< SWITCH ME >
I put off writing about the last day of the ETC Spring Tour because I didn't want to do it. I knew it was going to be nostalgic and mushy, and it was going to confirm what has already happened – the tour is over and so is our time together in the Driving Jail. Until reaching that point of sobbing though, I'm going to take the Eastern European dignified-and-unmovable position and write about the full, productive day we had on the way to and in sunny Zagreb.
While on the bus, we gathered as we had gotten used to in the previous days, to discuss our future projects. As you might remember, a large part of the group decided to work together on an artistic project after being inspired by what we saw and talked about during our travels. Also, we had reached a point of frustration because of the packed, fast schedule that didn't fully allow us to absorb what we were going through and give something back to our wonderful hosts in the eight cities we visited. Therefore, we wrote a manifesto with the massive help of Ivor and agreed to think about concrete steps towards our goal.
When we saw the programme of the theatre tour – the eight cities, seven days deal – we started thinking about a deadline when everyone would explode. Most of us thought day three was a sensible day to explode on as it was the hardest: the group attended two plays in two different countries (Germany and Switzerland). However, we turned out to be unexpectedly disciplined and the exhaustion only took over on day five. And even then, we managed to turn it into something creative and positive. Here's what happened.
On the way to Maribor (Slovenia), two of our travel buddies staged a short play on the bus. Anne, who is a playwright in Berlin, wrote the script and Gina, an actress from Romania, performed as one of the characters. The moment was particularly inspiring because it was the first time that a part of the group came together to create something after witnessing all the big talks and seeing all the different plays. The topic of the play was borders and how they influence people's lives – especially when borders separate a family. This is something quite common nowadays in Europe, with free movement enabling people to go from one place to the other. However, what does this do to the individual? How does it influence his/her ties to family and origins in general? This is one of the social realities that European theatre could and should address. Everyone on the bus felt quite strongly that the moment Anne and Gina created was one of the most relevant and debate-prompting of the whole tour. Everyone was also left speechless for a number of minutes as we thought about what we should do or say next.
And on the fourth day they staged a play on the bus and it was good.
The ETC group left Zurich early in the morning and had a long drive to the Tuscan town of Prato. Given that the members of the caravan already feel like family after travelling together for several days, the bus activities on Sunday became more dynamic. Therefore, after our Italian friend Gherardo – a theatre critic – gave us a few details about the play we were about to see that evening, The Belle Vue directed by Paolo Magelli, part of the group decided to have a dramatic reading of the English version of the text. The impromptu play brought everyone to life and channelled the team's focus, making us forget about the sleep deprivation and the long distances we covered. Later that evening, we saw the show at the Teatro Metastasio di Prato – as lovely as it was, we were better.
Another special moment during our journey to Prato was spoken-word poetess Deborah Stevenson's performance for the group (you already know Deborah from the interview E&M published on Day 2). Deborah performed two poems - one in which she brilliantly impersonated an American pastor - and showed us clips from her earlier artistic experiences in London. The mini-show made us fall in awe with the talented poet and ended in tears and applause. We strongly recommend you keep an eye on Deobrah and her passionate work.
I don't know about your weekend, but we on the ETC Spring Tour managed to see two plays in two different countries in just a few hours. Day 3 was exhausting, but then again it gives us many tales to share with you.
After leaving Liege, we went back to Germany in the small town of Karlsruhe, near the border with France. There we visited the Badisches Staatstheater and saw an endearing short play for toddlers at the Children's Theatre. All I can say is that I never thought plays for under five year olds could be so lovely – the two actors on stage used body movement and dance to take us on a meteorological journey, from cold lands to warm beaches. Us grownups might have been more excited than the target audience, I'll admit.
Time flies when you’re on tour. Day 2 of the ETC Spring experience brought us to the coquette town of Liege in Belgium, discussing how young students can access the theatre industry and find work.
Nathanael Harcq, director of the ESACTA School of acting in Liege, talked about what his institution does to facilitate the transition from theatre school to work. According to him, the school is already part of the profession of acting, as the students are given the chance to stage their own productions and work. In this respect, the ESACTA functions like a workshop where rules are created collectively by the students and their teachers. The youngsters are thus encouraged to get to know themselves better and find out what conditions they need in order to flourish as professionals. They are even given electronic keys so that they can go in and out of the school at any time.
Taking this theme further, E&M spoke to one of the young artists on the ETC Spring Tour, namely spoken-word poet Deborah Stevenson. The 23 year-old wunderkind from East London is the founder and director of The Mouthy Poets in Nottingham, a group in which young people learn how to express themselves in verse. She worked with Chanel 4, The Roundhouse in London, The British Council and has been published by Louis Vuitton. Here’s a short interview with Deborah on our busy tour bus.
You may be looking for Europe in many cities, but right now I’m reporting from the heart of Europe, currently assigned to Mannheim, from the event - - taking place between 2.-7. of April.
What is this thing called "agora"? A meeting of roughly 600-800 students from all over Europe coming together for the general assembly of the European Students’ Forum (AEGEE). Besides the internal matters included in the programme of every general assembly of any registered organization, the event includes a variety of workshop topics ranging from the origin of homophobia in sports to nationalism in Europe and living healthy. Check the blog every other day for updates.
The Agora takes place twice a year, every time in a different city, hosted by one or more local AEGEE groups. This year it is organised by the seven local groups that reside along the Rhein and Neckar rivers and takes place in Mannheim. The name of the event comes from the Greek "agora" (literally translated as "market"), where ancient Greek philosophers and proto-politicians would make their voices heard and where most of the important decisions concerning the polis were taken.
Imagine travelling across Europe for one month by train to talk to people, and find out young people’s vision of Europe. It's not as impossible as it sounds. Last December six people travelled the old continent to meet students and young people and discuss their thoughts on the future of Europe, on topics such as politics, education and sustainability. The project Europe on Track was created by AEGEE-Europe (European Students' Forum) and sent out two teams of young people (the Red Team and the Blue team) to travel over 9000km in 27 days. The Red Team was travelling mostly through Western Europe, while the Blue Team was travelling towards the East all the way from Brussels to Istanbul. E&M interviewed Mathieu Soete, member of the Blue Team and experienced youth activist in AEGEE, to get an insider view of this adventure.
|Photo: AEGEE Europe|
|Mathieu Soete, 26, tells us about his adventure|
E&M: Mathieu, what motivated you to spend one month travelling across Europe by train?
MS: There are a lot of moments where you can talk with people in certain environments like the one that exists in a European youth organisation such as AEGEE, but there's never enough time and you're always in a sort of "European bubble", where you don't meet with people in their own realities. You get to learn much more about people when you go out to meet them. This project had two aspects: travelling and discussing. For me it was not the travelling that attracted me, it was not to see that part of Europe that I decided to go to, but it was because I thought with my prior experience I really had an idea of the topics discussed and could get into some great discussions. Visiting people, finding people, and giving them the opportunity to talk, not only to us but to everyone who is listening – this was my main motivation.
E&M: What was the main idea behind the Europe on Track project? And by the end of it all, do you feel that you've reached your goal?
MS: The main idea of the project was to link young people in Europe with European policy-makers in Brussels, to give them the possibility to speak up and reach "Brussels". We'll see how many policy-makers we can reach in the end. There is a real need for them to get to know the opinions of young people, more than they can learn from surveys or opinion polls. In that respect we have succeeded in collecting a good number of stories of people on their experience with (non-formal) education, politics and sustainability, what is working, what is not working. What I really wanted to do was to go ahead with an open mind and gather the real impressions of people, not just steer them towards what we already believe in, but rather record what people are really thinking. I think we've managed to do this.
European identity is a sandwich. That was one of the conclusions from the "Does Europe lack cohesion?" event organised by the Körber Foundation, Eurozine, Europa neuer Ideen e.V. and E&M as part of the series Europe@Debate. A sandwich because you can add different layers - such as local, regional, national or European identities - and because adding one doesn't mean you need to take out another. That is, European identity is diverse and not exclusive.
The metaphor was created by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulić when Matthias Naß, International Correspondent for Die ZEIT and the panel moderator, asked the participants how they would describe the European identity they define themselves with. Drakulić brought up the sandwich, E&M's Julia Schulte mentioned politics as in the achievement of democracy and freedom of movement, and Saila Huusko, from FutureLabEurope, explained it was something she first felt when she was studying abroad in the US. The truth is, it is the eternal question in Europe, and the answers always seem to be highly dependant on metaphorical references like that of Drakulić's sandwich.
Philosophical symbols vs tangible experiences
In a previous article, Mourad Mahidi came up with the idea that European identity is a rooftop built upon national identities gathering the values they have in common. "It is more like a philosophical concept," he said. And looking at Hamburg's event, European identity was indeed seen as a set of values rather than tangible common experiences.
Drakulić and Schulte both agreed that all national identities are an artificial construction, and that what Europe needs is a leadership that takes those values and convinces the citizens to adopt the construction. "If big parties don't address this, nationalists or extremists will take their place," warned Drakulić.
Ever heard of Council Regulation 36/2012? Wondering what 2011/782/CFSP refers to? Exactly. EU-Officials are struggling to foster people's interest in European affairs. Meanwhile, young people have become fully fledged Europeans on quite a different level.
The founders of InterRail got it right when they initiated the Europe-wide train pass that allows young people to travel conveniently across our continent. In 2012 they celebrate InterRail's 40th anniversary and still carry some 250 000 travellers each year. The idea is simple: Get young Europeans to explore their neighbouring countries. This is not only an affordable way to spend enjoyable holidays abroad, but it furthers the travellers' awareness of what binds people together in Europe. A conversation with a random foreigner tells you much more about a country than any political communiqué or travel guide. Exploring the similarities and differences between European countries through travelling is the most obvious way to find out what Europe really is. At the end of the day, a European identity can only grow from within the population, not through regulations and policies.
While governing politicians across Europe are pushing for further integration in order to overcome the debt crisis, the people are not necessarily so enthusiastic, as the success of Eurosceptic parties demonstrates (in the upcoming elections in France, Eurosceptic parties from the extreme right and the left are expected to gain about 30%). Worse, most European citizens know little or nothing about what is going on in Brussels. European representatives lead a shadowy existence, remote from the public. Apparently, the EU is an attempt at European governance without a people that is interested - without a "European people." This unbalanced situation does not exactly help to increase support for the European project.