She is Honorary Member of AEGEE-Europe, President and Vice Chair of AEGEE-Europe – but Silvia Baita is also a true Sardinian lady, who just can’t wait for the Agora in Cagliari. The Golden Times asked this truly legendary AEGEE member about her best and worst moments in the association and about her latest task, which started during Agora Patra: her board membership in Les Anciens, the alumni association of AEGEE.

Silvia Baita first CD
Silvia Baita’s first CD

Golden Times: Silvia, the Agora is coming home. How excited are you?
Silvia Baita: Very much! Every time I think of it I get tears of joy in my eyes… It’s a dream coming true.

GT: You met the organisers. What’s your impression of them?
Silvia: They are just great! Firstly, they are experienced in the organisation of events, and they know how to handle all phases of the organisation; secondly, they are self confident and humble at the same time, so they admit whether they need an advice and they don’t take any criticism personal, as they know it’s for their good. However, what I like the most, is that they are full of AEGEE spirit. In the classification of AEGEE members type, they are a perfect combination of fun type, slightly career oriented, and mostly idealistic.

CD Torino new
Silvia’s CD as President of AEGEE-Europe, 2004-2005

GT: Aren’t you sad that you aren’t part of the team?
Silvia: Somehow I’m one of them anyway, as AEGEE is in my heart as much as it is in theirs…

GT: Why didn’t you organise an Agora in Cagliari during your active time?
Silvia: I spent only one year in the local board, during which we organised the PM 2002, then I opted for the European level. I guess you should ask the people who were in the board those years… From my point of view, it was because a true European identity of the antenna still had to be built. So they started by making the local as strong as possible at the local level, which implied many years of work and the involvement of many boards. Afterwards, thanks to this, it was with the Presidency of Enrico Cadeddu and the current President, Damiano Deidda, that all the seeds planted in so many years are finally giving their fruits.

Silvia Baita Torino elected2
After being elected, Silvia was carried on the shoulders of some friends.

GT: Were you involved in organising the PM 2002 in Cagliari?
Silvia: Yes, I was Secretariat Coordinator of the second PM in Cagliari.

GT: Ten years ago you joined the CD. How strong is the AEGEE spirit still in you?
Silvia (smiles): Once an AEGEEan always an AEGEEan! Especially when you are out of the active life – that’s precisely when your true work as a European starts, because you face everyday problems working with people who have no interest in Europe.

GT: A small recap: when did you join AEGEE and what did you do in AEGEE over the years?
Silvia: I joined AEGEE in 2001, on the 23rd of April, last day of application for a Summer University. I had read of an association which organised travels for young people from all over Europe, and I chose the SU in Valladolid, called “Salsa, Spanish, Sangria”. Yes, I know, very career oriented… After I spent one year as Secretary of AEGEE-Cagliari, I stayed in the Netcom team as Subcommie and was PR of the Cultural Working Group for almost two years, till I joined the SUCT as PR responsible. At the Agora in Skopje 2004 I was elected as Network Development Director of the CD. At the Fall Agora in Torino I ran for President and at the Agora in Izmir I joined the Chair team for one year and a half.

Silvia Baita 20th anni
During Silvia’s term AEGEE became 20.

GT: That’s a lot of activities in just a few years! What motivated you to candidate for President?
Silvia: It was because of the network itself: when you work with the Netcom you get a thorough overview of the needs, the points of strength and weakness in the network, so I felt it as a natural consequence. My term as Network Director had indeed been extremely productive and fruitful, the network felt a great big family, and I guess my work was appreciated, so I felt supported, which was of course important.

GT: Today it is quite common that several people run for President, ten years ago it was rather the exception. How do you remember the election battle against Rissana Shytou?
Silvia: Let me first say that I strongly support the idea that the President should come from the CD, not from the network, and this is because only in the CD you get the idea of how difficult and complicated it is to get to know and work in Brussels, with institutions, international organisations, and keep at the same time the network and your team informed and motivated. I am sorry, but this can be understood only by a person who has previously spent a term in the CD, who can finally get an overview and more easily build a good plan for the upcoming term. As for the competition with my friend Rissana, it was one of the most painful and distressing moments I had to go through. Rissana was a very good Projects Director, and my roommate at the time. This marked the beginning of my Presidency, I was wondering whether I had taken the right decision. It was thanks to the network and my team that I went back on track very quickly.

Silvia Baita Enschede 2005-2
After the end of her term…

GT: Was it a good decision to become president? Did you enjoy it?
Silvia (smiles): It was a mixture of feelings: sometimes I felt we were marking the history of the association, but some other times it was difficult even to keep up the team spirit within the CD. I was blessed to have eight “thoroughbreds” in my team: Kamala Schütze as Secretary General, Jovica Karanfilov as Financial Director, Burcu Becermen as European Institutions Director, Adam Kucza as External Relations Director, Virág Szabó as PR Director, Leon Bakraceski as Network Director, Rob Tesh as Projects Director, and finally Iza Jurczik as Human Resources Director. They did their best to run the association with me, and we spent many great moments together. The difficult ones personally helped me even more to learn what a good leader is, and how to deal with people in professional life.

GT: What were the best and the worst moments of your presidency?
Silvia: The beginning was not the easiest one for me. Somehow I had taken from my predecessor the idea that team spirit and leadership would come quite easily… Nicola Rega had such a natural way to make us work together and respect him. However, as I understood afterwards, I had to find my own way. I will always remember three moments in particular: First, a CD debate, chaired by me, on Turkey’s accession. The Network demanded another statement on the matter and after the debate Adam Kucza, my Vice President, congratulated with me for the way I had chaired the debate. His appraisal was very important to me, I felt I was on the right track, finally. What I learnt the most was not to take criticism personally. For this I have to thank all my CD members, who helped me to grow and become the person I am now.

Silvia Baita Chair wawa
…Silvia became Vice Chair!

GT: What were the other two moments?
Silvia: The second was the lunch we had to celebrate the achievement of the General Subvention, the grant by the European Commission, which AEGEE and other NGOs had again been admitted to after long time. It was the accomplishment of an extraordinary lobbying work led precisely by AEGEE President Nicola Rega, and it was thanks to the joint work of three CD members that we got the grant again: Jovica Karanfilov, Leon Bakraceski and Burcu Becermen, who coordinated the efforts. As third moment I would like to mention with great affection all the hugs, the tears, the laughs we had together. At that time, any small criticism meant the world to us, and we didn’t have the general overview, the opportunity to look at this from another perspective. After ten years, however, if I look back, I have to say I miss that passion, that involvement. I shared special moments with all my CD members, and I dedicate this point to them. Again, thank you, guys!

Silvia Baita Chair Wiebke
Silvia as Vice Chair with her lovely Chair Wiebke Hahn.

GT: How has life been since then? You spent a lot of time in Spain, but are back in Cagliari. What’s your connection to Spain?
Silvia: Since my CD time life has been… different. At first I enjoyed being out of that huge responsibility, the continuous discussions with AEGEE locals and commissions regarding the future of the association, or other important issues. My first and second SU were in Spain. I learnt Spanish thanks to AEGEE and my friends Ainhoa Solla Fernandez and Alfredo Moro Mena from AEGEE-Valladolid. I went to Madrid to work and that was mainly because Juan Hernandez – Netcommie and former President of AEGEE-Madrid – had put me in contact with the advertising agency he was working for. I got to know Spain, and found a family in Spain thanks to Javier Ortega Santos, who also chose me as Honorary Member of AEGEE-Madrid and together with Javier Irastorza Mediavilla gave me the official award at the Agora in Zaragoza, 2003.

Silvia Baita AEGEE-Cagliari 2008
Silvia with people of AEGEE-Cagliari in 2008

GT: What do you work now?
Silvia: I studied Communications and Event Organization, and that’s the field I currently work on.

GT: Are you still in close contact with people from your AEGEE time?
Silvia: Not as much as I would like to. It happens that when you are going through difficult times in your life instead of asking for help and support you prefer overcoming them alone… at least this happened to me. However, I always keep my many friends in my heart and enjoy talking to them from time to time. God bless Facebook for this!

Silvia Baita Amedeo Agora Napoli
Silvia was also a big fan of AEGEE-Napoli, which organised the Agora in 2006.

GT: In 2009 you became Honorary Member of AEGEE-Europe. How did you react when you heard about it first?
Silvia: It was undoubtedly a great honour. I have always worked with the greatest enthusiasm and idealism, putting the association and its people before my own interests and career objectives, and if this helped and motivated people to become a true AEGEE member… Well, I can be anything but happy for it! And flattered, yes.

GT: And what does it mean to you?
Silvia: It means that I left a mark, after many years in AEGEE people still remembered me! You know, leaving AEGEE was one of the most difficult thing I had to do. Once I had understood how things worked and how to make them work, once I had gained enough experience and self-confidence to make my voice heard… I decided to leave. Each one of us has his own story within this beautiful association, each one leads his own path… and mine had come to an end. AEGEE helped me to become a better person, if we want to find a single word, and the moment had come for me to spread the virus and infect as many people as possible. The fact that people understood this made me extremely proud of the association I had left. The highest fear you have when you leave AEGEE is that everything you fought for and finally built might be changed. Many things changed, and though I don’t like many of these changes, I still see those sparkles in the eyes of the people around, the same sparkles I had. And this is something I am extremely proud of.

Silvia Baita HM
At Agora Kyiv in 2009 Silvia became Honorary Member of AEGEE-Europe. Here you see her with the Italian flag…

GT: What’s the role of Honorary Members in AEGEE in your opinion?
Silvia: Both an advisory and “historical memory keeper” role. I learned that an advice has the highest chance to be carefully heard when it is asked for. It’s difficult for an oldie, because experience easily suggests us the solution to a problem, or simply because we went through the same situation ourselves. We should however wait for people to ask for it, or at least find the proper way to offer our opinion, otherwise if we give the impression we try to influence people we run the risk to close that communication channel for a long time. And it’s us who are going to suffer from this closure the most. I think that we should start by creating the opportunities for reciprocal knowledge, as otherwise there will never be that exchange, so precious to AEGEE. I am pretty sure that an exchange can be satisfactory and useful if it is followed by concrete examples from the history of our association. This way a personal opinion is not needed anymore.

Silvia Baita sardinia flag
…and here with the flag of Sardinia!

GT: You weren’t so happy first when you heard about the Honorary Members Charter. Why?
Silvia: I was worried that by putting too many boundaries and bureaucracy the contact between Honorary Members and current AEGEE members would lose its natural and spontaneous touch. It turned out to be that I had no reason to be worried.

GT: A couple of months ago you decided to join the board of AEGEE’s Alumni association Les Anciens. How did it come to that?
Silvia: Many friends had joined the board before, all with the same enthusiasm and wish to help Les Anciens grow as I have now. The true motivation to get actively involved was an e-mail on the LA mailing list from current coordinator, Jos, where he singled out a situation I also had noticed, that is a growing generational gap, which needed to be filled so as to make LA stronger – and AEGEE too, consequently. I thought I could help, as my age is exactly in that gap, so I wrote to Jos, and here I am.

GT: How is it to be in the board? And what are your plans for your board term as activities coordinator?
Silvia: It is different from AEGEE hectic life, but it is funny anyway. The fact we are around our forties doesn’t mean at all we have no energies to dance, and to have fun anyway. The activities coordinator’s tasks aren’t all concentrated on me, as my responsibilities are more related to internal communication.

Silvia Baita wind
If you come to Cagliari in October, you will meet her for sure!

GT: You will organise an event for AEGEE oldies in parallel to the Agora Cagliari. Can you tell us more: date, programme highlights?
Silvia: The Agora will be from the 29th of October to the 2nd of November, therefore we will be ready to welcome all our friends on those dates. As I will be busy with the LA board too, the coordination tasks will be equally shared in a group composed of well-known AEGEE-Cagliari oldies, who made also the history of AEGEE. One for all, Enrico Lai! The idea I personally have – but still have to be shared with my friends – is to offer our guests the opportunity to get to know more of Sardinian identity and tradition, to let them understand that this history and tradition lead us to be truly Europeans, as the Agora motto says: “A piece of a Continent” – from John Donne’s poem. Sardinia has its own history and cultural traditions, very peculiar and somehow different from the rest of Italy. Despite all this, AEGEE-Cagliari members think that this is an added value to our European identity.

GT: Is it only for Les Anciens members?
Silvia: I would like it to be the first of several events where a new LA generation is being built.

GT: Anything you would like to add?
Silvia: I would like to thank you, Gunnar, for giving me the opportunity to make my voice heard again. And I would like to thank AEGEE, for changing my life forever.