In October 2021, I accompanied JRS Europe to Strasbourg in order to attend the European Youth Event at the Parliament, a sort of conference aimed at young people meant to foster ideas for the future of the European Union. I went to assist with the Communications side of things, mainly to take pictures.
Our main purpose was to deliver a workshop called CHANGE: building a society where everyone is welcome, a sort of bite sized version of our educational programme. The entire event brimmed with energy, and I overheard several conversations between people younger than myself that wouldn’t be out of place in Brussels’ own European quarter.
Obviously, you need to be a pretty serious politics boffin to come to this type of event, so it’s likely a good amount of attendants will go on to be the MEPs and other policymakers of the future, if they don’t already have their foot in the door. This made our workshop important, a good opportunity to present the realities of the migrant and refugee experience to people who may not be totally aware, but who might go on to shape these same migrants and refugees’ lives.
I recognised a number of high-placed EU politicians ambling around, which goes to show that they do care about this whole endeavour: it would be easy to just post about it online and move in, but engaging with youth at the Event and attending talks speaks to the EYE being a real place of dialogue.
The workshop itself was presented well, thanks to our energetic staff and volunteers, particularly our refugee guests, Ivo (not me!) and Zana, who both spoke eloquently about their circumstances with a boatload of charisma. About a dozen bad faith far-right people came to try and disrupt our event, something they did in every talk about migration or diversity. Not only was their intervention truly pathetic, it backfired by convincing most of the other audience members that it was staged, as no normal person would show up to embarrass themselves in public like this. This only reinforced the honesty and strength of our speakers, and highlights the importance of this type of event. It’s imperative to talk to people before they get suckered in by reactionary platitudes.
I was a bit blindsided by how well-attended the two-day conference would turn out to be, and between COVID precautions limiting seats, advance bookings selling out, and my head being semi-permanently in the clouds, I missed out on a lot of promising talks… though I witnessed an interesting panel on youth unemployment and opportunities post-pandemic, spoke to and recorded a short video with a group supporting mental health, checked in on the development of a new EU website, ate a lot of tasty Alsatian food, and enjoyed live music by small artists from all over Europe in the EYE Village. I could have tried out a few sports in the Village too, but my preoccupation with the local cuisine probably gave you a clue about my priorities.
It was also fun to experience the city of Strasbourg, which itself has a checkered past of flipping from French to German, but currently shows us a pretty comfortable coexistence where the cultures of these two countries enrich each other and make for a much more exciting place. I’m thankful for the opportunity to attend this unique event, and I hope to go again before I age out of it!
written by Ivo de Jager, JRS Europe volunteer with the European Solidarity Corps programme