Insights into the Stasi: a surveilled life in former Eastern Germany

By Hannah Rittmeyer

“Happy slaves are the bitterest enemies of freedom.” – Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

In February 2020, I attended a seminar of the Konrad-Adenauer-foundation, where I am a scholar and where I was honoured to spend a day of interesting lectures and readings with Dr. Karsten Dümmel, a contemporary witness of the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR). This experience made me think about how little this important part of German history is discussed in schools and by people in Germany, but probably even less in other parts of Europe and the world. With the current corona crisis, one can observe the long-lasting effects of the DDR regime, particularly with regard to surveillance and the considerably higher fear of many Germans, compared with their European neighbours, of measures like a corona tracking app, curfews and compulsory vaccination. This article wishes to provide some insights and a deeper understanding of the DDR, especially regarding surveillance, mainly pursued by the Ministry State of Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit)commonly known as the Stasi. Continue reading “Insights into the Stasi: a surveilled life in former Eastern Germany”

I got racially harassed, and I am okay with it. Please don’t be like me.

By Alit Wedhantara

It was a sunny midday afternoon. I had just arrived home from the Intensive Programme in Olomouc, in Czech Republic, which happened on the last week of June 2019 and where I met new people from almost all over the world, other students of the Euroculture programme like myself. 

Having just come back, I was still in the process of settling down again in Groningen. I was casually riding my bike home from the nearest Albert Heijn, where I grabbed my favourite lunch combo menu: a pack of blue-packaged paprika Ribbel chips and a warm Frikandelbroodje.

Back then, I did not know that there was a backdoor to the housing complex I lived in and I could just ride straight through, so I went the long way around, turning right. I exited the supermarket complex to the roundabout, turning left to my ex-mental-hospital-turned-student-accommodation. As I was about to make a turn left on the roundabout, I did what any cultured cyclist would do: I signalled with my left hand.

However, after realizing I actually still needed to go straight, I made another hand signal with my right hand to signify I would be staying on the road instead. It was in this moment of confusion that I became aware of the existence of a small city car, an orange Peugeot 104. As I finished the roundabout and moved on, the driver of the orange Peugeot edged a bit to my left, shouted at me, laughed and drove off. I was still in awe, a bit in shock, as my mind processed what the driver had just said to me in Dutch. There were two blonde guys in that car, which I assume were both Dutch. Thinking back on it now, I believe they shouted something like: “Dikke piet!”

At that moment, I thought: “Ah… maybe some mad incels” or “some very angry far-right people”. I’m not even sure if they knew I could understand them. I arrived home and went straight to my room. I put my groceries on the table and sat down, but then I began to think about the situation that I had just been through. In that very moment in time, I realized: “Oh… they yelled racial slurs at me. Did I just get racially harassed?” I personally never would have thought or imagined, in a million years, that in the year 2019 in Western Europe someone would still yell out-of-date racial slur at me. I don’t really care about the body shaming part, calling me fat (dikke), or anything regarding my plus-size, but it is a bit problematic when you categorize me as a “piet”. Not cool. 

That’s when this issue became one of racial discrimination, crossing the racial border/boundaries. If you don’t know about the context of this slur, consider googling “Piet Netherlands” the next time you are connected to the world wide web. Did this specific incident change my mind for the worse about the Netherlands? Not even slightly. I still love Europe, and I still want to be here. But the incident really made me think about all kinds of possibilities. Possibilities about how to react when you are racially discriminated. In this article, I think I just want to try to match and link my experience of what happened to me with my general experience of colonialism.

Historically and ethnically, growing up as an Indonesian, I, myself, always studied the colonial period religiously, especially during my formative years in elementary until senior high school. We as Indonesians are consistently being brainwashed into thinking that we were colonized by the Netherlands for over 200 years. We know who the first Dutch person to arrive in the mainland East Indies was. We know who the governor-general was that build, quite possibly, the most important road in the island of Java. But if one looks deeply enough,then you would notice that around half of those two hundred years, we were actually colonized by a multi-industrial company, not a ‘single’ nation the size of our current capital, Jakarta. This is a narrative that no one dared to until recently, but it does force us to think about the cultural influence our colonizers had on us.

My opinion on this is that the Indonesians never bore the burden of that history as much as many people like to say. As we grew up, we tended to think that white Westerners were rich and educated people, and we valued their human being above that of ‘our own people.’: We thought they were higher in social caste or in the hierarchy than most of us. They are the expats. They could enjoy our full hospitality, politeness, and courteousness. After all, their ‘superior’ currency and better rates only made them seem even higher above us than they already were. A lot of Indonesians tended to think of the Westerners as some kind of economic benefit to them. We sometimes think they are better because they utilized us to enrich themselves (even though they say in their ethische politiek manifesto that it was also about enriching us). It’s a bit of a colonialist cliché, but that feeling of dependency was probably invented by the Dutch.

All of this might seem like it was totally beside the point of my original story, but I don’t think it is. Because this history is why I like to think that what happened to me was somehow  my fault: that maybe as a fat, dark-skinned Asian, I should not get a proper education in Europe. Heck! Maybe my appearance in public is a pollution of the pure-skin white European ‘them’.

But most importantly, it is not Western Europeans that have to feel bad or bear the guilt of our shared, bloody past. They seem to think that clearly it is not an important matter. Because, after all, I am just some worthless, third world scum that threatens the existence of their hegemonic white world, the one they want to live in. Stealing their jobs. Turning their country into a ‘shithole’ like mine. Should I stand up? Should I shout back at them ? Should I take my revenge and hunt them, shoot them in the face, or stab them in public? I think that the best possible answer for me is no.

Maybe it is a deficiency in their healthy body that made them think differently. I should let them live. I’m not going to rationalize their act, because it is not rational. I can only rationalize their inability to think. After all, even though it might seem like another cliché, love is the answer. Spread love, not hate. Important lesson learned: I should be more careful on roundabouts. Long live free speech!

Disclaimers:

P.S.: Please take this article with a hint of salt (~and pepper). After all, that’s why Europeans colonized the Eastern world, right? Finally, you can put those ingredients to use!

P.P.S.: When I say Europeans, them, their, Western Europeans, or you, I am specifically directing myself towards the (possibly) male-like figures riding the orange Peugeot 104 that racially discriminated me several months ago. I am not talking about the entire community.

P.P.P.S.: Oh, and more recently on October 25th, 2019, when I was walking past Albert Heijn Gedempte Zuiderdiep with friends of mine, we were getting shouted at again. It was a drunk figure with a masculine voice yelling “brownie!”. We personally took it as a compliment! Obviously not racist at all.

Picture: Garry Knight, Flickr

1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.”

By Maeva Chargros

The story is known – some would even say simple: on November 17, 1989, a large demonstration in Prague triggered the Velvet Revolution, that would peacefully end four decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia; Václav Havel would be the President of the new federal Republic, which would split between the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993. Then, both countries would join NATO and the European Union, keeping close diplomatic ties. Czechia would constantly be confused with Chechnya, and Slovak diplomats in Brussels would have to organise regular mail-swapping meetings with their Slovenian counterparts. Meanwhile, everyone would keep talking about Czechoslovakia as if these two countries only made sense when together.

Nonetheless, if you sit down and listen to Czechs and Slovaks, you realise the story is not that simple: for them, the Velvet Revolution cannot be reduced to just one demonstration, one election, and one painful breakup.

Therefore, instead of a banal memo about various events organised around the Czech Republic to celebrate the 30th anniversary of this major historical milestone, here is an attempt to help international readers to see the events from a Czech, or actually Czechoslovak perspective, through the eyes of people who actually saw the events as they happened – on TV, in the newspapers, or on the main square of their city or village. I interviewed three historians, who were in very different locations in November 1989. They were between 7 and 19 years old, thus each gives a very different perspective on the events that unfolded thirty years ago. All of them are now part of the Euroculture team at the Department of History of Palacký University in Olomouc. You will find more information about them at the end of this article; their age at the time of the Velvet Revolution is given next to their names in the article. Continue reading “1989-2019: “You will be the generation to suffer the consequences of these changes.””

The ghosts are back

By Ismail El Mouttaki

Je voudrais vous demander quelque chose, est ce que vous croyez aux fantômes? (I would like to ask you something: Do you believe in ghosts?)

Back in 2010, a bunch of young freshman finally could smell a wave of change, a wave that hypnotizes mind, and its magnetic aura did raid the whole world. [1]

“The political system must change”, screams one. Proudly, another one responds with a confident tone as if he knew it all: “The dominant culture would simply reproduces the same political system and its authoritarian practices. You will change a dictator for another… Anyway”. The third boy, in an attempt to outsmart the other ones, whispers: “Forget it. Let’s start a new community, a self-sufficient community with our refined elitist pure values: a kibbutz.” [2]

These memories are already mummified in my head and I could not care less about change anymore. Running away from the spectre of this conversation led me to the far east of the globe, its centre, and then back to the west.

Nine years later, on another saturday evening, it is time for my ritual, a kind of a few pleasurable residues of a boring childhood, glancing at Strasbourg’s ruelles, Rhine, Cathedrale and the monk who inhabits the church – but stays outside it -, my favorite street saxophonist. It does not leave me any option at all. Let’s roam again.

As I am tasting the pleasures of the city, I cannot stop thinking how spoiled I am looking through these shop windows where the most recent fashion is displayed – to everyone. Everyone is looking through the windows, nobody enters. I mean, it is still beautiful to look at. Some esthetic truths or realizations do not require possession, hasn’t Osho said it? If you love a flower, you appreciate it as it is, you do not have to own it, right? Anyway, these things are overpriced and rich people pay for the flashy light bulbs, not for the quality or for the function of these brand new cool clothes. Continue reading “The ghosts are back”

My Third Semester: Research Track at Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic (2017-2019)

Interview conducted by Ivana Putri

Maeva Chargros is a French Euroculture student who spent her first and second semesters in Olomouc, Czech Republic and Krakow, Poland, respectively. Having previously studied within programs that take on a multidisciplinary approach, Maeva decided to apply for Euroculture as it offered her the opportunity to dive back into literature, history, and languages (as she did in her BA) without losing the interdisciplinary approach. She has a background in Nordic Studies, and professional experience in digital communications as well as public relations (PR). For her third semester, she went back to Olomouc to do the research track.
Thanks Maeva for taking the time to share your experience!

1. Why did you decide to do research?

Honestly, I just wanted to keep digging into my thesis topic. I was foolish enough to pick a topic I knew barely nothing about, in a field I was not exactly familiar with, so I realised I had to work on my background knowledge as much as I could, and the research track was the best option for this. Also, since I’ve already worked, I did not feel like I would be learning anything tremendously stimulating – quite the opposite of a research track where I’d be learning a lot every day on various topics. Perhaps the comfort of going back to Olomouc – a city I really enjoy to live in – was also part of my choice, but shhh, it’s not supposed to be that important, right…?

2. Tell us what you were doing at Olomouc! Continue reading “My Third Semester: Research Track at Palacký University Olomouc, Czech Republic (2017-2019)”

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!”

Why the Idea of Europe Matters

By Nikhil Verma

What is Europe?
If you honestly think about it, could you pinpoint it out? If yes, where does Europe end or most importantly where does it start? Is Europe an ideology or does the idea of Europe ends with its dynamic borders?
Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden – these ‘Cantons’ laid down the foundation of the modern-day concept of ‘Culture’. You may wonder – How exactly has that evolved?

Well, ‘Cantons’ – the administrative division of states – make up nowadays’ confederation of ‘Switzerland. “Bundesbrief” – the oldest constitutional document of Switzerland documents the alliance of these three ‘Cantons’. In one of these ‘Cantons’, the birth of a prolific intellectual would take place – Jacob Burckhardt was born in the Canton of ‘Basel’ in 1818, he later wrote the 19th century’s masterpiece – ’The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy’. Published in 1860 and then revised in 1867, it was a sensational description of the Italian Renaissance.
Burckhardt’s vision that ‘Renaissance’ was the beginning of the modern world would later be expanded into modern politics, economics and aspects of modern society. His ideas encapsulated the idea of social, political, and cultural transformation in Europe. Burckhardt is thus known as the father of the notion of ‘Culture’ and its developments since the 19th century. Today, the stern look of his portrait on the Swiss franc is reminiscent of the path-breaking work for the cultural history of Europe and modernism. Continue reading “Why the Idea of Europe Matters”

1918-2018: Czechoslovakia, Between East & West

By Maeva Chargros

How odd coincidences are, sometimes! On Friday [26.10.18], the French President, Emmanuel Macron, declared that “there is no division between East and West in Europe”. I had just written the draft of this article dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the First Czechoslovak Republic – stating the complete opposite and calling for more efforts from the Western part of our continent.
Therefore, allow me to seize this opportunity to turn this article into an answer to a declaration I know is wrong.

Czechoslovakia” might not exist anymore, but the ideals of this state, as well as its struggles, are still very much alive. The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic was born in the Slovak part, when it was still called “Czechoslovakia”. Born in Bratislava; Prime Minister in Prague. Usually at this point, for the amusement of the readers, the writer tends to add a comparison that turns out to be a joke. However, there is no comparison to make here, even less as a joke: the Czech and Slovak common history was not made only of laughter and joy – it was also made of betrayal, loneliness, and struggle for the right to exist together, or separately. There happens to be only very few similar cases – please name a case of two different nations uniting under one flag, one state, one President, just to have the right to exist and try their luck at this. And when it fails the first time, they try again a second, a third, and a fourth time. Only after the fourth attempt, they agree on a peaceful separation, though not tearless.
If you’re from Western Europe, I might have lost you already at “Czechoslovakia”, at the very beginning of this paragraph: “where is it by the way?”. If you’re Czech or Slovak, I might have lost you with the “four times” – and you’re probably arguing about this number. See the division now, Mr Macron? Here it is.
To clear this point quickly with Czechs and Slovaks (and especially those born as Czechoslovaks): I include in the “attempts” not only the usual 1918, 1945 and 1990, but also the additional attempt with a more federal system during the Communist period. You may disagree, I’m not even sure I agree with myself here. Let’s not lose the focus of this article, though – the division, between East and West. Continue reading “1918-2018: Czechoslovakia, Between East & West”

The Future of Creative Europe

Towards a new generation of cultural funding

by Marje Brütt

The cultural and creative sector is the third biggest employer in the European Union being only excelled by the construction and the food sectors.[1] Besides their rather underestimated economic importance, culture and creativity build bridges between people and positively influence various areas, e.g. education, well-being or democracy. Consequently, culture contributes to the objectives of the European integration. Therefore, it is necessary to foster our cultural and political identity, to preserve our diversity and increase the intercultural dialogue as it is mentioned in Article 167 of the Treaty of Lisbon.[2]

In order to give credit to the cultural sector and to support its further development, the European Union launched Creative Europe in 2014 as the EU’s funding programme for the cultural, creative and audiovisual sectors.[3] As such it is in place for seven years (2014-2020) and consists of two sub-programmes that used to exist independently before: MEDIA and CULTURE. While MEDIA[4] is dedicated to the audiovisual sector and helps promoting audiovisual works, CULTURE covers funding for all other cultural and creative areas including amongst others performing and visual arts, literature, music, street art and cultural heritage. In total, 1,46 billion Euros are foreseen for the whole programme meaning for the whole seven years and all participating countries.[5] Related to the amount of participating countries, this amount can change throughout the years. In addition to the 28 EU Member States, interested European countries can associate with Creative Europe and thereby increase the programme’s budget. In the past years, the list of participating countries grew continuously up to 41 countries in 2018, including amongst others Tunisia, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania and Armenia, boosting the intercultural exchange in the European neighbourhood.[6] Simultaneously, countries can also leave the group as it was the case with Turkey in autumn 2016 and could be happening again with the upcoming Brexit in 2019. Continue reading “The Future of Creative Europe”

Collective Memory in Sweden: the Living History Forum

By Anne-Roos Renkema

No country exists without its history. Or, perhaps equally as important, the specific way it deals with this history: its memory culture. These memory cultures tell us a lot about a specific society, as it tells us one important thing: how it chooses to deal with its past. Memory culture refers to all practices of memory and commemoration, as well as education about the past – and, especially, the darker pages of its history.

One such country is Sweden. Traditionally a militarily neutral country, its post-war memory culture was concerned with exactly that: its perceived neutrality, especially in Europe’s most traumatic experiences in the twentieth century. There has been a shift in Swedish memory culture since the late 1990s, with Swedish historians paying more attention to Sweden’s role in World War II, and its perceived lack of involvement in the conflict. The country now has its own institute for Holocaust commemoration, which uses the Holocaust as a starting point to discuss issues of tolerance, called ‘Forum för levande historia’ (Living History Forum).[1] Why has Swedish memory changed so drastically since the 1990s, so many years after World War II? Continue reading “Collective Memory in Sweden: the Living History Forum”