EUSTORY Network Meeting 2013
From 20 - 23 March 2013 twenty-eight organisers of national history competitions from twenty-two countries gathered for their annual EUSTORY network meeting in Riga. It was the first meeting after EUSTORY gave up its status as an international non-profit association (AISBL). The meeting was hosted by the History Teachers' Association of Latvia.
'European Neighbours in Times of War and Peace' was the topic of this year's network meeting. Participants discussed about war and totalitarianism and about how they are remembered in Europe. With its long history with European neighbours, Riga was a perfect place for that. The Old Town dating back to the times of the Hanseatic League provided the scenery for discussions about less peaceful times.
Sandra Kalniete, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Latvia, former EU-commissioner and presently a member of the European Parliament, gave an insight of the complicated European history with its totalitarian systems and the challenges about how to deal with it on the 'official' European level.
Her interest in that topic is based on personal experience: she was born in Siberia as the child of Latvians who were deported by Stalin's orders. She presented many more perspectives and dimensions she gained through her work for European institutions – particularly her engagement for the working group of the European Parliament which deals with 'Reconciliation of European Histories'. Her speech 'United Europe – Divided Memories' inspired a lively discussion with the network members, many of them coming from Middle and Eastern European countries, with their own experiences with totalitarian systems.
Highlight of the two-day meeting was the reception in the historical 'Blackhead-House' of all 'Eustorians' by the President of Latvia, Andris Bērziņš, who is also the patron of the Latvian history competition.
After his welcome speech in which he pointed out the importance of the European integration for Latvia, he used the chance of an informal exchange with his European visitors over coffee and cake. 'With this reception the President demonstrated that discussing history is important for a common European future, and at the same time he acknowledged the work of the Latvian history competition and the whole European Network' stated Sven Tetzlaff, Head of Department of Education of the Körber Foundation, after the meeting.
Danute Dūra from the History Teacher's Association of Latvia added: 'For our association it was a great pleasure to host our European colleagues in Riga. The Latvian competition has undergone difficult times, it was barely possible to organise this year’s competition round. So, for us the meeting in Riga was an important sign of support from colleagues in other countries as well as from the patron of the Latvian competition, our President Andris Bērziņš.'
Another focus of the conference was the upcoming anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, its meaning for the young generation and its impact on today’s Europe. Network members not only got an opportunity for an exchange based on the experiences with this topic during previous editions of their competitions, but they also presented interesting entries dealing with WWI.
Sven Tetzlaff presented a project to his colleagues which the Körber Foundation will carry out in cooperation with other organisations in Berlin next year: the Youth Campus 2014. Around 400 young people from all over Europe will gather in Berlin in spring/summer 2014 to discuss the topic of WWI and its consequences for today and reasons for remembrance. They will gain deeper insights into the topic during different workshops and will approach the topic creatively.
In order to prepare for the big anniversary and the Youth Campus in 2014, all Eustory youth activities in 2013 are thematically connected to the First World War: two youth academies in Finland and Slovenia will address the topic of nation building after the war and the question of borders and minorities after the breakdown of empires, and an alumni seminar in Spain will deal with the 'image' we created of our enemies, of the 'other', both during WWI and today.
But the meeting was not just about common history in Europe: the new member organisations from France and Austria got the chance to present their organisations and their competitions to the network partners, and all network members used the opportunity for an exchange about new formats to get young people interested in history. Video entries from Denmark and Slovakia and a project presentation from the Ukraine brought new impulses and ideas for EUSTORY in the future.
“For the Real Maestranza de Ronda, the network meeting was an excellent opportunity to exchange information and approaches to running the competition at the national level. What we found interesting was that the Italian competition gives the cash prizes to the school, incentivising group works, and that the Norwegian competitions puts values, skills and family at the centre of its communication strategy. In some measure, every national competition has examples of good practise which others can adapt to their own country and emulate,” summarised Ignacio Herrera de la Muela, director of the Real Maestranza de Ronda, the organisation carrying out the Spanish history competition. "A greater exchange of good practises is what we need to grow into a network. The efforts and enthusiasm of the participants of the meeting is evident, but EUSTORY is not at its full potential as an organisation: we need to lay the collaborative foundations to build a network.”