The shock of a nation: The avalanche of Erfurt

By Guilherme Becker

In the mountains of Thüringen, the lack of snow points to a mild winter. On the ground floor of its capital Erfurt, however, an avalanche has been spread and felt all over Germany. For the first time a far-right populist party has helped electing a governor. At first, it may not look so serious, but in Germany it has been considered a completely unexpected, surprising, and worrisome taboo breaking. A blast that is hurting the political spectrum nation-wide.

What a time to be in Erfurt, from a journalistic point of view. When I started my internship at Thüringen Allgemeine, I could not imagine that I would live in such a vivid and turbulent period. Not at all. As I am currently working for the biggest newspaper of the state, in its capital city, I would like to explain what went on and what might go on regarding the state parliament leader election, its effects and the great repercussion that led even chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) to respond directly from South Africa on February 6th.

Some weeks ago I spent the whole Friday (31.01) hanging out, watching sessions, interviews and keeping my eyes close to the work of the reporters at Thüringen Parliament. It is a kind of experience that fits really well into a journalist and Euroculture student’s life. I even got time for a joke when walking through the corridor reserved for politicians from far-right populist party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany), well known for its xenophobic, racist and anti-immigration policies. “Am I allowed to be here? You know, I am a foreigner…”, I asked a journalist. He laughed and promptly joked back: “Yes, true, but you have German blood… So don’t worry…” We all laughed.

The time for jokes ended soon after, precisely on Wednesday (05.02), when the election of the new Thüringen governor was about to happen. The predictions and expectations were all set for the reelection of leftist Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke). But then the most unlikely scenario led to the election of centrist-liberal candidate Thomas Kemmerich (FDP), at the last minute. Unexpectedly, instead of voting for their own candidate, AfD politicians decided to support Kemmerich to defeat the left. That is not the only problem: CDU (conservative right-wing) also supported Kemmerich, which means that two traditionally moderate parties made an unpredictable – if not unbelievable – “connection” with far-right extremists. A complete shock for Germany.

The impact was so huge that protests erupted – and keep happening – not only in Erfurt, but in many other cities of Germany. In the capital of Thüringen public transport was highly affected with delays not only on that Wednesday, but also on the following days given the demonstrations that followed the election.

Then on Thursday (06.02), only one day and 34 minutes after the election, the then newly-elected governor Kemmerich announced his resignation. On Monday (10.02) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer resigned the CDU leadership. Therefore, she will not run next year in the national election as a possible substitute for Merkel. Some days earlier, Merkel had fired Christian Hirte, then minister for former East German states and secretary of state for the economy and energy. The reason? He greeted Kemmerich’s election on Twitter. One avalanche after another.

But why? Why so much anger and outrage over a vote? Well, let’s start from the beginning.

Thüringen state parliament is made up of six different parties: Die Linke (29 seats), followed by AfD (22), CDU (Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel’s party, conservative right, 21 seats), SPD (Social Democratic Party, socialist left-wing, 8), Grüne (environmentalist left-wing, 5) and FDP (Liberal Democratic Party, liberal centre-right, also 5).

The governor election is indirect. Therefore it is necessary to have a majority through the seats to elect the governor – and then have a future majority on approval or rejection of projects and laws. National conservative and liberal centre-right headquarters parties, such as CDU and FDP, have always claimed and made clear that any “connection” – even informal alliances – with AfD was not allowed and should not happen at all. But it did happen. Usually AfD does not give and does not get any support to or from any party. This time, though, they decided to vote for FDP instead of voting for their own candidate. A completely unexpected political trick.

I see this scenario as a sign that two traditional parties, by accepting AfD support – even not being allowed to do that -, may be ignoring national premises and acting independently to come to power. The point is that the parties’ headquarters strongly condemned the election primarily arguing that Kemmerich should not have accepted the outcome of it. But he accepted, and only later on decided to resign after seeing the pressure and the protests coming from all sides. CDU’s more conservative wings have already flirted with the possibility of approaching AfD. For the most part, however, it has been avoided at all. Moreover, the result of this election might be a message that AfD is gradually getting closer to the “political game” and attempting to gain power under any circumstances.

The reason for the shock in Germany is obvious: parties, politicians and civil society from all political backgrounds abominate the possibility of the far-right approaching power. They voted for and elected politicians precisely to not do what they just have done. In their minds, it is something completely unacceptable which I definitely agree with. When traditional right-wing and centre-right parties (such as the CDU and the FDP) accept AfD’s support, the ideology fades away, and the subsequent message is that what really matters is to come to power. A great offense, so to say.

Another great concern is that this “connection” among these parties leads people to question and consequently disregard even more the traditional parties, which in the last elections have significantly lost votes to extremists. As Kemmerich resigns and a new election is blinking, maybe CDU, for example, will connect to Die Linke, which, in my point of view, can make the electorate migrate even more to the extremists, namely AfD. In other words, it all means that there might be a huge loss of confidence in traditional parties and a vote of confidence for extremists.

The rise of AfD in Thüringen might have come along through many reasons, such as a strong conservatism, but also from some trauma left by DDR, and some subsequent economic reasons. Estearn German states have never got as industrialized as their Western neighbours, for instance. A study launched two weeks ago, for example, pointed out that only 22% of Eastern Germans are completely satisfied with democracy. The number is almost half of the 40% that said being satisfied with it in former Western German states.

At the same time, I see Die Linke as the current majority more as a result of the so-called utilitarian vote, in order to avoid a majority for AfD, although the region remains a traditionally working-class region, what might have led part of the electorate to migrate to the extremes, be right or left.

I do not think that I need to explain the concepts and the political agenda preached by AfD. It is actually more than only conservative. It is racist and xenophobic. One need only to google Björn Höcke and will certainly soon realise what I am talking about.

In the end, what happened last week in Erfurt was actually a strong and unprecedented taboo breaking. Germans are aware of the weight of their own history. They know that it was in Thüringen that the country had the first state government with the involvement of the Nazis. Incidentally, it was also in February, 80 years ago, that Hitler’s party gained substantial power. In Erfurt. In Thüringen. That was the first taboo breaking that later led Europe to the ruins, and Germany to collapse. Hopefully a majority of people are not in the mood to repeat some obvious and terrible mistakes.

Picture: Links Unten Göttingen / Flickr

Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there

By Sumeyye Hancer

On March 31, 2019, Turkey held its municipal elections. According to the BBC, 57 million people were registered and the turnout displayed an outstanding 85%. After 25 years of seat in Ankara, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), known as the Justice and Development Party, has lost its seat in the capital city as well as in Istanbul metropolis and other municipalities. The recession announced last March appears to have played a decisive role against the ruling party.

The event took a tragic turn as clashes occurred and four people died in south and east Turkey. Dozens were also reported injured in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. In Istanbul, one person was stabbed in Kadıköy district as reported by The Guardian.

In the European Union, the German magazine Der Spiegel announced the “Ende eines Mythos” (“The End of a Myth”, in English). In France, Le Monde spoke of “un revers cinglant” (“A scathing reverse”). In Spain, El País mentioned “un duro revés” (“a harsh reverse”) and the loss of the “islamistas turcos” (“Turkish islamists”).

Indeed, the results seem to showcase patterns of a new momentum vis-à-vis the 2023 national elections, albeit the outcomes have been contested by the ruling party which at first denounced “invalid votes and irregularities in most of the 12,158 polling stations in Ankara”, then “irregularities” and “organised crime”. The result of the election in Istanbul was appealed as announced by Ali İhsan Yavuz, the deputy chairman of AKP. However, on April 9th The Guardian announced that the partial recount process confirmed the lead of the CHP (Republican People’s Party) candidate, Ekrem İmamoğlu.

Today, half of the citizens support Erdogan and the other half despises him for polarising the country, according to the analysis by Mark Lowen, BBC Turkey correspondent, in article published on April 1st entitled “Turkey local elections: Setback for Erdogan in big cities”.

How do I approach the event as a Euroculture student? Continue reading “Municipal elections in Turkey: what did happen there”

Get out of this jail!

By Guilherme Becker

Berlin, August, 2006. After two weeks traveling from London – where I used to live at that time -, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, I had arrived in one of the most fascinating cities of the world – at least in my imaginary, which could easily be confirmed later. Summer breeze was blowing through the cafes and bars of Prenzlauer Berg. Kastanienallee was the perfect picture of how Berliners could enjoy their lives on a Saturday afternoon, with groups of friends and families hanging out and experiencing all types of foods and drinks, listening to different kinds of music and appreciating the sunny weather. All way down to Alexanderplatz distinct generations were sitting together in front of yellow, blue, green and red buildings talking about life and keeping problems completely away. Alone, I observed that and could barely believe that only a little more than 15 years earlier that part of the city was not that colourful and had nothing similar to that.

On the other side, Mitte was also full of people on the pavements observing passersby. Unter den Linden was like an anthill made by tourists that after walking the whole day could finally have some rest in the “Biergarten(s)” around. The city was beautiful, alive and tender following a World Cup that Germany had hosted less than a month ago and only a few days after the Swedish trio Peter, Bjorn and Jon had launched the classic “Young Folks”. You could feel the tenderness in the air. You could feel the spirit of happiness flowing freely in such a vibrant and great atmosphere. It was simply wonderful.

I knew, though, that at least in one of the seven days that was going to stay there I needed to take some time to cross the city and leave all that happiness and good vibrations behind. It would not be easy or pleasant, but I needed to do it. The goal was tough: Sachsenhausen.

Continue reading “Get out of this jail!”

My Third Semester: Internship at Eurozine

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Béline Hermet (2017-2019, FR) has a background in International Development with a minor in Italian Studies. After a couple of years in Canada, she wanted to go back to Europe. For her, Euroculture was an obvious choice. Apart from her interest in the issues the programme attempts to tackle, she finds additional appeal in the mobility opportunities that the programme offers, which allow her to study in different universities and countries in a multicultural environment with international students.
Béline started her Euroculture life in Uppsala and Göttingen. She spent her third semester doing an Editorial Assistant internship at Eurozine, a network of European cultural journals and an online magazine, headquartered at Vienna, Austria.
Thanks Béline for taking the time to share your experience!

1. So, why an internship?

I know I don’t want to do a PhD, so I was sure from the beginning that I wanted to do an internship to have professional experience and opportunities. I have not yet had the opportunity to do an internship that is of longer duration, and I wanted to get a better idea of what I want to do after Euroculture.

2. Can you tell us what you were doing in your internship? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at Eurozine”

The Rebirth of European TV

By Nemanja Milosevic

For a very long time the original programming of European TV stations had suffered from the dominance of US made TV content, and the discrepancy was mostly caused by the differences in budget. For a very long time, TV shows were seen as being of lesser quality in comparison to movies, and more successful actors would usually avoid appearing on a regular TV show. That recently changed, as several TV shows from the US got acclaim from critics and general praise by the audience, thus the status of TV shows slowly evolved. There has been more creativity involved in making a show and at the same time the level of production and artistic direction of some TV shows improved so much that they could compare to those of movies that usually appear in film festivals. There have been several established movie directors who directed shows and some award-winning actresses and actors who had major roles in some shows (the latest example being Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies).

While all this was happening in the US, Europe started catching up, now that TV shows had a better reputation and an established market among a much wider audience. The European television program was traditionally based on imported content (films and sit-coms), adapted reality and game shows; and the only difference would be whether this content would be presented in a dubbed or original version.[1] The original programming was usually national, it would rarely cross borders and every country had its own type of shows they specialized in. Except for football matches and reality show adaptions (a reality show Big Brother started in the Netherlands, but has experienced a worldwide success, as the rights for the production of the show were sold in many other countries, resulting in the show airing in almost every European country), there was no other content that was ‘pan-European’. That recently changed with the emergence of streaming platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These services bought rights for many European original shows and for the first time made them available with subtitles in English and other languages, all across the globe. Continue reading “The Rebirth of European TV”

My Third Semester: Internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Katharina Geiselmann (2017-2019, DE) or also known by her classmates as Kat, spent her first and second semesters at Uppsala and Krakow. Kat studied English Studies in her Bachelor’s, with a minor in Languages and Cultures. After her Bachelor studies, she looked for a completely interdisciplinary Master’s programme that allows her to live in more countries and become familiar with more languages, which led her to start her Euroculture adventure. Kat has just finished her internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, which she did for her third semester. Thanks, Kat, for taking the time to share your experience!

1. Why did you decide to do an internship for your third Euroculture semester?

To be honest, I was quite undecided about which option would be better for me, simply because I did not know if I wanted to pursue a PhD after this programme or work. In the end, I chose to do an internship because I was offered one with the German Foreign Ministry, which has been on my wishlist for quite some time. They also only take interns who can prove that it is an obligatory part of their studies, so I might not have had the option of doing the internship at another time. In the end, I think you can have great experiences both with the research track and the professional track, as long as you find a vacancy that makes you curious. I found that it really helped me to talk about my options with friends, because sometimes you only realize why you want to do what only when talking about it.

2. So, what kind of things did you do at the German Permanent Representation? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Internship at the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany to the European Union”

My Third Semester: Research Track at Osaka University, Japan (2017-2019)

Interviews conducted by Ivana Putri

Elisabeth Stursberg (DE, Strasbourg-Groningen), or also known by her classmates as Lizzie,  studied Cultural History and Theory & Economics during her Bachelor’s. After she took interest in the selection of partner universities and cities Euroculture offers, she started her Euroculture life with the intention to learn more about European history, culture, and politics and the EU in particular, and find out if she could see herself working for the EU or another IO afterwards.
Inès Roy (FR/MA, Udine-Strasbourg) has a background in Languages and International Business. Her decision to study Euroculture stems from her desire to travel and study at the same time. She has always been interested in the concept of cultures and how they are perceived from different standpoints.
Both have returned from their research semester at Osaka University, Japan, and are their final semester at Université de Strasbourg. Thanks Inès and Lizzie, for taking the time to share your experiences!

1. How did you come to the decision of doing a research track at Osaka?

Elisabeth Stursberg (ES): The choice between internship and research track was not too easy, since both sounded like a great option. What influenced my choice most though was the possibility to spend a semester in Japan, a country I had not visited before but was so curious about! I actually don’t think I would have done the research track if I hadn’t been accepted for Osaka. Another reason was that I had already done several internships during my Bachelor’s (it’s pretty common in Germany and often even implicitly, or explicitly, required by employers) and will probably do at least one more after finishing this MA. Time flew by so quickly already in the first semester, and I just liked the idea of studying for another semester as long as I had the chance. Japan as the destination was also a major factor, since I was going to take the research seminar on Integration Processes in East Asia and in Europe during the second semester – so it just seemed like a perfect fit.
Inès Roy (IR): As far as I can remember, I always wanted to go to Japan to see the beautiful landscapes, as well as to see how the ultra-modern and the traditional interact. However, traveling to and living in a country for a few months are two very different experiences. So the possibility to go there was actually another reason for me to apply for Euroculture! As I don’t speak Japanese and wouldn’t be able to find an internship there, I believed this research semester was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

2. What was the research semester like? Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at Osaka University, Japan (2017-2019)”

REPORT: Shutting Down the Education in France

By Maeva Chargros

On February 5, 2019, a small secondary school hosting around 250 students was shut down for 24 hours. This was exceptional for multiple reasons: rarely do all teachers of a school in France choose to strike, and rarely do they receive a massive and unanimous support from the parents of the students, as well as from the local authorities. On this cold winter day, though, the junior high school Papire Masson was empty and teachers, parents and the mayor of the little town of St-Germain-Laval, Alain Berouda, gathered in front of its doors.[1] Known only by the few hundreds of people who actually need it, this secondary school recently learned that despite welcoming three more students and being part of the “inclusive education” framework, it would receive 58 hours less than the previous years from September 2019 onward. This very local situation has, unfortunately, repercussions at both national and European levels, besides directly impacting the lives of about 250 students between 11 and 15 years old.

The decision of allocating less hours to a high school that has among the best results of the Loire department at the national exam called “Brevet des écoles” (equivalent of GCSEs in the British system) can seem slightly puzzling at first sight. It becomes absolutely incomprehensible when realising that this secondary school has already the lowest number of hours allocated among schools with similar numbers of students in the department. The regional education authority of the Lyon (Académie de Lyon) area probably just made a regrettable mistake that will be rectified after the planned meeting between the regional school inspector, Mr Batailler, and representatives of the Papire Masson secondary school on February 19, 2019. At least, this is what teachers, parents and students altogether are hoping for, given what such a disastrous change would entail: a total of five teachers would not come back to teach in September 2019; two classes of 4th and 3rd grades (UK equivalent: Years 9 and 10) would disappear, leading to an increase of 50% of the number of students per class; projects involving students of all levels would have to be terminated; teachers would have to travel from one school to another across the entire department or even regional area. These are just a few examples of substantial consequences that can be explained in tangible ways. Less easy to observe is the impact on the quality of teaching, the ability of teachers to properly include and involve in their lessons students with disabilities coming from a nearby specialised institution, the difficulties to maintain this school’s overall excellent results at the national exam and to ensure all students get equal chances in their orientation choices. The latter is a chronic feature of the education management system in France; it recently sparked the interest of a high school student, Marie Ferté, who competed at the Concours de Plaidoiries in Caen (Normandy, France). Continue reading “REPORT: Shutting Down the Education in France”

Student Profiles: Ana Alhoud (US, Göttingen-Bilbao)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Ana Alhoud (2018-2020) is an American who traveled across the pond to start her Euroculture life in Göttingen, Germany. Before Euroculture, she studied Communication and International Studies for her Bachelor’s degree. She applied for Euroculture because she loves learning about different cultures and the many ways they interact. Ana is about to finish her first semester in Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany, and she will be continuing the next semester at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain.
Thank you Ana, for taking the time to answer these questions!

1. What was the most difficult thing that you had to adjust to when you started the programme?

For me, the most difficult thing to adjust to was the language barrier. Even though I have experience with other languages, German threw me a curve ball because the languages I do know are not super similar in structure or sound. However, I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn German and overcome the challenge it presented. Continue reading “Student Profiles: Ana Alhoud (US, Göttingen-Bilbao)”

European Press Freedom at the Pillory

By Marejke Tammen

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

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