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 period between late November and early March is generally known as a film award period, during which we have the opportunity to follow several national European ceremonies (most notably the BAFTA in the United Kingdom, the Goya Awards in Spain, the Deutscher Filmpreis in Germany and the Cérémonie des Césars in France). However, there is only one ceremony that helps us recapitulate all the movies produced and made in Europe during the year: the European Film Awards (EFA). The annual award ceremony started in 1988 and it changes the host city every other year, while during the year in between the event takes place in Berlin; this system was introduced in order to give equal representation to all parts of Europe. This year the award was given in Seville, Spain on December 15, 2018.
The main award, the European Film of the Year, was given to the Polish film Zimna Wojna (Cold War). The movie got 5 awards overall, just one less than the all-time record holder, The Ghost Writer, by Roman Polanski. Besides the awards at the EFA, its director Paweł Pawlikowski previously got an award at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie set in the 1950s tells us about a love story intertwined with the political and social landscape of the time, about love torn between identity, longing, and ambition. Continue reading “European Film Awards: What makes them European?”→
With a significant pro-choice victory in Poland as the country’s conservative PiS government performs a U-turn on restricting access to abortion in the case of incest, rape, fatal foetal abnormality and risk to the mother’s life, it is easy to forget that the EU still has one State in which very few of the above constitute a legitimate cause for abortion.
Last year the Republic of Ireland became the first country to legalise same sex marriage through a popular referendum with an overwhelming victory, which seemed to signal a new liberal turn in a country many people across Europe and the world associate with conservative Catholicism. Yet Ireland, despite calls from the EU, the Council of Europe and the UN, has retained one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, where fatal foetal abnormalities and rape are not considered legal grounds for the termination of a foetus and where, even in the cases where woman’s life would be endangered by seeing a foetus to term, a woman might be denied the necessary treatment. Enshrined in the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) the Eighth Amendment prevents a woman having an abortion because the foetus is considered to have an equal right to life:
When I began Euroculture, I was very determined to learn languages and integrate myself into the host country. Not to say I didn’t achieve this to some extent, but the reality is that due to our short semesters, we ended up hanging out with people from Euroculture instead of the country we live in, creating a bubble for ourselves as we float around Europe. Perhaps it is all part of the grand scheme for creating “European Identity”; however, I’ve yet to meet a “European” that would define themselves as such. We are supposed to learn to be inter-culturally competent, yet since we all live in this international bubble of culturally “open-minded” people, are we really adapting or just observers from our Euroculture bubble?
As my time in Euroculture nears its end, I have begun to reflect on some these unintended consequences of living in the Euroculture bubble. At first, it seemed like a great idea; the opportunity to live, study, work and/or travel in a different country every four months. The perfect way to learn new languages and gain knowledge about other cultures, but now I think it’s too much. We are human after all and need to feel at home with our group of friends, our shared history and inside jokes. It’s as if you don’t completely fit in anywhere. Sure you can get along and everyone will be impressed with your “interesting” life, but making true local friends is another story. It seems almost as if you can only relate to people with the same nomadic lifestyle as your own, but then just as you feel comfortable everyone leaves to start over again. Continue reading “The Euroculture Bubble”→
Aprofessor at Seokyeong University in Seoul, South Korea, leads us through the shadow of non-literature majors approaching literature and language as a means to a brighter end.
“The best way to think about reality, I had decided, was to get as far away from it as possible…”
<Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle>
Steven Justice │ email@example.com
In a world constantly concerned with economic instability and the importance of employability, the above quote from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, a novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, is at odds with the masses. Reality has become all too important. Studying is a means to an end rather than an effort to improve the mind or enlighten the soul.Time spent studying the humanities is a waste when students could be harnessing a narrowly defined vocational skill.
“I ask my students why they are here to study literature…”
This is something I see first-hand at my university. On the opening day of my literature classes, I ask my students why they are here. “To improve our English and therefore enhance our chances of getting a good job,” they answer uniformly.
I am the only member of faculty in my department who teaches literature where all my students major in accounting. But really, I press them, what is the point of an accounting major studying literature? The real world looms large for these students in their final year of university. They need to get a job and they know it won’t come easy in today’s market. I even question myself sometimes, how will studying literature help them?
Literature teaches us to ask questions.Dystopian classics such as 1984 by George Orwell and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury force readers to consider issues that are relevant to the lives they live, but have perhaps never thought of before. Graduates are often ejected into a world they do not fully understand and are not prepared for, much as Winston discovered when he went in search of the truth in 1984.
For years, students have been told that getting a degree is the only path to a good job but more and more these days, just having a degree is not enough. Students need to be able to comprehend the issues that face them; to be able to analyse them in depth and see what is really happening as opposed to blindly following what they are told is good for them. Too few people are concerned with the big picture. Bradbury makes the point very well in his novel, “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”
“The real world demands a lot of attention…”
The real world demands a lot of attention.So much so that many find it a challenge to think or question it beyond the cliché – Where will my next meal come from? How will I provide for my family? Will I have a job next year? When will I get paid?
That all-important job, and its superficial benefits, leads to an often debilitating myopia. The more secure and comfortable we become in our lives, the less we want to endanger it. The situation of today’s highly competitive job market can very easily envelop us to the point where everything else becomes unnecessary. If it does not improve our immediate situation – please the landlord, placate the wife, impress the boss – it is not needed. Society has never been as diverse and as open to foreign cultures as now but most people do not get further than whatever is on television that night. Even when they know it is meaningless, they still watch it. As Bradbury writes of the average man, the thought is “[…]I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.”
When considering such a dire situation (dystopic even!), Murakami has it right. All too often we become absorbed in our own lives to consider the situation on a larger stage. The further we get from the every-day routine that binds us, the more we can see. Fiction is an escape into other worlds, other realities; potential dystopian futures or completely foreign lands. The more literature we read, the more of life and our cultures we can understand. This mortal coil ties us to one place at a time, one life with one purpose – to survive.
Literature unravels us into distant places, ancient times, other peoples and their different ways of speaking and writing. Literature begs us to analyse, to compare and, most importantly, to question; to always be asking questions. If you do not ask questions when the firemen start making fires then you cannot complain when there are no more books.
“Literature helps us to question and to always be asking questions…”
This is the attitude that everyone should be taking into their own personal reality. Question the politicians and people in power or they will be free to do whatever they want; analyse what they say, be it about the war in Iraq or the war in Oceania. If the world is getting worse, and we can be fairly certain that it is, I hope it will be some of my non-literature major students who the first to ask why and how we can fix it, rather than blindly working through their balance sheets before sharing cups of Victory Gin…
Steve Justice, Contributing Writer
Steve received a Masters in English Literature from St. Andrews University in 2004 before relocating to South Korea where he has taught English Language and Literature for seven years. After teaching at Catholic University of Korea, he now lectures at Seokyeong University in Seoul. He is also studying for a Masters in Literary Linguistics from the University of Nottingham. His research interests include critical literary analysis, stylistics, cognitive poetics, narratology and world Englishes.
This article was initially published on the September issue of The HPN Review. If you want to subscribe to The HPN Review, click here.
Housing is a very important issue for MA Euroculture students because they get to move constantly as part of the curriculum. For some, getting a room in new places has been easy but as most of them admittedly say, they were lucky. The truth of Euroculture housing is here: It can be very difficult and if you are not lucky, you are all on your own. Looking for a room in a foreign country can be a very stressful process especially if you don’t speak the local language. Also, it’s possible that the semester already started and you are without ‘home’, living in a hotel or hostel. I examined the housing situation of Euroculturers, in collaboration with Niccolò Beduschi (Euroculture 12/14) who brought up the issue and ask three questions in an attempt to get more housing support from MA Euroculture Consortium and some universities which are not providing any housing service.
Why don’t we start by looking at ‘very good’ cases?
“The University has helped us find a place. You send some necessary documents before a set deadline and one month after you receive information about your place. They send you information of your apartment (address, cost etc) and ask if you’d like to accept the offer. Bilbao is really good in that service.”
“Euroculture Krakow team was really helpful throughout the process. They gave us advices on web pages, kept track of our accommodation status via E-Mail and coordinated semester rooms with Laborooms (kind of dorms from a private company). I am really happy with the “service” of Krakow.”
Question #1. How could Bilbao and Krakow so good at these services when others are not?
And here are some ‘could have been better’ cases.
“It is possible to find a place “through the university” but only by paying a fee of one month of rent.”
“You can get student housing, but it is not in a good condition (ok, it’s cheap but that should be the only positive thing!). The application process for the student rooms was easy and worked out well. But you definitely need French in order to get along with everything.”
Question #2. Should we not expect a decent room if we cannot afford a high fee or speak good French?
And here are some ‘could have been a lot better’ cases. The problem not only comes from the lack of support from the university but also the fact that there are too many students looking for a room at the same time. Still, they can do more than just saying “I don’t know.”
“Most landlords want you to have a contract for a year. Actually, there are many ads from people looking for roommates, but because they all look for people who will stay long, finding a place is very difficult, although if you have time, it’s not impossible.”
“The university at the beginning did not help us find a place until at last we were told that some rooms were reserved for international master students. Many of us got those. However, it’s very hard to get rooms in Uppsala in general.”
“Everyone had to search for their own accommodation as far as I know, and we didn’t receive any help from either Euroculture Goettingen team or the university. They just recommend me websites for the private market. You can apply for student dorms, but you get on a waiting list with the average waiting time of 20-24 months. Some people even had to stay in a hotel for a few weeks, even when the semester had already started.”
Question #3. We all know we are adults who need to take care of our own affairs. But what if it’s REALLY DIFFICULT?
This simple poll and possible following comments/debates will be collected and sent, in a month, to the Consortium and each university to show Euroculturers’ opinions on the issue. Many thanks go to Niccolò Beduschi and other Euroculture students for providing the information(quotes) I used to write this article.
Eunjin Jeong, Editor-in-chief
Eunjin is from South Korea and studied Education for her BA. She began MA Euroculture in October 2011 in the University of Göttingen, later studied in the University of Strasbourg, did a research track in Uppsala University and currently finishing her MA thesis in Strasbourg. Her research interests lie in finding ways for diaspora groups to feel as ‘citizens at heart’ in host countries. Eunjin is a part-time realist and a full-time idealist.