Six people organizing a complete statutory meeting – you think it’s impossible? Not at all, if the local is AEGEE-Eger. The contact antenna in a beautiful Hungarian town, which is famous for its delicious wine, pulled that off in March 1994, when the crazy team of AEGEE-Eger organised the spring Presidents’ Meeting (PM) – the predecessor to today’s European Planning Meeting. Barbara Bocz, President of AEGEE-Eger and main organiser of the PM, looks back to a fantastic story that involves a lot of wine.

Barbara Bocz
Barbara Bocz today

GT: Barbara, AEGEE-Eger was a quite small and also very young antenna, when you organised the Presidents Meeting. How did it start?
Barbara Bocz: How fascinating it is to bring those memories back from over 20 years ago, yet I am sure some parts will be remembered different by some others. I founded AEGEE-Eger after some encouragement and assistance from AEGEE-Veszprém, some of whose members happened to be amongst my friends. AEGEE-Eger remained a rather small antenna, for reasons I still cannot fathom, with members mostly from my circle of friends. We had no office, no resources, no computer, no phone – and honestly no clue either – with a long list that could go on and on…

GT: Under these circumstances, why did you decide to apply for organising the PM?
Barbara: You may well recall that the President of AEGEE-Europe at the time happened to be an ambitious Hungarian girl named Zsuzsa Kigyós, who gave me a push and convinced me to proceed with the idea nevertheless. In hindsight, I had not the slightest clue what I was in for.

For many people Eger is the most beautiful town in Hungary

GT: So how was organizing it like?
Barbara: We needed very quickly to establish an office, and our choice immediately fell on the Cafeteria of the English Department, where most of us studied, as the two Gentlemen who managed it knew us rather well. Apparently we spent  most of our time lounging around there as opposed to the lecture halls, earning ourselves a unique “Cafeteria Diploma”, along with our human sciences one… We still had no telephones, faxes or any of the infrastructure provisions one must have for organising such international events.

Lots of wine…

GT: So what did you do?
Barbara: We got ouselves the key to the office of the secretary of international affairs of our university. Clearly we could use her office only once her duty hours finished, strictly with a watch left outside in the corridor to alert us in case someone was approaching. It was also evident we needed to get some much needed local support, hence we persuaded the daughter of the head of the administration to become member, thus gaining her father’s approval for free usage of the institution’s lecture halls.

The Chair table

GT: There are a lot of crazy party photos of the event, especially with a lot of wine… Is it true you made a deal with a winery who gave wine very cheaply?
Barbara: Yes, we went to negotiate with some local wine makers, using our “seductive techniques”, consequently ending up with large quantities of local wine to everyone’s delight!

GT: What were the next steps?
Barbara: We still needed accommodation, which I must say turned out to be the most stressful part… Time was pressing and we found no real solution to the issue until we realised that the PM takes place during spring break, sending home all the boarders to their respective families. Once the student’s residence was vacated we could take over! Finally, with the help of our extensive social network we managed to convince some of the better known Hungarian rock bands to play at night at various venues. At this point all seemed fine and all six of us – that was the complete team – leaned back, assuming the mission was completed, with more wine we could possibly store, great rock bands lined up therefore the party could start… We could not have been more wrong…

People paying attention in the front…

GT: Why?
Barbara: We had no administration, no accounting, no paperwork, none of the structures one assumes to have in order to roll out such events. Panic broke out, since we were all excelling at arts or anything creative but none of us understood numbers or computers leading to the most hilarious things one can imagine. Eventually AEGEE-Baja offered their support and computers – those were the first we ever saw – which managed to black out the institution while the first participants kept arriving. As we had no system in place how to direct guests to their respective dorm places we decided to offer wine to all whenever they approached our desk. The idea seemed to work perfectly and we gained some time – and patience – in order to fix issues on a last minute basis. And last minute it was…

…and drinking wine in the back, thanks to a great sponsoring deal of the organisers

GT: Amazing! How many people participated in the PM?
Barbara: As we had no actual paperwork, list or any of that, I still have no idea how many people actually came to that PM. My main concern was to keep everyone happy, and the local wine seemed to work wonders. In retrospect it was a small miracle we pulled it off, with six of us running in circles trying to keep the boat floating. The funniest episode being in that cellar where food ran out fast so two of my members ran to a 24-hours shop to buy some buns, salami and cheese and us preparing the sandwiches on the spot.

GT: There are stories and photos that people were drinking wine even in the plenary. So what kind of feedback did you get for the PM?
Barbara: I can still recall the following PM, as we entered the main hall with heads turning and greeting us with a spontaneous applause.

The parties of PM Eger were legendary.

GT: Fantastic. After your generation left, AEGEE-Eindhoven bought the antenna. How did that happen?
Barbara: AEGEE-Eindhoven indeed bought the antenna, I believe for 1 Hungarian Forint or was it a glass of wine? Steph or Frank from Eindhoven would remember better…

GT: Yes, the entries in the AEGEE-AddressBook with Hungarian versions of Dutch names. So what did you do after leaving AEGEE? And what are you doing now?
Barbara: After these glorious times I left the country and went to live in Eindhoven, out of all places, followed by many other European cities. Today, I work as a Senior Cruise Director and Strategy Planner for Avalon Waterways, and am still pretty good at solving issues on a last minute basis.

Some facts: What happened in Eger

Main organiser Barbara Bocz in 1994.
  • AEGEE-Eger did not only organise the PM from 11th till 13th of March 1994. They also made a pre-event from 9th till 11th with the title: “Changes — Possibilities for Integration of the Province”. For organising this thematic conference, AEGEE-Eger was upgraded from contact antenna to antenna during the PM.
  • 45 antennae took place in the PM: Aachen, Ålborg, Amsterdam, Athína, Augsburg, Baja, Berlin, Bonn, Bratislava, Budapest, Cluj-Napoca, Debrecen, Delft, Eindhoven, Enschede, Groningen, Hamburg, Karlsruhe, Kaunas, Kraków, Ljubljana, Maastricht, Madrid, Mainz/Wiesbaden, Mannheim, Milano, Montpellier, München, Nijmegen, Osnabrück, Passau, Perugia, Praha, Rennes, Rotterdam, Salerno, Santander, Thessaloníki, Tilburg, Udine, Utrecht, Veszprém, Warszawa, Wroclaw, Zagreb. Also four contact antennae were there: Modena, København, Lviv, Lublin.
  • Chairman was Michiel Ybema, Vice-Chairman Michael Merker; the minutes were taken by Rajender Bouman, Secretary of AEGEE-Europe. Until 1996 it was common that the Secretary of AEGEE-Europe took the minutes.
  • One of the main discussion items was whether the new AEGEE contact in Moscow should be allowed to invite the Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky as speaker to their first thematic conference
  • The AEGEE contacts in Dunaújváros, Prešov and Modena signed the Convention d’Adhésion. None of them exists anymore.