Europe is still alive and it is doing well

Slovenia, one of the most developed and wealthy, but relatively rarely visited countries of East-Central Europe.  Here took place the penultimate meeting of participants of the project YOUROPE.  Two days of intensive workshops, debates and conversations about the European Union. Many conclusions, plans and new relationships. Of course, such an event couldn’t take place without the presence of the representatives of Fundacja Autokreacja.

What is the Project YOUROPE and why it is worth to take part in it? The main goal to achieve is to improve the perception of EU, mostly among the young people, but not only. The key thing is to counteract populist trends and explain teenagers, who even often don’t remember those times without EU, how many things thanks to the European community have been improved and become more simply in our everyday life.  There are many ways to reach those goals, depends on the age and social groups, but the most important are ssubstantive content and dialogue. Project consists of eight series of meetings, one in every particular participated country and then common debate about how to make those goals come true. This meeting in Slovenia was second to last of that whole cycle. The result of the project is to sign, by all taking part in these project representatives, one common declaration, which will assume all those targets. For the first time I had a pleasure to take part in this enterprise, as one of the three persons coming from Poland and I’d like to explain in my below relation why it’s worth to try to achieve those goals and to be a part of the project YOUROPE.

A voyage into the unknown

Our journey with project YOUROPE began, as many others, at the Chopin’s airport in Warsaw. On Wednesday’s morning, 20th of November we appeared a bit sleepy at the departure gate and within one hour we were sitting in the airplane flying to Ljubljana.  During the flight, just looking through the window, it was easy to see, why Slovenia is known as one of the greenest countries in the world. Neverendless ridges of forests and meadows from the bird’s-eye point of view make really good impression and make you wanting to wander the hills. After leaving the plane it turns out, that the weather was surpassingly similar to this one we were hoping to leave in Warsaw. Only several degrees, rain and omnipresent fog, which accompanied us later on for the whole trip. After finding a correct bus-stop and quarrel with the bus driver about our student’s right to discount, we manage to get to the city center of Ljubljana, which was over a dozen kilometers away from the airport. From there, all that was left was to walk a few hundred meters with our suitcases to the hotel, dropping by for dinner on the way.

While it was possible to complain to the local weather, it was really hard to say something wrong about our hotel with really impressive conditions, large, elegant and separated rooms, nice service with positive attitude to tourist and fantastic localization. But we even didn’t have time to relax, because in the hotel’s restaurant was waiting for us common supper. It was the first chance to meet other participants arrived to Ljubljana from 7 different countries (Italy, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Greece, Spain, Belgium and of course Slovakia).  A few persons had already known each other from the previous meetings of YOUROPE program, but people were widely open for integration with each other and despite of age and multicultural differences everybody was really happy to get to know each other, so very quickly we had become members of the project team. As used to be in nice moments, time went quickly and we had to finish common celebration and had to go to beds, because next days were going to be full of work and truly demanding.

Day one: The power belongs to the society

Next day morning we all met in the hotel’s conference room to listen to the official welcome speech by people from Slovenia. Meeting in Slovenia had just begun. Everybody had a possibility to introduce himself and say from which country is coming from and if had already taken part in one of the meetings of the YOUROPE project. Persons representing Slovenia told us shortly about theirs motherland and then about our plans for the next two days of workshops. We also watched few short movies promoting Slovenia. Once more we find out how beauty is this country with those magnificent forests and mountains covering a significant part of Slovenia.

There was no time for even a short brake, because a moment later a first true task outside was waiting for us. Organizers have splited us into three groups, one person from each country in every of them. Our goal was to make a vox pop about “How the perfect European union should look in the eye of Slovenian Citizens”. I was expecting that many people will try to avoid answering on this question, which is quite hard to be honest, especially seeing camera in front of them. But once again I was surprised in very pleasant way. Local citizens very really nice and friendly and what’s the most important they were willing to talk about EU and how this type of organizations should work. Even people who didn’t have clear answer were trying to focus and say something, smiling all the time, instead of going away.      In many other countries doing similar pope could be a real nightmare, but in Ljubljana after only one hour we had recorded over a dozen of people, who present us a lot of truly different buy interesting ideas. Most of them see numerous advantages of being a part of EU, like no border control or common currency.                                                           

The next day we had a small trip with a tour guide, which is an obligatory point of every visit in a new town. We have heard about history of whole Slovenia, but also directly about Ljubljana. We saw the famous triple bridge, old town, traditional bazaar and unnumbered statues of dragons, which are symbol of the Ljubljana. An interesting fact for people from Poland were big and iron doors to one of the churches, with carved picture of John Paul II, who had visited Slovenia in 1996 –  in the 1250. anniversary of evangelization of this country.                                                                                                                                     

The youth- the most powerful group with the biggest possibilities

It was only a part of attractions at the first full day, because schedule of workshops war really tense. After fast dinner we went to the House of Europe. It is a place, which main target is to promote the European Union and history of Slovenia. We had a pleasure to speak with Ivo Vajgl, who is a former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia and a former member of European Parliament, for two terms of office. He told us about the present dangerous for unity of EU and how it is to work for an european institution every day. Except us also students of one of local high schools took part in that meeting. We had an occasion to explain them what program YOUROPE is and talk about several other topics. Another pleasant surprise – students were really curious from where we had come to Slovenia and what we are doing in Ljubljana. Also they shared with us their opinions about EU – Students told us what they are expecting from EU, as the youth, so on the most important groups.                                                                 

Afterwards we exchanged our materials and experiences, that every group has collected during the vox pop. Everyone could say what he enjoyed the most and which opinions was the best to considered. Most of us were really tired after all day of activities, and we were thinking rather about hot shower than european project. Fortunately the only thing that remained was a common dinner in the hotel. Once again it has last in great atmosphere, we were talking about traditional dishes in different countries and customs typical for each country, so our supper lasted a little longer, than it was planned.  In the end learning how to say “enjoy your meal” in eight different languages can take a while.

Day two: Memory about the culture is the key to cooperation

Next day there was no time for some lazing as well.  In the morning we met again at the House of Europe. Project members from the Brussels presented a preliminary schedule of the last meeting planning to be organized in this city in February 2020. Other participants could propose what they would like to visit in the Belgian capital and suggest how to summarize the project. Next we could also watch films made by Amnesty International about refugees problem and then everybody had possibility to tell how his country deals with those social difficulties.

Later on Maja Kranjc from the House of Europe told us how the European Union works from the very beginning and what values ​​were guiding its founders. It was probably one of the best meetings, both because of the great presentation and the specific transfer of the substantive knowledge.

However, the real surprise was coming in the evening. A bus arrived at the hotel at the estimated time and took us to the unknown. The next minutes passed by, completely darkness outside the window and we were brought higher and higher in the mountains. But any concerns quickly disappeared when we arrived at the highlander’s cottage. We were warmly greeted by native inhabitants, dressed in traditional Slovenian style. After some time we were singing and dancing all together almost the whole evening.  There was a fun with playing in a hat changing and looking for a partner by handing him a pillow, especially that with such activities we had never seen before.  We were tired after two days of workshops, but this feeling disappeared quite quickly.  YOUROPE‘s representatives from Slovenia gived theirs thankfulness for active participation to the rest of the group and prepared for us symbolic gifts. After such pleasant evening we were taken away to our hotel and the highlander’s shout “juuuhuuuu” was ringing in our ears for the whole return way.

It’s not the end yet…

The last day, as it usually is, was time of saying goodbyes and coming back to home. One by one, people from each country hugged and thanked to each other for the wonderful time spent together. Finally it was time to return to Poland. After an unexpected confusion with the bus, which we wanted to get at the airport, we had to order a taxi to catch the plane on time. In the early evening we were gently putting our feet at a familiar airport in Warsaw. The journey to Ljubljana was officially completed. Next stop – February’s meeting in Brussels.
While you can complain about the weather or the attractiveness of Ljubljana as it really is, so it's difficult to say a bad word about organization of the meeting in Slovenia within YOUROPE’s project. The schedule was intensive, but very satisfying and first of all, the way of moderating the panels wasn’t imposed to anybody. Because never before I had a pleasure to take part in such event, so I wondered before about kind of relationships and effective cooperation between participants coming from different countries, however the reality exceeded my expectations. Arrived people were probably the biggest advantage of the whole meeting, what confirms the old rule that the country we are coming from really does not matter, if we feel community and have common goals and willingness to cooperate. And probably it is the real goal of this project to show how important are unification and mutual respect. Besides it's always the best way to start with ourselves approach.