Korčula School 2017 - Report

Museum silk Konavle

Museum of folk costumes, Konavle, Croatia

One of the most beautiful aspects of Croatian cultural heritage is the production of folk costumes and embroidery in the Southern region around Konavle. The way to produce a different kind of fabric was passed among Croatian women from generation to generation. Breeding silkworms and making silk in harmony with nature was part of their regional identity and a family tradition to which they remained loyal. After almost being extinct during the war, the silkworm was brought back to the village 18 years ago. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of a small number of local women, the tradition stays in the collective memory and can be passed on to the next generation. Today you can admire the work of these women at their Museum. Our PES Women team and the other participants of this year’s Korčula School visited Konavle on the peak of the two-day seminar, held in the neighboring Cavtat.

Under the topic “Transforming politics – intergenerational dialogue on gender equality and solidarity”, the Central Eastern European Gender Network in partnership with the European Forum, the Center for New Initiatives and with support of the Olof Palme International Center, the Foundation Friedrich-Ebert and the Party of European Socialists hosted the Think Thank for the sixth time. For this edition, the objective was to add an intergenerational lens to the gender perspective in order to combine common visions, exchange on similar issues and to strive for a more intersectional and close cooperation between the Youth and Women’s forums of the Social Democratic Parties.

Especially in the Balkan region, the young generation is heavily affected by the aftermaths of the financial crisis, structural changes on the labour market and by ongoing demographic deviations, which puts them at huge disadvantage. In addition to that, a lot of people, young and old, are leaving progressive political parties. They are looking for new political options and identities, which they seem not to find with the Social Democratic Parties of their respective country, because they are seen as outdated, distant from the people, institutionalized and became more a brand name than a real action taker. While trust is being lost on one side, political power is gained by the far-right parties on the other side, which is putting social democracy at risk. The problem here at stake is that the less democracy, the less gender equality you have and vice versa. In particular, in the Balkan region you can witness a "re-traditionalization" of gender roles, which comes hand in hand with this negative trend.

So, what can we Social Democrats do to reconnect with the society and its actors? How can we translate our founding principles into honest party programmes and policies that are in line with people’s concerns? How can we achieve not only political participation and substantial representation of youth and women, but realize a shift to the question if our political work is actually for their benefit?

The Korčula School invited inter alia academics, political leaders, youth and women forums and activist to reflect on these and other crucial questions. In format of panel discussions, exercises and workshops, the participants analyzed the interrelation between democracy and gender equality, the current electoral behavior of young and older generations, presented new initiatives on the left, received advice to improve their position within the party, but also deepened the debates by raising questions about internal doubts and difficulties. If there are so many new projects popping up in the civil society isn’t that a proof that political parties have lost the trust of the citizens? How can we Social Democrats link these initiatives and find the necessary changes that need to happen within the party structure to be a real alternative and to act on a political and on a civil society level?

Two days is definitely not enough to find the correct answer to all these important questions, but what can be done is to create synergies between people who are fighting for the same cause; we can strive to be more on the field, engaging with people on the ground to support their everyday life struggles. What we should do is going back to the roots of our Social Democratic values and refocus our work to the reason why we exist – doing politics for the needs of the people and to assure a fair life with equal opportunities for the next generation – and not only to win the next election. Maybe we can take the women from Konavle as a great example and see the silkworms as our social democratic values, fragile and precious, that cannot be taken for granted and which need a respectful, meticulous care-taking every day. If not, they will not survive and cannot be preserved for the younger generation. These are strong women who are contributing to the greater good of the society – let’s do it like them.