Editorial - Confrontation

   Artwork by Oxana Hartog

 Artwork by Oxana Hartog

 

Confrontation | February #1

We might be overloaded with images and stories from conflicts that seem never-ending. We might want to disengage with the many opposing views and retreat into our own little bubble. To not see Trump’s speeches, to not hear the ideas of the other side - to stick to our own beliefs.

2016 has presented us with many changes in the political landscape and 2017 is already heading for a similar path. There seems to be fighting on all fronts: Brexit, Russia/Ukraine, Nationalism, hardening European elections, protests, women's marches and an ongoing refugee crisis. In such a political climate, it is easy to stop engaging with people who think differently from us. But that would be wrong. It is important to confront ourselves with different realities, because only through confrontation can we start to understand each other.

In this issue, we show a side of Europe that most of us have never known. Images of cars on fire, smoke rising from the streets and desperation in people’s eyes remind us of a distant past. Except it's happening right now. These images and stories are examples of little fires that have started to burn on the European continent, fueled by rising polarization and extremism. By being confronted with these images, we aim to show what happens when parts of the population feel like nobody is hearing them and they are forced to turn to more extreme measures. When other fundamentalists react to this with their own opposing views, everything turns black-and-white and there is no more space for dialogue to exist. 

We are young people who live in a Europe that has made many mistakes. Only by the means of confrontation can we start identifying these mistakes and learn from them.  

We hope you enjoy our first issue,

Are We Europe editorial team


We invite everyone to contribute to our next issue in March,
which will center around European Unity.
Be in touch through the socials below or visit our contribute page.
We welcome all feedback on this issue.
If you feel strongly about some parts, please let us know. 

 
 
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Interview | Nationalism & the PVV

 Geert Wilders hands out pepperspray |  ©   Joris van Gennip

Geert Wilders hands out pepperspray | © Joris van Gennip

 

‘Many people don't understand the PVV's core argument’

by Ellyn van Valkengoed

In 2016 Geert Wilders was convicted – but not punished – on grounds of inciting hatred. The case demonstrates how deeply polarized The Netherlands has become: some praise Wilders for being a defender of freedom of speech, others dismiss him as a racist and a populist.

But the divide isn’t new. Wilders and his PVV [Party for Freedom] entered the Dutch political scene in 2006 and have been causing controversy with their outspoken views on Islam and immigration ever since. However, this could be the first time Geert Wilders wins the largest share of the vote in a national election, begging the question: why are so many people voting for him?

Personally, I’m one of those people who didn’t see Brexit or President Trump coming. So to find an answer to my question, I met up with Patrick Jimenez Quinayas (28) at a pub in Leiden for a chat about Wilders, populism and identity politics. Patrick is a longtime PVV-supporter, activist and self-styled “radical nationalist”.

For a PVV-supporter, Patrick is a bit unusual: although he’s lived in the Netherlands for most of his life, he was born in Colombia and adopted by Dutch parents.

By day, Patrick works in advertising.  The job is a stepping stone to thinking about politics, says Patrick: “Advertising has everything to do with identity. Products have traits - like colour - that inspire emotion, associations. People are similar: when people look at someone else they have a certain pattern of thoughts about them. I say Italian, you say pizza and mafia. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Check out Joris van Gennip's photoseries on Polarization in the Netherlands

Patrick, the popularity of right-wing politicians last year took me and many others by surprise. If we believe the media, ‘angry white men’ are at the root of this movement. Why are people angry?
“We at PVV are radical nationalists. Me too, because I am not Dutch. We’re against the multicultural society. It doesn’t work; it’s not that people can’t all be friends but there is no sense of society, no cohesion. People are angry because they know it doesn’t work, they want their country back. Don’t forget that until very recently, The Netherlands was mostly a white country. In the last forty or fifty years that changed dramatically.”

PVV is not only against immigration, it’s also strongly opposed to Islam. Why?
“I’m against Islam because it is so violent. I have seen ISIS videos, I have seen decapitations, hacked off hands, everything. In the West we don’t seem to realize that the Sharia law that legitimizes such brutality is at the core of the Islamic religion, it is inseparable from Islam. Punishments like beatings and chopping off hands are common in Saudi Arabia and Iran too. If you are in favour of universal human rights, you are against Sharia law – if that’s the case, congratulations, you should be on the PVV’s side.”

“Many people – including people who support the PVV - don’t understand the PVV’s core argument, because it is something of a contradiction in terms. To protect human rights you need to limit a human right, the freedom of religion. You need to understand that point very well to be able to argue for it.”

“A lot of people support Wilders for the wrong reasons, they just happen to live in a neighborhood with lots of Moroccan immigrants and they don’t like them, because of the color of their skin or because they don’t like seeing the satellite dishes on the rooftops.”

Let’s take a step back. You said you don’t consider yourself Dutch?
“No, I was born in Colombia, I was adopted. I’m not like you - you can see I've dark skin, my face is like that of people there. This brings me to an unpleasant topic. We believe that every person has an ethnicity and that ethnicity is important: it is your blueprint. Your DNA tells you many things about yourself, even things you don’t consciously know.”

“Therefore foreigners are still foreigners, it doesn’t matter if they’re second or third or fourth generation. If you look Chinese but were born in the Netherlands, people will take one look at you and say: he’s Chinese. In the eyes of the native population that will never change.”

Why not? People adapt to new circumstances all the time.
“We don’t believe that someone can ‘become something’ they’re not. When I see these naturalization ceremonies on tv, all those foreigners receiving Dutch passports and being told they’re Dutch now – it makes me laugh, it’s an illusion. You can adapt to another country to be sure, by learning to speak the language for example. But if you go to Japan now and get a Japanese passport does that make you Japanese? You’ll still be a Dutch person in Japan.”

What do you think of Donald Trump?
“I never expected he would win. It was an almost heavenly surprise when I woke up in the morning and saw that he had won. I have been a fan of his for a long time, I read all his books. He will be a great leader because he’s doing this because he loves his country, he doesn’t care about his own popularity. All these Hollywood film stars don’t want to be seen working with him, but he doesn’t care about all that.”

“Wilders is a bit like Trump. He defends the national interest: no more globalization, we want autonomy. That’s why the PVV wants to leave the European Union. All economic interests aside, it would be very good if we left because then we could organize the country ourselves.”

Why is the nation state so important?
“The country is the best thing that can happen to a population. Your country is the most beautiful thing there is - a national flag, a national song. It makes a people strong and united, gives them an identity. Even in medieval times we had countries and it worked perfectly. But now the West has been weakened.”

Weakened how?
¨Because non-western immigrants have come to live here and they’ve been welcomed with open arms, no questions asked. The Second World War has created a holocaust trauma. That’s why you can’t be critical of other people because that’s supposedly dangerous. People could get excluded and that could lead to horrors.”

“That’s a myth, but people draw parallels between Jews then and Muslims now. You’re not allowed to say anything about Muslims because if you do then one day they’ll be put into camps and killed. That’s the kind of thing people make up.”

Godwin’s law says all debates end with somebody bringing up Hitler.
“To some extent Hitler was the perfect nationalist, until he decided to expand the Third Reich. If only he had kept his Third Reich in Germany and in Austria then that would’ve been fine with me. It was what the German people wanted, a strong Germany.”

Hitler killed a lot of people in Germany and Austria.
“That’s not really the problem, nationalism isn’t the problem here. Murdering people and invading other countries is crossing the line. A nationalistic country should respect the nationalism of other countries.”

I disagree. To me nationalism seems to imply that your country is better than other countries. If that’s the case, why shouldn’t you invade them?
“Hitler believed in race theory, that some people are superior over others. That’s dangerous because you can’t prove any of that. I don’t think it should be about race, nationalism should be about a people coming together as a national unit. You can be black and still feel Dutch, although it should be said that there are groups who can adjust to a new country better than others. Germans look more like Dutch people so it’s not as difficult for them. There is ethnic recognition between them.”

“But overall it is very difficult. I think by now it has been proven that moving large numbers of people between countries doesn’t work. Look at the French banlieues. They will never truly be part of French territory again.”

What do you think Wilders will do if he becomes prime minister?
“Realistically, I don’t expect much to change. Wilders wants to forbid the Quran, for example. I think in theory that should be possible because like Mein Kampf the Quran is discriminatory and incites to violence against unbelievers. But in practice, it’s impossible to uphold such a ban. What is Wilders going to do ... have every household searched? I have four Qurans on my shelves, too.”

“Of course, we will want to leave the EU and the rules for immigration will become stricter, but it’s not like the PVV will force people to leave the country if they don’t want to. But we could ask the immigrants if they would consider going back in exchange for a one-time payment. I think most Moroccans would be much happier in the Moroccan sun, don’t you?”

 Wilders, le Pen, Frauke Petry and more at the ENF conference in Koblenz

Wilders, le Pen, Frauke Petry and more at the ENF conference in Koblenz

You talk a lot about identity. Since you weren’t born in the Netherlands, do you think this is also because of your personal experience?
“Of course. I’m not ashamed of that. I admit I’m hopelessly divided. I’m Colombian, but I never lived there and when I go there people can tell I don’t fit in. I just have to deal with it.”

“It sounds unpleasant, but the solution is not to present people with an illusion that they could become something they’re not. Because of my history, I’m more aware of the drawbacks of globalization - when you move people around for no reason you just create an identity crisis for them. I don’t want to do that to people.”

If you could, would you turn back the clock on your own history?
“If I had a choice I would not have been Colombian, I would’ve just been Dutch. A purely economic choice, though I do like this country a lot.”

“Adoption happens with the utmost love from the Dutch parents and that’s admirable, I have so much respect for that. But I’m against the concept of adoption, because you remove a child from his natural surroundings and put him or her in a strange environment.  In the early years that doesn’t bother him but later on, when the questions come, there is nothing you can do about it.”

“I mean, it never bothered me because I don’t feel like I need to repair the damage. I’m lucky because I know my Colombian family, I know my mother. It is natural that you start to interest yourself in your own culture and country at a certain age, but I started that quest so early that I have always been and always will be myself.

But I know other boys from Colombia, and they’ve never been there and they don’t speak any Spanish – imagine, if they ever meet their mother they won’t be able to talk to her.”

------------------------------------------------

Patrick finishes his fourth beer and we step outside. The streetlights are on, glimmering on the surface of the frozen canals. I check my watch: we have been inside for three hours.

Before he leaves Patrick shows me a drawing of his alternative for Zwarte Piet [Black Pete] on his phone. Krampus, he says. Krampus looks like a Satyr from Ancient Greece, with a long tail and hair on his shins and a grinning brown face. He’s wearing purple velvet shorts just like Piet.

Patrick drew the design himself: “I’ve been showing this to everyone,” he says, “it’s the perfect solution to the debate – Zwarte Piet can’t be racist anymore if he’s a monster. But people don’t seem very interested.”

“It’s a good idea,” I tell him, “but I think Krampus might frighten the children.”

Patrick and I shake hands and I watch him set off on his bike to nearby Leiderdorp, where he lives. I walk in the opposite direction, across the bridge. I think about how neither of us comes from Leiden originally, since he and I were both born on different continents altogether. What are the odds we should have met here at all?

Read Ellyn's reflections on the End of the World

 
 
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AWE Video Pick

As most - if not all - of us know, the UK has embarked on a new political and social path in the wake of Brexit. This film aims to portray, listen to and understand the generation who has been and will continue to be the most affected by this decision. The British youth are confronted with a situation that has been driven by a decision in which they were excluded from and betrayed.

Commissioning four young directors, the brief was to interpret Lyves' track 'Darkest Hour' in any way - whether as just lyrical inspiration, documentary, short-fiction to full blown music video.

Read more here

 
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 A long hard look in the mirror: the value of confronting yourself

 source: creative commons

source: creative commons

           By Tom Wells

Taking the word literally, 2016 has been a ‘revolutionary’ year. A great and sudden shift has occurred within the Western World. I’m referring of course to the obvious rise of right-wing populism that emerged in the recent Brexit vote, as well as the American elections, and is picking up increasing momentum in many other areas of the Western world.

As someone who identifies as ‘left of centre’, up until recently it has been easy to cruise through my social spaces while blowing the trumpet of my own value system, with little care or need for self-reflection. Wherever I looked, I could find people to agree with me. Up until the great political earthquakes of 2016, I can remember almost exclusively being exposed and exposing myself to media that confirmed my worldview and the agendas that go with it. It’s not to say that I ever believed that the whole world agreed with me, but to me it seemed obvious that anything opposing my progressive, liberal world was something to silently scoff at. It was certainly not an opinion I expected many to be vocal about..and those that were vocal were most likely bigots or just simply idiots.  

It is by this memory that I am confronted.

Clearing the fog from my eyes on the dawn of 2017, I have awoken in a world where information that opposes my values is just as readily available as my own, in spite of the fact that I have not been actively seeking it out. It becomes apparent that the left-wing agenda is no longer the safe, uncontroversial stance for media outlets and corporations alike. Whereas before we saw mainstream acceptance of liberal stances - with huge multinationals engaging in marketing schemes that support progressive movements such as gay pride - this has become an increasingly risky marketing default. I’m not claiming that right-wing or even far-right agendas have not been represented in the media until recently. However, now in the mainstream media, the lines between liberal and conservative positions are becoming increasingly blurred. Instead, hard-right and nationalistic positions have become far less niche.

We in ‘The West’ are becoming bipolar.
 

It is certainly not time to abandon our principles, especially now that trends of racial and social tension are only deepening. But the smokescreen resulting from political polarization that blinded us over the course of 2016 shows no signs of dissipating. We in “The West” are becoming bipolar: many are moving away from the stable moderation and opportunity for discussion that the political centre provides. But with that comes a silver lining. It seems to me to be a bit far fetched that society has suddenly become populated by a majority of uncompromising extremists - be they the ‘racist xenophobes’ of the right or the ‘snobbish and manipulative metropolitan elites’ of the left. My suspicion is that people have sought out the safe haven of these simplified extremes in moments of personal and political desperation.

 
 Protesters of an extremist movement | Photo by Joris van Gennip

Protesters of an extremist movement | Photo by Joris van Gennip

 

One thing I’ve noticed in the wake of the rising right is that the establishment of the new hard-right is in fact a mish-mash of conflicting political opinions that have been funneled to some sort of cathartic bandwagon as this is now the path of popular voice and power. This has the very dangerous effect of watering down the nuances and complexities of our communities and each individual residing within them.

If in reading this so far you feel as hopeless as I do writing it, fear not! There is hope and there is another way. As clichéd as it may sound, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that the only answer is to listen, consider and respect others.

 
We are not fighting our political counterparts; we are fighting division itself.
 

Faced with the world as it is today we must pluralize ourselves and adopt an attitude that is beyond left and right, beyond Democrat or Republican, beyond Leave or Remain. The only way we can all emerge from our political caves is if we stop pigeonholing anybody who does not explicitly agree with us. We are not fighting our political counterparts; we are fighting division itself. If we do not create platforms for communication and debate as a society, where most if not all views are given a fair chance, we will only divide further.

In doing this we can minimize the footholds given to opportunists and populists who profit from our chaos, and who seek to represent no one and nothing but their own personal and party-political ends.

Moving forward, our best hope is if we all become open to more than a left/right (tunnel) vision of the people around us. For too long, I have taken my own values as a given, and it is now more relevant than ever to try to combat that with a more respectful and a more open-minded outlook to those who disagree with us.  

In this, the enemy is not only our own polarization. We’re also weakening the ability of our society to keep the power of its political elite under control. Simply put: the more polarized we are, the more unchecked freedom we allow to those who seek to exploit it.

In the end, we all lose out.

A debate is and can only ever be a two-way street, so, in the spirit of this, here is a new mantra for myself in 2017:

I will not automatically assume
someone’s a racist because they dislike immigration

I will debate more and argue less

I will read more than just the liberal media

I will do more and whine less

I will quit smoking (this one’s off topic, but fuck it, it’s bad for me)

Maybe this simple resolution is enough to do my part in contributing to a conversation that doesn’t make people want to scurry into the dark corners of the hard left and right, out of fear that their way of life is being threatened. For all of us who consider ourselves “moderate”, let this be our wake up call.

 
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Populist Whack-a-Mole | Eirôn | by Coen-Reinier Lap

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Biscuits And The Broad Shouldered

                                                                                                                         Picture taken by Joris van Gennip

                                                                                                                        Picture taken by Joris van Gennip

 

Biscuits And The Broad Shouldered

Toon Vos is a cultural anthropologist who is currently studying Islam and Arabic at Utrecht University. In 2016 he conducted two months of research on the Dutch chapter of the right-wing anti-Islam movement PEGIDA. By attending multiple PEGIDA rallies and demonstrations, Toon wanted to understand the motivations and history of the movement.  Not to judge or prove a point, but simply out of curiosity. 

In Biscuits And The Broad Shouldered Toon explores the world of those who call themselves “concerned citizens”, but are referred to by others as “fascists”, or worse...

Part one | How I Got Accepted Into The Group

As I walk towards the square where the protest will take place, I pass the first colonnes of riot police. They look like characters from a videogame: broad shouldered, shield-wielding, standardized and anonymous. I struggle to keep my cool by trying to keep a neutral expression and by not acting suspiciously.

From my experience in previous demonstrations I’ve learned how to stay in stealth mode by simply taking a roll of biscuits with me. Every time I feel observed, or self conscious, I take a bite of a biscuit. My face cannot flinch when I am chewing and, frankly, I look like a friendly moron when I eat.

I walk around the corner and pass a group of tough looking men, all wearing clothes that look new and clean. Later that day I would learn that they were undercover cops, affectionately called the “silent ones” by the protestors. Approaching the demonstration, I see my last hurdle in the form of a large group of riot police on horses. I begin to furiously chew on my fifth biscuit - I'm not a big fan of horses - and wonder at the same time why the mounted police’s batons are significantly longer than those of the ordinary riot police.

My lack of understanding might just be a lack of knowledge.

Finally, I arrive at my destination: a manifestation of the Dutch branch of PEGIDA, or the “Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes”, which roughly translates as the patriotic Europeans against the islamization of Europe. Founded in Dresden, Germany, the movement gained popularity and notoriety because of their harsh statements on immigration, refugees and Islam. Eventually, they spread to The Netherlands by the efforts of Edwin Wagensveld.

At a previous demonstration, two policemen stopped me to ask for identification and they searched my backpack. The fact I had long hair led them to believe I was a left-wing protester with the intent of causing trouble, they told me. Today, I’m wearing a beanie, blue jeans and old sneakers (“the hooligan outfit”, according to my roommates), leaving my backpack at home. This is just a matter of preparation, however, as I realize that if I don’t find anyone to talk with within the next minute, people will start questioning me anyway.

 

A conversation between Toon and photographer Joris van Gennip, who was also at the protest.

 

I feel that all parties involved are at least somewhat suspicious of me. The police’s job is to maintain order, and random guys like me are usually the ones who are up to no good. At the same time, the PEGIDA supporters know that their controversial “hardliner” opinions are often unappreciated by the majority of Dutch society. The possibility of a stranger causing bad publicity is something they are (understandably) wary about. Also, leftist counter-protesters saw me as a traitor (which I would find out later) for hanging with the 'wrong crowd'. I feel like walking away, but decide I’ve eaten too many biscuits to give in now.

According to authentic and ancient Dutch customs, I approach two guys and start a conversation about the surprisingly good weather. Although I feel that they are looking at me as if I’ve just escaped from the zoo, they accept my attempt at smalltalk.

Part two | How The Group Didn't Get Accepted By The Rest
And slogans there were. In between the speeches, of Dutch as well as German and Belgian activists, there is time for the verbal input of the crowd that gathered. Some of the speakers really know how to work the crowd, which results in a passionate sense of community.

The group of counter-protesters that has gathered to protest PEGIDA’s presence greatly outnumbers “us”, as we can see them wherever we look. Many of the things that are said are shocking and sometimes even revolting. At the same time, I can't help to sometimes feel connected to the group I am now suddenly part of. 

The passion and excitement I witness also make way for the enactment of their view on what free speech should be. The police is listening, but the boundaries of what is permissible are being tested. In this, the attendees seem to use their space for protest as an opportunity to propagate their views, as well as to finally utter them in public, within a society that doesn’t really tolerate their opinions.

I often feel conflicted, because I'm trying not to judge the things that are being said. Some things I perceive as lies, others as blatant racism. On the other hand, this is the information I am looking for and several points they make I can understand, such as their distrust in politics and their frustration about the economic crisis.

We are still trapped on our island of free speech.

Throughout my research, I came to realize that the very group that flocks towards politicians as Geert Wilders, had often taken the beating for the rest of society. “The people who live at Wittevrouwen (an upper middle class neighborhood in the center of Utrecht) who are able to buy ecological food aren’t the ones who have to worry about losing their jobs, or being confronted with the problems faced by people in the poorer neighborhoods, are they?” Henk asks me in a rhetorical fashion.

Once the official part of the protest ends, we are still trapped on our island of free speech, camaraderie and an overdose of make-the-Netherlands-great-again sentiment. The ocean of people around us do not appreciate this and aren't planning on going anywhere. PEGIDA claims its right to use public space to express their views. This symbolic patch of land has been the stage on which two core aspects of democracy, freedom of speech and the right to protest, are being carried out.

  Opponents of Pegida gather around the demonstration - Picture taken by Joris van Gennip

Opponents of Pegida gather around the demonstration - Picture taken by Joris van Gennip

At the same time, this freedom of speech and right to protest has lead to us being imprisoned in public space. Since we have nowhere to go, we complain about the intolerance of the left and ask ourselves if we are actually in danger.

We smoke cigarettes and joke around. We engage in more smalltalk and meet new people, until our way out is finally orchestrated by the city of Amsterdam. Boats in the form of city buses are assigned to free us from our island. As we are being huddled in like cattle, we are finally able to escape the angry crowd. While we are leaving, counter-protesters are banging on the windows and explaining us we are Nazis that should “fuck off”.

When I look at my peers, I see a determined look in their eyes. The very fact they are being scolded makes their presence more valuable to themselves and to each other. They are speaking up on behalf of a part of the Dutch citizens and are thereby putting themselves in danger. In doing so, their cause becomes more urgent. For them, the future of themselves, their families and the Netherlands is on the line.

When I arrive home, a Syrian friend of my roommate, who fled his country 2 years before, is cooking for the both of them. “Do you want to eat with us?” he asks me, “I can make more.”

           
CONTRIBUTE TO THE NEXT ISSUE

 
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Interview with Maxim Dondyuk

by Mick ter Reehorst

Check his photoseries here

With its visceral and visual clashes of police and protesters, the images of the 2013 revolution in Ukraine are difficult to forget. Over the course of the next years, the civil war in Eastern Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea left deep scars in the country. Maxim Dondyuk, from Ukraine himself, photographed the EuroMaidan revolution and documented child soldier camps and tuberculosis in Crimea. Are We Europe sat down with him and his wife, Irina, to discuss their work together as well as Maxim’s experience as a photographer on the front line.

People didn’t live in Russia, but they lived in the Soviet Union, they remember how it was, it’s a dream about being young again, about going back to the way things were."
 

Maxim is 30 years old, has a long beard and tattoos. He’s restless, sympathetic and passionate. He and his wife Irina are staying at the artist-in-residence housing in central Paris for a few months. What is perhaps the most striking about his photos is the scale of the clashes he captures. Just as he says himself: they look like epic historical battles.

After I was in Ukraine for 2 weeks, I opened my eyes. I forgot about the real situation and started to see it like another world." When I ask him how it felt to stand so close to the protesters and to actually be there, surrounded by flying Molotov cocktails, he quickly stands up, pretends to have a camera in front of his face and clicks away. “I tried before to take pictures this close. But in Maidan I started to take in the whole scene, with those hundreds of people. It was very hard not to create a picture or painting."

He is silent for a while, then says “I don’t believe, I don’t believe, I don’t believe, I don’t believe," while still holding the camera in front of his face.

He tells me there were in total about 200 photographers, with 20 photographers right next to him most of the time. All with big lenses, snapping away mostly at people’s faces.

But I was just thinking about stories. I kind of lost my mind and only saw battles, legends and I tried to put what I saw in the camera, in the frame. I wanted to put my emotion in the frame. It didn’t matter what happened, it was not the Ukrainian revolution anymore. For me the legends just continued.” 

 

Battles and Legends

The legend’s spell broke with a bang. A grenade exploded nearby and a shard shot into his left leg two days after he got there. He touches his leg and says, “at first, I didn’t even feel it. And then my leg really started to hurt and my friends took me to a hospital. It was a 40-minute operation - they took out the shard."

The next day, all bandaged up, he slumped his way between the protesters again. He reenacts this for me, limping his leg and pretending to climb barricades and dodge Molotovs. “I couldn’t, I could not not go. I needed to go, go, go.” His sentences are short and active, with his English sometimes failing him, yet it doesn’t take away from his powerful acting. Now Irina steps in, having mostly listened to him  and occasionally helped him with translating. “It was good, because after he was wounded, it was more peaceful. He could rest for a few days."

We drink our coffee and look out over Paris for some time. We even talk about the weather, the beautiful buildings and the things they’ve done and seen here. But then Maxim takes us back to the battleground.

“It wasn’t all as dangerous as what people think about it. But sometimes protesters threw grenades next to me and in other situations, police officers helped me. It was a crazy situation. Some policemen were crazy though."

"In every life, every culture,
some people are bad and you can really see that in protests."

Suddenly we are back and right in between the protesters and the police, with Molotov cocktails flying over. He whistles a wooooo" sound, like a falling bomb. This is not a place where you can be without any risks. “You need to feel the situation," he says.  "Sometimes young people just go and think ‘I’m young and a journalist’. You need to have experience; think about it. Can I run and snap, or not?

He keeps on standing up from his seat, producing comical movie sounds while acting out the intensity of the protest, waving his arms, moving up and down in his char. But his photos tell the story even better. The violence, the clashes - they truly are spectacular images.

But amidst the waterfall of words, he says something I didn't expect.

“I was very happy. The revolution was so sad, but sometimes it was so beautiful. Sometimes, if you forget about what happened, it was better than a movie. It was such an unreal situation."

 
 

The Battle - Good vs. Evil

He continued talking about legendary battles, the good versus evil look-and-feel of it. Did he feel like it was Russia vs. Europe?

With this project I didn’t really think about Russia being evil. EuroMaidan was not necessarily anti-Russian. But afterwards people started to understand that Russian media create another reality. There were more than half a million people at the Maidan square, but Russian television always talked about 200 radicals.”

He goes on to give some historical context, and comes back to the Crimean annexation. ”After Crimea, Russia was evil for me." So I asked him again, especially since his series is named Culture of Confrontation. “No, it’s not between Europe and Russia. It’s between two cultures. Two cultures that want a change in life. One doesn’t want to be like Europe, they just want to live without corruption. The other one is not about Russia, it’s about their dream about the Soviet Union."

East and West Ukraine are completely different countries, he says. Kiev is mixed, sure, but if you go to the East, it’s like a complete mirror of the West. And with a lot of excited hand gestures, Maxim talks about his own very early memories of the Soviet Union, and mirrors it with his travels through Europe. “People didn’t live in Russia, but they lived in the Soviet Union, they remember how it was, it’s a dream about being young again, about going back to the way things were."

Tuberculosis and child soldiers

Something else that you'd think was a thing from the past is tuberculosis. But Maxim shot a compelling photoseries about tuberculosis in Crimea. The government in Crimea was not very cooperative, but he kept pushing, until a director of a hospital gave him permission to take pictures. He tells me how he spent 3 months in Sebastopol and comes back to something he only briefly mentioned before: Crimea Sich - a military training camp for children between 7 and 16, situated in the Crimean Mountains. “I kept coming back to Crimea, spending one year taking pictures there. Then I started to think about a documentary movie, which is better for storytelling than pictures." 

His brother, a young Ukrainian filmmaker, convinced him to go back again and shoot in the mountains. “I lost 7 kg per two weeks climbing mountains, with my gear. It was intense." He pants heavily, reenacting the scene. “We climbed mountains with the cameras. It was so good, so beautiful, but also pretty crazy." One of his filmmaker friends from Europe told him he is crazy. And as if he agrees, he repeats the word multiple times: "crazy, crazy ... crazy."

Maxim and his brother came back with over 40 hours of footage of child soldiers from Ukraine, from Russia and Moldova. He tried to kickstart the documentary, but couldn't get the money together. According to him, there are not enough rich people in Ukraine. 

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Finally, I ask him if he’s looking forward to going back to Ukraine in December. He is silent for ten seconds, coughs a few times and then says solemnly “It’s a very, very sensitive question. Unfortunately, in the Ukrainian situation, not a lot has changed. The old system is still in place. Old politics, old people who don’t want change. It might be better after 10 or 20 years”.

When I am almost ready to go, he suddenly asks me about what I thought about him, his photos, his English. I give him some compliments, and I mean them, but he doesn’t really seem to register it.

Then he says, “I don’t like a system or any structure. I’m just a person that lives on this planet. Why do people start a war? I have friends in Russia, and they are very good. I don’t have problems with Russians, with the government, with people who believe propaganda. In Europe it’s the same, people watch TV and just believe that. It’s about the Ukrainian revolution and you try to help people understand, but not everyone understands. It’s still a war that’s going on. A war between cultures.”

Check out his photoseries here and more of Maxim's work here

 
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The End of the World Bookclub

 Reflections on Brexit

Reflections on Brexit

The End of the World Bookclub

Reflections and thoughts - by Ellyn van Valkengoed

Your brother believes the world could end soon, that one day we will wake up and see nothing and hear no one and find our cities stretched out before us, wastelands. He is preparing himself, chopping wood, learning which plants grow best from English river soil. No more Asda, but a pear tree sprouting from ruins. The screaming of birds in the tinned soup aisle. One man and his white dog against the world.

How this vision comes to be reality isn’t really clear - Russia, or a pandemic, or The Bomb, or the next crash on Wall Street - but it doesn't matter. The end of the world is something to talk about when I come over, during ad breaks between episodes of The Great British Bake Off. Have you read The Year of the Flood? Have you read Earth Abides? Have you read The Road?

"Is that a Dutch book?," he asks me. I don't think the Dutch ever wrote much about the end of time – maybe we lack imagination. Maybe it's something to do with our collective history of almost-drownings, the dams breaking and finding ourselves eight feet below sea level.

Unlike your brother, I probably wouldn’t make it three days past the collapse of civilization. Nevertheless, there’s something romantic about the idea. If there are no countries, borders no longer matter. Tipping back our heads, we might see stars.

But of course the books we read represent fear too.

In The Road, there is one scene that frightens me the most. A man and his young son are walking across America looking for food and a safe haven, after some unnamed disaster has blanketed the world in ash. When the pair finally makes it to the far shore, they spot a luxury sailing yacht washed up and tipped over onto its side like a whale's carcass.

In the hope of finding preserved foods on board, the father strips naked and swims through the freezing water to get to the boat. He enters the ship “half expecting some horror but there was none”, just the dark and the cold and the mattresses floating in the cabin, sopping wet. As he searches, the tide is coming in: whenever he tries to stand up in the half-submerged cabin, the deck rolls away from beneath his feet.

These days I feel the same, as if the world is slipping away from me. When I look out the window the horizon is all tilted and wrong. There’s nothing much I can do about it but wait, powerless, for the tide to change.

I’m not the only one who’s afraid, either. Evan Osnos of The New Yorker recently wrote about Silicon Valley millionaires arming themselves against doomsday. Motor cycles (to weave through traffic jams in an emergency) and canned foods are for newbies: those who take the end of the world seriously buy remote islands or build underground bunkers in California, not even a hundred miles from the building site of President Trump's Great Wall.

Women marching against Trump in the US and in Canada carried signs that read 'Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again'. Atwood is famous for her dystopian visions: her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is about a dictator who tries to control women’s reproductive rights – who gives birth, when and to whom. Sounds familiar?

Reading about both movements I realized something else: everyone's end of the world looks a little different. Tech CEOs fear an electricity blackout and that half of their employees strand at the border. Those in low places know the polar ice is melting. Fear is a shapeshifter, it lives in the womb and in the belly and how can anyone be wrong? It's the end of our world and we can't hear a word you're saying over the roar of the flames.

* * *

Read Ellyn's Brexit article here

When I visit Britain now, I sometimes see scenes from these novels in the streets – nothing dramatic, just small details. Wandering with you through Ipswich on the mouth of the river Orwell, a sailing ship waving back and forth below a grey sky.

Hollowed out warehouses, paint peeling and the windows shattered. There’s an office for general iron mongers whose tools no one has used since 1837. The red phone booth you see on postcards is still here but the cord dangles uselessly from its hook, the phone itself stripped of its wires and gone.

The bookstore is in the basement of a former hotel built from limestone. They sell Cadbury’s chocolate buttons and the Harry Potter 2017 calendar, and DVDs about trains, and even some books. The shoppers don’t meet my eye. In the market square outside, old men in tweed jackets buy pumpkins and haggle over the price with a man who speaks English with an Eastern European accent.

Now I understand Brexit better, I think. It’s the ship, the motorcycle, the get-out-of-jail free-card. It’s a chance to turn the page and shine in another story. It’s fiction.

You pause and rest in the shade underneath a bridge. The reflection of the sun in the water ripples on the bridge’s concrete underside, highlighting purple and silver graffiti and the dripping moss. You look up at me and smile.

I think of your brother with the black soil under his fingernails and also of my brother, his eye pressed to the lens of a telescope. He points out Jupiter to me, we're both wearing rubber boots in our parents’ garden and we say how small we are and how, anyway, nothing lasts.

Why I read: to escape from everyday life, certainly, but also to believe in another sort of truth. That ideas and individuals come and go, history moves on, and nothing is ever really the end. There’s only one constant in fiction: the people, who – most of them, most of the time -  turn out to be better than what we expected. Other writers have said this better than I can. Cormac McCarthy – who also wrote the terrifying Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men – writes in The Road:

"He rose and walked out and stood barefoot in the sand and watched the pale surf appear all down the shore and roll and crash and darken again. When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said that if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different."

Read Ellyn's article on Trump's election here

all photos were taken by Ellyn van Valkengoed

 
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Violent Protests & Extremism | Joris van Gennip & Toon Vos 

 

Exactly a year ago Amsterdam witnessed an unexpectedly violent demonstration of the anti-islam, far-right movement Pegida. 

Are We Europe got  cultural anthropologist Toon Vos and photographer Joris van Gennip together. They were both present at the demonstration and shared their own personal experiences with us.

Joris also published photo series about polarization in the Netherlands and about a refugee camp on the Greek island of Chios. Toon wrote an article about his experiences for us that reads like a novel. 

 
 
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The Sunny Side of the Facebook bubble

 Source: creative commons

Source: creative commons

Related article: Confronting Myself

The Sunny Side of the Facebook Bubble

By Werner van Rossum

Ever since the outcome of the United States’ 2016 election, my attention has been drawn to a new concept introduced by news programs and other political media: they call it the filter bubble. Because of the filter bubble, we become blind to many aspects of society as it is, and so it could happen that we were suddenly confronted with the real world. Trump won the election, Brexit happened, right-wing populism in Europe is on the rise, etcetera. The first time I heard about the term myself was while watching The Daily Show, but this was probably not the first mention of the term, which has become a very popular topic of analysis and debate over the last few months.

Filter bubble-blindness is a result of two things: firstly, an algorithm personalizes everyone’s Facebook feed and Google search results on the basis of their prior Internet activities, likes, and clicks. Secondly, Facebook is rapidly becoming the most popular place for people to consume their news: it is estimated that about 62% of Americans get their information about the world from their newsfeed. With these characteristics combined, the filter algorithm re-enforces every Facebook user’s pre-existing beliefs, and so creates a very biased view of the world as a whole: because of the creations of Mark Zuckerberg and friends, our worldview becomes one-dimensional and polarized. Also, their effect seems to be virtually inescapable if you’re an active Internet user. And this would be a problem for any political endeavor, as it would be misinformed and one-sided, making political debate polarized and antagonistic instead of cooperative. 

I’ve been thinking about a way to view this whole thing differently. And so, today I would like to present the result: I argue that the filter bubble can actually be very helpful as a detection tool for our own preconceptions. Given that preconceptions and colored world views are inescapable side effects of being human, we should embrace the Facebook bubble as a “cartoon version” of our own preconceptions that, similar to a cartoon, amplifies our most prominent features and tendencies to an extreme: when dealt with properly, I think it could help us be more nuanced, more self-reflective and more politically communicative.

You’re in the bubble, whether you like it or not

So, the word “bubble” has been used to describe the Facebook algorithm effect: there is a computer program at work that decides which posts make it to your personal news feed: once you click on a thing about cats, the algorithm will make sure you receive more posts about cats, as well as other posts from the same source as where the cats came from. At the same time, you will receive less from everything else.

Applied to politics, once you start to read and like news sources that have a particular agenda, you will receive more news following the same agenda, and the multiplicity of sources will make it seem as if “this is what the world looks like.”

 source: creative commons

source: creative commons


Some experiments have been carried out done between liberals and conservatives, for example by swapping news feeds, and they could not believe the difference between their worlds. Instead of just having an opinion, everyone now has an opinion that is enforced by all the news sources they access and all their friends’ posts. On Facebook, you’re basically in a self-confirming feedback loop of your own beliefs.

However, the word “bubble” is not exclusively Internet-related: it can be used to describe any insulated system of beliefs. This doesn’t just happen on Facebook. The inescapability of having a viewpoint that pretty much determines what you’ll see, what you notice, and what you ignore, is a fundamental point of postmodernist philosophy. Indeed, Nietzsche was on to something when he famously wrote: “There are no facts, only interpretations.” In more recent times, researchers have discovered a psychological concept called the confirmation bias: we’re more inclined to believe the sort of things that validate what we want to believe. This bias is of course one of the reasons the Facebook newsfeed is so effective. Of course, all this doesn’t mean our worldviews don’t change. It just means that we live among other people and are not as autonomous and rational in our beliefs as we might think we are (especially if we are Enlightenment-inspired, analytical philosophers).

The usefulness of our Facebook feeds

But hey: have you noticed how one-dimensional, over the top, simple, repetitive, and basically dumb the algorithm determining your news feed is? To me it seems that it only acts directly on the first association, recommending me news articles about the thing I have just read an article about; it gives me every single one of my friends’ posts containing the word “gender” because I hovered over one those articles slightly longer; it suddenly chooses to only show me pages about home electronics, simply because I googled about a vacuum cleaner once.

On political subjects it seems to provide a cartoon portrait of my own preconceptions: in the same way a cartoon artist would disproportionately enlarge my nose or chin and reduce the size of my eyes, the Facebook feed amplifies my moderate convictions to grotesque extremes I no longer identify with.

However, in the same way that I would react to the cartoon artist - where I would have to admit that, indeed, my eyes are slightly smaller than is common - the Facebook feed indicates which tendencies I have in terms of conviction, “where my beliefs are going to lead to”, taken to extremes. However, there is of course a difference. I’ll have to live with the face I was born with; beliefs I can change consciously, and tendencies I can work on.

Viewed this way, my Facebook feed can help me direct attention to certain aspects of myself. It doesn’t necessarily help me in a direct sense, but it forces me to self-reflect and make up my mind: these feminist posts are starting to sound quite aggressive, and do I really have 9/11-truther-like tendencies, as this conspiracy theory-article just popped up? 

In this sense, Facebook provides us with a detection mechanism. It’s a constant and tangible reminder of our own preconceptions. The algorithms that are at work are not subtle or ‘intelligent’ in the sense that you don’t notice them at work. In fact, their effects are very obvious, and so they draw our attention to what we like and think, often in a more exaggerated way than we perceive ourselves to be. This dissonance between our ‘real’ conceptions and the cartoonish Facebook version of them can be very helpful in making our own inclinations and preconceptions visible and tangible, and through that, making them object of analysis and change. They facilitate self-criticism in a new way. 

 source: creative commons

source: creative commons

 

We have to be willing to confront ourselves, too

I started this article promising that the Facebook newsfeed would help us be more nuanced, more self-reflective and more politically communicative. Of course it will not do so by itself: the blindness described in all informational videos about the bubble is real, and Trump did become the president of the United States. It means we’ll have to work for it. In my opinion, it is important to always be aware of two things:

1. When we are on Facebook, WE are on Facebook: what we see is not the world, but ourselves.

2. We will always, inevitably, be biased, no matter how hard we try. In fact, the conviction of not being biased is probably the worst of them all.

In short: we will have to be eager to grow, learn, listen, and take positive action while at the same time willing to confront ourselves with our own biases and misinformed convictions. Of course this is not an easy task. But judging from the fact that this article made it to your news feed, I think we might have a shot.
 

 

               ||  Keep exploring our Confrontation issue by clicking on content below  ||

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They came, they campaigned, they conquered:
the politics of fear

                                                          Source: Pixabay

                                                         Source: Pixabay

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Brexit. What happened last June in the United Kingdom? Why did it happen? But maybe most importantly: should we care?

by Julia Muller

Looking back now at the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign leaflet, I giggle nervously. Not because I do not take European politics - or the rejection thereof - seriously, but because reading the outline arguments make me instinctively uncomfortable. My giggling is a natural coping mechanism, something I cannot control. Without consciously processing the information in front of me, my brain has already physically and emotionally responded. This makes me wonder to what extent these instinctive emotions influence all of our political preferences and voting behavior. If voting is an emotional business, how does this dictate the way that campaigns are organized and political support is mobilized?

It’s high time to evaluate the influence of psychological mechanisms that seem to motivate many of leaders’ and followers’ political decisions.

So let me break down the Leave campaign’s pamphlet for you:   

This is dangerous.

We need to take back control of our borders so we decide who can come here – and who can’t.

The EU Court means we can’t stop violent convicted criminals coming here from Europe.

The EU Court also stops us from deporting dangerous terror suspects.

We can’t take the risk of voting to stay.

Voting to stay in the EU is a threat to our jobs and our security.

Great Britain is a great country.

We love Europe – the problem is the EU.

When talking about intergroup relations, we need to address intergroup conflict; simply said, a conflict between two or more different groups of people. A conflict erupts when one of the groups, the ‘ingroup’, perceives one or more threats from the other group, the ‘outgroup’. These threats vary from very real, measurable threats such as economic losses, to more symbolic threats that pose potential danger to the group’s culture. Both categories threaten a society in its existence and thus need to be eliminated. That’s why the perception of threats is considered one of the most powerful instigators of violent intergroup conflict; it inspires hostile attitudes, like prejudice, intolerance, and xenophobia.

 source: creative commons

source: creative commons

Now, the ways in which we perceive threats is driven by complicated cognitive processes. However, we can evaluate the effect of emotions of threat perceptions as follows; emotions such as fear and anxiety have the ability to limit or modify our perceptions. When making sense of the world around us, we are ‘helped’ by our emotions. Yet, these emotions may cause us to react disproportionately to what we think threatens us, thereby forcing us to resort to measures we feel are necessary to eliminate the threat. In other words, in situations of perceived threat, fear will enhance our feelings of danger and risk, thereby affecting the way we respond to these threats.

In the end, people tend to expect the worst possible scenario.
This is what is called the ‘Politics of Fear’

Political Science tends to overlook emotions as valid instigators of political decision-making, considering them a subversion of rationality. Yet, if we want to understand the success of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign and other rightwing political strategies, we need to disregard rationality for a moment and understand the story that these parties are telling their audiences. As the quotes from the leaflet above show, the campaign communicates in clear ‘us’ against ‘them’ terms; "our borders need to be protected against them". The forming of people into groups - emphasizing differences with the outgroup while idealizing ingroup similarities and establishing that the two groups have incompatible goals - is a polarizing affair in itself. Although the culprit ‘them’ often differentiates between the EU and immigrants or supposed terrorists, the mere categorizing of people into an in- and an outgroup creates further polarization. And so we feel threatened by the influx of ‘strangers’, losing our jobs, losing our national autonomy to Brussels and losing our traditions. These threats are directly fueled by the polarizing effect of fear. In the end, people tend to expect the worst possible scenario. This is what is called the ‘Politics of Fear’.

‘Dangerous’, ‘control’, ‘risk’, ‘criminals’, ‘threats’: the words used by the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign are extremely effective in polarizing millions of people. A very ‘real’ danger is implied without concretely specifying who poses this danger and what they will actually do. At the same time, the unity of the ingroup is emphasized; ‘we’ - whoever that may be - need to stick together to battle these threats. The Leave Campaign introduces an obvious competition between the two groups; a competition over a limited amount of jobs in the UK, a competition over political control and a competition over British culture.

People’s need for protection increases at the same rate as the seriousness of the threat they perceive. It makes sense; they need someone to protect them from all the dangers they think they face. Rightwing parties play with this fear and welcome these scared voters with open arms. Basically, the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign raises the stakes: desperate needs lead to desperate deeds. Understanding this is crucial in understanding people’s motivations to support rightwing populism. Not only do rightwing polarizing strategies influence populations in their political preferences, their tactics change the entire political arena. You cannot compare cheese to chalk, so to say.

Nationalist narratives can be battled with European or even global narratives, but only if they are conveyed in the same language: the language of emotions.

Instead, political parties throughout Western Europe should respond to the fears that have already been instigated. It’s too late now to tell people: ‘hey, it’s okay, your fears are not real, immigrants won’t steal your jobs, the apocalypse isn’t actually coming.’ Nationalist narratives can be battled with European or even global narratives, but only if they are conveyed in the same language: the language of emotions. Factual information will not win people’s hearts and minds. Narratives of a common European past and culture, visual symbols of unity, such as a European anthem, the so-called dangers of an isolated state and references to our violent historical relationship with charismatic leaders might do the job.

Brexit could well be European liberal politics’ desperately needed wake-up call. Stop snoozing and do something!

 
 
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AWE Video Pick

Cameraman Olivier Sarbil makes no use of a narrator in his work, but War in Europe tells a story nonetheless. From a family holding each other close to the lasting sounds of machine guns, from pink ballerinas to the burial of a fallen soldier - the daily reality of eastern Ukraine is one of paradoxes. 

A new ceasefire offered little respite to the war-weary locals as fighting raged on in eastern Ukraine.

Olivier Sarbil was nominated for the Royal Television Society Camera Operator of the Year Award and for the Rory Peck Award for News for his work in eastern Ukraine.

 
 
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A Kick in the Nuts

 
 

52: The New Feminist Collective That Will Kick You In The Nuts

by Lara Bullens

In 2017, a kiss with a fist is better than none. Elections in Germany, the Netherlands and France have opened a window of opportunity for bottom-up initiatives to finally bare their teeth. In France, the newest feminist collective “52” is already proving to be a real kick in the nuts, and they are not afraid to confront France’s sexist malaises.

Just like that, I had walked straight into the lion’s den. Thinking I would interview one or two members of Paris’ newest feminist collective, I actually found myself in the dimly-lit smoking room of La Colonie amid a group of smiling women. Sophie extended her hand and I smiled awkwardly at her fishnet tights, disguising my curiosity. I sat down and introduced myself, trying to re-adjust my expectations. “Thank you for coming, ladies, let’s wait until the rest arrive and then I can formally introduce our project to you all, ” Sophie announced, taking the role as prowess of this pride.

If you haven’t heard of 52 yet, you will soon. The group has a core of about 25 leaders, with about 540 loyal members on their private Facebook group. Tired of “feminism being asleep in France,” the collective has decided to take action. On the night before January 11th, which marks the start of the winter sales in the country, the group paraded the streets of Paris, Lyon and Marseille pasting posters showing some alarming statistics. Typical sales lingo like “jackpot” and “special offer,” as well as references to abortion, the under-representation of women in parliament, a lack of parity in the workplace and the fact that women are responsible for 85% of the purchases in stores in France decorated the posters.

  “85% of purchases are made by women. We are the economic force.” © 52

“85% of purchases are made by women. We are the economic force.” © 52

Their use of statistics is a way of resisting the post-truth cloud that looms over politics today. Rather than appealing to emotions, 52 uses numbers because “when you see the numbers, you change your attitude.” These figures become a tool that women can use to counteract a conservative and often macho rhetoric, using numbers rather than emotions to speak to the general public. Choosing a statistic as a name is a bow to intersectional feminism, a way to show the world that, yes, it is possible.

They chose this particular night because women make 85% of all purchases in France, meaning their first effort made a lot of noise. “Women earn less, yet they buy more,” Sophie says. “I mean, just look at the way shops are laid out. How many times have you walked into a store and realised that the whole first floor is geared towards women? The cosmetics section, the clothes section, the household section… it goes on and on.”

Sophie continued her keynote speech effortlessly, lacing together women’s issues that belong to wildly different topics. Everyone was watching intently, not afraid of interrupting and asking for clarification or sharing their own stories. There was Solène, an ex-FEMEN member concerned with how to reinforce feminism on a day-to-day basis; Alice, a graphic designer and teacher who was a strong advocate of education and its role in eradicating sexism; Mégane, who works for a recruitment agency that solely hires female actors in an industry that relentlessly prioritises men; and Carrie, a waitress and high-end escort. Regardless of their differences, everyone was there for two common causes: solidarity and empowerment.

In choosing empowerment as their core goal, they move away from inequality. With hashtags like #WeAre52 and #WeArePowerful, the vocabulary of 52 shifts from negative opposition to positive revolution. However, a backlash of comments on their Facebook posts shows that  many people disagree with the use of the word ‘powerful’. One person wrote: “Claiming power? Why can’t we just live together? What’s up with this frenzy of power feminism that I see everywhere, feminist women that are worse than these macho douchebags… The term feminist creates an instant differentiation between people. Why can’t we be humanists?”

When I asked the group about what they thought of this, Sophie immediately retorted by saying “laisse pisser”. “Forget about these comments. Power has been part of men’s  vocabulary for far too long. Women right now need to hear they are powerful in order to reinforce their emancipation, because feminism can often be isolating. We’ve seen this happen with hip-hop, so let’s see it happen elsewhere.”

Two hours later the conversations showed no signs of dying out. A 'girlcott' on consumption, an intervention on Valentine’s day, a viral rap song, introducing non-gendered activities in Kindergartens, a feminist children’s book, a parallel economic system… nothing seemed out of reach or too ambitious. Just two days ago in reaction to Trump’s anti-abortion order, 52 photoshopped Hillary Clinton into the Oval Office surrounded by women signing an order stating: “It is prohibited to ejaculate outside procreation.” The photo reached 3.5 million people on Facebook, was shared over 20 thousand times, and got over a thousand comments in the span of 24 hours.

  “It is prohibited to ejaculate for non-procreative purposes” © 52

“It is prohibited to ejaculate for non-procreative purposes” © 52

I had walked straight into the lion’s den, and there was no instance of intimidation. The collective is a prime example that bottom-up initiatives are both necessary and possible, especially as a response to a regression to conservative and macho politics. There is a return of global movements, and 52 will be a leader in confronting women’s issues.

Read another article by Lara Bullens here

 
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PRESIDENT TRUMP

Reactions from the AWE community

Read Ellyn's article here | Petros' pro-Trump article

A first look at "Trump's America" 
https://twitter.com/i/moments/796417517157830656

I look to the future with more excitement. It’s a revolutionary age we live in. And as Marx has said a revolution has stages. The liberal elite falls, their economic dogmas fail. Now is the chance to get the power back. Of course not with Trump, but I am lookimg forward to the reaction to his election
— Petros Konstantinidis
Hmmm. I’m feeling pretty shocked but not necessarily surprised; Brexit primed me for the possibility. I think Trump is awful as a human being and I’m a little scared that so many people voted for him. However I don’t feel like we should be trying to ‘understand’ populism better, like some people are suggesting. Instead I think we should try even harder than before to stand up for what we think is important in a reasonable way and to create things that are positive. Fear and anger are not the only way forward. Therefore happy to see everyone continue to discuss and write and take pictures/video and be curious about the world. It matters.
— Ellyn van Valkengoed
In Neil deGrasse Tyson’s words: “This is the end of nothing. This is the beginning of something new and solemn and so important. You must be part of what comes next.”
— Mick ter Reehorst
There aren’t words to describe the injustice that transpired last night. Feelings of powerlessness in American politics have just reached a dangerous high. I’m scared to live in my own country for the first time.
— Alina Heim
When I woke up today, I didn’t feel anger. Instead, I felt sadness. Sadness for what might have been, and a creeping sense of dread for what is actually going to come instead. Sadness is not a productive feeling. Rage can be channeled, but sadness is sedentary. And I did consider staying in bed, refreshing Twitter, wallowing in the commentary that wouldn’t change a thing. But below the sadness, I also felt galvanized. A sense of purpose, though I don’t quite know for what. I think a lot of people are at a loss for what to do next. When you are a student, a journalist, a person who seeks refuge in reason and fact, how do you engage with the irrationality of fear and ideology? How do you hold accountable a person who does not recognize the legitimacy of the standards he has failed to uphold? Suddenly the ideals and privileges liberal young Americans have long taken for granted can no more be assumed as self-evident. When I woke up today, I really woke up—to how many things I don’t know, to how much harder I must work to try and understand. There’s something to fight for, but may the fight not be adversarial. We have been fighting for the past year, and it has only brought us here. I hope to find a way to communicate, to get to know this country that no longer feels like it belongs to me.
— Belle Cushing
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> Bart Gulden
Personally im interested in what kind of effect this will have on politics in the EU and the Netherlands in particular. There is an ongoing discussion about populism and about a more direct form democracy for quite some time now. Should we change our political system? How should we deal with the anti establishment groups in our own country? I think Trumps election raises and stresses some important questions we should ask ourselves as a western democratic nation. It will be the beginning of something new.

> Theodore A.
”How should we deal with the anti establishment groups in our own country?”
Wait, what? Shouldn’t the question rather be : “how should the establishment be changed”?


> Bart Gulden
Maybe my phrasing is was a bit off. Agree with your question “how should the establishment could be changed”. Personally I’m not really convinced the change will be coming from within the anti-establishment itself. The attitude of the establishment towards the anti-establishment will be crucial in my opinion. Change will probably have to start there, and that’s what I’m trying to refer to.
 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’m very afraid of what kind of precedent this sets. In an election characterised by excessive blatant lying, mistrust, anger, and unabashed racism, I hope that this election and its tactics will be relegated as a once off tool, but I fear it has merely shown politicians another tool to gain power.
— Coen-Reinier Lap
I’m still waiting for someone to wake me up from this distorted reality. We went from yes we can to yes we klan in 1 election. Large numbers of Americans turn out to be sexists and racists and they just made their behavior tolerable by choosing Trump as their president. I never considered this to be a possibility, and apparently that was very naive of me. I have never felt more disconnected from society. I wonder how international politics will play out as mentioned above. As for the Netherlands will this be an example of how fucked up this is or will this lead the way for others? I seriously hope #Nexit wont be the next thing we’re discussing. This is me rambling and there are far more interesting things to say about this.
However, for the moment I’m paralyzed.
— Suzanne Groen
As an American, I am deeply disappointed in my country today. Our system has failed us and allowed for Donald Trump to become president. It is shocking, it is embarassing and most of all, it is horrifying that a man with no real plan and who has run his campaign on hate, is supposed to run the so-called melting pot that is the UNITED States of America. My country is clearly more torn than it has been in recent years, but it is more important now than ever that all of the citizens stand together for the rights of the lgbt community, immigrants, minorities, lower and middle class members and the citizens of the country as a whole. When Trump and the now Republican run House, Senate and soon to be Supreme Court seek to overturn some of the most important cases in the country, I am confident that enough of the people of America will stand united. Many are fearful for the future of the country, myself included, but at the same time, I believe the half of the country who is outraged by Trump’s election will not sit quietly as our rights are taken away. While my full feelings of disappointment cannot even be properly articulated, I know that America will not crumble and the world will keep turning.
— Rebecca Alterman
It might be a good start to avoid the systematic rejection of nearly 50% of the voters because they do not believe in “superior values” such as tolerance, political correctness and 21st century feminism. Perhaps these people could depart from their ivory towers, reflect on their own behavior and start listening to Joe Average, or the uneducated, as they are labeled by the “intellectuals” themselves.
— Anonymous AWE Reader
I am ashamed, but the first thing I thought was “here is the final proof that universal suffrage is a dysfunctional system”. That democracy could only work in the poleis where the voters were few and cultivated. I thought that when you turn 18 you automatically get your right to vote, but you don’t automatically get your driving licence. For that you have to learn the rules and get a licence, because otherwise you can be dangerous. And voting blindly, can’t it entail extremely dangerous consequences for your country? Then I realized how elitist my thought was. But I kept questioning democracy anyways. Are rulers there to merely represent the preferences of the majority or to direct and educate human instincts?
— Emma Bubola
“Pretty shellshocked! But then again I called Brexit wrong, nevertheless expected Bojo to be PM before Christmas, and thought Clinton would win a landslide victory. So I do not know what my surprise is worth at this moment. It all does not bode well for my career as a social scientist. Some observations here in Beijing: the Americans were mostly crying (they are all democrats. The official US embassy viewing was even closed down when it became clear Trump was winning). One Chinese classmate was ecstatic (‘America/the West is imploding, the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has finally arrived. Let the Chinese century commence!’) and it is not the first time I heard that over here. Another Chinese student seemed terrified by the prospect of a potential (trade-)war between China and the US. Meanwhile, the party-controlled Global Times and other state newspapers have over the last years published articles stating ‘What do the failed revolutions of the Arab Spring, the Ukrainian Maidan uprising, Brexit and the rise of Trump show? That Liberal Democracy is inherently unstable.’ Such articles have in the past included subtle reminders that Hitler was also democratically elected. Basically, these entail whatever can be employed to encourage Chinese comrades to remain satisfied with their political system as it is (and not push for reform). I expect a record number of such publications tomorrow!”
— Joris Teer
I am very much of the opinion that the anti-establishment movements in most Western democracies are because of the current democratic system we live in. After WWII in most countries a system was put in place by the elites that restricted the will of the people and gave the absolute power to constitutional institutions. This was because in Germany for example, Hitler came to power democratically and was the elected ‘Reichskanzler’. With the system put in place post-WWII, elites assured that the will of the people would never again prevail and that the events of destruction and genocide would never happen again. In the end of the 60s and beginning of 70s people (mainly the 68 movement) people started to protest against this understanding of democracy, because actually, it was not very democratic as the ultimate will lay not in the hand of the people. I think what started in the 60s has now arrived at it’s peak. I don’t know whether a more direct form of democracy is the answer to the problems we are facing right now, but I have no doubt that the current system of representative democracy as we understand it today needs to change.
— Antonia Korkas
I found that a lot of people are feeling unheard by the political representatives they themselves chose. This seems to have created a distrust in the establishment, and referring to Theodore’s point about the lack of fruitfulness in searching for solutions within anti-establishment movements, the movements themselves seem to have found their solutions in the form of the bold and the brash, like Trump, Wilders or le Pen. And by direct democracy, which maybe roughly translates as “the democracy that only listens to me”.
Having given up on the establishment, any solutions from that side will be disregarded. Question remains, however, how this more direct democracy would help the people who’d like it to happen.
— Toon Vos
“But in this century blood and instinct will regain their rights against the power of money and intellect. The era of individualism, liberalism and democracy, of humanitarianism and freedom, is nearing its end. The masses will accept with resignation the victory of the Caesars, the strong men, and will obey them.”
— Nathan Potter
Statistical analysis shows that, as was the case with Brexit, there was a huge difference in voting between the younger generations and the older generations. Most people below 30 or so wanted to stay in the UK. Most people below the age of 30 or so wanted the democratic party to win. This reflects what I felt when I heard the outcome, namely that the group of people I get my news, their thoughts and analyses from, does not reflect reality, or is mainly a small part of reality (and so I was, like you guys, shocked). On the other hand it makes me excited as to what our generation can do and hopefully will do. Then again, will we change our opinions as we become land owners, tax payers, etc.?
— Renee Michels
Personally, it deeply frustrates me that this office, graced by the likes of Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, FDR and JFK - men of great spirit, formidable intellect, and the conviction, bravery and morality, to fight (and in two cases die) for the American people - will be held by what I perceive to be a provocative, ill-educated narcissist, unfit and unqualified to claim the presidency of the world’s most powerful and influential nation.

One has to question the chain of events and the circumstances that enabled this to happen, however he has four years to change my mind while I scrutinise with great intent his domestic and foreign policies.

Though most Chinese probably take little interest in the election, it appears that more were in favour of Trump than Clinton. There is certainly no severe sense of unease here, or at least none that I’m aware of (and I work in Chinese Media). He is certainly not perceived as a bigot.
— Dominic Madar
I am lost. I am scared for my friends and family in the USA, for me in Europe, for all of us. I wish we could all remember that we’re planetary.
— Sadia Rao
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been walking around confused and sad and frustrated today. It makes me sick to think that this election result legitimises the disgusting racism, sexism and homophobia we’ve seen from the Trump campaign in the last year and it makes me afraid that when time passes, people come to accept this as the new normal.
However frustrated I am, this should not be the time to give up, to put our backs to the political process or to just go back to bed hoping to wake up in a better world (however attractive that may sound).
Now is the time to get together, to get involved, to leave comfortable positions at the sideline. Join a political party, speak up to the racism and sexism and homophobia, get organised. This is far too important to just stand by.
— Bart van Bruggen
 Source:  The Week  - all credits go to the Week

Source: The Week - all credits go to the Week

Tuesday was a huge wake-up call. First, actually waking up to the message: Donald Trump is going to be president. Yeah, seriously. Millions of Americans have actually voted Mr. Trump into the White House, despite knowing he is a racist, misogynist, tax-avoiding narcissist who makes fun of disabled people and brags about grabbing women by the pussy. And we did not see it coming. Not even a little bit. As a journalism student, I feel like everything I work so hard to accomplish is completely useless - why bother to get the facts out when no one cares about the truth anyway? As a woman, I am heartbroken. This was the day we were going to smash the glass-ceiling, and take a huge step towards a more equal world. Instead, we are taking fifty steps back. I feel angry, sad and disgusted - and I’m not even American. But these negative feelings will not get us anywhere. On the contrary, they are the reason we got here. We should never give up and buoy to hate, but we must wake up and realise that somewhere, something went terribly wrong. And we need to figure out how to fix it.
— Ingri Bergo
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The War of Perception:
Confronted by the Refugee Crisis

by Emily ter Steeg

This is not a refugee crisis, it is a political crisis.

Paris - At this moment the average European citizen deems migration a bigger threat than terrorism: the predominant feeling is that migrants are stealing our jobs, threatening our cultural identity and increasing the chances of a terrorist attack. Migration has always happened, so why has it been framed as the greatest threat of the 21st century?

Former Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino points at politicians: “why are they always surprised?” And indeed, we should wonder why still no effective migration policy has been developed for the European Union?

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Predicting the migration crisis

If politicians had only taken a brief glance at the historic facts and the reality of today they would have not been so surprised. First of all, the demographic numbers were and continue to be clear indicators. For example, in Niger the median age is 14.8 with an average fertility rate of 7.6: where will this young, ambitious population try to go? Secondly, the consequences of climate change have been predicted decades ago.

In Africa and the Middle East, global warming rapidly increases the frequency of natural disasters like flooding and drought, fuelling poverty and conflict. And thirdly, the escalation of (political) conflicts in Africa and the Middle East region was highly likely: pressure had steadily built up for years. Western governments were well aware of bad governance in countries like Syria, so did they simply expect populations to endure suppression? In the end, we need to ask ourselves the following question: were politicians truly overwhelmed by the ‘refugee crisis’ or did they simply fail to find democratic support for an effective migration policy?

The war of perception and populist politics

Populists are winning the war of perception in Western democracies: migration is perceived as a threat rather than an economic opportunity or a moral obligation. Why have elected leaders failed to explain the importance of the pressing nature of the migration crisis and convinced a majority of the electorate to welcome newcomers? Some point at the spoiled nature of our generation, which has never experienced war: a unique and under-appreciated privilege in the history of mankind. Europeans have forgotten their history and the reason why the European Union was founded in the first place. The privilege of peace has led us to neglect the democratic system.

Parliaments used to be places where representatives sought to reach a consensus to safeguard peace amongst the people. Nowadays, parliaments often seem to be political arenas used for charismatic power play and the personal gain of votes (especially during election cycles). It does not seem to matter to politicians that this development goes hand in hand with increased polarization and ever-greater division among the population.

Angela Merkel positioned herself as a martyr for the refugees but is now crawling back as she faces the upcoming elections next month. Perhaps asylum should not be a political matter but we cannot deny it has become a political issue today. To put it simply: people are afraid and populists do not hesitate to fuel their fear, subsequently using it to expand their fan-base. 

Reality check: there is no easy way out

The biggest challenges of today related to the ‘migration crisis’ are a loss of jobs, the absence of a constructive dialogue and harmonious integration. The loss of jobs is a reality that must be dealt with regardless of migration. Technology will rapidly cause  jobs to disappear in almost every sector: people need to realize they are mainly competing with robots and algorithms. NOT migrants. Secondly, polarization and categorization are sabotaging a constructive dialogue.

Everyone seems to be very comfortable residing in a bubble of like-minded souls and casually labels people outside their bubble ‘racists, fascists, xenophobes and/or sexists’ but the uproar following the American elections has once again demonstrated the need to burst this bubble. Finally, there is the vicious circle of anti-migration policy that is causing a lack of integration.

Some people are against migration and do not want their political representatives to increase the migration budget because migrants are not ‘integrating.’ However, it is the consequent lack of funding required to achieve  harmonious integration that leads to “bad” integration. Moreover, a hostile attitude towards migrants does not help the matter  either.
 

  Research  from Oxford suggests nearly half the jobs in the US are at risk of disappearing due to automation by 2040 

Research from Oxford suggests nearly half the jobs in the US are at risk of disappearing due to automation by 2040 

Let’s stop being surprised. Let’s instead confront reality.
It is coming for us either way.

The solution starts with you

So how can leaders convince the electorate to support the implementation of an effective solution to deal with the inevitable truth of migration? Politicians and aspiring politicians need to take responsibility. A dialogue must be facilitated to increase mutual understanding and promote mobility and exchange. More people must participate in the political process in a constructive manner to bring the collective back to the centre.

More than anything, the millennials, including myself, who claim to be the victims of the conservative older population need to engage in the discussion: they are also victims of their own passive attitude. Emma Bonino suggested ‘One day without migrants’ and ‘One day without Schengen’ as movie concepts trying to explain how much we depend on migration when it comes to our  wealth and general wellbeing. The vicious cycle of “bad” integration needs to be broken to move towards a harmonious, multicultural society that is appreciated by the entire population.
This will also require the reform of social welfare systems.

Technology and globalization will continue to centralize wealth leading to an untenable situation. Reform should result in increased sharing of the benefits of modernization, thereby decreasing frustration and fear amongst the working class. When it comes to migration as well as all political matters, we need to take an approach that is guided by intelligence and empathy.

Let’s stop being surprised. Let’s instead confront reality.  
It is coming for us either way.

 
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Full-On Confrontation in France

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MacronMania & Le PenFever: Full-On in France

by Mick ter Reehorst

There is a buzz going through the political landscape in France, a sense of the possibility of change. Hope, if you will. It’s not quite unlike the Obama-mania of 2008, and also not unlike the Trump phenomenon for that matter. The French media headlines are full of it, and the radio talk shows and late night TV programs can’t stop speculating. As always with these kind of political shake-ups, there are a lot of skeptics, groups of criticasters and nay-sayers who grow almost as fast as the supporter base. Yet, there is no denying that there is something happening in France; a full-on confrontation between and against the traditional parties.

Emmanuel Macron, 39, the figurehead of the political movement En Marche! and the former economy minister of President François Hollande’s administration, has been gathering massive crowds at his rallies and has become a maverick outsider candidate for the French presidential elections.

“Never accept those who promote exclusion, hatred or closing in on ourselves!” he yelled to a large audience of several thousand in Lille. “Macron! Président!” is the - perhaps slightly unoriginal - chant he gets in return. He is charismatic and one of the youngest presidential hopefuls ever.

At the central Paris office of En Marche! there are rows of young political aides frantically typing on their computers, refreshing their Twitter-feeds, and calling to journalists, community managers and their overseers. Camaraderie and youthful (perhaps even naive) political enthusiasm are hanging in the air, amidst the papers outlining the propositions laid out by the local committees, a major part of the direct democracy elements of En Marche! Two girls high-five each other after seeing an explosion of positive Tweets and two guys are grinning from ear to ear while watching a video of Macron speaking in Lille. One thing they all have in common: nobody expected that they would be in such a cheerful mood at this point in the campaign.

 Tomorrow - #RevolutionEnMarche

Tomorrow - #RevolutionEnMarche

“But something changed, the movement was getting broader. It was not just a Parisian bubble anymore. I felt that on December, 10th at the first big meeting at Porte de Versailles. There were more than 15.000 people. Something changed then”.

But it’s not only Macron who has seen his popularity and chances to win increase. On the other side of the spectrum, Front National and Marine Le Pen continuously paint a grim picture of how fed up the French are with the traditional parties. And Le Pen is right. The French are fed up with the traditional parties.

On the left, President Hollande decided not to run for a second term, a first for French Presidents since 1958. Benoît Hamon, having won the primaries of the Left, is scrambling to get the socialist act and programme together. On the right, former President Nicolas Sarkozy was harshly rejected and François Fillon, a hard-line conservative has taken to the stage. It is illustrative for a political elite that is unable to deal with these political shake-ups, a situation reminiscent of Bernie Sanders’ movement in the United States.

It is a trend that has taken flight everywhere around Europe and around the world, this total disillusion with the established elite and traditional politics. Yet the strange thing with Macron is, that he is shaking up the parties, who in turn fall back on old ideologies, nationalistic appeals and produce programs full off anti-globalization and Euroskeptic oneliners.

“Macron is an economic liberal, pro-labor market reforms and he is shaking things up by talking about Europe in a positive way”, says Asseraf. “He bases his program on research and pragmatic ideas”. Five years ago, that would be any traditional party’s normal approach to policy, yet in this day and age, all bets are off. Being outspokenly pro-European has become unique, even for a centrist like Macron. The common thought is that Europe is not sexy, mass immigration is a problematic issue and the nation has to regain its sovereignty. Brexit and the populist parties have influenced everyone. This, more so maybe than a possible political win for Le Pen or Macron, is the total political shake-up that is coursing through the Western democracies.

Macron and his ideas for Europe

A full-on confrontation has ensued between everyone at the same time, the old and the new, left and right, between generations, those who have benefitted from globalization and those who feel disenchanted and disenfranchised. It is not unique to France, but it is the first time in modern history that the country has seen such complete political upheaval in its modern history. The fact that the Front National has a real chance of moving into the Elysee shows the inability of the major parties to reassure their voter base.

Polarization has led to politicians on the old left-wing dichotomous division of the political battleground to retreat to their base, tail between their legs, in order to regroup. Fillon has appointed someone to just be his ‘anti-Macron man’ and the left is looking for ways to combat Le Pen and her appeal to working class voters in northern France, the traditional socialist backlands.

Patrick Kennedy, an expert on French politics and the role of youth in politics told Are We Europe that “a party like Front National, for example, has done much in this area as it sees its success tied to the ability to recruit new voters, especially amongst young people”. Macron is apparently able to do the same, and a recent study put him on top of the chart as France’s most likeable politician, especially amongst youth. And according to Kennedy, “youth will be critical on areas like voter turnout, and new voter recruitment, but at the same I also see French youth aligning themselves less with party dynamics and party politics and more along issues like global warming or immigration for example.” And this is where Macron is gaining his support. The new generation of voters does not align itself with ideological standpoints, but looks at issues in a more pragmatic way. Combine that with a well-organized, visual, data-based and airtight online campaign strategy, and the result is a noticeable trek towards these different movements, Front National included.

On the other hand, there is a lot of criticism of Macron's person.
They say he doesn’t have a plan. He has never been elected to office. He has no experience. The ideas will not work. He is too liberal, he is too centrist, or he is too much connected to the socialists. He is a banker, and just as much part of the elite as any of the traditional politicians.

Everyone has something to say, and some rebuttals make a lot of sense. Yet, almost all of the above holds for Le Pen, who adds heavy flirting with nostalgic nationalism, protectionism and xenophobia to the equation. So, what?

Well, that is probably why they are so popular, with young and old alike. As Emma Ettlinger, 17, and also part of the Parisian En Marche! team says, “It’s all the same, the Parti Socialiste or Les Républicains. We’ve tried it already and it didn’t work. The Front National and En Marche! are new, and that is what people are choosing for”.

Adding ever more suspense to the coming months are the high stakes that come with this election. Trump, Brexit and growing support for anti-establishment and anti-European movements around the continent up the ante for the European Union. France has historically always been its most outspoken proponent, and a win for Le Pen will change everything. European unity is further away than ever, and internally, France is recovering from a weak President, terrorist attacks, and of the highest unemployment rates in Europe due to an economy that just will not pick up after the crisis.

Let’s add some background on the voting procedure. The first round of the elections will take place on April, 27th, open to any candidate who meets the requirements (such as having 500 signatures by mayors or other elected officials). If no candidate has an absolute majority, the two candidates with the most votes will go to a second round on May, 7th. Last time, now-President Hollande and then-President Sarkozy faced off against each other. At the moment, most polls predict a face-à-face between Fillon and Le Pen. What this shows, is that the left lies in shambles and the right has rallied around a hard-line conservative to combat Le Pen. What it also shows, is a division in France that has never been seen before. Macron will have to try to convince enough left-leaning, right-leaning or non-voters to make it to the top two at the first round. He will look either to unite the two sides, or stand above it.

“There are different Frances, there is a France of the insider who can enjoy globalization and everything that happens. The other France is the outsider, who feels excluded and outside of the system. We have to reconcile those Frances”, says Ettlinger.

It remains to be seen whether Macron and his army of passionate young political strategists will be able to do that. But being 'pas de gauche, pas de droite' (not left, not right) is working out for the moment and has resulted in MacronMania and Le PenFever. It will be an interesting and exhausting ride.

Read an article on the French elections in our archive

 
 
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The Addictive Nature of Protesting

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Right in the heart of the action | © Lara Bullens

 

Check out more work by Lara Bullens here

The Addictive Nature of Protesting

by Lara Bullens

All across Europe, dissatisfied citizens are taking to the streets in greater and greater numbers, protesting everything from Brexit to Poland's new abortion laws to the loi travail in France. I joined a march in Paris to find out what keeps die-hard protestors diving back into the tear gas and riot cops.

Walking towards a mass of thousands of people, most of whom have disguised their identity with swimming goggles and scarves wrapped around their faces, would make any newcomer to the Parisian protests feel a tug of hesitation. Nonetheless, I joined the most recent demonstration over the controversial loi travail as an observer, trying to understand the phenomenon that had been blowing up my news feed over the last few months.

Advancing slowly to join the crowd, it’s striking to see how diverse the protestors are. People of all ages and all social strata unified, supposedly, to contend the labour reforms. But the diversity suddenly became blurred the closer I got to the heart of the protest. Women, children and trapped tourists were quickly outnumbered by die-hard protestors and the omnipresent mass of armed police. Banners disappeared, and I was lost in a sea of teargas, goggles, shouting, and sudden bursts of rushing protestors.

Attempts to lump all protestors in France into one of two categories - the die-hard ‘casseurs’ or ‘black bloc’ and the pacifists - make it easy to lose sight of individuals' motivations for protesting. However, being immersed in a setting of constant opposition, I felt as though something much deeper was at play. It dawned on me when I heard a passerby yell: "quand la manif vient à toi, tu ne peux pas la refuser!" ("when the protest calls you, you can’t refuse!").

Rather than trying to separate the overzealous protestors from the pacifists and shifting the debate to themes of violence, it is important to reach below the surface and ask ourselves why people are taking part in these protests. The words shouted by my gallant passerby made it apparent that there was an aspect of temptation, a difficulty to say no to a protest. Regardless of his potential grievances, he was there to be part of something bigger. Can protesting become an addictive experience? If so, where is the kick?

The beginnings of an adrenaline habit

Surely there are historical routines that are at play here. The act of protesting has been a cultural heritage here in France ever since the Revolution. Notice how protests also naturally gravitate towards the Place de la République… if that isn’t a sign of eternal recurrence, then I don’t know what is. But however these outbursts progress and develop over time, whatever the cause, there are underlying motivations that fuel a kind of obsession with protesting.       

Naturally, there is an adrenaline rush that comes with protesting. I would be lying if I said I was unaware of my own heart pounding in my ears I approached the cortège. Immersing ourselves in something chaotic that can quickly turn violent and dangerous is, to an extent, comparable to surfing big waves or skydiving. Although the sensation is self-induced, it feeds off of our innate "fight or flight" instincts and has the ability to make us all adrenaline junkies.

Running to find shelter in the entrance of a shuttered pharmacy on the Boulevard du Temple, a protestor asked me whether I was there as an observer or a participant. I mentioned that I was just observing, and his eyes widened as he warned me - in an almost patronizing tone - that I should leave within the next half hour, as things "tend to get violent". I smiled, but toyed with the idea of leaving. And I did shortly after, but only to go home, drop off my computer, and buy some beers. On my way back to the protest, I crossed my usual friendly neighbors playing pétanque next to the Buttes Chaumont park. "What a divide," I thought to myself, and waltzed back into the verve of police clashes, the loud banging of tear gas canisters, and the swarm of people.

On a much lighter note, this temptation to protest can manifest itself into something quite remarkable as well. Again and again I saw the strength of compassion between protestors, passing each other saline solutions to help soothe the effects of teargas, or warning one another when things got too heated. Perhaps taking the time to be passionate with those around us is not a significant part of our everyday lives. During a protest, however, there is a powerful sense of community that outweighs the differences that may separate us from each other in our daily routines.

Moments like these can be a lure to find communitas in an age where we can so easily dislocate ourselves from our surroundings. Although I was warned to be cautious of how quickly protests can escalate, and my reaction was to seek the borders of danger because I was so pumped with adrenaline, the fact that someone was looking out for me "just because" was quite remarkable.

"We take to the streets to be seen"

It was also striking to see the media’s involvement. It was difficult to distinguish some journalists from other protestors, but my instinct told me that the people with monstrous cameras and microphones were there to report. What I found was that many of those armed with gear would gravitate towards areas of friction, where the crowd is denser and the police more numerous.

Like Narcissus, but drawn to my 'badassery' rather than my looks, the cameras and media coverage made my involvement in the protest feel important. We protest to fight for a cause, but deep down, we take to the streets to be seen.           

When the clashes settled down, and the CRS police in their Ninja Turtle uniforms had broken up the main body of protestors, I decided to make my retreat. I suddenly felt intensely out of place, being told to move along. My role as an observer in the theatre of protest had ended.

Sitting by the Canal St Martin, where many other protestors were buzzing about events of the day, discussing whether they thought the protest was a success whilst others were recounting their personal experiences, I tried to gather my thoughts.

The whole experience was a sensory overload. What we forget when seeing a protest from our screens is that we are only digesting the visual dimension. We don’t experience the smells, the noise of tear gas canisters exploding, the sensation of that smoke stinging your eyes, the effervescence of the people around us. The protest on the loi travail was my first real experience of a protest. It won’t be my last. 

This article originally appeared on Cafe Babel - one of our partners
It is also available in Italian, Polish and French
Check out more of our contributor's Lara Bullens work here

 
 
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Be the Change - My Life My Say

 
 

Our Partner: My Life My Say

My Life My Say is a national, non-partisan, youth-led movement on a mission to rebrand politics and to evolve relationships between young people and decision-makers.

We are proud of the work our friends at MLMS are doing in the United Kingdom and beyond, and we share their values:

Empowering young people and equipping them with knowledge and confidence to speak out without fear of being judged.

Providing opportunities, particularly to those that ordinarily have few or less than others.

Breaking stereotypes, particularly negative ones that are held of young people and their unwillingness to engage in politics.

Challenging underrepresentation by targeting underrepresented groups such as women, BME communities, LGBT groups and those with disabilities.

Recognising that young people are the future and as such, they should be supported and educated to develop themselves as much as possible


#BeTheChange

Read more here

 
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Golden Dawn: ‘cleaners’ that will get ‘the filth out of Greece’ 

  Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

                                                                                              By Nikos Chalos

According to recent European headlines, Greece currently suffers from two distinct crises: the economic crisis and the migrant crisis. What has surprisingly gone completely unnoticed, however, are the unprecedented political changes Greece has been going through over the past years with regards to extremist parties.

In order to understand these changes, it is important to know that up to the election of the political party SYRIZA (radical left) in 2015, political control of Greece was alternated between two parties: PASOK (left)  and New Demokratia (liberal-conservative). Combined, these two parties accounted for nearly 80% of the votes in any election from 1974 to 2015. All other political parties, characterized by being slightly radical, were steadfastly ignored.

The political landscape was entirely reconstructed when the Greek debt crisis began. Suddenly, Greek policies became the target of scandals to which only two parties could be blamed for during the 2015 elections. PASOK took the hardest hit, as it was blamed for the unpopular bailout agreements. Their share of the vote massively dropped from 43.92% in 2009 to only 6.3% in 2015.

For the first time since the establishment of the Third Hellenic Republic in 1974, a third political party unexpectedly won the elections: a historical moment in and of its own. SYRIZA was formed in 2004 by a merger between 17 different (radical leftist) parties and organisations, plus numerous independent activists. While only obtaining 3.2% of the votes in 2004, the party soon gained ground and managed to attract the largest share of votes, namely 28.7% in the 2015 elections.

Alongside the unprecedented developments on the left, a far more troublesome development has taken place on the right. With Golden Dawn (established in 1980) Greece is now faced with a political party present in parliament that is described as and best-known for being a nationalist, far-right, political party. Certain third parties have even gone as far as to describe Golden Dawn as a neo-Nazi party.

  Photo:   Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The reason as to why Golden Dawn is said to reflect neo-Nazism becomes apparent when one looks at the party’s flags, salutes and general symbolism, which do not leave much to the imagination. Despite the fact that Greeks have never ceased to loath the Nazis, Golden Dawn has been able to round up some support. In the 2015 elections, they gained approximately 7% of the vote. Obviously, this is nowhere close to becoming a major party that could actually win any election, yet it has been speculated that this might not even be their goal.

With their well-designed populist approach, Golden Dawn reaches out to those who feel left behind by the current establishment. It just happens to be that the latter type of individuals are present by the dozen in the country. This general sentiment found in the general population can be explained by the fact that the economic crisis has led to the biggest loss of economic activity (over 50% of GDP) within a country in the entirety of modern history - resulting in over 20% of all Greeks living in poverty. People - unable to feed their family or pay for heating - felt utterly ignored by a Greek government that was simply unable to provide for its citizens. Aware of this situation, Golden Dawn jumped at the opportunity and offered an answer and alternative to these despaired individuals.

The party has organised numerous free handout events - such as food banks, where owning a Greek passport was the only qualification for a handout - and has even started to take over the role of the police. Some neighbourhoods (especially in Athens) have become criminal hotspots, zones that even the police doesn’t dare to enter. However, a quick call to your Golden Dawn contact, and a group of men equipped with baseball bats can be there in a jiffy. This has earned them sympathy from those who have been the hardest-hit by the crisis.

Several of their members have expressed the desire to become some sort of ‘Hezbollah of Greece’ - slowly becoming a state within a state and circumventing the democratic process altogether. Judging from their food banks and ‘police’ squads that they have managed to establish, they have certainly made some progress towards such a Greek Hezbollah. Yet regardless of these attempts at garnishing sympathy for being the helper of the poor, their terrifying nature is almost impossible to deny. 

Since 2011 members of the party have been involved in hundreds of violent attacks. Most targeted were Middle-Eastern migrant workers who came to Athens during the last decades. Leftists (independent activists and even a politician) and gays have also been targeted. There are two confirmed murders committed by members of the party: the first was the murder of a Bangladeshi migrant in 2011 and the second of the Greek rapper Pavlos Fyssas, which sparked major anti-fascist riots in both Athens and Thessaloniki (the 2nd largest city).

One of Golden Dawn’s main aims is to “get the filth out of Greece," often referring to themselves as the ““cleaners” who are charged with the responsibility of doing so. They have proposed that only those of Greek blood should be allowed to vote. Similarly, they suggested that only Greeks should be admissible for receiving blood transfusions from the blood bank.

A Golden Dawn MP 'attacks' another female-MP in a live TV show

Their party leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, was convicted after being charged for being in the possession of weapons and explosives in the early 80s, and currently faces trial for leading the formation of a criminal organisation. Finally, videos of squads of Golden Dawn members harassing/beating migrants on the streets and public transport (or smashing their market stands) are commonplace on the internet.

Despite all this, they have still maintained their share of the vote. Such a strong voter base, combined with the ‘Hezbollah’ desires and the extremely fragile situation Greece is in, are the perfect combination for trouble.

Few countries have shown so many parallels to Germany’s Great Depression years as does present day Greece. Even fewer still have seen a rise of an extremist right party taking place simultaneously. If the economic suffering in Greece continues to prevail for much longer - enabling this period of intensifying radicalisation and polarisation in Greek politics to continue – Golden Dawn might just see their dreams materialise. And if so, I guess we should be happy and grateful that Greece is a much smaller country than Germany…

 
 
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Pretty Radical

 
 

AWE Video Pick

How does a pretty 19-year-old girl become the poster girl for one of Europe’s most extreme right-wing movements, the neo-nazi National Radical Camp? We follow the story of Paulina as she gets swept up in the movement’s political campaign, only to find herself confused and torn apart by opposing forces. What’s most striking is her apparent indifference to what the movement she is presenting actually stands for. At some point she says “I don’t want to persecute people who are seen by my organisation as a lower race. I want to do community work and build a Greater Poland.” One cannot help but marvel at how Paulina justifies her involvement in this radical movement.

Video by The Guardian

 
 
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