Generation of Transition Conference focused on the status and future development of Democracy and civil society in Eastern Europe

Sofia Platform and DRA brought together over 50 leading International experts during 22–23 of November in capital of Bulgaria

The problem with recent history of the period of communism is that many of the facts, stories and scenes are unknown to the young generation, need to be analyzed and shared before they vanish from the memories of the last living survivors of the regime which battles for first place for its atrocities, second only to fascism. The huge cultural shift and that was further from the swift introduction to the Digital Age brought even deeper stirs in the social fabric under transition. This is one of the areas of work of Sofia Platform, which I’ve been following closely since the summer of 2017. Their effort this year involves travelling all across Bulgaria, to introduce pilot programs on civic education, find and develop teachers to fully launch the program along with the Ministry of Science and Education, which will happen in 2020.

The introdution speaches at the conferenceby done by Louisa Slavkova, Director of Sofia Platform, followed by Stefan Melle from DRA e.V., and the keynote by Caroline Hornstein Tomic on the Lessons on transition from the East brought some light on the key topics of the conference — the role of the civil society in developing the Democratic process in the Eastern Block. Over fifty leaders of NGOs, International experts from the region, as well a Germany, participated in panels, discussions and workshops for a couple of days and a really important and much needed topic.

The fishbowl discussion on the backsliding of Democracy kicked right after that, with some emphasis on cheating and corruption in general, which was a bit too much for me. I wanted to intervine but didn’t have the time to during the last minutes to share my thoughts. Sure, sometimes corruption starts with cheaters, but what worries me nowadays more is pure arrogance and bullying with all their forms. What Russia did to Crimea, the lies that lead to Brexit and Trumpism in the USA with his march on the media and rule of law, weaponizing technology and social media to spread a language of hatred and empower far-right, nationalist movements all across the world. All this has its negative impacts in Poland and Hungary which used to be one of the best examples in the young EU democracies.

The fishbowl seat was empty only during the presentation of the panelists

The venue — Generator is one of the leading places for such type of events and definatelly was the perfect choice. Its space was rearranged very quickly to provide base for discussions, tables for work and has a very nice bar-cafe with catering area. The food was super great, made me eat a whole lot more than I wanted to, even some sweets, that I generally try to avoid for the past months.

After the standing dinner was a theater play, which required some transportation to Cosmos CoWorking, where I spent a few months in the summer to work on several projects. The Director of the play, Neda Sokolovska presented a really controversial piece, exposing the insides of a generation torn by drugs, violence and even death during the 90-s in Bulgaria. A time, I was partially spared from, since I came back from Syria in 1992, but still can remember many such stories from friends in my teens.

Verbatim Theater by a very courageous group of young Artists at “Поколениет ь”

The second day of the conference was also a launchpad for the first, draft edition of a report on the Generation of Transition, which covers two cohorts born during 1975–1985 and 1985–1995. It is based on some lenghty research on how people in different countries in Eastern Europe have handled the switch to Democracy, their setbacks and achievements along the way. Many of the participants of conference provided their own experience in serveys for the report and will contribute to the final edition, which hopefully will be published as a book in 2019 with lots of details, examples and illustrations that it deserves. At the moment it has collected a solid amount of data in 49 interviews and and a mount of research, and some of the key info can be visualized as animated infographics — an area where hopefully someday I can help too.

Witnessing for the second time Sofia Platform’s master team at work, I sincerely want to congratulate Louisa, Leonie, Mila and Poly for their outstanding effort and attention to detail. After Total Chaos, which was done on whole different topic, scale and budget, this was the second best event for the year, that made me really delighted to attend and participate. Every person I met and talked to was there to contribute, passionate about their work and eager to learn what everyone else was doing.

Takeaways

  • Met lots of new friends I will follow and hopefully work with in the future, all across Europe;
  • Learned a lot on a topic that is really important — the trasition and development of Democracy and Civil Society in Bulgaria and the Eastern Block;
  • Looking forward to participate in future events and aid Sofia Platform’s work however possible.

The development of Civil Society in Bulgaria has just began, with certain groups being active and pushing back against many government policies that need a long time overhall since their birth in communism. There are a bunch of examples how the fabric of this community and Democracy in our country is just in its infancy. We still lack serious public funding for development of NGOs, arts and crafts outside government programs, but this is not only bad news though. The artist in me asks whether we can set an example and create a whole new spirit and culture of government, with so many brilliant people working together to make such a thing originate from Bulgaria.

Witnessing and taking part of such events I can honestly say — hopefully YES!