JEF-Europe seminar about democracy and active citizenship in Latvia

, by Giulio Cavinato, Laura Holderied

JEF-Europe seminar about democracy and active citizenship in Latvia

44 participants from all over Europe gathered in Saulkrasti, a coastal town at the Baltic Sea, one hour from Riga for a seminar organised by JEF-Latvia and JEF-Europe entitled “Active Youth for a Truly Democratic European Family”. During the six days, the participants had the chance to explore several topics, mainly active citizenship and youth participation.

Sunday evening participants arrived and everyone felt cosy in our hostel “Baltic Inn”. Although some participants were a bit shocked by the chilly Latvian autumn, their mood changed visibly after the warm welcome by the Latvian and Brussels organising team and the trainers, Liga Grundsteine (Club “The House” – youth for United Europe / JEF-Latvia), Peter Matjašič (JEF-Europe) and Ilija Dimitrovski (JEF-Macedonia and former EVS in JEF-Latvia). The evening was spent with ice-breaking and getting-to-know-each-other games and quite a few people discovered the artist in themselves at the model & artist game.

Monday was kicked off with a presentation by Peter about a simple, but important topic “What is JEF?” with an overall sum up about JEF objectives, organisation, structure, etc. – this was necessary especially for new members. After that participants could get closer to the seminar’s topics and bring down all what was floating in their heads about citizenship and active participation on paper. “Don’t think – WRITE” was the motto of the power brainstorming that followed, on questions such as: “name the pre-conditions of youth participation” or “how are you an active citizen”?

In the afternoon we went a step closer to the topic and tried to find definitions for the terms “participation”, “citizenship” and “civil society” in smaller groups.

Afterwords the really informal part began. First we presented to each other our JEF sections and then our countries in the international evening – this one actually ended up with laying the emphasis more on international drinks than planned. Next morning, not at all tired, the group went on with an activity about European citizenship. After a brief presentation of the topic both participants and organizers set up a discussion about the European citizenship with a really high motivation.

After lunch and short walk to the lovely sandy but windy beach we welcomed our fist external contribution on the evolvement of the Latvian civil society in the 90’s held by professor Romuals Razuks. First he spoke about the contemporary history of Latvia and the way how Latvian civil society “survived” and developed starting from its unification in 1918 then throughout the USSR’ dictatorship and finally with the joining of the European Union. This interesting topic led a lot of JEFers to ask many questions concerning the situation in Latvia today. Consequently everyone started to work on the next topic with the title “The role of the young people in the civil society”; again speaking about civil society but focusing on the duties and the functions of the young people. Wednesday morning we all surprisingly managed to catch the early train from Saulkrasti to Riga and to get a group of 44 people with public transport to the Faculty of Social Sciences, where the office of Klubs Maja (JEF-Latvia) is located and two more lectures by external speakers took place: social sciences professor Nils Muiznieks talked impressively about the minority question in Latvia and Andreas Klein presented the work of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

From the university the group went – crowded under too little umbrellas – to Riga’s City Council where a panel discussion on the content and future of the Lisbon treaty took place. The interesting guest speakers Ilze Juhansone, (representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Linda Jakosone (President of European Union Information Agency) and Andris Gobins (European Movement NGO) gave the seminar participants a great insight in the Latvian viewpoint not only of the Lisbon Treaty, but many other EU issues.

Thursday was all about putting it into practice, but also the day of the unforgettable “see you soon party!”. Right in the morning participants were called to face an important task called “Practical experience in the local community”. Why was it so important? Because they had to stroll in the centre of Saulkrasti and talk with the local people about EU’s advantages/disadvantages they experienced during this period of almost 5 years, trying to catch emotions, thoughts and opinions of Saulkrasti inhabitants. Also they were asked whether they feel that they can actively participate in Latvian society and have a voice in the community and country.

When discussing the results, many people were astonished and even shocked that some citizens had told them that they had no idea about EP elections, EU benefits and advantages that they could obtain whatsoever. Moreover, most Saulkrasti inhabitants don’t trust the government and don’t feel they have any voice whatsoever in political life. For sure this task will remain in JEFers’ mind for the rest of their lives!

In the afternoon many people used the opportunity of the Open Space to create other projects connected with the seminar and let’s hope that all the new ideas that grew from this will be all realized! This successful day ended with one of the greatest parties ever, with a lot of games, traditional dances and heaps of fun. We hope that there will be other thousands of JEF events like these ones again. Friday was focused on the development of the Wiki platform as well as the debriefing and evaluation before we moved to Riga for another panel discussion, this time about the European Parliamentary Elections and a Halloween party.

All in all we had a very cool seminar together, worked a lot, developed a great group spirit and are proud to present you an important result, namely our seminar’s online platform: where you can find the participants joint work on all activities and lectures and even the movies of our European Short Film Evening.

Thanks to the great hostel and the lovely staff we could make the most of this JEF seminar.


The photos are property of Peter Matjašič and Ruben Loodts who kindly allowed us to use them.

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