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Training the Next Generation

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Wed Jul 10 2013

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Training the Next Generation-cfe1640888b33258dae765f4b8e508e77421457199e83a8c327611bd227092ee

(From the Huffington Post.) There is a great unease among young people in Europe today. You can measure the dissatisfaction in a variety of ways. The protests that swept the continent over the last couple years--the indignados in Spain, the anti-austerity demonstrations in Greece, some scattered Occupy demonstrations--brought young people into the streets to voice their anger over their declining economic prospects. A new Gallup poll shows that an overwhelming number of young people around the continent believe that their lives will be worse off than their parents.

 

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The impact on politics has been considerable. Fewer young people are voting in European parliament elections. Only 29 percent of eligible young people voted in 2009, down from 33 percent in 2005. At the same time, support has surged among young people for extremist politics on the Right, with Golden Dawn organizing in the public schools in Greece and Jobbik attracting considerable youth support in Hungary. A recent report on "subterranean politics" in Europe argues that young people are upset at their economic prospects but are really focusing their dissatisfaction at political elites, a case born out by the current protests in Istanbul against the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan government.

Thibault Muzergues works with the International Republican Institute (IRI) out of their regional office in Bratislava. He has worked in French politics and is now involved in a range of trainings that IRI conducts throughout the region. Many of the trainings organized out of the Bratislava office focus on young people.

"In many countries, to a greater or lesser extent, the youth is still disenfranchised from political responsibilities," he told me in an interview in the IRI office in Bratislava back in February. "We train youth who are politically conscious, politically active, but the problem in most of Europe is that youth in general is much more cynical than it used to be. There is less political participation in general, and much more cynicism about politics in general than there used to be, or compared to my contemporaries back in the 1980s and 1990s."

The generation gap is not easy to bridge. "Frankly, Europe is getting old," he continued. "Because Europe is getting old, the youth matter a lot less now than they used to. It becomes a vicious circle. Politicians consider youth to be less important, and therefore youth gets more cynical and don't vote, which makes them even less important. It's very difficult to break that cycle."

But IRI has had some success in helping young people rise through the ranks of political parties in the region. "We try to form young leaders who can show to other youth that they can make a difference if they get involved in politics," Thibault Muzergues concluded. "Again, it's very difficult because the youth generally doesn't have access to a lot of responsibilities: they are not getting enough seats in parliament or not getting enough influence. So, the best way is to educate them and make sure that they are able to show to their leadership that they know things, and that they can be useful. Sometimes when we have the possibility to advise more senior members of the party, we try to remind them that they were young at some point and that they need to give opportunities to promising youth."

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