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Archive for the tag “solidarity”

10 Things we’ve learnt during the Greek crisis

greek_financial_crisis__svitalskybrosFor those in Europe, the past few weeks have been a constant game of diplomatic war between Greece and the EU. With countless meetings, summits and councils convening in the course of just a month, Greece and its international creditors reached a breaking point. An irreparable rift, even if none admit to it.

The Greek crisis revealed a lot:

1) That there is no real leadership in Europe or its member states. No politician has demonstrated their worthiness of being the elected representative of the people. Not when so many have been named and shamed at how on the onset of a financial crisis they were the first to take their money out, when they are the ones who should have protected the economy and the nation state, let alone the entire union from financial collapse.

2) That politics is indeed a dirty game. We see images of EU and member state officials hugging, kissing and joking around before their “crucial” summits every couple of days, conveying a light-hearted atmosphere. Yet, two hours later, they are at each other’s throats, accusing one another of acting irrationally, unilaterally and unreasonably. The institutions (European Commission – European Central Bank – International Monetary Fund) accuse Greece of departing from the discussions abruptly and breaking off all negotiations, thus abandoning any hope of reaching a compromise. Greece accuses the institutions of blackmail and of handing them a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum for accepting within 48hours their “harsh, absurd and recessionary proposals”. All making one thing clear: that one is out to break the other in an endless tug of war.

3) That solidarity is just a word. With no meaning. No content. Ever since the financial crisis began, “solidarity” has become part of our everyday vocabulary. Everyone is calling for more solidarity. From the EU, from member states, from international partners. Everything is argued to be done “in the interest of solidarity”, yet this is hardly the case. Right now, one state is left fighting for its own survival, pitting itself against another 18 (Euro area member states), who refuse any extension of the current status quo “because there is no will on their part”. However, if after the crucial referendum on Sunday, Greece wants to discuss another bailout programme, “the door is open, in the spirit of solidarity and responsibility”.

4) That the media still has significant power as the fourth estate. Upon the announcement of a Greek referendum on the institutions’ proposals, media immediately conveyed the message that the referendum was a question of whether or not Greece would remain in the Euro. Misinformation that was reinforced and intensified over the week and came to be replicated by EU officials and member state leaders themselves, resulting in widespread fear among the Greek citizens who continue to flock to ATMs, supermarkets and gas stations in what can only be likened to a state of siege.

5) That propaganda is a politician’s greatest tool. “EU leaders urge Greek citizens to vote ‘yes’ to stay in Euro”. This is the featured headline in media around the world, as the institutions launch a last effort to sway the Greek authorities in their direction and accept their proposals. Some even talk of visiting Greece to convince voters first hand. Regardless that this would be a direct intervention into the internal politics of a sovereign member state…

6) That it is easy to say a lot but hard to act on any of it. Like Mark Twain said “action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” The Greek crisis was the issue of at least 87 meetings of European Ministers since 2010, with around a dozen Eurogroup meetings being held in the last couple of months alone. Yet they have all failed and we have reached the point where a country “on the brink of default” is striving for a last minute agreement.

7) That Europe started off as a vision of a united continent, joining its people against a common cause and demonstrating solidarity when the need arises. But today, that dream has perished with Europe appearing more divided than ever. And it is nowhere near the initial vision of its founding fathers. It revealed its ugliest side in the midst of the harshest crisis it has ever faced and continues to squabble over things its people still do not understand. As Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times states, “The current crisis is not just a reflection of the failings of the modern Greek state, it is also about the failure of a European dream of unity, peace and prosperity.

8) That Europe has come to be divided into the lenders and the indebted. Where the indebted are left with no choice other than to borrow from the lenders who profit from the former’s very need to survive. From the hundreds of billions of bailout fund received by Greece since 2010, less than 10% was invested in the country itself, as the majority was used to pay off debts. In the same context, the indebted are forced to bow down and approve every programme presented to them by the lenders as “necessary reforms for economic recovery and debt sustainability”, even if this is diminishes their living standards and would lead to their own suffering. Let alone the economic jargon that no-one other than the ruling technocratic elites comprehend.

9) That democracy is a concept that has faded in the modern world. Politicians (overuse) the term to justify actions that in essence cannot be explained. They hold meetings behind closed doors with unelected officials who are not accountable to anyone. Yet it all comes down to one thing: “a clash of democratic mandates — pitting Greek voters’ desire to ditch austerity against the voters (and taxpayers) of other EU countries, who want to see their loans repaid and are loath to let an unreformed Greece continue to benefit from EU money.

10) That instead of joining forces against a common enemy – the threat of terrorism and ISIS that is gathering like a black cloud over the region – we are instead devouring our own flesh, wrangling with each other and by ourselves destroying the very consensus we are trying to create. And as such we become a people divided – both within our continent and within our own countries. This internal strife is actually worse than any foreign enemy.

Who is #Charlie?

Darrin Bell

©DarrinBell

Since the bloody attack on Wednesday 07 January 2015 on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which resulted in the murder of 12 people, including the chief-editor and four cartoonists, a lot has emerged. The shock and horror of this action intensified in the next two days, with more murders, as the terrorists were finally killed on Friday 09 January 2015, after a police siege ended two hostage situations in Paris. The Internet is being overflooded with articles, opinions, memes, and messages of support, declaring #JeSuisCharlie, or #JeNeSuisPasCharlie, or even #JeSuisAhmed in honour of the Muslim police officer who was so ruthlessly shot by the attackers. But who really is this Charlie, and what does it all mean? Charlie Hebdo is a French satirical weekly newspaper, featuring cartoons, reports, polemics, and jokes. It describes itself as left-wing and anti-racist and is Irreverent and stridently non-conformist in tone. It first appeared as “Hara-Kiri” in 1960 and later changed its name in order to overcome the ban that was imposed in November 1970 after its cover spoofed popular press coverage of the death of former French President Charles de Gaulle, eight days after a night-club disaster that resulted in 146 dead. The new name was derived from a monthly comics magazine called Charlie Mensuel. Charlie allegedly took its name from Charlie Brown, the lead character of Peanuts – one of the comics originally published in Charlie Mensuel – and was also an inside joke about Charles de Gaulle.

Jean Jullien

©JeanJullien

Over the years, the publication has been criticized and even banned due to its controversial cartoons, particularly attacking religion. It was some of these cartoons, ridiculing the Prophet Mohammed that reportedly led to the 7 January attacks during the morning editorial meeting of the paper. It is argued that the paper is being racist, not respecting other religions and insulting the faith of a minority, which has never really ever felt welcome in France anyway. Hence the growing of the #JeNeSuisPasCharlie group. Editors are faced with a tough dilemma as to whether they should reproduce these controversial cartoons, with many uttering “what right do I have to risk the lives of my staff to make a point?

David Pope

©DavidPope

Yet, on the other hand, around the world, the debate of freedom of expression and the right to be able to say, write or paint anything is being bellowed across social media, in mainstream news, and in candle-lit staged protests in central squares and outside French embassies. #JeSuisCharlie is a message of solidarity. It is a message that the pen is more powerful than the sword. That if you are so easily affected and offended by words and cartoons, then you should think deeper about what it is that you truly believe in. In fact, cartoonists all over the world have joined their voices and pens in protesting against the attempt to silence them and declaring support to Charlie Hebdo.

Samiamidi

©AikateriniAndreou

The Charlie Hebdo attacks demonstrated to the world that no matter how technologically and socially advanced we proclaim we are, we are still very backward in our mentality. Yes, we do have to consider carefully what we say and do in order not to offend anyone, but when does that become censorship? If people are supposed to be able to freely express themselves, shouldn’t we be equally tolerable of everyone’s opinion? Was it not Voltaire who said that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”?

Patrick Chappatte

©PatrickChappatte

This is also what led to the emergence of #JeSuisAhmed. Ahmed was the 42-year old French police officer who was shot and killed on 7 January. He was a Muslim who died, fighting to defend a publication known for insulting his culture and religion. Without discrimination. Without hesitation. Because he knew, like so many Muslims who condemned the attack, that violence is not an answer to anything. In fact, by “sharpening the contradictions” that have so loudly appeared after this tragic attack, we are all feeding into the hatred, the polarization, and the atrocity. This publication, is not the only one that used cartoons to satirize political, social and religious life. In fact, people who understand the importance of humor in our lives, take it lightly and enjoy such criticisms. From Plato, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, George Orwell to Stephen Colbert, Jon Stuart and even Matt Stone and Trey Parker (South Park), satire has always been crucial to a healthy life. Because it would, supposedly, lead to a better comprehension of our life and help improve it. Reacting with extremism is the worst that could happen, because “extremism thrives on other people’s extremism and is inexorably defeated by tolerance”. Take a pen out and write something. Witness how easy and permanent it is to scribble a word, and how difficult it is to erase it. Consider what would you like to be, the pen or the eraser?

©BernardoErlich “The world has become so serious that humour is now a risky profession.”

©BernardoErlich “The world has become so serious that humour is now a risky profession.”

The story and debate that has erupted is not about satire. It is far beyond it. The violent attacks will lead to repercussions on all sides. And it is already evident at how other media, mosques and international organisations are on high security alert. Fear is taking over once again. So, we need to ensure that this demonstration of solidarity that begins by lifting a pen and raising your voice will ensue. That it will trump over the hatred and will rally behind a common cause – that of accepting difference, respecting others and committing “to defeating those hell-bent on destroying the common fabric of our society”. It is now the time more than ever to prove that we, as multicultural societies, can live together in peace. Western heads-of-state have over time urged media not to publish certain stories or cartoons even – as in the case of investigative journalist Gary Webb and Charlie Hebdo’s editor-in-chief, Stephane “Charb” Charbonnier. Both refused, no matter how precipitous developments may follow or as how offensive they might be perceived. Charb remained defiant even after al-Qaeda reportedly placed his name on an “enemies of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad” hit list. Two years ago, explaining why he continued to publish cartoons criticizing Islam, despite threats to his publication, Charb said, “I prefer to die standing than to live on my knees.Jouralism - Orwell Freedom of expression is a fundamental liberty and a right that we all so profoundly demand. But this attack was not just on journalists, it was on society as a whole, on people who dare to be different. It was a wake-up call that nothing can, or should be, taken for granted. And it was an alert that we do not live in as much a liberal world as we want it to be.

Also part of Daily Prompt: (Your thing) for Dummies

The chipmunk who needed more air

chipmunks cheeksHave you ever felt like you’re running out of air? Bobby the chipmunk did. And lately he felt so more than ever. So much in fact that he set it upon himself to save the world and do something about it.

At first he thought that it was a natural consequence of over population. So he started considering what he could do about it. But reducing the population forcefully or by any other way was not even an option. Bobby loved to have friends to play with and talk to. He would be really lonely otherwise, and he knew very well that he would not do well with that.

So he began devising a plan. Creating more oxygen seemed tricky. So his remaining option was salvaging and utilizing the existing air as efficiently as possible. He thought that he would lead by example and be an inspiration to all others. So he set off, placing his seemingly brilliant plan in motion.

The first experiment was simple. He would try to breathe in less air. But he realized that made him breathe quicker and more often and in the end, he was actually inhaling more air this way.

Next, Bobby took a paper bag. He would try breathing in slowly and hence less frequently. It appeared to be working for the first couple of inhales, but then he choked on a cookie crumb that happened to have been left inside the bag. It took a distraught and discombobulated sea gull, together with a bear to release Bobby from the cookie crumb that was suffocating him so that he could finally breathe normally again.

But that did not discourage him from continuing his quest. What if he tried holding his breath for a bit? He would estimate how long he could go on without air and portion each of his inhales accordingly. That did not end very well either, though. Soon Bobby became pale, then blue, then a bit red as his eyes almost popped out of his skull and with a face like a funny (but very weird) cartoon, as soon as he let go, he literally flew across the park, deflating like a balloon. There had to be an easier way.

When he met Gerry the giraffe – he fell onto his neck while soaring across the air – the tall animal almost fell over laughing at Bobby’s concern and plans. He did his best to assure him that the air was not going to run out any time soon, not even in their lifetime. Gerry even gathered all the animals to pledge that they would use their air supplies resourcefully and efficiently in order to allay his concerns. Tired of the unsuccessful efforts to reverse the depleting air levels, Bobby decided to recede. Every now and then though he did climb onto a tall tree, simply to feel the gush of fresh wind entering his lungs. And just in case, he had a paper bag with him – always checked for potential deadly crumbs beforehand.

The air was there, although he couldn’t see it. He just had to trust that it would still be there whenever he needed it and in however large or small quantities. Trust after all, was a fundamental component of life.

Jobless, Hopeless and Divided

Is European Labour Mobility dividing the EU?

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It’s a hard time to be young. It’s even worse if you come from the periphery of Europe. Unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, and youngsters are forced to migrate northbound for a better future. But how is this ‘great escape’ affecting the unity of the EU project?

On 9 May 1950, Robert Schuman said that Europe cannot be built in a day, but rather through events that require solidarity. Today’s European Union (EU) seems too distant from this vision. “We are doing everything in the wrong way,” says Portuguese MEP Inês Cristina Zuber (GUE/NGL), Vice President of the European Parliament’s (EP) Employment and Social Affairs Committee. She explained that the biggest problem qualified youth face today is that they are in jobs without quality contracts, no job security and no social benefits. They may even live precariously like this for years. In fact, youth unemployment has reached unprecedented levels, averaging 23% in the EU and reaching 63% in Greece, and with increasing long-term unemployment, the youth of today risk becoming the unemployable adults of tomorrow.

“We have to change these kind of labour relations,” stated Zuber, “we must create safer labour relations with guarantees and rights in order to keep people in their country. It is impossible to develop a country without these qualified people,” she said.

Her co-vice president for the EP Employment Committee, German MEP Thomas Mann (EPP), said that the EU’s Youth Employment Initiative is very important in this sense, and particularly the Youth Guarantee Scheme through which member states committed to ensure that within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education all young people up to 25 years receive a high-quality offer for a job, an apprenticeship or traineeship. But can this really work?

EURES Adviser in Cyprus Antonis Kafouros appeared pessimistic. He said that even this is targeted to specific groups, as it cannot help everyone. “Such schemes often simply serve to keep unemployment figures at a steady level,” he explained. “There is no real investment in infrastructure or job creation. Demand levels do not increase. The programme is simply adding more qualified people into the supply end. If there are no jobs in which to use the skills/experience gained then it is futile”.

The EU has earmarked €6 billion for 2014-2016 for this scheme. But even though that sounds impressive, Joachim Weidemann, head of “Insight EU” at Deutsche Presse Agentur (dpa), calculated that this amounts to a mere €500 per unemployed person per year. “In order to have the minimum effect this programme would require €21 billion,” he noted.

Giving youngsters a chance

For Mann, however, this initiative is “a small drop on a hot stone”. It is a first step to give young people a chance to become integrated into the labour force, to gain experience and have the opportunity to seek a job. Such programmes are supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) which for the 2007-2013 period amounts to some €75 billion, more than €10 billion per year.  Mann believes this would help create the conditions for young people to stay in their countries. “The decision is taken at the EU level but the realization is in the hands of member states,” he said. He stressed that the ways for southern European countries to combat increased unemployment is by changing the conditions in these countries. “They should realize reforms and this takes hard work. Some are too lazy for these reforms.” But he insisted that the best way forward is to learn from each other: “we must ask why some countries are so successful while others are waiting for money from outside.”

Qualified individuals from the periphery of Europe face more than twice as high unemployment rates than in the north and core (17.1% compared to 7.1%). Many of these seek a better future abroad. But according to a 2011 Flash Eurobarometer, 44% of EU respondents do not want to leave their country. “They are forced to go,” says Zuber, pointing out that this is not true ‘mobility’ but immigration.

“The EU is marketing its idea of Social Europe to legitimse itself before public opinion,” continued Zuber. But how the EU is actually affecting the lives of its citizens is different. “We are now living worse than our parents,” she said, reverberating EP President Martin Schulz’s statement of a lost generation. “The EU’s programmes will help the youth find jobs and traineeships, but it is not solving the problem.” She argued that a positive discrimination is required to help countries in trouble recover and develop top-quality infrastructure. “More solidarity” is needed she said.

Zuber believes that the EU must invest in these countries, otherwise the gap in development will become even greater. “There will be the countries with the know-how and the technology and then the periphery (the countries now under a Memorandum of Understanding) with the cheap labour force to work in their industries. We will create a Europe even more divergent.”

The EU’s motto is in fact united in diversity. With all the challenges and opportunities this entails. But by failing to contain this ‘brain drain’ from the periphery to the core, the situation in immigrants’ home countries deteriorates further, accentuating the division of the EU into a prosperous north and a despaired south.

Written in Brussels on 15-17 October for the European Youth Media Days (EYMD) 2013 Orange Magazine.

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