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Updated: Nov 26, 2018

Exploring the Causes of the Populist Backlash via a Student Debate in Ljubljana

From 11 to 13 September, 52 students actively participated in a British Parliamentary Debate organized in the wonderful Slovenian capital city thanks to the Studentski Dom Ljubljana. The aim of the event was to gather a group of young Europeans to debate the origins and the effects of populist movements in Europe.

The event kicked off with a panel discussion at the European House during which students had an opportunity to brainstorm with local experts and prepare their arguments for the debate.

The panelists were Zoran Stancic, Head of the EU Representation in Slovenia, Paul Jancar, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Ljubljana, and Boštjan Udovič, professor of International relations at Ljubljana University, while Laris Gaiser, president of the Slovenian Pan-European Movement, moderated the lively exchange.

The second day was divided in three debates and was a great success thanks to the positive engagement of the students. Each debate took a different perspective on the three most common causes quoted for the rise of populism and euroscepticism in Europe: the lack of vision of political parties from all sides to propose new political ideals, the impunity or lack of accountability of the ruling establishment, and the economic crisis.

The debate style was of the British Parliamentary Debate. Thus, student teams were assigned in the Government and Opposition sides and each student had a pre-assigned role.

All debates were livestreamed and some students were supported by peers from their Halls of Residence who could watch them debate from Belgium, Hungary, Italy and Spain.

The winners of each debate were chosen via online voting poll on the Facebook Page of the project. Results spoke volumes on the value of arguments, but also charisma or public speaking skills: 67% of people voting considered that the economic crisis was the cause for the rise of populist movements, 56% people thought that the lack of accountability of the establishment was also a cause, while 51% did not consider guilty the political parties of  lacking a vision for new ideals, so they are not to blame for rise of populist parties

“For me, it was a wonderful experience to meet new people that care for the same topics as me and have a desire for learning new things. It was also very enriching because it gave me the chance to try a new way of debating as well as improve my knowledge on the topic” said one participant. Anna from Germany considered that “populism is an easy answer to complicated questions”; she enjoyed the new methodology to debate, while others considered the whole event as a “rhetorical exercise”, highlighting thus the importance of communication skills in the public debate.

During the third day participants organized civic initiatives online and in the streets of Ljubljana. The idea was to collect opinions about voting, the enlargement of the EU, economic policy and European identity. Most of the Slovenian citizens met were in favour for the EU identity, but some concerns surfaced on the common economic policies. To get an idea, please check our gallery with pictures of these initiatives and our draft resolutions on the new narrative for the European project.

The next meeting is in Rome, on 24-26 October, where a mock trial on the economic crisis will be organised by the Italian Council of the European Movement, partner of the project.

The 52 participants arrived to Ljubljana from all over Europe: one of them was from Leuven, Belgium, one from Warsaw, Poland, and four from Budapest, Hungary. Endre came from Romania, Marjo-Julia from Helsinki (Finland), Lauren and Charlie from Ireland (Cork and Maynooth). Five people came from Spain (from Toledo, Malaga, Santiago de Compostela, Córdoba and Palencia). Four of the students were from Germany (two from Flensburg, and the others Berlin and Karlsruhe). The Italian group was composed by seven participants: one student from Milan, one from Modena, one from Padova, two came from Pavia and two others from Turin. The two French students came from Paris.


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