EUSTORY experiences: EUSTORY Summer Academy Berlin 2011, EUSTORY Debate Paris 2012
Roman is studying his second year of History at the University of Ghent. He plans to finish his master’s degree in history and afterwards he would like to continue studying by getting his PhD. Although as every realistic young person he is having a back-up plan to start working in an archive or in the public sector. He could also probably try to get involved in politics he said. In short: Roman plans for a bit of everything. “I would definitely love to visit Russia and Saint Petersburg pretty soon, since I’ve started studying Russian recently” he says. He always has been fascinated by that mysterious Russian spirit and Dostojevski and Tolstoy are his favourite authors. He would also like to visit Spain sooner or later, because he has become increasingly interested in the Spanish role in the history of the Southern Netherlands. I guess that the recent visit of Germán from Spain would have something to do with it. Meeting with other alumni and discussing issues together is one of the most wonderful things about EUSTORY. EUSTORY for Roman is simply a family. It helps young people to improve their language skills, discover various cultures, learn something new, but most of all: to realise how very identical people can be, in spite of geographical differences. “It also makes you realise what you want, who you are and what you think. “ he adds.
The main part of everyday Europe is a good discussion. Not only among politicians, but also debates on university or small talks between Eustorians is an important factor we should cherish. Since studying at university, Roman took part at some political debates concerning all aspects of European and national policies, such as compulsory voting, tackling the crisis, nationalism, extremism, neoliberalism and much more. “But honestly,” he says, “most of my thoughts are exchanged with friends from university. We often don’t have the same political ideas, for example I’m a social democrat and one friend of mine is a Flemish Nationalist, and we have the best debates all the time!” EUSTORY is well aware of the benefits that simple discussion can offer.
The French EUSTORY cooperation organization ‘Notre Europe’ a panel discussion with Jacques Delors and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing on the topic “building Europe as a project of several generations” Roman was part of this debate and he says there are only few things in his life to overclass those wonderful moments. Roman was in the first panel, analysing the role of history on the European construction. Furthermore, there was one panel regarding the economic crisis and one about their vision on the future of Europe. The main ideas Roman encountered during the discussion were the role of Europe as a peace-keeping body, which returned multiple times in the debate. Greek economic problems were permanent throughout the debate and the urge for more integration was heard on both ends of the table. Roman doesn’t claim that our generation is necessarily undertaking problems correctly, he thinks that there is always a danger of repeating the mistakes of the past. In his opinion, the democratic deficit is a difficulty we could cope better with. “Although slightly improved by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, it is still a huge unresolved matter in a political cooperation which is built on democratic principles!” The fact that the national governments will always favour themselves, instead of serving the greater good, irritates him: “I don’t know if we can break this pattern, since it seems to be a typical human characteristic, but being surrounded by people who aren’t afraid to criticise this situation, gives me hope.” The biggest problem of the current EU they came through is probably the fact, that the economic crisis is tearing Europe apart and creating extreme feelings on both ends of the political spectrum, endangering the European values. That’s why Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and Jacques Delors urged for more European integration and cooperation. Roman mentions, that they were not as much reassuring as they were realistic. “By being realistic and not utopistic, they made us realise the dangers that lie ahead, if we don’t tackle the crisis correctly.” he accentuates.
Nevertheless, big debates about all these serious political and European matters don’t have to be organized. Informal conversations often culminate into new ideas, exchange of information and compromising suggestions “I believe that we can in fact discuss Europe bottom-up, and not just top-down, if you know what I mean.” Roman proclaims. He believes there are a lot of people like him, even if they don’t think so themselves. “It’s not because you’re not interested in politics, that discussing the European system is invalid! If you are into culture, Europe sustains a lot of cultural heritage. If you are interested in sports, Europe organizes international championships.” Roman is persuaded that Europe lives in all of us, with no exceptions. He advocates more conversation as we can all learn from each other and Europe as different entities bound together has an unlimited potential for debates. “EUSTORY definitely opened my eyes regarding Europe. People always say that you can’t form opinion on something you haven’t been through. Well, I have been there. By working with fellow Europeans, I realised the advantages of working together, of how we can harvest more success if we plant the seeds together.” EUSTORY also showed Roman the value of friendship. No matter how far you go or where you live, friendship is unbound by any frontier and can’t be destroyed by distance. “When I went to Riga this summer to meet up with Oliver and Kaspars (two EUSTORY alumni from Estonia and Latvia), we made this our motto: “Friendship without borders” or “Draudzība bez robežām “in Latvian.”
When asking Roman what makes us European, he answers that being European is something very complex, since everyone will answer differently when asked “What is Europe?” For Roman, being European is believing in democratic and peaceful values, pursuing these values in greater context and applying them in what we call “Europe”. He doesn’t have nationalistic feelings towards Europe, but he does believe that we can achieve more if Europeans work together, and that cooperation and tolerance can improve the life of all.
“I’m not a European nationalist, but I am a European believer” he adds. According to Roman the atmosphere among Belgians isn’t so distinct. He knows there are some very fanatic European believers in Belgium, which is also reflected in the political reality: Herman Van Rompuy, Wilfried Martens and Guy Verhoftstadt reside at the top of the European Union. “This considered, I wouldn’t say there is a great European spirit in the Belgian mind, which is kind of ironic, since most European institutions are located in Brussels.” he says. He thinks this is due to the strong regionalist feelings and unstable national politics that dominate the Belgian life nowadays.
Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Roman personally, I’m convinced he is an inspirational alumni full of energy for life and with plenty of wonderful thoughts. Joining the EUSTORY -program gave Roman the final push he needed to study history. He never regretted that decision and apparently he never will. It also made him realise his position in life: political, economic, ecological and social. “Without EUSTORY , I would honestly not be the same person as I am now.” Roman would love to see EUSTORY to open a discussion on some other historical topics. “Maybe some kind of memorial edition regarding the First World War, since it will be one century since the start of the war in 2014? I know that Belgium and Great Britain are planning some pretty ambitious projects regarding this topic, so maybe it’s not a bad idea for EUSTORY to join in”, he suggests.