Görlitz and Zgorzelec are two towns located across the German and Polish border. Both towns have common origins and history, leading to a model vision of cross-border cooperation.
Before the Neisse river became the new border between Germany and Poland in 1945, both sides formed one single city in the former German province of Silesia. Following decades of communism after the war, the two towns signed a partnership agreement in 1991 and proclaimed themselves Europastadt (“Europe-town”) Zgorzelec-Görlitz in 1998.
Görlitz is home to the historical city centre but has experienced a decline in population and industrial activity over the past decades.
Zgorzelec on the other hand has grown from an underdeveloped suburb into an active border town, with mining sites and a power plant providing employment for the local workforce. This has helped develop housing, sports and shopping facilities that have improved living standards for residents.
Today the two towns face similar challenges and cooperate on a number of issues including city planning, environmental protection, culture, sports, education and policing. However, economic difficulties on both sides mean that young people experience a lack of employment perspectives. The two towns therefore have high emigration rates of graduates and skilled workers. This creates a sense of apathy among local youths, with conservative educational institutions unable to channel their energy into constructive activities for the community. As a result, violence and social exclusion create additional distance on the ground between the two national groups, making cross-border contacts at community level difficult. This also reflects the feeling by inhabitants of Zgorzelec that cross-border plans are made mainly in Görlitz and presented as “finished products” to the Polish neighbours.
Thanks to the support of the Robert Bosch foundation, the “GörlitZgorzelec Project Office of the German-Polish Dialogue” was created in April 2009, operating under the auspices of “Naszemiasto – unsereStadt” in Zgorzelec and Ideenfluss e.V. in Görlitz.
Given a unique cross-border environment, there was an obvious case for the creation of a YEPP Local Site in Görlitz-Zgorzelec. For local youth and community organisations, joining the YEPP Community Network was an opportunity to develop their bi-national activities in a wider European network. By learning from other countries and sharing their experience, both sides have extended their vision beyond internal tensions and realised the potential of cross-border cooperation for young people and their communities. Besides increased visibility, the “YEPP” approach and methodology has provided technical assistance, institutional weight, evaluation tools and new funding opportunities to move from cross-border competition to cooperation. For YEPP IRC, having a Local Site in Görlitz-Zgorzelec has been a significant addition of a unique cross-border environment, an opportunity to develop its model of partnership at both local and European levels.
Cross-border partnership, participation of young people in decision making, cultural activities
The 5th YEPP Community Conference and Youth Meeting was held in the two towns in November 2011, celebrating the “10 Years of YEPP”. To use this momentum, the local young people and partners are planning to launch a cross-border Youth Parliament in cooperation with a Czech partner. The objective is to promote joint advocacy and training of youth workers from both sides. Mainstreaming the needs and aspirations of young people into local policy-making is a long-term process that has been successfully initiated but will require sustained efforts from all the partners.
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