Baltic Debate and Media camp: culture night

The chaos, fun and all-but-inevitable dancing of culture night is a long established tradition at IDEA's Youth in the 21st Century debate and media camps. Culture night at this year's Baltic Youth in the 21st Century camp included Estonian animation, Latvian folk songs, Lithuanian indie bands, mead, Canadian beer, chocolate and fern head-dresses. But there's a serious purpose behind the music, the national costumes and the huge quantity of food that somehow materialises half way through each camp's first week.

Youth in the 21st Century is a regional program. It aims to teach young people the critical thinking and media literacy skills necessary to understand the ideas and institutions that define contemporary politics and culture. Alongside this goal, each camp also helps to build networks of journalists and activists that can operate across the borders and boundaries created by the conflict and turmoil of the last century.

The Youth in the 21st Century camps provide talented and curious young people with a space to share expertise and experience, to develop insights and communicate ideas. Whatever conflicts, rivalries and crises are affecting their home states, IDEA's mix of rigourous debate training and professional, incisive journalism teaching enables young people begin exploring sustainable, inclusive solutions to ethnic, economic and political divisions.

Of course, the ethos of the Youth in the 21st Century program was never meant to be confined to the classroom. Culture night lets camp participants (and IDEA's trainers) explore what food, music and humour mean for their communities – using as much noise and colour as possible.

In the right political environment, regional conflicts can be transformed into opportunities for countries to join together to drive innovation and development. More open, accountable and tolerant democracies aren't just built in debate chambers and editor's offices. Open societies start on dance-floors; they start in cooking pots; they start with raised glasses; with bad puns; with gifts and with handshakes.

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