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Young people and the arts in Eastern Europe
By Annelies van Rijen
Right after a thought-provoking panel discussion on the East-West divide in European populism, we sat down with Slawomir Sierakowski. He's the founder of the Krytyka Politycnza, a pan-European magazine for democracy, equality and culture, and answered some questions on youth and art in Europe.
What do you think of the idea that this so-called pro-European Erasmus generation will solve all the problems in Europe?
Putting certain significance on someone only by the fact that someone is new seems a bit strange to me. As if it's a new commodity. Having said this, it doesn’t apply to the Erasmus scheme as such. It has changed a lot. Poland used to be such a homogeneous country and now it’s changing. New languages are spoken in cafés, on the streets, at universities. To hear other languages in Polish libraries is like the humming to my heart. Even though it remains a small proportion of the larger group of youngsters in Poland, micro-communication still creates new normality’s, changes attitudes and teaches toleration in new ways.
Culture wars and the politicization of culture in Eastern Europe were mentioned during the panel discussion. Why are they problematic?
Culture in Poland is flourishing. Our opera, literature and cinema are doing really well (Pulitzer Prize for drama for Martyna Majok, Palmes d’Or for best director for Pawel Pawlikowski). In times of communism, Polish culture was like Czech culture, it was thriving but repressed. Still now, free culture is hated by the government. They are trying to promote mediocracy - nobodies. But you can’t stop culture. The only problem is that the access to culture is diminishing under populist governments.
What is the role of artists in Eastern Europe according to you?
After the collapse of communism, art detached itself from politics. Before the fall of the wall, culture was highly politicized. It was part of the opposition against Soviet oppression. After 1989, artists became more interested in art for the sake of art -true art. However, my generation has opposed this idea since 2000 and advocated for a new role for artists. Politicians and scholars cannot understand all aspects of social life. Certain emotions and sensitivities can only be explained through art. Also, we see that people don’t want to be part of politics any more, but do want to engage in the world of arts.
In Western European capitals pluralist art forms are thriving. African and post-colonial art forms are increasingly popular. Is there space in Central and Eastern Europe for pluralism in art?
Within our circle of artists and intelligentsia lots is done on postcolonialism, diversity etc. However, as long as we are not a diversified society, there will be no widespread interest among Polish citizens. We have hip hop, but it’s Polish hip hop. And even though we have some diversity within this scene, it’s not like the musical influences in France from Maghreb or let say Senegal. Nevertheless, we are a postcolonial country, only our colonialists came from the east.
AWE @ Stedelijk Museum
Notes on the Future of the Eurozone
- by Alex Hurst
Italian economic journalist Federico Fubini used the panel discussion on the future of the eurozone to explain the roots of Italian populism today, and to push back at the narrative that Germany has been the financial savior of Europe.
“Populism is like an air bubble under a carpet,” Febrini said. “You push it down in one area, and it just moves to another.” For Fubini, deputy editor-in-chief for Italy’s Corriere della Sera, efforts to deflate anti-establishment movements in northern and southern Europe have just fed each other.
In Germany, political attempts to calm popular anger at “bailing out” southern nations meant a hardline push for austerity in Greece, Italy, and elsewhere. But those same austerity policies, and a sense of loss of sovereignty vis-à-vis the demands from Brussels and northern European countries gave rise to anti-EU, anti-euro parties in both of those nations.
The only way through this vicious circle, Fubini argued, is to shift the narrative on each respective side. Just as Italy needs to take a look at how its own internal politics have made the southern half of the country economically uncompetitive, Germany needs to re-examine the narrative it has told itself as well, starting with a closer look at demographics.
In 1973, Germany’s population growth rate went negative—the country had more deaths than births, and was set to lose population. And without intra-European immigration since then (some 1.7 million people), it would have 2% fewer people today than it did in 1973. Two thirds of those nearly 2 million European immigrants have come from eastern Europe, and one third from southern Europe.
“You have to take into account the educational investment all those people meant,” Fubini said. According to the Italian journalist, the grand total amount spent by eastern and southern Europe to educate those émigrés who would later spend their lives working and contributing to the German economy represents somewhere around €200 billion. An unnoticed flow of funds from east and south to north, rather than the other way around.
The legacy of ’68 is in good hands
- by Max Rozenburg
"Sous les pavés la plage !"
Fifty years ago, Alain Geismar fought the authorities during the May ’68 Paris protests. Today he fought technical difficulties during the panel at De Balie. His speech was in French; the projected subtitles in English - and defective. The annoyed sighs in the audience turned to thunderous applause when Geismar, with a faint British accent, mumbled “I can continue in English.”
“The direction of the May ’68 movement, on any given day, was determined during the night before. ’68 was only defined by its actions. It was the unplanned culmination of a much broader series of events, and should never be decoupled from its global context.”
France may have been bored – the audience wasn’t.
The juxtaposition between the grey Geismar and the much younger follow-up talks – Swiss activist Flavia Kleiner, Polish-Belgian author Alicja Gescinka and Belgian journalist Thomas Decreus – did not extend beyond the melanin-levels of their hair. The fiery spirit of the old Frenchman and his seemingly unfaltering desire to smash the status quo was easily matched by his younger companions.
It seems that the inheritance of ’68 is in good hands.
Branko Milanovic on how to reduce inequality in Europe today
- by Alex Hurst
(full interview coming soon)
“I would focus on inequality of financial income, which is really very large. As the capital share in GDP goes up, it’s inequality that has to be dealt with. There are three ways to do that.
1. Tax policies that benefit small and medium investors because that would make the financial income of the middle class larger and that of the top classes smaller.
2. Supporting employee stock ownership plans, so that more workers would become shareholders in companies where they work and then in other companies.
3. Transferring (monetary) grants to young people which would reduce wealth inequality."
Another happy customer! Our print book is popular among Europeans.
Young people may be unlikely to vote, but at least they seem to give a shit.
- by Max Rozenburg
"The last European parliamentary election results show that the youngest voters are the least likely to vote."
Time to engage the youngsters: day two of the Forum on European Culture kicked off with a debate-session for the European youth.
Four teams of young debaters tackled a variety of topics. The age of the debaters ranged from thirteen to eighteen, which also happens to be the difference between giggly “I forgot what I wanted to say”-s and well-rehearsed rhetoric – the difference between hot pants and neatly ironed dress-shirts.
No one seemed to mind the oxymoronic nature of the first question (on mandatory, international volunteer-work for high-school students), but the second debate (about mandatory internship-placing for European youth) did elicit an entirely justified “are we only here to discuss unpaid child-labour?”
On to more interesting questions: ‘should the European Commission be able to take punitive measures against nation-states for discrimination?’ The tension was palpable: accusations of “cultural tunnel vision” were eagerly thrown around, and a heartfelt “what have Eastern Europeans ever done for us” took everyone – including the jury – by surprise. Luckily ‘Team 3’ sacrificed their closing statement to ensure their fellow debaters that “everyone did very well.”
After the last round (should the president of the European Commission be directly elected by the European people?) the debaters left to enjoy their hard-earned lunch. Young people may be unlikely to vote, but at least they seem to give a shit.
Day 1 of the Forum on European Culture is in full swing.