Zandvoort – While the wind blows, the discussion flows

by | 14. April 2019

Zandvoort| The last stop of the Europe Dome in the Netherlands was on the beach! The small town of Zandvoort is located right at the sea and is home to several beautiful and “gezellige” beach tents. One of them, Paviljoen Jeroen, hosted our European Public Sphere project right before its door. As such, close to the little beach seats and parasols, our Dome could feel the soft sand tickling between its beams. Mirte van Hout writes about her experiences this day.  

The Europe Dome was going to the beach for the first time! And when we say that we go to the beach, we are really going there! We were building the dome in the sand, just before Paviljoen Jeroen. For us, the building team, this new environment brought several unknown challenges: the ring nuts filled themselves with sand, the ladders were a little wobbly and our sign announcing the talks was unable to defy the wind coming from the sea. Luckily, we were helped out by two volunteers, one of whom is living in Zandvoort and thus, was used to the sandy challenges of the beach.

 

Lively discussions under the dome

“The government needs to invert money to adjust the way we live and act. Also, to adapt to the new technologies and to the ecological transition, we need support to succeed in this drastic change – the government should invest into those facilities, then people would be more willing to change their behaviour and cooperate.”

Participant under the dome

European Public Sphere

And we have to say: the result was stunning! The Europe Dome was standing out beautifully against the white sand, with the waves crashing against the shore in the distance. The sky was blue, the seagulls were crying over our heads and several people on the beach took an interested look at the dome and the corresponding project. In Paviljoen Jeroen, another event was simultaneously going on, meaning that several groups of people passed the Europe Dome on their way to the beach tent. One group of women decided not to come into the dome, but took a pile of papers with them and gave full vent to their creativity while decorating them for our project! We hang the results on the rope hanging around the Europe Dome and the rest of the day, they were happily flapping their positive thoughts on democracy and Europe.

 

Also on the beach, the Europe Dome turned out to create a welcoming atmosphere for people interested to discuss. Our first Dome Talk, about climate change, was attended by two people from the Netherlands and two from India. The latter had just moved to Germany a month ago – and thus, had just recently become European citizens. They could shed interesting perspectives from their motherland on the matter of climate change and also stressed the differences between Germany and India, as far as they had seen now. These insights, combined with the opinions and views of the Dutch participants, led to an interestingly global and multicultural approach to the topic of climate change.

Video of our 5 stops in the Netherlands

The second talk was more popular and also, people from the event of Paviljoen Jeroen joined the circle now. We discussed the topic of migration and integration and multiple participants argued that we need a transgressing solution, in which all countries in the European Union are involved. One pointed out that this would mean that the EU member states need to work more transnationally and connected problems with migration to the democratic deficit in Europe. Moreover, it was added that the topic of migration is nowadays often only associated with the movement of people of poorer regions to richer regions, such as Europe. However, migration is broader and encompasses also people moving from rich regions to other regions on earth. In this way, the discussion was made broader and several participants agreed with this wider view on migration.

 

On the topic of integration, several participants agreed that there is also a responsibility lying with us, the citizens. Some stated we should expect less from immigrants, others emphasized the importance of being friendly to others and of getting into contact with people from different cultures. Interestingly, one of our participants had actually moved from Malaysia to the Netherlands twenty years ago and could thus shed some light on the perspective of an immigrant.

I enjoyed the diversity of our public under the Europe Dome was in Zandvoort. Not only did we host a variety of people from the Netherlands, we hosted several people that had integrated or were integrating in Europe. I found it interesting to see how sometimes, the opinions of immigrants was very similar to those of the people born and raised in the Netherlands. Still, both groups could add a lot of insights to the discussions that often came from their personal experience.

 

What I liked most was that when one of the participants in the second talk took the microphone, he told us that he did not know what he wanted to say. Instead, he said, he enjoyed listening to the others and was amazed by how much he had learned. I think that this is one of the most important functions of our Dome Talks. The public sphere we create should be a place for people to come share what they think, but also to listen to and learn from each other. In our current society, where opinions are often highly polarized, a place like this is indispensable. A place where people can meet others with a different opinion and can exchange thoughts and arguments in a respectful way. This is a way to get people out of their filter bubble and to make them rethink the things that seem so apparent and logical to them. As such, the Europe Dome enable us to challenge our own ideas and necessitates us to formulate convincing arguments why we believe our beliefs. And exactly these actions are necessary to be an active, democratic citizen.

 

Video of our 4 stops in Belgium

 Still pondering these thoughts, we started building down the Dome. The sun was slowly making its way down to the water and we worked hard, determined to be done before sunset. While walking with our materials to the car and back, I saw that four of our participants, who hadn’t known one another before, were having a drink together. I went by and talked with them about the past day, the weather and of course, the previous Dome Talk. “I find it such an amazing project,” one of them told me. “And now we also got to meet these lovely people.”

 You can imagine that this was a good ending of our European Public Sphere tour through the Netherlands. I’ve seen how hard it can be to engage people in a discussion, but I’ve also noticed that the project can bring people together through sharing, learning and – to use a beautiful Dutch word – just through “gezelligheid”.

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Some impressions from our Dome Event: