Fixing America’s Two-Party System

 

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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”

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Putting Life on Hold: Teaching English Abroad

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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 Americorner: Conservative Europeans fear influx of Pastafarian migrants and the threat they pose to Europe’s Christian Values

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

Ryan Minett 

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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What does Trump mean for the European Union? Looking at the reality of a Trump Presidency from the perspective of the EU

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Photo by Marc Nozell

Eoghan Hughes

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre  

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst  

Are full of passionate intensity.”  

The Second Coming

WB Yeats

Donald Trump is the next President of the United States of America. In the US this needs to be accepted as soon as possible so that those for him, and those against him, can start making the best of this divisive result. America will learn how to deal with Trump domestically- they are a robust democracy with rigid cheques and balances.

Within the EU we also have to come to terms with a result that many did not think would happen and did not want to happen. This was not a European decision though, but the choice of the US electorate, a choice that needs to be respected. The choice we are faced with now is how to react to Trump’s America in the international arena. This choice is especially important for the moderates of the EU. If they want to stave off the effects of Trump they will need to, to quote Anthony L. Gardner, current US Ambassador to the EU, “speak out with passionate intensity”.

To do this, we first need to answer the question on all of our minds- what does Trump mean for the EU? When you are dealing with a man who one day threatens to take the US out of NATO and the next promises fierce allegiance to allied states, it’s hard to pin down the policy from the rhetoric.

Below I will give The Euroculturer’s best guess at how Trump’s Presidency will affect the EU, by asking what policies we can actually expect from the eccentric millionaire. Once we have it on paper, I will make a few suggestions as to how the EU, and its Member States, might best respond to this new era in EU-US relations.

What will he do?

Although conventional wisdom says that we shouldn’t take a candidate on his pledges, this candidate said he would win, and he did, against all odds. So on this occasion, it might be best to look at what Trump has already said about his planned foreign policy:

Mike Pence

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Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Effect: Trump has claimed in the past that Mike Pence, his running mate and Vice President elect, would be left to take care of ‘domestic and foreign policy.’ Though perhaps even more conservative than Trump, particularly as regards reproductive rights, Pence is a more traditional Republican, and would be therefore easier to anticipate. Expect a dismantling of Obamacare domestically, but little overt change internationally- which would normally give the leaders of EU States some solace. However, it is hard to imagine that the natural showman that is Trump would be willing to completely eschew the opportunity of meeting world leaders and taking part in important international congresses. Fame is Trump’s bread and butter, he is an entertainer, and one thinks he would not miss the opportunity to, at the very least, be the face of America in those critical moments. Therefore, discounting policy for the moment, we think you can at least expect a visible Trump in Europe.

Already his presence has been felt, with right wing parties falling over themselves to congratulate him and to declare his victory as a feather in their caps. An official from France’s Front National has stated, in the aftermath, that Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built’. Nigel Farage, the man who brought about Brexit with his UKIP party, has gleefully claimed to be the catalyst for Trump’s victory, and believes Trump’s victory heralds further political upheavals in Europe.  (Side note: Farage, in this same interview, made a joke about Trump assaulting Theresa May, Prime Minister of the UK, which perhaps shows the affect Trump is already having on the language of politics in European countries.)

So, for those who think Trump may just be a figure head, it is worth remembering the moral power a figure head has. Trump could embolden alt right movements in Europe, and with elections in The Netherlands, Germany and France coming sooner rather than later, Geert Wilders, AFD and Front National could be looking to shock the world with their surprise, poll defying victories. Nobody in the EU should take this possibility lightly.

Response: If Trump’s victory can embolden the alt right, it should also serve as a rallying call to the moderate and left movements in Europe (and the US). The fact that Trump won with the backing of traditional Democrats shows (as Brexit was passed with the backing of Labour voters) that the base of the left has been overtaken by the new rhetoric of the alt right, slamming global financial institutions and immigration. In many ways this is to be expected. Most countries in the EU have lived under austerity measures for nearly a decade, since the 2008 financial crash. While financial institutions have been bailed out, businesses have closed and rural areas have been decimated by a drain of the youth to cities and other countries. According to city dwellers and the middle class, the recession is over and austerity worked. For rural people and those living in relative poverty though, the recession never ended, and austerity is still keeping stride with their day to day lives. This is fertile ground for populists. Not because people are stupid, that’s the lazy answer, but because they are angry. Brexit was a sledgehammer to the system they felt encouraged their marginalisation, Trump was another.

Similarly, immigration has fuelled the alt right in the US and the EU. Here, fear of Muslim immigrants is felt in most EU states by a large section of society. This fear is not backed by fact; it’s not based on numbers and it is certainly not easy to address. However, this is no excuse not to address it. When liberal left society calls you a fool or a racist for a genuine fear, resentment brews. We saw this in the US where I personally believe that Clinton lost a lot of voters with her ‘deplorables’ comment. To this section of society the only place to turn is the right, where they may not be offered a perfect solution, maybe not even a message that they really believe, but they are paid attention to. The left and the moderates need to do more than dismiss the fears of this section of the population. We talk often about training immigrants to fit into society; we talk too little about how to prepare the current population. The left does not need to abandon immigration as a platform, it certainly cannot abandon asylum seekers, but they must innovate how this is communicated to the public. Research shows that interaction is the best cure for xenophobia, which explains why, consistently, city populations vote for more liberal immigration policies. Social democratic parties must lean harder on their ‘social’ aspect in Europe, get people to meet. Not just those who already support immigration, it’s not those we need to convince. Instead we need to find ways to reach out to those sections of society already facing hardship economically and are more likely to be segregated from international communities. Go where the people are- trade civic events that attract leftists for pubs, football clubs and all the rest. There also must be more that can be good to reach people in Europe’s small towns, Europe’s isolated farms. Regardless of how they do it, the left and the moderates, if they want to diminish the power of the fear of immigration, they need to realise that immigration should not be pushed, but introduced. Claims that the left has been betrayed by their base belie the fact that the voter base feels betrayed by their parties.

Pro-EU citizens and parties need to realise that only by tackling these aspects of globalisation, and by communicating with the people most affected, can the momentum of the alt right be slowed.  Otherwise the mere spectacle of a Trump Presidency might threaten the EU’s political establishments.

NATO

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US Secretary of State John Kerry meets Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski at the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw.

“US leadership is as important as ever. Our Alliance has brought together America’s closest friends in times of peace and of conflict for almost 70 years.

A strong NATO is good for the United States, and good for Europe.”

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO

Effect: Trump, throughout his campaign, has threatened to reduce the US commitment to NATO, threatened to leave partners that fail to raise their contributions to the alliance to fend for themselves, and has even threatened to pull out of the organisation all together.  This, surprisingly, is not too far away from the policy of previous Democratic and Republican leaders. The US elite have for a long time said that NATO lacks support from its partners, particularly European nations who fail to meet the budgetary requirements of the organisation. The difference here is the tempo of Trump’s statement- threats to abandon the alliance already causes hairs to stand on end, particularly in Eastern Europe, where states such as Poland count on NATO for defence in the event of a conflict with Russia. NATO as a deterrent itself is weakened by this threat and the EU states that rely on it for the stable state of the continent face an uncertain future.

Response: In the aftermath of Brexit, Italy, France and Germany discussed increasing military cooperation, now that the tricky UK was no longer part of the picture. The UK, the Netherlands and Poland have opposed an increase in EU common defence as it is feared that this could undermine NATO. With the UK out of the picture, the new big three still failed to get the Netherlands, Finland or Poland on side.

With Trump this might change. Even the distant chance that NATO could be weakened can cause chaos. In response to this the EU should push harder for closer common defence in the EU. The Netherlands and Poland, traditional atlanticists, may be won over to this as an alternative to NATO, a stabilizing force in the region and a clear deterrent for any hostile states. Ideas such as a common defence research fund, a centralised military operation HQ and even an EU army, which have been so recently been rubbished may be revived. They at the very least should be talked about, to lay the groundwork in the case that NATO becomes an uncreditable source for European security. It centralises European control of their defence, alleviating fear by becoming self-sufficient in terms of protection. Honestly, looking at the trend with NATO, centralising European defence may just be inevitable, but by seizing the opportunity, the EU gets the chance to show unity and forward thinking.

There are of course many, many difficulties to such a course of action, political and moral. Politically, getting neutral Ireland on board will be difficult and not necessarily tractable. Morally, there are arguments to be made about warmongering and feeding the military industrial complex. These are no small matters and should give pause to any thought of increased military cooperation or spending. However the moral debate, essential to this policy, is beyond the scope of this article- which is merely arguing that increasing EU common defence is an appropriate response to a weakening of NATO in order to ensure security and stability, particular in Europe’s border regions.

 Russia

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Photo by Администрация президента РФ

Effect: More concerning for security is Trump’s stated desire to cool tensions with Russia, potentially ending the EU-US joint sanctions regime and recognizing the annexation of the Crimea. These are points which the EU and some of its major Member States are unlikely to support.

Trump’s promise to end the deadlock and work with Assad to defeat ISIS also fits with his desire to improve relations with the Kremlin. However working with Assad, who is widely disliked in EU circles, risks alienating prominent Member States and encouraging Russia to take a more active role in international affairs, a situation that would make the EU’s eastern flank nervous. This could help destabilise states in Eastern Europe, with Russia interfering with more gusto in the aftermath of a warming of relations with the US.

Response: Despite recent problems amongst Member States in the EU’s eastern flank, the EU should take this opportunity to reaffirm the place of Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia at the heart of the European project. Support should be offered if tensions with Russia do rise, and a strong voice on their behalf should be coming out of Brussels in any talks with Russia. Likewise, if these states want a better relationship with Russia, they should be allowed to pursue it within certain limitations. They share a history which might be advantageous to exploit in building upon the EU’s autonomous relationship with Russia, something that will be needed if the US pursues a specific policy as regards Russia. Europe has different red lines with Russia than the US. For central Europe the Ukraine situation and the annexation of the Crimea is not an area where many concessions can be made to Russia.

Trade

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An anti-TTIP poster. Graphic by Mehr Demokratie

Effect: Under Trump and a House and Senate controlled by the Republican Party the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement is very likely dead. This would have seen tariffs between the EU and US cease to exist in most areas, a harmonisation of standards and the setting up of an arbitration system by which organisations can bring cases against states that introduce practices which disadvantage them commercially. While there are many who would like applaud this development, and perhaps rightly, there nevertheless stands the risk that this weakens EU and US trade, which would in turn weaken both our influences worldwide. Similarly, while not perfect, and not yet fully negotiated, TTIP offered the chance for two regions, which share many of the same values with regard to human rights, to work together and set the international agenda as regards workers’ rights. There are many legitimate criticisms of the TTIP concept of course, and even without Trump it may not have gotten off the ground politically in Europe or the US.  However, the jobs TTIP would have created could maybe have eased domestic tensions in the EU and the US, and therefore its loss cannot be counted an uncomplicated victory for anyone, as youth unemployment ravages the young voting population. Trump’s pledge to reduce the US corporate tax regime is also troublesome, as it will harm industry in the EU, particularly Ireland where many ostensibly US companies have their bases due to Ireland’s tax regime.

Response: The CETA deal with Canada is an example of how the EU should respond to TTIP. Although not free of problems associated with TTIP, such as the controversial investor court, CETA is an example of how the EU can expand its trade with smaller, likeminded regions as a way of offsetting the damaged trade relations. Seeking trade relationships similar to this with smaller states, such as Australia and New Zealand, will help bring investment into the EU and hopefully bring jobs to lift the many jobless of Europe into employment. It could also help the rural regions by boosting agricultural exports, and in this way respond to chronic problems in the EU’s rural areas. However, to avoid public opposition, these new deals should not seek to establish investor courts- even if these means the deals need to be more limited.

Conclusion

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Photo by Michael Vadon.

Trump means that the EU will be faced with new challenges, many of which are not anticipated in these responses, and many of which cannot be anticipated. However with this article I hoped to suggest that even if Trump were to be as extreme as his campaign suggested, there are moves to be made. The EU is not powerless to respond to a changing world, and for the sake of its citizens, it certainly should not stand idly if these changes will have a negative impact on their livelihoods. Trump’s Presidency does not necessarily represent anything revolutionary- he is not the first business man to be elected President, he is not the first man to be elected President, and he is certainly not the first Republican. His campaign was vicious and his comments on women and minorities have caused shock, but only time will tell if he really is anything other than another Republican President. However, if this does mark a new era in international politics, the EU is morally obliged to take its place in the world.

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Local Customs: Rhineland Carnival – Warum ist es am Rhein so schön?

carnival
Photo by Häjk

Mona Moentmann

With the coming and going of 11/11 last Friday (which is the national Independence Day here in Poland) I realised once more, how strongly my own regional identity connects this day to a very different cultural event: the beginning of carnival. Growing up in the Rhineland, the local version of carnival feels very close to me. (The biggest events of the “Rheinische” carnival are in Cologne, Düsseldorf, and Mainz.) Please, be aware that due to my lack of personal experience I am not speaking about Fastnacht (That’s this other German version of carnival (called Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht or Fasnacht mostly celebrated in Switzerland, southern Germany, Ellsaß and Voralberg. Characteristic of this festival are the wooden masks that are worn each year and depict demons, witches, fools, etc.).

So let me tell why it can be more than just half-assed costumes and drunken people.

But wait, isn’t carnival in February?

The main days to celebrate carnival are indeed (depending on the moon cycle) in February or March. From Altweiber or Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday), the main days of carnival last until Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday), the start of 40 days of fasting until Easter. Traditions of winter expulsion and feasts before the fasting are already found in mediaeval times. (According to Wikipedia, the earliest written record in Germany in 1296 in Speyer. However, the contemporary ‘fifth season’ starts already on the 11.11. at 11:11. A special tradition in Düsseldorf is that on the 11th it is the Day of Hoppeditz Awakes, who’s something like the patron of the ‘Narren’ or ‘Jecken’(fools). The people of Düsseldorf celebrate the start to the carnival season with ‘Narrenschelte’ (“Joker’s Scolding”) from Hoppeditz. Then, carnival (interpreted as a Western Christian festive season) is on pause during Christmas season, and continues on the 6th of January, the Three King’s Day. By the way, when carnival ends on Ash Wednesday, a doll of Hoppeditz will be burnt and buried under the moaning of the people. Every ‘Jeck’ (fool) wears black to show grief.

Why on 11/11?

Already in the 19th century there was a time of feasting before Christmas which started on the 11th, Saint Martin’s Day. (The first Carnival parade took place in Cologne in 1823)

Also, the number 11 (“Elf” in German) symbolises the foolish, clownish (‘närrisch’) character of the “fifth season”. On the one hand you find another reference to religion, where 11 is a number of excessiveness and sin, which kind of fits with festival with an exuberant atmosphere- rather than ‘Christian’ morals.

11 is also a ‘Schnapszahl’- which is a strange German way of saying ‘repdigit’ and shows a connection between math and drinking culture?

Furthermore, if you are talking about the contemporary version of carnival after 1823, the reference to Napoleon and the French occupation of the Rheinland could be a reason as well: the German word for 11 ELF, might be playing with the revolutionary terù: “Egalité, Liberté, Fraternité”.

Also it might symbolise the equality of people during this time. Wearing the fools hat (‘Narrenkappe’), makes everyone the same and abolishes hierarchies, so everyone is one next to one.

So, what do you do in this fifth season?

You dress up in great costumes (a new one every year, or you rotate between some of your favourites). Of course you have to be prepared for snow or storm, so it should be possible to wear warm stuff underneath. But also you’ll be in a bar, so it should also not be too warm or have layers you can take off. If you have a hat, it will be stolen or lost in the first day. In case of any escalation in the festivities and therefore destruction of your costume, have an emergency one ready!

Everyone wears masks and costumes allowing them to lose their everyday identity. It also makes hierarchies less obvious and allows a sense of social unity. Besides that, masks also protect from others potentially being offended by jokes and mockery.

In comparison with Halloween, we do see similar references to popular culture (mostly in TV), but apart from that there are some all-time classics like any animals, sailors and pirates, clowns, nuns and monks, doctors and nursed, pilots, angels and devils, cowboys and Indians, hippies, etc.

You listen to ‘shitty’ local songs, lots of brass bands, and you do this “dance” ‘Schunkeln’ –especially while sitting. That’s a very German way of showing you are enjoying the music without dancing too much. So you take the arm of you neighbour and move rhythmically (or not so rhythmically) from one side to the other (but mostly only the upper body). Advanced ‘Schunkeln’ works best on benches and goes back and forth instead of right-left.

You can give kisses to strangers. “Bützen” is a specific interpretation of a kiss (closed lips, on the cheek) during carnival. It is not expression of sexual intentions but of joy and cheerfulness. To give a “Bützje” is friendly, commits you to nothing at all, and will be given too many.

pic-carnoval

And maybe you go to a ‘Sitzung’, a more formal session organised by social carnival clubs, because of course we need some kind of institution and organisation ;). These sessions are more or less entertaining shows where club members or guests perform dances, comedy, songs, and speeches. The committee organising these events consists of a president and 10 junior members (1+10=?) and is called the “Council of Eleven” or Elferrat

Honestly, the majority of these sessions are mostly visited by older people and are not that funny, but maybe still interesting to experience and it’s a way to keep traditions and customs alive, which is not always bad.

During these events some things will happen:

1) Someone will hold a speech called ‘Büttenrede’. This speech mostly rhymes and is held from a special podium (‘Bütt’) in the local dialect. This podium is an essential part of the tradition, however it is not clear why. A ‘Bütt’ looks a bit like a barrel and might refer to an empty barrel of wine (which is the cause of bitterness of the speaker), maybe refers to Diogenes (the mocker of ancient Greece).It consists of some jokes but also ironic comments and mockery referring to local and global politics, scandals, society. This tradition originates in mediaeval times where things like caricature would usually face prosecutions. So here we have now an opportunity to criticise authorities (safely). In contemporary sessions however, it is still meant to provoke but the opinions are split about how harsh they actually are because more and more stand-up comedy is used.

2) Most likely there will be a visit of people wearing uniforms in red or blue, moving in with marching brass band music, singing, and dancing. These are called ‘Prinzengarde’ or if female ‘Funkemariechen.’ It’s a strong expression of tradition because these people are really passionate about carnival, train the whole year and have plenty of performances during the season. The typical costumes refer to uniforms of the 18th century that were designed in order to mock the Prussians who tried to oppress carnival.

carnival-2

The ‘Prinzengarde’ is also escorting the ‘Dreigestirn’ (or the equivalent in Düsseldorf: ‘Prinzenpaar’ (Royal Couple)). These are the symbolic representatives who reign over the ‘Jecken’ or ‘Narren’ (fools; the people). The Dreigestirn is specific for Cologne and consists of 3 people (new ones every year) who get the honour to reign over the ‘fools’ and be entitled to be Jungfrau (virgin), Prinz (prince) and Bauer (farmer). Traditionally represented by man (yes, also the virgin), this is a role that requires not only passion but also time and money. The carnival prince is deemed to be the highest representative of the festivities, leading the main parades throughout the week. The trio of Cologne does up to 400 visits during the season.

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Photo by T-Online.

Originally with the revival of carnival in the 19th century, it introduces the component of critique on the (foreign) ruling class and royalty, but now more part of the conservative, traditional way of carnival it gets taken very seriously again. However, Cologne loves their ‘Dreigestirn’.

But the most fascinating part is when the whole city transforms in February.

What to be excited about for February?

In case you’ll have time, take your chance to visit Cologne or Düsseldorf next year at 23/02.-27/02/2017

As some of you might know, there is a local rivalry between these two cities, most visible when it comes to which beer you drink (‘Kölsch’ vs. ‘Altbier’), what you shout (‘Alaaf’ vs. ‘Helau’) and which city has the best Rose Monday parade.

I will try to not take sides, as I grew up with celebrating in Düsseldorf (and I still prefer the beer) but during my time in Bonn I learned to love the carnival in Cologne. In the end, it’s about the people you are celebrating with, and there are nice people in both cities :D.

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Photo by Focus Online.

The first day and crazy start of the main carnival festivities is at the “Old Women’s Day’ (‘Altweiber’ or ‘Weiberfastnacht’) on Thursday. In the morning you will see already many people going to work in their colourful costumes. At around 10.00 am, most of the offices, schools etc. will close and everyone goes on the streets. At 11.11 am (again) the carnival days will be officially opened. This day is especially for the women who take the power (symbolically and ‘just for fun’) from the mayor, so the ‘fools’ can reign over the cities until Ash Wednesday. This day commemorates an 1824 revolt by washer-women, a woman in black storms the city hall to get the “key” for the city-/town halls from its mayor. In many places ‘fools’ take over city halls or municipal governments and ‘wild’ women cut men’s ties wherever they get hold of them. Not only in the city centre but also in the different districts (‘Veedel’) there will be little stages with bands and dancers, you can get beer and food and just enjoy your time.

In the afternoon, the party will shift from the streets to the local bars and pubs where it will go on and on. If you want to try, learn some of the typical songs by heart as everyone will be singing along. In case you don’t like the traditional carnival music, bad news for people going to Cologne: it will be nearly impossible to find a place playing different music. In Düsseldorf, it’s more likely to be able to celebrate in costumes still and having the carnival feeling but without these silly songs.

Friday has some masked balls and parties in the evening (during the day not so much is happening). Saturday is one of the days when you can do ‘frühschoppen’ if you want, which is an occasion where it is socially acceptable to meet in the morning to get drunk. The city will be flooded by ‘Jecken’ (fools) pretty soon. There are many parties across the city. Sunday is traditionally a day for the school children who have their own parade. In Niederkassel, a part of Düsseldorf, there will also be the traditional ‘Tonnenrennen’;  a Barrel Race where competitors run down the street with massive barrels.

Rose Monday is the peak of events (so make sure you don’t overdo it before, so you can still see the parade). From around 10 am onwards, the city centre will get filled with people. If you want a nice spot where you can see a lot, come early and bring some bags for the candy. During the parade, candy (‘Kamelle’) and flowers (‘Strüßjer’) (and sometimes random stuff like balls, sponges, condoms, little toys etc.) will be thrown into the crowds. Wave you hands in the air (like you don’t care) and scream ‘Alaaf’ or ‘Helau’ (depending where you are. IMPORTANT: do not mix this up. I repeat: do not mix it up!), you will be rewarded with candy! (Protect your drinks!) By the way, in case you want to bring beer or other alcoholic drinks with you, put them in plastic bottles, as glass is prohibited in the city centres. Also, remember to bring some food and warm clothing as it will last around two hours (or longer if you want ;).

During the parade you will see walking groups, brass bands, the ‘Funkemariechen’ will be dancing again, and the ‘Dreigestirn’ or ‘Prinzenpaar’ and groups will be on colourful wagons, all throwing candies. Besides that you will see so called ‘Mottowagen’ which are some kind of rolling caricature about political events of the last year. They are meant to be provocative, they sometimes even get international attention, and after Charlie Hebdo they actually started a debate about if they are putting the parades under risks for potential attacks.

Again, the celebrations will continue in halls, bars, homes, wherever.

merkel.jpg
Photo by RP Online.

On Tuesday, if you still want more, there are again local parades around midday in the suburbs of Cologne, the parties go on until midnight, when under weeping and whaling they will burn ‘Nubbel’, the equivalent to Hoppeditz.

When you’re Catholic, you can go to Church and get an Ash Cross on your forehead to symbolise your sins and start fasting and wait for the next year of carnival.

Want to feel more local? Learn some ‘Kölsch’!

Et Rheinisch Jrundjesetz (the rheinish constitutional law)

Artikel 1: Et es wie et es.(„Es ist, wie es ist.“) = It is, how it is.

Means: Face the facts, you cannot change them. Take things as they come.

Artikel 2: Et kütt wie et kütt. („Es kommt, wie es kommt.“) = It comes, how it comes.

Means: You cannot change the course of events, so face them with humour.

Artikel 3: Et hätt noch emmer joot jejange.(„Es ist bisher noch immer gut gegangen.“) =It has so far always gone good

Means: Things have always worked out so far.

Artikel 4: Wat fott es, es fott.(„Was fort ist, ist fort.“)= What is gone, is gone

Means: Don’t cry over spilt milk (also in the context of food: used to say go ahead and take the last piece, what is gone can’t turn bad and who might have wanted something cannot change that anymore, has to deal with it)

Artikel 5: Et bliev nix wie et wor.(„Es bleibt nichts wie es war.“)= Nothing stays how it was

Means: Change is the only constancy

Artikel 6: Kenne mer nit, bruche mer nit, fott domet.(„Kennen wir nicht, brauchen wir nicht, fort damit.“)= we don’t know it, we don’t need it, dump it.

Means: Describes the critical state of mind of the people of Cologne towards the new which doesn’t seem to be of use.

Artikel 7: Wat wells de maache?(„Was willst du machen?“)= What do you want to do?Means: Comply to your fate/destiny

Artikel 8: Maach et joot, ävver nit zo off.(„Mach es gut, aber nicht zu oft.“) Do it well, but not too often

Means: As the phrase is a word play, it is not possible to translate it one by one. In Kölsch, „Maach et joot“ (German: Mach es gut)  is a farewell-phrase. Another sense of the phrase is „Do it well“. The second part of the phrase refers to this sense and adds “But not too often” – one wishes farewell and tells the person to not do it too often.

Artikel 9: Wat soll dä Kwatsch?(„Was soll das sinnlose Gerede?“) What’s the point of that nonsense

Means: always ask the universal/fundamental question Also, don’t worry about nonsense, let it pass.

Artikel 10: Drinks de ejne met?(„Trinkst du einen mit?“)= Do you drink one with us?

Means: show some hospitality, you should have a drink with us

Artikel 11: Do laachs de disch kapott.(„Da lachst du dich kaputt.“)= there you laugh yourself broken

Means: keep a healthy attitude towards humour.

 Click here for more Culture on The Euroculturer.

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“The Back Office: The Digital Age” by Albert Meijer

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The Back Office: The Digital Age

All-focus

Albert Meijer

I’m a child of the eighties, which explains my love for mismatched coloring schemes, my Wham!-inspired wardrobe and the continuous Tears for Fears-soundtrack playing in my head.
One of the perks of being an eighties kid is growing up with Modern Technology. My parents sometimes still text me IN ALL CAPS, but my fingers have the adaptability of a Karma Chameleon. Shaped by Gameboys, Nintendo, cellphones, smartphones and the Cloud, I’m pretty confident about my tech skills.
That’s great, because in the modern-day Euroculture office, there’s a constant move towards the Digital Age. Two proud moments of this semester are the introduction of
our new and improved website, complete with a state of the art new application system, and the start of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). By now, 10.000 people, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, signed up to learn from some of our top professors. The Future Truly Is Now.
The next step – which is a small one for mankind, but a giant leap for a
  humble course coordinator – is bringing tech back into the Euroculture classroom. We’ve already included some students in the MOOC, but now we’re discussing classroom conferences, the ‘flipped classroom’ and ‘blended learning’ – fancy names for making cooperation between Euroculture students in different universities possible. Exciting stuff, as you can imagine!
The Dream of the Eighties is alive in Groningen – I’m just praying that in ten years, I won’t be replaced by an intelligent robot. 
     

Click here for more by Albert Meijer.

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“Is It Time To Panic? American Foreign Policy Under Donald J. Trump” by Lauren Rogers

“Erasmus for the World? Approaching Two Decades of the Erasmus Programme” by Daniele Carminati