»Ich bin auf einem kleinen Dorf in Norddeutschland aufgewachsen. Mein Umzug nach Jena mit 20 Jahren, das war mein Aufbruch, aus dem Westen in den Osten. Mittlerweile fühle ich mich hier zu Hause – und gut integriert.«

Tobias from Jena, born 1991 in the BRD

The loss of confidence in parliamentary democracy and its institutions is one of the central challenges in (Eastern) Germany and Eastern Europe. The Future Centre in Jena not only researches its causes but also makes a practical contribution to overcoming them. In this, the Future Centre picks up from the experience expressed by people in Eastern Germany of being in an “unasked” position both during the GDR era and during the reunification process and subsequent transformation period, and counters this with the idea of dialogue, discussing with one another, listening and searching together. The Centre for German Unity and European Transformation is part of the joint discourse on the changes societal transformation processes entail and on ways they can be successfully managed.

A crucial building block for strengthening democracy is the participation of citizens in political decision-making processes and the resulting experience of self-efficacy. Jena is an outstanding example of how citizen participation and democratic co-determination work, which prerequisites are needed and which challenges have to be overcome. Eichplatz, where the Future Centre in Jena stands, is the perfect location for this: In addition to its central location in the middle of the city and its eventful history of transformation, nowadays, it is a symbol of democracy and citizen participation. From the large-scale demonstrations in 1989 to an extensive participatory process for its development, it is a prime example of how citizens can have a say in their immediate surroundings, as well as in major social developments.

Not only are these experiences exchanged and passed on in the Centre for German Unity and European Transformation with committed people from other regions and countries, but the Future Centre in Jena is simultaneously a place of learning for citizens, politicians and administrative staff, in which the needs of successful citizen participation are conveyed and further developed in a structured manner. Together, this is where we learn from the examples of successful transformation throughout Eastern Germany and Eastern Europe and the moments and processes in which citizens have worked together to drive change.

Given the challenges of the coming transformations, political decisions will require not less but more democratic co-determination. The Future Centre in Jena accompanies the upcoming transformations and the possibilities of democratic participation in dialogue with the citizens. This is where the necessary skills and competencies are taught.

This also includes breaking up the hardening of our social dialogue by learning to argue with each other constructively. The Future Centre in Jena will offer structures and formats that are explicitly designed to teach “democracy skills”: Learning to debate and argue, to endure different opinions and to conduct debates in a solution-oriented manner.

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