People huddled together in makeshift shelters in Germany. Long lines of people waiting for food at a camp in Italy. Bright rubber boats filled to the brim with masses of people. The body of a Syrian refugee boy washed up on the shore of Greece. As familiar – albeit heartbreaking – as these images have become to us, a different set of images have become familiar to the thousands of refugees currently living half-lives across Europe. Cameramen lurking in the background, waiting for the perfect shot. Microphones shoved in people’s faces as they are walking across the continent. Western journalists, well-fed and over-paid, asking questions about hunger and suffering.
In Idomeni, a refugee camp located at the Greek border to FYR Macedonia, a group of young refugees who were fed up with this second set of images decided to do something about it. In a stroke of satirical genius, Syrian refugees Mustafa Alhamoud, Basel Yatakan and Mahmoud Abdalrahim began their own news station: Refugees.tv. While reporters combed the camps looking for palatable stories for Western audiences, Yatakan, Alhamoud, and Abdalrahim followed their lead, carrying a fake camera (a block of wood with a water bottle for a lens) and microphone (a plastic cup on a stick) and mimicking the grave tone of the journalists. Their interviews, recorded on cell phone cameras, went viral on Facebook and soon some generous fans donated real camera equipment to their cause. Continue reading “Refugees.tv Challenges The Way We Report On Asylum-Seekers”→
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.
Who will be the next president of the United States of America seems to be the big question of 2016, but in the European Parliament another game of thrones has begun.
At the last European Parliament elections in 2014, the conservative EPP and the social democratic S&D made a deal and signed a written agreement that meant that Martin Schulz, the S&D candidate, would become president for the first half of the legislative period and that the EPP would pick the president for the second half.
Now with the first half coming to an end in January 2017, the current president Martin Schulz does not seem to be willing to leave office, despite the EPP insisting on the instillation a new president from among their own ranks.
The face of EU policy
Schulz has been, with interruptions, president of the EP since 2012 and a Member of the EP (MEP) since 1994. He is often portrayed as a down to earth politician, ingrained and diligent. He is said to have strengthened the position of the European Parliament and even critics say he has made the EP more visible to the European public and the world.
He is considered to be the most influential president in the history of the European Parliament.
However his path to power and appreciation was rocky. The son of a police officer, he wanted to become a football player in his youth but a knee-injury made a professional career impossible. As a result this crushed dream Schulz became an alcoholic in the mid-70s which saw him lose his job and almost get thrown out of his own apartment.
However, despite this inauspicious start, Schulz eventually overcame his addiction with the help of his brother.
What followed is a remarkable career. After a career as a bookstore manager Schulz became mayor of his home town, Würselen, following his first engagement in the German Social Democratic Party. In 1994 he was elected member of the European Parliament and became its president in 2012. He reached a high point of his career when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize together with van Rompuy and Barroso on behalf of the European Union.
In 2014 Schulz wanted to become president of the EU Commission, but in the European elections the Conservatives became the largest party and their candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker became president of the Commission, a post he still holds to this day. Nevertheless, this setback did not stop Schulz from being re-elected as President of the EP.
Power play in the middle of the greatest crises in the existence of the EU
Schulz’s future, however, is unclear, as the first half of this legislative term comes to an end. According to the agreement, Schulz will be replaced by EPP member. However, for some, the agreement does not fit the new circumstances Europe finds itself in.
The S&D argues that with Juncker as President of the Commission and Tusk as President of the Council, already two of the key positions are held by EPP members; and to keep the balance between the largest EU parties, the presidency of the EP should stay with the S&D.
Even a prominent EPP politician and former competitor supports the idea of Schulz retaining the presidency after January 2017, with the simple reason:
“We need stability.”
Just recently Juncker spoke about the many challenges the EU faces in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Brexit, the refugee challenge, economic stagnation and youth-unemployment among many other things.
“Our European Union is, at least in part, in an existential crisis.” said Juncker.
To keep stability in these difficult times, Juncker would like to keep the leadership of the institutions as they are, namely, Schulz as president. It is no secret that Martin and Jean-Claude work closely together, Der Spiegel has even accused them of mutually securing each other’s posts. Juncker said:”The relationship between the Commission and the Parliament has probably never been as good as it is now”, so “Why change a reliable team?”
However the EPP has made it crystal clear that they will not have Schulz for the next half of the legislative period. Schulz has been heavily criticised for not sticking to the agreement and the same critics have claimed that he has made the representation of the European people a one-man-. These critics claim that “if Schulz gave the parliament a face, it is primarily his face”.
On the other hand, if Schulz id removed; whom is the EPP going to nominate? For an internal primary on 12 December candidates need to be found. However, they lack strong candidates:
So far the Italian Antonio Tajani, the French Alain Lamassoure and the Irish Mairead McGuinness have been mentioned as possible successors to Schulz. However Tajani is weakened by being close to former Italian PM Berlusconi, who has been disgraced by many scandals. Also as former commissioner for industry and entrepreneurship, he supposedly involved in the emission scandal and has already been summoned before the investigation committee. All of this means that he is seen as unenforceable in the parliament.
The other candidates have similar shortcomings. Lamassoure has the reputation of being uncontrollable and prideful, some say thinking of himself as the French president. McGuinness, as a woman, current EP vice-president and a representative of a small EU Member State, seems to have the best chances of getting a majority in the parliament. Nevertheless she is perceived as a rather plain Jane candidate and has not excited much attention.
Currently, Schulz is fighting to forge a coalition with Liberals, Greens and EPP renegades. Yet it seems to be unlikely that he will cobble together enough votes without the backing of the EPP.
So what is next for him? Luckily another throne, perhaps a greater one, is up for grabs. In Berlin, some people would like to see Schulz as chancellor- the candidate for the SPD in place of the unpopular Sigmar Gabriel, to challenge Angela Merkel in the elections for the German parliament 2017 Regardless, it looks like Schulz has only begun to play.
We were barely one month into our internships in Ankara and Istanbul when we were spoiled with our first holiday. Kurban Bayram is a religious holiday in Turkey with Muslims celebrating the sacrifice Abraham (Ibrahim) was willing to make as act of submission to God’s command. About to sacrifice his son, God intervened and offered a lamb to Abraham instead. Muslims around the world celebrate God’s gracefulness every year by offering him an animal, Kurban. For most of the Turks, and for us, it also means a week holiday. we chose sunny Cyprus as a new territory to explore after our intense travels in Iran earlier last year. Continue reading “Cyprus Surprise: Sailor, Tsunami and a dog called Bubble”→
And I say “This is what life should be like. There is nothing else”. I believe it. I am convinced. And Yota smiles and nods. And for a small fleeting moment, I feel as happy as I can possibly feel. There are no more problems in the world, just the sun and the sea and the smell of salt in the air. And I realize that no matter how far or how close I am, this is my home. The home I leave, but the one that always beckons me back as a siren.
Penelope Vaxevanes | firstname.lastname@example.org
It is a truth universally acknowledged that in Greece all problems cease to exist in the summer. When the sun becomes blinding, when the heat becomes intolerable, when everyone starts talking about islands and beaches and cocktails in summer clubs, annoying everyday problems start to fade in the Greeks’ minds. The summer is here and it is taking over everything.
And it was like that that I landed in Eleftherios Venizelos airport on the last night of June, after a 17-hour long trip, with the temperature reaching 30 degrees at 2 am, making everything and everyone uncomfortable. But I was home after ten long, long months. Home, in my bed that seems foreign. Home, at my house, that seems strange, yet familiar. Home, where my mother has to remind me all the time that we do not flush toilet paper, because “You are not in Germany”. Home, in a neighbourhood where everything feels and seems the same. Home in the big city you always love, even when you hate it so much. Home in the country that has changed in ways that are so subtle, yet so dramatic, in ways that are cruel yet delicate, in ways that I could never really describe to someone that has not experienced it first-hand… and yet, I’ll try.
The first few days pass in a daze, with a never-ending array of coffee dates and dinner dates with friends and family that I haven’t seen in months. They ask you to tell them how it has been. What do I answer? How could I, ever, describe how it was? Can I tell them about any little detail of 10 months split in three countries? Can I tell them about everything I lived and felt? How changed I feel? But I do talk, because they expect me to and I see them smile and say how jealous they are and how all that moving from country to country must have been so exciting and fun. Most of it is not, but I really don’t want to sound ungrateful and they don’t want to listen to me being a little over-privileged brat.
And then I ask about life in Greece and I offer my first impressions. What are my first impressions? Everything seems the same but feels different. “Everything has gotten so cheap”, I offer. They do not agree. It doesn’t matter if something has gotten cheaper when you cannot afford it either way. “The coffee is less than three euros”, I offer again. “How much is it in Germany?” they ask. My argument, suddenly, becomes very weak.
They are right. All of them. But I am too. Everywhere you look, you see small restaurants that offer cheap, simple food. The number of gyros places has tripled in my area because you can have a big meal there for less than 5 euro. It is good, affordable food and a chance for a family to go out and enjoy a meal. The nightlife booms. Everywhere you go, there are new bars. You can hardly find a table to sit on a Monday night. When I point that out I always hear a cliché “Greeks will cut from their food, but they will never cut from their fun time out”. It is true. But what is also true, is that all these new bars that have opened offer good, inexpensive drinks. Sometimes with no proper service, sometimes in plastic cups, but still the quality of the drinks is high. And then, there are all these new Greek beer breweries. Ten years ago, a Greek beer was a joke. Not anymore.
I walk to the centre of my suburb in Athens, Halandri, one warm evening in July. I am with my best friend Electra and her boyfriend Matt. For as long as I remember, since we were small girls, we have been talking about living abroad when we graduated from university. She has been living in London for more than three years, but now she is moving back to Athens and Matt is joining her. They want to open a bar like those I described. It is very difficult but, in this market, to me, it doesn’t seem like the worst idea. And like this, Electra becomes the only Greek I know that moves back to Greece instead of going as far away as possible.
One steaming July morning, I find myself in the Piraeus port of Athens, at the house of my friend from my Erasmus days in Lyon, Ioanna. She is a new mother. In what is a true marathon visit, we talk about everything that has happened since I last saw her at her wedding. The baby, the jobs, the family life, our Master’s degrees, our times in Lyon, all mingled together with food, sweets and coffees, until it’s late and Dimitris, her husband, comes back from work. He owns a small ship cleaning company with his family. Conversation turns to the crisis and how difficult it is to raise a child in this economy, how their mentality has changed in one year but also, how lucky they are to be able to have the life they have. Ioanna tells me how depressed she becomes when on the train to Athens, she just sees gloomy faces. “No one smiles”, she complains. And I think about that. Have I seen anyone smiling genuinely? Was the smile reaching their eyes?
The last part of my vacation is, as expected, the vacation part. I take the 12 hour ship to Kos with my friend, Yota. For almost two years she has been working in a tourist shop in the posh tourist shopping district of Plaka, in the centre of Athens just below the Acropolis. Plaka is booming every summer with tourists trying to find the best kind of souvenir from Greece. We joke all the time about how I do a Master’s in Euroculture and she did a Master’s in fake ancient statues sale. She has been recently forced to quit because she was no longer affordable for the business. In one year, the new labour laws state that they can hire people who are aged 25 and under, and pay them half of the standard 8 hour minimum wage. It’s supposed to be a solution to the huge unemployment rate for people aged 25 and under. Being over 25, suddenly, becomes the worst feature on someone’s CV.
And we arrive at the port of Kos, an island that used to be cosmopolitan, rich and a huge tourist attraction for foreigners, especially English and German, in the 1980s and 1990s. At the bus station, waiting for the bus to the village where we will stay, we learn that this is a dead summer. It’s not that the tourists are not coming to Greece. It is that they are going to huge hotels that offer all-inclusive accommodation with three meals, snacks, and all beverages in their holiday packet, therefore leaving nothing for the local businesses of the islands. Tourism still represents more than one fifth of Greece’s income but the future seems uncertain. Another part of Greece’s future that seems uncertain.
And finally we are at the sea, and the sun shines brightly, and we relax in a way that you can only do one meter from the blue sea, the sea that is the only thing that I miss abroad, the sea that is part of the Greek DNA. And suddenly, as if by a miracle, no problems exist. I do not think about the year that lies ahead. There is no Master’s thesis to write. I don’t have to move to Hamburg where I know no one. Yota is not unemployed. The crisis is forgotten. We have only one concern: how fast can we get tanned without getting cancer?
And when we are burned beyond recognition, and we cannot ignore our bellies that want to be fed, we move to the little tavern, where (illegally) the tables are 50cm from the waves, and we eat the Greek salads and the fried calamari and the fresh fish, and we both smile. And I say “This is what life should be like. There is nothing else”. I believe it. I am convinced. And Yota smiles and nods. And for a small fleeting moment, I feel as happy as I can possibly feel. There are no more problems in the world, just the sun and the sea and the smell of salt in the air. And I realize that no matter how far or how close I am, this is my home. The home I leave, but the one that always beckons me back as a siren. The country that is in deep trouble, but always finds a way out of catastrophe. The country where nothing works but everything somehow makes sense. My home, Greece.
Penelope is from Greece and studied French Language and Literature in the
Philosophic School of the University of Athens. She studied in the University
of Göttingen and Jagiellonian University, Krakow, and hopes to fulfill a career
in Cultural Diplomacy.