Young Minds Take Action. Let us be heard!
The EST Campaign 2019-2020
Young people will be affected the longest by the political decisions taken today and therefore, there is an urgent need for greater political participation of our generation. Recently, this sentiment has been invigorated by the countless young people taking to the streets to demand action on the looming climate disaster. However, there are numerous challenges that will have a lasting effect on the lives of our generation and, therefore, need to be tackled urgently: equal opportunities, decent employment and living conditions, the protection of our most personal information online, to name only a few. This year, the European Student Think Tank will therefore focus on various efforts of young people all across Europe to make a change in their societies. Under the banner of the Young Minds Take Action. Let us be heard! campaign, we will highlight success stories, struggles as well as setbacks and distill the lessons to be learned for young activists, academics and policy-makers.
There is a persistent societal stereotype claiming that young people are apathetic about politics and therefore are not willing to engage in politics. The persistent lack of opportunities for meaningful participation in decision-making has left large portions of youth both cynical and skeptical about the political systems they live in. Through our campaign we seek to address this by empowering young people across the continent. Thereby, the EST serves as a platform for and by youth that connects young Europeans to debate and discuss our generation’s most urgent topics.
We intend to highlight student-based solutions and seek to elevate the status of youth participation and communicate the impacts our generation has made on the most urgent challenges that we face. We will do so by sharing experiences from all around Europe, by publishing blogs and academic papers and policy briefs as well as by organising debates and workshops.
We seek to empower and involve young minds from all corners of the continent and hope you decide to engage in our efforts.
We start off with a cross-country account of youth movements in Europe. Enjoy the read.
The EST Board of 2019-20
To contextualise, we find two extremes when referring to youth action in Portugal. On one side of the spectrum, there are young people who, from an early age, have become politically active through youth associations of political parties. We also have young people who are simply concerned about the state of the country and the threats it faces in the modern society, although they do not subscribe to a specific political party.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who truly disregard politics and do not actively contribute to democracy as we know it. We can see how much the disinterest in politics in Portugal is troubling through the number of people who did not vote in the recent parliamentary elections.
Looking at this spectrum of political awareness and interest in Portugal, are we able to affirm that in my home country youth action is effective? In my opinion, I think not, because a large section of youth that is completely unbothered with the state of our country prevails. Nonetheless, there is still hope. Especially nowadays, I see that young people around me are often starting to take a stand for the things they believe in.
One example of effective youth action in Portugal would be the strike for climate, which had a high turnover. The climate strike was not successful only by the high turnover but because the Portuguese youth mobilized in such a way that sent shockwaves to our politicians, but still didn’t move the needle enough.
Summing it all up, we face a spectrum in Portuguese society that is not ideal, making youth action not as effective as it should be. Regardless, I acknowledge that there are glimpses of hope that perhaps things will not always be the way they have always been.
Portugal, Lisbon EST Ambassador 2019: Dussu Djabula
Spain is well known for its high rates of youth participation in political movements. Especially in recent years, the massive demonstrations that took place from 2016-2019 in demand for women’s rights stand out. Driven by some viral cases, namely the murder of Diana Quer in Galicia in August 2016 and the Manada’s gang rape in Pamplona in July 2016, women and men all over Spain went out to the streets to advocate for laws that would effectively protect women against gender violence. This has had a great impact, leading even to the creation of a committee that would revise the definitions of rape, assault, and aggression, to enforce the protection of victims of such crimes under the law.
Furthermore, the looming possibility of the far-right entering the Spanish Congress for the first time since the end of the transitional period to democracy in 1981, prompted young people to start a campaign to advocate for electoral participation in 2019. They knew that what would prevent this from happening was turning disaffected people into voters, and so they did. Consequently, youth participation in Spanish elections increased from 61% in 2016 to almost 70% in 2019. Even though the far-right made it into Congress, they did not get as many seats as expected. We will see if this situation changes in the upcoming elections of November 2019.
Lastly, young people have also massively demonstrated against the climate crisis this year. This has had a similar effect as the feminist wave of 2016 because the feeling of an impending crisis has awakened several young people and has made them aware of their potential impact on society. Nonetheless, any real progress coming from the government in terms of measures to combat climate change has yet to be materialized. One thing is clear, however. Young people do not intend to back away anytime soon.
The above-mentioned events have raised young people’s social awareness and a tradition of democratic and political participation has been created amongst our youth. This, already, has made a dent in our country’s political environment.
Spain, Madrid EST Ambassador 2019: Julia Fernández Arribas
“It is official! There are 270.000 of us in the streets of Berlin! Wow. We are no ‘impatient young people’ […], instead we are a community that is engaged like never before and demands solid environmental policies,” said young activist Luisa Neubauer last month, sharing what many young Germans have been thinking in recent years.
Youth action has been quite popular in Germany over the past years. (Deutsche Welle, 2019; Handelsblatt, 2019) The German federal system – which foresees the existence of parties on both local and national levels –, as well as the important role of youth groups within bigger national parties, systematically provide space for young voices in the established political landscape. Nonetheless, the formality that characterizes politics comes with certain setbacks and often requires that the interests of the younger generations be filtered or compromised due to party lines.
This is perhaps exactly why FridaysForFuture has seen such great success in Germany, with almost 20% of high-schoolers participating in climate protests all over the country. (Mautner, 2019). The movement has not only made public affairs accessible to a younger audience, but it also seems to have shaken politics in ways that conventional methods or even voting ballots have failed to achieve in the past (Berg, 2019; Zech, 2019). These protests and the passion with which young protesters approach their agenda has changed the lens through which the voter basis sees issues like climate change or consumer protection. These are no longer abstract questions that only concern scientists and officeholders, they are urgent matters, and politicians need to be held accountable for any decisions that affect them. In essence, youth action has taken up the function of a watchdog, not afraid to react and scrutinize publicly, and it has the ability to mobilize parts of the society that never had the chance to partake in politics in the past. This is its main advantage, and we can only hope that it will continue to uphold this role for as long as it is necessary.
Germany, Berlin EST Ambassador 2019: Konstantina Nathanail
Education is one of the most foundational fields of each system and when it comes to the quality of education it serves better to adapt education to the changes in society. In Albania, our educational system has had frequent changes and reforms since the time of their commission. Although it has only been commissioned for a relatively short period problems have also emerged.
It is understood that educational issues can not be solved all at once. However, I believe that it is important to develop a strategy for modern education that stays with the times. This requires a consensus between both the political forces and the academic community. Meanwhile, young people have been sidelined from participating in any decision making related to them which has caused for many of them to become engaged in different NGOs.
In December 2018, frustrated students marched the streets of Tirana, the capital city of Albania, to protest in front of the Ministry of Education, holding banners “We Want Albania Like All of Europe.” These protests were done as a reaction of a newly implemented extra fee to pass a University exam. Many students cited that they felt these fees are not reasonable according to the quality of education that they are receiving. Students submitted requests for tuition-free enrollment for students from vulnerable groups such as orphans and the disabled community; better conditions in school; better quality of teaching materials; vetting of academic staff; the eradication of corruption in higher education institutions; increased the representation of students in administrative boards. Although the government has made some progress by investing resources into this, the universities have not managed them appropriately.
These problems seem to belong to the whole society and not just a part of it. The current situation indicates that it must undergo a radical reform that is rooted in deeply democratic values.
We all have a common dream for a better future but we should stop seeing this situation from an emotional perspective and start finding solutions while setting coordination of the actors from politics, academic community and civil society, walking alongside the most democratic principles.
Albania EST Ambassador 2019: Xhoana Shegani
At a time of Youth for Climate marches filling up our streets and social media feeds, one cannot help but admit that the youth’s involvement in protests is turning heads and making headlines. Yet, the question we should be asking ourselves is whether such mobilisations have fostered change, and not only gathered attention.
When it comes to Italy, such a query is difficult to answer. Dating back to the 1968 student riots that shook the country and marked it for decades to come, Italy has a longstanding tradition of university blockades and youth mobilisation. From the civil-rights strikes of the 70s – the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ because of the omnipresent violence characterizing those years – to the protests opposing the educational reforms of 1989, all the way to the ‘Wave’ of the Berlusconi years: Italian students certainly are no strangers to violent protests.
Yet only in 1968 did such descents on the streets spark long-lasting change. Back then, the students achieved something that was not repeated thereafter: initiating a wider, sociological shift in mentality. Rather than aiming directly at political programs, they touched on morals, religion’s role in society, sexual liberation. In some sense, these movements achieved success in a tangential way: by fostering a radical change in thinking which then translated into a change in policy. In fact, most of the social advances that followed in the years to come – such as the legalization of divorce and abortion in 1974 and 1978 respectively – have a clear causal link with the developments in 1968.
However, more recent periods of intensified dissent by swathes of young have not led to any significant change, keeping themselves focused on single-issue protests. Systematically, the riots and occupations of buildings that only aimed to obtain a modification of specific legislative and executive proposals all failed. Seen as self-referential, and often only concerning educational reforms, the wider population did not join in on such mobilisations, leaving these legitimate claims and ideas dead in the water. There seems, therefore, to be an important teaching to extrapolate from the Italian track record of youth action: unless we students can connect with the sentiments of the rest of the country, and instill in the older generation a more profound will for reform, then our voices are doomed not to be heard.
Italy, Milan EST Ambassador 2019: Nicola Bressan
European societies have made huge leaps forward over the last century regarding Social Infrastructure. Many, if not most, features of modern society can be seen as a result of teen and student mobilisation.
In Greece, one of these future features will be the Civil Partnership agreement, which is undoubtedly one of such historic leaps for Greece in the past decade. The Greek State has been recognising same-sex unions since approval by the Hellenic Parliament at the end of 2015. This change regarding cohabitation agreements was later published in the government gazette, stating a new start for same-sex couples.
During the last decade, many LGBTQ parades and events have taken place all over the country, with notably large youth participation. As a result, serious pressure has been put onto governing bodies to modify the section of law about same-sex couples and their rights. Above all, these actions were peaceful and polite, which benefited the struggle of same-sex couples and their rights’ supporters. The timing of this change seemed ideal, as the Greek society, and especially the younger generations, seemed arguably mature enough for this new start. The progress made regarding LGBTQ rights across Europe is perhaps further highlighted by the fact that only six European Union member states do not recognise LGBTQ rights.
Another main topic of this social movement was the ability of same-sex couples to adopt children. Although thorough conversation took place in the Greek Parliament around this topic, LGBTQ didn’t manage to get the same rights to adoption exercised by heterosexual couples. However, the youth involvement in this move towards equal civil rights for the LGBTQ community is clear, and as time progresses we will see how youth support will help bring many couples come to closer to, and eventually achieve, their dream of becoming a parent.
Greece EST Ambassador 2019: Nikolaos Argyros