As Thomas Thomer, sub-department head at BMFSFJ, and his Greek counterpart Wassilis Simopoulos both pointed out: politics may set priorities and launch initiatives, but whether this will result in a community of people prepared to take charge of their future together - that's entirely in the hands of civil society. And civil society was present here - in great numbers. There was a lot of interest, especially from the Greek side. This could not be taken for granted, since the idea of establishing a German-Greek Youth Office had initially been a German initiative. Such a youth office does not currently exist. One purpose of the four-day event in Bad Honnef was to try and establish whether the idea would resonate sufficiently with civil society organisations to grant it any chance of success.
Civil society had arrived, but during the forum's first afternoon, it seemed somewhat weary. No great surprise - the Greek participants, especially, had had a long journey. Maybe it was just as well that there was no immediate need for everyone to participate in the discussion and that the thematic framework was being laid down by representatives from the two youth ministries, by German and Greek young people who had previously taken part in youth exchanges, and by Spiros Moskovou from the Deutsche Welle Greek office and Maria Topali, poet and leader of the National Centre for Social Research in Athens. Moskovou and Topali also indicated that the relationship between Germany and Greece is not an unencumbered one. German influence, amongst others, is blamed by many Greek citizens for the drastic austerity measures introduced by the Greek government. In recent years, this has led to old wounds from the time of the German occupation reopening. However, Moskovou invited the forum's participants to an open dialogue: "Dear German friends, strengthen your connections with Greece, learn from its ancient history and its modern culture. Dear Greek friends, strengthen your connections with Germany, learn from its unique culture of creativity and regeneration."
By next morning, all traces of weariness had vanished, replaced by an intensely concentrated working atmosphere that lasted all the way through to the end of the event. There were introductions, tales of difficulties and successes, requests and expectations. Remarkable results were achieved with a "project market" and subject-specific working groups on vocational training, reconciliation work, cultural exchange, ecology and sustainable tourism as well as integration and equal opportunities: 17 product ideas were developed, 10 of which were in fact ready for presentation on the final day. Three examples:
Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste) and Against Forgetting - for Democracy (Gegen Vergessen - für Demokratie e.V.), together with Greek partners Inter Alia and Anna Radini.org, would like to address the destruction of the multitude of Jewish communities, and the villages in West Macedonia where the Wehrmacht committed war crimes. From September 2015, interviews with surviving witnesses will take place in and around the Greek mountain city of Kastoria, and it is planned to develop historic walking trails and guided tours.
PHYSIS is a project involving quite a number of project partners intending to engage in interdisciplinary arts, and conceptual and process-oriented works. This sounds complicated, but on closer inspection is very much down to earth: the focus is on art and ecology, occupational orientation and sustainability in business and tourism. Activities should peak in 2016 with a large regional festival at Mount Olympus.
Another network of partners from Thessalonica, Argolida, and several German regions have set up a project called Beruf.Kennen.Lernen (a play on words combining "occupation, knowing, getting to know, learning") intends looking at occupational orientation and the different vocational training systems in both countries. Envisaged are work experience and the exchange of apprentices, teachers and trainers, and ambitious goals that reach all the way to structural changes of fundamental frameworks.
Seven more presentations later, there could be no doubt that the German-Greek exchange is progressing wholeheartedly. Priorities were set by politics and civil society has taken them up. There are grounds for optimism!