“Fly forward” was the motto of the great Agora Bergamo, which took place from 18 to 22 of May 2016 in the Northern Italian city. 935 participants turned it into the the biggest statutory event of AEGEE since 2006. Even if some plenary sessions seemed endless, it was a truly exciting Agora with a couple of popcorn moments to remember.

1. The Agora of the 1000


The biggest Agora ever: this was the daring dream of AEGEE-Bergamo. In the end 935 participants showed up, which was not the highest number ever, but firmly puts Agora Bergamo in the top 5 of all 61 Agoras – and made it also the biggest statutory event since the autumn Agora 2006 in Napoli. Including organisers and helpers, 1050 people were present in Bergamo – with this the aim “Agora of the 1000” was clearly reached.

2. Good logistics…


Everything in one place: one of Agora Bergamo’s strongest points was clearly its location. Gym, plenary hall, food area and workshop rooms were all in the same place. Especially the gym, or as it was called, “the dorm”, was big – and as the colour shows, also conform with AEGEE’s visual identity. Next to the one of the record Agora in Maastricht – 1150 people slept in an indoor tennis centre – it was probably the biggest gym ever. No wonder that the organising team was so ambitious in getting as many participants as possible. Many Agoras are restricted in size due to the lodging capacity. In Bergamo, the participants had to leave the very modern fair building just for the showers and the parties. Another plus: the airport was just around the corner and with the nearby bus stop also sightseeing was very easy.

3. …except for the noisy tents…


One of the very few drawbacks of the Agora location was the sound quality. In the plenary you could not hear well in the back what was spoken on stage, and equally bad, people on the stage had also problems in understanding anything. The opposite was the case when it came to most of the prytannia, progress meetings and workshops. Since there were no separate rooms for them, except for one small lecture theatre, everything took place in one big hall, which was separated in four smaller units with the help of black curtains. This created sometimes overlapping noise and required discipline by the participants to keep calm. Noisiest meeting was for sure a great improvisation theatre workshop. The here produced noise made the other participants wonder what happened here…

4. …and cold showers


It seems to be a typical thing for Agoras in Italy: outside showers. Agora Udine in 2000 had them, Agora Napoli in 2006, just Agora Torino 2004 and Agora Cagliari in 2014 were offering inside showers. Agora Bergamo just continued a tradition. And like so often with outside showers: sooner or later the warm water is finished. Also in Bergamo many people faces that problem. Even the two-minutes rule on this photo didn’t help. And honestly: showers in two minutes?

5. A beautiful city


Who likes to go to Agoras in cities, which you have to drink beautiful? No one. Fortunately Bergamo is a wonderful, a spectacular place. A gem in Northern Italy. During a couple of days you could get the impression that more AEGEE members were in the Città Alta, the marvellous upper town, than in the plenary hall. No wonder, with half of the participants having visitor status and the weather being sunny every day, except for one rainy Thursday. One of the most frequented place was La Marianna, the café where the stracciatella icecream was invented by created by Enrico Panattoni in 1962.

6. Very friendly and competent organisers…


This is the moment where we bow down for Paolo Ghisleni. He did not only save AEGEE-Bergamo a few years ago when the antenna had just a handful of active members. He was was also an excellent main Agora coordinator. Together with his huge team of very dedicated, competent, well-organised and always friendly helpers from Bergamo, Italy and all over Europe they made this great event happen, of which the antenna could only dream a few years ago. Congratulations, everyone!

7. …with creative ideas


The “Before I die” wall was a great idea. Instead of the typical sticker wall, the participants could express here their wishes or expressed how great their own antenna is. In general, the organisers were highly creative. Some examples? The whole PR campaign that lead up to the Agora, the successful crowdfunding campaign with very original prizes, the funny T-shirts… AEGEE-Bergamo was bursting with creativity.

8. An amazing opening ceremony


The participants had to wait a long time for the Agora opening. Instead of the original 17.00, the opening ceremony in the marvellous Teatro Donizetti started only around 20.30 – and lasted till nearly 23.00. But the long waiting was worth it. The speeches were surprisingly interesting and one could see that the mayor and the university representative actually really knew and liked AEGEE. The dance and music acts were superb and fitting the environment of the beautiful theatre, in which once Verdi and Donizetti set their feet. During the last acts the crowd was standing up, dancing and cheering. A great success, which put the bar for future Agora organisers very high. Check it out: https://www.facebook.com/aegeegoldentimes/videos/vl.190380664689802/1115191521871679.

9. A tight schedule…


This Agora was one days shorter than other spring Agoras. Due to a communication error which was not their fault, the chair team had to compensate for the missing time. Among others, they moved the opening plenary from Thursday morning to Wednesday afternoon, to the original timeslot for the festive opening ceremony. Fortunately nearly all ceremony speakers managed to attend the postponed ceremony, except for as sponsor, whose speech about carpenting was a bit weird in the context of funny attendance roll-calls and reports about the EPM in Leiden.

10. …with the Agora Fair as victim…


The Agora Fair is usually one of the absolute highlights of any Agora. This is the place where you can find out in a one-stop visit what is going on in AEGEE, what the bodies are working on, what the projects are doing and who actually all these people are who send their annoying open calls and reminders. The location of the Fair was brilliant: right opposite the Teatro Donizetti, everything open air. Unfortunately, due to the tight schedule, the Fair took place before the Agora started, with many people still on their way. Thus, many people, for whom the Fair would have been great to visit, missed it.

11. … and late plenaries


None of the Agora days finished before 20.00, the final day even around 22.30 – despite the fact that on every day the Chair started the programme at 9.00 sharp. It clearly shows that better Agora reforms are needed more than ever – and it makes you wonder how it was possible to make two- or three-day Agoras in the past. Today there is more to discuss, you might say – but back then the network was a lot bigger, the number of events and projects greater and the number of European bodies not much different from today. One of the reasons are surely the 22 proposals and 18 other votings – not to take into account various elections. A lot of people expressed that in their opinion a bit more self-restraint in making proposals might be good – or does anyone really think that AEGEE was losing itself in chaos and tragedy when there were only five or six proposals at an Agora? The high number of proposals and prytannia frustrated quite some delegates, who had to follow lengthy discussions about single words of the proposal texts, instead of being able to attend the often more interesting workshops.

12. Good CD work with high approval ratings


Only two of the mentioned 22 proposals were rejected. 13 passed with more than 80% approval. The two rejected ones had the catchy titles: “Requiring support of two bodies besides the submitting body to discuss a proposal at the Agora” and “Proposal to introduce a maximum fee for statutory events” – the latter received only 21.9% in favour. Aside from the 22 proposals, there were also the mentioned 18 votings – meaning reports and motions. All 18 passed. 11 received even more than 90% approval. The current CD could also be satisfied with these results. Their Interim Financial Report 2015/2016 received 93,7% in favour, their Interim Activity Report of the Comité Directeur 2015/2016 got 91,2% in favour. “These are results like in communist countries”, as someone mentioned at the Agora.

The lowest approval: “The AEGEEan as AEGEE-Europe Project” received 49,7% in favour, but this was enough in order to pass, since only 29,3% were against. This low approval was in parts the result of an intervention by two former CD members, who rather would have liked to see The AEGEEan to become a committee and not a project. AEGEE Honorary Member Philipp von Klitzing remarked in the official Agora Facebook group that AEGEE media are strictly speaking not fitting in any category and require a category for themselves. In the end, people followed the argumentation of the AEGEEan Team that the category closest to their online magazine is indeed projects. The Agora agreed with its vote. You can find all results here: www.zeus.aegee.org/statutoryvote/jc/view_results.php.

13. Lots of questions…


Democracy in AEGEE is alive! The question lines were very long, regardless the matter or topic: candidates, reports, proposals… Usually 25 people or more queued up. Some people gave each other a tough race about who asks most questions. In the end Philipp Blum (the guy on the left) from Aachen was clearly in lead, with Jorge Sanchez (not the guy on the right) from Dresden being a strong second. The Internet hashtag #Blumtoblame became very popular at the Agora. Funny enough though that despite the high number of critical questions nearly everything passed.

Oh, and in case you wonder: La Federacion, a joint association of Spanish antenna with the sole purpose to apply for grants, was not a big topic. During the recent AEGEE-L discussion nearly everything was said, so in Bergamo the conclusion came quickly: La Federacion was never registered, it never worked and – as the CD stated – it is also not supported by the current CD. Topic closed. No popcorn.

14. …also thanks to the fantastic press team!


For the first time the Agora press team got a special right: their representatives were allowed to ask questions which the AEGEE members sent to them via Facebook. And: they could ask several questions. This great innovation was very successful! The team consisted of hyperactive members such as AEGEEan editor-in-chief Erika Bettin and oldies such as Mattia Abis. They reported live and in detail from most prytannia and all plenaries and did an outstanding job. No wonder that they were voted “Hero of the Agora” in a Golden Times poll. And: they even had time to play Agora Bingo! Unfortunately the bingo card was not completed though since no one asked for a roll-call and Paul Smits did not jump on the stage – well, it was pretty high.

15. The return of Alfredo Sellitti


Alfredo Sellitti is back! The former President of AEGEE-Europe had not been seen at any Agora since spring 2012. Despite the fact that he never stopped being active by doing a lot of advisory work or being in the fund-raising committee CIRC, he never showed up at a statutory event in the past four years – maybe also because he lives and works in exile in Algeria. Many people did not recognize him at first in Bergamo, thanks to his new beard, which made him rather look like Giuseppe Garibaldi (the first Rainbow Network Commissioner in the 19th Century) than his old self. During the Agora, Alfredo was a vital part of the Agora press team. We can only hope that this was not his last Agora. Alfredo, AEGEE needs you!

16. Sudden candidate withdrawals – and one stepping up!


It looked like a new CD full with continuity. The Secretary General wanted to run again, the Financial Director too. But suddenly, a few days before the Agora, suddenly the applications were gone from the online application system. Zero candidates. Apply now. Both of them had their reasons, but never stated them. It felt a bit like in the past, the nineties and noughties, when the CD members’ term began the day after the Agora and ended at the Agora. At that time, searching for willing last-minute candidates at the Agora – involving sometimes even invitations for drinks – was a common thing. Fortunately, the search was short in Bergamo, at least regarding the Financial Director task: Zvonimir Canjuga, former President of AEGEE-Zagreb, EQAC speaker and Netcom Subcommissioner, stepped up and will serve AEGEE-Europe in the next term. Unfortunately there was no Secretary candidate, so the new CD will appoint someone for the three months period until the autumn Agora.

17. The inconclusive debate

17 final

It was supposed to be the popcorn moment of the Agora: the first ever debate between the two candidates for President of AEGEE-Europe. Pablo Hernández Rodríguez versus Réka Salamon. 30 minutes of excitement, tough replies, witty comments, sarcastic remarks, rhetorical brilliance – oh wait. Both candidates expressed that there are in fact not so many differences between them regarding their aims, and both refrained completely from saying harsh words about each other since they still live and work for two more months under one roof. No Donald Trump, no popcorn. So in the end the debate was a draw between two very nice, friendly and capable candidates.

18. The Maryana momentum


The big popcorn moment of the Agora came on the last day. Network Director Maryana could not attend the Agora due to visa issues. Nevertheless, she candidated for the next CD, switching from Network Director to External Relations Director. The votes were long cast and counted when rumours came up on Saturday that the Network Commission wanted to make a statement, the body with whom she worked closely over the past year. So, in the beginning of the closing plenary – a programme slot which is always under time pressure – the Netcom expressed on stage that they were not satisfied with their cooperation.

The Agora was puzzled. Lots of people approached the stage. The delegates of AEGEE-Enschede requested that that the result of the election of ordinary CD members should be announced immediately in order to take possible further action. After a lot of discussions involving many people and several short breaks, it was announced that Maryana was elected for the next term. Now some people asked for a revote. Others suggested to ask Maryana first what she has to say regarding the NetCom statement.

And so it happened. In a Skype call to the Agora, Maryana said she was very surprised about the NetCom statement and regretted the developments – and that she would withdraw her CD candidature. This led to the next discussion: would the one CD member, who was not elected, now be elected? The JC said yes, since the candidate had the necessary number of votes and the withdrawal of a candidature during an Agora was not the same as a resignation. Others did not agree, but in the end, this was the conclusion: Maryana withdrew and stays in office for the last two months of her term as Network Director, while the other four CD candidates were all elected.

19. The most Eastern and female CD ever


So, who won the Presidential election? Réka Salamon did. In a quite narrow race of two good candidates she received 56.6% of the valid votes. She will be the 13th female President of AEGEE-Europe, compared to 31 male presidents so far. But: there is hope for gender equality. The next CD will be again dominated by women, just like this one, which also has only two male members. And this is how it looks like:

  • President: Réka Salamon
  • Financial Director: Zvonimir Canjuga
  • CD members (in alphabetical order): Joanna Pankowska, Lia Tuska, Maarten de Groot and Tekla Hajdu

It is not only a CD with a two-third female majority, it’s also the most Eastern CD ever. With CD members from Poland, Croatia, two from Hungary, one from Greece and one Dutch it might be a lot cheaper to use the headoffice in Brussels as a hostel and to rent an office in Budapest instead. It is a much nicer city, too.

20. The surprising JC candidate


Three candidates, three places, list closed. Clear thing? That’s what many people thought about the election of the new Juridical Commission. Until reality stroke. A former CD member requested the list to be reopened, on the grounds that he had a new good candidate. The current Juridical Commission wasn’t really sure what to think about that, since they had different opinions, but in the end the Agora was asked and decided to reopen the list. The lines of argumentation were going from “Why not giving people a wider choice? It’s good for the quality of AEGEE work!” to “The deadlines are there for a reason. They underline the seriousness of a candidate, especially for a position like the JC – and the deadlines help antennae at home to make up their minds about the candidates.” In fact, some people even argued later that if a deadline is meaningless, why having them then at all – and why not letting everyone to decide until the Agora starts.

It turned out that the surprise candidate was a familiar face: Joris Veenhuis from AEGEE-Maastricht, who was Juridical Commission member before. For this particular election the Agora tried out an idea of the Agora reform group. Instead of presenting a candidature and then questions and answers later, the delegates could ask questions first and next day the candidates presented themselves together with all the answers. Obviously Joris has a good sense of humour, because when the same person who actually had proposed Joris’ candidature asked: “Joris, why did you candidate so late?”, the candidate’s reply started with: “Because you asked me to” – followed by a friendly meant insult, which unfortunately cannot be repeated here.

Needless to say that Joris was elected, he got the second highest amount of votes among the four candidates.

21. The lack of Netcom candidates


The Network Commission has been a tremendous success story ever since the election of the first Netcom team in 1997. Until today it is a group of trusted people, who serve and protect the network. A lot of people consider the Netcom a least as important as the CD. Usually some of the most active and experienced people become Network Commissioner. Unfortunately for the election in Bergamo one place could not be filled and also a couple of the few candidates had quite little experience compared to Netcom standards, as some delegates pointed out.

22. New and old projects


Imagine you get this Facebook message in the early morning: “Will you be in the morning plenary? We need you to take a photo of us when we are on stage!” If you receive this, you know that these people are serious. The message came from the “Your Vision for EUrope” project team. The new big project in AEGEE. They had indeed a very good presentation, showed the audience, how serious and ambitious they are.

It was not the only project that was presented: Democracy in Practice was reporting as well as Eastern Partnership Project II, which finished its run, but announced that they will return as Eastern Partnership III in autumn. Europe on Track III was on stage too, the third edition of the wonderful project that won the Charlemagne Youth Prize a couple of years ago. This year however, there were a few problems with the preparation of some of the six travellers and the travel route that overshadowed a bit what was and still is a great initiative that will hopefully see its fourth edition soon.

23. The Heidelberg statement


In Agora Kyiv Florian Hauger became known European-wide in just a few minutes. The Secretary General of AEGEE-Heidelberg suggested to the Agora to make a statement regarding the refugee crisis in Europe. Some people disagreed on stage, but Florian stood firm, even when people threw nonsense at him. You know how it ended: the Agora decided by vote to not to vote about such a possible statement. All discussions were for nothing, but Florian was now a star.

In Bergamo Florian, now at his second Agora, had learnt the lesson of Kyiv. This time he made statement regarding the rise of populism and far-right parties in Europe – on behalf of AEGEE-Heidelberg. No dispute, everyone clapped, everyone was happy. And the huge AEGEE-Hedelberg logo on the screen looked great, too!

24. New space for network meetings

The locals of Lisa Gregis.

On Friday, 18.00, it was time for a nice innovation: the Network Commissioners invited their antennae to little network meetings in or next to the Agora building. For 45 minutes, they could discuss current issues. In the past, they had to do this during lunch or dinner, which never really works. Having a own timeslot, even being short, was a positive change!

25. A fancy new SU gadget


Is there anything that did not have an AEGEE logo stamped on so far? In fact, there are not many such things. AEGEE-Enschede even came to the Agora in their new AEGEE-Enschede van! The Summer University Coordination Team had a brilliant new idea. Powerbanks with SU logo and AEGEE-Europe logo for modest 10 Euros. SUCT member Philipp Blum: It was a big success – and much better than SU towels.”

26. The parties were ok, as usual


The Agora parties were fine. Some of the locations had the classic problem of not having quiet corners for talking while enjoying your drink, but in general they were ok. Positive: the very good bus shuttle service to and from the party places. The participants were totally game for the party topics. At the Full Moon party most people wore something coloured and fluo; and many of the costumes at the Anything But Clothes party were spectacular – a special mention goes to the 40 Kraków members, who were all dressed like their mascot Buka. The European Night started very late and the place was too crowded for the tables, but the participants enjoyed the last night of the Agora anyway.

27. Lots of twinning


Twinning is in: 12 locals signed or renewed twinning agreements at Agora Bergamo. AEGEE-Salerno and AEGEE-Ioannina renewed their very successful partnership, as well as AEGEE-Delft and AEGEE-Passau. But there were also new twins. Such as AEGEE-Budapest and AEGEE-Heidelberg. AEGEE Rostov-na-Donu and AEGEE-Baki. AEGEE-Berlin and AEGEE-Istanbul. And AEGEE-Barcelona and AEGEE-Thessaloniki! Check also this video: https://www.facebook.com/aegeegoldentimes/videos/vl.190380664689802/1121250584599106/.

28. Happy end for Hatay and welcome to Vigo!


AEGEE-Hatay is finally a Contact Antenna! The Turkish local signed the Convention d’Adhesion already last autumn at a Network Meeting. This was supposed to be ratified by the Agora, however, Hatay forgot to send the activity plan, which is a condition for the ratification. It is still unclear why no one just called them on the phone before Agora Kyiv and said: “Guys, please send us five lines of text till tomorrow.” Well, finally AEGEE-Hatay presented the activity plan in Bergamo and is now an official member of the AEGEE family.

In the Network Update – current status: 149 Antennae, 15 Contact Antennae, 6 Contacts, tendency shrinking – also a new Contact in Vigo was welcomed. Four of their members attended Agora Bergamo and there is great hope for them: all four of them have already been members of other antennae. With this knowledge it should be very easy to create a strong antenna very soon!

29. EPM in Zagreb and fourth Agora in Enschede


Poznan, Tartu or Zagreb? Many people knew that those three locals applied to organise the EPM 2017. AEGEE-Poznan said itself that it didn’t get it, so only two antennae were left. In any case it would have been a premiere for the local. And the winner is: AEGEE-Zagreb. Zvonimir Canjuga and his fellow members where overwhelmed with joy! The event will take place from 23 till 27 of February 2017. By the way: it is going to be the first statutory event ever in Croatia.

Equally exciting was the decision who would organise the Spring Agora 2017. Many people expected AEGEE-Aachen to win, but according to inside sources they lost by the smallest margin possible – 3:4 against AEGEE-Enschede. The Dutch local will host its fourth Agora after 1997, 2005 and 2012. A new record in AEGEE! The probably date: 23-28 May 2017. See you there! And check this video about the Enschede announcement: https://www.facebook.com/aegeegoldentimes/videos/vl.190380664689802/1120407918016706/.

30. But first the Agora returns in Chișinău!


After the Agora is before the Agora. The next one will surely be equally spectacular as the one in Bergamo. So let’s all see again in Moldova’s capital Chișinău, between 12th and 16th of October!