What is Europe?
If you honestly think about it, could you pinpoint it out? If yes, where does Europe end or most importantly where does it start? Is Europe an ideology or does the idea of Europe ends with its dynamic borders?
Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden – these ‘Cantons’ laid down the foundation of the modern-day concept of ‘Culture’. You may wonder – How exactly has that evolved?
Well, ‘Cantons’ – the administrative division of states – make up nowadays’ confederation of ‘Switzerland. “Bundesbrief” – the oldest constitutional document of Switzerland documents the alliance of these three ‘Cantons’. In one of these ‘Cantons’, the birth of a prolific intellectual would take place – Jacob Burckhardt was born in the Canton of ‘Basel’ in 1818, he later wrote the 19th century’s masterpiece – ’The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy’. Published in 1860 and then revised in 1867, it was a sensational description of the Italian Renaissance.
Burckhardt’s vision that ‘Renaissance’ was the beginning of the modern world would later be expanded into modern politics, economics and aspects of modern society. His ideas encapsulated the idea of social, political, and cultural transformation in Europe. Burckhardt is thus known as the father of the notion of ‘Culture’ and its developments since the 19th century. Today, the stern look of his portrait on the Swiss franc is reminiscent of the path-breaking work for the cultural history of Europe and modernism. Continue reading “Why the Idea of Europe Matters”→
A small strip of land in the middle of the Mediterranean, 205 km off the Sicilian coast and 113 km away from Tunisia. Lampedusa, the southernmost point of Italy, has become popular in the recent years as the symbol of the humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Today, even if its name is no longer on the front pages, the island is still at the core of migration flows through the Central Mediterranean route and still serves as lifebuoy for many. According to statistics, the death tolls and number of arrivals have decreased in the past couple of years, but people continue to land in Lampedusa – and die in its surrounding sea. Estimations show that 2016 was the deadliest year, with 4,587 dead or missing at sea and 500 arriving in Italy by sea per day, compared to only 61 since June 2018 till today.
However, this is not a positive signal meaning that the Italian and European migration policies are giving the expected results. In fact, 19% of those who have tried to leave Africa last September died or went missing, a percentage that has never been registered before. Past scenarios in which the island, with its 6,000 Lampedusani, was hosting 10,000 people on its small territory are not likely to happen again. Lampedusa is not facing any serious problem in welcoming and hosting migrants in its hotspot, where their process for seeking international protection starts and where they normally spend just two days before being transferred to the mainland.
However, the migratory phenomenon is still profoundly affecting Lampedusa and those who live there. Different people and places around the isle can show what living on an island on the European border means, with all its peculiarities and paradoxes. Continue reading “Lampedusa: A Tragedy with a Plot Twist”→
In October 2015, two three-year-old kids were set on fire and torched inside a house along with eight adults of the same family in the Indian town of Ballabgarh, Haryana. 
Similarly, in 2010, a polio-stricken teenage girl was torched while she was sleeping, her elderly father who went to save her was also locked by an upper-caste mob until both of them were charred to death. The spokes of the rusty handicap tricycle which was meant to assist the polio-ridden condition of the obliterated girl laid darkened in the corner. These are not excerpts of stories from Auschwitz, these are everyday stories from Modern India – so-called progressive India.
These are narratives of caste-based violence and atrocities which occur without any fear of prosecution in India. In both stories, the perpetrators belonged to ‘Upper-Caste groups” i.e. the ‘Caste Elites of India’, whereas both the families on the receiving end belonged to the most socially stigmatised community of Indian society – “The Untouchables” which are now mostly recognized as “Dalits”. The word ‘Dalit’ means ‘broken’ or ‘oppressed’ (recognized as Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes under the Indian Constitution).
In India, such heinous crimes against ‘Dalits’ are not an exception but rather a norm. Moreover, such crimes are committed with impunity which is made evident by the conviction rate which stands at 5.3%. ‘Dalits’ cover almost one-fifth of the Indian population with 200 million people which is bigger than the combined population of Germany and France. Such a large population experiences caste discrimination in forms of sexual assault, physical violence, forced prostitution, manual scavenging, and denial of most basic human rights. This is tribalism of the highest order and the international community is not paying enough attention to it.
Despite the fact that caste discrimination is outlawed in India since 1947, it is omnipresent in India and the situation is not showing any signs of progress as the crimes against Dalits have increased by 66% and the rapes of ‘Dalit’ women doubled between 2007 and 2017, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Continue reading “Why the “I” in “India” Stands For “Identity””→
The cultural and creative sector is the third biggest employer in the European Union being only excelled by the construction and the food sectors. Besides their rather underestimated economic importance, culture and creativity build bridges between people and positively influence various areas, e.g. education, well-being or democracy. Consequently, culture contributes to the objectives of the European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to foster our cultural and political identity, to preserve our diversity and increase the intercultural dialogue as it is mentioned in Article 167 of the Treaty of Lisbon.
In order to give credit to the cultural sector and to support its further development, the European Union launched Creative Europe in 2014 as the EU’s funding programme for the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors. As such it is in place for seven years (2014-2020) and consists of two sub-programmes that used to exist independently before: MEDIA and CULTURE. While MEDIA is dedicated to the audiovisual sector and helps promoting audiovisual works, CULTURE covers funding for all other cultural and creative areas including amongst others performing and visual arts, literature, music, street art and cultural heritage. In total, 1,46 billion Euros are foreseen for the whole programme meaning for the whole seven years and all participating countries. Related to the amount of participating countries, this amount can change throughout the years. In addition to the 28 EU Member States, interested European countries can associate with Creative Europe and thereby increase the programme’s budget. In the past years, the list of participating countries grew continuously up to 41 countries in 2018, including amongst others Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania and Armenia, boosting the intercultural exchange in the European neighbourhood. Simultaneously, countries can also leave the group as it was the case with Turkey in autumn 2016 and could be happening again with the upcoming Brexit in 2019. Continue reading “The Future of Creative Europe”→
Besides reading all days long, summer holidays are also a perfect occasion to visit some museums… or enjoy some festivals. I had been willing to go to the Rencontres d’Arles for years: I finally managed to go there last month! This festival allows you to stroll through the streets of this centuries-old city while visiting various photography exhibitions. Art photography, photoreportage, experimental, contemporary art, light and sound, video artworks, you name it! If you’re a visual art enthusiast, Arles is definitely the place to go to during the summer! Here is a very small excerpt of what can be seen during this year’s edition (open until September 23!), as well as some comments about two other exhibitions I’ve been to, both in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.
“It wasn’t built to be a viral campaign or a hashtag that is here today and forgotten tomorrow. It was a catchphrase to be used from survivor to survivor to let folks know that they were not alone and that a movement for radical healing was happening and possible.” (Huffington Post)
Me Too. Two words that seemed brand new last year (in 2017), when Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and many other (social) media were submerged with the now famous and symbolic ‘hashtag’. The most disturbing part of this ‘movement’ (or ‘phenomenon’ as it is sometimes called) might be its lack of “newness”. Unfortunately, there was nothing unusual, nothing unfamiliar about it… except maybe its scope, and of course its prolonged effects. So, where did this Me Too movement really originate from?What can be said about it, one year later? But most importantly, how can we respond to this movement within the academic world? Though such questions would definitely deserve a couple of books each (at least!), I decided to try and gather some answers. Continue reading “Me Too: A Temporary Social Media Phenomenon?”→
Any decent human being knows this very basic fact: extreme temperatures exist so you can read without feeling too bad for not doing what you were supposed to do. In my case, I put the “extreme temperature” boundaries around +25°C and -25°C. When the weather gets warmer or colder than these, my brain automatically switches to the “non-stop reading” mode. Therefore, this summer’s heatwave gave me the very pleasant opportunity to drift away from Central European topics, back to my earlier shores for a few days. Let me introduce you to three amazing Nordic writers!
FINLAND & ESTONIA: Norma, Sofi Oksanen.
It is hard to be concise and objective when mentioning this writer whose novel Purge (Puhdistus in Finnish, Puhastus in Estonian) literally changed my life forever – and for the better. Sofi Oksanen is a Finnish-Estonian writer who likes to draw humanly touching portraits of women and their – usually complicated – past, present, and future endeavours. In Norma, we meet a young woman whose mother just killed herself without giving any warning sign of such psychological despair before this fateful morning. She struggles to understand what happened during the last few days of her mother’s life and starts realising the story behind this violent death dates back to decades, even centuries ago – and involves four different continents. Continue reading “Summer Exists So You Can Read”→
The European Union is home to 60 regional or minority languages which are threatened and risk to disappear. Language can constitute more than just a communication tool, as it can be regarded as a bearer of culture and traditions. In such a culturally diverse environment, where the EU can be seen as an engaging multicultural mosaic, is the diversity constituting a key point for our sense of communality? Or is the presence of multiculturalism representing an obstacle for a potential homogeneity?
One of the most varied and endangered linguistic minorities in Europe is the Sami. The Sami is an indigenous people living today in a territory which extends on four countries (Russia, Finland, Sweden and Norway), in a region called Lapland. Sami livelihood and economy was mainly based on the reindeer husbandry, coastal fishing, and hunting. Thus, due to their need to follow reindeers, they have never lived in one and only big community, setting up several smaller communities instead. Consequently, their nomadic life led to the development of different Sami languages, at least ten, which cannot be classified simply as dialects of the same language. Nowadays, the Sami language which counts the larger number of speakers is the North Sami, followed by the Lule Sami and South Sami. It belongs to the finno-ugrian linguistic family and it is commonly divided into three branches, depending on the grade of mutual intelligibility they can reach.
Since the establishment of borders in the Scandinavian peninsula and Russia, the Sami population quickly became a minority and encountered all the correlated difficulties as, for instance, the prohibition to speak their own language and the obligation to learn the new majority (“national”) languages. This was a consequence of the development of the agricultural activities, which implied a progressive settlement in the most Northern-most areas where the reindeers used to graze, and the wish to reach a certain homogeneity amongst the territory after the drawing of new borders. Thus the Sami people was considered a threat to the in-borders safety and homogeneity of the now “national” population. Continue reading “The EU & Minority Languages Promotion”→
During my whole life in Europe, I did not know that I was white. I knew I had pale skin and light eyes, but this was because my father was a ginger. Then, when applying to an American university for the first time, I had to indicate my race and ethnicity in the official paperwork. I learned that I had to tick the box that said “White/Caucasian.” Then, within a couple of weeks on a Midwestern campus, Americans made me understand that I was white – not only in the literal, but in the racial sense of the term. Together with my fellow exchange students from Europe, we decided pretty fast: Americans are obsessed with race. Race is everywhere; in media and political discourse, in art, in peoples’ minds. In my classes, African American and Latino students repeatedly reported racial discrimination by white police officers or in job interviews. Friends advised me to avoid specific neighborhoods – black neighborhoods.
Before going to America, it would have never occurred to me to even use the term race. Race may apply to dogs, or horses. But humans? No way. To me, groups of people were rather characterized by their different cultures, traditions, values, and beliefs. For example, I knew that I, myself, was European. As such, I identified as an heir of centuries of European culture with its Greek and Roman heritage, Christian traditions, secular art, Enlightened thinking, modern science and technology, as well as the more recent belief in liberal democracy.
When looking at the actual ideological debates in Europe, I now wonder if Europe is not as obsessed with culture as America is with race. Just as most Americans take “the” five races (white/Caucasian, black/African American, Asian American, Native American/American Indian, Latino) as naturally given, most Europeans tend to think that one can distinguish between clear-cut and mutually exclusive cultural communities, such as the European cultural community, the Muslim cultural community, the… well, it often stops here. Against the backdrop of current issues such as the so-called refugee crisis, the term “European culture” is only used in order to contrast European culture with Muslim culture. In so doing, the speaker suddenly forgets about the cultural diversity within Europe, as well as the negative prejudices toward other European nationalities (e.g., the humorless Germans, the lazy Greek, the arrogant French, and so forth).
In Europe, the cultural category has very clearly replaced the racial category that is still used in America. Culture is hereby seen as something that is inborn in individuals or trained at a very young age, and therefore cannot evolve, transform, change. I often have the impression that it is understood exactly like race was conceived of during Europe’s darkest periods – as a biological determinism that decides good and bad, superior and inferior. As a consequence, Europeans seem to be experts in exercising cultural racism – they prefer to declare that a certain culture is not compatible with Europe, instead of a certain race or ethnicity. This wording might seem more lenient, but has the same meaning in the end.
So what is real, and what is a mere construction? Race? Or culture? Maybe neither. Or maybe both. Looking at the lived realities in the United States and in Europe, one has to conclude: in the US, race is real. It is real because it has real consequences on peoples’ daily lives, and entire personal narratives. In Europe, on the other hand, the belief in incommensurable cultural communities is gaining ground in a manner that this social construction is real as well, because it influences how Europeans perceive other parts of the world. Yet, with regard to current issues such as the refugee crisis, we could try to put our convictions into question. Is Muslim culture really as opposed to European culture as right-wing populists and racists want to make us believe? Are cultural values unchangeable?
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.”
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?”