Return to the Hague. Return to Peace?

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400020557 7630774230272026 7670805997780502231 nThe idea of this project occurred during the implementation of the conference in July, 2022 called “Return our Hug to the Hague”. More information about this conference can be found on the site of our organization using the link main topic of the conference in the Hague was - overcoming the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic in European countries. The debates at the conference showed that young people both from the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries have a need to discuss with each other and with experts from different countries the reasons for the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine and in some other countries of the Eastern Partnership .

During the last day of the conference in the Hague in 2022, a large number of young participants proposed to hold a new conference in 2023 in order to think and discuss what young people in different countries of Europe can do to prevent new military conflicts. Many of young people thought that in 2023 there would be no more war in Ukraine. One of the participants from Ukraine even proposed holding a new conference in Kyiv. It is now 2024, and the end of the war is not in sight. It is obvious that military conflicts between European countries will nullify common European values for those living in the combat zone - Human dignity, Freedom, Equality, Rule of law, Human rights.

It is important to highlight that the European Erasmus + program is one of the few funds which provides young people from different countries with the opportunity to independently come together and look for solutions for the problems that are important for Europe. Young people living in the EU, especially their peers living in the Eastern Partnership countries, have a need for the authorities and societies of European countries not only to hear their voice, but to take steps to implement their proposal, especially if it is directly related to youth.

385547786 1049177092780547 8205391119410303177 nIn July 2023 Dutch NA approved our new project 2023-1-NL02-KA154-YOU-000139635, “Return to the Hague. Return to Peace." The project involved NGOs from four Eastern Partnership countries - Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and six EU countries - the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Croatia, Poland and Estonia. As a rule, participants in youth conferences dedicated to important European issues are selected by the conference organizers. Participants in our conference were chosen by young people - members of the initiative group from these countries. The initiative group was created during the preparation of the project.

We did not seek to hand over ready-made solutions to young people from ten countries. On the contrary, we wanted to learn from them their ideas and recommendations on what needs to be done to stop this madness, which, following a terrible pandemic, ignited the fire of war on the peripheries of Europe. From each country, 5 young people, the head of the national team and the policymaker were supposed to participate in the conference. We asked national teams to invite government representatives or experts who have been conducting international projects for many years as policymakers. So about 70 people were supposed to participate in the conference.

The Netherlands is an expensive country. Unfortunately, the funds allocated by Erasmus+ for participants in such projects do not allow creating good conditions for accommodation and food for government employees. In addition, not all countries’ authorities are ready to send their employees to conferences under the Erasmus+ program. As a result, teams from Estonia, Germany and Poland arrived in The Hague without policy-makers. Geert Ates, head of UNITED for Intercultural Action, which has been organizing wonderful international youth conferences for more than thirty years to support tolerance, intercultural dialogue and counteract racism and xenophobia, represented the Netherlands as a policy maker. From Ukraine, Armenia and Greece, national-level government officials acted as policymakers. In the teams of Croatia, Germany and Moldavia, the role of policymakers was performed by specialists with extensive experience working in a public environment. Unfortunately, due to another epidemic of colds, several participants were forced to refuse participation a week before the start of the conference.

401737474 7650683624947753 9021550324431618689 nThe first day of the conference began with a plenary session, it was a getting to know each other time. The participants also shared their expectations from this conference. There was also time devoted for familiarization with European Youth Goals and Erasmus+ Youth Quality Standards. Then Geert Ates talked about how the Netherlands views the war in Ukraine, what opportunities do young people in the Netherlands have to influence the situation in the country, and how, in his opinion, youth international cooperation can help preserve peace in Europe. Next, the participants were divided into 6 mixed working groups. The groups were given the task to discuss the understanding of European values, and how these values can help in the long-term establishment of peace in Europe.

On the second day, the conference participants visited the Armenian Abovyan Center. The hospitable hosts treated the guests to traditional Armenian food. Mato Hakhverdian, the head of the center, spoke about the work that Armenians are doing to support their compatriots in the Netherlands. He also told about the conditions in which NGOs work in the Netherlands, how the authorities and society treat them.

After the meeting, the participants split into new working groups and the new task for them was to implement the survey on the streets of the Hague about the impact of the war in Ukraine on the future of Europe. It should be emphasized that among the participants from Ukraine and Armenia conducting street surveys there were young people whose acquaintances died in the wars.

The main result of these surveys is that young people living in The Hague have heard about the war in Ukraine, they know that the war was started by the Russian leadership. They knew practically nothing about the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The residents of The Hague have their own, calm and moderate life. They, of course, know that in Ukraine every day cities are destroyed and people die but they have no understanding of what they can do to stop this war and they are not ready to take the initiative to stop this war.

400180886 7630749300274519 3237601016435031459 nAccording to the original plan, on the third day there was a meeting with the ambassadors of Armenia, Georgia and Moldova and the discussion on the causes of armed conflicts in Europe, and on the fourth day a meeting with the representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, OSCE, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands was planned.

We sent invitations to the responsible persons of the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, and OSCE four months before the start of the conference. The letters emphasized that in wars, as a rule, young people die the most, despite the fact that they actually have little opportunity to influence the situation so that these wars stop. We understood that sending of invitation letters was not enough. Representatives of our organizing group called these international organizations once a week and explained the exceptional importance of their participation in the conference. But... Some immediately stated that they could not participate, others promised to find out everything and asked to call later, others said that they could not find our invitation and asked to send it again and all this continued until the very beginning of the conference.

It must be admitted that the employees of the National Agency Erasmus+ were not sure from the very beginning that representatives of these international organizations would take part in the conference. If there were no wars in Europe, then such indifference to the inter-row youth conference could be understood. But tens of thousands of young people have already died in the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The leadership of Azerbaijan does not want to sign a peace agreement with Armenia. Armenia does not have weapons for successful defense. This means that in Armenia, war can start at any moment. Russia continues its military operations in Ukraine and has no intention of stopping. Georgia has already been in a similar situation and lost part of its territory. The Moldavian authorities are afraid that, following Ukraine, Russian troops will enter their territory. International organizations, especially the OSCE, urgently need to find new approaches to restore peace in Europe. We have no answers why they decided that our conference in The Hague would not give them anything new. You should have seen the disappointment of the participants from Ukraine and Armenia, when they learned that representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, OSCE would not be at the conference. Representatives of Georgia and Moldova were no less worried about this.

400297104 7650685814947534 3367309362392410222 nAs a result, the conference organizers had to introduce changes to the program. The third day at the plenary session the policy makers of the teams spoke. They answered questions of the young participants. As expected, the speeches and subsequent discussions were quite emotional.

On this day, national teams were given the task of discussing how the wars in the Eastern Partnership countries affected their lives and their country.

On the fourth day, representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the embassies of Georgia, Armenia and Moldova also took part in the plenary session. At the meeting, the teams presented the results of yesterday's task and answered questions. Many thanks to Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia David Solomonia for his position. He spoke not only about the position of the Georgian government regarding the military conflict, but also the prospects for the development of the Eastern Partnership Program and answered numerous which participants asked.

The last day of the conference was devoted to evaluating the results of the conference. The participants also had to come up with ideas on what should be done after the completion of the project. At the beginning, those who considered the results of the conference as a whole unsatisfactory were invited to the podium of the conference hall; there were none of them among the participants. Then those who considered the results of the conference to be satisfactory, good and very good were invited in turn. At the request of the organizers, all participants explained in detail why they chose this assessment, told what they liked and what they didn’t, and said what, in their opinion, should be done so that politicians and the international community hear their voice.

400305419 7641261592556623 2487136519530110608 nThe number of participants who rated the overall results of the conference “excellent” was only two, but these were Thanos and Alexis from the Greek team, young people who participated and themselves organized quite projects under the Erasmus+ program. Their assessment was especially important to us. Approximately 70% of the participants rated the project positively, the rest rated the project satisfactorily.

The entire Ukrainian team rated the project “satisfactory.” The conference participants, including the Ukrainian team, lived in the very center of The Hague, where, despite the pereodic rain, it was an endless holiday. Restaurants and cafes in The Hague were crowded, tourists from all over the world walked and had fun all night. The participants really liked the Netherlands. However, a day later the Ukrainian team had to return to another reality, where bombs fall every day and people die. Ukrainian participants expected that representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, OSCE would take part in the conference. They wanted to tell them about the horrors of war that they see every day. They wanted to offer solutions that, in their opinion, would help to end this war and punish those who started it. Thus, the representatives of the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, OSCE did not come to the conference.

In their speeches, most participants indicated that our project showed that the Erasmus+ program can become a cross-cutting tool so that young people from different European countries can discuss issues that are important for the entire continent. Recommendations created by national teams are also an important result. On the other hand, many of those who have access to the most important decisions that determine the fate of Europe believe that Erasmus+ is intended for teenagers who are taking their first independent steps and therefore cannot do anything serious. We are very grateful to the National Agency Erasmus+ for deciding to finance our project. In fact, they gave us a chance to prove that young people can not only heroically die in a war that was not started by young people, but also take real steps so that such wars do not happen on the European continent. Now it is important that the seriousness of these steps are to be recognized by those who decide the fate of Europe.

20231109 203002 gggWe have send the European Parliament, European Commission, Council of Europe, OSCE Recommendations developed by the project participant on what should be done to prevent military action in Europe. We, and the young participants of the conference, really hope that we will receive a feedback from them. We also hope that other European organizations will hold similar conferences and other donors will provide them with financial support.

A year later we returned to The Hague. But we have not returned to peace. It's a pity. However, we understand that cuts through the path it follows. Together with the young participants in the project, we will think about what we should do next.

West-East Bridges Foundation Team