Part of Europe's annual Local Democracy Week, the 1st Teenagers' Municipal Council brought students from five local high schools to debate multiculturalism and its impact on the city. Debate followed the format of a Municipal Council meeting using Robert's Rules of Order.
Problems and Purpose
The 1st Teenagers’ Municipal Council, held in the city of Ilion, Greece in 2015, was a simulation of the Ilion Municipal Council intended to familiarize high school-aged constituents with local democratic institutions. The event was held within the framework of the European Local Democracy Week — an annual a pan-European initiative that encourages municipalities to host events that connect constituents with their local democratic bodies. Local Democracy Week invites local NGOs and government bodies to organize events that promote and stimulate democratic engagement; in return, the most creative Municipalities are recognized by the Council of Europe.The initiative was created with three broad aims: first, to introduce otherwise unengaged youth to the structure and goals of the Ilion Municipal Council; secondly, to foster dialogue about an issue that is seen as of critical importance for Greek society, and, finally, to mark Ilion’s commitment to the Council of Europe’s “Living together in multicultural societies: Respect, dialogue, interaction” mandate.
Background History and Context
The issue of multiculturalism is especially important for the Municipality of Ilion, which has a long history as an immigrant hub. The Greek government’s history of not collecting data on ethnic identity until the late 90s makes it difficult to draw number-backed conclusions: however, Ilion is anecdotally known as one of the more immigrant-dense Athenian suburbs, in part due to its historically working class population and low property prices. Notably, the Greek government’s restrictive immigration laws, which make the acquisition of Greek citizenship or permanent resident status for newcomers nearly impossible, also complicate data collection -- thus, many immigrants remain undocumented. This topic was of special relevance to Ilion: as Greece has recently begun to transition from a mono-cultural to a multi-cultural society, Ilion has been welcoming a large portion of the immigrants residing in the greater Athens prefecture. This is not the municipality’s first attempt at an event that acknowledges -- and even celebrates -- Greece’s increasing multiculturalism: in 2014, the municipality of Ilion held a speaker series on multiculturalism and multilingualism. In 2016, Ilion also hosted a series of “solidarity concerts” to signal its respect towards immigrants’ and refugees’ fundamental human rights. However, the Teenagers’ Municipal Council appears to be the first major initiative that integrates those themes while being participatory in nature, thus encouraging civic debate among youth participants.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Although no data on the event’s cost exists online, it is reasonable to assume that this was a low cost event. The venue used was in the Ilion Municipal City Hall, and, as such, we may assume negligible to no rental costs. No food was served. We may assume that low to negligible costs were incurred for live streaming the event, as the video was hosted on the Municipality’s website. No information on the cost of the interpreter exists online.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
An invitation to attend was extended to students from all five local high schools. No information on the application process exists, although we may assume that the final student selection was co-ordinated through each individual high school.
Methods and Tools Used
The simulation was created with the intention of being modeled after a municipal council meeting in structure. The teenaged participants were divided into a team representing the municipal authorities and opposition, made to discuss the impact of ‘multiculturalism’ on Ilion and broader Greek society, and expected to abide by Robert’s Rules of Order. According to the municipality’s press release, the students representing municipal authorities developed arguments in favor of multiculturalism, whereas the opposition voiced concerns about integration, while members representing civil society echoed growing tensions and levels of xenophobia among the native Greek population.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
According to the press release, the participants mostly expressed sympathy towards immigrants. Participants representing municipal authorities gave arguments in favour of multiculturalism and “recalled the experience of Greek Diaspora and the experience of former Greeks as refugees abroad”. They also spoke of the government’s responsibility towards immigrants, as enshrined by a number of European and International treaties that Greece has ratified. By contrast, the opposition claimed that Greece was unfit to support more newcomers, citing Greece’s difficult economic circumstances as proof. Participants expressed concerns about the degradation of already weak social services due to an influx of immigrants. Finally, the local society reflected xenophobic attitudes in the Greek mainstream, and pondered the “degradation of local civic society” due to an influx of new cultures. Concerns about the difficulty of Greek language learning for newcomers in Greek public schools were also prominent.
Influence, Outcome, and Effects
Αs a result of the event’s success, a second Teenagers’ Municipal Council meeting took place in Ilion on the 14th of October 2016; the simulation was centered around a number of questions, including “European citizenship”, culture, the economy, immigration, and substance abuse. Two representatives from the Ilion Municipal Council were also present, including the mayor, Nikos Zenetos.More specifically, the event drew attention to common political views on immigration and multiculturalism. While there is no indication that the views voiced were the participants’ own, or that these ideas were further discussed during actual Ilion Municipal Council meetings, they are still in sync with various opinions held by different stakeholders in Greek society. Finally, the event also aligned Ilion with other European programming during European Local Democracy Week. The event was covered in the European Local Democracy Week website: even though the Municipality’s activity wasn’t an award-winning entry, it still gained visibility.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The meeting was broadcast online through the Municipality of Ilion’s website; subtitles and sign language captions were provided for accessibility. Netizen accounts of the event were largely positive: a Greek blogger described the event as “hopeful” for giving youth and politicians a space to engage in dialogue, while the Mayor of Ilion noted that “the level of discussion exceeded expectations.”  Moreover, politicians including member of European Parliament Eva Kaili made a point of explaining European youth engagement initiatives to the youth in attendanceThere is no available information on accommodations during the physical meeting, or outreach efforts to attract traditionally excluded groups to the event, although students from all five local high schools were present. Since Municipal Councils often act as meeting places, where citizens can get a sense of what people they otherwise may never encounter, but who they share an urban location with, might look like or think, attention must be paid to ensuring event accessibility. This can take the form of accommodations for attendants with disabilities, promotional campaigns in urban centers, workplaces, and community hubs, as well as active outreach to minority communities.Two representatives from the Ilion Municipal Council were present at the 2nd Teenagers’ Meeting, including the mayor, Nikos Zenetos. While broadening the base of topics discussed and inviting adult politicians to the meeting both represent attempts to further connect the work of the Teenagers’ Municipal Council to municipal government itself, the low frequency of meeting (one every year) makes the initiative more akin to a conference than a political body. The infrequent meetings make it difficult to receive actionable feedback on imminent political decisions and reduce incentives for participating youth to remain involved in their municipality. Thus, increasing meeting frequency to once a month, or otherwise incentivizing youth (through a quota or formal requirement) to shadow the Ilion Municipal Council’s meetings, as well as further aligning the Teenagers’ Municipal Council’s work with the Ilion Municipal Council’s decision-making and discussions, could boost the participants’ level of involvement.Finally, more attention should be paid to making the simulation inclusive. Although the municipality hasn’t publicized data on the number of participants, or their prior cultural experiences, it is safe to assume that the majority came from an ethnically Greek background. This means that the conversation was likely one-sided, and missed the potential of capturing immigrant and newcomer youth’s unique perspectives.
Robert's Rule of Order
 The Council of Europe. “Assessment of the European Local Democracy Week 2015”. Retrieved from http://docplayer.net/15209466-Dear-eldw-partners-andreas-kiefer-secretary-general-of-the-congress.html Δήμος Ιλίου. “Δημοτικό Συμβούλιο Εφήβων στον Δήμο Ιλίου”. Retrieved from http://www.ilion.gr/web/guest/dt/archive/16557?p_p_action=1& The Council of Europe. “Assessment of the European Local Democracy Week 2015”. Retrieved from http://docplayer.net/15209466-Dear-eldw-partners-andreas-kiefer-secretary-general-of-the-congress.html Δήμος Ιλίου. “Δημοτικό Συμβούλιο Εφήβων στον Δήμο Ιλίου”. Retrieved from http://www.ilion.gr/web/guest/dt/archive/16557?p_p_action=1& Ibid. Ibid. The Council of Europe. “Assessment of the European Local Democracy Week 2015”. Retrieved from http://docplayer.net/15209466-Dear-eldw-partners-andreas-kiefer-secretary-general-of-the-congress.html Ίλιον: Ημερίδα «Πολυγλωσσία & Πολυπολιτισμικότητα». Westnews.gr. Retrieved from http://www.westnews.gr/el/dimotika/alion/alion_hmerida_apoluglossia__polupolitismikotitaa.html Δήμος Ιλίου. “Δημοτικό Συμβούλιο Εφήβων στον Δήμο Ιλίου”. Retrieved from http://www.ilion.gr/web/guest/dt/archive/16557?p_p_action=1& Ibid. Δήμος Ιλίου. “2o Δημοτικό Συμβούλιο Εφήβων στον Δήμο Ιλίου”. Retrieved from http://www.ilion.gr/web/guest/dt/archive/18065?doAsUserId=zdxtwwclhzrdgz& Δήμος Ιλίου. “Δημοτικό Συμβούλιο Εφήβων στον Δήμο Ιλίου”. Retrieved from http://www.ilion.gr/web/guest/dt/archive/16557?p_p_action=1& “Πολιτική σκέψη και ενδιαφέρουσα επιχειρηματολογία από τους εφήβους του δήμου Ιλίου” desilion.blogspot.gr. Retrieved from http://desilion.blogspot.ca/2016/10/blog-post_21.html “Στα δημοτικά έδρανα έφηβοι του Ιλίου. Παρέδωσαν μαθήματα δημοκρατίας και ωριμότητας”. Doxthi.gr. Retrieved from http://doxthi.gr/24281/στα-δημοτικά-έδρανα-έφηβοι-του-ιλίου-π/ Δήμος Ιλίου. “2o Δημοτικό Συμβούλιο Εφήβων στον Δήμο Ιλίου”. Retrieved from http://www.ilion.gr/web/guest/dt/archive/18065?doAsUserId=zdxtwwclhzrdgz&
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