Owen Micheal reflects on his experience as an attendee at the Kurt Lowenstein Emancipation Winterschool.
Over the new year I attended a Winterschool on democracy and emancipation at the Kurt Löwenstein Education Centre near Berlin, along with my fellow Young Fabians Zahra Lahrie and Myron Michaelides.
We arrived on the evening of 27th December. After checking in, we all attended some organised icebreaker events, before settling into our rooms for the week.
For most of the event we would be assigned to topic specific tracks, but for the first day we were assigned to different cross-country groups where we spent time learning about how democracy worked differently in different countries and explored our cultural differences. Apparently this is something that goes back and forth at this event regularly – when it’s done like this people want to get into their tracks earlier, otherwise people feel like they didn’t have enough opportunity to meet people outside their tracks.
After that Myron and I went to a track on democratic experiences (history and present) whilst Zahra attended one on reproductive rights in democratic systems.
In the Democratic Experiences track we began by discussing the history of democracy, both more broadly and in individual countries. We went on to discuss problems for democracy from our experience of our own countries, such as populism, corruption and how they can be dealt with and what can be done about them.
The rest of the time included an international snack evening so we could get to know the food of each others’ countries (we did a British stall jointly with a delegation from the Woodcraft Folk), a Freshers’ fair type event where we explained our organisations to each other at stalls, and a bonfire night singing socialist songs from our countries, all of which gave further opportunity to learn about our cultures and our own countries’ political histories.
Other more explicitly political events across the tracks included a Women’s Space and at the same time a Positive Masculinity reflection evening for men where we considered how we had fallen short and how to improve. There were various caucuses later on such as an LGBT+ one where we discussed the situations in our different countries. One night, we also had a showing of the film Divine Order, a fictional story based around the 1973 Swiss women’s suffrage referendum.
There was also a day trip to Berlin, which included a visit to the Bundestag (though I understand tours were unfortunately not possible that day) and a trip to the Humboldt Museum I went on, a museum which is focused on non-European cultures and has been working to reckon with how it acquired its artifacts. It was also another opportunity to explore the city and see things I’d missed on my first day before going to the centre. We also had a New Year’s Party which included, every time a new time zone entered 2023, wishing a happy new year in the languages of countries there with people present – especially loudly for Ukraine for obvious reasons.
It was an excellent event that allowed me to meet fellow young socialists from across Europe and explore our shared politics and challenges, as well as learn about some of the different successes and problems of the left across the continent.
Owen Michael is Deputy Regions and Nations Officer for the Young Fabians, as well as being a Labour Party and UNISON activist. He tweets at @OwenWMichael.