At the end of the 20th century, it seemed barely possible that nationalism would come back to the West. The international community was supposed to learn the harsh lessons of the past and reach the important conclusions. Terms like globalization, multiculturalism and internationalism were no longer just a part of political discourse, but also entered the language and the reality of common people. Being cosmopolitan became trendy – especially to younger generations in the West. The fifteen years following the 1993 Maastricht Treaty became a sort of Golden Era for the European Union. The integration process seemed unstoppable – three enlargements of the EU took place, including the biggest in the history of the Union in 2004. The common currency was established in 2002, replacing the national currencies of twelve member states within the Eurozone, which also kept on growing. Nationalism in Europe was close to dying out in the new millennium.
However, reality has collided with this optimistic picture, and despite the common trends of globalization and integration, the right wing started gaining popularity. Nationalism has changed its look, and has probably become more moderate and polished, but it did come back. This turn in the development of Europe is not illogical: the economic crisis, the so-called Islamization of Europe, and financial inequality of member states have all contributed. The recent European migrant crisis tops the cake.
Yet, what’s really striking is how fast something that was commonly seen as intolerant, odd or just shameful can get significant support in Western society. In this regard, the only thing more impressive than this phenomenon itself is the speed of its evolution. Right-wing politicians and public figures that were formerly treated with disdain suddenly achieved high-profile positions.
The French National Front, with its charismatic leader Marine Le Pen, serves as a shining example. Even though the ultra-right populist party experienced a decline in the first decade of the 21st century, it’s managed to rise from the ashes like a phoenix in this one; seeing success first at municipal elections, and then in 2014 winning 24 of France’s 74 seats in European Parliament – an unprecedented number for the National Front. Now, the scariest thing for liberals is Le Pen’s presidential campaign this year. Considering the events of the past five years, her candidacy should not be underestimated.
Similar things are happening in Germany, where luckily they have not yet reached that extent. The right-wing party Alternative für Deutschland is represented in the majority of German states, despite the fact that the party is fairly young and was only founded in 2013. In the European elections of 2014 AfD gained 7%, significantly less than the National Front’s 24.9% in France. Nevertheless, this number is very impressive for Germany, where the Nazi past makes the population less likely to support ultra-right political parties and the state was paying attention to the issue. Somehow, AfD leader Frauke Petry managed to successfully apply the bottom-up approach and gain the support of some people, often with low income and lower levels of education.
Those were the founders and the main political powers in the European Union. However, the “right turn” is typical for other countries as well, including Austria, Switzerland, and those in Southern and Eastern Europe. While nationalism has traditionally been rather strong in Eastern states like Poland and Hungary, the “right voice” in Scandinavia – considered to be incredibly tolerant – is much newer. In May 2016, the BBC published a brief Guide to Nationalist Parties Challenging Europe. The article is well-structured, and worth reading for those seeking basic information on the phenomenon.
From 2014 to today, the trend has become too obvious to ignore, and naturally begged the question: “Why?” As mentioned before, normally financial crisis and refugee issues are named as main factors. The ideals of the European Union did not equate to those of certain cohorts of people. The establishment, in turn, did not always react appropriately, failing to suggest working solutions to current problems, and people started to look for alternatives.
Having faced multiple problems, the European Union as a huge bureaucratic machine appeared to be slow and inefficient. Unfortunately, it turned to be fertile ground for populist parties that often suggest rather extreme solutions. The European idea has definitely known better times, yet despite Brexit, it is too soon to speak of the decline of the European Union and the concept of supranational government. The EU’s history is rather short to make conclusions, as it was started in 1952 as the European Coal and Steel Community.
It is more a speculation, but maybe, using the terms of Samuel P. Huntington, there are certain waves of democratization; in this case waves of nationalism. Or, to be more precise, they are not simply waves but spiral bends, if one can see the process as a spiral rather than a sine curve. If so, the phase is temporary – the only question is its intensity. It does not help that nowadays the “right turn” does not seem to be unique to Europe, as evidenced by the recent US elections. On the bright side, European integration has gone so far and economic binds are so tight that cutting ties often means losing profit – which should make the politicians think twice. The most challenging aspect for the establishment is getting closer to common people, a skill that has been mastered by right-wing populists. So far, we have not passed the point of no return, and this “wave” is a good lesson for the EU to learn from its mistakes. To cite a famous saying: history repeats itself until the lesson is learned.
Olga studied Political Science in Russia and the USA, finished her M.A. Euroculture studies in Germany, and currently lives and works in Moscow.
This is the first in a series where The Euroculturer dives into the upcoming elections in The Netherlands, France, and Germany. In this first article, Arne van Lienden explains the stakes in the Dutch elections.
It is safe to say that 2017 will be a decisive year for the future of the European Union. Not only will the EU have to negotiate the exit of the UK from the Union, following the Brexit referendum, but it will also have to contend with uncertain elections in three founding Member States. Among these three are Germany and France, who, especially after the UK’s departure, are the most financially and politically powerful members of the Union. With populism on the rise and anti-EU sentiment becoming more widespread, it is needless to say that these elections will be vital for the survival of the EU, at least in its current form. With the French elections in April and the German elections in September, it might be easy to overlook the Dutch elections this month. Although The Netherlands is significantly smaller and less powerful in the European arena than France and Germany, the elections on the 15th of March will serve as a lipid test for how the electorates of the so-called ‘core’ countries of the EU will respond to the Brexit referendum, austerity measures and budget cuts, as well as the influx of refugees. It is the first round in a series of fights that will decide Europe’s future.
The surge and decline of Geert Wilders
In order to form an executive government in the Netherlands, a party needs a majority of the seats in the Tweede Kamer (Parliament). This comes down to 76 seats out of the 150 available. In contrast to, for instance, the UK, a Dutch party has never managed to win 76 seats outright. Therefore, the Dutch government is always a coalition of different parties, often with strikingly different political ideologies. Especially in today’s fragmented political climate, polls show that the biggest party will probably get no more than 25 seats in this election. This will mean that there is most likely going to be a broad coalition government, which sometimes can consist of four or five parties. The coalition system ensures that governmental policies are always the result of a consensus between different, often opposing, parties, making it impossible for radical policies to get passed. However, a common criticism is that practically nothing ever gets done due to this balancing act.
It is important to understand the coalition system to understand why, in the last months before the election, far-right Eurosceptic Geert Wilders is dropping several points in the polls per week. Of all the 28 (!) parties that are participating in the elections, only a few have not ruled out Geert Wilders’ PVV as a coalition partner. PVV’s stance on Islam and immigration were a deal breaker for parties on both the left and right. For current Prime Minister and leader of the right-leaning VVD Mark Rutte, there is also a personal factor that rules Wilders out as a coalition partner. Rutte’s first government fell after Wilders withdrew his support, something that Rutte has never forgiven. The slim chances of actually ending up in government made the PVV lose many voters – voters who rather strategically support a party that will be able to form a coalition. Nonetheless, recent polls still show that the PVV will end up as one of the biggest parties – if not the biggest – in the Netherlands, and for that reason it will be an important voice in the opposition of the future government. Some people also fear that promises of moderates to not work with the PVV will be forgotten once the votes are cast. Mark Rutte’s VVD in particular is seen as a party that could pragmatically change its tune after the elections.
Puzzling for a coalition
With new polls coming out every other day, Dutch politicians and citizens are puzzling to find a workable coalition that has 76 or more seats in Parliament. The VVD and PVV seem to be leading in the polls, but few other parties want to work in a coalition with these two parties. A more likely option is a center-left government, including Christian-Democrats, socialists, environmentalists, and classical liberals. A loud proponent of a possible center-left coalition is the young Jesse Klaver, leader of GroenLinks (GreenLeft). Often compared to Justin Trudeau for his appearance and political style, Klaver’s GroenLinks is expected to go from four seats to 18 or more. Klaver’s political star is rising and this is frightening the VVD and PVV, who both chose to resign from a televised debate after they heard that Klaver was invited behind their backs. Right-wing tabloid De Telegraaf started the offensive against Klaver and was surprisingly joined by other leftist parties that were aiming to win back voters that have been lured over to GroenLinks. Lodewijk Asscher, the new leader of PvdA (Labor), attacked Klaver for allowing prices to rise due to higher taxes on driving cars and more subsidies for green energy.
Nothing is settled yet, and the coalition negotiations after the coming elections will be fierce and difficult. Although Klaver has repeatedly reached out to the Christian-Democrats as a possible coalition partner, these parties might very well choose to join Mark Rutte’s VVD. The VVD is still rising in the polls, but with a strikingly smaller margin than in 2012. Austerity measures and integrity scandals have made trust in Rutte and the VVD decline significantly, and the campaign by the VVD revolves completely around regaining lost trust, combined with a more right-wing tone to siphon votes from the PVV.
The Netherlands in Europe
What does the current political climate say about the role of the Netherlands in Europe? It is clear that the Netherlands is heavily divided over issues of integration, finance, and Europe. Like many European countries where populism is on the rise, the political debate has become more complicated. With Wilders trying to delegitimize the media and Rutte refusing televised debates, it seems that democracy has already become a clear loser in the upcoming elections. The role of the Dutch in Europe is contested, but except for the PVV and some marginal right-wing parties, it is a political consensus that the Netherlands needs the EU more than that it suffers from the EU.
However, even though the PVV is unlikely to form a part of the government, it has succeeded in hardening the tone of the Dutch political debate and making anti-EU rhetoric more acceptable. To be pro-European is often frowned upon, and needs more explaining than to say one is against the European project. Although the Dutch elections precede the French and German ones, government policy will, for a great part, rely on how the new German and French governments will deal with the EU. The Netherlands is too small to unilaterally turn its back on Europe or to single-handedly speed up the integration processes. It relies on the policies set in the European powerhouses. The normalization of anti-EU rhetoric in the political arena of a founding EU Member State is a frightening development that promises nothing good for the future of Europe. On the other hand, a pro-European center-left coalition could serve as an example to other European countries that, even in a time of populism and the alt-right, progressive policies still stand a chance.
On the morning of 12 February of this year, 1260 members of the German Federal Assembly, which includes Bundestag members and state electors, voted to choose the 12th President of the Federal Republic of Germany. Garnering over 900 votes, the clear winner was the Grand Coalition candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who served twice as foreign minister and ran for chancellor under the SPD banner in 2008. He has held public office for over 20 years.
On paper, Steinmeier has all the makings of a tame president; he is well-liked and respected in the international community and within the German government. According to Bild, Steinmeier even has the dubious honor of using the German informal “you” with more members of the Cabinet than any other – high praise for those in the German-speaking world.
However, appearances can be deceiving, and surely the Steinmeier presidency will not be without a backbone. During the last year of his term as foreign minister, Steinmeier spoke out strongly against Russian aggression, the inaction of the international community in the Syrian crisis, and the shortsightedness of the Brexit decision. Most notably, he is a decisive critic of US President Donald Trump and of the nationalist movements taking hold around the world.
From Freedom to Courage
Germany’s current president, Joachim Gauck, has spent most of his term promoting freedom. Gauck, who was an East German resistance leader before the fall of the Berlin Wall, has repeatedly stressed reconciliation and social justice in his speeches. His term has not been without crisis – the floundering euro, Brexit, and the refugee influx, just to name a few – but he has continued to call for openness, tolerance, and a need to cherish the freedoms that are easy to take for granted. Gauck embraced the “Refugees Welcome” movement more than any other German politician and at times was harsh in his criticism of those who were steadfastly anti-refugee.
Steinmeier promises to be a different kind of president. After nearly three decades in the spotlight, he is politically savvy and will likely be less concerned with visiting children’s shelters and more concerned with asserting Germany’s role in the world. If “Freedom” was the motto of the Gauck presidency, it is safe to say that “Courage” will be the that of Steinmeier’s. In his acceptance speech following his election, Steinmeier spoke of two kinds of courage: the courage that Germany can give to others, and the courage that Germans must display in the face of rising unrest in Europe and beyond.
Steinmeier recounted a story of a young Tunisian activist telling him that Germany gave her courage. Germany, which not so very long ago represented the opposite of freedom and justice, now has a place as one of the pillars of modern democracy in the West. Germany gives courage, said Steinmeier, because it is proof that peace comes after war, that reconciliation can follow division. In this sense, Germany must continue to be a symbol of courage for countries in crisis.
But Steinmeier also meant courage in another sense. Three important European elections – France, Germany and the Netherlands – are coming up this year, each with its own populist candidate. In the face of Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry, and Geert Wilders, respectively the leaders of the nationalist waves in these countries, Steinmeier preached patience, tolerance, and above all, a commitment to the core values of Europe.
The “Anti-Trump” President?
Following his election, the German daily Berliner Morgenpost dubbed Steinmeier the “Anti-Trump President” – a title that has since been reprinted everywhere from The Independent to Bloomberg. Whether or not he enjoys the moniker, Steinmeier has certainly been among the strongest critics of the US President, referring to him at one point as a “hate-preacher.” After Trump’s election, Steinemeier issued the following statement as foreign minister: “I think we will have to get used to the idea that US foreign policy will be less predictable for us and we will have to get used to the idea that the US will tend to make more decisions on its own.” He went on to say that working together with the US will be much harder over the next four years and that Europe must stay the course, despite the unsettling results.
In his speech on Sunday, Steinmeier issued a thinly veiled critique on Trump and his populist counterparts in Europe. He called on all Germans to fight against baseless accusations and fear-mongering. “We must have the courage to say what is and what isn’t,” he said, claiming a universal responsibility to differentiate facts from lies. This, too, will likely be a theme of the Steinmeier presidency. Shortly before his candidacy was announced in 2016, the President-elect decried the rise of right-wing parties in Europe and the US and accused Trump and others of “mak[ing] politics with fear.”
Or the “Pro-Russia” President?
Rather than the “Anti-Trump” President, some may dub Frank-Walter Steinmeier the “Pro-Russia” President. As foreign minister, Steinmeier was regularly lampooned by his CDU colleagues for his mild stance toward Russia. He began his second term as foreign minister in late 2013, only a few months before Russia annexed Crimea. Following the annexation, Steinmeier joined his international colleagues in denouncing Russia and supported upping economic sanctions until the conflict was resolved.
However, Steinmeier has relaxed his stance since then and has insisted on a need to keep channels of communication open. Russia is an important actor in two of the most significant global crisis areas: Syria and the Ukraine. Continuing with heavy sanctions and isolation will do nothing to solve these issues, according to Steinmeier. Over the summer, he was also quick to criticize NATO for carrying out exercises in Eastern Europe. He accusedthe organization of “warmongering” and said, “Whoever believes that a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is mistaken.”
Thus far, only Russian news outlets seem to believe that Steinmeier will be a friend to the east, but the differences between he and Gauck are undeniable. As a former citizen of East Germany, Gauck was understandably apprehensive about former KGB officer Vladimir Putin. Steinmeier, who has worked with the Russia on international issues since his time in the Schroeder administration, will be a welcome change for the Kremlin.
Emphasizing German Leadership
In an interview with television station ZDF following the election, Steinmeier indicated his intention to work closely with both Moscow and Washington. He was very clear that Germany is currently in the midst of a “reorganization of international relations” and that possible unpredictability in the East and the West will mean a greater need for a stable country.
Nevertheless, the role of the German president is not to negotiate with foreign leaders or herald in big changes. The German president is primarily a domestic role; he or she acts as a moral authority, but has very little political power. As the head of government, Steinmeier will be confined to ceremonial tasks like welcoming state visits and approving the Cabinet. The political might in Germany is held by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and by the parliament, the Bundestag. Despite his limited power, Steinmeier is expected to set a tone for the coming years and it appears as though he will be just as active as his predecessor.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take office on 18 March 18 this year. On September 24, the country will vote for new Bundestag representation and a new government will take office.
It is a cold and grey Saturday afternoon, just one week before Christmas and I am rushing over the empty Platz der Menschenrechte, Human Rights Square, in front of the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe. This huge building was constructed with German Pünktlichkeit during the First World War and managed to avoid demolition in the late 1970s after having been a reliable space for the preparation of violence and destruction. With sentiment echoing Adorno’s phrase, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” the city of Karlsruhe in the post-war decades seemed paralyzed and helpless to interact with this huge memorial of violence production in its heart.
It wasn’t poetry that brought a spirit of hope into the massive walls in Lorenzstraße – at least not just that. In the 1980s, the artist group “99.9% leerer Raum” moved into the old factory, just before, in 1984, the first ever email was received just a few kilometres away at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe (KIT). At that time, enthusiasm for new and connective technology of communication had awoken to end the rather destructive technology of weapons, which had dominated the atmosphere of the massive building. In 1987 the association for arts and media technology was founded, and eight years after the ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medien), the Centre for Art and Media, opened in the old German weapons and munitions production factory. Since then, the building has hosted exhibitions with a focus on media and communication technology. It is, however, an unusual exhibition for the ZKM, which I am visiting today. Usually, visitors come to stroll down memory lane between the antiquities and rarities of computer and video games, or to discover new developments occurring in the digital arts. Although this exhibition does not focus on technology and media art, it fits perfectly in this historic building.
“Art in Europe 1945-1968” is the title of the exhibition, curated by Eckhart Gillen and Peter Weibel and their Russian colleagues Daria Mille and Daniel Bulatov. It is a cooperation between the Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow and the State Museum Exhibition Centre ROSIZO in Moscow. The exhibition contains more than 500 diverse works of about 200 European artists. In Karlsruhe it has the significant subtitle, “The Continent that the EU does not know.” The curators aim to give a second perspective on the dominant narrative of post-war Europe. They present works by artists, who have responded to the breakup of a divided continent after a decade of destruction.
“Art in Europe 1945-1968” focuses on a central cultural space. One that was damaged and torn apart several times during the 20th century. The curators present artistic developments, stemming from the huge area that is geographical Europe. With artwork coming from anywhere between the Ural Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, the exhibition draws on many sources in its goal of opening up a new narrative with regards to a shared past. The curators claim that until today historiography looked at the arts of the 20th century as divided into two main streams. Firstly, there was abstract expressionism, which is seen as a symbol of freedom in the West. Then there is social realism which, according to these curators, has been seen as a conservative kind of art, an art bent to serve the communist political system in the East. This exhibition, however, is an effort to engage with the history of art in Europe in a less simplified manner. This exhibition explores these themes through comparison, by finding similarities, and understanding differences in a socio-political approach to interpretation.
While walking through this huge exhibition, taking up two floors with an immense amount of art work, I can sympathize with the curators and let myself get lost in the many pictures, sculptures, films and photographs. It is hopeless trying to discover everything: this exhibition is the product of more than twenty years, and 200 people, full of creativity and extreme emotions. It is by accident, that I find the small Picasso, “Pigeon, Blue Variation” from 1951, hidden on the back of one of the huge white walls. The difficulty of mapping this great quantity and variety of art in post-war Europe can also be seen through the different strategies of structuring the exhibition in the three hosting places in Brussels, Karlsruhe and Moscow. In Karlsruhe it is organized into the five chapters “Trauma and Remembrance,” “Cold War,” “New Realism,” “New Visions,” and “Utopia 1968”. While 1945 is interpreted as ‘hour zero’, 1968 is defined as the starting point for a new relationship between West and East. What might seem like a very linear and horizontal approach, is in fact an attempt to entangle spaces, to invite visitors to discover art works that have not shared the same space before. Curator Peter Weibel calls it an active plea for understanding Europe – a goal which is just as important today as it was in 1945.
The idea of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” was conceived already in 2012, and it was supposed to be shown in Russia first. However, after the crisis in Ukraine and the strained relationship between the EU and Russia, many important sponsors withdrew their financial support. It is in these grey and cold days, that it becomes more important than ever to take a break and discover new perspectives on what shapes Europe: memories and trauma, war, utopia, and new visions. Now, in times of a critical public discourse regarding Europe, and in times of planning the building of walls, it is maybe more appropriate than ever to consider the leading questions of “Art in Europe 1945-1968”: “what is Europe?”
What I take with me walking back from the ZKM, in the old German weapons and munitions production factory in Karlsruhe, over the Human Rights Square, is the idea to keep my eyes wide open and to search for hidden ideas. Ideas that are not omnipresent in the main discourse surrounding us today. There was a lot happening in the period between 1945 to 1968 in Europe. It seems like a period of conflict and inconsistency . There is also a lot going on in Europe today, and it is essential to reflect on the present patterns of perception and communication. “Art in Europe 1945-1968” shows that it is worth challenging established constructs and opening a discussion about a common past and a common future. Despite or precisely because of its confusing multitude of pieces, visitors of “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can find a new way of looking at Europe in the past and in the present. I interpret this exhibition as a liquid reflection on arts and European society. It commutes between the East and West in Europe, and changes its setting in each location. It is not a fixed construct which needs to be consumed in a certain way, but one that underlines different perspectives. An exhibition is more than its images or sculptures. It represents a reflection on the everyday reality of artists and curators, and it grows in the space where it is shown, and with each visitor approaching it. “Art in Europe 1945-1968” communicates with its surrounding and with its audience and it is worth, I believe, taking your time to look, listen, reflect and respond.
The exhibition “Art in Europe 1945-1968” can be visited in the ZKM until 29th of January 2017 and afterwards in Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.
At the German conservative party’s annual meeting in Essen on December 4, Chancellor Merkel was elected head of her party for the ninth consecutive time. The show of support comes only a few weeks after Merkel announcing her willingness to stand for reelection in 2017. For those fearing the populist wave in Europe, driven in Germany with the Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD) party, Merkel’s candidature comes as a sigh of relief. However, her last term has not done her any favors on the left or the right and she was selected by only 89.5 percent of the 1,000 CDU delegates at the meeting. This marks her second worst result ever.
For the next ten months, Merkel will be forced to walk a fine line between hard-line anti-immigration policies proposed by her own party and taking care of the 1.1 million refugees that she herself welcomed in late 2015. After serving for over ten years, many question whether the Chancellor still understands the German electorate. Meanwhile, others are exalting her as the last stalwart of liberal democracy in the face of worrying populism.
Is she right for the job?
Were this a normal election cycle, pundits would be questioning whether Chancellor Merkel is good for Germany at all. After serving has the head of government for over a decade, Merkel has earned a reputation as the ultimate politician. Her speeches are measured, her policies are rarely radical, and her standard hand position, dubbed the Chancellor’s rhombus, has become iconic.
Nevertheless, Merkel’s third term has been wrought with crisis. After a narrow victory in the 2013 general election, Merkel’s CDU was forced to form a grand coalition – nicknamed the “GroKo” – with the SPD, Germany’s center-left party. Reaching consensus in a coalition government can be tricky in the best of times, but as crisis after crisis unfolded in Europe, consensus seemed impossible. Chancellor Merkel’s attempts to navigate smoothly through these crises, as she did during the eurocrisis of her second term, proved impossible.
Merkel’s migration policies in particular have drawn sharp criticism from all sides. In 2015, when the flood of refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa hit its peak, Merkel famously touted Germany’s so-called “Willkommenskultur,” and insisted that Europe could manage the refugee crisis with compassion and solidarity. In a speech following an attack on a asylum center in Heidenau, Germany in 2015, Merkel stood by her decision, calling the attacks on refugees “shameful” and declaring, “I have to honestly say that if we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in the presence of need, then this is not my country.”
While Merkel’s generosity was initially met with domestic and international support, the mood quickly soured as thousands more asylum-seekers poured into Germany. Many have commented that the Chancellor’s initial reaction, so unlike her usual measured decisions, marked a clear disconnect between the Chancellor and her constituents. In 2016, when Merkel’s party only managed a third place victory behind the populist AfD and the SPD in her own district, it became all the more clear how out of touch she has become.
Is she our only hope?
Out of touch she may be, but with the threat of populist parties taking charge across Europe, Chancellor Merkel’s shortcomings become easier to swallow. The AfD, led by the startlingly Merkel-esque Frauke Petry, lists as its priorities curtailing further immigration; putting participation in the Euro up to a referendum; halting further negotiations on CETA and TTIP; and limiting Germany’s commitment to Europe with the motto “Germany first”. In other words, it is yet another iteration of the standard populist ticket seen around Europe and in the US in 2016.
Following the Brexit vote, which was driven by the populist UK Independent Party, and the US election of Donald J. Trump, the self-proclaimed “ultimate outsider,” moderates in Europe are understandably terrified. Less than a week ago, the Italian constitutional referendum prompted the resignation of Matteo Renzi. A week before that, French President François Hollande announced his intention to step down in 2017. Cameron, Renzi, Hollande, and Merkel – four of Europe’s most powerful leaders, and only one will remain in 2017.
To characterize Merkel as Europe’s “last hope” or as the “last defender” of liberal democracy, as some in the media have, seems a bit hyperbolic. The AfD did have a surprising turnout in 2016, but the likelihood that it will garner enough support to form – or even be a part of – the next coalition is slim. As of now, the party does not have any seats in the national parliament, though it does have 143 of the 1855 state parliamentary seats. Still, the rise in populism cannot be ignored and the CDU and other parties may have to cater to ideas that would have, in any other election year, seemed too far right. That was clear during the annual party meeting when delegates debated the merits of banning face veils for Muslim women and doing away with dual citizenship. The tone of the nation has shifted, and the Chancellor will have to consider this in order to run a successful campaign.
Can she win?
It may not be clear if she is the right person for the job, or if she has the full weight of the CDU behind her, but Chancellor Merkel has been in power for almost 12 years. For many Germans, she seems almost like a permanent fixture atop the governmental pyramid. Not the most effective leader, or the most likeable, but the best option for right now.
Still, Merkel’s approval ratings have seen constant fluctuation in the past year. Over the summer, she reached new lows – in an August 2016 poll published by Zeit Online, only 42% of Germans wanted to see her run again. However, immediately following the US election of Donald Trump, Merkel’s approval rating rebounded. According to a Stern Magazine poll, 59% of Germans signaled their wish for her to run again on Nov 9, perhaps a reactionary poll driven by a glimpse of real populism in the US. However, as the dust settles Merkel must find a way to make these ratings sustainable, otherwise she faces an uphill battle in September. ”You have to help me,” Chancellor Merkel told CDU members gathered in Essen last week. Someone has to.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
With the United Kingdom bound to leave in the near future, the European Union is working on a daring plan to keep 28 member states. With Brexit approaching and no suitable candidates for accession to the European Union, the European Parliament has decided to split off a part of one of the remaining 27 members in order to keep 28 member states. Federica Mogherini remarks, “We have had an upward trend in regards to membership in the European Community, and we will not allow one referendum to get in the way of that.”
In regards to how this would play out in reality, the Parliament has offered a few suggestions. Among the more obvious options we have Cyprus, who would require the least effort to split up, and Germany, who already has plenty of precedent when it comes to dividing their country. Other suggestions include splitting Holland from the rest of the Netherlands “because then everyone would finally have to get the names right”, Wallonia from the rest of Belgium “because now everyone knows that Wallonia actually exists anyway”, and Paris from the rest of France. One of the earliest suggestions from German MEP Frauke Petry was to split Czechoslovakia in half before she was informed that this had already been achieved. As for the obvious choices like Catalonia, the Parliament shot this idea down immediately. President Martin Schulz said, “If we give Catalonia their independence, next thing you know the Bavarians will want independence and maybe even the Basque. We are committed to 28 Member States, 29 is just a nasty number.”
Mogherini sounded upbeat about this radical plan despite the lack of specifics or tangible details. “Europeans arbitrarily creating new borders has a long history of success. Just look at the old colonies- look how successful that has been.” This is expected to be a top priority of the European Union in 2017 and they have asked the European public for their opinion. The EU has set up a hotline for suggestions at, +32(0)X XX XXXXX, for anyone wishing to have their voice heard.
Featured picture: construction of the Berlin Wall.
Yesterday, during a speech for the anti-European Union politicians of Germany, Nigel Farage, notorious British anti-European politician whose party, UKIP, along with others, helped the British to vote to leave the European Union, changed his tune when speaking in front of his German colleagues. “I have seen the light, and let me tell you, the future outside of the European Union is frightening.” This is a surprising change from a man who spent almost two decades in the European parliament bad mouthing the European Union. Citing his own personal experience, Mr. Farage went on to explain exactly what leaving the European Union meant for him personally.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I was a fool. Like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun and my wings melted. Let me speak plainly. If you continue down this path, you will all lose your jobs.”
The German politicians were clearly confused by Farage’s new rhetoric, especially his newfound reliance on facts and figures.
Estimates show that, in Germany alone, leaving the European Union would lead to an estimated 7.1% loss of jobs for anti-EU politicians, with that number rising to as high as 10.6% in Thuringen and over 12% in Brandenburg.
“This is a dangerous time to be unemployed in Europe. I myself have been forced to take the odd job in the United States just to keep up my elaborate lifestyle. I’m not saying you must support everything the European Union does, but you should realise that the EU is more important to your own well-being than any of us have ever considered.”
Neither Frauke Petry nor Jörg Meuthen could be reached for comment after the speech as they were presumably scrambling to form a new party-platform for the AfD.
In 1992, forty years after the European Union was established, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the notion of a “European citizen”.
It did not go well. Not only did this new term awaken mistrust between the peoples of the EU’s different Member States, it even caused such considerable internal controversy states such as Denmark that the European Council had to release a statement in order to confirm that “citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”. In the same year, the European Commission sought ways to create common EU symbols but faced strong resistance from the Member States. A good example of this was the Commission’s proposals to have athletes from all Member States appear as one delegation during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a proposal which was fully roundly by governments.
Now, 1992 seems a long time ago, and surely, one would think, that after more than twenty years, with a generation already born as European citizens coming into adulthood, this term would have to be something warm and familiar, something, we cherish as much as our nationality.
But, for most, it is not.
In the European Union’s web portal, it is still stated that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship.” Eurosceptics keep arguing that to overcome nationality is impossible, and those who think otherwise are to be regarded as utopian fantasts. With Brexit, it feels like the utopian idea of a one strong, united Europe is slowly drifting away. More and more people from the Member States reject the idea of an ever-closer Europe, often out of fear that their state might lose its sovereignty under the pressure of common policies. On this note, one might even argue that it is the lack of trust and general indifference among the Europeans that is the main reason why the European Union is facing such problems now.
A survey conducted by TNS political & social at the request of the European Commission in 2015 shows that there still are people in the Member States – fortunately, not too many, and the share of them is declining – that do not even fully understand the term “European citizen” and the mystery hidden within the term . In 2015, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term “citizens of the European Union”, while 35 % of respondents said that they have heard about it, but do not know what it means exactly.
Maybe this is the reason why, when looking at the statistical data from 2015, over 30 % of the Europeans admit not feeling like a European citizen. In addition, 38 % of all Europeans admitted that they not only do not feel like a European citizen, they actually see themselves as exclusively a member of their nation. This, again, might be the reason why European citizens distance themselves from European affairs – this can be seen in all its “glory” when looking at the 2014 European Parliamentary election where only 42.6% of all people holding European citizenship voted. 42.6%! Not only it is that the lowest turnout since the first European elections in 1979, it also makes one think – what happened?
It is not like the idea is not being promoted. There are different levels of Erasmus programme available to encourage exploring other Member States, there are European days, information centres in every country, videos, information campaigns and the homepage run by the European Commission – europa.eu– can be accessed in every single official EU language. But somehow, the notion does not reach its target. It seems that on the way from Brussels to our homes, the information gets lost and never really reaches us, the citizens of the European Union.
So what does it mean to be a European citizen?
Let’s put it in an everyday perspective.
To be a European citizen means that you can finish your dinner with your Spanish family, and carry on your night with drinking a nice, cold bottle of German beer, maybe snacking on some French macaroons while watching Downton Abbey and texting with your best friend from Bulgaria. It means that you can say “Hello” in at least five languages, and your “bad” words collection is enormous thanks to your friends from Italy, Estonia and Greece.
Being a European citizen means you can spontaneously buy some low cost airplane tickets and have a nice weekend whether up in the snowy mountains, deep into mysterious forests or sunbathing in the sunny beaches, regardless whether you are from Latvia, Portugal or Slovenia.
On a more serious note, it means that you can make your voice heard by a petition, or a letter, or even by becoming a candidate for Parliamentary elections and you have the fundamental right not to be discriminated whether by race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. It means that, as long as you stay within the borders of the Union, you are never “illegal” and you can work and live abroad, and are always protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities in another twenty-seven countries, excluding your homeland. Being a European Citizen means that under certain conditions, if you feel that the national court of your homeland has ruled unfairly, you can bring the country to Court of Justice and fight for your truth.
To have the fortune to be a European citizen means that you have the rare opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world in new ways again and again, and yet – stay true to your own nationality.
That is what being a European citizen means. Simple as that.
Elizabete Marija Skrastinais new to The Euroculturer. Keep up with her latest stories by following The Euroculturer on Facebook or by subscribing to our newsletter.
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.