< SWITCH ME >
Central European University main entrance
A magical thing happened last week in Budapest – Europe became one notch more erratic and even less predictable. Viktor Orbán, the democratically elected leader of Hungary, in a befittingly authoritarian fashion, passed new legislation on Tuesday, April 4, reflecting its maker’s fondness of political control of science. The legal amendment was fast-tracked, with only a few hours given to lawmakers to seal the fate of academic freedom in the country. It was also tailor-made to fit the long-standing desire of the Central European University, one of Eastern Europe’s top-level universities, located in Budapest, to collect its things and beat it. Leaving behind such a gash in liberal values, that given time it can swallow Hungary, the European Union and, eventually, Uranus.
For some 20 days straight, tens of thousands of Bulgarians have taken to the streets, protesting against the newly-elected government, in office for only a month. Riots brought down the previous government in February – what has happened to make tensions mount once more?
Remember the "Agora" that took place about a month ago in Mannheim? Let us show you some of the fun, interesting and diverse topics which were covered during the event – from healthy eating habits to fighting xenophobia, from entrepreneurship and start-ups to nationalism in school books, the Agora covered a diverse range of subjects through workshops and actions. Have a look at some of them below.
You may be looking for Europe in many cities, but right now I’m reporting from the heart of Europe, currently assigned to Mannheim, from the event - - taking place between 2.-7. of April.
What is this thing called “agora”? A meeting of roughly 600-800 students from all over Europe coming together for the general assembly of the European Students’ Forum (AEGEE). Besides the internal matters included in the programme of every general assembly of any registered organization, the event includes a variety of workshop topics ranging from the origin of homophobia in sports to nationalism in Europe and living healthy. Check the blog every other day for updates.
The Agora takes place twice a year, every time in a different city, hosted by one or more local AEGEE groups. This year it is organised by the seven local groups that reside along the Rhein and Neckar rivers and takes place in Mannheim. The name of the event comes from the Greek “agora” (literally translated as “market”), where ancient Greek philosophers and proto-politicians would make their voices heard and where most of the important decisions concerning the polis were taken.
UPDATE: This story reflects the situation in Romania on Friday, 6th July 2012. President Basescu has now been suspended by Parliament and will face a referendum on the 29th of July. PNL party leader Crin Antonescu is now the president of Romania, at least temporararily. European and American leaders have expressed clear concerns about the political situation in Romania, all of which have been firmly, even rudely, dismissed by prime minister Victor Ponta. Traian Basescu started his election campaign with the theme "Threats to the justice system" and turned to the people, whom he "never lied to" (ahem..), not even when the goin' got tough. Yeah, we're still a weird country...
It may not come as a big surprise that Romania is a pretty weird country. We have more stray dogs and cats than illegal taxis, we don't like to invest in tourism despite its huge potential, and it takes about ten years to complete a highway which then needs repairs after four months. However, after recent political turmoil, Romania may become famous for something much deeper than any of this - the savagery and stupidity of its political class, the trashing of its own Constitution, and, as much of the international media has already noticed, the breach of every democratic principle out there.
In the last two months we have witnessed the impossible becoming possible. Romanians have always believed their country was a place of all possibilities, but Victor Ponta's government and the centre-left wing ruling coalition (along with every other party and politician) took this belief to the next level.
Mr Ponta, the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), was bound not to get along smoothly with President Traian Basescu, who is supported by the Democratic Liberal Party (PDL). President Traian Băsescu had designated Ponta as Prime Minister after the previous incumbant had fallen to a motion of no confidence, but the members of the PSD were hungry - they hadn't been in power since 2004 and President Basescu has done nothing but criticise their wrongdoings, while the justice system (allegedly under orders from the president) has taken many of them to court for corruption. Political vendettas, they say. On the other hand, anyone who remembers the pre-2004 period, when the PSD was in power, refers to it as the "golden age" of corruption, of threats to the freedom of the press, of total control over the justice system. This is why it's almost impossible to visualise a healthy collaboration between the two parties and this is why Romanians can't choose sides today.
The French, not the Greeks, invented today's Europe and did so through bloodshed and tragedy. Rejecting the feudal-absolutist class society, realising the ideas and values of the enlightenment, 1789 was the birth of what would become a commonly shared notion of democracy and human rights throughout Europe. Yet 1789 also proved how dramatically a supreme moral vision can turn into its opposite through its very implementation – likewise a dilemma of persistent relevance. A German poet was early in grasping that, and tried to lead France on his alternative path to democracy: Friedrich Schiller.
Friedrich Schiller lived in Weimar. This sleepy little town was never a place for revolutions. On a court building of the little duchy of Schiller's time, a bon-mot of Kurt Tucholsky now reads: "Due to bad weather conditions the German revolution took place in music." And even that was still a far cry from 1789: when in France human rights were proclaimed in the name of "liberté, égalité, fraternité" (liberty, equality and brotherhood), it would still take almost a century for any German sense of "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (unity and justice and freedom) to become reality.
At the time when the Bastille fell, many prominent intellectuals in all the German territories and duchies were enthusiastic about what was happening in neighbouring Paris. Close friends of Schiller's were among them, and he himself had been counted as one of the most progressive thinkers of the enlightenment era and an uncompromising critic of feudalist despotism. But he also seemed to be uncertain; especially when the prison's governor, who had been granted a free pardon, was murdered and his head carried through the streets of Paris. When Schiller's colleague Körner explicitly inquired about his opinion on the revolution in a letter, he left the question unanswered in his reply.
|Friedrich Schiller, 1793|
Then the French revolutionaries appointed Schiller honorary citizen of France, in acknowledgement of his novel Die Räuber. That was on the 26th of August 1792. One week later 1,500 royalist prisoners were massacred in Paris. King Louis, degraded to common citizen Louis Capet, was put in jail. Soon Maximilien de Robespierre, president of the National Assembly, would proclaim "the despotism of freedom in the struggle against tyranny", and his ally Antoine St.-Just would state: "a republic is based on the complete extermination of anything opposed to it." Now Schiller was not just unenthusiastic, he was sincerely worried.
In the early days of 1793, he seriously planned to travel to Paris and make a fiery speech in front of his new fellow citizens. His plan was to stop the execution of the imprisoned monarch by convincing the members of the National Assembly of his vision on how their revolutionary goals could become reality; that only the aesthetic education of man could create a society that could implement the ideals of enlightenment on a non-violent basis!
Abandon the guillotine, rush to the theatre, experience how the lovely and the sublime catapult your mind into a free play between reason and the senses, within a state of disinterested pleasure! Watch and behold the beautiful and become a freer, better human being!
He wrote that in 1799, and his Letters on the aesthetic education of man can be considered a bright antithesis to the bloody rebirth of European democracy in France. Instead of Tucholsky's teasing of the Germans, Schiller envisioned a revolution not in the arts but through the arts.
But Friedrich Schiller was not there to save Louis Capet. The King's head rolled on the 21st of January 1793, a "measure of welfare", as Robespierre had called it. Robespierre's own head followed on 28th of July 1794. Schiller stopped reading French newspapers because these "slaves of the brutes" disgusted him.
Still I remain curious about what Robespierre's reaction would have been had Schiller really shown up at the National Assembly. The passionate poet spoke in a strong Swabian dialect.