Thinking about transition

In all the states of the former Eastern Bloc, the so called 3rd Generation – those born between 1975 and 1985 – has made transformation experiences in an age of adolescence. In-between breakdown and new beginnings, impoverishment and unknown abundance of goods, new role models and lasting confusion and insecurity. With the promise, that all boarders are now gone and the sticky feeling, that a lot of them are still there, just elsewhere and reshaped.

But how are these issues beeing debated in the different countries of Middle and Eastern Europe, how are they reflected in media and society – or maybe rather not reflected? The background setting and conditions in the single countries are rather different: Some became independent, some saw the rise of ethnic conflicts, some had an early perspective of getting into the EU, others not, other states even ceased to exist and their societies merged into others. There are cultural and religious differences and so on. Similar problems habe appeared in very different size (as economic decay, unemployment and poverty).

But what united the representatives of the 3rd Generation is having to grow up and find their way in a time when the most of the so far common social norms, ways of beeing und orientation marks became invalid and useless basically overnight. Thereby also devaluating the role of the parent generation as guides to live in society. Let alone the relationships of power, that all had to be and were often painfully rethought.

So, what were the impacts of those experiences? How do people between 30 and 40 do position themselves towards their recent history, what narratives have been developed by them and their societies about it? What are their private and social concepts for the future? How do they position themselves as individuals in society, in their role as “Citoyen” – do they appeal to this role at all? And what does this mean for civil engagement, how did they themselves use their opportunities of actively reshaping society?

NECE Congress “Us” and “them” Greece, October 22-24, 2015

Workshop I

What motivates people to become a driver of change in a time of transition?

Results from a Workshop at the 2015 NECE Conference in Thessaloniki, 22nd October 2015

Why we are asking this question

“Transition ends when we have disenchantment,” we learned in our first meeting in Sofia. But when transition ends due to disenchantment, it does not mean, that everything is ‘done’. Rather, people have become frustrated about the transition process, they do not believe in their possibility to bring about change. As activists, teachers, researchers in the wide field of civil society and citizenship education one of our main concerns is how to empower people. How to encourage them to be the change the want to see happen? In this brief workshop we presented best practice and learnings from our own work and asked participants to share their experience.

The workshop was held by Many Schulze (Perspektive³, Berlin), Olena Pravilo (Congress of Cultural Activists, Kiev) and Christine Wetzel (German-Russian-Exchange, Berlin). Documented on film by Dörte Grimm (Perspective³).

The workshops participants joined us from Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Croatia and Germany.

Olena’s Case on Driving Change: Establishing a Cultural Management in the community of Zaporizhzhya (Ukraine)

It all started with the occupation of the Ukraine Ministry of Education. The idea was spread on Facebook by artists and cultural managers after the end of the Janukovich government. It was not to destroy anything symbolically, but actually to do better, and to run the ministry with a lot more passion and expertise.

The problems of Ukraine’s cultural administration were, according to Olena, lacking concepts for cultural development, overall bad administration of policies, and no openness towards other sectors as education or economy. The idea of self-made cultural policy spread to other cities, Assemblies of Culture were set up and registered as NGOs – as in the community of Zaporizhzhya.

Olena explained, what drove the activists to take this great challenge was not to accept excuses: “We in Ukraine can always look at other countries and find reasons why things can not be changed here: Because we have less money than Germany, because we are not so small like Estonia, and so on. But we said, we can do it. We just start, see what works elsewhere and try to do it here.”

Therefore, the activists in Zaporizhzhya invited experts from all over the Ukraine to share their experiences and best practice from other communities. There was no big funding for this event, everybody traveled on her or his own expanses, local activists all provided their bit to make the event happen. It was a kick-off for cultural self-management in the Zaporizhzhya. By now, the activities have resulted in the initiating of a cultural strategy for the community, and the developing of a cooperation with the Economic University. A book fair was established and diverse cultural projects created.

“We need examples, we need to repeat them, spread them, show others what works,” Olena stressed, and, as simple as crucial: “Ask people to do something! Encourage them, give them examples of what they can actually achieve. Do you have a telescope, do you know something about the space? Why don’t you show children the starts and the universe?”

Mandy’s Case on Driving Change: How young people looking for place to live accidentally opened a social space and investigated local history (Germany)

Mandy’s story of change had to starting points. One was a typical ‘lost place’, like you can find plenty of it all over the former communist countries in every community: empty town halls, factories, schools, hotels ect.

One the other side there were five young people looking for a place to live and work. They found an empty, run down public house in the town of Niederoderwitz to settle.

“The five had nothing in mind with community issues or civic empowerment,” says Mandy. “But From the moment they had started to work ob the house, they got confronted with locals who stopped by and asked to come in and have look. They became aware of the enormous meaning the house has for the people in the village.” For decades all festivities had been celebrated here; birth, birthdays, carnival, thanksgiving… With closure off the hotel the village had lost it’s social heart, the place were people would meet.

So, they opened the house for a first garden party – and 800 out of 1.500 villagers came. Consequently, the house was opened regular and became the new community center. The group of 5 people grew to 25. They were confronted with new issues of management; dealing with the administration, finding supporters and funding, investigating the local history. They invited chronologists and historians. They established themselves in the village, got children and had to deal with related issues, like Infrastructure for young families.

Essentially, the hotel hall was not just a place to celebrate. A public space like this is simply crucial for the development of a sense of community in the first place. Without a place to gather, community life is disintegrating, emptying and frustration growing that there is ‘nothing here anymore’. The five young people had realized the potential of that place. How it matters to people, that they perceived it as an open wound in their village – and they are willing to change something about it, to give it new sense. By accident, they, just seeking affordable housing, became community activists, bringing public space and local citizen-driven self-organization (back) to live.

Thus, in terms of the workshop question, the case shows three things: Firstly, start small and local, the ‘home’ is a place everyone can emotionally connect to – and this is crucial.

Secondly, the people can create a political awareness starting from concerns for issues that are considered to be not political at all, like housing, some questions asked on the past.

And finally – despite all praise to the possibilities of virtual communication – the necessity to provide a physical space, a laboratory and hub for encounters and those who are willing to be drivers of change.

see more of this case on Facebook:

In 2013 a network was founded supporting initiatives like that in Niederoderwitz reclaiming the public space. They are analysing and providing knowledge and support on issues like: What are triggers for civic engagement?
What are the challanges for those who want to engage? How can they be supported?

Open Discussion Results

We asked everyone to note down her and his answer to the workshop question and later share it with us. Here are insights the that were given by the participants from their experience:

  • Do not work on a group, you want to do something for, but work with them. Listen and develop approaches with them, that build on their needs, ideas and capacity.
  • Show people ‘the better live’ that is possible and provide them with examples how to get there.
  • You need a common issue if you want to keep people on board. This seems obvious, but often it is not the case when you look closer.
  • Education is an extremely powerful tool!
  • Ask people questions that make them start thinking.
  • Talk, talk, talk to people! Support encounters between different groups to share experience and examples, then develop programs to implement knowledge in practice.
  • We need to make ourselves visible, we need public spaces to unfold, grow and spread ideas.
  • Perform the best examples of your own, be the example, be the change – start local, then grow up the levels.
  • Support the people, who are willing to do something; empower them, build their confidence, if possible provide financial support.
  • Show them the consequences of their actions, show them what happens when the make changes – and what if not.
  • Networking and team-building: Make people feel that they are not alone!
  • You need to organize and structure the ideas, provide the ground to make ideas work
  • Lower administration burden!

The workshop holders suggest, that the examples given by the participant apply to all kind of civic engagement in different circumstances. We further suggest, all the points given link into each other and form a ‘Circle of Motivation‘:

The chart point to motivation and incentive structures on different levels; the individual (1) (2), but also organizational (3) (6) and institutional (4, also including funding) level, that are all relevant for people to drive change processes – though one can partly make up for the other. Bottom up activity should ideally meet a top down structure that facilitates engagement, e.g. with funding, providing spaces for meeting, give access to key actors. But this are not opposites: The Ukraine example shows the attempt of changing this very environment for activity.

The six elements build on each other and are linked, but they are not solely linear: E.g., sure, it helps to talk about and spread your cause at every stage of the circle. And, obviously, listen to those you want to address with your activity before you start is always a good idea! As it was stressed by a participant from Georgia early in the discussion, our attitude towards those who we want to work with is important. We should be facilitator, not the instructor who always knows better. For there is nothing less encouraging if you do not get the chance to follow your own ideas.

And finally: Do never forget about the social experience of engagement! Whatever you do; provide space for getting together also with agenda, celebrate results, tell others, honor activity and – say thanks.

Circle of Motivation

Driving Change Diagram

Thank you to all of you who joined this workshop and shared their experience!

 (Protocol by Christine Wetzel)

Workshop II

“Otherness” through the eyes of the generation of transition

The workshop explored the way the generation of transition understands the notion of “otherness” and how their current perception has been influenced by the process of transition towards democracy in the post-communist space. The participants presented the results of a small scale study on the topic, conducted in several countries from Eastern and Central Europe.

Olena Pravylo, Congress of Cultural Activists (Ukraine)

Rafaela Tripalo, “Stiftung Wissen am Werk” (Knowledge at Work Foundation, Croatia)

Iva Kopraleva, Sofia Platform (Bulgaria)

Louisa Slavkova, European Council on Foreign Relations/ Sofia Platform (Bulgaria)

@NECE Congress – “Us” and “them” – Citizenship education in an interdependent world, Thessaloniki, Greece, October 22-24 2015

Germany – Generation in Transition

Who is the Generation of transition?

The Third Generation[1] of East Germany

The Third Generation of East Germany is described as those who were born between 1975 and 1985 in East Germany. It involves about 2.4 million young people who can be considered as a generation due to their cohort membership and by a similarly stored imprint of the experience of 1989 and the subsequent upheaval. They were socialist within two systems the socials and the capitalist and migrated in large numbers from their regions of origin. Being characterised by a very high mobility these people in the age between 29 and 39 are missing in the cities and villages in East Germany as active members of the society.

Aging and migration are influential facts for a long-term economic development also in the context of cultural offerings and active citizenship. Fewer people also mean lower cultural and social offers for this target group and vice versa. But not just this vicious circle is to be feared. Young, well-educated people are often carriers of innovation, company formation and socio-political commitment. After the social and political transformation, followed by a process of deindustrialisation and a very high mobility of young people, the working shortage and demographic change is having an impact on the development of communities in East Germany. Young person leaving there home regions for educational reasons or job opportunities. Like all brain drain regions, East Germany is loosing their high potentials to the big cities. Young people are seen as the future for regional development not only as the parents of the next generation but foremost as innovative agents of changes.

This Generation is for two reasons of particular interest in the discussion of development and change in East Germany:

– First they have explicit and implicit skills and qualifications of economical and social interest and a different view on transition as an on-going process. Having seen their parents struggling with the new institutions and structures after the revolution of 1989/90 this generation experienced as well the open borders of Europe.

– Secondly this Generation is supposed to have a latent sense of place and the crucial difference when it comes to analysing their potentials of being drivers of change in the social, political and economic transition in Germany and Europe. Being mainly educated in the western German system this generation has still to deal with the state of their hometowns in East Germany and the current possibility of development their.

The people and institutions in East Germany have to deal with many challenges of unemployment and a de-industrialised future. At the same time there are on a personal level feelings of lethargy and a lack of solidarity and empathy among the people. In the communities a people driven community-oriented local perspective for development is missed. On an institutional level the challenges are an aging infrastructure combined with a low level of funds.

Looking on this challenges it is easy to find similarities within the other post-socialist countries in Eastern Europe. Therefore it would have a greater potential to see East Germany as part of a global transition. But asking the question who could be the generation of transition in Croatia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Russia, Rumania and Bosnia-Herzegovina for example isn´t easy to compare with the so called third Generation of East Germany. But it is a very interesting task to ask. Because as a qualitative study on this Generation in Germany pointed out: This generation “this generation is suitable as agents for innovative change or as a kind of ‘filler’ in the rural areas where they come from”. The study concludes that they have a very high potential to initiate new developments. But “this generation doesn’t know this, they don’t know about their own potentials” (Enders/Schulze 2014). And the tasks is to initiate processes of learning – individual and institutional: (1) to initiate a change of image and identity of ‘the East’ while gathering knowledge about innovative and new developments and reflecting the special history and (2) to demonstrate the potential and connecting facilities for people, by developing creative “brain drain-back-concepts” by identifying and communicating good practice projects.

[1]The initiative “3rd Generation of East Germany”, founded in 2010 in Berlin is focused on the generation born between 1975 and 1985 in East Germany. One goal for a network between this people of a special generation is to gather potential of engagement and to support local development: In the first place to make the engagement of people in eastern areas visible and on the second place to learn from each other and to engage others. Many projects in this direction were done like conferences, scientific debates and workshops.

Mandy Schulze, Perspektive3 e.V.

1st meeting – May 2015 Sofia

Thinking about Transition – Impressions and Voices from Bulgaria

The starting point

We began our journey amidst the different countries and faces of transition in May 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Twenty-five years after what can be thought of ‘the revolution’, ‘the change’, after ‘becoming free’ or ‘breaking apart’, we discovered that even the simplest terms that describe the period of transition are not easy to define. At the same time, however, the concepts and ideas that are most commonly used to talk about transition in the countries from Eastern and Central Europe already let us infer a lot about the people’s narrative and view on the end of Communism twenty-five years later. Twenty-five years since the beginning of transition? Not all of our participants, coming from Bulgaria, Russia, Romania, Germany, Czech, Croatia and Bosnia, would subscribe to that date either.

“I think no one expected that all the participating countries would have the same approach to transition, but I doubt that anyone anticipated the reality of the divergence. One of the most striking, yet understandable, differences was in the way people perceived ‘the moment when history stopped’ for their particular country”, says Polina, our project participant from Moscow.

In Bulgaria, the period of transition was politically finished in 1999 with the establishment of market economy and liberal-democratic institutions in the country. Nevertheless, the lack of continuity has led to multiple changes in the Bulgarian model, according to Rumyana Kolarova, Secretary for Civil Society Relations of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria. Transition ends when there is disenchantment but Bulgaria has experienced disenchantment various times already, says Kolarova.

Does transition mean ‘heading West’?

The idea that the countries in Eastern and Central Europe after 1989 would or should broadly aim for ‘becoming like the West’ or ‘getting closer to Europe’ is widely present in the states of the former Western Bloc. But there is another perspective to this issue. The idea that Bulgaria should move towards or integrate into the West is rather strange to Bulgarians. We have always perceived ourselves to be Western in the tradition of the French revolution, according to Kolarova. She was puzzled to be told by a British scholar in 1996 that Bulgaria is not in Europe.

What became of the dream of democracy and freedom?

In the beginning of the 90s, it was believed that democracy is just around the corner. We just needed to get rid of the nasty people, according to Martin Ivanov, Secretary for Culture and National Identity of the President of the Republic of Bulgaria and a former Head of the Archives State Agency. He thinks that it was not believed to be a long process back then. Maybe one needs that somewhat naive excitement to bring about change, before one realises the profound difficulty of the process of transition. But once the reality forced the society to sober up, the collective hangover was remarkably strong.

The Bulgarian elites have been leading the country into the EU without knowing what this step entailed, according to Ivanov. The EU was more a symbol, an image. There was little knowledge, but abundant enthusiasm about the EU, he remembers. Now transition is perceived as more of a U-turn. Many Bulgarians long for the Communist era to come back.

Prior to 2014 there was a fear that there would be a clash of histories over what and how to remember the period before 1989 and the subsequent transition. At the end, however, there was no history, no memory, no-one was interested, according to Kolarova. Teachers tend to skip the lessons on communism and democratisation. As a result, the history of this period is learned only within the family, if at all. This phenomenon can also explain the widely propagated nostalgia for the Communist period. She points out that in the early 90s we had voters and parties that were much more committed to the idea of democracy than now.

The generation of transition

During our stay in Sofia we encountered two researchers from the sociological agency Alpha Research, Genoveva Petrova and Lubomir Todorakov, who also had a lot to share about transition. According to them, the generation of transition views the period of transition in black and white. As a result, the two groups supporting different positions cannot conduct a meaningful dialogue or reach a consensus when it comes to this issue.

Nevertheless, while a number of people are divided about the past, they all agree that the present situation is unacceptable. The generation of transition appreciates the freedom, but it also misses the security of the Communist regime. And as the period of transition was about democracy, capitalism and market economy, one of the values that appear to be missing in the post-Communist era is solidarity.

When the discussion turned to the younger generation, composed mainly of people born after 1989, another interesting aspect of the contemporary Bulgarian society came to light. According to the findings of a study about the level of awareness of the population when it comes to the Communist period and transition, conducted by Alpha Research, there are substantial knowledge gaps that appear to be especially noticeable in the younger generation. This is explained not only by the fact that this period is not taught at school but also by young people’s lack of interest in the topic

The transition left Bulgaria as a mafia-captured state, according to Todorakov. Nevertheless, while it is too late to change the system, it is still possible to convince the ruling elites to be reasonable. It is the responsibility of civil society to demand this change and to insist on getting involved in the political decision-making process.

* All opinions mentioned in this article were gathered during the kick-off meeting of the project “Mapping a generation in transition” which took place in May 2015 in Sofia, Bulgaria. The participants in the project include Sofia Platform (Bulgaria), German-Russian Exchange (Germany), Antikomplex (Czech Republic), Sakharov Center (Russia), Institute of Social Science and Foundation „Wissen am Werk“ (Croatia), Congress of Culture Activists (Ukraine), Perspektive3 (Germany), Populari (Bosnia and Herzegovina).