In February 2019, before the elections of the European Parliament, I joined the 'Europe We Want' campaign Lab in Brussels. The Lab was set up to synergize the different campaigns and initiatives from the civil society organisations in Europe. By working together they can make their voices stronger and make sure to be heard by European citizens and also by the EU and national politicians. In order to synergize, there was a need for a common narrative, a common idea or a common slogan. During the Lab
we discussed ideas for narratives and online campaigns. For inspiration about stories based on solidarity, I shared my stories from the project 'Where Is Europe'. I laid out my strategies on how to use these stories to create solidarity and empathy among European societies.
The story of Mervi (which you can read in the PowerPoint slides and in this blog) is one of the first stories that I have heard and written down during my project. The story shows on the one hand the failure of political solidarity from the rest of the EU towards the Finnish border problem. On the other hand it shows solidarity from individuals who empathize with the Finnish position and Mervi's point of view. From this empathetic point of understanding, it is possible to move the conversation to a next level. From this point it becomes possible to talk about different needs and point of views of people without necessarily polarization. Those opposing views or needs to not need to lead to polarization if people can negotiate to a solution that would encompass all needs or a compromise can be made based on solidarity. This is opposite as we can read daily in the news written from the view of the political arena based on our own personal needs and not highlighting others visions or needs. This point in the conversation easily leads to a confrontation and misunderstanding as it is not based on solidarity but on nationalist needs. Building solidarity among the European people is therefore of utmost importance in order to have a 'successful' European political space that works for all.
One of the main questions asked during the Campaign lab to achieve solidarity was 'How to talk with people about Europe'. To answer this question I presented four steps that can be used to talk with people about 'Europe'. While collecting my stories I never approached someone with the question 'How do you feel about Europe'? Or, 'What do you think about the EU?'. Because these questions are way too broad and general. People who are not daily involved in European politics can't be expected to answer this in a coherent way. Thus while talking or interviewing people, I started with a small question to which the interviewee would surely have an answer. For example, what they are doing for a living, what are their struggles or what are their future plans. With this approach people started talking about a topic close to them which guided me to a topic that they felt safe with and wanted to talk about. I would let them talk till the conversation reached a topic which I could step in, understand and empathize with. From that point, I would bring in a generalized comment referring to Europe leading the conversation away from the personal sphere into the European sphere.
These four points can also be used when writing or telling a story about Europe or international collaboration, in order for the public to empathize with the story. To visualize my point, I used the example of the demonstration in Romania in the presentation. I compared the picture and story of the news media with the pictures and stories written by me. The way certain personal stories, news or societies are framed, determines the point of perspectives from the receiver of the story. That means that for a storyteller, a campaigner or a journalist it is crucial to be aware of the point of perspective that will be highlighted in the story and the effect it has on our public space. The story of the demonstrations in Romania can be told from two perspectives. The one of hope for change, a fight by the people to make the government account for its actions, the story of Romanians who are working on developing their country. Or the one of the news, telling the story of the failed state and the aggression used against it's citizens, the story of Romanians portraited as backwards and being unable to have a civilized society. Both stories are true, there is no right or wrong story. But the decision to write one or the other reflects more the perspective of the journalists than it reflects on Romanians.
With my presentation I wanted to inspire the campaigners of the big civil society organizations with different ways of engaging with European topics. I shared the stories to show that the point of perspective is crucial for building a European public space that is constructed from empathy and solidarity on a transnational level. The Campaign Lab was effective in synergizing the different planned actions before the elections. Luckily we are also working on synergizing our campaign narratives.
You can see the whole powerpoint presentation online.