The Reviving the Helsinki Spirit initiative comprises a five-year program of activities, from public conferences and ‘hearings’, to engaging young people and university students through debate fora, courses, and other forms of public outreach. A multi-national training program will be developed by a consortium of universities in several EU states, e.g. Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Finland.

At the same time European youth organizations will be involved in developing a special activities program, aimed at including youth not represented at universities. The outcomes of this process will result in the publication of a ‘white paper’ to be submitted to government representatives, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Helsinki Accords in 2025. This ‘white paper’. will be shared with a broad range of civil society organizations across the OSCE.

The program intends to propose a new way of thinking about the three key issues in focus, which we are facing today.  Through three distinct yet interrelated types of activities, it aims to tackle the challenge of how one ensures there is an agenda for positive change that has broad support over a longer period. 
Digital Space: Currently in the digital field most developments are shaped by businesses, with governments often reacting to these changes. Where is the real citizen engagement? Environmental Challenges: Demand for aggressively tackling environmental issues has seen stronger support from citizens. However, even with the link to the EU and its ambitious agenda, sufficiently resolving this issue remains tenuous. Furthermore, how does this relate to the broader European neighborhood – the ‘non-EU’ Europe? Equality and Identity: This touches upon the basic conceptual premises of the European House, that all citizens have equal rights and possibilities irrespective of gender identity and ethnicity. To what extent is the European idea still alive and supported by the general public?

To answer these questions, this programme weaves together three analytically distinct but closely related types of activities. These are:

  1. A civil society network that gathers together to craft an agenda for deeper and more meaningful engagement, also/partially in response to COVID-19
  2. A youth component to sharpen the forward-looking agenda, including the effects/response to COVID-19
  3. A university network to build and disseminate knowledge and information, also/partially in response to COVID-19

Each of the three types of activities will require a specific approach. The civil society network will be developed based on the annual ‘hearings’ and conferences. It is expected that these events will bring together some 400 participants, a mixture of activists, researchers, students, youth leaders and high level decision makers, either in person, remotely, or in a hybrid form.   Taken together, they will make up the core network, which brings together a diverse mix of actors with different backgrounds. This network will not only be able to provide independent thinking to craft a strategic agenda for the future of the European continent, it will also provide an inroad to influence policy development and do advocacy towards the various national governments in Europe.

The youth component focuses on identifying, supporting, and strengthening young change agents in Europe. The programme will gather these actors at in a wide variety of fora to discuss and debate key issues related to the core value proposition of the Helsinki Accords, in a moderated and structured manner. Among the events planned are “young change maker dinners” at diplomatic representations in several European countries, public events at universities, events organized by youth organizations in Europe, e.g. within the framework of the European Youth Capital (in 2021 Klaipeda). In addition, a university network will be developed to create joint training modules, e.g. within the framework of regular teaching programmes and summer schools.

Whereas various projects exist that bring youth together at the pan-European level (European Youth Forum, OSCE, Council of Europe), stimulate cooperation between universities in Europe (Erasmus, European University Association, European Higher Education Area), and  include civil society-organized conferences and meetings to work on thematic agendas and policy influencing strategies (OSCE - Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, CoE INGO meeting, European Civic Forum), no initiative brings these three types of activities together. Especially not over a 5-year period with the aim to build an agenda from below, connecting generations and representatives from various backgrounds.

In the coming years the space for civil society will come under further pressure in Europe, in particular triggered by COVID-19.  At the same time, the role of civil society— monitoring government actions and policies, and proposing and advocating for alternative policies— will become even more important. Bringing togethers various actors within civil society to work together across national boundaries will be critical. As the effects of the pandemic has shown, the only viable response to crises, such as COVID-19 and other transnational and pressing issues of our time, is a consorted and cooperative response.

Reviving the Helsinki Spirit
Central coordination office
Andrei Sakharov Research Center for Democratic Development


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