Jana Forsthuber · Salvatore Romano · Francesco Tramballi · Esra Ünal
The No More War Seminar “Europe: Paradise Lost? Volunteering in a Past and Future
(“SCI”) Europe” took place in Athens between January 3-10, 2013 held by Service Civil
International Hellas and supported financially by the European Commission. There were 23
participants coming from all around Europe such as Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia,
Belgium, Turkey, Greece, Spain, Germany, Ireland, and Romania and 3 trainers with 2
volunteers working in SCI Hellas.
The ages of the participants ranged from 18 to 65 and we discussed the political situation and
found some space to exchange their ideas. The questions raised in the seminar were mainly
concerning the economic crisis and its various consequences in different parts of Europe.
In this article we are going to try to share the prominent topics that we worked on during the
seminar, which was divided into two parts: The first part was based on lectures and field
visits. We received some inputs of our “facilitators” about the European Union (“EU”) and
some related topics, which were followed by eager group discussions. The second part was
mostly based on the experience and involvement of the volunteers and on the idea of
developing our own projects to raise awareness and take action.
After getting to know each other a little, we directly went into sharing our thoughts with the
help of non-formal learning methods. Therefore each of us was invited to participate in the
process of the debate interactively.
Throughout the seminar, our aim was not to receive a frontal lecture of one person, but to
work together using methods like for example brainstorming and brain-writing. Either we
were collecting concepts as a whole group writing them down to discuss them afterwards, or,
in most of the tasks, we formed coincidental groups of 3-6 people. We were all benefiting
from each others’ knowledge and at the same time we were critical about some points.
Considering our different states of knowledge, education and background, we worked
together as a team very well, creating an atmosphere where everybody felt comfortable and
equally respected. We experienced the advantages of shared responsibility and empathy
during the few days we stayed together at the hostel, organizing our days and trying to find
compromises. This affected our social contact in our free time as well, and while some
discussions continued, we also enjoyed having fun together and going out.
Before this interactive learning-process we were given the possibility to get an impression
about the current situation in this region while visiting for example occupied public places
and some communities of immigrants.
In addition, we watched trailers of dystopian movies as an input to create our own distopic
future scenario and present our ideas to the others in a creative way.
Now, we would like to elaborate on two topics that we mostly discussed during the seminar:
EU and Economic Crises
The relationship and coexistence of the members of the EU have been the main topics of the
program. We have done interactive lessons with experts about the EU institutions; we have
debated about positive and negative aspects of being part of the EU and we have analyzed its
policies. The main problems that emerged from this were the inefficiency of the EU political
system to take common decision and speak with one voice. The lack of a political union often
causes difficulties in the application of the laws; the immigration policies are an example of
this. There are also other many problems that come clear in analysis of the decisional making
The EU is a relatively new institution. It is at the very beginning of a democratic process
which still has many imperfections. For instance the Commissioners of the Council of the EU
are appointed directly by governments without elections. In contrary the members of the EU
Parliament are elected by the people, but the rate of voters is still very low. The interest of
nations, promoted by the fırst, still prevails on the interest of the European population, as a
whole, promoted by the second. This is an example of the lack of unity. The national interest
still prevails in the EU citizens as a whole and the countries still cannot relate with each other
as members of economic and political union. Apart from this, there are still important and
good things about being part of the EU. It is an ambitious and long term project that has
already enhanced the relationship with countries. Before the Second World War, conflicts
and war were a daily problem to deal within the Europe and the EU project has created and
maintained peace.
Since the Treaty of Amsterdam the European identity has improved consistently with the
abolition of customs. European Citizens have been able to move freely among the countries,
and the EU has financed several educational programs, such as ERASMUS, work camps and
Talking about the EU, we also focused and especially on economic crisis that is striking the
EU nowadays. Here in Athens, we had to possibility to directly observe the social effects of
this problem. We have contacted with the various people from different Greek social levels
and we spoke with Prof. Zaharias Trigazis from the University of Athens and a Democratic
Party politician. He attended a lesson on the recent Greek history and the current economic
and political situation in Greece, troubled by the rise of fascist party, the Golden Dawn.
We got to know Giorgos, a social activist, who explained us the specific economic reasons
that brought Greece to recession. The financial situation was provoked by the political
systems’ corruption and inefficiency that brought Greece to falsify its balance before getting
into the Monetary Union. Yet this was not the only reason. The Monetary Union had a fallacy
in its system; such as the lack of a fiscal Union and the impossibility of Greece to compete in
the stock market with stronger countries like Germany.
We also talked directly to socially and politically active Greek students. They guided us in a
visit to the most important places in our neighborhood regarding social actions and
organizations. For instance, in the Navarinou Park we learned the citizens’ actions prevented
the construction of a car park ın the place. On the contrary they managed to plant new trees
and enlarge the green area, which is something Athens desperately needs.
Migration and Nationalism
The part of the seminar which was on the migration and nationalism was not only based on
the lecture type seminars; also the field trips that we conducted in different parts of the city of
Athens and short theatre performance workshops. We have seen a different layer of the
economic crisis that effected Greece and other countries in the EU with the effects on citizens
and immigrants as well.
Regarding the migration issue, we had numerous activities. First of all, we learned and
discussed the general legal framework implemented in the EU (including but not limited to
the Geneve Convention, Dublin Treay and national legislation). Moreover, we discussed the
“Fortress Europe” as the migration policy of the government and problems encountered in the
country such as the weak conditions in the detention centers. Also being divided into three
main groups, we visited the Exarhia neighborhood in Athens where most of the immigrants
live; Georgian Community Center, the Afghan Community Center and the Migration Center
in Athens. Also at one night, we watched a film on immigration called “For a Moment
Freedom” a movie on the immigration history from Iran, passing through Turkey.
Furthermore, we had a session on which one of the volunteers from SCI Hellas, who is a
refugee from Iran, shared his story with us and made us think of all the valuable experience
we gained throughout this seminar.
For the nationalism session, firstly we had a lecture on integration. Although there is a high
consensus in this term, there are very diverse opinions in the content such as whether the
integration should be with assimilation, multiculturalism or transnationalism. Furthermore,
one of the seminars was devoted to the stereotypes. Moreover, one of the groups that we
formed during our workshops presented case of the rise of the right wing parties in the EU;
such as the Golden Dawn in Greece.
In conclusion, the seminar was really intensive and challenging, and we learned a lot about
the situation in other countries as well as the different aspects of a great variety of topics. We
had a very dynamic, effective and beneficial time in Athens. Thanks to all these activities we
have been able to know in depth the causes and the facts of the crises and to formulate some
potential solutions to it.
We will try to apply practically this knowledge in our countries through information and
social actions. One of the most important challenges for us was to listen to everyone’s opinion
and becoming aware of the complications of contrary points of view as well as on uniting
dreams we all want to have. During this, we found out what it means to show respect to each
other and not being afraid to tell ones’ own interests and ideas.
Finally, we developed different projects at the end such as formulation of a No-More-War
“Treaty of Athens” (in which we aimed to put the outcome of this seminar), formulation of a
work camp for unemployed youth, writing an article regarding what we have experienced
during the seminar.