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Youth Workcamp - Dealing with the Past and Jewish History in the Balkans
Start date: 01 Aug 2016, End date: 31 Oct 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

European societies currently witness an alarming increase of extreme right-wing populist political forces (especially in Germany) as well as of - in smaller numbers - religious extremism. In Macedonia as elsewhere in the Balkans, young people grow up in a largely divided societies dominated by ethno-nationalism in which the ruling elites promote ethnocentric narrratives of the past to legitimize their power position. Frequent characteristics of the (hi)stories propagated are the glorification of war, militarised images of masculinity and the idea of collective victimhood to which one’s own group is entitled, while the constructed image of the “other” consists of being the aggressor, invader etc. This is problematic as the narratives promoted tend to (re-)produce enemy images and narrow the public space for discussion in a sense of Dealing with the Past (DwP). Elements of racism, nationalism and/or anti-semitism provide the usual ideological underpinnings of those forces and movements. These societal developments and increasing divisions particularly affect youth as they are one of the main target groups attracted and instrumentalized by extremist opinion leaders.We therefore see a general need for young people from the project countries to be supported in actively resisting and working against these briefly described tendencies. Young Europeans must be equipped with the knowledge, skills and develop behavioral attitudes necessary to confront the consequences of extremist ideologies in order to build peaceful and democratic societies that promote European values. In with the EU Erasmus+ program guideline and the 2016 focus topics, the proposed project therefore aims at fostering interreligious dialogue, promotion of democracy, human rights and tolerance for the “other” in order to counter growing tendencies of extremism and radicalization in Europe.The project therefore aims to achieve the following objectives:- Raise awareness about a common European history among participants from Germany and Macedonia- Raise awareness of the fate of Jews and the consequences of Nationalis and Racist ideology- Learn to respect and value cultural, ethnic and religious differences- Contribute to a constructive process of dealing with the past and development of an inclusive European identity- Promote mutual learning and exchange among the younger generation- Promote local and international voluntary engagementWe consider intercultural exchange through direct interaction and cooperation and a hands-on introduction to dealing with the past and memory work as a possible way forward for young Europeans together to actively learn and act for peace. In order to achieve the defined objectives the project proposes a distinct activity combining joint physical work on dealing with the past and an educational program for the project participants.The Jewish cemetery in Bitola, Macedonia, is the oldest Sephardic graveyard on the Balkans. Built in 1497 it was destroyed by German troops while retreating from the region in 1944. Before WW II 3.351 Jews had lived in Bitola. In March 1943 they were transported to Skopje and deported to the concentration camp Treblinka. All together 7.350 Jews have been murdered. Only few of them survived. The Jewish community together with the community of Bitola are planning to restore and preserve the cemetery as a place of remembrance for the Jews and a monument for the peaceful cohabitation of Jews, Macedonians, Albanians, Vlachs, Turks and Roma.In order to support the plan to preserve the Jewish cemetery and convert it into a site of remembrance, a 10-day workcamp (project activity) in the first half of September 2016 will be organized involving a total of 20 young participants from Germany and Macedonia of different religious and ethnic background as symbolic but real action for peace and dialogue. Together they will engage in clearing the vegetation of the graveyard, preserve and clean the old tombstones, including smaller archeological work. In joined workshops they will learn about the history of the Jews in the Balkans, the Holocaust, and the current situation in Macedonia and Germany, cultural diversity, inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. Intercultural learning, mutual respect and tolerance will be further promoted amongst participants. Methods of nonviolent conflict transformation will be used and conveyed.
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