“I was trained to kill Turks. These few days made me into a changed man,” says Greek Cypriot winner Andreas Polykarpou. For two years he was protecting, fully armed, the border dividing the Turkish from the Greek part of Cyprus. “All that time I wondered why I had to point my gun at the Turks. No one could give me the answer. Thank God I never had to shoot. Over here I have realised that we are no different from another. I can say from the bottom of my heart: I found a friend in Kaan, the Turkish winner.”
One cannot help to feel like a mom picking up her excited kid from boy scout camp, while talÂ¬king to the winners. They made new friends, expanded their views and crossed some boundaries. All agree that sharing information on each otherâ€™s country was the most valuable asset of this trip. A nice bonus were the good hotels, the good food and the interesting debates in and outside the conference rooms. “During the trip I learned that sharing views and history helps us to be more respectful of each otherâ€™s culture,” continues Andreas Polykarpou.
Belgian Annelien De Greef’s opinions were also challenged by the trip. “Just like my peers I thought that all Eastern countries would do everything to be part of the EU. Strangely the EurobaÂ¬rometer shows that only 30% of Croatians think they should join the EU and are quite apprehensive about it.” The involvement of the media and the corruption within the industry made her doubt about Croatia being ready for the accession.
Romanian Madalina-Daniela Mocanu was surprised by the hostile reactions the Romanian accession created in the ex-YuÂ¬goslav countries. “They believe it unfair we joined as we were not ready to join. But that is not important. Letâ€™s focus on what the EU has brought to Romania. Thanks to European funding our society and environment is changing a lot. The current canÂ¬didate countries also desperately need these funds to elevate their societies. Too many people in the Balkans are frustrated about their living conditions, and that is simply not healthy.”
Kaan Kosemehmet, the Turkish winner, concurs: “It is slightly worrisome to see that so many people and especially the youngÂ¬sters are still carrying a psychoÂ¬logical burden from the past civil wars. A large part of them is not truly happy with their lives. I am convinced that an accession to the Union would give them new perspectives.” When asked if Turkey should join, he is less straight-forward: “I think that nor the EU nor Turkey is ready for a unity. The EU has too much problems dealing with the internal issues the enlargement is causing, and Turkey has to put in more effort when it comes to social and human rights. But than again without the status of candidate country we would never have been at the level we are now when it comes to those rights.” To him the real European values are keeping oneâ€™s culture but investing in a fair world where social and human rights and equality are the corner stones. “We do not have to be a new United States of America, where everything is about money.”
The participants believe that there is a good future for the EU as young people these days are very open-minded to each otherâ€™s culture as they are able to travel all across Europe and beyond thanks to low-cost carriers. Lots of young people are also taking part in several Youth projects in the EU bringing new insights and values back home with them.
Danish Thomas Gam Nielsen, who lived in Macedonia for eight months working as a volunteer, has an inside view: “The Macedonians are really keen on joining because they are sure it will heighten their standards of living and decrease the level of unemployment and poverty.” He is also one of the few winners who actually travelled around the region prior to this trip: “Of course this trip is not represenÂ¬tative of how these countries really are. I would have been happy to stay in a less expensive hotel and instead have a longer and more in-depth trip. But it can be like planting a seed that grows into real interest in the region.”
By: Lien De Leenheer