24 February 2023 marks the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A war of aggression that many had not foreseen in this form, associated with death and suffering, and with the flight of millions of people. For us in political education work, the question is how to deal with this, which questions arise anew, which concepts have become overdue?

The topic of war and conflict has always been approached from different angles in civic education. Various conflicts of this world have also been the starting point for workshops in our work, and the path to peace has been the subject of many of our simulation games. 

But only a few weeks after the invasion, it became clear that none of the previous formats could simply be transferred to the current situation. Rather, we saw the need among educational institutions, foundations and schools to address the war in Ukraine, but neither to lapse into fatalism nor to abstract the war and its effects too much and discuss it only theoretically.

The initial situation

The Russian war of aggression on Ukraine, as GEMINI put it a few months after the invasion in 2022, hits a youth that is already unsettled by two years of pandemic and has had to forego many experiences belonging to the phase of life called youth. It also meets a youth that is confronted daily with the climate crisis and many other conflict hotspots in the world, and that has access to the most diverse perspectives and experiences on this, especially via social media. A youth that increasingly questions the promise of peace and democracy, of social security and secure future prospects. If we follow the trend study Youth in Germany 2022, fear of the consequences of inflation and of war in Europe have recently replaced concern about the consequences of the climate crisis as the greatest concern among young people. 

Our demand on political education

As political educators, it is not only our task to discuss the war in Ukraine in a way that is appropriate for the target group, but also to address it in a way that connects with the concerns and fears of young people and has a self-empowering effect. 

So how should we talk to young people about the current war in Ukraine? What can and should educational work in this area achieve? And how do we deal with the emotions of young people?

The task of political education work is to open up spaces and to take the concerns and uncertainties of young people seriously. It should create formats that address all young people, strengthen them against disinformation and help them to become capable of acting and developing their own positions. It is also important to include all people and to create formats that also perceive and take seriously young refugees from Ukraine and other people with experiences of flight or violence.

In addition to the thematic discussion of the reasons for and reactions to the war, we believe that an emotional reappraisal is also necessary, as well as a discussion of the question of how individuals situate themselves in the current situation. In addition, there must be a multi-perspective discussion of options for action, both my own as a citizen and those of actors such as Germany or the EU.

The EU-Ukraine format

As a framework for the new format to be developed, we decided to focus on the role of the EU and its response to the war. Also due to the strong aspirations towards the EU on the part of the Ukrainian population and civil society, this seemed to us to be a meaningful and tangible focus for the target group. The striving for democracy, security and a European community beyond the current borders of the EU is often neglected in current media coverage, but in our impression, it is becoming more and more central in the reality of young people's lives. 

In our workshop on EU-Ukraine relations in times of war, we have therefore not only focused on the reasons for and reactions to the war, but also opened up a lot of space for experiencing and discussing one's own perspectives on the current situation. 

Methodically, the current situation and its effects on different people and countries are addressed in short simulation games on the topics of EU enlargement, migration and energy policy, among others. In this way, it becomes visible which different subject areas are relevant and influenced by the war at the same time. 

Furthermore, the young people are confronted with fictitious personae whose arguments they examine for disinformation. A long creative phase in different challenge levels enables the young people to formulate their own wishes and hopes according to their needs and to direct their attention to challenges and opportunities of current developments. 

For our workshop, for example, the war in Ukraine is the framework, but afterwards many concrete aspects are addressed, and the significance of the war is explored on different levels. 

The way ahead

Creating an awareness of the war and its effects, but taking young people's insecurities seriously and giving them the space to shape things themselves is a challenge, especially when it comes to the topic of war. It is also important to make it clear that there are limits to the thematisation of a war that is currently taking place. Especially the perceived and factual unequal treatment of refugees from other regions and the non-topicisation of other wars and conflicts worldwide can be an irritant that needs to be addressed. 

In any case, there is a limit to what can be achieved within the framework of a one-day workshop - even if this is more time than is often available in everyday school life, for example. A sustainable treatment of these topics as well as the creation of new, different spaces and formats in what are currently often perceived as unsettling times remains indispensable. 

One thing is already certain: Dealing with the war in Ukraine and the role of political education work in it, as well as the fundamental thematisation of war and conflict in our work, will continue to be one of our core topics in 2023.

Photo: Moa Alexandersson/Unsplash

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