“Even us, the Little Ones Count a Lot” - that is the motto of the latest international project of Kőszeg Town Twinning Association, implemented under the Europe for Citizens Programme. The EULOCAL initiative studied how small communities and nations can contribute to common achievements concerning issues of global significance. We asked Dr. István Mátrai, Chairman of the association about the project.
Anyone can contribute to resolving life-changing issues
Why do we need to talk about the role of the ’little ones’?
The European Union is an immensely complex system with great goals. Nevertheless, very often we can also get closer to great goals through small steps. We don’t necessarily need to be a big and wealthy country to be able to do something. We believe that smaller nations, towns, communities, moreover, less common ideas can make serious changes, too, and that’s why we chose ‘Even Us – Little Ones Count a Lot’ (EULOCAL) as our motto.
What kind of changes do you have in mind?
One of the most important goals is to reduce Euroscepticism, so we also need to talk about the benefits of EU membership. For example, today it’s taken for granted that we can freely move between countries, but it hasn’t always been so, and we should never forget that. In the hills around Kőszeg, for example, you weren’t allowed to hike anywhere because the border was so close. Our Italian guests were surprised to hear that when they visited us.
How can big issues be discussed in an interesting way?
Through actual cases, which also help us demonstrate that anybody can contribute to resolving life-changing issues. That was how, for example, the issue of survival of bee populations was included in the project; our German partner had studied this area with the involvement of students for years. We chose the topic of water management because recently, the springs which had formerly supplied people in Kőszeg with water for centuries were deemed undrinkable. It’s a great achievement that the water of Hétforrás spring is drinkable again today.
Why is it important for local initiatives to receive international attention?
What is very important for them may be a less sensitive issue somewhere else. Nevertheless, there are lots of issues which can only be considered on a European scale. In order to establish cross-national cooperation, we must see each other’s problems and efforts.
Partners of the project were Germany, Poland, Italy, Malta, and Hungary, represented by Kőszeg. How did you develop this partnership?
Our association has mostly organised youth projects since 2004, and we got to know a number of reliable organisations through the years. We contacted them and we also announced the project among the 28 twinned towns of Douzelage. It’s an EU town twinning initiative that connects small towns. We organised our project in a way that small and big countries, rich and poor regions, as well as old and new EU members were all represented. This diversity allowed us to discuss the expansion of the EU and the phenomenon of Euroscepticism from a numerous of aspects.
How did you address these topics?
We organised five events under the project in the five partner towns. We tried to address the issue in a varied manner, but we also organised classic discussions and workshops. On one occasion, we discussed the advantages and disadvantages of being small. When we listened to each other’s arguments, we found connections of which one country or the other had not even thought before. We also tried new methods to encourage more active participation. In Kőszeg, for example, the participants formed teams to express their views on issues concerning Euroscepticism. It was very informative to see how many people thought that there would be more countries leaving the EU and how many thought that there wouldn’t; or the number of those who thought that their countries got more from the EU than they gave to the community.
What was the programme of the event in Kőszeg?
On the one hand, our programme focused on the future of Europe and the criticisms concerning the EU; on the other hand, on the locally as well as globally challenging issues of water management.
At the event held in Kőszeg, both our Mayor and Dr. György Schöpflin, Hungarian Member of the European Parliament gave a speech. We also organised a number of exciting workshops focusing on Euroscepticism and we conducted a questionnaire survey.
The greatest role was given to issues concerning water footprint; for example, we used short stories for a start to find solutions to actual, common problems. One of the questions was that if the EU stops using plastic bags, whether it is a good solution to waste a lot of clean water to wash the bins instead. We also prepared an awareness raising test. Everyone was shocked to learn that making one cup of coffee takes a tubful of water.
The programme lasted for more days, so we had the chance to visit the springs in the Kőszeg hills and meanwhile to talk about the benefits of the EU, as well as about protecting the cleanliness of our waters. The town celebrated ‘Orsolya’ (Ursula) day during the event, where we also set up the international booth of EULOCAL. Our partners brought us tasters of their own dishes, which attracted a lot of visitors and allowed us to discuss our topics with the citizens of the town and distribute leaflets with more information.
How many people can you address this way?
Sixty participants attended the events from the first minute to the last but there were others, of course, such as secondary school and university students, who only joined certain parts of the programme. We reached even more people indirectly; for example, we announced our water-themed drawing competition in every secondary school in Kőszeg, and our booth was also visited by crowds on Orsolya day.
We were particularly pleased to see that a lot of young people joined the project because it’s basically about their future. I found that the cooperation between generations went smoothly. Young people are interested in issues of global or European scale, they are receptive to new knowledge, and sometimes they have incredibly good ideas.
What do you consider the main achievement of EULOCAL?
We gained a lot of new knowledge and due to the Douzelage association, we could share it with even more people in all the 28 Member States. We are also proud that the ecological issues may motivate participants to take concrete steps. We learnt a lot, for example, about the protection of bees, and from now on, if not necessary, we won’t mow the lawn in our gardens to protect their natural habitat. This might seem a tiny thing but it matters. To use a motto we borrowed from Mother Teresa, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
Interview: MÓNIKA FÖLDVÁRY
Last modified: 17-04-2019