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Freiraum II - Workshop 2 in Bratislava

The second Freiraum workshop took place in cooperation with Milan Zvada (Záhrada, Banská Bystrica) on 20.-22.11.2019 at the Goethe-Institut Bratislava. Freiraum partners from all over Europe met there and discussed the topics: freedom of opinion, freedom of press and education.

“Delving deeper into FREIRAUM in Central Europe”

A report on the meeting in Bratislava, 19–22 November 2019; FREIRAUM Phase II

By Milan Zvadá

After the meeting in Thessaloniki in October 2019, the second phase of the FREIRAUM project continued in Bratislava from November 19-22. The premises of the local Goethe-Institut on Panenská Street near the historical centre reminded us of a large villa with its many rooms, including a café and library. Enough space for cultural and community activities for everyone – visitors, students, artists, us.

The three-day programme comprised various activities ranging from meetings and discussions to workshops and presentations. On Wednesday, Nov. 20, for starters, Lydia Chatziiakovou, a Greek curator and founder of the ArtBox project, recapped the issues and tasks addressed at the previous meeting in Thessaloniki in October 2019, followed by comments by Anke Schad, who was conducting an outside evaluation of both phases of Freiraum. We then delved deeper into FREIRAUM, reflecting on the takeaways, benefits and challenges of our collective endeavour (which is sometimes described as a network, platform or initiative). We shared examples of how freedom of speech and democracy have been violated in our countries – from state toleration of hate speech to imprisoning activists and assassinating journalists in more than one European country. On the other hand, we also shared stories of resistance, of civic campaigns, activities and events that have an impact on the state of affairs in our respective countries, whether it be efforts to debunk fake news, community organizing or teaching first-time voters the basics of parliamentary democracy.

After this exchange, it soon became clear that the task planned for Wednesday afternoon – to draw up a Freiraum Manifesto as agreed at the meeting in Thessaloniki – could not be completed in only one hour: we’d need more time to articulate the mission in any statement to be publicly released. However, we did manage to put together a great deal of written material by Freiraum partners in a shared document, which some of us used to draw up and refine a draft of the Manifesto, which is to be finalized at our next meeting in Rome in March 2020. The Manifesto is to serve as a starting point for further collaboration and commitment to our cause, to guide our thoughts and actions in a free realm of (environ)mental decolonization, societal liberation, artistic expression and civic responsibility.

The second day was devoted to learning about methods of working with youth to combat prejudice and radicalization as well as learning about ourselves, our inner motivations and personal views on freedom and humanity. Zuzana Szabóová, a trainer from the Centre for Community Organizing in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia, came to give us a glimpse of her day-to-day work with teenagers and university students. She showed us practical examples and exercises from the Schools for Democracy project, in which 32 primary and secondary schools in the Banská Bystrica region are participating this year. Its aim is to teach participants about different issues using non-formal educational methods, to foster their critical thinking, raise civic awareness and, ultimately, within a year, to bring about a shift in their attitudes on certain issues (e.g. minority rights, migration, extremism etc.). They also gain an understanding of the issues through personal experiences that involve being confronted with people from different social environments and situations – within the framework of a special storytelling format called the Human Library, for example.

On an afternoon walk through the centre of Bratislava, we couldn’t but be reminded of some momentous historical events, especially the Slovak National Uprising, an anti-fascist civil movement that was formed – and suppressed – in 1944, and 17 November 1989, the dates that marks the beginning of the Velvet Revolution that led to the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia. Squares and streets named after those events can be found in almost every town and even village in Slovakia. History and its appropriation by politicians and public bodies is a pressing issue nowadays, as distorted versions of history and thinly disguised totalitarian practices and propaganda, accompanied by the rise of ultranationalism and xenophobia, seem to be colonizing the public realm throughout Europe and the whole world. So it is crucial to address issues of historical appropriation, for, as the late Ján Langoš, the founder of the Slovak National Memory Institute, used to insist, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Needless to say, to prevent another self-induced historical catastrophe, we must continue working on many different scales and levels – civic, artistic, social, political, intercultural and, most importantly, personal. Only through self-reflection, shared knowledge and personal experience can we grow and set new goals for the development of the Freiraum project as individuals and professionals, in our own countries and internationally. These insights came to the fore during a workshop led by Patrik Krebs, a theatre director and community worker who has been working with people from marginalized and underprivileged groups (e.g. the homeless, sex workers, drug takers) for many years. Under his supervision, we, the privileged Freiraum participants, spent three hours in a theatre workshop engaging in a series of playful exercises that addressed important issues, as if we were “rehearsing for life”. Through the workshop we discovered a lot about the project milestones and the parts we play in achieving them, about our definitions of freedom and finding a sense of solidarity and curiosity that connects us. We usually feel on safer ground discussing the issues, so it felt strange at first to step out of our comfort zones, but the workshop turned out to be a valuable lesson in how to share feelings and insights drawn from the depths of subjectivity, rather than from objective reality.

Gallery of the workshop

  • Gruppenbild Workshop Bratislava © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Freiraum partners at the second workshop in Bratislava in cooperation with Milan Zvada (Záhrada, Banská Bystrica) on 20-22.11.2019
  • Workshop Bratislava 1 © Lydia Chatziiakovou ArtBOX
    Zuzana Szaboova presents the Schools for Democracy Project
  • Workshop Bratislava 2 © Lydia Chatziiakovou ArtBOX
    Ondřej Timčo (H21, Prague) explaining the dot evaluation system
  • Workshop Bratislava 3 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Maud Quamar
    the Goethe-Institut Bratislava
  • Workshop Bratislava 4 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Maud Quamar
    Training session at Theater with no home by Patrik Krebs
  • Workshop Bratislava 5 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Maud Quamar
    The mobile stage in the Goethe library
  • Workshop Bratislava 6 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Maud Quamar
    Panel discussion over Freedom of press and expression, Moderation: Michal Hvorecky
  • Workshop Bratislava 7 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Maud Quamar
    Panel discussion over Freedom of press and expression, Moderation: Michal Hvorecky
  • Workshop Bratislava 8 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Presentation of the Schools for Democracy Project
  • Workshop Bratislava 9 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Presentation of the Schools for Democracy Project
  • Workshop Bratislava 10 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Human Library
  • Workshop Bratislava 11 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Human Library
  • Workshop Bratislava 12 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Presentation round at the Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 13 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Presentation round at the Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 14 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Training session at Theater with no home by Patrik Krebs
  • Workshop Bratislava 15 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Patrik Krebs and Edouard Burgeat (artist, Paris) at Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 16 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Alonia Elizalde (Goethe-Institut Brüssel) and Ivano Casalegno (YEPP Turin) at Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 17 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Lara Facondi (daSud, Rome) at Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 18 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Anke Schad (evaluator, Vienna) and Lydia Chatziiakovou (artBOX.gr, Thessaloniki) at Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 19 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Edit Pula (artist, Tirana) and Jelena Joksimovic (Škograd, Belgrade) at Theater with no home
  • Workshop Bratislava 20 © Goethe-Institut / Photo: Boris Németh
    Daniel McFarlane (Trinity Access, Dublin) and Milan Zvada (Záhrada, Banská Bystrica) at Theater with no home
The second day closed with one of the highlights of the Freiraum event in Bratislava: a public discussion with the Goethe-Institut’s two guests of honour, journalists Monika Tódová (Slovakia) and Johan Fedders (Germany). Moderator Michal Hvorecký, a renowned Slovak writer, translator and head of the Goethe-Institut library, navigated the flow of their thoughts on the issue of freedom of speech in Germany and Slovakia. They shared a great deal of contextual information and reflections on freedom of the press, democracy and court rulings on matters of free speech in both countries. The rise of right-wing political extremism and populism, hate speech against minorities and anti-Semitism, civil protests and the assassination of journalists were the topics that resonated most with the public.

It’s been almost two years since the murderous attack on free speech in Slovakia that left a young investigative journalist, Jan Kuciak, dead, along with his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová. Four suspects are currently on trial, which is being followed closely by the public. The fifth, the middleman, has already been convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. At moments like this, one comes to realize the strengths and weaknesses of liberal democracy. Civil society and journalists play a vital role in protecting the principles of liberal democracy, bringing hope and greater clarity to the world at large. This case has clearly been a turning point in the history of journalism and freedom of the press in modern-day Slovakia, which, like the history of the whole country, may now be divided between before and after the murder of Jan Kuciak.

Why is it important to know this story? What can we do about it? Our last day in Bratislava was about these and some other questions that came up – as well as about setting priorities for the future of Freiraum. We reiterated our conviction that there is no substitute for meeting up in person, so we shall reconvene in Rome in March to finalize the Manifesto and keep the momentum going. It looks as if the maelstrom of recent events has turned us into a community guided by a spirit of freedom that is to be cultivated, not conquered.


Programme

Partners: Milan Zvada (Zahrada), Goethe-Institut Bratislava
All events held in English.

Tuesday 19 November 2019:
 
LOCATION TIME ACTIVITY PARTICPIANTS
Falkensteiner Hotel   Arrival in Vienna / Bratislava (19.11. or 20.11.), check-in hotel Freiraum-network
City Center 8:00 pm Meet and greet, informal dinner in the city centre of Bratislava  

Wednesday 20 November 2019:
Goethe-Institut Bratislava

 
LOCATION TIME ACTIVITY PARTICPIANTS
Goethe-Institut Bratislava 12:00 am – 1:00 pm Get-together, recap workshop Thessaloniki by Lydia Chatziiakovou (ArtBOX)
Report about Thessaloniki by Anke Schad, external evaluator “Freiraum”
Screening of the video on the workshop in Thessaloniki
Freiraum-network
  1:00 – 2:00 pm Lunch break  
  2:00 – 3:00 pm Manifesto
Working session on the Freiraum Manifesto
 
  3:00 – 4:00 pm Opening session by Milan Zvada
a) a report on the situation in Slovakia
b) a presentation on  “The Role of Arts and Satire in Civic society - The Case of Slovakia”
 
  4:00 – 4:30 pm Coffee break  
  4:30 – 6:00 pm Discussion : freedom of speech and opinion
Inputs partner
 
  8:00 pm Dinner in a restaurant (tbc: cultural offer in Bratislava? Film screening?)  

Thursday 21 November 2019:
Goethe-Institut Bratislava

 
LOCATION TIME ACTIVITY PARTICPIANTS
Goethe-Institut Bratislava 9:30 – 12:00 am Zuzana Szaboova on Schools for Democracy Project: presentation + a case study + Q&A sessions Freiraum-network
  12:00 am – 1:00 pm Lunch break  
  1:00 – 2:00 pm Art Walk through Bratislava  
Theater with no home 2:00 – 5:00 pm Training session by Patrik Krebs – intercultural training  
  6:00 pm Public Event :
Journalists from Germany and Slovakia on Freedom of press and expression:
Monika Todova and Jonas Fedders, Moderation: Michal Hvorecky
Open to the public
 

Friday 22 November 2019:
Goethe-Instiut Bratislava

 
LOCATION TIME ACTIVITY PARTICPIANTS
Goethe-Institut Bratislava 9:30 am – 11:00 pm Discussion: global education
Inputs partners
Freiraum-network
  11:00 – 12:00 am Focus group with Anke Schad, external evaluator “Freiraum”  
  12:00 am – 1:00 pm Lunch break  
  1:00 – 3:30 pm Closing session
Conclusion, Next steps, Ideas for next workshop
 
  3:30 - 4:00 pm Coffee break and departure  

 

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