Connecting organizations in Central and Eastern Europe that are working to unite divided communities

In many European countries, you can find organizations not unlike Via Foundation that are supporting local communities. In 2017, we set out to form a “CEE network” to forge connections with these likeminded organizations.
The social issues we are facing today go beyond national borders and it is clear that all European countries, and the organizations within them, are dealing with similar problems: integration of minorities and refugees, societies divided between urban liberals and rural conservatives and threats to fragile East European democracies, to name some of the most pressing.

Thus we spent three days during the last week of February with our counterparts from the Skola Liderow of Poland, Nadacie Pontis of Slovakia, TRAG Foundation of Serbia, ARC and PACT of Romania and the HACD of Hungary. It was the second meeting of our emerging network, which is part of our international ViabilityNet 3.0 program. We focused our time together on searching for ways to work with polarized local communities.
We began with a site visit to the Plechárna community center in Černý Most in Prague, where we heard from municipal and community centre staff about how they work with the very diverse local community there. We also heard from the Jahoda centre for at-risk youth about their experience with different social groups.
On our second day we immersed ourselves in an all-day workshop with John Page of the UK-based organization More in Common. John illuminated what polarization of society in the UK looks like today and how British society is dealing with the refugee crisis and its consequences (similarly to the rest of Europe). Politically-fuelled fear and xenophobia along with the breakdown of traditional community led Britain to Brexit, which fundamentally divided the society. Reflecting on our own contexts, we worked with John to explore ways to initiate dialogue between people with opposing views and to encourage them to listen to one another.
Our final day was dedicated to outlining how the network will move forward. We agreed that we have a lot to learn from one another and sharing experience will enhance our work. And – importantly – all of us found reassurance in the fact that we are addressing similarly complex societal issues in all of our countries and that we can offer each other support.
Zdeněk and Katka
Participants from Via Foundation