Conference Week 2024: Europe: A Source of Hope

2024-02-29 The conference week marks the end of the Leuphana semester for around 1,200 first-semester students. This year's motto was "Resilient Democracy". Luxembourg's long-serving Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn opened the conference with a look at the future of Europe. Democracy activist Marina Weisband explained how individual action can strengthen democracy.

Jean Asselborn is a convinced European: "Without a functioning European Union, a country like mine would have no chance of survival." ©Ciara Burgess
Jean Asselborn is a convinced European: "Without a functioning European Union, a country like mine would have no chance of survival."

"After 24 February 2022 and 7 October 2023, I thought: What have you actually committed yourself to for 20 years? What is the point of international politics and foreign policy if we don't uphold the basic rules as an international community?" said Jean Asselborn. The foreign policy expert took the first-semester students through recent history and linked past events with the present: "After the Second World War, we laid down the basic rules in the United Nations Charter. The Soviet Union helped to establish the Charter," he recalled. He labelled Putin a war criminal: "The war is unforgivable. Perhaps we will be working for decades to put things right."

Under Jean Asselborn's leadership, Luxembourg was given a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the first time from 2013 to 2014. Even before this time, he visited many countries as a foreign policy expert and experienced people's enthusiasm for the European Union: "Before 2010 alone, I visited 130 countries - in Africa, Asia and Latin America." There he heard: "We want to live like Europeans one day, with European values, with values such as human rights and tolerance," reports Jean Asselborn. The Luxembourger is a convinced European: "Without a functioning European Union, a country like mine would have no chance of survival. And I'm not sure that a country like Germany would have much chance of surviving without Europe."

Jean Asselborn also addressed the events in the Middle East: "I am convinced that Israel can only live in peace if Palestine also has a state. If we had a two-state solution, there would be no Hamas. As an international community, we must do everything we can to ensure that the two-state solution is realised", declared Jean Asselborn, condemning the Hamas attack as "pure barbarism".

In order to strengthen democracy, Jean Asselborn called on students to go to the polls: "You can do a lot with your ballot paper," he said and warned against the rise of right-wing populist parties: "We have enough parties and politicians in Europe who have other things on their minds than our values. These politicians want to come to power with lies and scaremongering and then never give it back," he said.

For around 1,200 students, the conference week marks the end of their first semester at Leuphana. Together with renowned guests from all over Germany, they discussed democratic politics for the future in the face of authoritarian threats.

President Sascha Spoun also addressed the Israel conflict in his speech, referring to the USA. At Harvard and Berkeley, for example, many students last autumn declared their support for the anti-Israeli slogan "from the river to the sea". Ron Hassner, a professor at Berkeley, conducted a survey among students at his university: "86% of respondents agreed with the slogan "from the river to the sea". However, when he also asked the question "from which river to which sea?" in his survey, not even half of these students were able to give the correct answer. They had no idea what the slogan was about in a geographical sense, and yet they agreed with it." With this example, Sascha Spoun emphasised the importance of theory and teaching and called on the students: "Reflect before you act! Delve deeper before you agree! Theory and learning first!"

Things are often more complicated than they initially seem: "This is the reason why you are here at the conference week! This is the reason why your first term is still not over! You are here to dive into the complexity of things before you commit to anything in the world. We have set the stage for you, for your eagerness to learn, your curiosity, your critical spirit and for unexpected discoveries," said Sascha Spoun.

Democracy activist Marina Weisband reported that part of her family had fled to Israel to escape the war in Ukraine: "I have been living in a permanent crisis for two years. One of the most important resilience strategies I have found for myself is to shape things that I can influence." She said that democracy is more than free elections. She called on students to be shapers of society and to take responsibility for the common good.

She also praised the student poetry slam from the "Freedom & Utopia" project seminar with dramaturge Elia Anschein. The students took to the stage of the central building to address topics such as climate change, wars, and democracy.

Konferenzwoche 2024: Hoffnung Europa ©Ciara Burgess
Konferenzwoche 2024: Hoffnung Europa ©Ciara Burgess
Konferenzwoche 2024: Hoffnung Europa ©Ciara Burgess