For Kostas Sianopoulos its the fifth year of dealing with youth exchanges particularly with Greek-German ones. Why? It is his origin from Lechovo, Florina, a village known for its culture of remembrance. There he discovered that exchanges of youngsters can provide solutions for a lot of problems – if they are given the correct stimuli.
Implementing youth exchanges and consultations for me is a necessity. They have a positive effects on both, countries and societies in general in bilateral relations. The relations between Greece and Germany have changed in waves, including wars and a brutal time of occupation during World War II. In recent years Greece has been plagued by the economic crisis, which led to the manifestation of new stereotypes and tarnished the relations of the two countries.
Are exchanges a promising instrument to tackle these problems?
During the programs I participated, the youngsters learnt how to explore the history of their country properly and then within the project they discover unknown aspects of the history of their country of origin. Additionally they learn about the culture and everyday life of the host country. This is very important because through the exchange prejudices and stereotypes that have been ingrained in both societies in recent decades begin to dissipate once they made personal experiences with the locals.
I have seen that the participants broaden their horizons and create new and more realistic goals for their future. Such programs are even more important since thriving economic crisis enables young people to travel freely to other European countries. I believe that the participation in such programs contribute to eliminating nationalist ideologies that in recent years have been on the rise across Europe.
Time for more collaboration
The last five years we realized youth exchanges with German organizations on the topics of history and memory. Seeing that the biggest thorn in Greek-German relations is the Third Reich and the time of occupation in which thousands of Greeks were executed by the occupying forces, it is time for both sides to collaborate more intense with sensitivity and responsibility instead of isolation and unilateral moves.
I want to end my first blog post with the words of the former President of the Greek Republic, Karolos Papoulias. In a meeting with his German counterpart in September 2014 he said: „Exchange programs allow new generations through personal contact to experience the diversity of lifestyles and attitudes of partners. The experiences gained from these exchanges will lead young people to the conclusion that the elements that unite us are so that our future can only be public.“
Text and picture: Konstantinos Sianopoulos
This blog post is part of a small series, where young people share their perspectives on living together in Europe.