What a contrast: here rather silent 793 Agora participants in the plenary, there lots of intense discussions in prytannia and workshops. Plus explosive parties, where friendships for life were made. The Agora Zaragoza (“ZarAgora”) was special in many respects: a reformed agenda, great parties, friendly organisers and 522 kilos of chocolate were some of the aspects. A hopefully thought-provoking review in photos.

1. Great location

Zaragora 01 Location

One of the best things about the Agora was for sure the location: a very new building where everything was in one place: gym and plenary hall were not even 50 meters apart, separated by the info desks tables in the middle of the conference centre “Palacio de Congresos”. Ok, nothing is perfect and there were things such as cold showers in the beginning, but whoever once organized an Agora knows that it is hard to keep everything under control.

2.  Friendly organisers surpassed the shadow of 2003

Zaragora 02 Reunion

66 organisers is a lot. But the sheer number is not decisive: the organisers in Zaragoza – about 50 from the local antenna and 16 from other Spanish locals – were well prepared, always friendly and did not appear stressed, despite their long work days. You needed pen and paper? The team of main organizer Chema Rueda had it within seconds at the registration desk. You needed another table for the AEGEE fair? They carried it for you. By the way, this was the second Agora in Zaragoza. The first one took place exactly ten years earlier and was not so fortunate. The organisers of 2003 couldn’t get a good location, so the Agora took place in an old and cold expo hall far out of town. One participant switched on the ventilators on the roof, a dead bird was falling on the sleeping bag. A couple of the old organisers were around, for example David Barco, main organizer of 2003, on the photo together with Zaragora organiser Chema.

3. Grandfather Joni can finally quit AEGEE

Zaragora 03 Joni
Most recognizable face of the Agora Zaragoza organizing team was surely Jonathan “Joni” de Castillo. The former President of AEGEE-Zaragoza was one of the main people behind the idea to organize the Agora. 40-year old graphic designer was even around at the previous Agora in Zaragoza in 2003. Joni, who was proud what several generations of members of his antenna achieved with the ZarAgora, can finally stop AEGEE, as he announced. It’s a pity, because this person is the living realization of the slogan “work hard, party hard” – and he had more AEGEE spirit than any other person at the Agora.

4. Great support for the CD

Zaragora 04 CD
Let’s dive into the Agora programme. The delegates gave a dream approval to the work of the CD: 92 per cent of the votes in favour. The delegates appreciated the fact that the CD did in fact ground-breaking work by improving AEGEE’s external image and impact a lot. The keywords for that: advocacy and policy. Since the early year under Franck Biancheri the external perception in the European institutions and beyond hasn’t been so strong as today. AEGEE has become a strong motor of European integration again. Great job, girls and guys!

5. Nearly no question asked…

Zaragora 05 Question
Most surprising: only one person – from AEGEE-Leiden – wanted to ask a question about the Activity Report of the CD. Usually there is always a pretty long question line. There was some speculation about it. While former CD member Thomas Leszke was convinced that no one asked questions, because everyone was happy with the CD work, Agora chair Alla Resheten said that this might also due to the fact that the majority of delegates was at an Agora for the first time and most of the people who usually ask questions, were not present.

6. …but some concern

Zaragora 06 Concern Ballot

When you spoke to people you realized that quite a lot were actual not very happy. But as some of them said, they did not go on stage, because everyone just seemed to be content. What bothered them? They had the feeling that the CD moved away from the network by focusing too much on external work, that a lot of their activities were not discussed in advance on mailing lists or the forum and decisions were hastily pushed through. While many people considered this behaviour very efficient and beneficiary to the network, others – especially people from some big antennae – complained about an inner circle on European level, which gets a lot of information and has a certain influence, whereas the network gets only the results presented. One AEGEE oldie coined in a private talk the word “directed democracy”, meaning: the way discussions are conducted and decisions are prepared give the network less influence than in the past.

7. Lots of activity outside the plenary

Zaragora 08 Small

You could see the high willingness to actively contribute and discuss in the prytannia, workshops and progress meetings. In these small meetings the Agora really came alive! There were extremely heated discussions even about details, in the prytannium about the “updated identity of AEGEE” the delegates were arguing whether to write “This way” or “Moreover” in the proposal text. Also the question rounds to the candidates, which took place for the first time in three parallel sessions, were very intense – much more questions were asked during traditional question rounds in the plenary.

8. Does AEGEE need a secretariat?

Zaragora 08 Secretariat

However, a few progress meeting would have deserved more participants. In the financial progress meeting only ten people discussed the state of AEGEE-Europe’s monetary situation with brilliant Financial Director Anna Gots, the parallel progress meeting about a Secretariat for AEGEE-Europe had only 15 participants. Which is a pity, because this might be a big topic at the next Agora. The CD announced that they want to set up a taskforce of AEGEE members and external experts, which shall analyse how beneficiary it would be for AEGEE to have a paid secretarial staff for administration issues in the headoffice. As result, the CD members would have more time for thematic work, policy and advocacy. AEGEE-Europe President Luis Alvarado Martínez stressed in the progress meeting that no AEGEE-Europe money would be used for paying external staff. It would exclusively be financed from grants for which the CD will apply in the next months. Depending on the results of the task force, the CD might present a proposal at the spring Agora in Patra.

9. Who pays for the CD guests?

Zaragora 09 CD guests

The most controversial issue in the plenary was the discussion who should pay for the participation of guests, invited by the CD to the statutory meetings. As a follow-up to a motion by AEGEE-Enschede at the spring Agora, the CD presented its findings how the costs, which are currently paid from the Agora budget, could be covered else. As former Agora organiser Steffi Müller and pointed out in the Golden Times Agora group on Facebook, at the moment these costs are paid by the hosting antenna with participation fees and sponsoring income, which is a financial risk for the antenna. The CD suggested among others to raise the part of the membership fee that is paid to AEGEE-Europe fee or to raise the amount of SUs fees paid to AEGEE-Europe. The CD also suggested to think about limiting the number of CD guests. A representative of AEGEE-Enschede went to stage and said that the antenna was not satisfied with the answer yet. Therefore the issue will be discussed again at Agora Patra. The question remains why external guests are needed at all at the general assembly of AEGEE. Why not maybe inviting only one or two and inviting the others to the AEGEE-Europe headoffice or thematic events in the vicinity of Brussels?

10. Promising agenda reform

Zaragora 10 Questions

The agenda of the Agora was very innovative. A whole team of people had discussed in the past six months, how to make the agenda more efficient. Some cornerstones were to move the parallel activity report sessions to the plenary and to move the question rounds to all candidates to three parallel sessions. Also the number of proposals was reduced – and only the few controversial ones were discussed in prytannia. Some less controversial ones were presented in the plenary. In general, the changes were well-perceived. Especially the parallel question and answer rounds were very lively and many people asked questions who would not have gone to the plenary stage. It was just a pity that only the questions were repeated later in the plenary and not the answers, which would have been useful for delegates especially from small antennae who were interested in all candidates. Something to work one!

11. So what was decided in the proposals?

Zaragora 06 Concern

All proposals passed with flying colours. AEGEE will reduce the number of confusing financial report presentations, the Agora visitors will be selected also based on the recommendations of the boards, the Mediation Commission can have more than two people of the same nationality, the Fields of Action were removed, AEGEE’s identity updated and the internal financial year changed so it is in in sync now with the CD cycle. By the way, according to the new identity AEGEE has now vision, mission, means and Statement of Principles in a pyramid. This will probably be a hit at the AEGEE info desks.

12. Don’t mess with Fabian

Zaragora 12 Fabian
Small advice for the next chair: if you have a performer like Fabian Brüggemann, who attracts 70 participants to his self-development workshop, better don’t put Progress Meeting about AEGEE-Europe finances or the AEGEE-Europe Secretariat in parallel.

13. Successful AEGEE Fair

Zaragora 13 Fair
Another reform element was to allocate 2.5 hours to the AEGEE fair, instead of the usual hour. The fair was again very popular, in the first hour it felt like going to the tables with drinks at a classic European Night – you had to push your way through. After 90 minutes there were not many people anymore at the stands of projects, working groups and major events. Does It mean the air was too long? Not at all. It just shows that the projects and working groups should prepare better, for example info materials or making little presentations. And: it’s all about location. Putting all desks in a small corner of a corridor is not the best. More space means a more relaxed atmosphere.

14. Where was the humour in the plenary?

Zaragora 14 Sleeping
Improving the agenda of the Agora is a worthy aim. However, how come that the plenaries have become more boring? Alright, it’s a serious assembly, but where were the usual energisers, dances and other fun elements? Where is the humour? The flagstealing was already kicked out from the agenda at the last Agora, but now there was even less fun. In these times you wish AEGEE.tv back with their legendary funny and witty films. The only big fun part were the few selected event promotion videos. However, even they were fewer in number thank a couple of years ago. Yet, the participants could see how high the quality of videos in AEGEE is become, most visible in the promo video for the New Year events in Moscow and Gdansk. Check them here: Gdansk and Moskva. Anyway, nearly only talking about administrative issues, policy and advocacy creates sleeping AEGEEans…

15. Not many candidates in Zaragoza…

Zaragora 15 candidatesFour candidates for four SUCT jobs, four for four MedCom positions, three for three Audit Commission tasks, six for five NetCom jobs, of which one was not present and had therefore bad chances from the start. Where is the competition? Where are the candidates? Where is the choice? For an organization that claims that the European level was never as big as today, there was a huge lack of interest in elected positions. The only really competitive election was the chair election with four candidates for two positions. However, with two of them being in the chair team already, also here the result was predicted by the Golden Times readers.

16. …but a lot of potential CD candidates for Patra

Zaragora 16 Polish CD
At every Agora the CD meets with potential CD candidates. Some people attended only out of curiosity, but quite some made it clear that they are strongly considering candidating at the spring Agora Patra. One girl even expressed her wish to become next President. Three of the potential candidates are from Poland: Sandra Oborska (www.facebook.com/sandra.oborska), Bartek Sudorowski (www.facebook.com/bartek.sudorowski) and Ola Kluczka (www.facebook.com/ola.kluczka). The Golden Times interviewed them. Check out the video on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR7SLGPr9rw.

17. Nationalism beats education…

Zaragora 17 Thomas Leszke
The Agora chose the topic of the next European Boards’ Meeting in Lublin, 13th till 17th of February. It’s “Nationalism in Europe” and was proposed by former CD memeber and new MedCom president Thomas Leszke (see photo). This really important topic that concerns everyone got 30.8 percent of the votes. On the last of the four places was “Education reform” with 19.1 percent.

18. But in the Strategic Plan it’s the different

2013Zaragora354
The Agora also voted about the Strategic Plan topics for the period 2014-2017. Since this is so substantial, several hours in workshops and plenary on Saturday morning were dedicated to this. Still, the whole procedure felt a bit rushed, considering the importance. Youth Mobility, Youth Employment, Civic Education and Spreading Europtimism were chosen as focus areas, the topics Peacebuilding and Global Discussions, which are closer to the EBM topic Nationalism, failed to get the approval of the delegates.

19. Wait a second: “youth”, not “student”?

zaragora 19 Youth
You read it right, the two most important topics of the Strategic Plan start with Youth, not with Student. AEGEE-Leiden was a bit surprised that nowadays the word youth replaces the word students frequently, so Sandrine Lafay asked on stage: “Do we want to be a student or youth organization? These are different things.” Her motion: “The CD should start a process to find out the opinion of the members about this issue” was accepted by acclamation. This created one of the biggest discussions in the Golden Times Agora Facebook group. It will be interesting to see whether AEGEE will turn from the European Students Forum into the European Youth Forum – but wait, this is another organisation. As a youth organisation would AEGEE take care also of non-students and highschool kids?

20. Lots of new representatives and advisers

Zaragora 20 advisors
The Agora ratified the policy officers, liaison officers and the new pool of representatives. Currently there are only two policy officers: Armenak Minasyants (European Integration Policy Officer) and Iris Horijk (Sustainability Policy Officer). For the other positions open calls were issued. Next to six normal liaison officers, there is also a Liaison Officers UN Team with five people. 17 people are in the new pool of representatives that can speak on behalf of AEGEE-Europe on conferences. And: for the first time in decades AEGEE got an advisory board again, consisting of the former CD members Marko Grdosic, Manos Valasis and Miroslaw Krzanik.

21. Best SU: Catania does it again!

Zaragora 21 Catania
The SUCT awarded AEGEE-Catania with the title “organizer of the best Summer University”. Second time in a row. Congratulations! Actually, the TSU Izmir-Çanakkale had even a higher average mark, but since they did not get a mark in the Obligatory Sessions evaluation, Catania became the winner. “Many other SUs also skipped these sessions”, said SUCT member Gerardo García Díaz.

22. Lots of merchandising and visual identity

Zaragora 22 hood
The number of merchandising articles at Agoras was pretty high. Mainly due to Agora Zaragoza organizer Joni, who created a lot of very popular shirts, logos, cups and other materials, this creating a whole visual identity of the event. Also the CD had a merchandising desk, where they sold the also very popular AEGEE-Europe hoodies in blue, the new main colour of AEGEE. The visual identity of AEGEE-Europe was officially a major topic at the Agora, although some antennae were not so happy that they were asked to change their logos and PR materials. The delegates of one of them declared that they will stick to their old logo.

23. Eight new contact antennae

Zaragora 23 CdA
A lot of contacts signed the Convention d’Adhesion and became contact on the closing day of the Agora. Of course the Agora gave standing ovations and sang the Convention song. Good luck and a lot of success to all of them! In total, the network has now 162 antennae, 22 contact antennae and 4 contacts.

24. Entertaining opening ceremony

Zaragora 24 ceremony
The opening ceremony of the Agora was fun. A guitar player sang a song, animating people to sing along. A famous folkloristic group was dancing and singing in their traditional clothes and were a smashing success. Highlight among the video greetings was a message by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

25. Great parties, but not so much culture

Zaragora 25 bears
The Agora Zaragoza definitely had the best parties in years, probably since Agora Istanbul 2010. Not so much because of the themes such as Halloween Party or the White T-Shirt Night, where the participants collected signatures and fun messages. More important: The locations were excellent, nearby and the music was really great. Only drawback: at the Cultural European Night there were no drinks and food from the different countries and the cultural performances started only around 2 a.m.

26. What’s the wifi password?

Zaragora 26 wifi
Wifi in the plenary has become standard. In the beginning everyone used the open Wifi connection, which resulted in a very slow and unstable connection. The chair table was basically out of Internet on the first day. From day 2 on the Internet was password-protected, but whomever you talked to, most people knew the password, which they got from someone who told them not to tell it to anyone else…

27. Altogether 522 kilos of chocolate

Zaragora 27 chocolate
At Agoras the participants often get hungry during the long sessions. Not in Zaragoza. The organisers managed to fundraise 522 kilos of delicious Lindt chocolate. This had a shop value of about 10,000 Euro! Comment by Olimpia Pârje: “We can make chocolate a main field of action”. Talking about food: for the first time the people who claimed to be vegetarian had surpassed the mark of ten percent. Actually, there were far less, but many wanted vegetarian food, because it’s often tastier and the waiting lines are much shorter. Like in Zaragoza: the normal food line was more than 50 meters long, for vegetarians there were often no line at all.

28. Goodbye Alla, hello Paul!

Zaragora0020
Chairlady Alla Resheten said goodbye. After ten Agoras she wanted to stop, she said. Thanks for everything, Alla! The Agora voted for her vice chair Paul Smits (left) as new chair, the chair IT person Alberto Cuesta Noriega (right) is the new vice chair. Highlight of the question rounds to the candidates: “What is the difference between a chair and a table?” Paul’s answer: “A table is where you put the questions. The chair takes care that the questions are dealt with in a proper manner.”

29. The Agora will return in Patra

2013Zaragora141
The next Agora will take place in Patra at the Greek seaside from 30th of April till 3rd of May 2014. AEGEE-Eindhoven wants to go there in a spectacular fashion: by renting one or several helicopters. But what comes after Patra? And here we come to the sad part: AEGEE-Tbilisi, only applicant for the autumn Agora 2014, withdrew its application. The reason is the recent election a few weeks ago. It resulted in a change of government. AEGEE-Tbilisi would have to talk to the new people in charge, which will talk a little while. So they will probably apply to organise the spring Agora 2015 instead.

30. The second-screen Agora

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Also videostreaming has become standard at Agoras. As soften, the connection was not always stable though and the sound quality not always best. Next to videos, hundreds of AEGEE members followed the Agora through the Agora Facebook group of the Golden Times. More than 400 people joined, many of them experienced members, who used the opportunity to discuss the main issues of the plenary. Also several CD members expressed their point of view there. This “second-screen Agora” has become an integral part of the Agora that no one would like to miss.

 

This article was made with the help of a lot of photos by Ksenia Lupanova.