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.””→
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…?
Everyone should be aware of this fact, after two world wars, many genocides and a major crisis triggered by terrorism worldwide: when something happens in one specific country, the entire region surrounding this country is affected; and when a whole region is impacted, the entire world ends up facing consequences of this local event. It is the principle of the well-known butterfly effect. Therefore, how can we not hear the call for help coming from Venezuelans fleeing their country? How can we ignore the growing tensions on the borders between Venezuela and its neighbours?
Seen from Europe, the ongoing crisis in the north-west of the Latin American region reminds of another crisis that Europeans had to face and are still facing – the so-called “refugee crisis”. One might be stunned by how relevant this comparison is, but also puzzled by what it means for our governments and international organisations. After two resolutions failed to pass at the United Nations in the last few days, here is a timely reminder of what is actually happening at the border. Nicolás Javier Pedraza Garcia, currently an exchange student from Universidad Externado de Colombia (Externado University, Bogotá, Colombia) at the Palacký University in Olomouc, Czech Republic, agreed to give his insight to help us understand the situation from a local perspective.
Relations between Colombia and Venezuela are a very good example of what can be achieved when two independent states decide to cooperate for the better good of their respective economies. Who needs a hard border when both populations speak the same language, work and live together, and benefit from this soft border situation? Until the political crisis hit the Venezuelan economy, “the border was just a line”; now, the border area is described mostly as a “war zone”, or a “conflict zone”. “The border is experiencing a very bad situation both economically and socially; most of Venezuelans who are fleeing are poor, so they stay at the border and are forced to engage in criminal activities such as drug trafficking or prostitution to survive. We, Colombians, try to help as much as we can, but our local government does not have the institutional nor the infrastructure capacity to attend to the situation. Maybe the situation is better in some other cities, but at the border, it is a crisis situation. We have been asking for more financial and human resources from the national government, but so far we are left alone to take care of these people.” Continue reading “REPORT: What Happens in Venezuela Does Not Stay in Venezuela”→
Applying for a master programme is not an easy task; applying for an Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme such as Euroculture, offering eight universities in eight different countries… can be even more complicated. Indeed, during the application process, candidates have to pick three universities they are interested in for the first semester. Of course, the courses taught there, as well as the specialisations of each university or the monthly budget are important; but sometimes, one needs something more personal to be convinced.
This first edition of universities’ presentations is focusing on what we could call the “hidden gems” of Euroculture: the universities you might not think of at first, some cities you could not even place on a map before going there, but they turn out to be life-changing decisions you’ll never regret.
Creativity: a keyword for all three cities
Why would you study in Central Europe? Life there is affordable (or even cheap), with many options to travel. This is what every Erasmus student answers during their first week here. A few weeks later, they still consider the place to be affordable and practical for trips, but the list of good reasons to study here extended slightly. The very dynamic cultural life, for instance, shows up suddenly. Continue reading “Euroculture: The Hidden Gems”→
As students of Europe, we like to believe we have a good grasp on the history and political development of the continent. Too often, however, we have been educated from a singular perspective, one that rarely includes the perspective of what we have labeled “the East”. The tragedy of Central Europe, as Milan Kundera once called it, is not that the Soviet Union gobbled up so much of the continent after World War II, but rather that “the West” allowed such a massive piece of its cultural heritage to slip away. One of the most common things Euroculture students say after spending a semester in Olomouc is, “I never knew.” “I never knew about Václav Havel.” “I never knew about the Prague Spring.” “I never knew about Tomáš Masaryk.”
The Euroculture program, however, is fortunate enough to have among its professors Josef Jařab, a person with a keen memory and a knack for being around at the turning points of history. Professor Jařab, or JJ as he is more commonly known among Euroculturers, is a professor, former rector and dissident who calls Olomouc his home. We sat down with JJ to speak to him about his life, the Velvet Revolution, and lessons we should be taking from Central Europe.
A Central European Story
Born in 1937 in the Silesian region of what was then known as Czechoslovakia, JJ’s life has been studded with academic and literary accomplishment. He glibly refers to his birth as his first major achievement; he somehow managed to be born full term only three months after his parents’ marriage: “It usually takes nine months! My first surprising sort of record was to make it in three or four months.” This, he told me, is why he is so famous in Olomouc.
All joking aside, JJ’s reputation in Olomouc – and throughout Central Europe – truly does precede him. At the risk of turning this article into a listicle of defining moments, I would like to mention a few that stand out. Throughout the Soviet occupation of then-Czechoslovakia, JJ worked to bring Western culture beyond the Iron Curtain. When the Velvet Revolution began in Prague, he led the students in Olomouc to a similar revolution. On the day he was officially fired by Palacký University, he became its first freely elected Rector. He was a close friend to Olga and Václav Havel, served as rector of the Central European University and as a Senator of the Czech Parliament and pursues, to this day, his passion for poetry, literature and jazz. This, too, is a fitting profile for a Czech revolutionary; the Prague Spring and Velvet Revolution were, after all, not driven by activists or the overtly politically minded, but by the writers, the students, the poets, the actors.Continue reading “Professor Jařab & the Velvet Revolution: “Freedom is a Sleeping Beauty””→
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.
If someone asks me what my favourite part of working for Euroculture is, I get an emotional, teary look in my eyes and tell them: “the students”! Fresh faces every semester, eager beavers waiting to be filled with information. Students coming from all corners of the world, all sharing that Euroculture-gene of being triggered by intercultural affairs, with mouths that start foaming by hearing words like ‘Brexit’, ‘transnational’ or ‘identity discourse’. Being in charge of the general email@example.com e-mail account, I’m often the first person an interested student talks to. It’s my duty to talk them into entering that great programme of ours. But with great power comes great responsibility, mostly in the form of a never-ending cascade of e-mails from students who just write ‘I want scholarship please I need it can I start tomorrow?’ and then expect us to transfer huge sums of money into their accounts. No joke. This happens. A lot. Even worse are those students who have enough brains and punctuation skills to trick us into believing they are genuinely interested in a position in our programme, who ask us to guide them through the application procedure, upload reference letters for them, prepare invoices and insurance certificates, and spend valuable time into ensuring a smooth transition into Euroculture studenthood, but who back out at the last moment by saying ‘sorry I’m not coming anymore, I’m going to Laos instead on a spiritual journey to find myself’. It’s time-consuming and annoying, but my bitterness never lingers – partly due to the great coffee bar in the vicinity of the consortium headquarters, but mostly because of that sweet sweet sound of a fresh new student knocking on my door, asking where they can find accommodation or how to open up a bank account. “Try the mobility office”, I tell them smilingly.
Albert Meijer works with the Erasmus Mundus Master of Excellence in Euroculture: Society, Politics and Culture in a Global Context, one of the most successful Erasmus Mundus programs. To read more of Albert’s work, click here.
(Europe needs all its voices to weather the challenges faces it today. Equip yourself with the knowledge you need to stand up for your Europe. Join the FREE online course, ‘European Culture and Politics’ starting September 26.)
To find out more about the Euroculture program, visit their website here
Finding a place to live is probably going to be one of your biggest worries over the two years you will spend as a Euroculture student. You will soon be living out of one big fat suitcase, and you will master the art of bookings, security checking and visa applications.
What I recommend:
Use the university student accommodation system. It’s easy to use (Google Docs) and reliable.
Plus: avoid all the troubles of finding private accommodations while living and studying abroad and make new international friends. (Or not. No one forces you to.)
Minus: you most probably won’t get to live with locals, which could be a shame if you’re trying to learn or improve your Spanish! If this is the case, Facebook might be your best friend. Check out local groups for flatshare, or browse through some local websites. The process will take you longer, but it is worth it. (A friend of mine – an outsider to the Euroculture progamme – was living with three lovely Spanish guys, and it made his Erasmus experience unforgettable.)
Oh the weather! If you thought moving to Spain meant sea, sex and sun, well, it’s not exactly what you’re gonna get in Bilbao. The climate being oceanic on the Atlantic coast, I suggest you pack a pair of wellies. On the other hand, you should also get yourself a bathing suit and a pair of sunnies, because it does get better. (I started going for a swim around April in Bilbao. Not even lying!)
University life. I know that’s also one of the big question marks here. At the University of Deusto, typically, bachelor students have classes in the morning, and masters students in the afternoon. My schedule (you might not get the exact same one but something close to that) was roughly three hours of classes per day from Monday to Thursday, almost always in the afternoon (starting at 3pm). You might occasionally get a class on Friday morning, but you’ll get over it. Continue reading “Second-semester Experiences, 2015”→
Not many people know about the Czech Republic, except that the beer is cheap there and that Prague is a beautiful city. I spent my autumn semester 2011 (my first semester of the MA Euroculture programme) studying at Palacky University in Olomouc, a town in Moravia in the west of the country (approximately 250km from Prague). Although four decades of communism has left its mark on the Czech Republic, Olomouc remained as a lovely town with cobbled streets, magnificent buildings and rumbling trams all centred around two main squares which bring an amazing atmosphere.
One thing dominates the town: students!
Palacky University, the country’s second oldest only to Charles University in Prague, is a set of buildings just off the main street, the most impressive of which is the library set around a large courtyard.
The Euroculture staff are very friendly, helpful and always keen to teach their classes in the pub over a beer or in the café where the theme of Central Europe is explored from many points of view. The impressive thing about the timetable in Olomouc is that it leaves Monday and Friday free. The international students use the long weekends for frequent travels around the Czech Republic, but also to neighbouring countries such as Austria, Poland, Slovakia, or Hungary. These places offer so much of Europe’s still undiscovered history. Also, the chance to link many of the places that are relevant to your study plan during your stay is very exciting. Most travel can be done by train which is quite frequent and very cheap with a student rail pass. Additionally, the Euroculture classes bring with them excursions related to the study programme, such as a visit to the Hyundai car factory in Nošovice and a sightseeing tour around the Olomouc monuments with a detailed lecture about its history.
In Olomouc you are accommodated in halls of residence called “Neředín” (about 10 minutes from the university by tram). Students share an apartment with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen. The corridor that I lived in had people of many nationalities which gave me a cosmopolitan experience in my own country. Moreover, I could build up friendships all over the world. English is the language predominantly used among all international students.
There is more than enough to do in Olomouc. Every international student can sign up for membership of the local Erasmus Student Network (ESN) organisation, which is very active in organising student trips or special events like the international lunch, and they have many good deals with bars and nightclubs around Olomouc. The ESN team consists of Czech students of the Palacký University who have already done a study exchange abroad and are aware of the interests of incoming international students. Moreover, Olomouc is a town of cafés and student bars. The youth scene is frequently represented by the university students performing any kind of art.
It is interesting to compare my previous study experience in Prague, where I did my undergraduate studies. Even if I enjoyed my time in Prague a lot; in Olomouc I found more smiling people (a part of the Moravian character), higher attachment to Czech and Moravian culture, closer relationships between international students living all in the same place, and much lower-priced goods. In Olomouc you can easily feel at home.
Although I am Czech, I had a wonderful ”Erasmus experience” in Olomouc. It is hard to imagine anyone who would not enjoy a study exchange at Palacký University.
Olomouc-Prague return trip ticket costs just around €6 with a student rail pass;
“Belmondo” is the most popular Erasmus night club;
Olomoucké tvarůžky = a local speciality (extremely smelly cheese);
€1 = 25 Czech crowns;
Olomouc is good holiday option for your parents to visit you!
Ludmila Vávrová, Olomouc/Indiana Correspondent
Ludmila is from the Czech Republic, and studied Economics and Management for B.Sc. and European Diplomacy for M.Sc. She studied Euroculture in Palacky University, Olomouc and the University of Strasbourg. She is currently doing a research track in Indianapolis with an interest in finding image/word arguments during the 2012 presidential election campaigns in the US and in France. Ludmila is a girl with a dream, mostly involving Czech beer.