented their results.
A representative of the Office for Slovenians Abroad, Dr. Zvone Žigon, gave a short presentation, followed by a discussion about the situation of Slovenians living abroad and their relationship with the Slovenian state.
In order to get a live impression of Ljubljana, the young Europeans went in small groups to the city center with the task of exchanging a box of matches for anything they find better or worthier. After two hours the results of the task were many interesting objects and 23 smiling and satisfied participants, who enthusiastically and with an original approach presented the photographs showing their exchanges and experiences they had with the people in Ljubljana.
The day was later concluded with a lecture by Professor Bojan Balkovec, organiser of Eustory Slovenia, who gave a brief introduction to Slovenian history upon which participants were later able to build and create a clearer image of the situation of minorities in the region.
Since crossing borders was an essential element of our program, on our second day we went on an excursion to the “Chapel of Holy Spirit”, which was built by Austro-Hungarian soldiers during the First World War. As Haris from Austria put it: “It was not only the landscape but the feeling we had, standing on the frontline – imaging all the combats and cruelty – and then this Chapel, which somehow gives the humanity back into this area and which creates a new image of the soldiers – human beings, who most probably did not want this war. Furthermore, the Chapel’s multi-religious and tolerant character surprised many of us. This unifying building is reflecting our today’s society, a society which has to be improved by building up a strongly connected and active European civil society.”
Our group of Eustorians also visited the graveyards of Italian soldiers in Kobarid (Slovenia) and finished the field-trip in the cities of Nova Gorica (Slovenia) and Gorizia (Italy). Our participants got a very demanding research task there: They were divided into groups of two. One person of each group went to Gorizia and the other one to Nova Gorica in search of common or distinctive points in each city and in the identities of the citizens. Afterwards they had to write one article together, covering their findings in each of the cities. The trip and task in Gorizia and Nova Gorica turned out to be the most popular and beloved ones by the participants.
Olda from Poland, for example, said: “It was interesting because we had to interview people and discover the city ourselves. We were given much freedom with choosing the topic of our work.” The articles are now collected and presented in the magazine “The Eustorian”.
On the third day the participants were dealing with historical and today's maps of Europe. They were discussing border-shifts as well as the reasons and consequences of changes in borders of European countries. The results of the discussion and brainstorming about this topic through the entire third day were three interesting and also fun-to-make videos by four Eustorians presenting historical border-changes in Poland, Austria, Slovakia and Finland.
In the afternoon our group also had a visit by a representative of the Ministry of Education, Mr. Matija Vilfan, followed by a discussion and later concluded the day with a guided tour through the city of Ljubljana and a traditional Slovenian dinner.
We started the fourth day with a very serious, heated and interesting discussion about what constitutes personal identity of each participant. As some emphasised, the question about parts of personal identity was so interesting and even controversial, when it came to particular identity-parts (like gender), that the discussion continued during the lunch and free-time period of the day.
As Enija from Latvia later said: “The discussions felt so alive and intriguing, the topics were selected perfectly and group works in the right moments really helped to strengthen our knowledge and discover our own perspective on theses subjects.”
After lunch the participants continued with the work in a somewhat different format. They participated in a simulation of the city council session of the “City of Sleepyville” – a former Slovenian city that became part of Italy. Participants took roles of a mayor and party members of nine different parties (Italian, Slovenian and German – which also represented a minority in this Italian city). In addition, the session was also covered by three different kinds of ‘media’. Participants used already obtained knowledge about Slovenia, the Italian and Slovenian minorities and human rights, and the final result of the simulation was an unforgettable and impressive experience for all the participants that was later part of many following discussions, upgraded knowledge about minorities and their rights, as well as three articles, written by our journalists.
Next day, next excursion: This time we went to Trieste (Italy), where we visited a Slovenian school and listened to a presentation about the city given by the students, who are members of the Slovenian minority in Italy. The participants took the opportunity to ask follow-up questions in order to get more information about what it feels like to be a minority.
As a counter part we visited a bilingual school in Koper, Slovenia, where the participants had the chance to listen to and talk with members of the Italian minority in Slovenia and other students, who presented the daily cohabitation (or even ‘convivence’) of the two nations: Slovenian and Italian.
Johanne from Norway concludes: “Of course I have learned about the border changes at school, but we only learned about the facts. During this academy I got to know the different stories behind all the big decisions that have been made throughout the 20th century. How it affected people and still does when it comes to which language should be taught in school, how to preserve traditions, national identity, discrimination, integration and so on.”
After five days of experiences, discussions and a lot of input, it was time to conclude our findings. On the last day of the academy we started with a discussion and position-taking on different controversial statements connected with minorities, borders and identities. Many of the participants were impressed by the interesting discussions and the fact that they were able to exchange views and opinions with people from different European countries.
Ramon’s statement sums up the opinions and statements of many other participants: “What impressed me the most was the level of discussion that we had. The topics proposed were really smart and well selected so the discussing made us learn a lot from our mates. It doesn't happen too much in my debates in Spain, the respect for the other's opinion, waiting for the turn to talk, good arguments to support the different points of view.”
Yet, this was only the beginning of a very productive day during which three groups of participants worked on their final presentation of the work they had done during that week. Hard work from previous days and especially the very last day manifested itself in four different but equally interesting video-outcomes: a video about the fall of Yugoslavia, a video about consequences of shifting borders on people’s lives, a rap-video about minorities, and an interpretation of what happened during the Paris Peace Conference that caused border shifts in Europe.
According to participants, the excursions, discussions and the alternative approach to history that was offered by EUSTORY during its academies and seminars was appreciated highly.
Anna from Russia said: “I have also discovered new methods of learning history: you do not have to scan all the existing historical books to be good at history, as discussions and interviewing people can be not only much more interesting but more effective as well. What was also quite important for me to learn is that my point of view on particular historic events should not be dependent on public opinion or the opinion of my history teacher - even if you are a minority, we should not be afraid to stand out from the crowd, express your individual point of view and explain the reason why you think so.”
Martin from Bulgaria added: “I was impressed by the variety of different approaches towards the historical topics. I didn’t expect such diversity in the methods and ways of the studying process – posters, missions, simulations, discussions, and excursions.”
Enija agreed: It was educating and fun in the same time. And the best part was – we were allowed to express ourselves and see that we can make history something more than just some dry facts in old books.”
Many participants were also very positively surprised and later inspired by the opportunity to speak their mind, express their opinions, be heard and actively research history on their own, from first-hand sources.
Elitsa from Bulgaria described this in her statement: “I liked the most the fact that we were taking part in tasks that made us feel as part of the history, but not just people who study it - we could feel the consequences of changing borders when we were guests of the minority schools for example.”
Martin described his feelings with regard to discussions and debates during the academy in Ljubljana: “What made me open and talkative was the relaxed and friendly atmosphere that contributes to the comfort and inspires to reflect. Everyone could express his or her opinion without being blamed or punished for that. Moreover, what is unique in Eustory Academies and what impressed me is that the students are the participants, the protagonists; not only the receptors of the information.”