42nd General Meeting in Bad Kotzting
42nd General Meeting – Bad Kotzting, Bavaria 11th-14th May 2017
I am fresh back from the 42nd General Meeting, which was very successful, inspiring and moving. The European theme this year was the very urgent and relevant Refugee Crisis currently occupying European hearts and minds.
Sherborne Douzelage was represented by four delegates, six non-delegates, one youth delegate, and one youth non-delegate – the Dorset Dozen. For once Sherborne was not the largest delegation, being beaten not only by our German hosts but also by Meerssen’s magnificent turnout of 20! Altogether there were more than 160 delegates from 27 partner towns out of the 28 EU countries. Prienai, our Lithuanian town was the only one unable to send a delegate to celebrate the 26th year of Douzelage. The meeting this year was the first to be led by our new President Annigje Luns-Kruybosch (Meerssen, NL). She was supported by two of her three vice-presidents, Mette Grith Sorensen (Holstebro, Denmark), and Miha Jese (Skofja Loka, Slovenia). Much missed was the third vice-president Tibi Rotaru from Siret, Romania.
Our thanks go to Markus Hofmann, the Mayor of Bad Kotzting, for his wonderfully warm welcome, and of course to Wolfgang and Agathe Kersher, Isolde Emberger and Hans-Peter Jobst for all their hard work and planning which resulted in such a busy and worthwhile conference.
The theme of the General Meeting was all about the refugees and migrants who have travelled long distances over land and sea from Afghanistan, Syria and the Middle East, as well as Africans from Ethiopia, Eritrea and other countries. The many thousands involved have travelled many different routes and have ended up in various different EU countries. This was the main subject of the Conference. It was moving to see refugees who have settled in Bad Kotzting being included in our meetings. They cooked and shared their foods on the opening night, joined in the workshops and again in closing celebrations on Saturday night.
We heard serious and sometimes harrowing experiences, attitudes and opinions from all across Europe and passionate appeals for change in the situation, particularly from Malta, Italy, Greece and Cyprus who geographically are all at the receiving edge. We also heard from Denmark and Austria about of the social experiences of the refugees arriving in their communities. The discussions were followed by the reaffirmation in the commitment to Douzelage by the re-stamping and signing of a new Codicil. For the first time all 28 towns of Douzelage were included in the Codicil.
There were many opportunities to circulate with friends from all our partner towns. Old friendships were renewed and new ones forged. New ideas were presented for the coming year, notably Houffalize’s (Belgium) new history project and Granville (France) getting funding for the Young Musicians project for 2018. Preveza (Greece) is inviting choirs next summer, Miha proposed a new book about the history of Douzelage. Meerssen (NL) presented a new concept of “Via Douzelage”, the idea of establishing new pathways/roads between our partner towns. Bad Kotzting showed us new boundary stones to add to the existing circle in their park, completing the set of 28. Oxelosund (Sweden) presented a video of their town, inviting everyone to meet up there for the 43rd General Meeting next Spring.
To end on a personal note – what were the highlights for me? First and most obviously was the opportunity to meet the young refugees, to see them join in, talk, laugh and dance the events with us. I will remember the hanging of the blue and yellow ribbons in the town square, each with a personal message of hope for the future of Europe (I must say the word Brexit did appear on some!), but all with the spirit of hope in the future, as friends working together.
Although I did not see much of the Youth delgates during the daytime, from the last evening I still have ringing in my ears the sound of the drummers beating out the rhythm of togetherness and shared values that is the true spirit of Douzelage. Viva Europe! – Viva Douzelage!
Marcus Ainley – Chair Sherborne Douzelage 28/05/2017