With passionate pragmatism

Some time ago he entered orbit. He helped with building up the OpenFora programme, attracted engaged artists and developed a special interest in Belarus. He could not resist the gravitation of planet Citizens: now he is the executive officer of our association. Alexandra Ivanova talked to Gert Röhrborn.

What is your occupation? I studied political science, European Union studies and history in Leipzig, Newcastle and Berlin. Currently I prepare a PhD about European civic engagement and I teach a course in political science at Evangelische Fachhochschule Berlin.

Why did you join Citizens of Europe? I was politically active in my early years at university. I had a great time with georgeous people but I was never quite satisfied. Especially in students’ politics it was difficult to go beyond opposition. I learned a lot while organizing rallies and negotiating with politicians, but being damned to protest all the time turned into a problem. At some point I just burned out. While getting more mature and confident about my convictions the feeling grew that I had to do something which makes a difference. I turned towards European civil society because I realized how important transnational activities are today. I sensed the great spirit which a lot of people at Citizens of Europe share and that there is sufficient potential for further development. Looking back I am still amazed how quickly I felt at home here.

…the feeling grew that I had to do something to make a difference

You are the first executive officer of Citizens of Europe ever. What is your work like? First of all, I run the office in Berlin, take care of administrative procedures and instruct our volunteers. Moreover, I keep close contact to our programmes and projects to make sure they are equally represented and integrated in the network. We work hard to get more efficient and to actively appreciate what our members are able to offer to our common cause. I would like to support this transition process that turns Citizens of Europe from a rather small and friend-based association with a few unpaired projects into a real NGO which runs a convincing portfolio of stable and interconnected programmes.

Why do you invest a considerable part of your time in Citizens of Europe? Although I take interest in political philosophy I am an activist person. As a political scientist I analyze political systems and their complex problems in order to propose certain strategies how to deal with them. As a person, I would like to see the impact of what I do. Citizens of Europe is a suitable platform for this. People here are united in an honest experiment in interdisciplinary and share what I would call passionate pragmatism. Working with this association is not about discussing optimal solutions; we try to explore ways how to collaborate across the borders that community life opposes on human beings in everyday life: gender, social backgrounds, convictions, interests etc. We are not perfect, of course, and more often than we like to admit we reach the limits of our personal capacities. Yet, we get better along the way. What really thrills me is the experience that I have to reach out beyond myself in order to really be myself.

What do you expect of other active people in Citizens of Europe? Let me start with telling you what I do not expect: that people sacrifice themselves or forget about their personal interests. Quite on the contrary, what we do here is about voluntary work and a serious commitment to others. I lobby for mutual respect and understanding in collaboration. I hope that all of us try to establish a common ground to which everybody feels invited and can actually get access to. I do not want to be the caretaker of a playground where jealous kids defend their toys and bully the extraordinary ones among us.

What do you think Citizens of Europe can offer to the citizens of Europe? First of all, excitement about and an appreciative approach to diversity. There is so much we can do outside the routines and constraints of everyday life, and the good news is: it is possible just if we want it to happen. With us people can experience how great the exchange of personal perspectives without restriction and attention can be from time to time. I personally find this opportunity very rewarding. It makes me feel free. I am sure there are more people out there who feel similar.

We need to be both more determined and more modest in what we do.

Where do you see difficulties in your position within Citizens of Europe? We run the risk to do too much at the same time. We need to be both more determined and more modest in what we do. Such a process of transition, as described above, always creates frictions. Some people might get afraid because an environment familiar to them might change too much too fast. It is a big challenge to show everybody involved the same amount of appreciation and still be effective. I was a member of the board in the last two years, where I was mainly involved with strategy. As executive officer, I have to serve the association. I still need to find my role.

Let us finish with some personal questions. What about your interests? Well, music for example – I sing in a choir – women, literature about life as a journey…at the moment I read a novel called “Die Vermessung der Welt“ (transl. Measuring the world) by Daniel Kehlmann. It parallels and interrelates the 19th century lifes of the celebrated explorer Alexander von Humboldt and the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauß. How Kehlmann dissects the ludicrous amalgamation of genius and personal narrowness gives me relieving laughters in every chapter. Oh yes, I love nature, too. I come from a small mountain village close to the Czech border. I am still very much taken away every time I enter a large forest or roam green meadows, although I don’t see too much of it nowadays.

What is your favourite place in the world? To be in the arms of the woman I love. It always reminds me of how beautiful life is as soon as I take the liberty of enjoying it.

Have a look at Gert’s Website