School of Democracy: My personal view

eCard_DemocracyDays_generic_EN-smallBetween April 22 and 25 in 2015 the European Parliamentary Group (S&D) of the Party of European Socialists (PES) has organised a conference with the name “School of Democracy” in Reggio Emilia, Italy. From the roughly 1000 applicant the organisers selected 100 young people between the ages of 18 and 25 from all around Europe and beyond from countries like Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, etc [1]
This Report only represents the author’s personal experience and opinion!

The Venue and Goals
The venue of the conference, Reggio Emilia, is situated in the centre of Emilia Romagna, the heart of the Italian left. The region maintains its antifascist, partisan traditions with the help of Cervi Institute, which preserves the partisan Cervi family’s legacy and organises cultural programmes.[2] The aim of the conference can be formulated in its sub-title: #democracydays. Throughout the 2 (+2) days the participating “Erasmus generation” youth could debate about their experiences and expectations on Europe’s 21st century democratic political system with the help of competent experts. The ultimate goal of the event was to involve the next generation of citizens/leaders/intellectuals in the debate and analysis ought at identifying potential solutions for our current problems. In the meantime another goal was to build up a community of intellectuals with left-wing values, who are not necessarily members of a political party, but who can on the long term become part of and influence the political, economic and scientific life on a European level.

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Topics
On the two days of the Conference we held 1-1 plenary sessions, where 3 experts gave in-depth insight before questions and debates, and 3-3 workshops, in 3 different topics by day.

April 23: Plenary Session: „A European Democracy Stronger Than the Market” Workshops: 1) „Re-thinking globalisation. TTIP and bi/multinational trade negotiations” 2) „Migration, multiculturalism and social rights” 3) „Political parties and the emergence of new political actors and grassroots movements”
April 24: Workshops: 1) „Our democratic values are not to be taken for granted: the rise of populism and extremism” 2) „The Mediterranean crossroad: the search for new ways to share the same values” 3) „Democracy, culture and freedom of expression: 10 key books that have marked the history and future of democracy” Plenary Session: „Europe as a democratic laboratory”

Personally, in addition to the plenary sessions, I took part in workshop No. 3 on the first day, while on the second day I attended workshop No. 1. Both of them were co-organised by Carlo Accetti, Researcher at the Centre de Théorie Politique, Université Libre de Bruxelles. In both cases after describing and leading up the theme of the workshop, along the lines of debating traditions, the 25-30 person groups were divided into teams based on pro-counter argument positions whom needed to argument for/against 2-2 questions, thus making up 4 teams per workshop. The questions were the following: on „Political parties and the emergence of new political actors and grassroots movements” workshop: 1) “Are political parties necessary for democracy?” and 2) “[if yes] What kind of parties do we need? Mass based or leader based parties?”. The questions were the following on „Our democratic values are not to be taken for granted: the rise of populism and extremism”: 1) “Is populism anti-democratic?” and 2) “Is populism necessarily right-wing?”. The questions were debated by the assigned teams while the other teams voted on the persuasiveness and argumentation of the debaters. After the workshop the whole community gathered and shared their reports/experiences on the workshop they participated. In both cases it was worth noticing that the most interest was channelled towards the format and content of the two debate based workshops, which in my opinion shows that the younger generation is interested in the so called “alternative education methods.”

Presenters and Participants
Among the presenters there were many recognized experts (without exhaustive listing), such as Christophe Nijdam, the Secretary General of Finance Watch, the before mentioned Carlo Invernizzi Accetti, Annamária Artner, Senior Research Fellow of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Maria João Rodrigues, MEP, Vice President of the S&D Group and the mother of the Lisbon Strategy. Also some other respected MEPs were present, such as Gianni Pittella, the patron of the event and the president of S&D, Javier Moreno Sánchez, Secretary General of S&D, and Cécile Kyenge Kashetu, former Italian Minister of Migration and current MEP. Everybody gave professionally adequate, meaningful presentations, which gave an inspirational basis for the debates and discussions of the participants. The participants were all between the ages of 18-25: graduating high school students, university students or young university graduates. Due to the theme of the conference, as one would suppose, most of the people came with an arts studies, legal studies, or had a social sciences, economic, financial studies background. Nevertheless as a positive feature I also had the chance to meet with physicist, engineering and veterinarian students.

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Conclusions and Future Plans
Everybody whom I spoke to with regards to the event agreed that we started something very constructive and positive in Reggio Emilia, and that this should be continued and followed up in the future. The organisers managed to bring together a significant amount of talented young people who share similar values and worldviews as well as an interest in debating, analysing and if possible proposing ideas to solve political and social issues and present and future problems. This feature has already been shown when more than 80 participants signed an open letter/petition to Martin Schulz, President of the EP, regarding the migration catastrophes in the Mediterranean Sea. The gathered youth represents a professionally skilled and dedicated group which can be a basis for building a constructive community. As a result the participants have described some very serious and ambitious project plans. In the short term our plan is to start this blog which would report about the conference and its afterlife with articles related to the event’s themes related broader issues. The momentum in this beginning stage is remarkable; hopefully it will last for long, and it will be further enhanced by the expansion of participants and members. Personally I find it very interesting and important to have an international, leftist, intellectual community mainly based on personal relationships, which could provide useful and effective contribution to our society and scientific works. Meanwhile it is very important that we share this opportunity provided to us with others, to start a social dialogue rather than being an inner circle of thinkers. Out of context the closing remarks from Gianni Pittella could be understood as a political “propaganda” speech, but I believe that these 4 days give them real meaning: “Democracy is to accept others, different people, and to respect them; our goal is to turn multiculturalism into interculturalism. A political identity is needed for Europe, a realistic utopia, which can and should be the EU.”

sod_logo[1] Further information: http://www.socialistsanddemocrats.eu/schoolofdemocracy
[2] Further information: http://www.istitutocervi.it/

About the author: My name is László Bugyi (24) from Hungary, currently an International Relations/European Studies MA student of University of Szeged, Hungary. Proud graduate of the First School of Democracy.

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