Europe Lab 2018: The Dizziness of Freedom

On 28-31 July 2018, the Annual Forum “Europe Lab” gathered a group of 70 young professionals and volunteers from Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, United Kingdom, Ukraine and other countries. They work in NGOs, think tanks, universities, business, public administration, cultural field and media.

“Europe Lab” 2018 took place at the Pitești Prison Memorial – a place where young students became political prisoners and were exposed to a barbaric re-education experiment, aimed at erasing their beliefs, their hopes and their future. A little more than 40 years later, within these same walls, young Europeans can take the future in their own hands.

’Wow! What is especially heart-warming for me is that dedicated young professionals from all over Europe seek to bridge differences and find alternative solutions for the biggest societal problems,’ says Ralph du Long, Board Chair at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. ‘“Europe Lab” truly is worth its name.’

The participants took part in workshops dedicated to such topics as gender issues, documenting historical memory, peace building and civic education. They further discussed how to take into consideration voices of minorities, strengthen vulnerable groups, develop grass-roots initiatives and reflect personal stories, in particular those of young prisoners.

‘We at the Memorial were eager to host this year’s “Europe Lab”, since it was an exceptional opportunity for our team to share our values and ideas with young professionals from different countries,’ pointed out Maria Axinte, Director of the foundation and the museum. ‘We would like to become part of this wider network rooted in memory, civic action and communities, and we hope to continue making an impact in our own community by joining together in innovative projects.’

The evening programme of the Forum was as intense as day activities. Representatives of the Romanian civil society and civic movements provided insights into the current debate in the country – about corruption, propaganda, same-sex marriages, etc. Another evening was a glimpse of “Pilorama”, a civil festival in the Russian region of Perm, where “Europe Lab” (then “Pilorama Lab”) was born in 2012: Yulia Balabanova, singer, poet and now Director of the “Triumph” Private Philharmony in Perm, was remembering “Pilorama” and singing her songs about freedom and captivity, war and peace, love and hatred.

At the closing ceremony, the outputs of the workshops were presented. A special feeling was corresponded by a documentary theatre piece, a result of the workshop “Stories of Never-Ending Past“. Workshop participants, at the same time performers, were reading three stories of young prisoners from different times in their native languages – Polish, Romanian (a story of a detainee of the Pitești Prison) and Ukrainian.

‘I see people are returning to “Europe Lab”, and this is an inspiring personal experience for me,’ told Kristina Smolijaninovaitė, Deputy Director at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, which organised “Europe Lab”. ‘We hope to strengthen the alumni platform, which currently counts 220 people, and look for possible synergies and activities in different formats within our organisation. Young and active citizens is what Europe needs, and we are eager to make our contribution to their development and the development of the continent.’

The next step for the participants shall be submission of their project proposals until 16 August 2018. An independent jury will have selected best projects by 6 September 2018.

The Forum for Young Professionals “Europe Lab” 2018 was organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in cooperation with the Pitești Prison Memorial, INLAR, DRA / German-Russian Exchange, Competendo and the University of Pitești. The Project was supported by the European Commission and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom. The media partner was the WECHANGE Platform.

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