Modern Terrorism in Europe – The Euroculturer Podcast #1

plakat_la_terroriste
A poster depicting a terrorist attack in Warsaw in the 1910s. Image taken from the Polish Central Archives of Historical Records.

On June 6 2016, a group of experts and students of European studies including Daniele Carminati, Christopher Heumann, Jesse van Amelsvoort, Marek Neumann, Senka Neumann-Stanivukovic, and Yining Chen, had a roundtable discussion on the November 2015 Paris attacks and 2016 Brussels bombings. Yining Chen, then the Editor-in-chief of The Euroculturer, had the original purpose of organizing this discussion to trace and reveal a specific mode of governance, a certain assemblage/arrangement of interlocking concepts, substances, forces including human and non-human agencies and organisms. If we see ISIS attacks as a specific part or so-called “event” of this assemblage/arrangement, how is this mode of governance organized/arranged/assembled within and through those attacks? For instance, who and what are made accountable? What kinds of affects, such as grief, anger, what forms of condemnation or approbation are deployed and mobilized? How do those two attacks rivet scholarly or political attentions? How is their “eventfulness” utilized by market and state actors to make sensible the social distribution of life and death, emergence and extinguishment?

“Elements” thus refer to those “who”s and “what”s, and the “security/governing nexus” can be one of the “how”s. But we are not focusing on those “elements” and “how”s/dispositifs/mechanisms as independent or closed entities, but rather as dispersed and competing discourses and material anchors that constitute the aforementioned mode of governance/arrangement/assemblage.

Click here to access the podcast

The talk tackles the following questions.

  1. What and how are the various elements made relevant in the discourses and practices revolving around the two recent “ISIS” attacks?
  2. Is there any interaction, interrelation or interdependency among those elements?
  3. What do those interaction, interrelation and interdependency reveal about how we are governing and being governed?

What I am expecting from the discussion, is a collaborative research on what is continually being cited, circulated, and formed among those various practices, and how those various practices produce substances that meet and mirror the presumption of the cited, circulated and formed.

 Abstracts

 Christopher Heumann

 My personal opinion on the various elements in the discourses and practices revolving around the two recent “ISIS” attacks is that there is an excessive focus on ideological belief. There are two main arguments that support this statement: the factors for radicalisation in Western European Democracies and political power that rests on radical Islamism.

First, the individuals who carried out the Daesh attacks in Paris and Brussels were radicalised in a predominantly non-muslim environment and factors such as social exclusion, identity crisis and lack of perspective for personal success are overwhelmingly responsible for this radicalisation rather than muslim socialisation. The perpetrators of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, grew up and were socialised in French and Belgian “banlieues” or “sensitive neighbourhoods” that feature high crime rates, high unemployment rates and poor living conditions. The dominant factor for their radicalisation was the resentment for the French and Belgium society resulting from these conditions, with radical islamism presenting itself as an outlet for this resentment. Although radical muslim ideology is a dominant factor for radicalisation, I believe that the factors pushing individuals towards radicalisation are overlooked.

The second argument is that the leaders of terrorist groups pursue radical ideologies in order to strengthen their own power through traditional legitimacy in the Weberian sense. Just as the power of European nations was legitimised by a holy alliance with Christianity, leaders of Daesh use radical Islam to inspire loyalty and obedience. Other examples include Wahhabism, a religious sect that the Saudi-Arabian royal family rests much of its power on since the creation of the Saudi Arabian State in the middle of the 18th century.

Overly focusing on increased presence of radical islam in Western societies distracts from pertinent social issues and polarisation of society. Neglecting the role of radical islamist ideology in strengthening the position of power of political actors such as Daesh leadership or the Saudi Royal family harms a crucial argument in delegitimising movements exploiting religion for their own political gains.

The song mentioned in the discussion: IAM – Demain c’est loin live Egypte https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYNeFxSrjHU. According to Christopher, “it is a critique of precarious living conditions in French suburbs that is still relevant today.”

 Daniele Carminati

The subtopic I covered attempted to gather the reasons, known and speculative, of why people join ISIS or support their ideologies, both the ones actually going to fight in Syria and the ones embracing the ‘terrorist’ actions in Europe. There are several theories recognizing the fact that most of the recruits are outliers, borderlines, people with mental problems or purposeless people who supposedly ‘failed in life’ and are seeking revenge against society. Yet, according to several experts, the reasons are deeper and more complex than it is commonly known. After every terrorist attack the media attempts to cover singularly every known suspect, deceased or not, while creating an aura of negativity around the attackers. This behavior is legitimate but oftentimes abused. One of the most recent cases has been acknowledging that there may be some specific areas where people are more prone to subscribe to ISIS ideals (e.g. Sint-Jans-Molenbeek). It is not fair to negatively label whole communities because of such events and, additionally, it fails to consider the greater picture. Recruits come from sensibly different walks of life. Several newspapers and experts wondered about what may lay behind the reasons pushing such a different array of people to these final acts, which are commonly fatal for the perpetrators. My part will attempt to gather most significative ideas revolving around the topic and combine them with the main discourse and, eventually, the recent events. A second step would be trying to speculate on the roots of recruits’ reasoning and how to oppose it without causing further social discontent from both parties (Muslim and non-Muslim). The final goal should be to demystify the idea that recruits are all coming from similar backgrounds of criminality and dig deeper into why, even people who apparently have no connection with such extremism, may be willing to join them.

 List of sources

▪     http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/16/dont-give-isis-what-it-wants-united-states-reaction/

▪     http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/10/how-isis-started-syria-iraq/412042/?utm_source=SFTwitter

▪     https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/11/20/the-threat-is-already-inside-uncomfortable-truths-terrorism-isis/

▪     http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/15/terrorists-isis

▪     http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/11/isis-rational-actor-paris-attacks/417312/

▪     https://aeon.co/essays/why-isis-has-the-potential-to-be-a-world-altering-revolution

▪     http://www.newstatesman.com/2015/11/coming-anarchy-john-gray-isis-secrurity-hobbes

▪     http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/02/opinion/nicholas-kristof-what-isis-could-teach-the-west.html?_r=0

▪     http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/17/why-isis-fight-syria-iraq

▪     http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/06/isis-reverse-vonnegut/485282/?utm_source=atlfb

▪     http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/12/why-people-join-isis/419685/

▪     http://edition.cnn.com/2015/02/25/middleeast/isis-kids-propaganda/

▪     http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/what-makes-people-join-isis-expert-says-foreign-fighters-are-almost-never-recruited-at-mosque-a6748251.html

▪     http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/12/opinion/the-islamic-state-of-molenbeek.html?_r=0

▪     http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/15/molenbeek-the-brussels-borough-in-the-spotlight-after-paris-attacks

▪     https://www.quora.com/Why-are-people-joining-ISIS

 Jesse van Amelsvoort

We should always historicize current events, put them in a historical overview. Certainly, choosing the right perspective matters. Following the “wave theory” of terrorism, we could say of the current wave of Islamist terrorism that it comes after anarchist violence around 1900, decolonization violence around the 1950s and revolutionary resistance in the later decades of the Cold War and thus is part of a fourth wave of religious violence. To me, such a perspective seems to include both dispassionate historical observation as well as political motives. It is history of the longue durée, it does not reveal anything particular about our present moment.

For what is distinctive of contemporary Islamist terrorism with which the West is faced, as well as the West’s response to the recent attacks in Paris (of course “Bataclan” and other locations in November 2015, but also Charlie Hebdo in January of that year) and Brussels (just some months, but I am also thinking of the attack on the Jewish Museum) is that it feeds into Europe’s difficult and fractured history with Islam. Islam created Europe as we know it: for the Greeks, “Europe” referred to the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, and it remained so for the Romans. Yet when Islam spread from the Arabian peninsula into the Middle East and Northern Africa, “Europe” moved – emigrated – north, and became synonymous with “Christendom.” The Moors were stopped in Southern France, and consequently pushed back; the Turks came to Vienna, and were pushed back. Isabella and Ferdinand ended the Reconquista when they conquered the last lands of the Emirate of Granada in 1492 (and, in the process, expelled all Jews, too). Islam was pushed beyond Europe’s borders once more. (The Balkans, where we find the most Islamic countries, percentage-wise, have never had a place – that is to say, have held a very awkward place – in the European imaginary, of course.)

Somewhere after 1683, when Ottoman forces besieged Vienna, “Europe” lost interested in Islam and turned its eyes to the world. As the Ottoman Empire went into a long decay, Europeans conquered lands all over the globe and gained wealth until then unimaginable. And so it went, until September 11, 2001, when a small number of airplanes and an outrageous response refocused Western eyes on the Middle East.

It is the premise of scholarship on postcolonial Europe that Europe today has not sufficiently, nor adequately, nor even substantially, dealt with its colonialist and imperialist history. And although it has become accepted that “the Empire writes back,” when the Empire strikes back, those attempts are ill-understood. Europe and the U.S. have ruled over countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa for decades, if not centuries, and have muddled in its politics ever since. The result is chaos, disorder and anger at those Western interventions. Yet we in the West have forgotten about these histories, or chosen to neglect them; instead, we present these attacks come out of nowhere. That is blatantly untrue – could it ever not be?

What’s new or contemporary about postcolonial Europe’s pains? That “they” – Muslims, Islamists, terrorists – are no longer “there,” if they ever were. Pretending that Islam is not part of Europe is senseless and in fact dangerous in our day and age, yet I wonder if politicians and the media understand that.

Marek Neumann

The discourse surrounding the emergence/existence of ISIS and the recent tragic terror events has, in my view, revealed several interesting elements, of which I would briefly like to discuss two; the different ways of translating international events into domestic courses of various EU member states and the increasingly evident lack of true political statesmanship among EU countries. Furthermore, I will briefly assess which implications these will have on how the EU will govern us.

In the aftermath of recent terror attacks claimed to be committed by supporters of ISIS, all eyes were on the European political elite as these, with both their words and actions, would set the tone of fighting Islamic fundamentalism. It is here that I was puzzled by how the “Islamic terrorism/refugee wave” nexus got pronounced differently among the EU member states. More interestingly, one could observe the reemergence of a soft border between – what is often termed – “old” and “new” Europe.  Even more interesting, however, is the fact that while it predominantly were the old, Western, EU member states that were directly affected by the terror, it was the political elite of the new member states that explicitly linked Islamic terrorism to the recent migration issue. Certainly, while the Western European states are not immune to increasing nationalism/populism, whether in the form of the German Alternative für Deutschland, its French counterpart Front National, or the Austrian FPÖ), at the level of the highest political leadership, the discourse was one of caution, moderation, and warning of hasty conclusions that could spark further controversy (think of Merkel, but even Hollande). On the other hand, what we have witnessed in the new member states was a political elite contributing to an atmosphere of fear among the society, heightening political tensions. Here, one only has to think of statements by such politicians as Czech President Zeman, or Slovak and Polish Prime Ministers Fico and Szydlo, respectively.

What, then, is such a division in discourse and way of governing one’s population indicative off? I believe that it speaks to three things predominantly. First, there is a clear difference in the level of democratic consolidation among the two “parts” of the European Union. One again only has to look at the recent policies introduced in Hungary or Poland. This is the more surprising as we have been led to believe that through close observance of the Eastern European countries’ transition towards democracies, the EU has ensured that only consolidated democracies would join its ranks. The recent events, however, beg to differ. Second, the political cultures among the individual EU member states are as far apart as they were two decades ago. The idea of an “ever closer Union” has not materialized. Of course, while now pronounced markedly, this comes as no news to those following EU politics over the last few years, particularly the intra-EU debate surrounding the Greek debt crisis. Third, I see that scholarship on the EU’s enlargement policy is not yet obsolete. While a few years back, the 2004/2007 EU enlargement round has been presented as one of the EU’s most successful foreign policy endeavors, with the recent events enfolding, the EU’s enlargement policy – both past and future – should be revisited critically.

The second element the ISIS-related discourse revealed is the process of political statesmanship giving in into political populism. Naturally, in any times of (perceived) crisis populism flourishes, but the more important it becomes that mainstream political parties row against such populist waves. However, lately, we have seen very little of this among major European political parties. Rather, what we observe is a slow pupulization of mainstream politics, with the extremes becoming acceptable and promotable. We have seen this in the recent Slovakian presidential elections, but also in parliamentary elections across Europe, whether in France, Finland, Croatia, or Hungary. This further impacts on how liberal democracies understand the term “party politics.” First, it becomes increasingly difficult for the average voter to distinguish among the many competing parties as these increasingly become each other’s lookalikes. Second, by incorporating some radical rhetoric – yet never going the extra mile to becoming fully extremist – into their political programs as they fall into the populist trap, traditional mainstream political parties alienate some of their core voters. Third, as a result of the first two, we see new political movements emerge to answer very specific electoral wishes. This further adds to the political fragmentation that we have been observing in the past few decades in EU members states, making deliberative politics increasingly difficult.

Finally, I would like to conclude by a short political forecast. The domestic political fragmentation described above will have – and to some extent already has – far-reaching implications also for EU politics. The EU’s carefully crafted compromise between supranationalism and intergovernmentalism also worked thanks to the underlying logic of carefully balancing the interests of the center right and center left. As such, for instance, introducing the single European market has been offset by more emphasis on re-distributory and market-correcting policies. With the center right and center left losing in strength at the national – and by extension at the EU – level, it will becoming increasingly difficult for the EU to govern us.

Senka Neuman Stanivukovic

Every year, students of the Euroculture program are asked to organize a trip to Brussels for themselves and their fellow students. The trip takes place in the second semester of the 1st year; usually in March or April. Students go to Brussels to gain a glimpse of the Brussels bubble. Sooner or later, some of them will also become a part of this bubble. This year, the trip was scheduled for early April. On the morning of March 22nd, only a few days before planning for this year’s Euroculture trip was to be finalized, Brussels was attacked in three coordinated bombings; one bomb exploded at the Brussels Airport and one and the Maalbeek metro station. A third bomb was found during the Airport search, but it failed to activate. The attack left 35 killed and 300 injured. In my contribution to the panel, I would like to revisit the debate among the Euroculture students and staff that took place in the aftermath of what soon became the Brussels attack. The debate concerned if we should proceed with the trip or not.

I start my discussion – rather unoriginally – with a simple static. On average, 2 million people younger than 75 die yearly in the EU-28. The leading causes of death are heart-attack and cancer.  3% of all deaths are non-natural.  The dominant cause of non-natural deaths are transport accidents; 0.3 %. The second most dominant cause of non-natural deaths is falling accounting for 0.2%.  Since 1980, there have been roughly 4000 terrorist related deaths in Western Europe. The highest number of deaths by terrorism was in 1988, when 270 people died in the attack on the Pan Am flight. Last year’s attacks in Paris left roughly 150 dead. This year, 35 people died in the Brussels attack. That is roughly 59,965 deaths less than those caused by transport accidents and 39,965 deaths less than those caused by falling[1].

Now, Euroculture students and staff are a fascinating crowd; surely not easily upset or frightened. We tend not to be afraid of flying, driving, or eating fries. We travel gladly and extensively. We take stairs, ride bikes and walk, so falling is not perceived as life-threatening either. But, in the aftermath of the Brussels attack, whether or not to travel to Brussels was extensively debated. Some were relatively reluctant to go for safety reasons or a general feeling of discomfort. Others were supportive of the trip taking place, arguing that life should continue regardless of (or in spite of) the attacks.

So, why were some of us afraid and why was the trip debated in the first place? Cultural studies (partially security studies also) will tell you that being afraid of terrorism is similar to being afraid of ghosts as neither are real. Terrorism, accordingly, is interpreted as a discursive construction that prevents us from reading these violent acts as counter-hegemonic forces. This is certainly not a justification of terrorism. Rather, the analysis examines practices through which the state, by way of labeling something as “terrorism” or “an act of terror”, disgraces its rivals and reinterprets old disputes. Furthermore, by way of labeling something as “terrorism” or “an act of terror”, the state makes its citizens feel vulnerable and consequently more supportive of illiberal practices such as surveillance or even torture. Accordingly, in some very twisted way, terrorism legitimizes and enhances the state.

Good, so now we know what happens when and after we feel frightened. But, why are we so afraid of terrorism when statistics tell us the real danger lies in the innocently looking patat met mayo? Here, focusing solely on discourse and politics of fear does not provide a complete picture. I will therefore argue that problematization of terrorism as a discursive strategy is a serious case of reductionism. I would therefore, slightly rebelliously, like to move away from the script that was so kindly provided to us by Yining and say that there is more to the story than just discourse.

I therefore argue that – rather than deconstructing the official discourses – we should start by agreeing with them. First, terrorism does present an ultimate challenge to the Westphalian system. It is more than an act of war. It is more than an act from the fringes of society. Terrorism is an anti-thesis of the system because it is fluid, irrational, non-hierarchal, and constructed through the affect. Second, terrorism shifts the us-them binary because it comes from the in-betweens/the lack. Terrorism comes from the gaps of our society. Terrorist organizations may replicate state structures or mode of organization and we do see terrorists relaying extensively on modern technology. But, terror itself denies sovereignty as the main principle of social organization. As such, it is anti-us rather than against-us. Terror is not a counter-sovereignty or counter-reason, but it is anti-sovereignty and reason. Third, and this brings me to my final point, Bush jr. was correct that one can’t negotiate with terrorism. Once negotiations begin, reasons starts and terrorism ends. Bush jr. was, however, wrong on multiple other points including the illusionary that one can fight or enter a war with terrorism.

Good, so, Bush was right, your books were wrong. Still, why are we afraid? Terrorism is ultimately subversive. It destroys the order through which the system is created and shows potentials of a different one. In terror, we are all equal as potential victims. Immediate reactions to terror are physical; we are shocked, afraid, disoriented, angry or unprotected. Terrorism destroys reason. We see production of discourses (legitimizations) before and after terror, but these are always dislocated. Terrorism is therefore not a counter-force to the self, it is the negation of the self. The only way a state can respond to terrorism is through destroying itself.  Fascism, as an extreme form of a control society, is ultimately self-destructive.

I will end with an anecdote. Last Saturday, the City of Groningen has organized an open-day at a Groningen police-force and fire-brigades. My son follows “Fireman Sam” almost religiously, so we went to see firetrucks, etc. Among others, we were shown a police-bus used for transport of inmates. We were explained that because the Dutch penal system is highly efficient, home-grown convicts are no longer held in prison but often serve time under house arrest.  This, however, creates a surplus in a prison capacity and these busses are often used to bring Norwegian and Belgian inmates to Dutch prisons to serve a part of their sentence here. It is a good system, we were told, because in-house sentences have proven a dropping rate of recidivism, while the expensive prison system continues to be financed by foreign capital. However, this situation turns Foucault on his head. Is the fact that “the mad”, “the bad”, and “the ill” are no longer closed away, but are walking freely among us, a sign of diminishing state and a greater liberty? Alternative being that we are all – in the eyes of the state – potentially “mad”, “bad”, and “ill” and live in an overarching yet invisible madhouse, prison, and a hospital.

In conclusion, I gladly accept Yining’s request to discuss discursive responses to the recent terror attacks in Europe. We can discuss how acts of terror were reasoned/normalized by the elite, media, or even Euroculture discourses. Yet, we should not forget that terror and terrorism is not normal, that it is anti-normal. Accordingly, I would like to push the debate towards terror as a subversion of normality.

James W. Leigh (Absent due to illness)

I broadly propose that many of the narratives concerning recent terrorist acts perpetuated in mass media do not reflect carefully enough on the relationship to certain ‘internal’ issues in European or Western societies. Here I am not referring to questions of foreign policy (and therefore to a view of terrorism as a response to the actions of Western states), as I see this as another potentially misleading argument. Instead I suggest that because recent acts of terrorism in Europe have tended to be perpetrated by citizens of European countries, people who grew up in those states, our understanding of them needs to become more focused on internal factors.

Essentially what makes an act ‘terrorist’ is not just the act in itself, but more so the framing of it and the transmission of fear/terror via mass communication. Thus when an attack takes place, it is our mass narration of it which determines its precise nature. Yet in our desire to construct a terrorist bogeyman, a frightening ‘other’, out of the perpetrators of the attacks in Paris and Brussels, we do not merely fulfill the destiny of the act by constructing it as ‘terrorist’; we may also overlook the more ordinary/banal (criminal) nature of those responsible. This is problematic, as it means we focus on a particular set of extremes, those which can be tied to religion/belief and therefore fit in with the idea of Islam as the ‘other’, the non-European enemy without.

Instead we could look towards the more commonplace social problems of those who carried out the Paris and Brussels attacks, which may be considered as challenges ‘within’. These individuals appear drawn to extremes, whether religious or non-religious. Prior to religious fanaticism, the majority were at some point involved in activities which would appear somewhat contrary to social norms; drugs and arms dealing, etc. Thus radicalisation is important, but it is only one factor, and moreover is a later stage in a larger process; it is not necessarily the root of the problem. Focusing on the Islamist character of the attackers or links to ISIS has two particular effects; it emphasises the alien, ‘other’ nature of the perpetrator without reflecting that they originate ‘within’, and it overlooks the somewhat broader sociopathic and criminal characteristics of these individuals (and how they arise). The result: We are too focused on asking how to address radicalisation itself, rather than asking how certain people become open to radicalisation in the first place, and how we might deal with the social ills which give rise to such openness before it gets to that stage.

-Figures are collected from the Eurostats.

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OPINION: The Italian Constitutional Referendum: some reasons Italians should vote NO” 

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The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis

Arne van Lienden

“The democratic revolution has begun”, proclaimed politician Thierry Baudet after the April 2016 Dutch referendum on the EU’s Association Agreement with Ukraine met the minimum threshold of votes and showed a decisive ‘no’ to the agreement. But so far, the referendum has not set off a revolution. In fact, until now the Dutch government has constantly delayed or deferred from acting upon the outcome of the referendum. This reluctance to respect the referendum result has grave implications for the legitimacy of governance and will only spark a further rise of populism in the Dutch political arena. The government needs to act, or the parliamentary elections in 2017 could see a landslide win for populist parties.

The response of the Dutch government to the outcome of the referendum has been characterized by deferral and inaction. The referendum on the Association Agreement with Ukraine differs in one great aspect from the other referenda we have seen in Europe this year. Unlike the Brexit referendum in the UK and the refugee referendum in Hungary, the Dutch referendum was a bottom-up initiative and was neither initiated nor wanted by the Dutch government. The government never took the referendum seriously and was not willing or capable of effectively campaigning for a Yes vote for the Association Agreement. Hence, after the result was announced it took the government by surprise. This can be seen in the reluctance of the government to act upon the outcome. Continue reading “The ignored revolution: The Dutch referendum crisis”

OPINION: The Italian Constitutional Referendum: some reasons Italians should vote NO.

 

matteo_renzi_2010
Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi. Photo by BTO

Vittoria Valentina Di Gennaro

Today Italians will be called to cast their vote on the constitutional reform promoted by the government of centre left politician Matteo Renzi. The citizens will have to decide with a simple YES or NO, whether to approve the changes to the Constitution laid down in the Boschi draft law. The reform has been approved by the Parliament, but it can enter into force only if the referendum succeeds. For this plebiscite there is no quorum: whatever the turnout, the result will decide the future of the Italian Constitution.

palazzo_madama_-_roma
The Palazzo Madama, home of the Italian Senate. Photo by Francesco Gasparetti

In this article I will tell you why Italians should vote NO:

  1. It is not a clear and comprehensible reform, as it is written so as not to be understood. It is not an innovative reform, since it preserves and strengthens the central government at the expense of self-government.
  2. Regarding political participation and citizen initiatives, the proposed reform fails to expand the direct participation of citizens, since it increases from 50,000 to 150,000, the amount of signatures necessary for a citizens initiative. For abrogative referendums the quorum will be lower but even in this case the signatures needed will mushroom from 500,000 to 800,000.
  3. The most significant change will be the reduction of parliamentarians and consequent cost cutting if YES wins. In this case, the future Senate will not have 315 members elected directly by citizens, but will consist of only 100 members: 74 will be appointed within the various Regional Councils with a proportional basis according to population and the votes taken by the parties, while 21 will be chosen by the Regional Councils between the mayors of the region (each region will have a mayor representing, while the Trentino Alto Adige will have two – why is this region so different from the others?). Each senator will hold his or her chair for the duration of his or her administrative mandate and will not receive any compensation for their parliamentary activities. The 5 remaining senators will be appointed by the President of the Republic and hold office for seven years. The office of Senator for Life will remain in force only for ex-Presidents of the Republic and for those who already hold it. However, the new draft law does not effectively reduce the cost of politics. Indeed, the Senate costs are reduced by only one fifth, and if the problem is the cost, why not to halve the Chamber of Deputies instead? See next point.
  4. The costs saved are not so impressive: There is no denying that the reduction in the number of Senators will lower the cost of politics, but not as much as is suggested. A reduction in the number of Deputies or a simple ordinary law regarding a reduction in the amount of salaries of parliamentarians would be far more effective.
  5. Elimination of perfect bicameralism: The Senate is not abolished, but only revised: you switch from a perfect bicameralism to a bicameralism ‘confused’ by conflicts not only between the two wings of the Parliament, but also between state and regions.
  6. Abolition of constitutional bodies: The Renzi-Boschi constitutional reform provides for the abolition of the National Council of Economy and Labour (CNEL). CNEL is an advisory assembly of experts for the Italian Government, Parliament and Regions, and has the right to promote legislative initiatives, limited to economic and social subjects. Its suppression will be a loss for economic democracy.
  7. Confusion: This reform, despite its promotion, does not produce simplification as it multiplies by ten legislative processes in Italian government and increases the confusion.
  8. Government stability: It is not true that there will be more stability in Government as a result of the proposed reform. In fact, if the majorities in the Chamber (of Deputies) and Senate will be different, the latter, using different instruments, may still hinder the legislative activities of the lower chamber.
giuramento_mattarella_montecitorio
Palazzo Montecitorio, Rome, the home of the Chamber of Deputies. Photo by Presidenza della Repubblica.

If the Constitutional Referendum should return a majority of votes for NO, the Renzi government could fall. It is difficult to predict how Renzi would manage a defeat for his flagship reform. However, if citizens do not recognize as legitimate one of the main points of the current government’s program, their representatives in Parliament would hardly be able ignore the political significance of the result. It would open the possibility of a motion of no confidence in the government.

The Euroculturer would like to thank Vittoria Valentina Di Gennaro for the contribution of this piece. Vittoria is a young communications specialist focused on European affairs. Originally from Italy, this piece is her own, informed opinion and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Euroculturer Magazine or its staff.

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Fixing America’s Two-Party System

 

USAVector_022-01_Clinton_and_Trump_cartoon_illustration.svg.png
An illustration of the recent election. Graphic by USA Vector.

Alexander Pitts

Well before the next President of the United States was elected, fatigue with the two-party system plagued most Americans. This year may have been the breaking point. While the “lesser of two evils” problem with the American system is not a new one, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been the best examples of this dilemma in recent history by far. They were the most divisive candidates in recent memory, leading many voters to either reluctantly pick one, turn to a third party, or refrain from voting altogether – the latter option outperforming the others, with a whopping estimated 41.5% of eligible voters abstaining. But what if that 41.5% had been required to vote?

At current figures, Trump has 26.8% of the vote, and Clinton has 27.6%. About 1% went to Jill Stein with the Green Party and 3.2% to Libertarian Gary Johnson. Again: 41.5% of eligible voters didn’t vote. This is the lowest turnout in 20 years. Historically, in the past few decades, turnout hasn’t been much better. Clearly, many Americans forced to choose between two equally unpalatable candidates simply stay home instead. With only two viable options every four years, and third party candidates unable to make a sizable dent, it’s easy to get cynical. The system is self-perpetuating: about half of Americans vote either Democrat or Republican, a small percentage vote third party, and the rest abstain, leaving only Democrats and Republicans in the race. However, if voting in the United States were compulsory, perhaps that could change. Continue reading “Fixing America’s Two-Party System”

Putting Life on Hold: Teaching English Abroad

seoul_namdaemun_market_2005-08-07
Market in Seoul. Photo by No Machine.

Adam Rozalowski

My decision to move to South Korea and teach English was a knee-jerk reaction to something that I was not too acquainted with as a fresh-faced relatively successful 22 year old college grad: failure. I had just spent the last 4 years preparing for what I really wanted to do and then when I actually go to do it, I didn’t like it.

My student teaching experience went nothing like I expected and it left me reeling. In retrospect, I probably watched too many teacher movies. That’s the problem about these teacher movies, they make them about the very few that actually succeed in inspiring students, no one sees the failures who end up as overly educated baristas at Starbucks. What most people don’t realize is that even the ones that are idealized in these movies, their personal lives completely fell apart. Robin Williams gets canned in Dead Poets Society, Jesse Escalante, in a twist of irony, face plants on a flight of stairs in Stand and Deliver and Ryan Gosling turns to hard drugs in Half Nelson. That option certainly didn’t appeal to me, but I had to do something. I wanted to get away, maybe travel a bit, but I had just accumulated so much debt that it seemed impossible. I began researching teaching English abroad. I was desperate. I filled out a few applications, did some skype interviews, watched a lot of Anthony Bourdain No Reservations; and to everyone’s surprise, even my own, 2 months later I was in Ansan, South Korea.

I took a job at a small, private, after school English academy. Classes were small, I taught grades K-5, and besides one hellish kindergarten class, and that little devil “Jake-uhh,” it was an easy way to make a living. In the beginning I really wanted to forget about life and student teaching and anything else that reminded me of getting a “real” job, and all of those other things that come with being an adult. The only thing that I wanted to do was explore; not only places, but who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.

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Admiral Lee Statue in Seoul. Photo by Ian Muttoo

I will always look back on Korea with nostalgia because the places I visited and the people I met made me realize that the “go to school, get good grades, get a degree, get a good job” story was outdated and that life was not that scripted (thank goodness!). I could not have learned this lesson in a more enjoyable way.

My students soon began to call me “Dora the Explorer” because I was always going somewhere during the weekend. I drank more coffee in South Korea than I ever did. I often found myself coming back home from a trip early Monday morning, sleeping a bit and then starting the work week. At the time I had absolutely no idea that I would spend a total of close to 4 years in this country so I was not wasting any time, besides, at the time I felt like I had all the weekends in the world. At the same time I met one of the coolest people I will ever meet, Warren Kim (or as we liked to call him ‘Bubbles’ or ‘Warren G’).

Warren was a 30-something Korean who quit his job in the corporate world and started a hiking group for fun, this group became a kind of weekend family for me for the next year or so. Warren was a lively fellow with a round face, chubby cheeks and large glasses – always a smile on his face. A few months after starting his trips he was taking groups of about a 60-100 people on trips all over Korea. There were a lot of English teachers in Korea at the time and this was a great way for them to see the country. After my first trip to Jeju Island, I was convinced.

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The beautiful Jeju island is a favourite area for holiday makers. Photo by Yoo Chung.

I remember sprinting to the number 4 line subway to make it in time for the 11pm departure from Seoul to Mokpo, a city on the southern tip of Korea where we would make our departure for the famed Jeju Island. I arrived just in time, meeting up with Duncan, a crazy Canadian I had met at a local language exchange cafe; besides him however, I didn’t know anyone.

Duncan was the kind of guy that would make his Korean language exchange partner teach him phrases in Korean that went something like this: “I looked out the window and saw a penguin water skiing in Canada socks across the Han River.” He was always the life of the party and that is why I liked him, and that is why I hated sitting by him on the way back to Seoul. He would always start drinking hard during our final dinner and then dancing during karaoke until he worked himself up into a sweaty, smelly mess.

We got on the bus, it was quiet, it always was in the beginning. We drove through the night and arrived at our destination 6 hours later.

In Mokpo we boarded a huge ferry. I noticed the Korean passengers, in groups of 15 to 20, were carrying what seemed like equipment worthy of an Everest summit. I felt unprepared for the hike we were to go on the next day.

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A waterfall on Jeju island. Photo by Douglas Knisely

The ferry was very basic. It had large rooms with commercial tile flooring. Before we could even sit down on the floor the Koreans had 6’x6’ mats sprawled out everywhere. These people were mostly in their 40s and on, many were older retirees. The rooms in the ferry were about 75 feet by 50 feet and there were many of them. We took a walk and as soon as we reached the hallways all of the rooms began to take up various smells of soups; kimchi-jjigae, sun du bu-jjigae or tofu in red pepper paste, or doenjang-jjigae, a soup made from fermented soybeans. To our surprise the Everest bags were filled not with climbing equipment but with food and cooking stoves, and of course lots of booze. The different smells of red pepper, seaweed, fish, fried zucchini filled the different rooms where the now red-faced Koreans sat drinking Jinro soju, a type of Korean rice vodka (which is actually the number one selling alcohol in the world!). For me, this was an entirely new way to travel.

Koreans are generally reserved people, but about an hour after departure, we heard some chanting – groups were playing Korean drinking games – the social lubricant at work. We were observing a rather rowdy group of retirees. All of them red in the face, all of them wearing hiking gear, and all of them grinning. One man looked over at Duncan and I and asked the standard 3 questions we would get from just about every Korean. “What is your name?” Duncan replied, “Duncan, like Dunkin Donuts.” That was his go to explanation as these donut shops are everywhere in Korea. The old man smiled and said “ahh, where you are from?” Chicago and Vancouver. The man yelled “OK! very good, America very good, Canada very good! Come.” He padded the place on the mat next to him where Duncan and I sat. Duncan and I tried to say something in Korean “한국 종아요, we like it here, we came just a months ago.” The woman to our left begins to pour shots to everyone and puts two in front of Duncan and I. The group starts chanting “Baskin-Robbins-thirtyyy-one, 1, 4, 6, 9” then came our turn, everyone stared at us. We got a quick lesson “add 1,2,or 3 to the last number.” The person that gets stuck with 31 drinks a shot. Somehow, Duncan and I became the targets and we quickly had to down 3 shots each. I couldn’t believe these people in their 70s and 80s were playing a college dorm drinking game and were ganging up on us so that the number 31 would land on us. There were smiles ear to ear from everyone in the group. For many of them this was their first interaction with foreigners and they were excited to share their booze with us – we were even more excited to drink it. I looked over at Duncan, we were thinking the same thing. We haven’t even stepped foot on Jeju Island and already we were having a blast!

We arrived at Jeju Island at around 1pm and jumped on a bus. Warren always managed to somehow attract what seemed like the coolest people in Korea for his trips. He eventually formed a sort of clan that would go on all of his trips. The trips were cheap (I don’t think he even made any money from them), well-organized, and Warren’s goofy lines in broken English always made the bus a fun place to be. My favorite was his line for letting the bus know we are stopping for a bathroom break. “Ok guys, so there is a bathroom, go do something there.”

The next day we visited Mt. Hallasan, the now dormant volcano responsible for the creation of the island 10,000 years ago. The volcano is 1950m tall, the highest peak in South Korea. It has a gentle slope for most of the journey up and the sights of the island from the top are beautiful. Hiking was always a treat as you could use the time to get lost in your thoughts. The views and beautiful nature surrounding you were positively inspiring. I started to think about my student teaching experience less and less, and became focused on enjoying my time here and growing as a person. I liked it so much, soon enough I also became a groupie.

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Lake at the top of Hallasan. Photo by Mass Ave 975

The air got cooler and cooler as we reached the top. The closer we got, the wind picked-up. It stung the cheeks bringing out color. While taking in a deep cold breath, you still could get a hint of the fresh ocean surrounding the island. Snow began to appear near the peak. As the bright sun shone down on it at just the right angle, it radiated a prism of colors like tiny concentrated rainbows beaming at you.

We reached the top and found a crater. Our group of about 60 people began to reach the top in intervals. We high fived each other and Warren took out a bottle of maekolli, a Korean rice wine that is often known as a farmer’s drink, in order to celebrate. We got a special Jeju brand that was made of mandarins which grow all around the island at lower altitudes. In celebration we also took off our jackets and sweaters and posed bare chested by the peak’s signpost for pictures, this was definitely one of Duncan’s bright ideas. The Koreans at the top stared at us laughing, it was like we were a zoo attraction or something.

While sitting with my maekolli , the most even layer of clouds began to cover the north side of the island so that when you faced north, it looked like you were on a peak above a puffy row of cotton balls. We were literally above the clouds! Whatever problems I was going through before, I was now separated from them. It was like being in heaven.

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Mt. Hallasan. Photo by GPL.

The next day we visited a Mongolian horse show. Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan used the island as a logistics point as he loaded horses onto ships and tried to invade Japan, it was unsuccessful but the ancestors of those horses remain. We went mandarin picking. We even visited a penis park and a sex museum with thousand year old paintings of Indian orgies and the history of sex in Korea (the explanation for this being that this island is a popular honeymoon attraction).

The dinners are what I will remember most. When you ask any traveler what they remember most about Korea, they will always tell you it’s the food. Each night Warren picked out a special restaurant representative of the region. On Jeju it was wild boar, crab and abalone, a large sea snail. Koreans usually serve a main dish surrounded by a number of side dishes (the better the restaurant the more side dishes). Anything from caramelized anchovies, seaweed, pickled asian radishes and other vegetables and the obligatory kimchi, a fermented cabbage spiced with red pepper paste – and these you could get refilled free of charge!

We sat in long rows sitting on the floor along two long tables. The large pots with the main dishes cooking on portable stoves in the center of the table in front of us. I noticed the abalone still wiggling around in its shell but Warren assured me that it was normal. It was unsettling, but I’ve had lobster cooked live so I thought what’s the difference. We started with the side dishes, then ate the abalone and crab soup. It had a light broth but it was spicy and excellent with kimchi added to the broth. Everything was new; new food, new people, new places. I was enjoying myself and learning so much.

This was the way my life looked for the next year. I used the workweek to recover from whatever trip or excursion I was up to on the weekend. The lady at the Tous Le Jour cafe on the first floor would greet me not with a “good morning” but, “so where did you go this weekend?”

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Buddhist temple on Jeju. Photo by dknisely.

When I got my first contract extension, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Time flew by so fast I had no idea I had been in Korea for 11 months already. I had traveled 3 weekends out of the month. It was time to take a break. Instead of “tripping”, I did some solo hikes in the local mountains just to soak in everything that just happened in the past year.

In the meantime, before I could even make up my mind about re-signing at my first job, I got a job offer from a friend’s referral at a top 20 company in Korea, a company with over 100 schools and in the process of implementing a tablet based curriculum bypassing paper altogether. This was definitely a step up and in a few short months I would end up at the headquarters as part of a research and development team.

I was consumed by my new job. I eventually caught up with Warren after about 3 months later but it wasn’t the same. The extended family I was used to was nearly all gone. Many of them going back home after their year was up, and others moving to different cities in Korea. It was not the same. My priorities were not the same.

I was annoyed by all of the same questions that just a few months back seemed necessary and interesting: “Where are you from? Where do you teach? How is your school? Why Korea? What’s your plan after?” etc. etc. I had heard it all and seen it all before. Most of all, the feeling that I had all the time in the world to travel was now a relic I would leave behind with the old me. I was on to a new beginning imbued with a new confidence and excitement.

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Seoul at night. Photo by CC.

I appreciated Warren, Duncan and all of the other friends I had met that year but I knew it couldn’t last forever. I was now aware that life is more than a rat race and had met so many people that were 30 and still didn’t know what they were doing, they just lived in the moment. There were more ways to live life than just one. I didn’t feel like I needed to put life on hold anymore. I soon began to carve out a new path imbued with a new feeling of excitement and confidence.

I look back at the moment I had decided to come to Korea. I was filled with anxieties and uncertainties and had no idea what it would bring, but I am sure glad I did.

Click here for more by Adam Rozalowski.

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Alone together: The UK and US Special Relationship in the Trump Era

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Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. World War II was the beginning of the special relationship between the US and the UK.

Arne van Lienden

In 1946 Winston Churchill famously proclaimed that another devastating war could not surely be prevented “without what I have called the fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples… a special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States.” The term ‘special relationship’ has been used ever since by leaders of both countries to explain the uniquely close relations between Great Britain and the United States in cultural, historical, and political matters that go far beyond a shared language. However, relations between Great Britain and the US are more complex than the sentimentalized notion of a ‘special relationship’. The intensity of the relationship has always depended on coinciding interests and the personal relationship between leaders of both countries. The last eight years the relationship has become weaker. Instead of focusing on an Anglo-American alliance, Obama repeatedly stressed the need for multilateralism. However, in times where both the electorates of Great Britain and the United States have decisively rejected multilateralism the relationship is bound to become very special again.

Strong bilateral ties between the United States and Great Britain existed long before World War II. But after the war there was a strong urge- particularly in the UK- to articulate the exceptional character of the relationship more explicitly. Whereas Great Britain had historically been the strongest in the relationship, the war radically altered power relations between the two countries. The British government needed US support on the continent in order to keep communist influences limited in the shattered countries of Western Europe. The UK was not as materially affected by the war as the countries on the continent, but the fight against the Nazis had put a great strain on its economic resources. In order to overcome the debt and stagnant economy the UK hoped for US economic assistance after the war. The US did of course stay very much involved in Europe and it is in these first postwar years that the fundaments were laid for a ‘special relationship’. The UK was able – partly through American financial aid- to revitalize its economy and although poverty was still widespread, the country was still considered to be one of the victors of World War II and consequently recognized as a global power. The US also feared a Communist take over in Europe and cherished the strategic alliance with the equally anti-communist UK. The extensive cooperation in matters of defense and intelligence that were established during World War II continued after the war, only this time to fight a different enemy.

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Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

The strength of the ‘special relationship’ always heavily depended on the political situation in both countries and has usually been stronger in times where political agendas coincided. This is most clearly seen in the last two decades of the 20th century. In the 1980s UK Prime-Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan pursued a similar neoliberal economic agenda and the two leaders developed a relationship that “was closer ideologically and warmer personally than any relationship between any other British prime minister and American president”. Also after the Cold War the ‘Special Relationship’ endured. The 1990s saw the rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour in the UK and the election of Bill Clinton in the United States. Blair and Clinton also developed a close relationship and the former described them as “political soul mates”. Blair’s relationship with George W. Bush was more problematic but at the same time proved the strength of the ‘special relationship’. Bush and Blair were political and ideological opposites. However, when Bush made clear to Blair he was going to invade Iraq in 2003, Blair felt compelled to join his most important strategic ally. The disastrous consequences of the Iraq War are well known and Tony Blair is probably painfully right in hindsight when he sarcastically called a possible invasion “my epitaph.

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Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

In the last eight years the ‘special relationship’ has been under great pressure. Instead of cherishing the Anglo-American alliance, Obama pursued a more multilateral foreign policy. This strategy is of course a consequence of the Iraq war, where the UK and US have arguably left Iraq as a more destabilized and sectarian country than it was before the invasion. The biggest strain on the relationship followed from the military operations in Libya in 2011. In a recent interview in The Atlantic Obama said he “had more faith in the Europeans” but that the Europeans were not committed enough to the intervention. In the same interview he especially mentions David Cameron, who according to Obama got “distracted by a range of other things”. He also criticized what he called European “free riders” that pick and choose where to military intervene.  In the UK these remarks did not go down well. Former UK foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind stated, “if there’s criticism, looking at your own actions is sometimes appropriate” and also other British politicians spoke out against Obama’s criticism. The British outrage over Obama’s statements reveal a deeper-laying development in the ‘special relationship’. Whereas the US enjoyed the UK as a partner in times where it needed an ally in Europe, nowadays its scope is way broader. Under the Obama administration the US has increasingly consolidated its relationships with other countries like Germany, China, and Australia. Some authors even called the relationship with Germany the new “special relationship”, a very sensitive statement in the UK for evident reasons.  In times where the global power of Britain is steadily diminishing, a potential break-up in the ‘special relationship’ is a real concern.

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Tony Blair and George W. Bush.

However, 2016 might go down as the year where the ‘special relationship’ became great again. The relationship has always been dependent on coinciding political agendas, and the election of Trump in the United States and the Brexit-vote in the UK might realign these interests once again. Both votes revealed that the electorates have had enough of multilateralism and extensive international cooperation. Both Trump and Brexiteers promised to give the countries back to the people in times where the people felt it was taken from them. In his campaign Trump even mentioned that his election would be a continuation of what the Brexit-vote started. In this climate of isolationism it might very well be, ironically, that both countries will need each other more than ever. When the UK loses its access to the single European market, it will need to rely on its economic ties with the US. While Trump’s cabinet is slowly taking shape, it is still very unclear what his international position will be. The UK sees an opportunity here as it hopes to be able to influence his agenda like Thatcher was able to do with Reagan”. We are yet to see how the new episode in the ‘special relationship’ will play out, but it is clear that the foundations for renewed extensive cooperation are there.

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David Cameron, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, François Hollande and Matteo Renzi in 2016. With Obama seeking new partnerships and Cameron busy with the EU referendum, the ‘special relationship’ looked to be over.

Another important factor also points towards a more intensive relationship between the UK and US. It seems that for the first time it may become a love triangle. During Donald Trump’s campaign UKIP-leader Nigel Farage, one of the lead supporters of Brexit, took the stage on multiple occasions. This has lead to rumors about a role for Farage in Trump’s administration, and Trump himself has spoken of Farage as a potential UK ambassador to the US. Especially the photo of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage in a golden elevator spoke to the imagination of many speculators. Although it is merely gossip at this point, the fact that a British politician could play a role in the American Presidential elections and Trump’s remarks on Brexit show that the ‘special relationship’ still plays an important role in both countries. It proves that the foundations for more extensive cooperation have not been eradicated by Obama’s presidency.

Will Donald Trump and Theresa May reignite the special relationship?

The election of Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the EU dominated world news in 2016. For many people it has been a confronting year, a year where it turned out that polls and numbers are sometimes grossly mistaken. Also many will perceive it as a year where global and European cooperation seem to be under grave threat. The actual political consequences of both votes are yet to be seen, but it is clear that the Trump-victory and Brexit created a new impetus for a ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK. In a time when both countries have turned their back to the rest of the world, they will need each other more than ever.

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“Plotting Elena Ferrante: An Anonymous Writer’s Map to Freedom” 

Plotting Elena Ferrante: An Anonymous Writer’s Map to Freedom

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Naples. Photo by Damirux.

Rohan Kumar

Elena Ferrante is an elusive figure. She is an enigma to the literary world, and a mystery that needs solving to some in the journalistic. To me, she is an artist. An artist in the real sense of the word. A person who embraces the artistic way of living to the extent of embodying it. The American writer Elbert Hubbard once wrote that, “Art is not a thing – it is a way of life”. Likewise, Elena Ferrante is not a thing. She is many things. She is a fever (#FerranteFever), leader of a modern tribe, a hero, among other things. Perhaps, most importantly, she is a way. A way to freedom. How do we discover this way? It’s quite simple. We travel along with her on the journey.

The Italian author was born in the literary world in 1992 with the publication of her first novel Troubling Love. She was a shy girl at first, who lacked confidence in her own abilities, and wasn’t quite sure of the impact she would have. In a letter to her publisher, Ferrante expressed her doubts by writing: “I will say to you clearly: if Troubling Love does not have, in itself, thread enough to weave, well, it means that you and I were mistaken; if, on the other hand, it does, the thread will be woven where it can be, and we will have only to thank the readers for their patience in taking it by the end and pulling”. Nonetheless, she did hold one firm belief – that “books, once they are written, have no need of their authors”. It was her conviction in this belief that enabled her to accept herself for who she was – although a recluse in the eyes of others, a writer with stories to tell in her own. When asked about what she intended to do in order to publicize her novel, the author wrote to her publisher: “I do not intend to do anything for Troubling Love, anything that might involve the public engagement of me personally. I’ve already done enough for this long story: I wrote it… I won’t participate in discussions and conferences, if I’m invited. I won’t go and accept prizes, if any are awarded to me. I will never promote the book, especially on television, not in Italy or, as the case may be, abroad. I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum”.

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In the years that followed, Ferrante published her most famous works, which are commonly referred to as the ‘Neapolitan’ novels. These books are set in a poor, yet vibrant neighborhood in Naples, and explore the lives of its many inhabitants – especially the friendship that brews over several decades between two key characters: Elena and Lila. The series announced the author’s arrival in the literary world, but Elena Ferrante was still missing. Despite ‘The Story of the Lost Child’ (the last book of the series) getting nominated for the Man Booker International Prize (2016), the writer showed absolutely no interest in the award. She continues to embody what Lord Krishna describes as the ‘Spirit of Yoga’ in the Bhagavad Gita (the Hindu ‘Book of Revelation’) – the one, who acts “with no desire for success, no anxiety about failure, indifferent to results, he burns up his actions in the fire of wisdom. Surrendering all thoughts of outcome, unperturbed, self-reliant, he does nothing at all, even when fully engaged in actions”.

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Today, the author is an omnipotent figure in the literary world. With the dual publication of ‘Frantumaglia – A Writer’s Journey’ and her book for children ‘Beach at Night’ earlier this year, the author seems to be here, there, and everywhere. She’s at bookstores in the US, in films in Italy, and in newspapers and on the internet (obviously). Even then, she is nowhere really. Except, in our hearts and minds, as a writer pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an artist by leading a self-effacing life. A life that we can only imagine, and hope to plot.

And plot we should. For Ferrante has shown us time and again that she is not a dot, but a series of them. She is a line that traces an artist’s consciousness. If the first dot represents a moment of doubt in the writer’s journey, the second one represents faith in the nature of the divine. Miracles are most often attributed to God, because their makers are usually unknown. Having experienced the miracles of other anonymous writers herself, Ferrante’s single-minded intention to become this unknown produces the third dot. This dot is representative of the wisdom of action. Without need for fame or publicity, Ferrante’s works are built on honesty and integrity that speak to our souls. They become voices that one can hear in the deepest recesses of their own being. The media frenzy to unmask Ferrante’s real identity, to me, is only indicative of our desire to know this voice more truly. But alas, it cannot be heard in the clamour of the marketplace. Our restlessness only results in the marking of the fourth dot of Ferrante’s consciousness – a deadening silence in response to the chaos. The voice disappears only to make us acutely aware of the void within. It forces us into sincere self-reflection, and guides us along the path to freedom.

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If you feel like giving up on the whole “plotting Ferrante” business at this point, it’s understandable. But I would urge you not to. Instead, embrace the mystery that she is. Become part of it. Live it. And pay attention. Every now and then, the real Ferrante re-surfaces to remind us who she is – a person who is obsessive and passionate about words and stories; a non-conformist, who thrives on anonymity and solitude, and to remind us who she is not – almost everything we want her to be. Follow these clues or ‘frantumaglia’ (fragments) in her own words. Because no matter who you are, and what you do, you can lay claim to your own freedom by invoking Ferrante’s spirit.

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Refugees.tv Challenges The Way We Report On Asylum-Seekers

 

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One of the refugees.tv, featuring the original makeshift camera and mic. Image by refugees.tv.

Lauren Rogers

People huddled together in makeshift shelters in Germany. Long lines of people waiting for food at a camp in Italy. Bright rubber boats filled to the brim with masses of people. The body of a Syrian refugee boy washed up on the shore of Greece. As familiar – albeit heartbreaking – as these images have become to us, a different set of images have become familiar to the thousands of refugees currently living half-lives across Europe. Cameramen lurking in the background, waiting for the perfect shot. Microphones shoved in people’s faces as they are walking across the continent. Western journalists, well-fed and over-paid, asking questions about hunger and suffering.

In Idomeni, a refugee camp located at the Greek border to FYR Macedonia, a group of young refugees who were fed up with this second set of images decided to do something about it. In a stroke of satirical genius, Syrian refugees Mustafa Alhamoud, Basel Yatakan and Mahmoud Abdalrahim began their own news station: Refugees.tv. While reporters combed the camps looking for palatable stories for Western audiences, Yatakan, Alhamoud, and Abdalrahim followed their lead, carrying a fake camera (a block of wood with a water bottle for a lens) and microphone (a plastic cup on a stick) and mimicking the grave tone of the journalists. Their interviews, recorded on cell phone cameras, went viral on Facebook and soon some generous fans donated real camera equipment to their cause. Continue reading “Refugees.tv Challenges The Way We Report On Asylum-Seekers”

Why the Haitian hurricane barely graced your newsfeeds: bad timing or do we simply not care?

 

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The aftermath of the Haiti Hurricane. Photo by DVIDSHUB

Virginia Stuart-Taylor

It’s the stuff of nightmares. You wake up around 6am and you’ve no idea where you are or what’s happening. There’s torrential rain pouring down on you, the floors are flooded, the walls and roof above you have collapsed. You struggle outside, only to find destruction wherever you turn and you assume this must be a bad dream – it can’t possibly be true. Except this really is happening. And not only that, but you’re just a 10-year-old girl called Rosemika and you’re in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti, a country lacking the emergency resources to look after a vulnerable 10-year-old in the wake of a deadly 145mph hurricane. Haiti, which still hasn’t recovered from a devastating 7.0 earthquake just six years ago that killed 230,000 people.

On the 4th October 2016, 1.3 million people in southwestern Haiti woke up to this reality. Hurricane Matthew killed over 1,000 people and destroyed 30,000 homes, leaving behind a cholera outbreak and a humanitarian crisis for the survivors. Even now a month later, 750,000 people are in urgent need of food assistance.

But the situation of 10-year-old Rosemika and thousands of other children like her has barely registered in the minds of most Europeans, as the mainstream news in Europe only covered the story for a day or two at best. Why was this? When Europeans have such a vital role to play in donating funds and lobbying governments to provide humanitarian aid, why did the hurricane in Haiti fade so quickly from people’s newsfeeds and, thus, from their consciousness?

 Is it due to bad timing?

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Haiti post-Hurricane Matthew. Photo by World Relief

Admittedly, in early October headlines across Europe were firmly focused on the insult-hurling antics of Trump and Clinton, as the televised presidential debates got underway, and the ongoing saga of Brexit, as Theresa May announced her deadline for triggering Article 50. With so much happening in the world of politics, it appears the European media couldn’t find the metaphorical column inches to squeeze in coverage of over 1,000 deaths in the Caribbean. This would be acceptable, if it weren’t for the stark contrast with the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in central Italy just six weeks earlier. The Italian earthquake on 24th August 2016 killed 298 people, well under a third of the Haitian death toll; however, it held the headlines across Europe for almost a week. It would appear that timing is crucial: August in Europe is traditionally holiday season for politicians and therefore a slow month for news outlets. There was simply nothing else to cover, so Italy’s catastrophe in August took centre stage, but Haiti’s in October simply did not.

Is it due to so-called ‘aid fatigue’?

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Ban Ki-Moon. Photo by Robert D. Ward

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon raised the issue of ‘aid fatigue’ during his visit to crisis-stricken Haiti shortly afterwards, and he has a valid point. Have Europeans simply tired of hearing about endless humanitarian disasters? After decades of charity adverts and fundraising campaigns, are people now numb to images of destroyed communities, homeless children and ruined lives? The age-old blame game between journalists and readers for dictating what makes it into the news may shed some light on the situation. In today’s world of social media and sharing, where ‘reach’ is king, journalists have succumbed to producing sensationalist clickbait headlines that attract the most ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, causing anything that doesn’t go viral to fall out of the spotlight. Hurricane Matthew simply didn’t generate enough hits and was therefore quickly struck off the news editor’s priority list. So in this climate of widespread ‘aid fatigue’, who is then to blame for the absence of coverage on Haiti? The journalists for failing to make the hurricane ‘shareable’, or the readers for failing to ‘share’?

Or do people simply not care?

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Aftermath of the central Italian earthquake. By terremocentroitalia terremocentroitalia

The glaring contrast between coverage of Italy’s earthquake and Haiti’s hurricane hints at an empathy gap. An insurmountable geographical and cultural gulf between developed Europe and underdeveloped Haiti meant that the plight of over a million fellow human beings 4,000 miles away simply failed to evoke people’s empathy. The compassion elicited by natural disasters appears to be deepest when the victims are familiar and easily relatable, and it’s true that most people in Europe will have limited knowledge or experience of life in Haiti. Europeans understandably identify more closely to nearby Italians than to distant Haitians, leading to a desensitisation of people to disasters that are deemed too far outside the European cultural frame of reference. Taken to an extreme, this empathy gap could even be considered a form of Eurocentrism, a tendency to see the world through a European lens, which betrays an underlying, residual sentiment of European pre-eminence and exceptionalism in the world. Although Europeans would never dare voice it out loud, this European bubble becomes evident when a far more devastating crisis in distant Haiti goes virtually ignored, compared to a less catastrophic earthquake in nearby Italy.

Still, this remains a recurrent problem for Europe. We’ll undoubtedly see this combination of bad timing, aid fatigue and an empathy gap rear its ugly head the next time disaster strikes in the developing world. The age-old blame game between journalists and readers cannot continue in this vein and Europeans must proactively step outside of the bubble. If not, we risk losing our sense of humanity altogether.

About Virginia Stuart-Taylor: Virginia started the Euroculture programme at Groningen in September 2016 after completing her BA in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at the University of Exeter, and after a few years working in Digital Strategy at the Spanish multinational Telefónica O2 in London and Madrid. She writes a travel blog called www.TheWell-TravelledPostcard.com, through which she is a Digital Ambassador for the global children’s charity Plan International. She also gained first-hand experience of post-earthquake development work while volunteering in Nepal with the NGO Raleigh International, nine months after the 2015 earthquake.

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The Flying Spaghetti Monster is not as camera shy as most gods. Photo by Ontologix

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Conservative Europeans have come together like never before against this new threat to their homeland. “My newly prioritised Christian values of Europe are under attack like never before from a new threat,” comments local activist Gustav Penner. This new threat comes from the newest wave of primarily Pastafarian migrants that are flooding in through Europe’s southern border. “We don’t know why they are here; we don’t know what they want; we just know that they must be contained before we are knee deep in Carbonara Sauce and Parmesan Cheese!” continues Herr Penner. Italy seems to be the main destination for these migrants followed closely by the Netherlands, where Pastafarianism  is now recognised as a religion. Local Dutch activist Will Geerty says he is worried by boom in Pastafarians he has witnessed in his lifetime. “Recently these Pastafarians opened a Vapiano in our neighbourhood and now all types of strange folk inhabit our once pure city.”

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A Pastafarian refugee protests for his right to dress as he pleases in France. Photo by G.dallorto

We caught up with one of the migrants to see what he thought about the claims against those of his religion. “Honestly, it’s all a bunch of bolognese. We are here because we have nowhere else to go. This is not some planned invasion to destroy Europe’s newly rediscovered Christian values.” But there is cause for worry. Recent polls show that while church attendance across Europe is falling rapidly, spaghetti consumption is at an all-time high.

But those opposed to Pastafarianism have recently claimed a victory in France with the controversial Colander Constraint. The colander is a well-known religious headdress of the Pastafarians. “We were of the understanding that Europe had evolved into a progressive continent where one had the freedom to practice whatever religion one choose,” proclaimed one Pastafarian now suffering under the ban. “But this legislation shall not stop us from following His Noodliness.” With planned protests of all pasta related goods, tensions will continue until these two sides can work out their differences. “His Noodly Appendage works in strange and mystical ways. Who are we to question the will of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?”

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Another adherent to Pastafariaism continues to threaten society. Photo by Joe Mabel

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