We are wit­ness­ing new walls between Euro­pean coun­tries”: Mar­lène Rene and Natalia Kli­menko are very real­is­tic when it come to the cur­rent state of the con­ti­nent. How­ev­er, they are also will­ing to take action and change it for the bet­ter. That’s why they pro­posed “Bor­der­less Europe — Can we dream that big?” as top­ic for AEGEE’s next Euro­pean Plan­ning Meet­ing (EPM), which will take place from 8th to 12th March in Yere­van, the cap­i­tal of Arme­nia. The two enthu­si­as­tic Con­tent Man­agers of the the­mat­ic part of the EPM told the Gold­en Times what moti­vat­ed them to take up that chal­lenge – and why this event can have a huge impact on the net­work, includ­ing many the­mat­ic fol­low-up events.

Mar­lène Rene

Gold­en Tims: What moti­vat­ed you to apply for con­tent man­ag­er?
Mar­lène: I see this event as a chance to raise aware­ness about East­ern part­ner­ship issues — and to wake up peo­ple to start car­ing about issues of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion which is AEGEE’s core idea! EPM Yere­van, the first statu­to­ry event that far East, it is a mar­velous oppor­tu­ni­ty! The South Cau­ca­sus is a region full of con­trast and I am pas­sion­ate about these issues, and as I talked to my friends, they gave me the idea to pro­pose a theme. Natalia got real­ly enthu­si­as­tic as well and we made the propo­si­tion togeth­er! The thought of being in Yere­van, of all the oppor­tu­ni­ties that we have as Youth, still makes me jump of excite­ment. Work­ing with AEGEE-Yere­van is also impor­tant. They are a young and enthu­si­as­tic team and I know we have each other’s sup­port.

Natasha Kli­menko

GT: Can you explain the EPM con­fer­ence top­ic in a few sen­tences? What is the East­ern Part­ner­ship (EaP), what is the EPM con­fer­ence about and what is the expect­ed out­come?
Natalia: “Bor­der­less Europe — Can we dream that big?” embod­ies the objec­tives of AEGEE as such: striv­ing for an inte­grat­ed Europe with­out bor­ders. As ide­al­is­tic as it might sound, we as young peo­ple can­not take the free move­ment across the con­ti­nent for grant­ed — be it move­ment of peo­ple, cap­i­tal or work­force. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, some­times instead of wit­ness­ing build­ing bridges, we wit­ness erect­ing walls between Euro­pean coun­tries. We chose East­ern Part­ner­ship as a focus of the the­mat­ic con­fer­ence, because this is the region where the issue of bor­ders is cur­rent­ly more rel­e­vant than else­where, and nat­u­ral­ly, because Arme­nia is a part of EaP, so this is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak up about the prob­lems of dif­fer­ent kind of bor­ders in the East­ern dimen­sion of the EU.

GT: You are both not from EaP coun­tries. How much do you know about the EU’s East­ern Part­ner­ship strat­e­gy?
Mar­lène: I am cur­rent­ly in the last year of a triple diplo­ma between the UK where I spe­cial­ized in Post-Com­mu­nist Pol­i­tics, France where in Sci­ences Po, in Lille, I passed my Mas­ter in Euro­pean Affairs — and in Hun­gary where I study now, spe­cial­iz­ing in East­ern Euro­pean Pol­i­tics. As you can see, my knowl­edge of EaP was main­ly aca­d­e­m­ic before I dis­cov­ered AEGEE. How­ev­er, the East­ern Part­ner­ship Project of which I am now Project Direc­tor helped me to fos­ter a more prac­ti­cal knowl­edge, to trav­el and see from my own eyes the EaP regions. This knowl­edge has opened oppor­tu­ni­ties to me: for instance, I will be direct­ly work­ing in Tbil­isi at the French Embassy on EaP-relat­ed sub­ject very soon.
Natalia: Hon­est­ly, I knew lit­tle about EaP before the open call for the EPM top­ic pro­pos­al. But when I got to know Mar­lène and we start­ed work­ing on it in details, I felt EaP is what I want to focus on. A month lat­er I end­ed up giv­ing work­shops on the top­ic and writ­ing my Bach­e­lor the­sis about the Evo­lu­tion of EU’s EaP. I am Russ­ian and here not many peo­ple know about the exis­tence of EaP at all. And when they do, they are rather skep­ti­cal, because EaP oper­ates in a region we tra­di­tion­al­ly have close ties with. So, this is exact­ly what I would like to alter: first, raise aware­ness, sec­ond, help form a well-ground­ed atti­tude towards this ini­tia­tive.

GT: Have you both been to Cau­ca­sus before?
Natalia (laugh­ing): Only to its north­ern part, in the Russ­ian part of the Cau­ca­sus moun­tains.
Mar­lène: I have been to every EaP coun­try includ­ing South Cau­ca­sus except Azer­bai­jan — I plan to go after I fin­ish my intern­ship in Geor­gia. It is inter­est­ing that Natalia vis­it­ed the part of Cau­ca­sus I’ve nev­er been to, it illus­trates the dif­fer­ent of point of view, which allows and enables AEGEE to act as an agent for bor­der­less dis­cus­sions and iden­ti­ty.

Natalia Kli­menko dur­ing a work­shop at NWM Sankt-Peter­burg.

GT: What has AEGEE been doing in the EaP field so far?
Mar­lène: AEGEE-Europe’s East­ern Part­ner­ship Project was cre­at­ed to ensure equal oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple in the East and improve a bet­ter exchange between the locals and mem­bers of Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, Belarus, Geor­gia, Moldo­va and Ukraine and the rest of the net­work. Count­less activ­i­ties have tak­en place over the sev­en years of exis­tence of the EaP Project: from Action Days to con­flict res­o­lu­tion events, from mobil­i­ty con­fer­ences to Sum­mer Uni­ver­si­ties. This year Action Days were orga­nized in Rus­sia, Geor­gia, Arme­nia, in the Nether­lands, Ger­many and France. We focus more and more on the dis­cus­sion of EaP-relat­ed issues with­in the net­work. In sum­ma­ry, the project is built on three main pil­lars: youth mobil­i­ty in edu­ca­tion, con­flict res­o­lu­tion and active cit­i­zen­ship. The EPM top­ic “Bor­der­less Europe — Can we dream that big?” it is the proof that we, as a net­work, can over­come and dis­cuss issues nation states can’t.

GT: Natalia, at NWM Sankt-Peter­burg you gave a bril­liant work­shop, which revealed that many mem­bers of AEGEE in East­ern Europe don’t feel Euro­pean. Were you shocked by the result? And what role will aspects like this play in the EPM con­fer­ence?
Natalia: The work­shop was excit­ing, indeed, for both EU and non-EU cit­i­zens, and I would like very much to have a sim­i­lar ses­sion at the EPM. As for “not feel­ing Euro­pean”: I was a bit dis­ap­point­ed, but it was no news. I will not speak for Ukraine and Belarus, but in Rus­sia it might be par­tial­ly attrib­uted to the arti­fi­cial­ly cre­at­ed divi­sion between the “Russ­ian” way of the life and the “Euro­pean” one, which might be ben­e­fi­cial to some stake­hold­ers and fits in quite well in the life of a major­i­ty of Russia’s pop­u­la­tion. Peo­ple do not under­stand that Europe is where Russia’s reli­gion, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sys­tems, art, and tech­nolo­gies have tak­en inspi­ra­tion from. On the oth­er hand: for vaca­tions, every­one goes to Europe and only a tiny part goes to Asia. The good news is, the sense of belong­ing to Europe can evolve grad­u­al­ly. This is what work­ing on the Euro­pean lev­el of AEGEE or being a par­tic­i­pant at inter­na­tion­al events can bring you. When I start­ed to work in AEGEE’s inter­na­tion­al team, my sense of “Euro­pean­ness” dou­bled. Now I feel, if you ask, equal­ly Russ­ian and Euro­pean.

Mar­lène Rene at Ago­ra Cata­nia.

GT: At the Ago­ra some peo­ple crit­i­cized on stage that the pre­sent­ed con­tent was very broad and maybe too ambi­tious for just 1.5 days. What’s your opin­ion about it?
Mar­lène: “Bor­der­less Europe, can we dream that big?” might be a broad title, how­ev­er the theme is very spe­cif­ic: Bor­ders issues in EaP states. It was very impor­tant for us to under­line that bor­ders were not only phys­i­cal, but were men­tal also. It aims at cre­at­ing a mutu­al under­stand­ing between young Euro­peans, who will gath­er not only to dis­cuss dif­fer­ent view­points and fos­ter under­stand­ing that our vision for the Euro­pean project is shared; it is also show­ing that what­ev­er prob­lems we may face, they could be over­come. We hope to start an impor­tant dis­cus­sion on this spe­cif­ic sub­ject with spe­cif­ic exam­ples in the EaP regions. I don’t under­stand why it is a prob­lem as this type of theme has been a great suc­cess in equal­ly long con­fer­ences. On the con­trary, in past suc­cess­ful exam­ples the sub­ject was even broad­er, because it did not focus to EaP region. For instance, the great con­fer­ence of the “Your Vision for EUrope” project in Cluj-Napoca one year and half ago was a mar­velous suc­cess. So why stop this effort that can bring impact both inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly?

Mar­lène Rene

GT: How will the mem­bers and bod­ies of AEGEE be able to con­tribute to it? When will there be an open call for con­tent?
Mar­lène: There will be one very soon, just after the draft agen­da includ­ing the oth­er part of EPM is set­tled. Although we are con­tent man­agers, we do not cre­ate the con­tent for the work­shops, we encour­age bod­ies to cre­ate it and to dis­cuss the theme. The EaP Project and the Euro­pean Cit­i­zen­ship WG are moti­vat­ed to take part of course as we were the ones writ­ing the pro­pos­al, but we also want oth­er bod­ies to bring in their exper­tise. We also invite experts to inform the mem­bers about the issues before they can give their input dur­ing the work­shops. Even­tu­al­ly, they will have the knowl­edge and crit­i­cal think­ing nec­es­sary to under­stand the issue and ques­tion poli­cies and defend solu­tions for dif­fer­ent bor­ders issues from men­tal to eco­nom­ic and phys­i­cal ones.
Natalia: Togeth­er with the link for the Open Call, we will pub­lish a PDF with rec­om­men­da­tions on top­ics that the prospec­tive work­shops and ses­sions could deal with. We def­i­nite­ly invite bod­ies and locals from dif­fer­ent parts of Europe, from East to West, to bring brand new ideas and be cre­ative!

GT: In the past the often bril­liant EPM con­fer­ences were not reflect­ed in the Action Agen­da plan­ning part. Will it be dif­fer­ent this time? And how could it be achieved?
Mar­lène (laugh­ing): It’s not an easy ques­tion because you frame it in such a way that the the­mat­ic part should be reflect­ed in the Action Agen­da. How­ev­er, if I am not mis­tak­en, they are a dif­fer­ent part of the EPM. All we can do is encour­age mem­bers through the the­mat­ic part of the EPM to con­sid­er those issues while they are plan­ning the Action Agen­da. More­over, I hope that mem­bers inter­est­ed both in EaP issues and the impor­tance of bor­ders will be the first to come to EPM Yere­van, and even to Tbil­isi before that event!

GT: Will there be a fol­low-up to this EPM top­ic in the net­work in 2018? For exam­ple, in terms of a Euro­pean project with con­fer­ences and study trips?
Mar­lène: On the EaP part, we have lots of plans from a study trip to Geor­gia, to more coop­er­a­tion with Rus­sia. We have so many projects and oppor­tu­ni­ties, we decid­ed we need­ed more mem­bers to par­tic­i­pate so that we could make our project stronger. Get ready, because soon we will have an open call! The EPM will be an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate even tighter ties between EaP coun­tries, to raise aware­ness on the EaP regions and to orga­nize more events all over the net­work. But that’s not all. AEGEE-Yere­van and sev­er­al Turk­ish locals are push­ing for a new project on Turk­ish-Armen­ian talks; and we hope AEGEE will take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to push for­ward renewed dis­cus­sions of Rus­sia-EU talks.
Natalia: In the Euro­pean Cit­i­zen­ship WG we are already work­ing, togeth­er with a well-known local, on a big con­fer­ence with a very rel­e­vant top­ic that is going to take place in March, and on the plan­ning of study trips to EU insti­tu­tions, which we will strive to make avail­able and afford­able to non-EU cit­i­zens as well. So, stay tuned, as an update will fol­low very soon!

One of the high­lights of Yere­van are the musi­cal foun­tains

GT: Any­thing else you would like to add?
Mar­lène and Natalia: EPM Yere­van is a one-in-a-life­time oppor­tu­ni­ty to dis­cov­er South­ern Cau­ca­sus. The board of AEGEE-Yere­van is work­ing day and night to accom­mo­date every­one is the best way. It won’t be just an event, but a region full of sur­prise. It’s time to dream big­ger! Also, if you are inter­est­ed in EaP issues, the East­ern Part­ner­ship Work­ing Group is lauch­ing an open call too! So many oppor­tu­ni­ties to know more about the region, so take it!

More about the EPM: