Reflecting Europe 1989-2019 Photo: Ksenia Les
In 2019 Europe was literally "all over the place": on the one hand, gleeful politicians took selfies while wearing their EU branded sweaters; young people enjoyed free inter-rail tickets to discover Europe by train; hundreds of people re-enacted the pan-European picnic in Sopron, Hungary in August, to commemorate the historic moment that for many signified a turning point in European history. On the other hand, the frustratingly long Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU undermined European integration, while some countries faced immense challenges due to shifting borders, the rise of far right movements and other social transformations.
On 9 November 2019 around 100,000 people in the German capital celebrated 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall with a light show, fireworks and nostalgic concerts. A shiny anniversary on the surface, but what lies underneath? Shortly before the celebrations, the German Infratest dimap institute conducted a fundamental survey on how people in East and West Germany feel about the reunification process in their country today. 64% of Eastern Germans and 59% of people in the West say that the country has become more divided. 37% of people in the East believe that the reunification was unfair and 59% say they are little or not at all satisfied with democracy. Does Europe today really live up to the expectations inspired by the historic changes of 1989?
We at the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum wanted to reflect on a landmark year to serve as a point of reference in our understanding of Europe today and in our understanding of what we, ourselves, have become.
"Reflecting Europe" started before the European elections in May 2019 with a workshop in Berlin in which around 30 people shared their memories of 1989, a year that is often viewed as the beginning of contemporary civil society in Europe. They discussed the significance of key moments, which helped to bring about the fall of the Berlin Wall. These included the non-violent uprising in Czechoslovakia known as the "Velvet Revolution" and the "Baltic Chain" - a peaceful political demonstration in which approximately two million people joined hands across Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to demonstrate unity in the need for freedom and independence. The participants shared their family stories, compared perceptions of these political and social transformations and their impact on the following years.
Reflecting Europe Kick-Off Workshop in Arkhangelsk Photo: Martin Fejer
In June of the same year a group of 15 journalists, photographers, researchers and activists from Germany, Denmark, Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Russia and the UK spent three days in Arkhangelsk in northern Russia, evaluating and analysing their prospective ideas. They debated visions of Europe, how it has changed in the course of the last 30 years and what kind of Europe we, as active citizens, want it to be in the future.
Over the summer, the authors of "Reflecting Europe" flew out to various destinations, among them the Hungarian-Austrian border, Dresden, Berlin, Chemnitz, Wrocław, Moscow and Kyiv, where they met politicians, migrants, witnesses of the past events, civic and social activists and artists. They collected interviews, photo series, videos, analytical data, sounds and thoughts.
The multimedia dossier, "Reflecting Europe", presents all these pieces as a kaleidoscope of narrative stories, analytical observations and journalistic essays. They explore the sensitive relationship between nationality and identity, present very personal takes on what unites and separates us as Europeans and individuals, and pose uncomfortable questions such as why the huge changes that happened thirty years ago failed to fulfil the expectations of so many?
Our goal was to tap into under-reported stories, connect with local perspectives rooted in their own context, confront phantom fears, listen to non-mainstream voices in a media that gives them a chance to be heard. Who are the "Rusaks"? What does freedom mean for those who are constrained by borders, both physical and mental? How is the artist's background reflected in aesthetics? Is democracy in Germany really in danger?
We treat "Reflecting Europe" as a forum for thought and collaboration, which welcomes further projects that contribute to the understanding of Europe – the way it has become and the way we want it to be.
Various other contributions will be added across the sections, which represent the building blocks of our research: Walls & Borders, People & Identity, Culture & Society, alongside special projects yet to come.
We welcome your comments and thoughts.
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