The Guest Blog

Guest blogpost by Erik Redli, a Slovak journalist. He looks at the Danube Bridges project, the Slovak Charlemagne Youth Prize 2014.

Negative experience from the conflict in former Yugoslavia points to the necessity of connecting the young generation of the nations that found themselves in a conflict. This is the main idea behind Danube Bridges project for the students from Slovakia and Hungary, Slovak national winner of the European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2014.

Every year since 1950, an important European personality is awarded the Charlemagne Prize named after the king Charles the Great. But Europe is not only the politicians. The main driving force is the young people, who also have their own award – the European Charlemagne Youth Price. It has own ceremony which took place on 27th May 2014 in Aachen. One of the speakers, rector of Aachen University Ernst Schmachtenberg, mentioned the recent improvements and called Europe to harness the potential and do away with the barriers. ‘If we don’t encourage the young to cross the barriers, they will stay confined to reading the biased euro sceptic columns’, he said.

The above words are the most important idea behind the bilateral conference between the Slovaks and Hungarians. There has been an alleged tension in the southern parts of Slovakia for years, but in most cases it is just inflated by the politicians and lobbies in order to detract the attention from other issues. Still, they did not come to any solution, which is a pity, and the prejudices and bias scuppers our children. Currently, the problem of international tolerance concerns also those in the eastern Ukraine, said Michal Plichta, one of the masterminds behind Danube Bridges, who represented Slovakia at the ceremony in Aachen.

Several of the projects focused on the problem of doing away with the barriers between the nations. In an interview, Michal described the whole project more in detail. The initial idea was a reaction to the growing tensions on both banks of the Danube river – in Hungary and Slovakia. This is the origin of the name Danube Bridges. Several conflicts aroused the interest of the media and nationalist politicians from both countries used the rumour to second their opinions. Consequently, the political influence infected the minds of the critical mass and this is where the young people pick up the wrong stereotypes.

Michal and his affiliates organized a security conference Common Imperative for Common Future where they got the idea to prolong it into a long term project. As he said, ‘it is a good way how educate the next generation of the decision makers. If the young intellectuals are brought up in the atmosphere of cooperation and understanding, they will seek diplomatic solutions in the future conflicts ‘ The principles from Slovak- Hungarian relationship can be applied to wider European community, for example to the Greeks and Turks in Cyprus or the Ukrainian conflict, looming just few hundreds of kilometres from Slovak borders.

Danube Bridges is supervised by a non-governmental organization- Euro Atlantic Centre in SVK and students of the Corvinus University in Budapest, Hungary. Moreover, they are supported by Slovak Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Hungarian embassy and corporate partners. Thereby they have a chance to get into the mainstream. And they also hope to solve the future problems in a diplomatic way. ‘The dialogues in the Slovak-Hungarian neighbourhood are a testimony that the message is spreading.

The next step should be the Cross-border Cooperation Programme between Slovakia, Hungary and Austria that supports projects in the border region between the three countries, as well as the activities within the EU. It is a part of the European Territorial Co-operation objective, with the main aim to ‘reduce the negative effects of borders as administrative, legal and physical barriers, tackle common problems and exploit untapped potential.’ As we can see, except of decreasing the ethnic tensions, it is aimed at economy. Cooperation and sharing the resources is more profitable in the long term than the politics of protectionism and isolation. Similarly, people living in balanced economy are more willing to enter the international dialogue. The Cross-border Cooperation Conference will be held in Bratislava on 24 – 25 October 2014.

This article was submitted as a guest blogpost and published unedited.

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