< SWITCH ME >
Dear Europeans. We, the editorial team of E&M, have an urgent matter to discuss with you.
E&M is an independent transnational media outlet that was created as a student project back in 2007/8 by a bunch of heady graduates that knew no boundaries in Europe. They were driven by a firm belief that an inclusive pan-European civil society, based on unbiased dialogue and freedom of expression, is possible. Over the last nine years we have been on the lookout for bits and pieces that can explain the European “psyche” through a more personal lense and we have largely succeeded. In recent months, however, we have been feeling increasingly overwhelmed by the incoming news, which have somehow stopped making sense. We are struggling with a persistent feeling of unease: at the direction Europe is taking, at the prevailing political wind globally, and with our seeming inability to find reasonable solutions. Please find below our thoughts, fears and a call for action, we would very much want you to take part in.
|Photo: GothPhil (Flickr); Licence: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0|
Another week, another selection of journalistic gems, compiled by one of E&M's editors: Frances Jackson on a modern use for ancient philosophy, remembering Srebrenica and a couple of disconcerting developments in Russia.
Frances, Diaphragm / Baby editor
A word of advice from the ancients
In the run-up to last Sunday’s unprecedented referendum, much was written about the future of Greece, not all of it, I fear, especially helpful. One article, however, that seemed to buck the trend was William Irvine’s piece for the BBC on Stoicism and its applicability to the current situation.
Reminding us that the word crisis comes from the Ancient Greek for "decide" (a point that was incidentally also made by German polymath Joseph Vogl at a discussion I went to last week in Munich), Irvine disabuses his readers of the misconception that the Stoic approach is merely that of the stiff upper lip and highlights instead its inherently practical, vigorous nature even.
Though Irvine focuses on how the Greek people might achieve a degree of control over events in their country, I suspect that we could all probably benefit from the wisdom of the Stoic school of philosophy. You never know – taking time to consider how things could be worse might actually give us some much-needed perspective on this issue and others.
Sixty students from all over the world gathered in Berlin for a week last month to discuss Europe and boost a sense of solidarity throughout the continent. Their first meeting included a focus on the current situation in Ukraine and on how it should be addressed in an European context. We are pleased to host a report by Igor Ryabinin, the German-Ukrainian student who moderated a panel discussion during that meeting.
I was born in Charkov in eastern Ukraine, grew up in Germany and currently study in Moscow. This biography might seem unusual for encounters in everyday life, but it certainly was not in the context of the first meeting of the new College of Europe in Berlin-Wannsee in October 2014.
In 1994, I emigrated from Ukraine to Germany with my parents. Their main motivation in moving away was the unstable situation and the lack of prospects in Ukraine back then. Unfortunately, even at the 20th anniversary of our emigration this year, Ukraine still remains unstable, with an unpredictable future. It was against this backdrop and in light of broad public concern about current events in Ukraine that a panel discussion was organised by the College.
Photo: Christian Diemer
Morning in Goshiv, near Ovruch, Zhytomyrs’ka region, Central Ukraine, back in 2010
Ready to get to grips with the real situation in Ukraine? E&M is launching a special series of on-the-ground reports that go far beyond the geo-political struggles that have been grabbing the headlines in Europe.
"Isn't it dangerous there?" "Mustn't it be very unpleasant at the moment?" "Why on earth Ukraine?!"
E&M author Christian Diemer regularly hears such questions when asked about his current whereabouts. And it is certainly true that Ukraine is unlikely to be topping many people's holiday destination lists any time soon. But while the conflict in Ukraine has been dominating the daily news for more than half a year and has long become a war of propaganda, the actual atmosphere and goings-on in the country remain vague and largely undifferentiated to much of the western European audience. Though not for any longer, thanks to Christian's on-the-ground reports from Ukraine, written especially for E&M’s Sixth Sense.
Christian has been working on his PhD about traditional music and national identity in Ukraine since 2012. He started travelling through the country when it was still unimaginable that the spectre of war would be seen again so close to Europe. Back then, Yanukovych was was firmly in the saddle and, despite some people’s frustration, the prospect of another revolution seemed remote.
What impact do major sporting events have on local people? Do mainstream Western media only scratch the surface when it comes to popular opinion in the former USSR? Edgar Gerrard Hughes takes a look at a project that sought to discover exactly that.
Every so often, in the midst of a European television report about sporting events in one of the successor states to the Soviet Union, a local citizen will appear on screen for a few seconds and angrily denounce Western arrogance. They are presented as the voice of the nation, and the (intended?) response of many viewers is dismissive: these are not original or authentic opinions, but rather the regurgitation of official propaganda. We all know that media freedom in Russia leaves much to be desired, so when we see a vox pop from the streets of Sochi, it is easy to assume that the speaker is simply parroting their government’s self-interested agenda.
A response like that is, of course, at best lazy and simplistic. But how can we get a more rounded sense of the domestic impact of events like the Winter Olympics when these brief news cameos are our most readily available source of popular opinion? Five participants from Berlin’s prestigious Studienkolleg programme (incidently also the birthplace of E&M), which gives young people a chance to explore Europe on their own intellectual terms, set out to provide a better answer to this question. An answer based on the experiences of people actually living in the countries in question.
There is a slow evolution in Central and Eastern European energy supply and Poland is pushing hardest to ensure that shale gas is at its centre. Rather than pursuing a policy solely of energy independence from Russia though, the pursuit of shale is also part of a broader move to cope with European Union environmental policy.
The extraction of shale gas, still a relatively controversial process that involves injecting pressurised liquid deep into ground rock is a new method in Europe. It is rapidly becoming the next capital investment for countries in the East though, who are desperately seeking to reform outdated, coal based and import reliant energy sectors. By exerting pressure within the European Union, Poland is slowly establishing the necessary conditions to use shale gas to promote growth within the constraints of the EU's climate targets.
Loosening Russia's noose
Russia's influence over much of Europe's energy is hardly disputed. In 2009, during a 22-day dispute between Ukraine and Russia, Gazprom, the Russian owned gas supplier, managed to cut supply to 18 European states. As well as wiping out Ukraine's supply, supply to Bulgaria and Moldova dropped by 100 per cent; Poland by a third, and Germany by 10 per cent, with Slovakia declaring a state of emergency as supply through the Ukrainian pipeline faltered.
The establishment of the Nord Stream pipeline, a gas link that runs directly from Russia to Germany, may have quelled fears in Berlin of any future shortages, but has heightened pressure on those transit countries cut out of the loop. Gazprom's ability to squeeze or halt supplies to Ukraine and Poland in particular, without angering its western customers, has given Russia the strongest economic leverage to use on Eastern Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Mainstream journalists are failing to recognise that the most resolute reactions to Pussy Riot's recent incarceration are originating from outside of Russia. Moreover, the majority of the Russian population disagrees with the group's actions. The chances of political change in Russia need to be placed within the context of the ongoing power of the Russian Orthodox Church within society, and we have to see today's differences from those historical events that did trigger mass revolutionary movements.
Before its protest on March 3, 2012 in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, most people had never heard of the group Pussy Riot before. They staged an illegal performance, which they called a 'punk prayer' at the altar of the tallest Christian Orthodox church to get rid of Vladimir Putin. Specifically, their protest was aimed at Putin's re-election and the Orthodox Church which continuously supported the Russian president. At the trial, Judge Marina Syrova reasoned the high sentence of two years in penal camp by elaborating how thoroughly the group planned their crime and how they activated internet bloggers to distribute their protest online. The church quickly branded the group members sinners and Vsevolod Chaplin, head of the Church's department for relations with society, accused the members of representing a campaign of 'satanic rage'. While such statements might cause laughter in many European countries, the Orthodox Church has a solid and influential role in Russian society.
Vladimir Putin has been officially inaugurated as the new President of Russia, again. But is the country he is about to lead the same as it was when he stepped away from power in 2008? How do young people in Russia perceive Putin now and what does his re-election mean for the perspectives of their country? I asked two young students from St. Petersburg to give us their opinions. Here is part two:
Konstantin Tarasov is a Phd student at the European University at St. Petersburg. His major is Russian History with particular focus on the Russian Revolution of 1917.
E&M: What do you think about the election results?
KT: I think everybody knew the results before the election. For me, the actual percentage doesn't matter. Only Putin could win. That's why the opposition wanted to demonstrate even before the announcement of the results.
E&M: Can you understand people who are upset about Putin's re-election and who raise the issue of fraud?
Vladimir Putin has been officially inaugurated as the new President of Russia, again. But is the country he is about to lead the same as it was when he stepped away from power in 2008? How do young people in Russia perceive Putin now and what does his re-election mean for the perspectives of their country? E&M asked two young students from St. Petersburg to give us their opinions in a two part series of interviews:
Oleysa Fedorenko was born in St. Petersburg in 1991. She studies both Tourism and Hotel Management and Conflict Resolution at Saint Petersburg University of Humanities and Social Sciences. She has spent time in Germany during an exchange semester at Fachhochschule Ludwigshafen.
E&M: Before and after the elections, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to show their frustration. Why do you think that was?
OF: People were angry because everyone knew they didn't vote for United Russia, they saw the fraud and it was horrible for them. In general, Russian people can be patient for some time, but when something like that happens they get a kick start and then they go to demonstrations. I think their most important demand was a re-run of the elections, but I can't say precisely.
E&M: Did you participate yourself?
In February 2011 former Latvian minister of culture, Ints Dālderis, talked with E&M about the importance of protecting the Latvian language. One year later, on the 18th of February 2012, a referendum was initiated to make Russian the second official language in Latvia. Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This article, the first in a two-part series, investigates the Latvian language question and asks whether language is a matter of identity – and a matter of conflict.
The facts and figures seem to speak a clear language: the referendum to make Russian the second official language in Latvia, initiated by the Russian movement "Native Tongue" on the 18th of February 2012, raised a high participation level of 69% and was "resoundingly" rejected by a majority of 74.8%.
Yet after the referendum it has become even more obvious that the unambiguous result is not in fact a sign of a nationwide consensus but of a strand going through Latvia's population. Many of the 62.1% ethnic Latvians in the population consider the referendum an encroachment on their country's freshly won independence, endangering "one of the most sacred foundations of the Constitution – the state language" (Latvian president Andris Bērziņš). And within the ethnically Russian part of the population, complaints about discrimination can be heard. "Over the past 20 years Russian residents of Latvia have been humiliated by the authorities, by endless attempts either to assimilate or make them second-class citizens," claims Vladimir Linderman, co-chairman of "Native Tongue." "So this is our answer."