Background and Aims

One hundred years after the start of the First World War, this 'great seminal catastrophe of the 20th century' (George F. Kennan), the NECE Initiative is organising its annual conference in Vienna. The focus of the conference will be on current crises and conflicts inside and outside Europe. Internationally renowned experts, such as Aleida Assmann, Lynn Davies, Jan-Werner Müller, Ivan Krastev, Luuk van Middelaar and Philipp Blom have already confirmed their participation and will enter into a dialogue with the participants.

Heinz Fischer, President of the Republic of Austria, will open the conference on 17 October.

The 2014 NECE Conference will address challenges in Europe against the background of its history of war and conflict in the 20th century. It will ask how citizenship education can deal with the great variety of conflicts in and around Europe today. These include conflicts at Europe’s periphery (Russia, Ukraine, Egypt) and the influx of refugees at the shores of the Mediterranean. Inside Europe, political and social conflicts in the wake of the economic crisis have led to a serious loss of trust into the European project. The results of the 2014 European elections have given rise to fears that the populist earthquakes in France, the United Kingdom and other countries will have an impact on the European Union's future agenda. The implicit consensus that shaped the citizens’ attitude towards ‘Europe’ for a long time is fundamentally called into question. Nationalistic and xenophobic resentments present a risk for Europe’s democratic constitution. The economic crisis has turned into a political one.

European philosophers from Hobbes to Kant have dealt with peace and war in human societies centuries ago. However, it was not until after the catastrophes of the 20th century that European elites developed a ‘culture of constructive conflict management’ with the European Union as its most important institutional expression. During this period, citizenship education focussing on human rights and democracy was developed. The variety of citizenship education formats and initiatives ideally provides citizens with opportunities for reflection and dialogue, but also for controversial debates in order to negotiate, attenuate and solve the conflicts that inevitably arise in democracies.

The 2014 NECE Conference offers a platform to pursue current issues in citizenship education in Europe: Are our current patterns of thinking and discourse still appropriate for dealing with the particular challenges and crises of the European democracies today? Workshops at the conference will deal, among other aspects, with the following questions:

  • How can new arguments and methods for dealing with the populist movements in Europe be developed?
  • What citizenship education instruments can be utilized for managing and solving conflicts? What role can dialogic approaches and attitudes play? Are there limits to intervention, for instance, in Ukraine or Egypt?
  • What are the tasks of citizenship education in terms of analysing power structures and fostering the participation of citizens? How much controversy can citizenship education bear?
  • How can we develop formats for handling conflicts, diversity and democracy as an ‘institutionalised uncertainty’ (Jan-Werner Müller)?

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