Human Rights Education with Graphic Novels – The Graphic Novel Project in Berlin

In Donbas, fighting has been going on for four years. The war in Eastern Ukraine has considerably changed the lives of the people there. To convey the difficult situation throughout Ukraine and in other countries, methods and media must be developed in order to reach different target groups. From 10-14 May, the project group met various actors involved in political and historical education work in Berlin, to get inspiration on the topic.

The conflict has polarized the population of Ukraine. It has divided neighbourhoods, friends and families. We talked to Dana Jirous and Inga Luther, representatives of the organisation OWEN – mobile Akademie für Geschlechterdemokratie und Friedensförderung e.V. (mobile academy for gender democracy and the promotion of peace), about the possibilities for and limits of dialogue in conflict. Their experiences in the Caucasus and Ukraine show that cultural projects can decrease mistrust and prepare the ground for dialogue in society.

Building up local structures is essential for successful cultural projects – even more so in conflict-prone regions. Alona Karavai, programme manager at MitOst e.V., presented different working styles and projects that their organisation had developed, aiming not only at regional support but also at the international networking of local actors.

The presentation of the Federal Agency for Civic Education by communication scientist Prof. Dr. Gernot Wolfram evoked discussions within the group. The Agency is financially supported by the state and managed by Members of the Parliament, which might conflict principles of independent and critical education and information work. Today in Ukraine it is barely imaginable that a state institution could foster critical discussions about their own history and politics.

With Georg Pirker, a representative of the Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten e.V. (Working group of German educational institutions), we discussed the role of human rights education in German youth education activities. As Secretary of the DARE network (Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe), Pirker advocates establishing human rights education in Europe as a autonomous field of non-formal education.Not all countries have human rights education so closely tied to historical and political education and to the topic of the Holocaust as in Germany.

A training session at „7x jung“ offered a practical approach to innovative teaching methods. This learning space aims to initiate a reflection of the National Socialist past and at the same time critical thinking about exclusion, identity and courage. The biographic moments of the exhibition in particular offered inspiration for our participants.

“The Search” is a graphic novel developed by the Anne Frank Centre in Berlin together with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam especially for education purposes. Director Patrick Siegele gave the group some very interesting insights into the development process of the novel. Using the novel in school has shown that students get better access to the topic of National Socialism and develop a far deeper interest in it – we hope to generate same effects regarding the conflict in Ukraine, the topic of our novel.

The last day of the meeting was dedicated to the composition of our graphic novel. Under the guidance of Nicole Köstler, dramatic adviser and scriptwriter, participants developed the characters of their stories and learned how to create arcs of suspense. Reducing the rich narrative interviews to short, illustrated stories was a challenge in most cases, but one which the students mastered successfully in the end.

The project is financed by the German Foreign Office and supported by the Ukraine-Calling-Programme of the Europa-University Viadrina, the Robert Bosch Foundation and the German Association of Researchers of Ukraine.

Project manager: Imke Hansen, imke.hansen[at]lphr.org
Coordination: Anne Reis, anne.reis[at]lphr.org

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