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The history of the German-speaking Community of Belgium, has been very eventful and particularly so in the 20th century; not least because this region changed nationality three times within 25 years – due to the geopolitical conflicts of the early 20th century. In this context, youth work was also affected by rapid development and a wide range of influences.
After tentative initiatives at the turn of the 19th century, youth work became increasingly successful in the 1920s. The current conditions in Eastbelgium (the region was ceded by Germany to Belgium in 1920, so consequently the German-speaking Community of Belgium as such did not exist yet) explains the interest shown by both Germany and Belgium in the young people of Eupen-Malmedy. In the 1930s, youth work very rapidly became an instrument of German subversion or Belgian “corrective measures” and each “camp” attempted to interest and subsequently fanaticise young people.
After the Second World War, youth work in Eastbelgium continued to be an instrument, in this case for the assimilation policy. Belgium did not wish to repeat the mistakes made after the First World War and aimed to integrate the population – and therefore also the youth – as effectively as possible. The youth organisations and associations were subject to Belgian national movements, which also took care of their financial affairs.
The first intervention of the Belgian state affecting youth work in Eastbelgium dates back to 1967, when youth leader training was first granted financial support by the Ministry of Culture. These subsidies increased over the years, which enabled youth organisations to become increasingly autonomous and distance themselves from the national movements.
The year 1967 therefore marked the advent of youth policy in Eastbelgium. With the creation of the Youth Council in the mid-1970s, young people were involved in politics for the first time. As an advisory body, the Council of the German-speaking Youth (Rat der deutschsprachigen Jugend, RDJ) had a certain influence on the decisions of the Cultural Office for the German Language Area.
In the course of time and political changes (cultural independence in 1983 and subsequent developments), co-operation between youth work and youth policy increased steadily. The opinion of the German-speaking Youth Council became increasingly important (nowadays, it must be asked to produce a report before an amendment of the Decree on the Promotion of Youth Work (Dekret zur Förderung der Jugendarbeit) can be passed). Due to this improved co-operation, the mutual involvement and influence of youth policy on youth work increased and vice versa.
The development of youth policy since 2000 clearly indicates that policy is made for young people and brought closer to them (close partnership between the government and ministry, the Youth Office (Jugendbüro der Deutschsprachigen Gemeinschaft) and municipalities in the field of open youth work). It also shows clearly that the policy also originates from young people and youth work. Current youth policy is based on a programme, which is based on consultations with young people. In this way, a place and framework is defined with young people in the German-speaking Community, in which youth can develop.
Youth work is the main agent of youth policy in the German-speaking Community. In the relevant draft of the afore-mentioned decree youth work is described as follows:
Youth work takes place out of school and during certain leisure activities. It is based on the processes of non-formal and informal learning and voluntary participation. These activities and processes are organised as individual initiatives, with the consultation of young people or under the educational guidance of youth workers or voluntary youth leaders.
By providing appropriate opportunities, it promotes the individual, social and cultural development of young people, while taking account of their interests and needs. It also helps teach young people to support each other and live independently and sustainably. Furthermore, it aims to enable them to be responsible for themselves, take part in family and social life, contribute to democracy, resolve conflicts amicably and show tolerance towards different opinions, cultures and ways of life. It contributes to the physical and emotional welfare of young people and enables them to gain self-efficacy experiences and learn participatory skills.