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Letter from the Chairperson in March

BRUSSELS – Student politics have long been tied to geopolitics and democratic development throughout Europe and the world in general. Since the protests on Euromaidan in 2013 those ties have only grown stronger for the European Students’ Union (ESU).

Those developments are in many ways a sign of ESU’s increasing visibility and impact. However, to put it mildly, this is not entirely unproblematic. It means that individual actors and even governments seek to use our organisations to gain legitimacy for different purposes.

ESU is built on the principle that we should be an open, inclusive organisation that is based on solidarity. This can mean that those national unions of students that we want to include in ESU or are in ESU, can be or act currently in countries with an authoritarian government.

Just as the world at large becomes less naïve of its reality since Euromaidan so must ESU become less naïve about the reality we act in. As an organisation sprung from an idealistic and supremely nerdy movement this can sometimes be a reality that is hard to swallow.

We have a responsibility to become even more aware and cautious for how the organisation can be taken advantage of, while still aiming to support students that fight for human rights and democracy in a time where it is needed more than ever. We will without a doubt make mistakes as we grow in this somewhat-new role for the organisation. Part of this growth is to accept that you cannot change the past, but at the same time we can become better at seeing situations for what they are and aim to change them in the future.

In the coming months we aim to become more clear, strategic and transparent in how we approach countries criticised for their violation of human rights, democratic deficiencies and that are embroiled in conflict. This is not an easy task in an organisation with wide geographical borders and large cultural divides.

However, this is a task that must be undertaken. While it may be comfortable to attempt to ignore the world outside issues that are directly related to higher education, we exist in and are dragged into the outside world whether we like it or not. It is important for ESU and the student movement as a whole that we are at the forefront in areas where we can genuinely make a difference, and human rights is one of them if we learn from our growth.

Elisabeth Gehrke

European Students’ Union 2014-2015


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