Agora Comment by Thomas Leszke: “Let’s Start Being Honest With Ourselves”

Franck Biancheri's idea created a lot of dispute.

The fol­low­ing arti­cle is a note that for­mer CD mem­ber Thomas Leszke pub­lished on his Face­book account right after the AEGEE spring Ago­ra in Enschede in May 2012. Within­less thank one day, the arti­cle received 60 likes and a lot of cou­ple expressed their agree­ment with Thomas’s ideas. He grant­ed the Gold­en Times the right to pub­lish it on its web­site.

Thomas Leszke (left), demands a more self-crit­i­cal approach for AEGEE.

This Spring Ago­ra Enschede has left a lot to think about.

First of all, I have to say that this was prob­a­bly the best organ­ised Ago­ra I have attend­ed so far. We can only be grate­ful to AEGEE-Enschede. Under less­er con­di­tions, I don’t know whether we could have dealt with all the pres­sure so effec­tive­ly.

One of the things AEGEE-Enschede deserves praise for is the invi­ta­tion of Franck Biancheri as speak­er, who deliv­ered a very good analy­sis of the sit­u­a­tion that AEGEE is in — even if he maybe drew the wrong con­se­quences from this analy­sis. His sug­ges­tion that AEGEE should split in two parts, one from “Euroland” and one from the “rest of Europe”, has caused a cer­tain indig­na­tion among us, and this is very under­stand­able. But in his speech, he touched upon the fun­da­men­tal prob­lem of AEGEE, which could be for­mu­lat­ed as fol­lows:

We mis­in­ter­pret what we are, because of the thing we want (and pre­tend) to be.”

We like to define our­selves as a net­work of activists, as young peo­ple who know exact­ly what they want to achieve, and who fight for it with all their ener­gy. But this self-def­i­n­i­tion has two seri­ous prob­lems: a) Most of our mem­bers are not activists, but ‘just’ trav­ellers and learn­ers, and b) instead of know­ing exact­ly what we want, in fact we have no clue of how to for­mu­late our dis­tant vision of a “unit­ed, bor­der­less Europe”. Espe­cial­ly the sec­ond point has become clear once more at this Ago­ra. In their pre­sen­ta­tions, none of the can­di­dates for Pres­i­dent has made any hint of what it is exact­ly that AEGEE should fight for nowa­days, and none of them (nor the oth­er can­di­dates for the Comité Directeur) could give a sat­is­fac­to­ry answer to the ques­tion I asked in the ple­nary: “What is the most impor­tant thing that AEGEE should achieve out­side AEGEE dur­ing your term?”

Franck Biancheri’s idea cre­at­ed a lot of dis­pute.

The fun­ny thing is that we are per­fect­ly aware of these two cir­cum­stances a) and b), but usu­al­ly ignore them. Isn’t it final­ly time to acknowl­edge what we are, and draw the right con­se­quences from it?

In July 2011, the so-called “Plan­ning Team” made an analy­sis of AEGEE. Its results were after­wards not used, because they insult­ed the AEGEE inter­nal dog­ma that we are a net­work of activists. This analy­sis includ­ed the fol­low­ing insights about AEGEE:

  1. AEGEE is not a net­work of activists, but a net­work of Euro­pean cit­i­zens, some of whom are activists.
  2. AEGEE has some­thing to offer to Euro­pean stu­dents: Euro­pean trav­el­ling and dis­cov­ery, non-for­mal edu­ca­tion in lots of fields, a Euro­pean net­work of friends, and, not least, a lot of fun.
  3. AEGEE has some­thing to offer to Euro­pean soci­ety: shap­ing thou­sands of true Euro­pean cit­i­zens every year; young peo­ple with increased Euro­pean knowl­edge, strength­ened Euro­pean val­ues, and last­ing Euro­pean sol­i­dar­i­ty. This is what makes AEGEE valu­able for the Euro­pean Union and oth­er insti­tu­tions.
  4. The biggest prob­lem of AEGEE is its own con­struct­ed iden­ti­ty, which is based on the false ambi­tion of beng a net­work of activists, and not on real­i­ty. AEGEE urgent­ly needs a com­pre­hen­sive iden­ti­ty for­mu­la, because its own mem­bers don’t know what kind of asso­ci­a­tion they are part of, and its own Euro­pean board doesn’t know what kind of asso­ci­a­tion they should pro­mote.
The future is in their hands: the CD of 2012/2013.

As the CD mem­ber coor­di­nat­ing the work of the Plan­ning Team at that time, I still com­plete­ly sub­scribe to these insights. How­ev­er, in the Strate­gic Plan, the only con­se­quence we took was the first aim of the organ­i­sa­tion­al part: “Rede­fine the AEGEE iden­ti­ty by for­mu­lat­ing a new vision and mis­sion”.

It is high time to start with this.

In my time as Pres­i­dent of AEGEE-Köln (2008–2010), I devel­oped a slo­gan which I still use when explain­ing AEGEE to out­siders: “AEGEE is a Euro­pean net­work for inter­cul­tur­al exchange and polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion — from stu­dents for stu­dents.” In my per­son­al opin­ion, this is the essence of AEGEE. The fact that we occa­sion­al­ly make a small polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion in Brus­sels will a) not make us more attrac­tive for new mem­bers, and b) not impress any of our exter­nal part­ners, who are usu­al­ly well-informed and can see through our mask to eval­u­ate the real worth that AEGEE has. So let’s start being hon­est with our­selves. It will have a great and pos­i­tive influ­ence on our work.

Thomas Leszke