Beyond the News

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Velociped Festival – or how to make a first step

Did you always want to organise something interesting and impactful? Do you have amazing ideas all the time and a burning desire to positively change your environment? But in the end, and out of different reasons, it rarely actually happens? This is how I and my friend Vlad felt half a year ago when we heard of an opportunity to get support from MitOst for a socially relevant project.
1-downhill-contestAn article by Mikalai Vincheuski, one of the organisers of the bicycle festival and MitOst member project “Velociped” that took place 20 to 21 August 2016 in Belarus 
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Tbilisi – Zwischen zwei Welten

Vom 5. bis zum 9. Oktober 2016 ist das Internationale MitOst-Festival zu Gast in Georgiens Hauptstadt Tbilisi. In diesem Jahr wird die Vielfalt gefeiert – in unserem MitOst-Netzwerk, in Europa, in Tbilisi. Erste Eindrücke aus der georgischen Hauptstadt.
David Mirvelashvili (3)

Ein Artikel von Margalita Japaridze (Festivalteam), zuerst erschienen in MitOst Magazin #28
Fotos: David Mirvelashvili, Aki Green

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Sparkle in the eye

Whenever I start a training session, the first question I ask my participants is: what is your trigger? What brings you to the point of making or creating something? How do you start working on your ideas?

Teo_Tbilisi

An article by Teona Dalakishvili, founder of Creative Development Center (Georgia) and member of the MitOst festival team 2016. The article was first published in MitOst Magazin #28
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Krieg:Spielen in der Ukraine – ein Fotoessay

Den Krieg spielen, spielerisch bekriegen, kriegerisches Spielzeug, bespieltes Kriegszeug.
Artikel und Fotos von Karsten Michael Drohsel

Ich bin in der glücklichen Situation, öfters in der Ukraine zu sein. Bei diesen Reisen und Arbeitsaufenthalten ist mir aufgefallen, dass es in ukrainischen Läden überproportional viel Kriegsspielzeug gibt und dass die Panzer und Waffen im öffentlichen Raum von Kindern gerne bespielt werden – meist animiert von den Eltern, die dann stolz Fotos machen.
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Fırsatı Yakala Turkey: non-violent communication in violent times

By Hatice Yildirim (coordination team of Take the Chance – Fırsatı Yakala, the Theodor-Heuss-Kolleg cooperation programme in Turkey)
military coupIn its fifth programme year in Turkey, the Take the Chance – Fırsatı Yakala coordination team had planned to have a special educational year for the participants and alumni. Our Kick-off Seminar was supposed to take place 14-20 July 2016 in Siirt, Southeast of Anatolia. When we facilitators arrived on 12 July for preparations, there was already a big fear because the Eastern part of Turkey was not so safe. In the beginning, everything was kind of normal, and although the last months in Turkey had passed with a lot of social problems, conflicts and terrorists attacks the participants were very motivated to attend the first seminar of the year.
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Мы строим мосты между людьми: Российско-украинская программа “Привычка думать / Звичка думати” 2016

Подготовила: Ирина Бобровская (03/2016)
“Привычка думать” – это программа по развитию критического мышления у молодых людей из России и Украины. Ее авторы – Тарас и Реваз из Киева и две Лены из Сибири – работают в сфере неформального образования молодежи. Помогают школьникам и студентам учиться самостоятельно мыслить, реализовывать собственные инициативы, взаимодействовать друг с другом, участвовать в международных проектах. Их связывают дружеские и профессиональные отношения. Для них “Привычка думать” – это способ повлиять на сложившуюся ситуацию между странами, возможность честного разговора и во многом личная история. Почему? Ответ в нашем интервью. Continue reading


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Each town or village can be the center of the world | Ukraine

Interview by Svitlana Oslavska with Olga Diatel and Alona Karavai, translated by Liubov Hryb. 

UkraineLab is an interdisciplinary platform for effective and sustainable networking, which creates space for dialogue between active representatives of different sectors of society in Ukraine.
In 2015 two forums were organised by UkraineLab. One in Kiev devoted to the best solutions for culture and civil society in post-crisis periods, the second one in Ivano-Frankivsk with focus on peace building strategies. This year the activities will be continued and new meetings will be arranged. In April UkraineLab will be held in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk. Alona Karavai and Olga Diatel, coordinators of the programme, explain specifics and characteristics of UkrianeLab, this year’s topics and expectations.

What is UkraineLab in brief?
Alona Karavai: UkraineLab is an interdisciplinary platform for smart networking and cross-sectorial cooperation of change makers as well as a think tank where visions and innovations for civil society and culture can be born. With UkraineLab we also create a safe space for people to share, to exchange about and to collect all kind of practices of local development and to test them where they may be the most necessary at the moment.
Olga Diatel: UkraineLab is a space where you can develop new professional relations and partnerships, which will make your work more effective in the future.

What impressions did you get after the first meetings in 2015 so far?
Olga Diatel: I was skeptical about the large number of people we planned with to take part. It is not easy to ensure an efficient process in such kind of situations. Yet at the first forum we managed to create an atmosphere of openness, personal responsibility and everyone was very cooperative. Our aim and the aim of UkraineLab is to build a network of people, and I think we manage to build it step by step.
Alona Karavai: The second forum was organised as a kind of a partnership fair. It emerged people have a great actual need of building deliberate partnerships. Usually people partnering up right before the start of a project and they do not discuss their aims and values beforehand. This causes often the opposite of a long term and trustful partnership which would have the potential to create some impact. The format of the partnership fair will be further developed, so in Kramatorsk and Slovyansk participants will have more opportunities to present themselves, get to know each other and exchange.

Why have you chosen the topic “The development of local communities” for the upcoming meeting?
Alona Karavai: We actually asked the participants during the second forum in Ivano-Frankivsk 2015 where we already started to plan the next steps for 2016.
Olga Diatel: A lot of them mentioned they would like be involved somehow in the everyday life of communities in the town where the forum takes place and they want to share something with the residents. So we decided to give it a try and to work with local communities. And we see it anyway as an emerging topic which is quite important for our work.

Which social challenges you have in mind thinking about UkrianeLab?
Alona Karavai: I think that UkraineLab is facing social challenges such as the lack of communication between people and poor quality of communication. Obviously people do not communicate with each other even in small communities you can observe this phenomenon parties from different sectors of society or different social layers are not coming together.
Olga Diatel: In my opinion every place has its own potential. And it depends on the people who live there to which extent this potential is used. I would like to work with tools and ideas from the field of local actions and with capabilities that can develop the potential of a city or a village. My personal experience: it doesn’t matter whether you live in a city or in a village, if you have a good idea, people from all over the world come visit and join you. Each town or village can be the center of the world if you live there and develop it.

Why have you chosen Kramatorsk and Slavyansk for the next meeting?
Olga Diatel: “We should do like ordinary people: organise meetings in Kiev and house all participants in one hotel” – we often joke about how and especially where we organise our events. To be serious, in Kramatorsk, in this region we are running the projects “Rural Initiatives Workshop” and “Сultivator”. So we know a lot of locals and we are in close contact with them.
Kramatorsk and Slavyansk are located on the so-called periphery. Due to this fact there are a lot of challenges. On the one hand a lot of people have emigrated. On the other hand, in Kramatorsk you can feel some kind of energy and something positive is up. In fact there are a lot of problems also a lot of ideas appear. And you may become part of it.
UkraineLab will take place in two cities in the region: In Kramatorsk and Slavyansk. People will stay in both cities as well as the activities of working groups. We decided so because we cannot stay with 120 people in one city , so we use the potential of both cities. This is certainly not the easiest nor the most practical solution to organise and also for the participants. Yet it provides the opportunity to learn more about the region.

How exactly will the participants work with the local communities?
Olga Diatel: We will work in thematic groups and we organise workshops, which we call “local actions”. The workshops will combine theory and practice. We expect participants working hand in hand with local initiatives and organisations to make these “local actions” most effective.
UkraineLab is a format and network, which is shaped by its participants. We already ask in the application to bring in own ideas for workshops. And these workshops can engage a lot of people. So we are looking for people who understand this approach, who are open-minded, curious and like to create something together.
And don’t be afraid to visit Kramatorsk.

In September will UkraineLab meet in Berlin. Can you already tell us about it?
Alona Karavai: For now the working title is “Ukraine – the EU: Lessons that have (not) been learned”. We want to look at things that have changed in the discourse “Ukraine – European idea – the EU”. We will include also the topic “Subjectivity and introspection of Ukraine” as we find the discussion about the perception of Ukriane as an subject important in European context.  We want to consolidate most of the Ukrainian and Pro-Ukrainian figures in Berlin, in Germany, in order to create a significant event together. There are only few Ukrainian events in Berlin. And of course, we hope the Ukrainian organisations will be interested in exchanging experience, and willing to see how everything works in Berlin as well as to find partners. We would like to gain attention, we would like to be heard in Berlin.

You can find more information at www.dialogue-for-change.org/en and at Facebook UkraineLab. UkraineLab is part of the project “Dialogue for Change” which is designed to help overcome social cleavage by a strengthening of civil society and dialogue in Ukraine.


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UkraineLab: “We are not going to leave” | Ukraine

by Svitlana Oslavska, published in Ukrainian at zbruc.eu on 6th of April 2015. Translation into English yb Liubov Hryb and proof reading by Maciej Głomb.

“Leave this country while you are young. Nothing will be changed here” – the taxi driver was convincing me on the way to the forum “Ukraine Lab: Best practices and interdisciplinary approaches to civil society and culture in crisis and post-crisis times”. A bit hesitantly – it is pretty hard to argue with taxi drivers – I answered that I have stuff to do in Ukraine. And meeting around fifty more people at the UkraineLab that also know why they are here, I was picturing our response to the taxi driver that would be more convincing.

People were coming to the forum in order to discuss how independent cultural initiatives can endure and what is the meaning of NGOs’ work during the war. This forum is the first step of the project Dialogue for Change, organised by German association MitOst and the Ukrainian organisation Insha Osvita.

Why is this event different from lots of other meetings and seminars, and why should we talk about it? Forum mediator Ivanna Chupak partially answered the first question. “There are many forums for activists in Ukraine, but it’s rarely possible to find a format comfortable for everyone. Such a mixture of disciplines and topics is enriching”. Indeed, the forum brought together leaders from the public sector such as Crimea SOS, AHALAR Center, “Fond Klychka” (“Klitschko’s Fund”) –, independent media and cultural initiatives such as Art-Dvir (Art Yard) in Buchach, online magazines Ufra and Khmarochos (Skyscraper), Kyiv Theatre for Dialogue and others), as well as representatives of government agencies like the Department of Culture of the Lviv city council. I want to answer as a member of the forum as to what is its meaning.

“We have changed a lot”

The main thing that happened at the UkraineLab is the manifestation of the fact that almost fifty cultural and public figures remain here, willing to change the country without pathos, with small steps. It’s like we say to each other as well as to the taxi driver, “We do not agree with the fact that” everything is as before and nothing has changed because we have changed a lot. UkraineLab can be called a statement that denies the gloom. We look into each other’s eyes and honestly say, “We do not plan to leave, at least for now”. And we can even give the examples: here is the organiser of the festival “Respublika” in Kamianets-Podilsky Andrii Zakharko who came back to Ukraine after living ten years abroad.

Alona Karavai, programme coordinator of the project Dialogue for Change: “We developed this project in May 2014 as a platform which would bring leaders from different sectors together, those who want to share ideas how to work in Ukraine under these conditions and those who have open eyes and hearts to think about it together. We wanted to understand what to do after the crisis in Ukraine in 2016 or 2020, but one event is not enough to find the answer. First, we need to work long and hard, analysing what we have done during the last 16 months, and only then we can talk about the future. At the next forum, we are going to think more about the future vision, and we plan to invite organisations that finance projects for them to see what we need.
The interest in Ukraine has increased in Germany where I work. This leads to the fact that organisations that have never worked in Ukraine before have no Ukrainian partners; they come to Ukraine with external concepts and leave after three months. These are wasted resources. The main value for us is networking. If there are horizontal contacts, there will be a vision and joint projects.”

According to everything that was said at the UkraineLab, we see three most necessary needs for activists:

  • to reflect critically on the activities of NGOs;
  • to plan cultural initiatives map of Ukraine;
  • and what seems to be an obvious thing, to create a dialogue between the conventional: the centre and the periphery, junior and senior generations, east and west of Ukraine.

Errors and cynicism of ogranisations operating in conflict areas

What is the sense of countless trainings, seminars, workshops, meetings, forums and a dozen of other “creative” forms on the use of Western donors in post-socialist countries? The lecture of Polish-Georgian activist Marta Gawinek-Dagargulia pushed all to reflect on the efficiency of what is done in the public sector. Marta works in Zugdidi near the Abkhaz-Georgian border, where there are 36 NGOs, and only three or four of them are active according to her.

The example of Georgia clearly shows errors and cynicism of organisations operating in conflict areas. Once the problems are solved, journalists and NGOs leave the territory although the activities of NGOs make sense only if conflict is prolonged and regular. Another problem is the real participation of those whom the projects are created for to help. Most organisations work off the grant, and it does not matter how people are actually involved and who is involved exactly. The third problem is the equitable distribution of resources. Western donors are willing to give huge grants, and small organisations are not able to get them. “Who is getting all those big sums of money? Where are the results of the projects funded by Western donors in Luhansk and Donetsk regions?” asked Jaroslav Minkin, Chairman of Youth Association “STAN”.

Another problem of NGOs in post-conflict areas is the exploitation of the victims. We understand that grant money has flowed to Ukraine now for projects related to internally displaced people. Speaking without euphemisms, there is demand for immigrants. Organisations must understand the responsibility of their activities not to evoke the feeling like “they came to us, used and threw us away”, told the Moderator of Ukraine Lab from Tbilisi Teona Dalakishvili.

A cultural map of Ukraine

The other question that the most cultural leaders are interested in is the need to realise what is going on in the cultural sphere in different parts of Ukraine. In other words, it is a good idea to have something like a cultural map of Ukraine. Ukrainian Cultural Network (the project of the Centre for Cultural Management in Lviv) made an attempt to implement it, but languidly and without enthusiasm. Today it is clear that low-cost flights in the near future will connect the East and the West, the North and the South, so we want to see what is happening and where, at least online. Maybe we need a social network just for cultural activists? Today, thanks to personal relationships, we learn what is happening in other regions in Ukraine, but still it is impossible to see the whole picture. After all, Ukraine is not unique in this regard, but that was us who desperately felt the need to communicate, know and understand how other cities and parts of the country live.

Another aspect of this problem is those cultural sector workers or activists who due to various reasons are now living at Crimea and on the occupied territories in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Now it just looks like we want to simply forget that they exist. However, the experience of the same Abkhazia shows, if we lose these contacts, a few years later no dialogue will be possible at all. At the same time, it is unclear how to speak to each other, how both parties should overcome emotions and despair.

“The goal of UkraineLab is to create common space for people who could share experiences and give people time to reflect on their location relative to others, feel that they are not alone”, says Anastasia Maksymova, the Moderator of UkraineLab.

Processes in Kiev are no less important than those occuring in the regions

UkraineLab introduced people from Chernihiv, Ostroh, Kremenchuh, Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, and gave them time and space to talk. Kharkiv Theatre “Na Zhukah”, Kiev Theatre for Dialogue and Playback Theatre “Plemia” from Chernivtsi got to know what everyone else was doing. Ostroh media laboratory J-Lab acquainted with Ivano-Frankivsk independent magazine Ufra. There was a dialogue not only between people from different  regions. People from Kiev saw that we also have good initiatives in distant areas – where you cannot go to by fast trains – which develop the smaller cities in the regions and which did not tend to leave to the centre, to Kiev. It gives a chance to understand that processes in the capital are no less important than those occurring in the region of Rivne like the Buchach Art-Yard or Pluhaky craft farm.

“My German colleague from MitOst, who occasionally comes to Ukraine, said that earlier at the forums for organisations he saw that people were not willing to cooperate by analysing their body language. Now he has noticed that people are completely open and realise that we have to help each other. I would like it to turn into a culture of consolidation”, says Alona Karavai.

The fact that large organisations are willing to share experience and self-organised initiatives are developing once again proves that there are new meanings and actions emerging in Ukraine. At the same time, I felt the absence of the representatives of the platform developing the culture strategy “Culture-2025” and Culture Activists Congress, whose meeting was held at the same time as the UkraineLab. Despite all the talks of unity, it is clear that we continue to exist in isolation – although no longer alone, but separately in little groups.

UkraineLab is an interdisciplinary platform for a smart networking and cross-sectorial cooperation of change makers as well as a think tank where visions and innovations for civil society and culture in Ukraine can be born. In the pilot year of 2015 the programme started with two big cross-sectorial forums:
“UkraineLab: Best practices and interdisciplinary approaches in the civil society and culture for the (after)-crisis period” im March 2015 in Kiev and “UkraineLab: Visions for peace-building and the new role of civil society and culture” in September 2015 in Iwano-Frankiwsk. Besides of this two big cross-sectorial forums an event was organised in May 2015 in Cherksay dedicated especially for facilitators and educators: “Non-formal education. Methods. Reality. Future”.

Read more about the development of UkraineLab in 2016: coordinators Olga Diatel and Alona Karavei share specifics and characteristics of UkrianeLab, this year’s topics and expectations in Each town or villag can be the center of the world | Ukraine.

 


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Kreativkreis und Bonanza – über kulturelle und sprachliche Grenzen hinweg | Deutschland

Die meisten Flüchtlinge haben Skandinavien und Deutschland als Ziel. Wie sieht die Situation aus, nachdem sie die Erstaufnahmeeinrichtungen verlassen haben? Wie leben Deutsche aktive Bürgerschaft, um ihnen bei der Integration zu helfen und welche Erfahrungen machen sie damit? Martin Hofmann hat eine ehrenamtliche Helferin in Griesheim dazu interviewt. Anne wohnt in Griesheim, einer Kleinstadt im Rhein-Main-Gebiet in der Nähe von Darmstadt.

Guten Morgen! Was sollten unsere Leser über dich wissen?
Ich heiße Anne und lebe in Griesheim, wo ich auch aufgewachsen bin. Meine Mutter ist Amerikanerin, mein Vater ist Deutscher. Ich bin verheiratet und habe zwei Kinder. Von Beruf bin ich Lehrerin an einem Gymnasium. Dort unterrichte ich Englisch, meine Muttersprache, und Religion, meine Herzensangelegenheit, da ich schon seit meiner Kindheit in der evangelischen Kirche aktiv bin.

Neben deiner Arbeit und deiner Familie leitest du auch ehrenamtlich einen Kreativkreis für Frauen, die gerade nach Deutschland geflohen sind. Wie bist du dazu gekommen?
Zum einen bin ich selbst gerne kreativ, zum anderen habe ich immer wieder beobachtet, dass Frauen überall auf der Welt Freude daran haben gemeinsam Handarbeiten zu machen. Dabei sitzen sie zusammen und schwätzen. In Italien gibt es sogar ein Wort für eine Klöppelspitze, die heißt chiacchierata und das bedeutet „Geschwätz“. Das gemeinsame Handarbeiten ist offenbar ein Konzept, das um den ganzen Globus funktioniert.

Ich habe mich dann gefragt, ob ich so etwas auch für die Frauen unter den Flüchtlingen in Griesheim anbieten kann. Denn der Großteil der Geflüchteten hier sind Männer und für sie gibt es Angebote wie Fußball, Fahrrad fahren usw..
Für die Frauen gab es nichts. Und so entstand die Idee, gemeinsam mit anderen Frauen, die auch gerne Handarbeit machen und die etwas für die Flüchtlinge tun wollen, einen Kreativkreis zu initiieren. Wir haben uns gesagt: „Wir machen einen Kreis, wo wir einfach das tun, was Frauen auf der ganzen Welt sowieso schon machen. Wir laden diese Frauen ein und machen zusammen Handarbeit.“

Und wie wurde diese Idee angenommen?
Sehr gut. Das Material, inklusive Nähmaschine haben wir erstaunlicherweise sofort gespendet bekommen. Am Ende wurde so viel gespendet, dass die Lagerung zur Herausforderung wurde. Seit dem finden die Treffen alle zwei Wochen in unserer Kirchengemeinde statt. Den Ort haben wir sehr bewusst gewählt, wir wollten ein Zeichen der Kirchen setzen – wir sind ein Anlaufpunkt für Menschen und setzen uns für sie ein.

Wir laden nur Frauen ein, weil die meisten von ihnen aus Kulturen stammen, in denen Frauen und Männer im Alltag stark getrennt sind. Wir schaffen damit einen sicheren Raum und es herrscht untereinander eine Vertrautheit, die sonst nicht so leicht entstehen würde – trotz Sprachbarrieren. Zum Kreativkreis kommen auch Mütter, die teilweise ihre Kinder mitbringen. Sie sind uns besonders wichtig. Wir wollen ihnen zwei Stunden alle vierzehn Tage bieten können, in denen sie etwas für sich machen können, ohne sich ständig um ihre Kinder zu kümmern.

Ab und zu bekommen wir auch Besuch von einem Mann, der Schneider in Afghanistan war, doch sobald er dabei ist sind die Gespräche ganz andere und auch die Frauen verhalten sich anders.

Der Kreativkreis war zuerst als Projekt bis zum Sommer geplant. Es hat dann so einen Anklang gefunden, dass wir es zum festen Programmbestandteil gemacht haben. Unser Team ist übrigens ökumenisch, es arbeiten also Frauen aus der katholischen, der evangelischen Kirche und der Freikirchen zusammen. Und das funktioniert sehr gut.

Wie kann man sich so ein Treffen im Kreativkreis denn vorstellen?
Wir sind insgesamt sieben Frauen in unserem Team. Wir bereiten alles vor und fahren auch zu der Flüchtlingsunterkunft und holen die Frauen dort ab. Manche finden noch nicht den Weg zu uns und andere brauchen den persönlichen Kontakt als Motivation. Das ist ein relativ großer logistischer Aufwand, den wir aber gerne betreiben damit die Frauen zu uns kommen.
Mein zehnjähriger Sohn kocht Tee für die Frauen. Diese Aufgabe ist ihm sehr, sehr wichtig weil er so das Gefühl hat, dass er auch etwas tun kann. Er bekommt durch die täglichen Nachrichten mit, wie schlecht es vielen Flüchtlingen geht.
Zu Beginn des Kreativkreises singen wir immer gemeinsam. Mit Hilfe von Bildern stellen wir uns danach den neuen Frauen in der Gruppe vor und warum wir diesen Kreis anbieten. Wir erzählen auch unsere Beweggründe, als Frauen und als Christinnen mit verschiedenen Hintergründen.

Und dann geht es los. Die Frauen fangen an zu nähen, zu basteln, zu stricken, zu schneidern.

Bei unseren Treffen stoßen wir auf beiden Seiten immer wieder auf kulturellen Ungewöhnlichkeiten. Für die Frauen ist es ungewöhnlich, dass wir immer zur verabredeten Uhrzeit beginnen, auch wenn oft noch Frauen später hinzukommen. Für uns ist es ungewöhnlich, dass im Schnitt bestimmt fünf Stücke Zucker in einer Teetasse laden, weshalb mein Sohn zu Tee und Gebäck immer eine riesige Schüssel mit Zucker auf den Tisch stellt.


Arbeitet ihr gemeinsam an Projekten oder macht jede Frau, worauf sie Lust hat?
Wir finden es wichtig, dass wir etwas gemeinsam machen. Bei jedem Treffen haben wir ein bestimmtes Projekt. Wir nähen ein Schlüsselband, ein Lavendelsäckchen, einen Handtuchturban, eine Dokumentenmappe oder wir basteln Schultüten für Flüchtlingskinder. Wir erklären das Projekt zu Beginn und zeigen auf Bildern, wie es funktioniert und dann machen wir das zusammen. Und dann setzen wir es gemeinsam um. Einigen Frauen müssen wir gar nicht helfen, andere brauchen dagegen sehr viel Hilfe, weil sie beispielsweise zum ersten Mal eine Schere in den Händen halten.

Du hast vorhin Sprachbarrieren erwähnt. Wie verständigt ihr euch mit den Frauen und auch die Frauen untereinander? Wie funktioniert die Kommunikation bei euren Treffen?
Wir versuchen so gut es geht miteinander ins Gespräch zu kommen. Auch hier ist es ganz unterschiedlich: Einige Frauen sprechen schon ein wenig Deutsch, andere sprechen Englisch. In der Regel funktioniert es ganz gut, wenn auch manchmal über „Umwege“ und in Gruppen. Wir haben ein Sprachtandem mit einer Frau aus Eritrea und einer Frau aus Somalia, die sich auf Italienisch miteinander unterhalten. Die Eritreerin hat sechs Jahre in Italien gelebt bevor sie nach Deutschland kam. Und die Frau aus Somalia war drei Jahre lang in einem Flüchtlingslager in Kalabrien in Süditalien. Das ist sehr wertvoll, weil es für uns die einzige Möglichkeit ist, mit der Eritreerin zu sprechen, sie kann weder Deutsch noch Englisch. Ich spreche glücklicherweise einigermaßen gut Italienisch und kann mich so mit ihr unterhalten.

Worüber unterhaltet ihr euch?
Wir unterhalten uns wenig über ganz persönliche Themen. Wir fragen ganz bewusst nicht nach der Flucht, wir wollen dass die Frauen nur darüber reden, wenn sie es von sich aus möchten. Natürlich fragen wir sie trotzdem, wie es ihnen geht, fragen nach ihren Kindern, wie die Unterkunft ist und wie es mit den Behörden läuft.

Und es ergeben sich natürlich typische Gespräche. Die Frauen bemerken, dass eine von uns Diät hält und fragen „Du dünner?“. „Ja, ich habe fünf Kilo abgenommen“, und dann fragen die Frauen „Wie du machen? Sport und keine Schokolade?“. Das sind offenbar ganz universale Themen, genauso wie beispielsweise Kinder und Schwangerschaft. Fast jede hat eine Geschichte beizutragen und erzählt mit Händen und Füßen. Erst vor kurzem hatten wir eine lustige Begebenheit: Das Handy einer Deutschen aus unserem Team klingelte und spielte dabei die Bonanza-Melodie. Alle Frauen fingen an zu lachen und sagten: „Oh, Bonanza.“ Und auf einmal gab es da etwas, das uns verband, weil wir es alle kannten. Selbst so etwas Banales wie Bonanza kann eine gemeinsame Basis schaffen. Irgendwie funktioniert das also immer mit der Kommunikation.

Selbst die Frauen aus Eritrea oder Afghanistan kannten Bonanza?
Ja natürlich, auch sie kannten Bonanza.

Wie viele Frauen kommen zum Kreativkreis?
Das ist ganz unterschiedlich. Manchmal sind es dreizehn Frauen und manchmal nur fünf. Die Gruppe verändert sich, einige kommen öfter und wir kennen ihre Namen, andere Frauen sind schon abgeschoben worden.

Wie viele Flüchtlinge sind momentan in Griesheim?
In der Unterkunft leben im Moment 180 Personen. Soweit ich weiß, sind 80 % von ihnen Männer. Von den Flüchtlingen haben viele, die bleiben dürfen inzwischen auch eine eigene Wohnung. So sind es bestimmt insgesamt über 200 Flüchtlinge, die in Griesheim leben. Und Griesheim hat 30.000 Einwohner.

Ihr macht diese Arbeit ja ganz bewusst als Frauen aus den verschiedenen christlichen Kirchen. Kannst du sagen, wie sich die deutschen Kirchen zur Flüchtlingssituation äußern?
So viel bekommen wir nicht mit. Bei uns in der Gemeinde besteht große Bereitschaft Flüchtlingen zu helfen. Ich weiß, dass der Arbeitskreis Asyl in Griesheim sagt, ohne die Unterstützung des ökumenischen Helferkreises hätten sie große Probleme. Für unsere Arbeit im Kreativkreis bekommen wir einen finanziellen Zuschuss von der evangelischen Kirche, weil wir ökumenische arbeiten und uns für Flüchtlinge einsetzen.

Von der katholischen Kirche weiß ich, dass Papst Franziskus dazu aufgefordert hat, dass jede katholische Kirchengemeinde eine Flüchtlingsfamilie aufnehmen soll. Und er praktiziert das auch selbst, zwei Flüchtlingsfamilien haben nun ein Zuhause im Umfeld der zwei Kirchen des Vatikans gefunden.

Und wie reagieren die Menschen in Griesheim auf die ankommenden Flüchtlinge?
Da schlagen bei den meisten zwei Seelen in einer Brust, zum einen sagen sie „Natürlich müssen wir ihnen helfen!“ Viele bringen dabei auch eigene oder familiäre Erfahrungen von der Flucht nach dem zweiten Weltkrieg mit. Zum anderen gibt es aber Ängste vor behördlichen Hürden. Es gibt Ängste vor den Differenzen der kulturellen Hintergründe, gerade im Hinblick auf die vielen männlichen Flüchtlinge. Und viele sind verunsichert, weil der größte Anteil der Flüchtlinge muslimisch ist. Diese Ängste spüre ich auch manchmal in mir, und sie sollten klar benannt werden, so dass sie mich nicht von meinem Einsatz für die Frauen abhalten.

In Deutschland leben ja schon länger Muslime zum Beispiel aus der Türkei oder auch aus dem Balkan. Warum denkst du, kommt nun trotzdem diese Angst auf, obwohl man im Alltag den Kontakt ja eigentlich schon gewohnt ist?
Ich denke, einerseits über die Medien. Andererseits hatten wir in unserer Gegend teils sehr aggressive missionarische Einsätze von Salafisten auf großen öffentlichen Plätzen und das ist eine Sache, die man im Auge behalten sollte.

Deine Mutter ist Amerikanerin, gibt es in deiner Familie sonst noch Erfahrungen mit Migration oder Flucht?
Ja, mein Vater musste 1945 mit seiner Familie aus dem Osten in den Westen Deutschlands fliehen. Er weiß, wie es ist seine Heimat verlassen zu müssen. Und auch meine Mutter kann gut nachvollziehen, wie es ist, nach Deutschland zu kommen – die Sprache nicht zu sprechen und die Menschen nicht verstehen zu können.

Zum Schluss: Was sind deine schönsten Momente im Kreativkreis?
Ich freue mich jedes Mal, wenn eine der Frauen eine Bastelei fertig hat. Wenn ich das sehe, gehe ich hin und halte es hoch und sage zum Beispiel: „Eine Stofftasche ist fertig.“ Und dann ist es mittlerweile Tradition, dass der ganze Raum applaudiert. Das ist eine Sprache, die versteht jeder.


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Belarus’ most progressive activists: The “Zmahary”

by Konstanty Chodkowski, originated for the project belarus-votes.org and published at the same-named blog.

Some consider them to be national heroes. For others, they are an object of jokes and ridicule. Sometimes they are depicted as Belarusian hard-liners, sometimes as nationalists and internet trolls. Meet the “Zmahary”.

It is a relaxing evening conversation in a small kitchen in one of those typical Soviet panel flats. It is located in the center of the eastern Belarusian city of Vitebsk. After another cup of tea, Irina, a young Belarusian student, starts telling the story of the “Zmahary” and their tradition. The word comes from Belarusian “змагацца”, which basically means “to struggle”, “to wrestle” or “to fight for something”. What they do is “Zmaharstvo” – “zmaharing”, or simply “struggling”. From their point of view, it means to do everything possible to reach the goal that everybody is dreaming of: to live in a free and independent Belarus. But a lot of people consider this phenomenon to be just one more example of democratic and powerless trolling, especially on the internet.

To be a “zmahar” means to disagree on the current authoritarian regime and to act against it in every possible way. This definition was also recently widespread on the well-known blog “1863x” as the “Zmahar manifesto”. It states: “We don’t want to adapt to, neither to serve this regime. We want to keep our lives under our control. We don’t want to live under any master. We need nothing more than dignity and freedom”.

A meeting with a “Zmahar”

Vova in the Center of Modern Art in Vitebsk (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Vova in the Center of Modern Art in Vitebsk (Photo: Marco Fieber)

To find those “Zmahars” in daily life is not that hard. We found Vova. At first, he seems to be a blurry mixture of an activist being politically crazy, deeply engaged, and alternative. But after some time the picture gets clearer. Vova is an ordinary guy, living in Vitebsk since his early childhood. He is quite young, seriously-looking, well-educated and experienced and just started to work in the local public museum. What is unusual about him is his consistent use of the Belarusian language, even when his friends are asking questions in Russian. That must be hard to maintain. This is especially the case for Vitebsk, where almost every local speaks Russian in everyday life.
Vova describes himself as a cultural manager, not as a political activist. “My life experience is centered mostly on organizing cultural or mass events across the town. Concerts, festivals and banquets – this is my daily bread”. So where is “Zmaharstvo” in this kind of activity?

In talk with the author (Photo: Marco Fieber)

In talk with the author (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Center of Modern Art in Vitebsk, Vova shows his workplace. The museum is located in the city center, in an old, tsarist building. At the first glance, it looks like a quiet and peaceful place. This impression changes when you enter the rooms. Every one of them is full of different kinds of tools and artwork, designed and arranged in different ways. Every corner is full of paintings, every wall full of colors. One can feel the atmosphere of artistic rebellion. In such a small and narrow place they managed to set up a well-organized art manufactory, several galleries, permanent exhibitions and even a showroom.

“We don’t want this city to be boring”

The whole place was established by Vova’s friends – other “Zmahars”. They have created it from scratch. All they had in the beginning was an empty, decaying building. Vova denies working for the state, he prefers the term with the state: “In the past few years I had to learn to cooperate”. But “to cooperate” does not mean “to give up”, he adds. It means rather “to choose a more effective and more constructive way of changing the reality surrounding us”. That is what he is doing, running a modern, European art center in the unfavourable Belarusian environment. No grants, no modern financing. Just a low-budget state institution. “It’s very tough work, but we don’t want this city to be boring. Every citizen has the right to consume culture on the same level as they do in Paris or Berlin”, he says.

“In Belarus you can do everything you want – but not politics”

Vova arranges a meeting with one of his friends. Vitaliy is a former political activist, persecuted by the regime in the past, now developing his entrepreneurship and acting together with Vova in the civic initiative “Vitebsk4Me”. Vitaliy welcomes his guests in his soon-to-be-opened bar arranged in an Irish-pub-style. But still, the atmosphere is very similar to that in the Center of Modern Art: a creative mess.

Sitting in his future pub: Vitaliy (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Sitting in his future pub: Vitaliy (Photo: Marco Fieber)

It has been a long way there. Together with his friends, Vitaliy was engaged in several alternative, leftist initiatives. Then he joined Aleksandr Milinkevich’s team for the presidential campaign back in 2006. After that, Vitaliy was subjected to political persecution. A few times he was temporarily arrested for illegal political activities. After these experiences, he decided to change his way of acting and became a professional manager instead of a political activist. Now, Vitaly sees himself as an artist and event manager. He invested his time and money to establish a constructive civic organization that has soon turned into a prosperous business. Many other “Zmahars” chose similar paths.

More than trolling

It does not take much time to recognize that “Zmahars” are also objects of jokes and ridicules, especially on the internet. One of the most popular jokes is the following: “How many “Zmahars” does it take to change a bulb? – None, because “Zmahars” cannot change anything”. This view refers to the stereotype of an oppositionist who is active mostly during political meetings and in social media. It displays an image of activists focusing on criticizing the current Belarusian authorities while not having competitive political ideas. Their activities are considered as primitive “political trolling”. But that is not the whole truth. The “Zmahars” have simply changed their strategy of transforming the society. What connects Vova, Vitaliy and many other “Zmahars” in Belarus is their strong will to make this country a better place to live.

Young artists from Vitebsk paint their latest artwork. (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Young artists from Vitebsk paint their latest artwork. (Photo: Marco Fieber)

It doesn’t matter if their activities are about establishing a cultural center or a prospering pub. All they are doing is focused on the idea of deeper change. That is “Zmaharstvo” itself – forming a new space for freedom and civic society, for real social development. In a country like Belarus they are forced to do this on their own. To be more effective, they need to put away all the classic methods of political fight. As Vitaliy says: “You cannot exist in a permanent state of war against the government. Sooner or later you will realise that you need compromises to make it all work.”

Konstanty Chodkowski is a journalist for Eastbook.eu and member of the Polish Geopolitical Association.

The initiative and porject “Belarus Votes: 2015 Election Blog” was supported in the framewokr of MitOst memebers project. A 15-member editorial team of students,young journalists and election observers from Belarus, Germany and Poland traveled to Belarus to deliver a wide range of reports and authentic stories about the presidential election held on 11 October 2015 from on the ground. You can read more at http://www.belarus-votes.org. The reports and stories are published in German, English, Polish and Russian. The project is a joint Belarusian-German-Polish initiative created by Libereco – Partnership for Humans Rights (Germany), StudAlliance with support of EOTP project (Belarus) and Common Europe Foundation / Eastbook.eu (Poland). Media partners are Network for Reporting on Eastern Europe (n-ost), Belarus in Focus and New Eastern Europe.