A Case for European Youth Activism
by Simon Lenze
OCTOBER 28, 2020
Looking around Europe and beyond in 2020 it seems like many of the rights and freedoms as well as the peace that the young generation has experienced throughout their entire lives are now slowly wearing away. The escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the protests in Belarus, the surge of far right movements in countries all around Europe are all more or less symptomatic of us taking our freedoms for granted.
I was born in a Europe without border controls or open conflicts myself. I haven’t seen or experienced a different situation yet I appreciate it more every day. The more we get used to this standard, the more someone will try to break it down bit by bit.
Understanding and taking over others’ perspectives might seem like a normal thing to our generation, but it is a skill that should be more appreciated. Some of the biggest problems on our continent can be related to the fact that we are so used to living in a peaceful environment that we sometimes forget the achievements of democracy and understanding that have been made in the past.
But what can young people do to value these achievements and show that they care about unity, democracy and peace? Sometimes it feels like it is impossible to be an active citizen without feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities or discouraged by the political system. In the end the easiest solution is often to stay disengaged and do nothing, and that was the way I was going for as well. Around four years ago I myself was not very interested in politics, debate or European problems. So while I appreciate my past self’s decision I cannot really recall why I decided to apply for a session of the European Youth Parliament. A friend introduced me to the idea and for some reason I wanted to be a part of this International Forum in Croatia.
On the way there I had little to no idea what I was expecting apart from some type of debate and hopefully some fun at the seaside. The first day was very confusing to me, we were put in smaller groups, played some strange games and discussed fictional scenarios - all of which was actually a very clever way to bond us together as a team. Later I learned that some of these games are also used for companies’ Teambuilding or in professional workshops. This was to prepare us for the following days of discussion and debate about a very serious topic (in my case it was balancing citizens’ privacy and state security).
This academic discussion of current events was interesting, but what stuck with me the most were the conversations we had in our breaks. In my committee (the group talking about a specific topic) alone there were seven nationalities present. The people around me were from Italy, Poland, The Netherlands, Armenia, Croatia, Belgium… quite impressive to me since I don’t remember actually talking to anyone outside of Germany before that. The way we talked to each other about our lives in different countries of Europe, our future, our similarities and differences - this is what made a lasting impression on me and inspired me to continue being active for the European idea.
From there I was on the hook and participated in more and more events in different roles. At this point I have been in 11 countries for EYP events, 4 of which I had never visited before. Explaining all the possibilities there are to participate would take up a lot of space, but there is definitely a place for everyone to develop their talents. Apart from holding speeches, I learned how to handle a camera and video software, how to create a good spreadsheet, how to talk to strangers on the phone and pitch an idea to them. There are countless skills that I rely on today that have developed with time by being an active member in the network. Most importantly however I became interested in politics again, convinced by activism, the European idea and finding consensus in discussions. Both literally and figuratively, EYP helped me speak up and make my voice heard.
The Coronavirus pandemic obviously makes our work harder at the moment, but the network still tries to engage as many young people as possible and to help them find their passion - whether it is for Europe, for creativity or for youth activism in general. Even if many events have been moved to digital platforms, we still aim to help participants form their own opinions on current matters, learn more about the background of democratic decision making and form international understanding and friendships.
I still talk to some of the people I met back in 2016 in Croatia on a regular basis and I have made countless friends all around Europe. So as soon as I travel the continent again, I will know there is always someone to meet or reunite with. But the most important thing for me is to stay active and enthusiastic, to not let myself be discouraged by setbacks. It is heartwarming for me to know that there are still countless young Europeans who don’t even know that this journey is ahead of them and who will be amazed by the realization that their voice too can be heard.
The European Youth Parliament is a peer-to-peer educational programme that inspires and empowers young people from across Europe to be open-minded, tolerant and active citizens since 1987. Thousands of young people are actively involved as volunteers all over Europe, making the EYP a genuinely youth-driven programme – run by young people, for young people. The EYP is present in 40 European countries and typically organises around 500 events per year.
Find out more:
Facebook: European Youth Parliament (EYP)
Simon Lenze (22) is a Board Member of the National Committee of EYP Germany, responsible for Press & Public Relations.