February 20th was quite an ordinary Monday in Brussels: it was cold, grey and windy, a lot of traffic jams, a visit by an important high-level official – this time it was Mike Pence, by the way – in other words, a typical Brussels-like start of the week. Except for one thing – the offices of different organisations on that day were half-empty; something was clearly missing.
On that day, hundreds of interns refused to go to work in solidarity with the first Global Intern Strike. Instead, some of them went to the Schuman circle in the European Quarter to join the protest against unpaid and underpaid placements, and demand quality and remunerated internships for everyone. The event gathered about 100 people chanting “Pay your interns!” and holding placards that said “Interns are not slaves” and “Valuable experience does not pay my rent”. Several youth organisations, such as Global Intern Coalition, the local NGO Brussels Interns and European Youth Forum. The interns were also supported by some Members of the European Parliament as well. One of them, Terry Reintke, who belongs to the Green Coalition in Brussels, spoke at the protest and stated that the whole situation is “unacceptable”.
During my whole life in Europe, I did not know that I was white. I knew I had pale skin and light eyes, but this was because my father was a ginger. Then, when applying to an American university for the first time, I had to indicate my race and ethnicity in the official paperwork. I learned that I had to tick the box that said “White/Caucasian.” Then, within a couple of weeks on a Midwestern campus, Americans made me understand that I was white – not only in the literal, but in the racial sense of the term. Together with my fellow exchange students from Europe, we decided pretty fast: Americans are obsessed with race. Race is everywhere; in media and political discourse, in art, in peoples’ minds. In my classes, African American and Latino students repeatedly reported racial discrimination by white police officers or in job interviews. Friends advised me to avoid specific neighborhoods – black neighborhoods.
Before going to America, it would have never occurred to me to even use the term race. Race may apply to dogs, or horses. But humans? No way. To me, groups of people were rather characterized by their different cultures, traditions, values, and beliefs. For example, I knew that I, myself, was European. As such, I identified as an heir of centuries of European culture with its Greek and Roman heritage, Christian traditions, secular art, Enlightened thinking, modern science and technology, as well as the more recent belief in liberal democracy.
When looking at the actual ideological debates in Europe, I now wonder if Europe is not as obsessed with culture as America is with race. Just as most Americans take “the” five races (white/Caucasian, black/African American, Asian American, Native American/American Indian, Latino) as naturally given, most Europeans tend to think that one can distinguish between clear-cut and mutually exclusive cultural communities, such as the European cultural community, the Muslim cultural community, the… well, it often stops here. Against the backdrop of current issues such as the so-called refugee crisis, the term “European culture” is only used in order to contrast European culture with Muslim culture. In so doing, the speaker suddenly forgets about the cultural diversity within Europe, as well as the negative prejudices toward other European nationalities (e.g., the humorless Germans, the lazy Greek, the arrogant French, and so forth).
In Europe, the cultural category has very clearly replaced the racial category that is still used in America. Culture is hereby seen as something that is inborn in individuals or trained at a very young age, and therefore cannot evolve, transform, change. I often have the impression that it is understood exactly like race was conceived of during Europe’s darkest periods – as a biological determinism that decides good and bad, superior and inferior. As a consequence, Europeans seem to be experts in exercising cultural racism – they prefer to declare that a certain culture is not compatible with Europe, instead of a certain race or ethnicity. This wording might seem more lenient, but has the same meaning in the end.
So what is real, and what is a mere construction? Race? Or culture? Maybe neither. Or maybe both. Looking at the lived realities in the United States and in Europe, one has to conclude: in the US, race is real. It is real because it has real consequences on peoples’ daily lives, and entire personal narratives. In Europe, on the other hand, the belief in incommensurable cultural communities is gaining ground in a manner that this social construction is real as well, because it influences how Europeans perceive other parts of the world. Yet, with regard to current issues such as the refugee crisis, we could try to put our convictions into question. Is Muslim culture really as opposed to European culture as right-wing populists and racists want to make us believe? Are cultural values unchangeable?
As we all know now, most of our nightmares have come true. Trump has become president and we are all coping with this shocking development in different ways. Many are surprised, some are confused, a small percentage of those I’ve seen online are pleased, but most, I am relieved to see, are very, very angry. We knew this was a possibility, but the reality of the situation only really started to sink in as swing state after swing state fell to our newly elected, Oompa-Loompa in Chief. I myself am not altogether surprised. Just think for a second how dumb the average American is, then realize that 160 million Americans are, by definition, stupider than this, and the reality of President Donald Trump becomes somewhat more understandable. In the meantime, I, with all the American optimism that can get someone like our future Racist in Chief into the Oval Office, have been looking for a silver lining to this horrible cloud, and if you bear with me, I have hopefully found one. Continue reading “The Silver Lining of the 2016 Election and the Way Forward”→
The Dublin Regulation is a law concerning European Union Member States and asylum seekers. It establishes the Member State that is responsible for the receiving and examination of an application for asylum, and for deciding whether the criteria for asylum have been met by the applicant. It is often explained in the news as the regulation that ensures asylum seekers must apply for asylum in the first EU country they entered. It has been heavily criticized by Hungary and Poland since 2015, with both countries making thinly veiled Eurosceptic remarks about taking power back from the European Union. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles often criticizes the Regulation due to the restrictiveness of the criteria for asylum, the lack of protection it offers asylum seekers and for its failure to take the interests of asylum seekers into account.
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 October 2015, Groningen’s first year Euroculture students went on a three-day study excursion to Brussels. Together with our teacher and organizer of the trip, Albert Meijer, we visited EU institutions, namely the European Commission and Parliament, the EU’s Executive Agency for Education, Audiovisual and Culture (EACEA), as well as two independent associations, namely the European Movement, and the European Network Against Racism (ENAR).
Seventeen first year Euroculture students visiting the heart of the EU: a lot of fun and Belgian beer. But it also entails enriching discussions with EU officials and lobbyists – this year regarding human rights in and outside EU.
Studying Europe from an interdisciplinary perspective is amazing: its cultural, societal, and political integration not only appeals to various interests, but is capable of inspiring new interests within students, leading to almost insatiable curiosity. However, one day most of us will have to leave the academic ivory tower and decide on a concrete working field. For this reason, Euroculture Groningen organizes for each first year student group a trip to the perhaps most attractive destination for European studies scholars: Brussels, the permanent seat of several EU institutions, EU related agencies and innumerable lobbying associations. In other words: the heart of the European Union. For three days, seventeen first year Euroculture students explored this vibrant city, wondering which of them would someday end up in the offices of EU officials and lobbyists.
In view of the topic of the upcoming Intensive Program, “Ideals and Ambiguities of Human Rights in Europe, Past and Present,” this year’s trip to Brussels focused on human rights. For the inside perspective, we met the European Network Against Racism. To explore EU human rights policies outside its territory, we conferred with the European External Action Service (EEAS). For everybody participating in the 2016 IP or just interested in human rights issues, we want to share our experience with you. Continue reading “Defending Human Rights? Euroculture Students on the Track of Human Rights In and Outside EU”→