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Thursday, 24 February 2011 20:08

Interview with Frank Burgdörfer

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Frank Burgdörfer is the chairman of Citizens of Europe, a politically independent, non-governmental and non-profit oriented network of people who realise projects that go beyond national boundaries. Their aim is to create an active civil society across Europe and raise awareness of common European concerns. As part of this year's cycle of projects they have organised the Open Forum on volunteering in Budapest.

E&M: Hello Frank, where are you and what can you see?

FB: I'm at the European Youth Centre on a hill in Buda, looking over the Danube to the parliament.

E&M: How is the conference going?

FB: I already know how to do it better next time.

E&M: Wow. I thought it was good! Already? How?

FB: Well the challenge is that we have a rather large group of more than thirty people, which makes it hard to leave responsibilities to the group while keeping everybody involved. In addition, our people are very different. There are different generations here, different ways of thinking, and different expectations. There is a lot of potential for mutual learning but the size of the group is creating limitations which we could have dealt with differently.

E&M: How did you select people then?

FB: After we put a call out on the internet all the interested people had to write a paper on why they'd like to come. We deliberately aimed for a diverse group of people. More than half of the group (organisors and participants) were in Bruges [the previous Open Forum]. This was a priority and important to the whole progression of this project cycle as a whole. 

EM: And what is the aim of the cycle?

FB: Well there are several levels here. First, Citizens of Europe consists of people who see Europe as their task, as something shaped and developed by us as Citizens. We seek an active position in our society and invest our time, effort and creativity. By realising this cycle of events, we aim to invite others to join in or to cooperate with us. We want to learn from others and we want to show how approaching a topic like volunteering from a European perspective means new for everybody involved.

Second, this cycle gives us an opportunity to reflect our activities and our way of working. I think its important to rethink from time to time why you are doing something, every organisation has its life cycle and because we've just had a phase of rapid growth which somehow lead to the establishment of a rather close core group. We needed to Break that up and to create a framework for many different people to cooperate. And finally this project stresses that Citizens of Europe is a group of volunteers and not a PR agency conducting projects, so it is shaping our image.

E&M: And so why did you choose Budapest to host this conference?

FB: Well there are two answers. The official one: We are a network of people living in lots of other countries and despite being about 1/3 german, we do not want to be a Berlin organisation. So to be most efficient we have to keep moving and keep investing our energy in different places. Our project needed a location in the former East so that we could best address particular Post-Communist European problems. The unofficial one: We have been cooperating with the Hungarian Europe Society for years and knew that we could fully rely on them. Thus Budapest was an option easily coming to our minds when planning the project. In a way, this event means something like visiting good old friends.

E&M: So after this what do you think is fundamental to getting Europeans volunteering?

FB: To make them understand that we live in a world we deserve.

E&M: And whats your motivation behind all these projects?

FB: My main motivation is to not leave Europe to the politicians, not because they are bad, but to say that Europe is also mine, it is ours -because it is.

E&M: I think you're right Frank, and its good you act on that. And so finally, What does Europe mean to you?

FB: Challenge. Opportunity. Home.

E&M: Thanks Frank. I've had a very interesting time participating and reporting at the Open Forum in Budapest and look forward to covering the big Landau convention in a few months! 

Last modified on Friday, 25 February 2011 23:50
Matt Shearman

Matt Shearman, Brain of E&M, is originally from Yorkshire, UK, but now lives in London, having arrived there via Berlin and Oxford. He holds an MSc in International Relations and is into E&M because he is fascinated by identity, nationality and transnationality. For more political commentary on Europe / Germany / international relations, follow him on twitter: @shearmanm

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