The new CTZNS puts the spotlight on the European citizen’s ‘sense of possibility’. The site is built on input from students studying journalism at the AP University College in Antwerp who seek out examples of ‘good practice’ in society, positive initiatives which connect people (citizens with and citizens without papers). A diverse collection of initiatives, each of which in its own way is an answer to the question of what can connect people in communities.
To ensure that the students were properly prepared for this exercise, a workshop was held from February 20th to 24th 2017. Each day the workshop was led by a different expert.
Lawyer and activist Mieke Van den Broeck (www.progresslaw.net) drew the students’ attention to the difference between human rights and civil rights and to the fact that besides being politician-led, new laws can also result from active citizenship.
Writer and inspirer Jeroen Olyslaeghers (www.debezigebij.nl/auteurs/jeroen-olyslaegers) supplemented Van den Broeck’s contribution with his practical experience: how does an artist avoid working only as an observer (‘from an ivory tower’); how can he play an active and practical role? How can he drum up interest in a new and necessary stance on these questions in the current political climate, i.e. a stance that embraces inclusion and equality? Jeroen Olyslaeghers regards social media, and Facebook in particular, as an effective and autonomous communication channel because it brings you into direct contact with readers who are not tied to the traditional news media.
Hanan Challouki and Taha Riani, the young entrepreneurial duo behind the website MVSLIM.com, spoke passionately with the students about the need to share inspirational stories such as those published worldwide on the MVSLIM website. They founded MVSLIM.com in 2015 in response to what they saw as a pressing need for a more complete and fairer reflection of reality to appear, for example, on the Google page when you type ‘Muslim’ into the search engine. Most Muslims don’t recognize themselves at all in the image portrayed by the regular media, which all too often associates them with ‘the terrorist’ and ‘the conflict’.
In the discussion with Rein Antonissen, director of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Refugee Action, www.vluchtelingenwerk.be), the students were made aware of the often precarious situations in which refugees find themselves once they have applied for asylum. However well intentioned, a journalistic portrait can have a negative influence on the outcome of an asylum claim.
Social and political philosopher Bart Brandsma gave a workshop about his ‘polarization strategy’ (www.polarisatie.nl). He coaches and mediates in conflict situations worldwide and, using the polarization strategy he developed, supports for example the police in the Molenbeek district of Brussels. Bart Brandsma believes that in conflict situations it is important to seek out people in the ‘silent’ space between the two polarities: ‘the silent ones’. They are people like the police, teachers, burgomasters and journalists who from their ‘middle-ground position’ are able to defuse polarizing visions. If we assume that the conflict phenomenon is inherent in societies, that it is more the norm than the exception, then according to Bart Brandsma a more complete definition of peace is the following: “Peace is a long succession of conflicts which we have gone along with.”
During the course of the week, the students also watched Ruben Desiere’s film KOSMOS (2015). Desiere graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (KASK) in Ghent in 2014. In 2013 he set up his camera amidst the maze of corridors and rooms in the Gesù monastery in Brussels and spent a long time there creating his film. His focus was a group of Roma people. KOSMOS is a haunting portrait of refugees squatting in the monastery, who worked with him on texts loosely based on the novel of the same name by the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. While filming ‘fictional’ scenes, the harrowing reality of eviction from the monastery imposes itself on the images. In the discussion with Ruben Desiere on the final morning of the workshop, it became crystal clear just how much influence a journalist has on the perspective of the reader/viewer through his choice of visual language. The teaser of the VTM’s review of 2016 requires little more explanation.
With all this baggage in their rucksack, in March the students will approach citizens (with and without papers) who champion specific initiatives, i.e. ‘good practices’ whose objective is to make ‘living together’ a richer experience. The students set themselves the task not only of recording interviews in the standard formula of questions and answers, but if successful, they will also undertake their own activities so as to create human portraits and stories that contextualize initiatives which unite society rather than divide it. CTZNS celebrates the citizen’s iniative.