Many members expected Agora Moscow to happen in spring 2020. They were surprised that AEGEE-Yerevan was chosen instead. However, the antenna in the Russian capital did not give up, prepared another hosting application and is hoping to be selected for autumn Agora 2020. The GT asked main coordinator Ekaterina Nemova about the antenna’s motivation, concerns in the network and reasons why in her opinion AEGEE-Moskva should be selected as host.

Golden Times: Your antenna applied for hosting autumn Agora 2020. What is your motivation?
Ekaterina Nemova: Some years ago, the very idea of organizing an Agora in Moscow sounded as crazy as the idea of taking the participants on a 9288 kilometres long trip for Transsib twelve years ago: we couldn’t help but making jokes about all the difficulties we would have to overcome here. Yet, as we grew stronger and tackled bigger challenges, organized more European events, focused on inner growth and development we have come to the realization that we can do it. So, the Agora in Moscow has been our goal for quite a while now.

GT: Your antenna has the necessary expertise?
Ekaterina: Our expertise of the past years was directed at making AEGEE-Moskva sustainable and a serious local with a strong identity and goal-oriented approach, with members working throughout the whole network and making as much impact locally and globally as possible. We have been considering the Agora as a truly long-term project so we set our path towards preparations for it. The situation in our antenna is extraordinary: several generations of members are already implied in the preparation of the Agora, more oldies have declared themselves ready to help us by all means, a couple of dozens of newbies are extremely motivated and eager on organizing stuff. It would be irresponsible to miss this moment.

AEGEE-Moskva at the anniversary of their TSU.

GT: It would be the first statutory event in Russia…
Ekaterina: It’s not just an Agora we are applying to host. This is a chance for all of us, AEGEEans, to finally comprehend what the world really is outside our prejudices and framed mindsets. Organizing a statutory event in a convenient place seems reasonable but facing the prejudices and making an Agora happen against all the odds feels right. The first Agora in Russia ever, especially nowadays, is a strong message to all those who failed to establish a dialogue between countries, societies and cultures on a higher level. The Agora in Moscow might have started as a joke but we don’t laugh now and hope you understand what stands behind it.

GT: It is not your first time applying, and frankly, this story caused one of the biggest plenary discussion at Agora Bucuresti. Can you comment on it?
Ekaterina: To be honest, we would like to put the whole situation behind us. It was indeed not the most pleasant experience for our members. The Agora should be a place of inspiration, democracy and mutual respect, it should not demotivate those who believe in its values. But we would like to state that we respect the competition and the decision of the CD. We are still in the game, we expect an honest competition and we hope that AEGEE will stay strong at its principles. We would like to thank everyone for their support and for believing in us!

GT: You created an Agora Moscow 2020 discussion group on Facebook to address and discuss potential concerns. Why?
Ekaterina: After Agora Bucuresti we realised that too many questions are left unanswered and that the network is hungry for discussions and clarifications. So, a decision was made to create a separate public group on Facebook, not for the promotion of the Agora itself but for making it all more transparent, to open the dialogue, receiving feedback and most importantly – to answer the most common questions and concerns. Unfortunately, we were a bit busy with all the other aspects of the application period, but we intend to keep the group running and these issues are going to be put on the table already this week!

Ekaterina Nemova answered the questions for this interview. She is main coordinator of the Agora team.

GT: This group has 310 members. Did you expect this high interest?
Ekaterina: I cannot say it caught us completely off guard since we were quite aware of the general interest people would have towards our application. We had many members express their support in person in Agora Bucuresti and not only… yet it was incredibly nice to see everyone joining the group so fast!

GT: What are the main concerns that people have about a potential Agora Moskva?
Ekaterina: The most common ones were certainly visas and travelling costs. There were also LGBT+ concerns, safety issues and travelling from some countries. We will cover all of these in our Facebook group and will try to make the attendees want to see the real picture by themselves and remind everyone that borders won’t break themselves. One important thing is, even though the skepticism towards the Agora in Moscow coming from the part of the network is a challenge for us, we are ready to process it: either to keep giving and asking for feedback or being flexible by handling the objections.

GT: What can you say regarding these concerns? Are they justified?
Ekaterina: AEGEE is transforming day by day yet some things stay the same: it is an extremely diverse and widespread organization, consequently, it will always make travelling for some of us harder than for others. Some are getting used to it, others not. Also, the expenses issue is a bit exaggerated in our opinion: quite a lot of relatively cheap ways of travelling to Russia are now available including low-cost flights and trains. Speaking of the visa issues, many members are just unfamiliar with a procedure that the rest of the network is faced with on a regular basis, so we believe that getting into the shoes of a non-privileged group of travelers might be quite an interesting and insightful experience, especially in that harmless way. Anyway, the above mentioned issues should not be the reasons for saying “No” to Agora in Moscow for an organization which strives for a democratic, diverse and borderless Europe… Otherwise, we, AEGEEans, might find ourselves to be incapable of making decisions free of hypocrisy.

AEGEE-Moskva is best know for their Transsiberaian Dream TSU. Here they are in Vladivostok.

GT: What can you as organiser do to tackle potential issues?
Ekaterina: We always provide support for the participants during the visa application process. In most cases, AEGEE-Moskva issues the invitation letter and it enables to apply for a free humanitarian visa. Bearing in mind the scales of the Agora, the Visa Working Task Force was formed. It will not only work on an operational basis with all the applicants but also try to get the support on the institutional level. In fact, the key element is communication: sharing true and relevant information on what is to be expected with the participants. We will take care of all the rest.

Agora Moscow core-team on the day of the Agora application submission.

GT: We had safety discussions for Agora Istanbul and Agora Yerevan. In August more than 1000 people were arrested after demonstrations in Moscow. Should AEGEE stay out of hosting the Agora in places where individual safety is not guaranteed? Or places with democratic deficits? Or would that be the wrong conclusion?
Ekaterina: Was AEGEE staying out of hosting Agora in Kyiv in 2015? Or Autumn Agora Istanbul 2017? Or Spring Agora Yerevan 2020? No. Do AEGEEans get together throughout our history and prove to be striving for a democratic and borderless organization? That’s a big Yes. AEGEE-Moskva is not the government of the country we live in. Will it be fair to punish AEGEE-Moskva members, who have to tackle some extra challenges and work even more because of the decisions being made on a far different level in the country? We hope that’s a No as well. As for the mentioned protests, during one of them we were on the city tour of our Travelling Summer University on the same streets full of police and we didn’t have any troubles as we took all the measures in order to ensure it. We take the safety of our participants very seriously, yet we don’t think we should sit at home. Travelling to certain destinations is also a way to show your position and support.

GT: Some people were disappointed that the Agora programme in Istanbul and Bucharest did not address the political turmoil in these countries. After all, we also travel in order to learn about these places, otherwise, the Agora could take place in some empty Airport hangar every year. How would you ensure that we learn more about politics and society in current Russia?
Ekaterina: That is a very tricky question. Even among the members of our antenna, we have the whole spectrum of political and ideological views and it is not easy for us to discuss some of the topics. Although, AEGEE is a forum and a platform for discussion and we are open to the idea of a more thematic approach to Agoras and eager to find a space for the context of politics and society in our country, as some Agorae showed us a great example on how to handle it.

GT: Why did you apply for the position of main coordinator? And how did the application process look like? It seemed pretty thorough from what we learnt…
Ekaterina: AEGEE-Moskva always puts a lot of attention and effort into the selection of people for important positions. For instance, we have a special three-step procedure and the committee which is in charge of choosing the main coordinator and the core team for our Travelling Summer University. Since choosing the main organizer for the Agora was something unprecedented, the antenna came up with the following process: the first step was applying through the open call and filling out the application form issued by the board; the second one was a live streaming, where I presented my candidature and answered the questions from the members of the antenna. By the members’ online voting I was chosen as the main coordinator for Autumn Agora Moscow 2020.

AEGEE-Moskva preparing a video application for their Agora.

GT: That sounds indeed very transparent and thorough.
Ekaterina: For me, having this Agora in Moscow would be a nice illustration of AEGEE values. That’s a great challenge and at the same time a chance to serve for something meaningful. What happened earlier with the first try of AEGEE-Moskva made me just more motivated to apply again, to work even more and show what we are able to do if you just give us the opportunity. I sincerely believe that I have the best team in the world which leaves no space for doubt that it is gonna be legendary.

GT: How many people in your antenna would be willing to help organise the event?
Ekaterina: At this moment in AEGEE-Moskva, there are 180 official members and we can estimate that more than 40 are active members. 122 members joined the local just since January and we plan a course of activities in order to make them more involved and motivated AEGEE members. This will help us to proceed with an HR strategy aimed at the extension of the Agora team. Apart from the official members, we even have quite a vast network of former members who are still actively participating in the life of our local by training the newbies, giving the knowledge transfers and would be happy to join back in case we are chosen as the host of the Agora. Hosting this event is something which will not leave indifferent even several former generations of AEGEE-Moskva. So, as you can see… we are quite a crowd!

The current AEGEE-Moskva board.

GT: Do you already have some locations in mind? If yes, what kind of?
Ekaterina: We have prolonged the agreement with one of the cultural centres in Moscow to allocate the plenaries: there is a lot of support from the venue towards the Agora and AEGEE in general. Speaking of the lodging, we managed to set up an agreement with the sports complex located within just a ten-minute walk from the venue! Also, the infrastructure is very convenient as all the locations are very close to shopping places and the metro – which is, by the way, one of the most efficient and beautiful ones in the world. Moreover, we have even more exciting and atypical details for accommodations! These we cannot reveal yet, but we are always looking outside of the gym-box.

GT: How would your team make this Agora unforgettable?
Ekaterina: Well, we are not going to spoil all the secrets so far. But we hope that the network couldn’t help but notice that we always aim for the biggest challenges, the highest quality and are excited to walk an extra mile. We prefer to say that everything you can imagine is possible if you dream big. The Agora in Moscow is our new big dream which has no other way than to become unforgettable. And we are good at making dreams come true.

GT: Anything you would like to add?
Ekaterina: ZA AGORAMOSCOW and see you in Salerno!

The Agora Moscow core-team is working hard on the Agora application.