From Berlin to the Western Balkans – the JEF experience in the International Berlin Seminar

, by Dvir Aviam Ezra

From Berlin to the Western Balkans – the JEF experience in the International Berlin Seminar
Attendees of this year’s International Berlin Seminar. Credit: JEF Deutschland

From Thursday, 12.5.2022, to Sunday, 15.5.2022, the International Belin Seminar by JEF Germany took place. A flagship project, it has brought together more than 40 activists and JEFers aged 18-26 to discuss European issues with a special focus on the Western Balkans integration into Europe

The Seminar took place in the trendy, hip Schönberg neighborhood of Berlin, and as one of the attendees, I can confirm that it was a huge success. Prominent topics included Balkan Enlargement, the European year of youth, and political challenges for young people. These topics were discussed in an interactive manner with a European commission representative, an enlargement expert, and amongst ourselves, including a large representation of the Western Balkans region. Notably, I felt that we all had a higher sense of urgency in bringing Europe, including the Balkans, together in light of the tragic and illegal war in Ukraine. Highlights included topics of: inclusion, racial equality, rule of law, and democracy in general, which need to be strengthened in the Western Balkans and Europe as a whole.

The social program is undoubtedly part of the unique international cultural experience and activism provided within the federalist movement. JEF Germany was an exemplary host, taking the participants on excursions to the Berlin Topography of Terror exhibition, holocaust memorial, Devil’s Hill, Tempelhof airport, and organizing outings in the evenings to Spätis (late night shops) and parks in the area (without compromising on the program!).

To get a better view of the IBS experience, I have shortly interviewed some of the people who made this initiative happen – an organizer and a participant.

Melanie, 24, Board member of JEF Germany for International Affairs, Erasmus Mundus Master Student in GLOCAL - Global Markets, Local Creativities

What was your motivation to organize IBS?

The motivation to organise the IBS was personally linked to my candidacy as board member for International Affairs for the JEF Germany Federal Executive Board in autumn 2021, as this position automatically organises the seminar. I just really wanted to bring young people from all over Europe together in Berlin - one of my favourite cities in Europe. For me, these international encounters are an essential pillar of JEF, as this is the only place where the true #jefspirit arises.

It must be difficult to organize an international seminar with participants from more than 10 different countries, how did you do it?

The secret ingredient is a 100% well-functioning team with members you can rely on, and a very good division of labour. This year we were 6 JEFers from different parts of Germany and we started preparing/preparations already half a year ago. It may be a German cliché, but structure and long-term planning lead to a successful project in my eyes!

Do you think IBS achieved its goals?

Absolutely! Our goal was to facilitate encounters between young people from all over Europe, especially in the European Year of Youth, and to have a great time together in Berlin! The feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive and that is the most important thing for us.

This is the 23rd edition of the IBS, how did the seminar change and adapt throughout the years? What is the long-term impact of consistently organizing it?

We are very happy that the seminar has been taking place in Berlin for so many years. This is mainly thanks to the long-term funding from the German Child and Youth Plan! This allows for continuity and constant quality improvement. The number of participants has varied over the years, sometimes larger and sometimes smaller, and the amount of academic input has also varied. The topics, of course, varied as well. Over the years, we have learned a lot about the formats which are well received and which are not, so that the participants always have a good time! In the long run, we are glad to see the seminar establishing itself as a fixed date in the JEF universe, to see new generations of young federalists coming together again and again, and to carry our vision further!

What are your plans for the future? Will there be more editions of IBS?

If our funding continues to be secured, the IBS will also take place in the future! As JEF Germany, we don’t want to be deprived of the opportunity to invite other JEFers to visit us in Berlin, to share our history and to make new friends. Only through such formats can we come closer to the common vision of a united, open and democratic Europe!

We have also spoken to one of the participants about his experience - Dimitar Uzunov, 21, Member and President of JEF Bulgaria.

Why was it important to you to learn more about the Western Balkans?

I find this important from three personal aspects. Firstly as a member of JEF I think it is our responsibility to find the best way to reach the objective of a more united Europe. Secondly as a student in European sciences, engaged in political life, I find this knowledge very interesting and informational that would be of use to me in the future. And lastly, as a person from the Balkans (Bulgaria) I find the outcome for the Western Balkans relevant not only for my region, but also for the whole of Europe as it’s the next big step the EU is taking towards unifying all of Europe under its flag.

Do you feel you gained something from the seminar? If yes – what?

The seminar gave me the opportunity to learn some new things concerning civil society activism and gain more political insight on the European integration process. It also provided me with the opportunity to talk with a lot of knowledgeable people who shared experiences on a variety of topics with me, which I found extremely valuable. Lastly I was able to enjoy Berlin and the hospitality of our hosts.

For me the main topics tackled in the seminar are very close to my heart, I plan for JEF Bulgaria to do some follow up actions regarding discussions on the topic of Western Balkan integration.

How do you plan to stay involved in the future and would you recommend IBS for other prospective participants?

Absolutely! It’s a very interesting seminar that provides you with a lot of options and activities from which you can learn a lot. The organization is great and everything is planned in a perfect balance between lectures, workshops and downtime activities. Our hosts were also very friendly and always there to help. This seminar is definitely one worth going to again.

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