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article imageA tale of two forums on the future of Europe Special

By Rob Edens     Oct 7, 2014 in Business
Athens - Two drastically different forums focused on young people took place in the last two weeks, showing the deep divide over the role the new generation should have in bringing about change in Europe.
On one hand, a motley group of right-wing extremists gathered in Budapest from the 3rd to the 5th of October at the invitation of the US-based National Policy Institute and held a talk shop entitled “The Future of Europe – Perspectives on Geopolitics, Identity and Nationalism”. Bringing together speakers from both sides of the Atlantic, the conference played right into the xenophobic narrative that has accompanied the rise of far-right movements in Europe. Positioned at the forefront of the battle against multiculturalism and for the ideal of an “ever closer union”, the participants shared one common ideology: preserving the white European identity. The event is just the latest in a series of activities organized this year. The groups have repeatedly tried to attract students and other young people by offering summer schools and workshops on political activism on themes such as “how to resist cops” and “how to withstand tear gas” (France’s Bloc Identitaire).
In stark contrast to the views aired in Budapest this past weekend, the Rhodes Youth Forum (RYF) took place from the 25th to the 29th of September on the Greek island of the same name, Organized by Julia Kinash, a 25-year old Czech PhD student, the purpose of this yearly forum is to empower promising youths so that their voices will better resonate in the public debate. This year’s mantra focused on finding “contemporary heroes”, those who will shepherd the process of social and political development inside their respective societies.
Held at the same time as the Rhodes Forum, a summit of business and political leaders organized by the World Public Forum, the RYF’s one hundred-odd participants were treated to a series of workshops on youth-led social entrepreneurship and youth diplomacy. The highlight of the event was a joint session between the participants of the two forums where activists got a chance to transmit their opinions and ideas to their older counterparts.
The underlying assumption of the RYF is that only through a process of “creative destruction” that involves the stakeholders of tomorrow can Europe solve its current social, economic and political imbroglio. With Euroscepticism on the march in all quarters, it is time for an alternative narrative for the countries of the Old Continent, one based on tolerance, social inclusion and intercultural dialogue. Since merely waving around statements of intent is never enough, the forum funds the best projects that seek to empower the young.
What public sphere for Europe?
The significance of both conferences should not be underplayed, because together they offer the full spectrum of options that the young generation has at its disposal. Following the near-collapse of the world economy, a strand of ethno-cultural nationalism has bloomed across the Continent, permeating the mainstream political discourse. At the same time though, a quiet but dissenting undercurrent was given a new lease of life – the idea that Europe can only succeed if it builds a stronger and more open society.
Therefore, the two events, albeit their stark ideological differences, should be seen as sides of the same coin. What should Europe’s youth do? What role will this “lost generation” of jobless and increasingly disenfranchised graduates play? If the Budapest Summit sought to instill a sense of solidarity between the members of transnational far-right movement and empower its affiliates to further pursue their ethno-nationalist agendas, the RYF proposed an inclusive vision of hope and solidarity. This topsy-turvy clash of opposing ideas forms the background against which the future of the European public sphere will take place.
There is no question that what Europe truly needs now is builders and not destroyers.
More about Rhodes Youth Forum, Budapest Conference, Youth
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