Heated discussions and inspiring encounters - This was the first day of NECE 2016 in Zagreb

The first day of the 12th NECE conference taking place at Zagreb’s Lisinski Hall was visibly impacted by the results of the US-elections escorting most participants on their way to Croatia and possibly reinforced the heat of both panel and several offsite discussions.

But let’s begin with the more easy and pleasant parts of the day which started with sunny weather and dozens of openminded and friendly people from all over Europe and beyond getting to know each other or meeting old friends at Lisinski hall, enjoying coffee, soft drinks a wide range of selected sweets and fruits along inspiring talks inbetween program parts.

Three wishes for NECE

When Petra Grüne from the German Federal Agency for Civic Education and Eddy Habben Jansen from ProDemos greeted everyone and asked the participants to reveal their whereabouts by standing up and stating their home country, a widespread virtual map of home destinations unfolded in Lisinsky hall – which usually is a space for concerts and cultural events and thus transporting a slight vibe of theatricality.    

Grüne and Jansen also gave voice to three wishes that came through via evaluation processes in the aftermath of previous NECE conferences and lead to adaptations of the usual shape of NECE events, which were:

1.    More controversy

2.    More local focus

3.    More participation

The third wish is meant to be met in this year’s conference by implementing participatory formats and plenty of opportunities to network into
the programme. On the first day this showed to work out pleasantly in shape of a constant brim of discussions all over the place.

 How open should we be?

The wish for a more local perspective on the topics of NECE-conferences was met by a thorough inclusion of Croatian activists, academics and experts in the field of education, also by inviting local Croatian journalists as well as organizing a large number of field trips to relevant organizations, institutions or even art galleries of Zagreb. The opening panel „Spotting citizenship education in Croatia“ hosted key figures of citizenship education in Croatia. The discussion gave in-depth-insights into the obstacles of implementing the concept of European, let alone cosmopolitan thinking into the educational landscape of a country that is still in the process of shaping its very own democratic identity meanwhile having to face the protest of conservative lobbies against some core aspects of citizenship education.

The demand for more controversy and less „cozy“ consensuswas more than fulfilled  later in the day when the keynote by David Goodhart unfolded into a heated discussion on strategies for migration management in Europe. He caught the audience’s attention with a pun stating that „one good thing about Trump is that he distracts attention from the situation in Britain“. 

Finding new answers in times of crises

The joke appeared to start feeling bitter to parts of the audience as the keynote went on and Goodhart pointed out his provocative thesis of Britain „being too open“ and thus having provoked the populist (right-wing) reaction, stating: „Brexit is a back-lash against a society that is in many regards too open“. As an alternative he suggested to help poorer countries from a distance in contrast to supporting mass integration, based on certain doubts of most humans empathetic capacities towards the destinies of persons outside direct kinships.

The very focused atmosphere in the plenum during Goodharts well-structured speech discharged into a passionate engagement of many participants as the panel discussion following Goodhart’s speech was opened to the audience. The applause for statements emphasizing legal, moral and economic reasons for an open and more liberal migration policy showed a quite consensual mindset among most participants of this year’s NECE conference. If that is what Goodhart described as the "liberal bubble" on conferences like NECE? We willsurely reflect about that.

As controversial as the discussions turned out contentwise, as encouraging did the genuine interest of the participants shine throughout the whole first day. That feeling will surely follow us during the upcoming conference days, working on the questions that Thomas Krüger, Director of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, formulated in his entrance speech and following his invitation: „Let us find new answers in times of crises and great challenges.”

Citizenship Education
Conference Day: 

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