I’m sure that attending your first statutory event, especially Agora, was a great experience, but at the same time quite a shock; seeing 700 to 1000 AEGEEans gathered for the general assembly of our association, meeting your friends from all over Europe and of course making new ones. While every Agora is different, with a different location, different Chair teams, different participants, one figure stays the same; Gunnar. And then you ask yourself and your fellow AEGEE members; Who is this person taking pictures and posting on Facebook? Why is he still around? What stories and experiences does he possess? Spyros Papadatos from AEGEE-Ioannina interviewed Gunnar Erth and here is the full interview.
Spyros: We always see you active at events, taking pictures and posting on Facebook, but how does a normal day of your everyday life look like?
Gunnar: Currently I am working as editor for two business magazines in Stuttgart. However, at the moment there is no normal life. I decided to quit my job by the end of March 2018, so now I am searching for a new one! I already had some nice job interviews and one of them was successful. All this takes time, that’s why unfortunately I don’t have that much time for the Golden Times these days. Aside from that I am also supporting my mother who unfortunately has some health issues. Also this requires a lot of attention.
You were recently part of the “Project Lab” initiative. Can you share with us a few words about it?
The Project Lab was a training and brainstorming event about developing and organising projects in an AEGEE environment. It was a three-day event that took place right before Agora Catania in the beautiful location of Favara. The local organisation was done by Mario Luparello and his great AEGEE- Agrigento team, the trainers were Réka Salamon, Philipp Blum, my fellow honorary member Olivier Genkin and me. It was an honour to work with all of them!
Why did you decide to be part of it?
I decided to be part of it because a lot of AEGEE members have ideas about great projects, but they are not aware that it is actually really easy to turn them into AEGEE events! Because of this, the number of international thematic events in AEGEE has been in decline for the past ten years. We now tried to put a hold on it, the first Project Lab was only the first step!
We see that several projects that have written AEGEE history, like Europe on Track and Y Vote are now running or will run their 5th and 3rd editions respectively and of course Summer University its 30th edition. How possible is it to reinvent older projects?
It is actually very easy. Lots of international projects could easily take place in these days. I just want to give two very different examples:
- “Understanding Europe”, a series of lectures and discussion evenings with an expert journalist of a current affairs topic. Journalists are easy to get and know how to present a topic. This series of events was promoted European-wide under one project name and brand, but of course most participants came from the local and neighbouring antennae. It’s a zero euro project with great impact and easy to do;
- “Find your way”, a series of nine trainings and international conferences dealing with topics such as intercultural stereotypes and prejudices, media impact, nationalism, security policy and students rights in Central and Eastern Europe. If you see the current developments in this part of Europe, you can just copy the project. This requires a bit more funding though.
There are many more and whenever I tell this to our members, they are full of enthusiasm to create something similar. However, they lack information and training. AEGEE should create an international events database, with title, date, organisers and the detailed programme of every international thematic event or project. This would help people a lot, because it’s not always about the funding. AEGEE needs ideas, inspiration and skills how to put the ideas into practice!
How important can the projects be generally for AEGEE and Europe today?
Very important. International projects dealing with aspects of the wide framework of European integration have always been the unique selling point of AEGEE. Other associations such as BEST, ELSA or ESN have a concrete target group, a concrete topic to talk about – being it technology, law or mobility. AEGEE is interdisciplinary, which on first sight makes it a lot harder to explain the purpose of the association. However, being interdisciplinary is actually a great asset, because it opens us to many topics and to see problems from many angles. And our main topic since 1985 is European integration and its many cultural, political or economic aspects. Unfortunately AEGEE lost its way and focuses too much on the personal fun aspect and not on the aspect to discuss current issues on a European scale. We have to go back to this or AEGEE loses its purposes.
You were a CD member and one of the first Network Commissioners 20 years ago. How different did the Network look back then?
The task is the same: the NetCom is there to serve and protect the network. The difference: the NetCom had no money, no reimbursements and communication was a lot harder. There were no social media, phone calls abroad cost a fortune, no one except for a few Italians and Finns had a cell phone. When I was elected, I sent a mail to all my locals, introducing myself and offering my support. Then I realised that two of my locals in Romania did not even have an e-mail address. So I called them on the phone from my flat in Hungary – which was actually a great thing, because both antennae had a recruiting event the week after, so I visited them both. In general, Network Commissioners travelled a lot more to their locals. This was possible because our administrative workload was a lot less. We had to collect one antenna report per semester, not one per month. One more difference: at that time, the task of Network Commissioner was one you would do at the end of your AEGEE career, it was only for the most experienced people. We used our expertise not only to help antennae, but also to create new ones. Network enlargement was a core task and we really succeeded in it.
You have been an AEGEEan for several decades now and you are an honorary member of AEGEE- Europe, the biggest distinction of our association. What motivates you to still be an active alumnus and actively attend events?
It’s several things. First of all, AEGEE is my family. Every year I meet new family members, and they are all so amazing people. It makes it really hard to leave. I actually feel that I have much more in common with their positive spirit, their hunger for making Europe a better place than with many of my peers at home or elsewhere in Europe. Second, I want to give something back. I learnt so much through AEGEE, it made me a more open-minded person and provided me with awesome memories and many skills; therefore it’s only fair to show people how they can do things, to inspire them. It’s only an offer, but I am happy that most members react so positively!
How do you see the current alumni system of AEGEE?
AEGEE’s alumni system should be a lot better. On European level we have Les Anciens, which is organising lots of very interesting events every year and is open to every member who finished its active path and wants to join us oldies. However, many people don’t do that, despite the presentations of Les Anciens at each Agora. This is a pity. Moreover, AEGEE doesn’t use the full potential of its alumni. Many have jobs in parliaments, government bodies or own companies. However, there is no proper database for it. There is a lot of room for improvement. On local level alumni work does hardly exist. Some Dutch antennae are really good at it, also some German such as AEGEE-Passau. However, this is one of the points that AEGEE should really tackle. It’s a pity to see that many locals don’t even bother to invite their founders or other oldies to their annual antenna birthday celebrations. Please do it, guys!
What can the current generation of AEGEEans learn from our alumni?
A lot. They can get inspired, they can get actual useful contacts, they can also get trainings from them. However, many oldies want to be asked, they don’t approach the antenna directly. You are supposed to contact them. So, just find out who they are, contact them and you will see they are eager to help!
In the CD house, one can find hundreds of old publications (magazines, newspapers, booklets etc). How much can we learn from the past and our history? How can we use this knowledge today?
An association that doesn’t know its past has no future. AEGEE is repeating so many mistakes instead of reaching higher goals to build upon past knowledge. By analysing the path that AEGEE went in the past 20-30 years, you can recognise patterns and trends. And they are really important to know. On a more practical note, it’s easy to use the existing knowledge: for example in terms of event and project ideas, knowledge on how to structure trainings, but also by finding out which AEGEE legend now lives in your city and can provide lectures or contacts. All this is easy to find: in the pre-social media age information was stored in great magazines such as the NewsBulletins, it’s ready to take and easy to use since it’s not spread all over Facebook. Also the old mailing lists provide amazing information. And if you are looking for photos of your antenna’s events from the period 2001-2009, you have a great chance to find them on www.aegee.org/photo.
Many things are happening now in Europe. Towards which direction would you turn AEGEE’s attention if you could?
All issues related to European integration as well as peace and stability. AEGEE can give orientation in a phase where more and more people fall back to nationalism because the world has become too complicated for them. When AEGEE was founded, the EU was in a crisis. European integration had come to a halt. Politicians did not know what to do. In this period AEGEE came and said: “Look, we as students will deal with all relevant issues, provide a platform for students and actors or politics and society – and present suggestions.” That’s the task for AEGEE as well today, in the new crisis of Europe.
Any thoughts you would like to share with the Network?
Let’s show our face again to the world by creating more hallmark events that improve AEGEE’s identity, impress politicians, potential members and in general actors in society. How? Let’s create four big thematic conferences per year which have the same general topic every year. For example:
- Checking the status of the European institutions and making ideas for improvements;
- Checking which are the current most pressing areas of political crisis and discuss solutions;
- Checking the situation of formal higher education and non-formal education in Europe, including aspects such as local Erasmus support to make it more practical;
- A conference called European Society: dealing with issues of culture, gender, NGO rights, populism or other issues.
These four conferences should be fixed points in the annual calendar and strive for 150 to 200 participants. Antennae can apply to organise one of these four conferences, which could be in February, May, September and November. These hallmark events could be like the standing topics of AEGEE, which would give them a lot of visibility and identity internally and externally. Moreover, small local or European seminars could be a lead into the big conferences. Also follow-up events could be organised. Since it would be prestigious to host these events, we would have enough organisers and participants for them. And a lot of new thematically-oriented members. This could really help AEGEE.
Written by Spyros Papadatos, AEGEE-Ioannina