Espera, la ayuda viene!

By Maeva Chargros

What would it look like, if the Charter 77 was still active, with members from all across the world and from all generations? One of the answers to this rather odd question took place for the 30th consecutive year in the city of Caen, in Normandy (France), on January 25-27, 2019. In French, it is called “Concours de Plaidoiries”; a competition of defence speeches and pleas for fundamental freedoms. Four of these fundamental freedoms were named by President Roosevelt on January 6, 1941: “the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear”[1]. And for this 2019 edition, the competition covered all four of them, defended by high school students aged from 15 to 18 years old, law students, and lawyers. Why, then, would this competition be in the continuity of the famous Charter 77?

It is essential not to forget, when it comes to history, for otherwise, we might not repeat history, but we might fail at taking a step further and risk taking a step back. The initial point is an improved version of our world two hours ago, but also ten centuries ago. Improved? For the sceptics among the readers of this article, please allow me to mention that ten centuries ago, the United Nations did not exist, nor did the Geneva Convention, the Istanbul Convention, and most of the texts quoted during the event I am writing about today were not even drafts, not even thoughts. Improvement does not mean perfection. And this is precisely what the Charter 77 was about: reminding a sovereign state of its own duties, namely, respecting human rights, international law, and the Helsinki Declaration.
This is precisely what these 37 people did during three days in the “Cité de l’Histoire de la Paix”, in this Memorial dedicated to peace and human rights: reminding sovereign states of their duties. They were coming from all corners of France and beyond.

Among the ten lawyers present, only four were from France. Two were from Belgium, one from Québec (Canada), one from Switzerland, one from Mali, and one from Benin. It is this one, from Benin, whose defence speech is the source of the title I chose for this article. These were among the last words Maître Koukpolou said in his plea. “Hold on, help is coming!” (“Espera, la ayuda viene!”, in Spanish.) Even if he did not win any award, his speech was among the most touching for me. His word symbolised the message of this year’s edition: there is still hope, as long as there are still humans who care about and defend others. He was the only one, of all three competitions, to focus on the political and humanitarian crisis currently killing so many people, including children, in Venezuela. The title of his plea: “Give me food and I’ll do whatever you want”. Continue reading “Espera, la ayuda viene!”

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European Press Freedom at the Pillory

By Marejke Tammen

The danger of press freedom is not only an issue that can be observe in the US, China or Russia. It is right in front of us and thumbs its nose at us Europeans.
What happens when unpopular ideas get silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark? What does it mean when journalists are muzzled, and fake news are deliberately disseminated? The answer is very clear: press freedom dies. Such painful death is happening on our so called “democratic continent” – Europe. Press freedom stands at the pillory, and its hangman is the populism.
Just recently, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published the annual Press Freedom Index for 2018 and shows the bitter truth: growing animosity towards journalists, hostility towards the media – encouraged by political leaders. But even more terrifying: the report refers to Europe.

As we usually think about countries outside of Europe as Egypt, Iran or China in terms of reduced press freedom, we must face the fact that the traditionally safe environment for journalists in Europe has begun to vanish. The situation of the freedom of press has deteriorated like in no other region in the world. Especially in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Malta and the Czech Republic attacks on media increased alarmingly. Leading politicians stand out negatively through verbal abuses and legal steps against journalists. European democratically-elected leaders, such as Victor Orbán or Giuseppe Conte, no longer see media as something that needs to be defended at all costs but as a toxic enemy. Even though free press is deep-seated in the fundamental rights and is an essential part of liberal democracies – something that Europe cloaks itself with. Europe rather seems to be pleased to trample all over these rights. But why is it so that the media becomes an adversary or even a scapegoat for all the bad things that happen? Continue reading “European Press Freedom at the Pillory”

A Tower of Babel Between CEE Countries & China?

By Jingjing Ning

China has long been known as the “world’s factory”, while Central and Eastern Europe has been called the “factory of Europe”. Will there be a new type of alignment between both factories? Or just as the old story said, the scene becomes chaotic as they cannot understand each other?
According to the latest statistics of Chinese Customs, the total trade amount of import and export between China and 16 CEE countries reached 67.98 billion US dollars in 2017, with the increase rate of 15.9% compared to the previous year. China’s exports amounted to 49.49 billion US dollars, with the increase rate of 13.1%, while imports amounted to 18.49 billion US dollars, with an increase rate of 24%.[1]

The 16+1 format is a new form of international cooperation between China and CEE countries, and also between the Western and Eastern worlds. This initiative, raised by China, aimed at intensifying and expanding cooperation with 11 EU Member States and 5 Balkan countries (namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia) in the fields of investments, transport, finance, science, education, and culture in 2012.
But 6 years have passed and the echoes from two sides are still strikingly different. From the Chinese government’s side, it was said that pragmatic cooperation has been expanding which brought benefits to the 17 countries. Economic and financial cooperation has steadily increased. On the other side, the European Union and Western European countries expressed concerns about this mechanism, and the Central and Eastern European countries (especially EU countries) considered that the achievement was limited. Continue reading “A Tower of Babel Between CEE Countries & China?”

70 Years Later: Lights & Shadows of Human Rights

By Agnese Olmati

Today, on December 10, 2018, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights celebrates its 70th anniversary. After seven decades and many achievements, it is certainly important to honour the document which became a major milestone for the history of human rights and is now regarded as a yardstick by all nations. However, it is also necessary to highlight that the UDHR is not all black and white, as well as the declarations it inspired, like for example the European Convention on Human Rights (1953) or the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the European Union (2009).
All these papers, their articles and their words demonstrate the states’ commitment to the protection of human rights but, despite this, it is clear that today, nations and the institutions created to protect those rights are often failing. A simple example? Even if the three above-mentioned declarations prohibit slavery, servitude, forced labor and the trafficking of human beings, all these can still be found in many countries around the world and around Europe[1].

The practical failure in the protection of human rights is now of great concern especially in Europe, where these rights are some of the main principles on which the European Union was built. Recent events have questioned the willingness of Europeans to actually support other people to be able to enjoy their same human rights and have shown the difficulties the EU encounters in guaranteeing the fruition of these rights to its citizens, thus challenging the accomplishment of the entire European project.
But flaws do not only concern the practical protection of human rights. Considering the theoretical aspect, there are several obstacles in the understanding and consequent application of the UDHR. Continue reading “70 Years Later: Lights & Shadows of Human Rights”

Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream

By Hanna Schlegel

Being German these days means witnessing the end of the Angela Merkel era. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Angela Merkel, is the CDU voters’ favourite to succeed the German chancellor as head of the Christian Democrats, according to a new poll published last Friday [23.11.2018]. But the disputed Friedrich Merz would be a way better choice from the view of the German centre-left parties.

Angela Merkel, as a result of her Christian Democratic Union’s poor showing in both federal (2017) and regional (2018, Bavaria and Hesse) elections, announced last October that she would neither run again as party chief in December nor seek re-election as chancellor in 2021. This decision not only further destabilizes German politics, with the threat of Merkel’s grand coalition with the Social Democrats (SPD) collapsing in the coming months; the decision also means she will become less influential on the European stage. For the past 13 years, the ‘Queen of Europe’, as she is fittingly being nicknamed, has dominated European affairs and held Europe together. Her departure will have significant consequences for the Europe as a whole, given the position that Germany, being the EU’s country with the largest economy and population, occupies within the EU. A change of power in Germany might very well affect the EU power structure in general.
Meanwhile, in Germany, the race to succeed her as CDU leader will entail a battle over the party’s direction. Three candidates have already announced their intentions of running for the post: Health minister Jens Spahn, the chancellor’s loudest internal critic; Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, a close ally of Merkel; and Friedrich Merz, who is coming back to the political scene after a 10 years break. Continue reading “Friedrich Merz: The German Centre-Left Parties’ Dream”

Hear Me Too

By Anonymous

I do not talk, but I heal.
I do not share, but I read.
I do not speak, but I hear.
I do not tell, but I fight.
I do not have a voice, but hope needs no sound.
Together, we rise.

Bulgaria: a woman was raped and murdered earlier this year. As soon as the international media heard that her job – she was a journalist – was probably not the reason why she was killed, her case ceased to appear in their headlines. A woman’s life is worth less than a journalist’s life. The fact that she was killed because she was a woman did not matter – it happens so often, after all.

Germany: every day, a man tries to kill his female partner.

Ireland: a 17 years old girl had to go through the humiliating experience of having her underwear exposed in front of the court during the trial of her rapist – who was then found not guilty for raping her. Apparently, wearing specific sorts of clothes is still considered as consent for rape in 2018 – not only by regular people, but also by judges.

France: 100% of women have experienced sexual harrassment in public spaces, including public transport.

European Union: “1 in 20 women have been raped before the age of 15. 1 in 4 persons believe that sexual intercourse without consent may be justified if for instance the victim is drunk, wearing revealing clothes, not saying “no” clearly or not fighting back.” (see Amnesty International link below for the source)

USA: a man accused of sexual assault refused to have a formal inquiry from the FBI to determine whether the allegations were true and refused to answer questions from Senators during an official hearing; he was confirmed as Judge of the Supreme Court.

Worldwide: 650 million girls are married within one year before the age of 18 – a large majority of them against their will.

Sexual violence is not happening only in remote areas far away from your comfortable home. Look around. Hear the survivors, believe the victims, and stand up against any form of violence against women and girls.

#BelieveSurvivors #WhyIDidntReport #BalanceTonPorc #EleNao #MeToo #HearMeToo #HeForShe #TimesUp #IWillGoOut #BringBackOurGirls #EndFGM #ThisIsNotConsent #NotConsent #DontTellMeHowToDress #YouAreNotAlone #NoMeansNo #MeTooIndia

UN Women – Facts Everyone Should Know (interactive infographics, available in English, Spanish and French)

UN Women – In Focus: Hear Me Too

UN Women – “My Story”

Amnesty International – “Sex without consent is rape

Bulgaria: #YouAreNotAlone campaign

WARNING!
For survivors and victims, some links and some of the hashtags include content that could be triggering. If you decide to still click on the links or check the hashtags, be aware that you can find support from many NGOs and structures in your country to help you go through potential consequences of such triggers.

Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?

By Julia Mason

Participatory democracy is the new trend. With the European parliament elections on the horizon, do citizens still have faith in representative democracy?

The Rise of Participatory Democracy

At a recent European Parliament event to celebrate the International Day of Democracy (18 September), statements proclaiming the merits of participatory democracy abounded. This might seem strange in the meeting rooms of one of the world’s biggest houses of political representatives, but participatory democracy is making waves in Brussels and beyond.
Citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, public consultations…These are the buzz words that are bringing legitimacy to contemporary democracies. On the model of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, propelled to fame thanks to its role in bringing about the Article 8 referendum on abortion rights, citizens’ assemblies have begun to pop up across the continent.[1] The number of municipalities setting up participatory budgeting is on the rise,[2] with some cities, such as Paris, handing over as much as 5% of their resources to publically-decided projects.[3] And of course, high-profile citizen consultation processes have started across the EU, largely inspired by Emmanuel Macron’s consultations citoyennes.
In his recent article, Stephen Boucher even goes as far as to propose that, post-Brexit, the remaining forty-six British seats in the European Parliament be reassigned to “a contingent of ordinary citizens from around the EU to examine legislation from the long-term perspective.”[4] But isn’t this precisely the role of an MEP? What happened to the concept of electing a trusted figure to represent your views in parliament on your behalf? Continue reading “Is There a Crisis of Confidence in Representative Democracy?”

Why the Idea of Europe Matters

By Nikhil Verma

What is Europe?
If you honestly think about it, could you pinpoint it out? If yes, where does Europe end or most importantly where does it start? Is Europe an ideology or does the idea of Europe ends with its dynamic borders?
Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden – these ‘Cantons’ laid down the foundation of the modern-day concept of ‘Culture’. You may wonder – How exactly has that evolved?

Well, ‘Cantons’ – the administrative division of states – make up nowadays’ confederation of ‘Switzerland. “Bundesbrief” – the oldest constitutional document of Switzerland documents the alliance of these three ‘Cantons’. In one of these ‘Cantons’, the birth of a prolific intellectual would take place – Jacob Burckhardt was born in the Canton of ‘Basel’ in 1818, he later wrote the 19th century’s masterpiece – ’The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy’. Published in 1860 and then revised in 1867, it was a sensational description of the Italian Renaissance.
Burckhardt’s vision that ‘Renaissance’ was the beginning of the modern world would later be expanded into modern politics, economics and aspects of modern society. His ideas encapsulated the idea of social, political, and cultural transformation in Europe. Burckhardt is thus known as the father of the notion of ‘Culture’ and its developments since the 19th century. Today, the stern look of his portrait on the Swiss franc is reminiscent of the path-breaking work for the cultural history of Europe and modernism. Continue reading “Why the Idea of Europe Matters”

1918-2018: Czechoslovakia, Between East & West

By Maeva Chargros

How odd coincidences are, sometimes! On Friday [26.10.18], the French President, Emmanuel Macron, declared that “there is no division between East and West in Europe”. I had just written the draft of this article dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the First Czechoslovak Republic – stating the complete opposite and calling for more efforts from the Western part of our continent.
Therefore, allow me to seize this opportunity to turn this article into an answer to a declaration I know is wrong.

Czechoslovakia” might not exist anymore, but the ideals of this state, as well as its struggles, are still very much alive. The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic was born in the Slovak part, when it was still called “Czechoslovakia”. Born in Bratislava; Prime Minister in Prague. Usually at this point, for the amusement of the readers, the writer tends to add a comparison that turns out to be a joke. However, there is no comparison to make here, even less as a joke: the Czech and Slovak common history was not made only of laughter and joy – it was also made of betrayal, loneliness, and struggle for the right to exist together, or separately. There happens to be only very few similar cases – please name a case of two different nations uniting under one flag, one state, one President, just to have the right to exist and try their luck at this. And when it fails the first time, they try again a second, a third, and a fourth time. Only after the fourth attempt, they agree on a peaceful separation, though not tearless.
If you’re from Western Europe, I might have lost you already at “Czechoslovakia”, at the very beginning of this paragraph: “where is it by the way?”. If you’re Czech or Slovak, I might have lost you with the “four times” – and you’re probably arguing about this number. See the division now, Mr Macron? Here it is.
To clear this point quickly with Czechs and Slovaks (and especially those born as Czechoslovaks): I include in the “attempts” not only the usual 1918, 1945 and 1990, but also the additional attempt with a more federal system during the Communist period. You may disagree, I’m not even sure I agree with myself here. Let’s not lose the focus of this article, though – the division, between East and West. Continue reading “1918-2018: Czechoslovakia, Between East & West”

LGBT & EU Legislation: An Overview of the Recent Developments

By Júlia-Janka Gáspárik 

The EU’s motto is “United in Diversity”[1], which means that it is a shared community, but member states also preserve their national characteristics. At the same time, this motto can also sum up one of the biggest problems of the EU: the definition of the limit between having common laws and undermining a country’s sovereignty. LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) rights are a very delicate part of the EU legislation, trapped somewhere between universal (and EU-protected) human rights and national sovereignty. The EU – opting towards an ever-closer union – is trying to bring together its member states with social policies in order to reach an integrated society also on the cultural level, and not only on the economic and monetary ones. On the other hand, anti-LGBT/pro-traditional family groups often use the argument of sovereignty against the common EU LGBT framework[2]. This is what partially makes this issue of LGBT so complicated: some people argue that this minority should be protected with a stronger mechanism at EU level, while others say that it would undermine their countries’ sovereignty.

The European Union law mentions the issue of LGBT only in terms of discrimination: discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal and rights pertaining to this aspect are protected in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU[3]. NGOs and civil right organizations are fighting for the rights of the LGBT people. However, since the attitude towards sexual orientation is considered to be a cultural-societal-religious issue, the EU has not established a compulsory legal framework in any of its member states. On the other hand, it can be argued that this is not a societal issue but one of fundamental rights. When learning about LGBT in the EU, it also becomes clear that the main obstacle in not introducing the civil union and same sex marriages in some European countries is the predominant position of religious values in that state[4].
This article explores the complex issue of LGBT rights in the EU and the member states by examining the issues’ cultural and human rights facade. It will be illustrated with one case, namely the recent case of Coman-Hamilton (Relu Adrian Coman and Others v Inspectoratul General pentru Imigrări and Others). Continue reading “LGBT & EU Legislation: An Overview of the Recent Developments”