The nearer we come to the general election, the greater the pressure on David Cameron to take a stance on the EU which suits as broad a section of society as possible. With defections to UKIP skewing his party’s policies, it is easy to forget the real people who will determine the outcome of the potential referendum on Europe.
In an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel this morning about Britain’s stance on the Europe issue, reader comments varied from sympathetic understanding of its position to vehement assertions that if Britain wants to leave so badly, why not let it? Surely the EU would be stronger without facing sabotage from within. Many also pointed out that Brits don’t feel European at all.
In reality, it is this kind of bickering that deepens the divide between the UK and the Continent, not the whims of government policy. Whilst the readers who leave comments may not particularly indicative of broad opinion, they nevertheless provide an insight into the mindsets of those who feel committed enough to the idea of Europe to publicly express an opinion on a key issue that it is facing. So far, by and large, this group of people feel like the EU would be better off without an uncommitted Britain.
Whilst their generalisations made me bristle, it has to be said that they do have a point. Ambivalent participation won’t help anyone or anything. Britain also has to stop using withdrawal from the Union as a threat to get its own way in policy decisions. It not only smacks of arrogance, but is short-sighted. They can’t use this tactic forever when negotiating policy.
On the other hand, Europe has to adapt as it grows. It can not expect to remain the same whilst expanding; just as potential member states ought to change their actions in certain directions – for instance in human rights – before being acceded into the EU, so the existing member states must adapt their approach slightly each time a new view point enters the equation.
A diverse Europe requires multiculturalism at all levels, from the highest echelons of power to the everyday person. Multiculturalism isn’t passive; it is a process that requires mutual adaptation. Lambasting other nationalities based on the prevailing political narrative is neither particularly useful nor insightful. If various nationalities have an opinion (negative or otherwise) of one another, the responsibility can only fall to the individual to prove or disprove this in his or her own way. The concept of the European Union is to create a unity of purpose and understanding, which ultimately can only be achieved from the bottom up.
Original language article referred to: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/angela-merkel-fuerchtet-erstmals-britischen-eu-austritt-a-1000544.html
Last Tuesday, burdened by 37 degree heat (we Brits really don’t understand how to do Summer) I ended up at the only air-conditioned place I could think of; the cinema. Angelina Jolie’s new film Maleficent seemed to be as light-hearted as you’d want on a day such as it was, but what I was absolutely not expecting was a metaphorical rape scene. Naturally, since it was a Disney film, it was not explicit but the horror of the violation was sickening. Portrayed by the theft of her wings, the mutilation left the character with a desperately broken sense of identity and shattered world-view.
With Angelina Jolie’s involvement in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict happening in the same week, the scene and the issues it raised took on additional significance. Lead by William Hague, the summit’s two key priorities were to end the culture of impunity surrounding sexual violence in conflict, as well as to raise global awareness of the issue. Their opening speeches were a call for us to step up to the task that needs to be completed; a rallying cry for human dignity.
Of course, now that the event has passed and there’s been time to reflect on what has happened, the media is awash with opinions on what’s going to happen next, with attitudes ranging from cautious optimism to out-and-out cynicism. The successes of the summit – in terms of international protocols and the innovation of the volunteers who brainstormed the practical next steps for aid workers on the ground – deserve far better than cynicism. While it is true that this is an enormous and ambitious undertaking, if we always listened to the cynics, we would still be sat around in caves because no one would have been brave enough to start asking: “what if?”
As part of the drive to raise awareness of the campaign to end sexual violence in conflict, every British Embassy across the world hosted its own corresponding event. Here in Vienna, one of the homes of the UN headquarters, the event was attended by a diverse range of UN directors, Ambassadors, NGO representatives and OSCE representatives. Each of these delegates represented a section of society which will work from the top down, ensuring that the necessary legislation and protocols are deployed and utilised effectively.
The Viennese Embassy is a great example of how this project is being discussed and implemented by a multitude of actors. On the one hand, the success of the Summit will be defined by how effectively bilateral relations are pursued between the UK and the partner country’s government, e.g. in this case between the UK and Austria. On the other hand are the infinitely more complex but probably most valuable multilateral relations. These include relationships such as the UK – UN partnership, as well as UK representation in the OSCE. Not everyone is aware of the work of the OSCE (Organisation for the Security and Cooperation in Europe), but like the UN it grew up after 1945 in recognition of the need to solve problems through dialogue, not violence. In order for the OSCE to take any action, it requires all 52 member nations to reach a consensus. To help put that in perspective, try and think back to a single family gathering in which you’ve all agreed on the same topic. Exactly. In my house we don’t even like the same biscuits.
On the back of all these international negotiations and discussions, the big question is “what now?”. Governments and NGOs are all doing their bit – millions of pounds worth of extra funding have been offered by a variety of nations (for example by Japan, Australia and Bahrain to name but a few), and an International Protocol has been launched which lays out how to best document and investigate cases of sexual violence. But if this is going to work, we’re all going to have to meet the legislators halfway. This doesn’t mean we should all hop on a plane to the DRC to volunteer – general consensus now finally concedes that the vague commitment encouraged by ‘voluntourism’ actually does more harm than good. Our task, for those of us living cushy lives where the nearest we get to violence is when watching Game of Thrones, is a slightly different one.
Firstly, now that we know these things, we must not forget them. We do not have that right. William Hague puts it eloquently when he demands of us: “what would it say about Britain, about any nation if, knowing these facts, we turned away?”. An integral part of not forgetting is to keep talking. No one can presume to speak on another’s behalf, least of all on behalf of one who has suffered, but that does not mean that the rest of us can’t open up space in our cultural and diplomatic dialogue in order for survivors to finally be heard. It is our duty to articulate atrocity, and to hand the microphone to those who really need it.
We have to confront the issues face on and get uncomfortable. If you’re finding it hard to relate emotionally to the reality of issues that seem so distant from our daily lives, this harrowing video will definitely help you.
(TW: sexual assault, violence)
This is a difficult topic to discuss. It isn’t glamorous and it doesn’t have any cuddly ambassadors like Climate Change has polar bears and penguins. We are afraid of looking too closely at the perpetrators for fear of what we might see. If one person is capable of such an act, what makes us any different? So we dismiss the problem with excuses such as ‘rape is an inevitability in conflict’. But rape is neither a primal instinct nor an inevitability. It is a conscious choice. When we take away the excuses, we are forced to look at why these atrocities are happening. We have to look at ourselves and our cultures. What we are left with, as Hannah Arendt terms it, is “the banality of evil”. If we are the reflection of our culture then we have it the wrong way round. Our culture should be the reflection of us. We are neither bound to nor limited by an external set of circumstances. We have the power to act to change them simply by saying “we deserve better”.
Ending a culture in which rape is a normalised act of aggression whether within or outside of conflict; in which the victim is shamed for his or her experiences and in which responsibility lies with the individual not to be raped – rather than not to rape – is the task that is left to us. To simply say these problems exist ‘over there’ in vaguely defined conflict zones is both arrogant and ignorant. We can not ask others to look at ‘their’ problems without first looking at our own. Rape won’t stop until attitudes change. The challenge that lies ahead of us is as much an exercise in self-exploration and introspection as it is in reaching out and scaling up.
If you think that people can’t change, then you’re looking at it all wrong. Change is growth, and growth is simply learning. Of course, this highlights that the real issue is not about ‘can’t’, but ‘won’t’. Many people do not want to change, because it requires taking a look at ourselves in all our (not so glorious) glory. Added to this mix is the fact that, out of a sense of misguided superiority, we often confuse the term ‘grown up’ with ‘fully grown’. Adulthood still counts as a stage of human development, which means we have to keep moving forward, taking responsibility for ourselves, our actions and our emotions and make an effort towards living for the highest good of all.
We have to hold ourselves accountable for contributing, in however small a way, to a society that normalises sexual violence to the extent that we just had to have a global summit of 1700 delegates to highlight that this abhorrent crime actually has to stop. I appreciate it may seem hard to equate our daily lives with the bigger picture of gender violence and sexual assault, but this spoken poem explains many of the links with dignity and emotion. Please note whilst this poem focuses on female experiences of violence, the principles remain true for all victims and it does not mean to diminish the experiences of male survivors.
For everything this campaign lacks in fluffy bears and penguin chicks, I wholeheartedly believe it makes up for in dignity. I believe there is more beauty to be found in this movement than we could possibly imagine because it requires us to open up, reach out and listen. It is in allowing ourselves to show our vulnerability that we find our true strength. We will not turn away. It’s time to act.
This morning I went and did my weekly shop and was greeted by a more unwelcome sight than all the yummy things in my trolley. From the newsstand next to the till, Nigel Farage’s face gazed up at me from the front page of the Suddeutscher Zeitung along with Marine Le Pen and Geert Winders, two of his right-wing counterparts from across the Channel. I have to be honest: of all the people I’ve missed since I’ve been in Austria, Nige isn’t really one of them.
But here I am writing a blog that I’ve declared to be ‘impartial’, yet I can’t seem to quit talking about the downsides of UKIP. Is that fair? Today is World Press Freedom Day, which underlines that whilst I have the right to talk about whatever I want, however I want to, in order to give you a fair chance of making your own minds up about who could be worth voting for, you surely don’t need my clearly skewed advice (although I hope it is slightly more useful than BNP leader Nick Griffin’s cookery programme, on which his top tips included the necessity of peeling an onion before cooking it)
However, this begs the question: is impartiality in politics the same as impartiality about politicians or political parties? The purpose of politics is surely to attain the highest standard of living for the highest number of people. To ensure fairness and equality of opportunity for all, so that each person can be free to build the life he or she chooses.
Personally, I consider any extremist party a threat to that freedom. To me their policies are, by nature, exclusionary and elitist.
It may be wrong for me to then highlight particular parties and undermine them (they do a good enough job of that by themselves; drawing attention to themselves with all manner of high-profile, controversial decisions), but I find it more immoral to stay quiet on issues that affect each and every one of us in terms of how free we are to live our lives and how compassionate and tolerant we are towards people who live a different way to us.
Nobody, (except the ballot box) needs to know my views on which party might or might not do a good job.
But not one of us should be content to stay quiet when the values that we hold stand to be violated.
We live in an age of superpowers, and the EU counts as one of them. As individual nations our influence is negligible, but together we have the potential to make some pretty big waves. The best part is that we get to decide what those waves look like. I’ve never seen Star Wars so I can’t comment on Luke Skywalker’s reaction to the whole ‘Darth Vader’s my Dad’ thing, but I did see Toy Story and can report that Buzz Lightyear was none too impressed when he found out that evil Emperor Zurg was his Dad. How are we going to feel if we wake up later this month to find out that – uhoh – we’ve got pretty much the same problem? The waves that we will be responsible for might be more destructive than we had realised. Don’t underestimate their potential.
Today’s post is something I am so excited and honoured to be featuring on The E.YOU. Coming from a group of girls at Sanbach High School in Cheshire, UK, this post explains some of their ambitions and achievements so far in their campaign to abolish human trafficking. I will leave you in their very capable hands:
There are more slaves today than there have been at any other time in history. With an estimated 27 million people in slavery around the world, 946 of whom were working in Britain in 2011, our aim as the Sandbach S.L.O.T.Hs (Shine a Light On Trafficking Humans) is to abolish slavery for good. We know this is ambitious, but ambition is what drives us in all our efforts. As a group we raise awareness and money within our local community and on a national scale, we regularly organising fundraising stalls in our local area, we have managed to raise over £2000 for the Manchester based charity Hope for Justice and have recently sent letters about our work to every MP and Lord in Parliament. After receiving replies from most of the MPs and Lords to whom we wrote, we have now decided that a step forward from this is to write to the European Parliament members about the work that we do in order to draw their attention to slavery in Europe.
The money we raise goes towards the liberation of men, women and children in all types of slavery; domestic, sex trafficking and forced labour. We choose to give our money to the Manchester based charity Hope for Justice as the money we donate helps to free and rehabilitate slaves in our very country. However we are aware that Human Trafficking is a huge issue across the rest of the world, even in Europe one of the more developed continents has a worryingly high trafficking rate. In 2007 when Romania joined the EU it became easier to illegally transport people around Europe, and much closer to home, it has been reported that 700 women were trafficked into Scotland’s sex industry in that very same year.
Thanks to the empowering influence of our teacher, Miss. Maile, we have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity and support to pursue our passion. Being the only school group in the country to campaign against human trafficking, we feel privileged to be participating in pioneering work for our cause.
As young people, we believe we are in the best position to promote a campaign because of our ability to send a message to other young people in a way that will inspire them to also make a difference. We are the future generation and cannot simply sit back and wait to act while the problem grows in size and severity. For us this is the prime age to begin learning about this issue. Our knowledge can then be nurtured and used to educate others in the future and develop a wealth of expertise to combat and eradicate slavery.
Our group, of (mostly) teenage girls, are able to relate to many cases of sex trafficking as we are at the most common age of victims of this kind of slavery. This provides us with a more personal incentive to fight for the freedom of these women, as many would have lived lives similar to our own before being sold as mere commodities. We are also particularly motivated by the stories we read of trafficking victims who have been bought and sold within Britain, trafficking is an issue even in a well developed country like our own.
We will continue with our work in the hope that our efforts will encourage others around the country and Europe to join our initiative and take a stand against one of the most profitable illegal trades in the world.
By Imogen Rice-Birchall, Harriet Barker and Bethan Heath on behalf of Sandbach SLOTHS
People are having a pretty hard time connecting with Europe, especially the Brits. It’s not entirely our fault: our press has a vested interest in slating anything that happens in Brussels and our politicians all have rather loud opinions on the subject. It’s hard to find the peace and quiet to form our own opinions on the subject.
When it comes to having to make a decision on who to vote for to represent you in an organisation you know almost nothing about, the daunting prospect turns into a responsibility you’d rather ignore.
But responsibility is a very important word. At this stage of the game, we are a part of the EU and therefore we do have a responsibility – as well as the right (which should never be taken for granted) – to vote according to our conscience. UKIP numbers are on the rise and, whilst it is not my place to make sweeping judgements about any party on anybody’s behalf, just check out their rhetoric. It’s likely not something you’ll be comfortable hearing in the 21st Century.
I get that you don’t need anyone preaching to you about why you should be voting, but if you ever wonder what it is that makes it so important, check out the video I put together:
At the end of the day, the ability to vote in a fair election underpins democracy. If we don’t utilise that most basic of functions, our whole system collapses and we achieve nothing as a nation or continent.
Rosa Luxemburg (one of my favourite women in history – have a read about her!) sums it up pretty nicely:
P.S. Keep your eyes peeled: we’ll be posting lots more info in the run-up to the elections!
So here we are: just a few short months before graduation or, at least, our friends’ graduation. For those of us who have studied for an Arts degree, we may have no right to claim having an existential crisis – after all, what else have the past few years been about if not developing an insight into the (apparently always depressed and desperate) human condition and learning about how we’re actually wearing high heels because we wish we had a phallus?
Questionable theories of life aside, we’re back to a stage of wondering what to do with our lives. We’ve realised that Gap Yaahs can only teach you so much (and actually, isn’t that Tiger Temple in Thailand a serial animal rights abuser?) and the glamour of ‘finding yourself’ on an exotic island and flirting with soon-to-be strangers is predictably old-hat.
We’re searching for some kind of meaning, an opportunity to follow our inner voice and be a part of something bigger. Our middle-aged counterparts have clearly shown us that waking up with a spouse you haven’t spoken to in about a year, a corporate job in a soulless cubicle and a mortgage like a noose round your neck ain’t really the way to live. So we want out before we even get in, and we want to seize our chance to start influencing the community (be that local, national or even European) we find ourselves surrounded by, for the better.
Of course, all this is easier said on paper than put into practice. If you want to follow the calling inside of you, then you’re going to have to find the guts to do that without someone holding your hand every step of the way. But thankfully, there are some organisations who want to help you out a little bit. If you’re stuck wondering what to do with yourself, here are a few interesting places you can begin the search:
The online magazine always has tonnes of great tips about business and careers. In this article, the authors’ #1 tip is simple: talk to the people you find interesting and inspiring. Find out how they got to where they are. Then go do something about it.
In 21st Century Europe, there is no end of amazing women making a contribution to the world around them. This International Women’s Day, we have chosen to honour 5 particular stars we seriously think deserve a round of applause (and a lifetime’s supply of whatever they want!) Just wait till you read what they’ve been up to – you’ll be in complete agreement:
Humanitarianism – Fahma Mohamed
If you think you were a pretty cool 17 year old, you may want to reassess that a little once you’ve heard what Fahma’s been up to. FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) is an atrocious practice which an estimated 20,000 women and girls in the UK are at risk of. 66,000 others have already suffered it. Thanks to her tireless efforts, Fahma Mohamed has persuaded Michael Gove to take action, which involves alerting and educating school authorities, parents and pupils across the nation about the practice. Even more remarkably, thanks to her Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, said he would “spare no effort” to support her campaign. There is still more to be done, but if one brave young woman can do all this, the possibilities are endless.
Politics – Angela Merkel
Angie has a bit of a fan club in our German society at uni, but in all seriousness, she is pretty much the glue that holds the EU together. As with all politicians, there are times you’re bound to agree and disagree with what she chooses to commit to. But in terms of the impact Merkel’s voice has, which includes controlling Europe’s largest economy, she is one powerful lady and we’re glad she is there to inspire a generation of PM hopefuls. Putting a female face at the top of politics raises the game for everybody.
Environment – Polly Higgins
“What if the Earth had the right to life?”
Polly Higgins rocketed into the spotlight in 2012 thanks to her TEDx Talk in Exeter. Basically (though she puts it far more eloquently), Ms Higgins is going to save our skin, so long as you get behind her. How? With her passion and dedication, the law to prevent the destruction of the environment should be passed in no time. My words can not do this amazing woman and her mission justice. Check her out in the video below. I promise you will love her too.
Science/Technology – Ana Maiques
“V.E.P.: Vision, Execution, Passion” is this woman’s mantra, and it has served her well. Ms Maiques is the CEO and co-founder of ‘Neuroelectrics’; a business creating new products making improved ‘Brain Health’ affordable and accessible. She has just won the “European Women’s Innovators Award” and builds some pretty cool robots to boot.
Entertainment – Eleonore Pourriat
‘Majorité Opprimé’ (Oppressed Majority) went viral just a few weeks ago. Whilst the film was originally released in 2010, it really took off this year. Reversing gender roles in a satirical version of modern day France, she gets to the very heart of the “Everyday Sexism Project”, namely that we have had enough. If somehow this video has passed you by, check it out below. Or, if you’ve already seen it before, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying it again
So there you have it, a list of some of the most awesome women in Europe right now. I hope this has inspired some of you to become neuroscientists/world leaders too! Please don’t forget to tweet or share this article with your similarly wonderful and ambitious friends
When it comes to times of international crisis, you would be forgiven for imagining that the intangibles are the first to go. In the scramble to gain the strategic advantage, grand talk of common values and shared ambitions are swept majestically off the table to make way for a different kind of communication, namely one of secrecy, competition and toxic anxiety.
With fears rippling across the continent that a second Cold War might begin – or even far worse – it is hard to imagine any other mindset prevailing at such a time.
Perhaps it is so in the political boardrooms of the US and Europe, but for the people to whom this game of chess is actually a lifetime’s gamble, the precise opposite is true.
It provides us with the perfect time to mention a single, pretty audacious word – as Obama himself called it. Hope. Hope is what is driving every single nation (apart from Russia of course) to fight this tooth and nail, using only words and sanctions. Hope is what inspired the two Russia Today news anchors to speak “the truth as [they] see it”, in the blind faith that in spite of the situation around them, there are still millions who are listening to them. Not ‘hearing’. Listening. Absorbing and empathising and committing to personal change.
Hope and trust in one another is what has sustained us thus far from plummeting into what a century ago dragged us to our lowest pits of despair.
None of us can predict the future. But if the strength of spirit that the Ukrainian people have consistently shown can prevail, no outcome of political posturing or aggression will ever be able to truly control them.
The lesson we can take from this is to always put our faith in the outcome of the highest possible good for all. It is what has kept Ukrainians alive to their souls, keeping their demonstrations, their activism and their vision for their future peaceful.
There’s not a whole lot that regular folk like you and I can do at an historical crossroads such as these. One thing we can all do? Remember the power that hope has given Ukraine, and never let ourselves be prevented from achieving good because of a lack of it.
Fancy trying something new this year? We’ve put together some pancake recipes from around Europe to give you all a little inspiration.
1) You’ve got to get the basics right! This French crepe recipe will have you making great-tasting pancakes in no time: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/basic-crepes/
4) More of a savoury person? Not to worry, we’ve got it covered. This fantastic blog post talks you through some mouth-watering recipes for sophisticated and original savoury pancakes. Bored of ham and cheese? How about trying some smoked salmon, or perhaps a roquefort and rocket crepe? Inspired by the central/eastern European palacinky the author tried in Prague, these recipes are not to be missed. http://www.strudelandcream.com/2012/05/palacinky-palatschinken-or-central-european-pancakes/
5) To round off our list, we’ve decided to go for a crowd pleaser. In our humble opinion, the Nutella crepe is the emperor of all crepes. This compilation has a great variety of Nutella pancakes to try, as well as countless other to-die-for recipes. Nutella stuffed pancakes, anyone? http://hiconsumption.com/2013/08/sweet-tooth-the-15-best-nutella-recipes-ever
It is a truth universally acknowledged that politicians (especially the ones in power) are well and truly off their rockers. They lie, cheat and manipulate, take cheap shots at the opposition and remind us that Kitkats are a 100% legitimate thing to spend your expenses on (I’m actually not sure if I can bring myself to disagree on that front).
With such a viewpoint being regularly spouted by the media outlets as well as grandparents over Sunday Lunch, it’s understandable how, in our minds, we end up replacing the Prime Minister with Voldemort and his cabinet ministers with those horrid monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.
Truth is, of course, politicians are people too. This might sound like a headline from a parody campaign (call this number if you’re a politician and need someone to talk to…), but I would not be the first to remind you that the personal is political, and the political is personal. Before you jump down my throat for misappropriating this line, think about it: every single one of us, regardless of our job title/status/world domination plan, started out as people without labels; with our own hopes, dreams and fears. As we grew up, our experiences took centre stage in shaping us (our reactions to the external world, rather than an acknowledgement of who we are beneath it all), and as a direct result we sometimes let the past influence the present far more than it ought to.
If as individuals we are guilty of bringing unresolved issues to the forefront of how we deal with (seemingly unrelated) issues in the present, can you imagine how strong an impact a collective memory of unresolved issues would have? How about a whole nation’s worth?
Just as politicians aren’t inherently evil (ok, maybe a few), so Britain isn’t the inherently Europhobic/Eurosceptic place it is sometimes made out to be. In a recent article for the Telegraph, Boris Johnson pointed out that it wasn’t helping anybody to label Britain “the problem child of Europe”. Regardless of your political leanings, that’s got to make sense. Britain is not the only European nation to have its reservations about Europe.
Danish sociologist Yvonne Du Billing recently investigated Euroscepticism in Denmark and concluded that: “every country will have a different form of scepticism depending on its needs” (Danish Euroscepticism: Unique or Part of Broader Patterns? 2013). As such, a healthy dose of Euroscepticism can provide us with insight and self-awareness into what makes our nation tick, and what we need to work on in order to make us happier or feel more fulfilled.
A mirror enables us to look at what (and more importantly who) we are as individuals and as a nation. It brings into sharp relief those issues which are manifest because of an unresolved matter from the past, and enables us to strategise how we are going to get ourselves out and haul ourselves up.
In the current European financial climate, we would of course do well to proceed with caution. But even the way we handle our money comes down to very human, very personal impulses. Purchases are guided by desire and withheld by shame and self-judgement. The concept of debt – laden with all sorts of heavy feelings – is, in itself, entirely neutral.
If we can get ourselves sorted first, it will be far easier to make a decision about Europe based on balanced judgement, not guided by hidden fears we haven’t cared to investigate the reality of yet.
Europe is neither Darcy nor Wickham. It’s a group of nations trying to get along and trying to decide which way to turn next, just as we all are. Whether it is good or bad depends on what we put into it or, as it is at the moment, what we project onto it. If the Tories win the next election then by 2017, we will be making a decision on whether we’re in or out. That’s a good thing. It gives us an incentive to make up our own minds, and do our own learning about it. Until that point, the best thing we can all do is stay aware of what’s going on and make sure the decisions we make have their roots in a balanced state of mind and heart, not a misguiding fear.
A blog to bridge the gap between people and politics