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Saturday, 22 January 2011 13:26

Turkey and the EU: a question of identity?

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Turkey’s possible membership in the EU has caused widespread discussions across Europe. Whilst there are good reasons for the EU to say “hayir” (no) to Turkish membership at the moment, saying no on the basis of cultural differences, as seems to be happening now, does not only go against fundamental European principles but will create an unprecedented distance between Turkey and the EU. 

Despite the fact that Turkey’s economy is seeing double digit growth, has a higher per capita income than Romania and Bulgaria, and ranks better in risk assessments than Italy and 10 other European states, Turkey’s democracy has still got a long way to go before it could be regarded as consolidated. On the one hand, of course, Turkey still has to deliver on many internal issues. The controversial article 301 that prohibits insulting the Turkish state has caused severe concern for press freedom. As journalists privately admit, they impose self-restraint because of fear over lengthy court cases and possible imprisonment for 5+ years. 

Additionally, human rights and rights for minorities still pose challenges. The shaky state of Turkish democracy is further underlined by the troubled opposition that could indulgently be described as divided and lacking a clear plan, as well as  the almost-ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the constitutional court over violating the secular principle of the Turkish state. If just one more judge had voted to ban the AKP, Turkey would have slipped into a crisis with an unforeseeable future for Turkish democracy.

Saturday, 15 January 2011 10:23

Mickiewicz and me

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I live in Weimar. Maybe you have heard of it. It is the town of Goethe and Schiller. The cradle of German culture and one of the numerous cradles of European culture. Every day I pass by their statue, standing sentinel on the theatre square: there they are, Schiller the dramatic, Goethe the classic, the two poet-friends, genius up above, tourist below, zoom in, click, go.

Every day I pass by trees and bushes, quiet, babbling and burbling waters behind, a gravel path around the back of the city castle, and there he is. Or rather his head in bronze, and I passed by many times before deciphering the inscription below: M-I-C-K-I-E-W-I-C-Z. Never heard of it. Later at an East Europe seminar I learnt it’s pronounced not like „Micky“, but like "Miez", the sound a German cat is said to make. Never heard of him, how could I?! The Polish Goethe! The neighbour's poet-duke! 

Born 1798 near Nowogródek (nowadays Belarus), educated in Wilna (Vilnius, nowadays Lithuania), exiled in Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Odessa and Paris with intermezzi in Berlin, Venice, Florence, Naples, and Rome, deceased in 1855 in Constantinople while raising Jewish troops for Poland against Russia under a French mandate – a magnificent specimen of European biography!

So what was his œuve a specimen of? Poland, primarily. With his magnum opus Pan Tadeusz (published 1834 in Paris) he created the national epos for the state that did not exist during his life-time. Meanwhile, his Ksiegi Narodu Polskiego i Pielgrzymstwa Polskiego ("Books of the Polish people and the Polish pilgrimage", 1832) was a unifying signpost to Polish expatriates throughout Europe, and his dramatic cycle Dziady ("Funeral ceremony", first parts 1823) was scrupulously persecuted and confiscated by the occupying powers in Poland.

But the Romanticist with an eye for the humiliated and insulted had the big picture in mind, and to him the liberation wars were a pan-European phenomenon: "Europe's situation", he wrote in 1849, "is of the kind that it is unlikely that only one people for itself could embark on the path to progress; it would risk to be destroyed and at the same time to ruin the common cause." In 1848 French professors dedicated a chair to him, "the great Mickiewicz, whose words lead the worlds together, seemed to constitute a federation between orient and occident sounding from the Collège de France to Asia".

Perhaps the mystery of the bust in Weimar lies in a chance meeting, in 1828 he passed by the then village-like capital of Weimar, a politically meaningless but culturally ambitious duchy. It is here that he met Goethe, one of the greats of German and European Culture. Maybe the two had a nice chat on the idea of a "federation of free citizens and nations", grounded in a commonly shared culture and system of values, as Mickiewicz once wrote. The Polish romanticist was one of its forerunners for sure.

Photo By Most Curious [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Friday, 14 January 2011 07:39

A time for the East

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The 1st of January, 2011. Fireworks are exploding in various stunning patterns above the European capital cities. The residents of the Old Continent are withstanding the hard frost and recalling to themselves some of the Mediterranean aspects of their common identity, as expressed by Horace in the phrase nunc est bibendum – now we must drink. Meanwhile, Hungary takes on the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Although after the signing of the Lisbon Treaty, the rotational leader of the Council has fewer political instruments, it's still a very prestigious bonus for the nation states, especially for new members. 2011 will be the year of Eastern presidencies, because Poland follows Hungary in sunny July.

What's so exciting about back-to-back presidencies for Eastern Europeans? Apart from the obvious task of "making Europe more effective and close to its citizens", the presidency is seen as a great chance to show off culture, heritage and some evidence of being a part of, and not an addition to, "the European club”.

I would argue then that leading the Old Continent is far more important for the countries of so-called "New Europe" than for those which have been seen as traditional members of the community, or rather the old concert of Empires in Europe. Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz once wrote that what makes a country European is to not be the same or like the others, but to be somewhat unique, somehow different – irreplaceable. Hungarians, for instance have no problem with that question – just listen to their astonishing language, or Liszt Ferencz’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 or, as they've arranged, simply savour the gastronomic excellence of a Hungarian lunch. Egészségédre - Bon Appétit!

But most of us from the East tend rather to try to be as much "like the others" as possible. Obviously, looking towards the solidness of the Germans, the intellectual dandiness of the French and the mature democracy of the Britons isn't that bad, but does it make Easterners full members of the community?

Presidencies create occasions to make some efforts at looking for new aspects of Europe and that "irreplaceability". But, as always when it comes to uniting Europe, the efforts cannot just be one-sided – so maybe we should begin with a short lesson in a few useful Hungarian expressions!

Monday, 10 January 2011 00:10

Can you feel it?

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A surprise task for the participants at our Hamburg workshop was to design and film an advert for E&M in 15 mins. They made a fantastic short showing each part of the magazine and its focus, ending on:  

The Sixth Sense ~ 'Can you feel it?' ~ Here's Juliane, from Copenhagen, representing Brain. 

This issue's Brain has an excellent article on freedom of speech by the way. Check it out here!  

(The Hamburg workshop was funded by the Körber Foundation and the Hertie Foundation)

NEXT ISSUE 01.07.2017