Abstracts Osteuropa 8/2005

The European archipelago

The Europe of the Cold War has vanished. In the place of what was once a homogeneous space consisting of “the East” and “the West”, we now find fragments, enclaves, and islands. Some see this as unfinished work, but in reality these are the parts that are fitting themselves together to form the new Europe. This renewal takes the form of disintegration, for the time being at least. It is more fruitful to pay attention to the very real fragments than to the whole, which so far is only a promise. Official rhetoric accepts this when it celebrates fragmentation and disintegration as pluralization or “diversity in unity”. Disintegration is a time of disillusion, and so of enlightenment. It also reveals the forces that must come into play if something new is to emerge.

A broader way of thinking: The prerequisites of a mature and responsible citizenry in Europe

The European public sphere currently emerging relies on the ability of citizens to participate in politics in a mature and responsible way. In order to be able to do this, citizens need to be able to make political judgments. The most important element of this is a broad mindedness, which will enable political action aimed at understanding in a wider Europe. It is the task of political education to lay the foundations for this kind of thinking.

Cultivating democracy: The raison d’être of political education

Political education in Germany, which was developed on a broad basis after World War II, is encountering increasing difficulties. The closing down of the State Centre for Political Education in Lower Saxony at the end of 2004 was a disturbing signal for those directly involved in political education. However the public at large has not yet shown any concern about this. Has political education had its day? A closer analysis shows that political education’s tasks have changed, and that the range of issues it must address in our complex and complicated society and in a globalized world have grown. Political education needs more generous funding, but it must also develop the didactic and methodological tools needed if it is to reach broader strata of the population.

Forming Europe: Political education in and for (eastern) Europe

The goal of political education since 1945 has been the fostering of a mature and responsible citizenry. However, political education is now facing a crisis of acceptance. After the end of the East-West conflict, some people think it is no longer needed. But political education is a way of cultivating democracy, even in democracies that seem to be firmly established. In an age of European integration, this task no longer stops at national borders. The eastern enlargement of the EU has accelerated the europeanization of politics and the economy, however political education has so far been unable to keep up with these dynamic developments. Competence is lacking at the EU level. Those involved in political education must therefore redouble their efforts to promote responsibility, participation, and democracy in and for eastern Europe. It is in their interests that the European project should succeed.

The need for differentiation: political education and the restructuring of Eastern Europe

15 years after the end of the East-West conflict, political education still lacks concepts that will help it deal with the diversity of eastern Europe. One part of the region, which has undergone democratic consolidation, belongs to the EU. A second part, with Russia at its centre, consists of hybrid systems in which democratic elements coexist with authoritarian tendencies and liberal economies. The dictatorships of Central Asia make up the third part. The point of reference of any form of political education remains the obligation to make a contribution to the development of a democratic political culture. In Europe, no consensus of this sort exists as yet. The EU has too few powers, and there is insufficient political awareness of the issue at the EU level. Brussels has launched some campaigns in this area, but they have been short-lived and counterproductive. Bodies involved in political education need to cooperate with partners from civil society and the economy, whose expertise opens up a great potential for educational work beyond bipolarity.

The new confusion: Eastern Europe in political education

One of the impulses that led to the setting up of the German political education system was the need to deal with the question of communism. Now that the system of socialist states and the Soviet Union have disintegrated, the basis of political education’s legitimation has become shaky. However, political education can now prove its worth by engaging with other tasks. Firstly, it must combat misunderstandings and prejudices about eastern Europe. Secondly, political education about Eastern Europe will in future be an important part of education on general European politics. Finally, it must promote and assist the coming into being of a European public sphere and the formation of communication networks linking citizens interested in Europe.

Education for democracy: the promotion of civil society in East Central Europe

The most important task of external bodies involved in the promotion of democracy in central eastern Europe is the provision of support for civil society. The German party foundations and other comparable organizations from continental European countries cooperate with established local partners in their political education work. The Anglo-American foundations are very well funded, and concentrate their attention on training centres and umbrella organizations within civil society. German foundations seek to bring about close cooperation between society and the state, whereas American foundations want to strengthen civil society as an independent force which can control the state. The promotion of democracy by external bodies should be more closely coordinated in future, but the different approaches should not be abandoned.

The key to the European house: intercultural competence in the new Europe

Because of the increasing Europeanization of personal everyday life, both in society and in politics, intercultural competence is becoming a key element of shared life in the enlarged Europe. This confronts political education with new challenges. In the past, its viewpoint has in many ways been too narrow and too exclusively focused on Western Europe. What is now needed is a multilateral, wider perspective. In view of the European Union’s current crisis, one cannot assume that the necessary European consciousness will come into being in the minds of citizens without outside assistance. A deliberate educational strategy is needed.

Civil diplomacy: political foundations in East Central and Eastern Europe

Political foundations have an important role to play in civil diplomacy, the Federal Republic of Germany’s informal foreign relations. These foundations see their task as the organization of political dialogue between parliamentary, societal, and academic elites from eastern and central eastern Europe, Germany, and other EU states. It is hoped that European ways of thinking and seeing the world will in this way be able to put down lasting roots in the political culture of the post-communist countries. The success of these efforts to promote democracy depends on developments in the post-Soviet states, and on domestic political interest in the work the foundations carry out abroad.

Giving and taking knowledge: the work abroad of foundations associated with political parties – the Polish case

German political foundations are both traditional and untypical as bodies concerned with political education. They have been involved in German foreign and development policy since the 1960s. Only after 1989 were they able to work without restrictions in Poland. They offered a pluralist form of political education and established numerous ties with parties, youth organizations, NGOs, and trade unions. One of the most important goals of this work was providing support to Poland as the country moved towards membership of the European Union.

Building bridges to the neighbours: transborder historical-political education in Saxony and Northern Bohemia

Political education in border areas must operate across borders, and must be prepared to address controversial issues from the past. Only if it does this will it be able to make a significant contribution to dismantling prejudices and to European integration. By doing this, it can help to strengthen the legitimacy of democracy during transformation, and also to help remove the obstacles to development which affect border areas. The numerous actors working in the border area need to be able to operate on a sound basis in terms of their finances and the content of their work, so they should be given support to help them build up a professional system of non-profit management.

Peace through reconciliation: with Aktion Sühnezeichen in eastern Europe

Since 1958, Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (Peace Services as a Sign of Atonement) has been sending young people to work in states that suffered under National Socialist rule. The founders of the organization saw this as the logical step required by Germany’s confession of guilt. In order to give expression to the need for atonement, these volunteers perform charitable work. Memories of war and occupation are still present in their contacts with their hosts. One of the volunteers’ most important experiences is the opportunity to conduct dialogue across borders and to question their own way of seeing the world.

The school of life: with Aktion Sühnezeichen in St Petersburg

Political education is supposed to help overcome prejudices and to enable people to make use of their capacity for reason without being told what to think by someone else. No didactic material, however well prepared, can replace the lessons one can learn from life. While performing his alternative service at the beginning of the 1990s with Aktion Sühnezeichen, the author helped to look after four elderly ladies who were able to relate a great deal about Stalinism and Nazism. A decade later, these issues are at the centre of a debate in historical studies.

Servicing peace: voluntary work in St Petersburg and Minsk

Voluntary work in Eastern Europe, whether it is performed for the human rights organization Memorial, in hospitals, or in children’s homes for the victims of Chernobyl, always means providing concrete help on the spot. It guarantees valuable experiences, creates personal contacts between East and West, and broadens the horizons of all participants even after the project has been completed. Two former Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste volunteers take stock of their personal experiences.

Volunteers for civil society: the education programmes of the
German-Russian exchange

Since its foundation in 1992 the DRA has co-ordinated support programmes for 7 NGO support centres, over 1 250 NGOs and more than 10 000 youth workers, journalists and lawyers in eastern Europe. The DRA’s conception of its own work is closely linked to civic education in a broad sense of the term. The DRA aims at strengthening and imparting tolerance and critical faculties in eastern European and German societies. A good example is provided by the volunteer exchange programmes intended to support young people who are interested in political and social development in their countries. The DRA arranges long-term internships in German and eastern European NGOs, and also organises a special course of civic education for young volunteers in Berlin and St. Petersburg.

Expanding horizons: ‘Eastern Europe’ in the curricular plans of the Federal State of Brandenburg

The initial outline plans drawn up in Brandenburg after the reestablishment of the federal states in the eastern part of the new Federal Republic of Germany reflected the efforts made to treat Brandenburg and the Federal Republic as part of Europe as a whole for purposes of social scientific instruction. The curricular specifications that are part of the second generation of teaching plans in use since 2002 pay even more attention to the European Union and its eastern enlargement, and make these subjects compulsory parts of the curriculum.

Pressure to adapt: history textbook – quo vadis?

The school textbook as a traditional way of imparting knowledge has come under pressure to adapt. The schools are suffering from a shortage of money, and are not in a hurry to order new generations of textbooks. Since the number of school students is also declining, the publishers of textbooks are being forced to cut the number of people they employ. The production cycles for such textbooks are so long that they are hardly able to keep up with rapid changes in lifeworlds. Nor are school textbooks able to react quickly to the criticisms of didactic methods voiced after the PISA Study. School textbooks will not lose their fundamental significance in the immediate future, but they will increasingly be used alongside multimedia learning resources and teaching aids.

Eastern European Studies online: an offer from the market in new educational methods

The Free University Berlin offers the first online on Eastern Europe. This Master’s course imparts specific knowledge about a region which has become much more important in political and economic terms in the course of European integration. The course has an interdisciplinary structure, which enables the students to think in an interconnected way and promotes competences that are relevant to practical professional life.

Experiencing democracy: the German Volkshochschul-Verband in Russia

The Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (Volkshochschul-Verband) has been active in Russia since 1993. The main purpose of the institute’s work is the dissemination of knowledge about democracy. Experience has shown that democratic attitudes cannot be communicated in political education seminars. It is more important to strengthen civil society and to promote self-confidence on the part of disadvantaged strata of the population. Adult education must impart professionally-oriented knowledge and focus on social problems. Only by doing this can it ensure that the promotion of democracy is not seen as a utopian project or even as Westerners telling the East what to do, but rather as something that can be experienced in everyday life.

Autonomy and self-determination: adult education in south eastern Europe

After the collapse of Yugoslavia, adult education in the successor states also had to reorient itself. Interactive and autonomous approaches are now replacing the centrally controlled, hierarchically structured, and frontal structure of education. This is bringing about changes for both students and teachers, and contents as well as methods have changed. Ways of thinking and acting together, in an autonomous and independent fashion, are creating the foundations of a self-determined life and of a democratic polity which all citizens can help to shape.

Published 4 October 2005
Original in English

Contributed by Osteuropa © Osteuropa


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