Approaching spilling point

 15 young people from Bulgaria and Germany met in early September 2010 in Münster (Germany) for an unconventional youth initiative in the framework of the Youth in Action programme. The youngsters, both with disabilities themselves or working with such people, were united in their wish for a more inclusive society. They had already been prepared through months of conceptual preparation on their well-managed online platform when the first meeting of the project „Wir für uns in Europa“ began. Together they visited local institutional facilities and self-help initiatives, discussed the different notions of assimilation, integration, and inclusion, and prepared a joint theatre performance that was finally presented to the public.

One of the core questions of the seminar was this: how can local social engagement contribute to active European citizenship? Gert Röhrborn, Executive Officer of Citizens of Europe, followed an invitation to work with participants on this point. All together we were faced with a most difficult task: how to focus on the widely undervalued positive potential of social work in transnational engagement while the reality in our societies is shaped by the assimilative drives of capitalism, the institutional demands of the integration discourse in central Europe, and the social exclusiveness of access to European programmes, information and spaces in which to implement own actions? It is possible to grasp active citizenship even in this context.

The following thought experiment was helpful: let’s conceive of (legal) citizenship as a container of circumscribed size to be filled up to a certain point with rights and responsibilities. It goes without saying this container bestowed upon every citizen varies in capacity and filling according to the constitutional situation of the granting institution (which will enjoy de facto statehood at least). For reasons of better visibility two glasses of sufficiently different size were chosen (see above).

What does the experiment attempt to visualize? First, citizenship is a systemic variable with a specific (but limited) value. Second, active citizenship is an action that fills up the space between delivered contents and maximum capacity, thereby adding colour and flavour. And third, no system whatsoever can tolerate excessive adding of content, even if it results from actions of socially responsible kind. When filling citizens come close to spilling point agents of every system will intervene (and, in worst case, take the container away from them).

During a following panel discussion on inclusion and EU citizenship in the impressive palace of Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Münster participants from local government, social work and university underlined what has already been achieved.

Münster is a contantly improved best practice example for a barrier-free city. Here city council members try to adopt the perspective of persons with disabilities: “Don’t give up when it’s getting tough!” We are all people with different abilities, and everyone of us is impeded in wishes and actions every day. Hence it makes sense to reach out self-confidently to others, Gert reminded participants and audience. “Only he who shows himself will be seen.”

For more information please visit the project website.