Berlin Calling: Day 2 of the Seminar

For the moment I’m sitting in the Sanatorium 23 bar with some locals. It wasn’t easy today, but now I’m chillin so let me tell you more about my day.

I got up at 8h30 to leave at 9 am for our first informational seminar session in Berlin, the JEF World café session. It’s a lot like the Speeddating Europe activity in Ghent, but with bigger groups, longer discussions and a bit more anarchy. We were free to choose at which table we wanted to join until all chairs are taken. What I really missed was of course the little ‘change seats’ tune, so did the moderator I guess. After four group discussions and two hours later we were invited to a soup buffet for lunch, paid for by a German insurance company, thanks!

After lunch we made our way to the Bundestag in the Reichstag. Big difference here! For clarity the Reichstag is the building, which dates back to the rule of the German Emperor, the Bundestag is the actual parliament. The German federal parliamentWe kicked off with a fish bowl discussion, a novel discussion concept that let’s room for participants to join a small permanent panel up front. Everybody was invited to make a couple of statements if they felt like it. Since it was pretty late yesterday and the speakers weren’t that interesting, participants had a bit of trouble filling in the empty seats of the panel. But hey, it was international evening yesterday, living on a seminar can be hard.

We finished our seminar responsibilities with a visit to the dome of the Reichstag. A disorienting structure of steel and glass, that moves, ventilates, shines,… well very important for Germans and very pretty to look at. The tour on the dome was even funnier, real German stuff here. They gave us an audio guide that told you when to stop while climbing the dome and at which buildings to look. I lost the track quite early. International evening hangover maybe? Or just me wondering over the large skyline of Berlin. Breathtaking anyway.

So now I’m in the company of some lovely locals. Their’s Martin, Merete, Manja (the pirate girl) and Uwe from the seminar, joined by Andreas, Sascha, Mattias and Maja. They’re a nice bunch of hardcore hamburger fans. They took me to a small place called the “frituurhause” and let me get a taste of my first real Berlin Hamburger. I can assure you, definitely better then my German Bradwurst yesterday, and very enjoyable. The frituurhause looks actually like a real frituur, but don’t come looking here for a bickyburger. Only ‘real’ meat my German friends assure me, and no deepfrying. Although I miss my bicky I left satisfied and happy, guess they made a new fan. This brings me to where I’m right now the Sanatorium 23 bar, a lounge bar, with stylish seats/beds, arty pictures on the wall, ambient beats and a fine gin tonic. Prizes are about the same as in Ghent so no panic here. Time for me to go again though, cause my Berliner friends are starting to think I’m a real computerfreak.

Maybe a little, but not that much. Let’s enjoy our drinks, but get to bed early tonight, because tomorrow the workshops start (Blogging or Streetart for me) and off course their will be the official party. Good night and see you soon again.


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Berlin Calling: Day 1 of the Seminar

In support of our pages on the internet and to give new Jeffers or symphatizers a chance to get to know more about JEF seminars, I’ll be posting a couple articles here about the JEF Berlin Seminar. Not an easy job I guess, certainly not because there’s not much time and so much happens. So I ‘ll be brief and focus on the highlights.

My first impression of Berlin wasn’t very exciting. I landed in Schönefeld airport, which is on the outskirts of Berlin. In the train station I found a first coparticipant, the lovely Iohanna, who got me on the right train through the grey and lonesome suburbs. However as soon as I passed my fist S-Bahn stop, Berlin was calling. Like in the song of Paul Kalkbrenner, with the little S-Bahn music, the German experience really hit me in earnest. On arrival I was confronted with a lot of German Gründlichheid and hospitality. Not an easy combination to fill in different forms while hugging, but a very nice beginning may I say so.

Besides some unpacking we didn’t do a lot of important things the first day. I made a little trip to Alexanderplatz which is in a real nice nostalgic sovjetstyle square. Just like our hostel, “das DDR Ostel”! In the evening the seminar took off for real with the traditional International Evening. First we all got introduced to the big German delegetation, with numerous promises of the vice-president of JEF Germany we soon would get drunk as tradition demands. Although the German contribution was on the small side, the Austrians (Super Merete), Belgians and Greek certainly saved the evening with a handsome  catch of booze. Although Greece and Austria had the strongest drinks, the Belgian chocolate and vanilla jenever we’re very much appreciated.

After all the booze and food was happily consumed some off us went for a small late night exploring trip. Our little tour brought us to the last pieces of the famous Berlin Wall, or so I was told by our gracious guide, Martin. With a little help of my friends I successfully climbed the wall to escape to West-Berlin, alas on the other side of the wall there was a big river. To compensate for our failed breakout we drank some last beers in a bar and made new plans to escape East-Berlin….


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Thursday “Change Day” & Friday “Evaluation Day”

On Thursday we had to be creative in different kind of workshops and think about what we as JEF could do to improve gender equality or raise awareness about the fact that there IS an inequality. There was a group working on a gender resolution that would be put forward on the FC following on the seminar. Cordula, Merete and me focused on a campaign and worked out a possible street action, rewriting street names with famous and important women names to point out to the underrepresentation of women in different kind of fields. This campaign would need a webpage with names and info about different women from all over Europe. Also campaign material, such as postcards or leaflets were made that could be used in the campaign. Besides that short videos were produced that could be put online to support the gender campaign and one working group focused on the website made for this seminar, and made a blog diary of the whole week:

So we all produced a lot of output and can therefore sincerely say the topic was interesting and there is a need to spread the word about gender equality! After this creative sessions, we went out and had a splendid last evening party, since on Friday “Evaluation Day” participants left, we evaluated the whole week and new participants started arriving for the FC!

I had a wonderful week, meeting new JEF people and seeing old friends again, debating heavely and learning a lot, and off course, enjoying nice parties. Notting can top JEF seminars, so thanks to all the JEFFERS organizing these wonderful days for us!

If you would like to watch a video on the seminar or different video’s made about gender equality:

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Wednesday “Experience Day”

Wednesday was “Experience Day” and, lucky us, it was sunny day as well! Divided into two groups, we had a guided tour with a local inhabitant through the old city center in the morning, and a presentation of the NGO Moznost Volby. This NGO is working about gender and feminism and some of their main goals are gender equality and implementation of gender mainstreaming, elimination and prevention of violence against women, elimination of all forms of discrimination and so on. They already organized campaigns that left quite a deep impact on the public opinion of Slovakia, like the one on “Every fifth woman is abused” in a domestic violence campaign. One out of five, that is outrageous! If you want to know more you can visit .

In the afternoon we went to the European Commission to listen to a panel debate with a representative of the Council of Europe and local representatives, comparing the gender issue on European level as well as on the Slovakian. The debate was very interesting, but after a good lunch it is difficult to keep attention on a high level. After the debate we had some free time and we decided with a whole group to walk to the castle. It was worth the walk, though we could not see everything because of construction works. In the evening we went out dancing salsa and many more in Club Havana, enjoyable evening!


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Tuesday “Analysis and Debate Day”

We had a guest speaker Lubica Rozborova, who talked about Human rights perspectives on gender equality. She focused on the inequalities of the Slovakian labour market, which could be generalized for other member states as well unfortunately. The average wage of women in Slovakia is 24% lower than the average wage of men, though the pay difference itself does not necessarily mean discrimination. We should take into account three principles: equal pay for equal work, equal pay for work of equal value and equal job opportunities for all irrespective of gender. Talking about women in politics or women in top managerial positions, the situation isn’t any better: women are underrepresented. The systems are very male oriented and inherent to those structures women have a disadvantage in climbing up to higher positions and suffer hidden discriminatory tendencies. In Slovakia the facts are worse than in the rest of EU member states where at least one third of the women are in cabinet, Slovakia has a mere 20%. Talking about solutions for this, the quota system brings up a heated debate, but could be a mean needed to change mentality in people’s mind as well. This was for example the case in Norway where the Quota system is implemented and works very well. This has for instance been discussed in the World Café activity after the coffee break, where we discussed the different Human Right perspectives in small groups. I chaired the ‘women in politics’ debate which was very enriching for me. But besides that other themes were homosexuality, masculinity, abortion, domestic violence, multiple discrimination and so on.

After a good day of learning, discussing and absorbing information, we could set our minds free during the Karaoke evening! It was hilarious to see such a variety of young people singing songs we all know and after the Mika, Elvis Presley, and other look-a-likes, we went out and continued the party in the city-center!


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Monday “Discovery Day”

Monday the 22th was “Discovery Day”, meaning we got an introduction on the Gender theme, given by Katja, a Phd student from Tajikistan but living and working in Switzerland on Gender. She started by saying that “the more you know and read about gender, the more you will get confused” and so she got my attention right away! So if I recall right, the sex is a biological thing, while gender is a sociological constructed norm and one gender can have different gender roles. There can be only 2 sexes (man and woman) but there are endless genders? Well, maybe not endless, but it stirred up the debate about it! I especially liked the expression made by Simone de Beauvoir saying “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman” which catches the gender topic quite good. After the very interesting introduction on Gender and Gender policy, we managed a brainstorming session with almost 40 people. Impossible you would say, but not if you know Curly Peter.

With the brainstorm in mind, we continued listening to MEP Katarina Nevedalova who gave an interesting insight about gender in Slovakia and the position of women there. After the dinner and the coming together of the Buzz Groups, we had the international evening which is always fun. Bringing traditional food and drinks from different EU member states together really puts in practice the slogan of “United in Diversity”. And as this is a gender seminar, all helped dressing the tables with the delights, all helped consuming and afterword all went out for a small party. No better way to close up the first day.


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International Seminar on Gender in Bratislava! 21-26 March

Saturday the 20th of March I took the plane to Bratislava, together with Pia and Tomas from the JEF Europe office. Always nice to know that, leaving from Brussels to an International Seminar, most of the times you are accompanied by our friends of the JEF secretariat! Anyways, arriving too soon for the seminar, due to no planes flying on Sunday, we went to have a look in the city of Bratislava. It is not a big city, at least not for a capital, but the old part is quite charming. ( On Sunday the other participants arrived throughout the day and we started in the evening by getting to know each other by playing ice-breaking games! We also started thinking about how to use the elevators efficiently, since it takes ages for them to get up or down and even opening up! So reaching breakfast in time in the morning really was a challenge! But the hotel was nice and in retro style I felt like taking a jump into the fifties!

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Defiling statues in Leuven: Free Belarus Action

Because JEF Leuven wanted to make an early point against the dictatorship in Belarus, we organized our protest action on the 17th of March in the streets of Leuven city. The preparations started back at my place, a remote location close to the docks and across from an abbey. Despite the fact that the building used to be a nunnery, we sat down with a few bottles of beer and a very good mood in what the residents of my place call the Mirror Room. There we started manufacturing gags by ripping old clothes (a very interesting and fun process) and devising slogans for our banners. The best one, in my opinion, was : “Belarus is suppressing its people since…” followed by a picture of the notorious Lukashenko, in which he only lacks a moustache to resemble Hitler.

Around 11 Pm we were ready to hit the streets. We took our banners and the flag of Europe and headed out into the night. The first more populated place we came across was the Vismarkt, where our enthusiasm was immediately met in kind. Some students listened to our explanation and reacted vehemently against the last dictatorship in Europe, of which they had not been aware five minutes before. One of them even put on a Lukashenko mask and asked a passer-by if he knew who he represented. To which the answer came promptly: Hitler (I told you so!). Our film crew interviewed another one of the students as he fervently declared that there should be no dictatorship in Europe. We were so happy with this passionate start to our night that we didn’t mind the fact that he was from the Dominican Republic.

We then started towards our first victim: the small statue in the Brusselsestraat at the Dyle. We gagged it and took a stand with the whole group behind it, while our filming crew documented the event. Because our next stop was the Damiaanplein, we didn’t encounter a lot of people on the way there, but that didn’t deminish our enthousiasm or ability of some of u

s to invent very original catch phrases. Unable to locate the statue of Father Damiaan that we were looking for, we decided to continue our pilgrimage to the centre of Leuven.

We passed through the Hogescholenplein and the Muntstraat, while we continued yelling and our film crew was running up and down to gather footage. Because we were in a pretty crowded area, and we were actually committing a felony on which there is a fine, we gagged “Fiere Margriet” quite fast and proceeded in a rapid pace towards the statue of Pieter de Sommer. On the way back to the Tiensestraat we decided to gag a colourful octopus perched on a stick. You find those pretty much everywhere in Leuven next to schools. Thanks to Sam’s climbing talents, Peter’s support and the broomstick, the operation was successful.

The next stop was the Hooverplein, with two different sets of statues. The first ones were very apt to be gagged, and did not need our living assistance to look sad and down, as you can see in the picture. The men in the balloon, though, were harder to reach, and though we gave up for the time being to vandalize that statue, the last word hadn’t been said yet.

Not discouraged at all, we proceeded to the Erasmus Garden, which was abandoned at that time of night. This gave us the opportunity to take many pictures of the famous horse of Letteren, a horrible statue which I very much enjoyed defiling. I think the photos of that event were priceless.

After gagging one last victim, we decided to call it a night and went for a drink. Some of us started drifting towards home, but others didn’t want to give up just yet. With a little help and cheering, Sam managed to kiss the man in the balloon. In my opinion, this was a very successful end to our action.

I don’t think we’ve met anyone who knew previously what we were protesting against, but hopefully some people will remember now: Europe doesn’t tolerate dictatorships, the people of Belarus need a voice, and Lukanshenko looks like Hitler.

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How we became Moldostars ®

13th February – 21th February

On Sunday 14th our team manager Matej made an announcement : « Ladies and Gentlemen, your captain and his team are pleased to welcome you on board of flight number *** destination Youth for Change. The temperature there … » That day started a trip rich in experience, knowledge, exchanges, learnings, awareness, friendship  and fun ! Yes we are youth !

During five days, we received non formal training on different topics such as management, communication and press, leadership, human rights, youth activists and fundraising. Classes were given by the trainers or by external experts, with theoretical parts and more practical activities. An open space for expressing our ideas was given to us for each topics. We worked a lot in groups, always arranged differently in order to make ideas come up and promote exchange.

One of the aims of the week was to set up a street action in Chisinau on a topic of our choice. From the very first day we started to work on it : who, where, what, what for, which budget, press etc. Friday night, everything was ready for the action on Saturday. Of course some unexpected events occured… like great weather ! Forget the umbrellas ! So we came in the city center and started our flash mob peacefully. We decided to protest against human trafficking. To do so, some of us were in boxes with prices on them, some others were trying to sell them to Modovians and a third group was  walking around with posters and flyers to give to people an explaination to open their awareness. Press was there and interviewed us during the action. And guess what, the same evening we were on tv information ! Aren’t we efficient?

Contributed by Milena Mathé

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One wall, one fall, one Europe … and three voices

To draw attention to the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, JEF Leuven has not only organized a street action in which people were invited to tear down a symbolic wall, but also a debate on the ideological wall. This discussion took place on the 8th of December. Although the event didn’t draw a huge audience, the topics raised by the speakers covered a wide range of interesting contemporary issues.

Originally, the debate was to have three speakers. Firstly, Professor Idesbald Godderis was invited, who is a.o. specialized in the cultural history of Central and Eastern Europe and the Cold War. EP member Lajos Bokros, former Hungarian minister of finances, ex-CEO of the Budapest Bank and professor at the Central European University was expected. Bart Staes, Member of the European Parliament for Groen! and delegate of the European Green party, was also to take part of the debate, but he sadly could not make it the night itself. The debate was moderated by Professor Katlijn Malfliet, Academic at the Institute of International and European policy.

I will mainly touch upon the two most interesting topics, namely the mental wall between East and West and the expectations of the new members of the EU.

Europeanization and democratization: the mental wall

The debate started with the question whether a mental wall still exists between Eastern and Western Europe, and how the European rule is experienced. Professor Godderis stated that seemingly, democracy doesn’t work accordingly in the East, but the situation is not so much better in the West: threats to democracy still exist. Europeanization is only a perception: even though Leuven is only twenty kilometres from Brussels and the European rule, it is experienced as “far”. However, it has been twenty years since the fall of the wall, and the difference between East and West is not such a huge abyss anymore for the new generation.

Professor Bokros emphasized the transition the East has been through, namely the switch to free market and democratization. But is the European rule positive or negative? In the Eu there is little potential for growth: the USA and China are threatening it.



Are the former communist countries’ expectations from the EU realistic? Professor Bokros disagreed. Whereas during the communist regime, those respective countries were promised much, there was dictatorship to blame for the things that went wrong. In a democracy, it is more difficult to point fingers. Professor Godderis brought in against this statement that while the East’s expectations are too high, the West’s should be lower. According to him, Western society should take some steps back from the high living standards it has now. The issue of mentality and expectations becomes reversed.

Another important issue that was raised was Pan-European security.  Professors Godderis and Bokros agreed that there is need for a clear European policy in that regard. The problem is how to achieve this without upsetting Russia.

After the debate there was a question round. The audience raised a variety of interesting though sometimes unrelated issues, from Gorbashev to the Hungarian minority in Western Romania.

Professor Malfliet’s introductions and input were very helpful for inducing reflection, and as a general given the topics discussed were actual and highly interesting. The points of view of the two speakers showed usually conflicting, but valuable perspectives on the European Union as it has grown since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Personally, I found it an extremely interesting experience to witness direct interaction between East and West, not only between the speakers but also the audience, which was mainly made up of foreign students.  Having been born in Romania but grown up in Belgium, I am myself a product of the unification of Europe and found it therefore nice to have the converging and the diverging points of view together in one room. In my experience, the differences between Eastern and Western Europe have decreased in later years, not only ideologically and culturally but also externally in the scenery of cities.

However, this statement asks for a next blog entry!

See you soon,


P.S. :

You can find the full recording of the debate at:

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