The Swedish Elections: The End of the European Role Model?

By Charlotte Culine

Freshly arrived in Uppsala, my mind filled with the idealized Swedish role model, it is with great surprise that I learn that Sweden is now facing the rise of populism and Euroscepticism. Rumours has been the situation in Sweden was slowly decaying but I had not realized the extent this phenomenon had taken in this country often considered as the peace haven of Europe, until I arrived and witnessed the tensions surrounding the legislative elections. After France and the Front National, the UK and UKIP, Austria and the Freedom party of Austria, Italy and the Five Star Movement, it is now Sweden’s turn to deal with Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party. Indeed, the Swedish elections that occurred on the September 9 has for the first time seen the everlasting left-wing Social Democrats party’s monopoly on the government endangered by nationalism and anti-immigration ideologies.
The country has gradually seen the rise of populism ever since the beginning of the 2000’s, following the first arrivals of asylum seekers coming from Iraq. From then, the number of asylum seekers has constantly increased up until 2015 when it reached its peak with 162,877 asylum seekers[i] entering the kingdom, before the government changed the immigration procedure, making it tougher. Sweden, almost unharmed by the 2008 economic crisis, remained prosper and did not seem to be the most fertile environment for such a breakthrough from the nationalist factions.

To have a better understanding of the current political landscape and the point of view of a Swede on this situation, I had an interview with our teacher Lars Löfquist, doctor in Theology, director of studies in Uppsala for the Euroculture programme as well as two other programmes concerning Humanitarian Action. Starting from this, I was able to draw some observations that could explain how Sweden got to this point, what is the current situation and what is to expect in the coming weeks.

Malmö’s case, 2013 & the burning cars

According to Lars Löfquist, the Swedes voted for Sweden Democrats for safety reasons. Sweden is famous for being a safe place, a ‘haven’ as stated above. One of the main arguments of SD is that violence would have supposedly started increasing ever since the number of asylum seekers started growing. The situation was already tensed in 2013 when riots broke out in suburbs of the capital city and were the first indicators of inequalities and lack of integration in Sweden. In between, the migrant crisis of 2015 happened, and criminality has been a major subject in Swedish medias.
The case of Malmö testifies well of the current situation. Called the “capital city of rape” by Nigel Farrage, an English populist politician who led the British vote towards Brexit, it seems though that one of the main reasons why sexual offences have increased in the statistics is a progressively stricter legislation from the Swedish authorities[ii]. The actual number of sexual offences are not increasing that much, but more aggressions are considered and punished as such, which would mathematically higher up the numbers[iii]. More recently, in August 2018, many cars were burnt in some suburbs of Gothenburg as well as close to Stockholm[iv]. No specific demands were made but it automatically echoed to what happened in 2013, and the question of safety was again in everybody’s minds just a month before the elections.
Swedish people are afraid to lose their stability. Whether it is related to safety or welfare, the massive immigration wave has shaken the peaceful life of the Nordic kingdom provoking the rebirth of Sweden Democrats.

Identity & Culture

Some intellectuals and journalists might be tempted to rush these results into the debate of European identity. As believed by Lars Löfquist, Swedish identity is not threatened, and except for some minority groups Swedish people do not feel their identity being threatened. There is, though, a conflict between two cultures. On one hand, the culture of Sweden, and on the other, the culture of most of the immigrants. The Swedish population has been atheist for a while now. People are not believers and you would never see a line up in front a church on a Sunday morning. It is thus very difficult for them to accept the idea of an omnipresent religion, that would require calls for prayers and different ways of dressing. The culture of immigrants, which often includes Islam, becomes then much more visible and noticeable, especially when Sweden is the country that welcomed the biggest number of immigrants per capita[v].
This point is significant because it is one of the main reasons why people voted for Sweden Democrats. “Sweden has done its part” is the sentence, pronounced by Lars Löfquist, that translates best the general despondency felt in the country. With approximately 70,000 residence permits granted in 2016, Sweden has proven itself much more united with the migrant cause than most of the other European countries, especially France and Germany, the so-called ‘power couple’ of the EU. The same way than Italy did in March, Sweden is now calling up on the European community to do their part.

Sweden Elections Results graph
Valmyndigheten (Swedish Election Authority) results graphic.

 

The Swedish Exception

Sweden has once again proven itself to be reasonable in troubled waters. As Lars Löfquist puts it, “the left is not dead”. Compared to other European countries where all other parties have fallen in front of populism, like Italy or Austria, or even France, where all the traditional parties have shattered during the last presidential elections, Sweden’s left- and right-wing parties have remained strong and have only conceded the third place to Sweden Democrats. The Centre Party (Centerpartiet) has also reached a historical score, providing them with eight more seats than they had before.
In the end, 82% of the voters have chosen to give their voice to parties that are not for the reinforcement of anti-immigration policies. The results of these elections are not linked to a depoliticization or lack of interest of the population either. With 87.18% of turn out, Sweden does better than most of the European country, and 1.38 point more than for their last parliamentary elections[vi].
Nevertheless, none of the parties managed to secure the majority and they will now have to find a solution altogether to build the new government. Even though all parties have already rejected the idea of working with SD, the Social democrats have already changed their politics on immigration before the elections to face Jimmie Åkesson’s threat of overthrow, reducing the number of refugees that Sweden will take from now on. It seems that even if Sweden Democrats have not reached the expected number of voters (less than 18% against 20 to 25% expected in the polls), they still earned their voice to maintain pressure on the political decisions in the coming era of Swedish policy making.


[i] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[ii] Reality Check: Is Malmo the ‘rape capital’ of Europe?, BBC news’ website, February 2017, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-39056786
[iii] Crime and statistics report, Brå, https://www.bra.se/bra-in-english/home/crime-and-statistics.html
[iv] Sweden cars: 80 set on fire by gangs in several cities, BBC news’ website, August 2018, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-45181321
[v] Sweden and migration, Official website of Sweden, https://sweden.se/migration/#2015
[vi] Valmyndigheten (Election Authority) https://data.val.se/val/val2018/slutresultat/R/rike/index.html


Featured picture: Stefan Löfven, current Prime Minister of Sweden (Socialdemokraterna, 2015).

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Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?

By Linda Piersma

Ever since the EU was diagnosed with a so-called ‘democratic deficit’, it has attempted to close the gap between the European elite and its citizens. At first, its communication policies were directed at providing information and ‘educating’ the public about Europe. However, since the mid-2000s, the EU has committed itself (in theory at least) to the idea of a true European public sphere involving genuine dialogue with its citizens.[1] Via its ‘Europe for Citizens Programme’ (EfCP), the EU now supports various external projects to stimulate this two-way relationship.[2]

A case in point is ‘Debating Europe’, a website created by the organization Friends of Europe, which seeks to stimulate a direct conversation between European citizens and their supranational politicians by connecting them on their online platform. Several of its debates are funded by the EfCP and citizens can engage in these debates by sending in questions or posting comments. Debating Europe then takes these questions to certain ‘European leaders’ like MEPs, policy-makers, academic experts or NGOs to have them respond.[3] However, does Debating Europe actually succeed in its objective of encouraging honest debate and bringing together European leaders and their citizens? How is the interactive process shaped by all these actors?

Although research on the European public sphere has come a long way since the original Habermasian understanding of the term,[4] I argue that the interaction between all these different actors asks for an approach that integrates both bottom-up and top-down perspectives. Especially in current-day digital society, traditional media, political actors and citizens are all involved in the online “production, distribution, consumption and discussion of political content on issues of societal relevance.”[5] By understanding the European public sphere as a network of online and offline meaning-making,[6] it becomes possible to see the intersections between EU policies, transnational media discourses and citizens’ practices. Continue reading “Bridging the Gap between European Citizens & Brussels?”

Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016

 

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Trump and Clinton. Photos by Gage Skidmore, compiled by Krassotkin

Ryan Minett

Next Tuesday will hopefully be the end of the absolute fiasco, disaster, or whatever less printable name you would like to call this year’s election. As much as I would like to talk about it, there is little to nothing positive that outweighs all the negative associated with both candidates. In the last few weeks, there have been rumors from both sides that either Clinton or Trump would drop out of the race leaving the election all but decided in favor of the other candidate. Both times these rumors have come out I was terrified at the very real prospect of either Clinton or Trump becoming president, though honestly I was more terrified at the thought of POTUS Trump than POTUS Clinton. I’m not here to support one or the other. They are both deplorable candidates. That a country of 320 million people has to choose between these two is embarrassing though not altogether surprising. Watching this campaign has been nothing short of Kafkaesque as we watch this garbage, unable to do anything. This is not an election where the voters will vote in favor of a candidate, but rather, for the most part, against a candidate. If anyone is still unaware, next Wednesday the future president of the United States will almost definitely be either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Writing those words, my heart beat faster and a wave of fear crashed over me as I realize yet again how bleak the future is.

Why I’m scared of Trump… Continue reading “Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016”

The Danger of Ridiculing Trump: Even if he loses Trump and his supporters cannot be ignored

 

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Trump and his supporters

Arne van Lienden

Ever since Donald Trump announced that he would run as the Republican Presidential candidate he has been a constant supplier of sensational media headlines. Never before in modern American history did a Presidential candidate attract so much controversy and had so little support from the establishment of his own party. With every shocking statement he has made so far – from calls to ban Muslim immigration to virulent misogynistic remarks – commentators predicted that it would be the end of his campaign. But for Trump it seems that nothing can harm him. He continues to generate support while liberal media are left fazed. His actions made the persona Trump into a constant subject of ridicule, almost a laughing stock. But laughing at Donald Trump distracts the attention from the deeper laying socio-economic issues influencing his supporters. As long as these are not heard or taken seriously, Donald Trump may just be a harbinger of things to come.

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Trump rally in Cincinnati

Recent polling has shown that is rather unlikely that Donald Trump will become the next President of the United States. The leaked video with Billy Bush came at the worst possible moment for his campaign. For weeks he tried to appear more reasonable and substantive in interviews and press conferences in order to gain support among white middle-class voters. But where some middle-class voters just might have started to believe he was not that bad, the video leaked and established Trump’s image as a misogynist once again. The result is that demographically Donald Trump just does not seem have enough support to win the Presidency. Besides having a lack of middle class votes, Trump also lacks support in other parts of the population. Whereas Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 won 6% of the African American votes, polls show that Donald Trump has around 3% support among African Americans. Although these percentages seem both shockingly insignificant one should only remember the Presidential elections of 2000 to see that in American Presidential elections the margins are often incredibly small. In recent years the Republican Party has also aimed for the Hispanic vote as Hispanics are overwhelmingly Catholic and could align themselves with the Republican views on abortion and gay marriage. However Trump has antagonized many Hispanics with his derogatory remarks on Mexicans and consequently this election they seem to favour Hillary Clinton over Trump.

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Trump’s campaign slogan. Photo by Gage Skidmore

While numbers may suggest that Donald Trump is running behind it seems that no one takes any reassurance from this. This election has never been about numbers or statistics because they have been against Trump from the very start. Jeb Bush and Marc Rubio were seen as the golden boys in the Republican Party but they were forced to withdraw their campaigns within months because Trump constantly exceeded every expectation. Donald Trump has gone beyond the statistics and numbers that always dominated the media coverage on the Presidential elections and has done so by mobilizing a group of voters that in recent years has been structurally underrepresented in the vote because they felt no candidate recognized their position. It is the ‘hidden group’ of working-class white Americans that suddenly rose to the surface as an important force during these elections. In areas that have been negatively affected by globalization and ‘trickle-down’ economics Trump is seen as the candidate who can turn America back into the manufacturing superpower it was before. With the newest round of the Clinton email scandal hurting her polling position, a Trump presidency is not impossible.

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Host of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver. Photo by Steve Jennings

Popular liberal TV-shows like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight have in the meanwhile started a media offensive against Trump and his supporters. Donald Trump is the perfect persona for ridicule and satire. His inconsistent speeches, outright racist and sexist statements, and his remarkable debating style have been the subject of satirical items that gathered millions of views on TV and YouTube. Also the supporters of Trump are often publicly scorned. There is an overload of videos where Trump supporters are exposed as violently racist and/or sexist. It is important in any free society that people can get mocked and that politics can be the subject of satire, but the current media coverage on Donald Trump uses a dangerous framework to depict him and his supporters. To see the successes in his campaign as a sudden eruption of collective stupidity and racism in American society overlooks the fact that his supporters “may not have it worse than some other demographic groups in America today, but they have fallen the furthest”. The racial and sexist dimension in the Trump campaign should never be overlooked, but neither should the fact that the white working class is the demographic group in America that lives in a worse economic situation than their parents did. Globalization and neoliberal economics have left certain areas in the United States riddled with unemployment, poverty, and a dangerous disgruntlement.

pic-trump-rally
This Trump supporter at a Cincinnati highlights the deep distrust of his supporters hold for mainstream media

In recent years the main focus of the Democratic and Republican Party has been to gain the middle class vote. The white working class voter is deemed to be aging and to be slowly becoming a relatively small demographic group. So in the Presidential campaigns the Republican Party focused more on the wealthy part of society with promising tax cuts, and the middle class families who were also promised a rise in purchasing power. The establishment of the Democratic Party, traditionally the party for the white working class, has shifted its main focus to social justice for minorities. Although Bernie Sanders did voice the discontent of the white working class, Hillary Clinton is seen as the epitome of middle-class liberalism with no regard for a struggling working class. It is no wonder then that the white working class voter did not feel represented in the establishment of both parties. Whereas usually this does mean that they would not vote, this year’s election is different. Donald Trump presented himself as an anti-establishment candidate who would completely change the partisan and bureaucratic government in Washington. His populist rhetoric and promise to ‘make America great again’ resonate in the areas where the white working class is still the largest voting group. For instance in the Rust Belt – a formerly heavily industrialized area in the Midwest – unemployment is structural after most industries left the area. Trump’s rhetoric to bring manufacturing back from China is hugely popular in these areas that ever since the Reagan presidency have only been in decline.

Framing Donald Trump’s campaign solely in terms of racism and sexism overlooks the fact that 42% percent of the American electorate is nonetheless likely to vote for him. Ridiculing Trump and his supporters will only contribute to further polarization and antagonism between liberals and conservatives in the United States. It is disturbing enough in itself that a substantial demographic voter group only finds itself heard in a megalomaniac and populist candidate like Donald Trump. The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight’s success comes mostly from poking fun at channels like Fox News, but the audience of Fox News is not likely to be open to other views or other channels if they find themselves the subject of scorn there. It rather works to reinforce the polarized media landscape in the United States. It should be the task of liberal media to look deeper into people’s motivation to vote for Trump and to make their concerns more accepted in the discourse surrounding the elections. Also Hillary Clinton’s debate strategy of constantly reminding people of the controversies surround Trump is futile as long as the deeper socio-economic worries of the white working class are being ignored. A more inclusive discourse should begin with the media and politicians that propagate a liberal ideology.

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Trump has many devoted supporters. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

If numbers and statistics can be trusted just this once in these elections, then Hillary Clinton will become the first female President of the United States. This will be a huge milestone for gender equality in United States, just as the 2008 election of Barack Obama was one for race equality. But it should not ignore the fact that Donald Trump has made it so far in the American elections. It should not be considered as a deviation from normalcy in politics or as a unique collective misjudgment. The success of Donald Trump has revealed the discontent of a ‘hidden group’ of voters who previously have been structurally ignored in American politics. The only way to prevent a normalization of populism in American politics is to be more open to the struggles of this group of voters. If they will be ignored again than Trump will prove to only be a harbinger for things to come in the American political arena.

Click here for more by Arne van Lienden.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Islamophobia: Made in America – A New Phenomenon? US Elections and Discrimination” by Sabine Volk

“Should Voting be Compulsory in the US?” by Emma Danks-Lambert

“Catch 22: Clinton vs Trump 2016” by Ryan Minett

The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US

This essay is moreover a response to political scientist Robert A. Dahl’s famous work How Democratic Is the American Constitution?, in which he points to several democratic issues in the American constitutional system.

us-constitution
The Constitution of the United States of America is almost a holy document in the US

Sabine Volk

How democratic is the American constitution? asks political scientist Robert A. Dahl in his famous essay. His argument does not leave much of a doubt to the answer: the American constitution is by far not the democratic model constitution that many Americans think it to be. Claiming a more critical stance towards the more than 200 years old script, Dahl discusses several questionable aspects of the American founding document. Amongst those aspects, for example, is the unique electoral system whose outcome does not always represent the will of the citizens, as in the 2000 national elections. Another fairly undemocratic feature is the unequal representation of citizens in America’s second legislative chamber, the U.S. Senate, in which the federal states are represented. Dahl defines unequal representation as a condition in which the number of members of the second chamber coming from a federal unit such as a state or province is not proportional to its population, to the number of adult citizens, or to the number of eligible voters.

“The inequality in representation,” he then finds, “is a profound violation of the democratic idea of political equality among all citizens,” since it goes against the basic democratic principle of “one person, one vote.” One cannot but wonder why unequal representation exists and on which grounds it can be justified in a democracy.  Continue reading “The EU as a Democratic Role Model for the U.S.? A European solution to voter inequality in the US”

To vote or not to vote? Young people’s feelings towards the European election

Will you vote for the European election? I gathered feedback from friends from several countries and asked them whether they think they will cast their votes. In the end I got many different answers. This article shows, in no way representatively of course, the variety of feelings towards this European election.

Franziska Brinkmann│Franziska_Brinkmann@gmx.de

News about the special party congresses as well as advertisement campaigns all over the internet constantly remind us that from 22nd to 25th of May, Europeans will have another chance to vote.

How do young people feel about the upcoming elections? Are they eager to vote or not?

How do young people feel about the upcoming elections?

I gathered feedback from friends from several countries and asked them whether they think they will cast their votes and the reason why. In the end I got many different answers. This article shows, in no way representatively of course, the variety of feelings towards this European election.

This May, once more, most people in Europe will have the freedom to vote. I say most people, since there are of course, many people living in Europe without having citizenship (like many of my Euroculture friends). I also say this because there are four nations in the EU that have the legal obligation to vote: Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and Luxembourg[1]. For all other Europeans it’s time to decide first of all if they are going to vote at all.

My own research on the European elections began when I tried to figure out how voting is going to work for me this time. Due to the MA Euroculture programme I am in Krakow right now, far away from my assigned ballot box in Göttingen, Germany. To tell you something about my voting behaviour right away: I always vote and it does not matter if it is a regional, national or European election. Since I am in a programme concerned with European culture and politics now, I feel even more obliged to do so. Continue reading “To vote or not to vote? Young people’s feelings towards the European election”

Hoping to be proud

It is easy just to be proud when you realise how many people are willing to know about your home country. ‘Because it is France. It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’. An ideal that cannot ring true to everybody if one does not have the same rights.

paul-gilbert colletazpaul.colletaz@gmail.com

On the 6th of May 2012, from a little city in Italy where I was studying at the time, my English partner and I witnessed the election of a new President for my home country: France. The Socialist candidate François Hollande won over his opponent – the outgoing Nicolas Sarkozy. Amongst the voters hoping for change was a majority of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual French community.

Indeed, Mr Hollande, unlike Mr Sarkozy had promised to legalise same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Since then, the process proved to be complicated and the past few months were rich in demonstrations, lobbying and public events supporting the President or trying to make him renounce.

Being away, it took me some time to realise the importance of the debate in France and how the question of giving homosexuals those rights was present almost everywhere: in the streets, on television, on the radio…This, however, only seemed to be a start and I imagined that, until the law was passed, the debate and involvement of people on both sides would keep on increasing. Or so I thought…

Glaring at the slow but steady process of allowing same-sex people to marry and adopt, some right-wing mayors declared that they would not marry same-sex couples and requested the right to refrain from performing ceremonial weddings between said couples, were the law to come into force. The debate would continue even after the implementation of the law: longer than I thought…

On the 10th of October, some 1248 mayors had already signed the petition.

Some of the political leaders of France, that democratic republic, were to reject the law and regulations that define a democracy. They would go against the –according to them, very French- rules of democracy because the decision to give equal rights to homosexuals did not include the French electorate directly and therefore lacked a democratic foundation. A brain teaser.

This argument falls short when one is reminded that in early November, 58% of the French population was in favour of same-sex marriage and 50%, in favour of/supported the right for same-sex couples to adopt. However, these figures have decreased since 2011 when they were 63% and 56% respectively. So what is to blame? Certainly, the overwhelming place of the debate and the constant arguments, for or against, repeated again and again. Faced with such a large spectrum of opinions, one thing is certain. Homosexuals and the rights of the homosexuals have never been of much interest for the right-wing politicians.

Another popular argument against the introduction of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples is that it would create chaos. The Senator Serge Dassault explained this on the radio on the 7th of November: (…) “Look at history, in Greece, it is one of the reasons for its decadence. Utter decadence. It would compromise children’s development, it would mean the end of education, it would be an enormous danger for the nation as a whole. It would pose an unprecedented threat for the nation as a whole!” Total decadence, well of course. Apparently, being heterosexual helps keep the nation together.

Flag of France

Being French is always something that has helped me spark an interesting conversation with the different people I met as a student studying abroad. Whilst in Italy or in the United-Kingdom, people would speak about the food, the beautiful language, and the philosophers along with the clichés of the beautiful, arrogant, chauvinistic thin French man or woman who smokes too much, can be a bit dirty and who will not, under any circumstances, accept to learn a foreign language. Perhaps because I was speaking another language than French then, the discussions were always cheerful, enjoyable and showed a real interest. Further away, in India – where I am presently studying – the interest in my country is still there, and though some of the ideas about food or of what is ‘typically French’ are more vague; it is the same attraction – if not an enhanced one – that I encounter when I see people perking up at the mention of the French Revolution, Rousseau, Voltaire…

However, I knew that in the land where the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was written, the person who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen was beheaded and that Voltaire was describing homosexuality as ‘a despicable attack against nature’ whilst Rousseau saw it as ‘the odious example of a brutal depravation and of a charmless vice’.

This is what being French means. It means missing home and being proud of its ideals, its culture and of some parts of its history. It is also at times facing stubbornness, underlying racism and a somewhat quaint idea that our past and present would make the French people somewhat different. ‘Different’ often meaning ‘better’. Switching from pride to shame is a feeling most people feel when they think about their country, but because of its image and reputation, those two ends feel so far from another if you are French.

I might have chosen to study in different countries to avoid those ups and downs. It is easy, not being informed of what is happening ‘there’, to just be proud when you realise how many people know about your home country, your mother tongue and be even more proud when so many more people tell you about their will to know. ‘Because it is France.’ It is ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’, not a French motto, but a goal and an ideal shared by everybody everywhere in the world. An ideal that cannot ring true to the homosexual community as long as they do not have the same rights.

The project of allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt in France has been approved by the Council of Ministers on the 7th of November and should be discussed in Parliament in January 2013.

* The Euroculturer : F. Hollande said he would be granting what is called “liberté de conscience”, which in fact allows mayors to refuse to perform the ceremony, so they would not be breaking the law. (http://www.atlantico.fr/pepites/mariage-homosexuel-aura-liberte-conscience-pour-maires-dit-hollande-551293.html)

* However, immediately after having used the expression ‘liberté de conscience’, F. Hollande said that he regretted having said that and that mayors will not have the choice whether to marry or not. (http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/mariage-gay-lesbienne/20121122.OBS0239/liberte-de-conscience-hollande-regrette-ses-propos.html)

 

paulPaul-Gilbert Colletaz, Contributing writer

Paul is from France and graduated in British and American Literatures, Civilisations and Linguistics from the Sorbonne, Paris, spending the last year of his undergraduate diploma in Edinburgh, Scotland. He started the MA Euroculture programme in September 2011 at the University of Strasbourg before going to the University of Udine (Italy). He is presently studying at the University of Pune (India). His research interests go from gender studies to queer studies with a particular interest in body expression, masculinities, second-wave feminism and the legal status of homosexuality and its political consequences.