How to convince young people in Slovenia and the EU that the Union is a positive initiative

, by Primož Veselič, Veronika Snoj

All the versions of this article: [English] [slovenščina]

How to convince young people in Slovenia and the EU that the Union is a positive initiative

Nowadays, young people hardly appreciate concepts like democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. But that should not be condemned: who, if anybody at all, explained to them where these concepts come from and who guarantees them? How can young people be encouraged to think critically and to become active citizens?

Today’s European ‘young adults’, those in their 20s, were born or have spent at least a large majority of his or her life in the years following the year 1991, after the fall of the Eastern bloc and the end of the Cold War. That basically means that this generation does not know a world that is not impregnated in democracy and capitalism and that it does not know a Europe without the concept of the European Union, open borders and free movement of workers, cheap mobile roaming, etc.

This has, to a certain extent, a consequence: the benefits mentioned above are taken for granted and are hardly appreciated. This is obviously one of the basic principles of the human psyche, no matter how hard we try to prevent it; but this already a topic for another article.

Would an average teenager nowadays be able to put democracy and human rights into a basic historical context?

In addition to the fact that young people nowadays find it difficult to fully appreciate the basic acquisitions of Western civilization and the process of European integration, it may be even worse - they are not even aware that there are societies and regulations around the world (even in Europe) where personal freedom, freedom of speech or respect for basic human rights are not a rule. When our JEF section talks to young people, many among them, particularly teenagers, may only briefly know some facts about the European neighborhood and even recent history.

Only a few of them know, for instance, are acquainted with the fact that in Turkey social networks cannot be used entirely and that they are de facto partially censored for bizarre reasons. Hardly any of them know that 30 years ago, in Yugoslavia, you could not publicly state all that you wanted, at least if you did not want to spend time behind bars, and only a handful of them are aware that back in the 60s and 70s, it was arduous for young people to get access to Western music since it was not available in shops, and that the Internet did not exist at all.

This results in the fact that democracy, the rule of law and human rights, as well as the EU, together with all of its achievements, are considered something completely logical and taken for granted. What may be worse, young people may not know where these concepts originate, who ensures and protects them. But none of this is something that could be taken for granted; a civilization must fight for each of its achievements in one way or the other; that can be seen in the events that took place in Europe in recent years, to mention only the strengthening of populisms throughout the region and authoritarian regimes in its neighborhood.

How to change the indifferent and apathetic attitude towards the EU and social issues in general?

How, then, can we make young people change their perception of the society in which they live? The answer is partly offered by the question itself: it is important to clearly state that the benefits of the society that they live in are a result of a centuries-long struggle of various groups, as well as to illustrate to them alternative worlds to the one of freedom and relative prosperity in which we live.

It is also necessary to clearly state what the EU means for the development of Europe in the last 60 years, without fearing ‘political incorrectness’ or ‘partiality’. In a country that is a member of the EU, nothing would be wrong if basic European topics, emphasizing the achievements of integration, show up in the school curriculum. Those with a different opinion should otherwise suggest a new referendum on membership if they find it that disturbing.

Preaching or enthusing: what is the right way to encourage pondering on our world?

Teaching and learning are not enough, particularly not among young people. As the Slovene singer-songwriter Iztok Mlakar says at the end of one of his songs, in which he is giving advice to his son on how to live: “But I know that such things go to you young people in one ear and out the other. Well, you know what, son, I agree with you, you have to find out by yourself, what is right and what is not.”

Therefore, young people have to be encouraged to employ critical thinking toward society and the world without preaching and learning litanies by heart. In other words, they should be enthused for active citizenship. History and theory should, of course, be the basis on which these young people will gain a more prominent role in society; a role that will be based on mutual respect and a sense of responsibility.

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