New Voice of Old Europe
01 October 2003
The summer at Caux began with a conference run by young people, mostly from former Soviet Bloc countries, with a smaller number from West Europe and North America, Mexico and an international group from the Swiss association, Youth Exchanges for Peace.
For the third year running, the summer at Caux began with a conference run by young people, mostly from former Soviet Bloc countries, with a smaller number from West Europe and North America. They were joined for part of the conference by some 30 students from Monterrey in Mexico and an international group from the Swiss association, Youth Exchanges for Peace.
Many of the young people had taken part in training courses in their cities organized by Foundations For Freedom (F4F), a programme of Initiatives of Change. Caux offered them a chance for cross-fertilization with other groups involved in training people for responsibility and leadership.
The week had three main tracks: plenary meetings; meetings in ‘communities’ in which deep conversations and the practical work of the conference centre (cooking, washing up, table service) took place; and a Young Politicians’ Forum. In addition, there were cultural evenings, a cybercafé (without coffee!) and, of course, numberless discussions in groups of all sizes....
At the first plenary session, the Russian philosopher and Orthodox priest, Vladimir Zelinsky, put the idea of service on its highest level, setting it in the context of what he called ‘the grace of Caux’. Leaning on Aristotle's definition of man as a ‘social animal’, he emphasized that service and responsibility are simply two particular ways of communicating. At its deepest, he concluded, ‘service is a spiritual work of reconciliation between people, societies, between man and nature, finally between man and God.'
Next day, the French Socialist politician and former Minister, Jean Laurain, recalled that democracy was ‘the form of government which demands the most willpower on the part of the citizen’. As the president of an association for popular education, he said that the role of such education was to make people think about the day-to-day problems of making democracy work. He referred to Hillary Clinton's ‘third sector'–civil society– between the state and the market. ‘Politicians should listen to associations,’ he said.
Laurain also stressed the importance of service, of sharing (of knowledge, power and resources) and, above all, of spirituality–not just in its religious form, but also founded on reason. He quoted Kant, ‘Act only on those maxims which you would want to become universal laws.’
The old Europe, he concluded, still had a universal message to transmit to the world. ‘It is in Europe, with Christianity, that the values of service and responsibility are reinforced. That is what we need to preserve at all costs.’
Other sessions were dedicated to the presentations of groups committed to leadership training, in particular Learn to Lead, from Sheffield in the north of England. One of this group, Keith, told how he had been encouraged to ask himself what he was living for and had given up alcohol. At Caux, where he noted, ‘everyone cares and shares’, he had found, in silent reflection, ‘how I can really change the world and follow my path, rediscover confidence in myself and avoid the faults of the past’.
The Forum for Young Politicians, which met every day, drew 24 young people, mostly from Eastern Europe, who want to take part in the political or civil life of their countries. It was organized, for the second consecutive year, by Kostyantyn Ploskyy, a Ukrainian post-graduate student, who runs an independent Centre for Political Education in Kiev.