For the first time in three years, Wikimedians from Central and Eastern Europe gathered to meet in person at the Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2022, which was held in Ohrid from 14–16 October under the slogan “Bringing Back Together!” to highlight the recoupling. The event attracted more than 100 people from around 35 communities and affiliates, who had the opportunity to share and learn as well as to discuss new ideas. One of the focal points of the conference was the formal establishment of the Wikimedia CEE Hub as a network of communities and affiliates in the region.
The return to on-site attendance
After the Wikimedia Foundation lifted the Covid Travel Policy earlier this year, the organisers of this year’s Wikimedia CEE Meeting announced that the event would take place with on-site attendance as it used to be until 2019. The city of Ohrid, originally selected to host the conference in 2020, remained unchanged. As this was the first in-person edition of the conference to take place during the COVID-19 pandemic, all participants were required to abide by the national regulations in place and a COVID-19 testing boot was installed in the lobby in front of the conference halls.
Notwithstanding the return to on-site attendance, the event featured some novelties that were first introduced at the online editions in the previous two years. Firstly, this was the first in-person event with language interpretation from English into Russian and vice versa. Secondly, a significant number of speakers who were unable to attend the conference, primarily due to visa issues or a positive COVID-19 shortly before departure, were allowed to talk remotely or even pre-record their lectures, thus giving the event a hybrid component. However, even though the option of speaking remotely was introduced, there were last-minute cancellations because some workshops could not fit into that format.
A brief recap of the conference
As usual in the past, the conference began with a pre-conference Learning Day that was held in Hotel Bellevue on 13 October and covered two major topics: conflict engagement for humans and creative thinking as strategy. It was followed by the main part of the conference from 14–16 October that consisted of numerous talks on various themes formatted as lectures, workshops, panels, lightning talks and roundtables that were carried out in three halls at Hotel Metropol—Car Samoil, Kaneo and Ohrid. There were also a couple of posters displayed in the lobby in front of the halls. All sessions were documented on etherpads, those taking place in Car Samoil and Kaneo were recorded, whereas those held in Car Samoil were also live-streamed on YouTube via the Wikimedia CEE channel and featured language interpretation from English into Russian and vice versa.
In the opening ceremony, the mayor of Ohrid Municipality Mr. Kiril Pecakov was first to address the audience before the organisers welcomed participants and introduced the event from a logistical viewpoint. Other sessions were run and facilitated primarily by experienced volunteers and staff from the CEE communities and affiliates, but there was also evident presence of speakers from the Wikimedia Foundation, the invited communities of Central Asia and outside the movement. Some of the major topics that attracted the largest attention at the event were related to the Wikimedia CEE Hub, the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the wiki ecosystem and the work of the Movement Charter Drafting Committee. There were also sessions sharing learning and introducing novel approaches on a wide variety of topics related to education, GLAM, community, technology, advocacy and governance. The closing ceremony featured an introductory presentation by Georgian Wikipedia community members as organisers of the next Wikimedia CEE Meeting in Tbilisi.
Apart from the main conference programme, the event was enriched with social events. A guided tour to the historical centre of Ohrid and the nearby eponymous lake, both listed as Cultural and Natural World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, was organised in the evening of the second day with a stroll to the Ancient Theatre, Samuel’s Fortress,Church of Saint Sophia, Church of Saints Clement and Panteleimon, Church of St. John at Kaneo and the Robevci family house. The tour was followed by a dinner with traditional Macedonian food and a live folk performance.
CEE Hub officially launched
The conference was primarily marked by the launch of the CEE Hub, which was covered by three sessions with one on each day. The first one was an introductory plenary session in which members of the Interim CEE Hub Steering Committee informed the audience regarding the work done so far and introduced Barbara Klen as the CEE Hub Coordinator due to assume office on 1 December 2022. The second session was a workshop in which the committee members worked together with the incoming CEE Hub Coordinator to define the programme of the hub for the first year. The third one was another plenary session in which the programme for the first year was communicated with the CEE communities and the composition of the CEE Hub Steering Committee during the upcoming year was announced.
What comes next in the CEE region?
The implementation of the CEE Hub’s programme for the first year, which will have to provide regional support to the CEE communities in different ways, is the main expectations in the period after the conference. As presented during the closing session, the preparations for Wikimedia CEE Meeting 2023 have already started, and the event is planned to take place in September 2023.
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