UNITED co-webinar European/Prague conference – a success!

Thank you all to those of you who joined us for our webinar on the 25th and 26th of April!

UNITED for Intercultural Action, along with Transform! Europe, Prague Spring 2, Szab, Youth and Environment Europe, International Young Naturefriends, and SPaS, held a webinar to discuss the future of civic organizing in the context of the global pandemic, and how leaders across Europe are responding to the crisis with a worryingly authoritarian response.

Day 1 began with an overview of ongoing repressive movements across Russia, Ukraine, and the EU, with presentations from representatives of each case. A 2017 bombing in Russia has led to the imprisonment of young Muslim men against whom the evidence appears to have been staged; prisons in Russia are becoming more and more filled with antifascists and former activists arrested in the name of “antiterrorism”; in Ukraine, a mob attack on the House of Trade Unions killed 42 people in 2014, but none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice; in Lithuania, a leftist diplomat has been arrested on charges of involvement in espionage on behalf of Russia in what many activists call a clear witch-hunt.

Across the rest of the EU, similar instances reign. A young Palestinian asylum seeker has been sentenced to life imprisonment in Austria, on charges of being a member of Hamas, after already having served his time in Israel; in Catalonia, Spain, more than 3000 people have been arrested over the last 5 years for attending demonstrations supporting Catalonian independence; and of course, across Europe, more and more people are being put into detention centers, with the pandemic worsening their positions of vulnerability. In the context of the pandemic, far right movements are using minorities as scapegoats, and legally mandated structural discrimination ends up legitimizing police violence. The situation, particularly under COVID-19, is worsening – and activists need have a clear strategy on how to handle it.

april 2020 webinar

These presentations were fodder for a full day of discussion on Day 2, the 26th, which asked: how can these disparate movements come together during the crisis and work together in Europe?

The day began with Leo Gabriel, of the Prague Spring 2 network against right wing extremism and populism, Roberto Morea from transform! Europe, Viktor Koren from International Young Nature Friends, and Balint Josa of UNITED, as they explored the inter-Europe dynamics that have given rise to a multidimensional crisis – one that needs a multidimensional answer. Ecological crises, along with political polarizations, increasing nationalism all lay a problematic setting for the complexity of the pandemic. COVID-19 has strengthened authoritarian measures and deepened divides between the majoritarian and the marginalized. The presenters ended by asking: what can we do about this?

Potential internationalistic solutions to the coronacrisis were further explored by various networks presenting themselves. Alina Aflecailor of GreenPeace Central and Eastern Europe, Leire Azkargorta of International Peoples Assembly, Aleksander Buzgalin of Alternatives, Francine Mestrum of Global Social Justice, Peter Wahl of World Economy, Ecology and Development, Rainer Braun and International Peace Bureau all came forward and explained their respective networks’ origins, their aims, their histories, and their campaigns, in order to explore any potential space for collaboration.

This was followed by presentations from younger networks: Michel Diaz Nocetti of Activists for Peace and No to NATO Sweden, Nathan Methenier of Youth and Environment Europe, Kristóf Nagy, editor-in-chief of the magazine Fordulat in Hungary, Marija Mileta of Zelena akcija (Green Action Croatia), and Joel Holmdal of Via Campesina Sweden discussed the ways in which young people have been responding to the crisis through their respective networks – ecological approaches, humanitarian approaches, academic approaches, social media and online presence, and the like.

These discussions were followed by working groups on social rural and urban movements,  peace and environmental movements, youth movements, and antirepression. Each working group came up with a framework of ideas, the initial seeds based off of which future collaborations and action can grow.

All in all, the webinar presented a broad, wide scope of activist networks across Europe, in a rare display of camaraderie during a particularly perplexing time in the world. We may have all been asked to keep socially distant, but that does not stop us from staying united, and fighting together. This is how we turn obstacles into opportunities.