With Euroskeptic and Pro-EU Participants
Written by Boroka Beni
In the project summary we had originally planned to have a homogenous group of euroskeptic participants in the second circle, in February (following a homogenous group of pro-EU participants in the first). However, as the recruitment process took shape, it has become clear that finding individuals holding euroskeptic views and asking them to commit to a three weekend process was more difficult than we had assumed in the beginning. A reason for this might be the fact that a dialogue circle sounds like a liberal methodology and Hungarian people with euroskeptic views may not feel comfortable entering this realm of discussion, even if the facilitators claim that all voices are equally heard in it. “Dialogue” is not only perceived as a liberal process in our country, but is also the name of a liberal party.
Other members of our international team of 27 facilitators faced the same challenge in terms of the composition of the second circle, so we made a decision that starting with the second circle we can hold mixed groups (with both euroskeptic and pro-EU participants) in order to have a sufficient number of participants. In the circle in Budapest approximately half of the group consisted of euroskeptic and the other half of pro-EU participants (previously screened in the registration process).
We began this circle by collecting personal values (as we did in the first circle) to find that the values mentioned and put in the center (on the center piece) were not so different from one another in spite of different opinions. We continued with the same consensus-building game (as we did in the first circle) to discover that participants put an enormous amount of energy into this process. (The group chose to spend 70 minutes with this exercise.) The piece we were building together in the center took different shapes, but there was a certain point in the game that many of us referred to as “grieving” in the discussion following the game. We had a dead body (played by one of the participants), then two women were crying together in the center and someone even put on slow classical music. Sadness and grief are powerfully represented in Hungarian culture, in hymns, folk songs, dramas, and other artistic forms. Hungarian history is also cumbersome with tragic events and lost wars. The recognition of the need to get passed these experiences could also have been the fuel behind the group’s theme of grief.
Our group of three facilitators has decided to focus more on topics related to the EU this time (more than in the first circle). We prepared the group for a role-play exercise by asking participants to look back to their personal experiences at the time when Hungary joined the EU (May 1, 2004). After collecting a list of concerns regarding the European Union in general and voting for the hottest topic, the group chose the following issue: “Do we want to live in a Europe with only white Christian citizens, or with a diverse population?” After asking participants to find their place on an imagined scale we split the group in two and asked the subgroups to prepare for a debate on television. One representative of each group then gave a short speech to support their opinion and answered some questions. We then asked members of the subgroups to switch places with one another to realize how difficult it was to put oneself in other’s shoes and how little they understood each other’s point of view. Finally we used the circle process to reflect on experiences in the role-play exercise and to move towards more personal stories about how our opinions have developed. Even though during the first day of the weekend many participants expressed their shock about opinions coming from others (such as: “The nation needs a strong leader, because dictatorship is more effective than democracy.”), near the end of the weekend, after hearing the stories behind the opinions and having spent some time together, building relationships, the group came to a level of intuitive understanding and members expressed the need to continue the discussion. We were happy to find that the two representatives of the two subgroups spent the lunch break sitting at the same table “building a nation” – as they said when they reported back in the circle. In general, the process was a fruitful experience for many of us, because we realized that our initial assumption that the circle can hold diverse opinions and lead to understanding even in polarized groups proved to be valid.