The full-scale war of Russia against Ukraine now lasts more than 19 months and is entering the second winter. The current disconcerting developments in the South Caucasus – the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with over 100,000 Armenian refugees will have potentially devastating consequences for the already war-torn region, civil societies and for people living there. It overshadows the funding program MEET UP! Youth for Partnership and impacts the editing of its first online magazine edition.
Funded by the Federal Foreign Office and the EVZ Foundation the objective of this program is nothing short of ambitious: it aims to build a transnational community of young change makers in the EU and in its neighboring countries, to bring together young people from the countries of the Eastern Partnership and their German counterparts to promote mutual understanding and learning, to set up new meeting venues and communication platforms, and to launch bilateral and multilateral initiatives to address current challenges. In doing so, the program strengthens civil societies and democracies in the region and has had a lasting effect on those who were involved in it.
Initially launched as a bilateral program addressing Ukrainian and German youth as a reaction to the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, in the past two years it has evolved into a regional youth exchange program involving six different countries – Ukraine, the Republic of Moldova, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan. MEET UP! Youth for Partnership has become unique multinational exchange program with a focus on young change-makers and on engagement with a shared values-based agenda.
Looking back at the program and its evolution, the picture turns out to be multifaceted. The challenges were threefold – first and foremost Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, conflict in the South Caucasus, and a deteriorating situation of human rights in many of the countries involved. These developments have affected both the program and its participants. At the same time, it was necessary to flexibly adjust the joint planning with our partners and young experts. Facilitating youth exchange and engagement under these conditions proved to be challenging for the EVZ team, our local partners and participants. Sadly, MEET UP! Youth for Partnership exchange events could not take place in Ukraine in person. Georgia and the Republic of Moldova were the two countries where young people from all six countries of the Eastern Partnership and Germany could get together and meet in person. Another challenge was the implementation of bilateral/ multilateral projects between participants from conflict-affected countries like Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
At the same time, these last three years were also full of opportunities: spaces for thinking and debating were created, impactful micro-grant projects were initiated, and multilateral encounters took place. The power of strong youth networks, working towards more just, inclusive and historically mindful societies has become ever so clear.
Our online magazine therefore features some of those seized opportunities, it portrays multi- and binational projects, as well as the Micro Projects and the highlight of the program – the very successful regional youth conference in Tbilisi in Georgia in the fall of 2022, characterized by a high level of youth participation and regional cooperation on challenging topics such as remembrance and human rights.
Youth engagement in general is important for the betterment of the future of all societies – as young people can be change- makers, and so often are. In the countries of the Eastern Partnership, this aim is a priority as the countries and societies are all in transition.
Based both on the conviction and the mission of the EVZ Foundation, this program’s topics were determined in coordination with the young participants themselves.
The topical range of the program reflected the participants’ interests and thus spanned from culture of remembrance, UN sustainable development goals to youth participation, conflict resolution, and civil society cooperation. Even though the national contexts of the countries involved varied a great deal, they share their common post-soviet legacy, economic and social upheavals, strong emigration and oftentimes difficult employment perspectives for the next generation. To foster transnational cooperation and mutual understanding between Germany and the region, youth exchange formats have proven to be immensely valuable. They create an environment in which young people are encouraged to be change-makers and stand up for freedom and human rights. It is therefore imperative that young people receive support, especially for projects and issues that are difficult to deal with in their own societies.
This online magazine will provide you a unique insight into the diversity and range of projects and people in the MEET UP! Youth for Partnership program through interviews with participants, portraits, country analyses, and project reports.
It also provides a platform for a very wide range of multimedia approaches and projects of various genres and themes, and includes all participating countries and perspectives. In keeping with the main principle of the program, the magazine has been produced with young people and partners. Come and join us to meet the courageous and wonderful people and learn about the projects and the MEET UP! Youth for Partnership program.
Warmest regards from the EVZ Foundation in Berlin,
Dr. Andrea Despot, CEO