Artwork by  Oxana Hartog

Artwork by Oxana Hartog




Unity: it sounds cliché. But maybe it doesn't have to be. Sure, the Europe we live in is a political idea, but it's also a real place: a continent that's home to an overwhelming diversity of cultures and individuals. Is there something uniting these identities? 

This month's issue showcases the people and the places that bond us together: in music, art and food. Stories from all corners of the continent, about identity, discovery, community and friendship. As always, the voices and images are very diverse, but they all answer one essential question: when, where and how can we overcome division and engage in Unity?

If we break down the words that use the term 'Unity', we get:

[comm] UNITY
[imm] UNITY
[opport] UNITY

We hope you enjoy our second issue,

the Are We Europe team


Moving With the Times, Are We?

 Picture: Tsvetomir Dimov

Picture: Tsvetomir Dimov



Here is a story about a square. Exact location: 42.6907° N, 23.3345° E, situated right in the heart of the most beloved and visited park in the great city of Sofia in Bulgaria. Many young people gather here during the warmer months of the year.

by Niya Shekerova

Right In the centre of the square is a huge monument - The Monument of the Soviet Army - which in the last decade has, on multiple occasions, been used as a canvas by rebellious graffiti artists for anonymous political statements and provocations. The monument was built in 1954 and portrays a soldier from the Soviet Army as a freedom fighter, as well as a man to his left and a woman with her infant child to his right. 

A view from the monument in 1999, personal archive

The public discussions that have arisen ever since have been a significant reflection of what has profoundly characterised Bulgarian contemporary history, namely the painful and lengthy transitional process of building a civil society based on civic participation. 

For as long as I can remember, all the minor attempts and major revolutions took place at this exact small square, only a short distance away from Sofia University. 

In the morning of June 2011, all citizens of Sofia (sofiantzi, as we refer to ourselves) witnessed the monument sculptures’ intriguing overnight transformation into well-known Western comic book heroes such as Superman, the Joker, and Batman's assistant Robin, as well as into other Western figures such as Santa Claus sporting a pair of binoculars, and the playful clown Ronald McDonald of the hamburger empire.

Pictures by Jordan Simeonov

The Soviet flag had been sprayed onto an American one, and below the sculptures an inscription had been written: "В крак с времето", which means "Moving with the times.

As soon as it happened, there wasn’t a single person who wasn’t talking about it, and many sofiantzi went to see it with their own eyes and to take pictures.

The media, however, were a little puzzled as to how to cover the incident, so they left it up to the citizens. Many known commentators in the public sphere tried to analyse the message behind the act. Some claimed the graffiti-donned statues were a general critique of our contemporary consumerist society, others argued that they represented the country’s unconvincing leap from a Soviet centrally-planned economy towards a liberal market and democracy.

As usual, the majority of Bulgarian youth did their best to turn away from the rapidly politicised debate that raged. However, what is interesting about the case is that it aroused us from our mostly notorious indifference and marginalisation from the global scene. It has also gathered people from different age groups and political views to pose in front of the monument for at least a Facebook photo.

The monument was cleaned within a day or two.

Less than a year later, in February 2012, the monument was yet again the victim of graffiti. This time the soldiers were given the mask of the British revolutionary Guy Fawkes, as waves of anti-ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) protests swept across all of Europe. Later on, the protesters renamed themselves Angry Crowds Taking Action.

In August 2013, the Soviet soldiers underwent a similar process once more: they were painted entirely in pink, in honour of the anniversary of the Prague spring. An inscription in Czech read “Bulharsko se omlouvá" ("Bulgaria apologises").

Pictures by Jordan Simeonov

The debate escalated to all forms of media and types of interest groups. The Russian embassy also demanded an explanation from the Sofia municipality and asked the municipality to take stringent measures, conduct an investigation and eventually sanction those responsible for the act.

The year 1968

In the debate, two main groups with anti- and pro- Russian attitudes crystallised. Yet, the unambiguous reference to the Prague spring and the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 was supposed to help us “swallow the guilt” of the role Bulgarians played in the conflict. 

The year 1968 was truly significant for most countries in Europe, forging a path to a longing dream of possible unity. Bulgaria, on the other hand, has a different relationship to 1968: our most widely translated contemporary writer, Georgi Gospodinov, calls it“one unhappened year”, referring to the lack of any arousal of protest similar to the upheavals in the rest of Europe at that time, and the silence that replaced it, and has settled since then. 

Young representatives of the Social party organised the cleaning of the monument with a request to civil society to try to “once and forever overcome history, and focus on the future”.

In the following years the monument has been the canvas for responses to other global political agendas. During the peak of the Orange revolution in February 2014 the monument was painted again, this time with the colours of the national flag of Ukraine and the slogan “Glory to Ukraine”.

The debates comprised a passionate undertone, and it was obvious that this time a new pattern was coming into being. Interest groups started to take advantage of the situation by trying to hijack the political message for the sake of their own agendas. The contemporary urban curators group's movement in Sofia called Destructive creation decided to claim responsibility for the very first transformation called Moving with the times. Others assumed that different opportunists, inspired by the first “Destructive creation”, painted the monument with their own messages, acting independently from one another.

Pictures by Jordan Simeonov

A place to bring people together

What I find really interesting, regardless of the discussion centred around whether these were acts of vandalism or artistic masterpieces, is the way in which such provocation is able to uncover the common apathy in our civil society, and the different layers of our common ground.

It makes the encounter of different opinions possible. It invites everyone to participate: both those who try to remember and those who try to forget, as well as those who agree and those who disagree. This is what a modern urban space is meant to do: it should be socially flexible, neutral, and personal at the same time; a space that brings together many competing conceptions and confronting stories.

Unity is not about prevailing over differences, nor does it mean aggressive assimilation. Nobody wins when many lose, and victory has proven to be a temporary pleasure. Cities are about coexistence.

As mentioned by Bulgarian political analyst Ivan Krastev in one of his interviews, we are part of “the E generation”: a sterile society in which we enclose ourselves in comfortable bubbles of isolated interests, never really meet those who think differently, and this way avoid the clash of hypothetical disapproval with our beliefs.

We should become more aware of the fact that there are many people around us all living in 'our' city, one that seems so familiar to us, who might disagree with us. Those who work in the same office building, walk on the same street, drink the same beer at the same square, even those with whom we shared the same bench at school - may disagree with us.

If we don’t, then we run the risk of remaining trapped in this one-way perspective of “my people, my buddies, my pals. 

And that shouldn't matter. They may have followed alternative paths to ours, but the biggest challenge we face as part of a global society has a lot more to do with getting to know our neighbours better than with traveling 3000 miles to go backpacking with someone just like us - someone we feel comfortable with.

If we don't, then we run the risk of remaining trapped in this one-way perspective of “my people, my buddies, my pals”. 

Frankly, any form of urban expression should not shift the focus from important matters in the contemporary Bulgarian political reality. Instead, it should make us realise that we can sometimes pay a little more attention to those living around us.

Our neighbours in Romania recently performed a massive midnight light manifest in Bucharest, just next door and only five hours away by car from my beloved square - in the heart of Sofia.


Niya is a bulgarian master student and is part of the European horizons thinktank in Paris


The Crumbling Church:
a father and son struggle to keep their religious community afloat

 All photos by Sadia Rao

All photos by Sadia Rao




In Oberbösa, a tiny German village, one religious community is struggling to keep the countryside unified in the face of demographic decline. 

by Sadia Rao

Alexander Altenburg stood in silence outside the gate of Oberbösa’s 720-year-old protestant church. The blue mechanical church clock towered over him. “It’s from 1910,” said Altenburg. The same year, electricity was introduced to Oberbösa, a village of 355 residents in the state of Thuringia in East Germany, but the village chose not to replace the mechanical clock with an electric one.   

Oberbösa’s cobblestone streets are intact. Gable roofs cover all the pastel-coloured houses. Surrounded by farm fields, Oberbösa continues to keep its history alive, much like the original clock. This however does not come without a struggle: rural flight to urban centres is now one of the biggest challenges for German villages. With the youth migrating to big cities, only a few individuals like Altenburg are left behind to preserve a sense of unity with the culture of the German countryside.

The youth in Oberbösa, disenchanted with rural life, reflect the problem of rural flight that plagues many German villages.

For Altenburg and his father, the most important mission is to keep the local church physically unified.

“It’s simply old,” said Altenburg.

The church organ in Oberbösa stands tall on the last floor, in front of the entrance to the clock tower. It is painted in blue, white and gold with striking silver pipes.
Altenburg said, That is one thing we are very proud of.”

But today, no one plays the instrument. The young pastor of the church instead plays a guitar on a stage close to the crowd.

In the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War left the church destroyed. But it was under the German Democratic Republic that Oberbösa’s Christian heritage suffered the most. Instead of a protestant confirmation, parents started choosing secular confirmation for their teenage sons and daughters.

Altenburg’s father continued the tradition of protestant confirmation. Now, out of the nine teenagers who had a protestant confirmation ceremony in the village in 2008, Altenburg is the only one fighting to keep the church alive.

Altenburg: “My father inspired me.”

The youth in Oberbösa, disenchanted with rural life, reflect the problem of rural flight that plagues many German villages. While the refugee crisis increased Germany’s population in 2015, the country experienced a population decline of 0.41% from 1994 to 2014. In the state of Thuringia, the population declined by almost 14 % from 1994 to 2015. In Oberbösa, the population declined by 17% in the same time-frame.

At the age of 23, Altenburg is a student of electric engineering and the youngest member of the village council. He said: “In the old days, each church had its own pastor.” Today there is only one pastor for approximately fifteen churches in the region, who visits Oberbösa once a month.

During the First World War, the church bells in Oberbösa were melted to create bullets

Pointing at the deep crack between the porch entrance of the Church and the main building, he said: “The groundwater is making the land sink. So the entrance is drifting away.” For now, yellow foam fills the crack as a short-term solution, unifying the porch to the rest of the church. He would need 16,000 euros to permanently fix the damage, but according to him “it will take at least two to three years” to collect that amount of money.

The money collected in the church donation box is not reserved for Oberbösa’s church. Instead, there is a church committee that collects donations from several churches in the region. The committee then proceeds to divide the money between the churches as it sees fit. It gives more money to big churches, which are mostly located in cities. The smallest churches, usually belonging to villages like Oberbösa, receive the least funds. In East Germany, this creates a particularly dire situation for village churches that suffered decay under the German Democratic Republic.

The annual village carnival organized in February is another attempt at keeping alive village traditions. It is a rare moment when the village youth returns to Oberbösa from German cities, albeit for a weekend.

With little to no money, the small village churches are unable to sustain themselves and, as a result, attendance at mass is plummeting. With fewer churchgoers, it is no more in the interest of the church committee to spend funds on these village churches. Without the financial support of the church committee, the small churches cannot renovate their buildings or organize events that would attract more people. The number of churchgoers further depletes.

Altenburg fears that his church will fall into this vicious trap.

The church community in Oberbösa is trying to upgrade the building. They have installed heating under the benches on the ground floor, hoping to attract more people in the winter. Altenburg and his father tried to fix the cracks in the church floor. He said: “We did it with our own hands.”

The church also organizes an annual Christmas play and a summer concert. Altenburg said: “The church choir has people of all ages.” Altenburg hopes to organize more concerts in collaboration with KulturDurst, a cultural initiative in Oberbösa that began in 2007. KulturDurst brings German artists to Oberbösa every summer for book readings and music concerts. It is an artistic project that tries to unify urban Germany with its rural counterparts.

We have to accept that nowadays the church is not the most important institution. First we need schools, hospitals and jobs.

The annual village carnival organized in February is another attempt at keeping village traditions alive. The carnival is a rare moment when the village youth return to Oberbösa from German cities, albeit only for a weekend. But even this weekend trip is unable to save the local economy; the village kiosk, run by an elderly lady, is on the brink of shutting down. The only bar in the village has no bartender.

Oberbösa’s population of 16 to 65 year olds dropped from 284 in 2000 to 221 in 2015. The population of citizens above 65 years of age increased from 84 in 2000 to 96 in 2015. German cities are draining the villages of their youth, income and state funding.

The Blue shield symbol granted by the government to cultural property hangs by the Church door in Oberbösa. It is granted to German heritage sites that need to be protected. But “it’s just a sign. The state does not help us at all,” said Altenburg.

In 2015, the German state spent a large sum - €5.4 billion - on its ambitious project to build a second airport in Berlin, the Brandenburg Airport, which has been under construction since 2006. Altenburg said: “We need 16,000 to save the church. That’s nothing like the billions spent on Brandenburg.”

Oberbösa’s residents are trying to save their cultural heritage and the history of their village. Are their attempts  enough to save Oberbösa? Altenburg said:

“We have to accept that nowadays the church is not the most important institution. First we need schools, hospitals and jobs.”

The German government’s blindness towards these dying villages could fragment the country, deepening the urban-rural divide in Germany. Villages that were a part of the former German Democratic Republic, like Oberbösa, already feel distant from West Germany, whether it’s their accents or job opportunities or the poor state of their heritage buildings.

During the first world war, the church bells in Oberbösa were melted to create bullets. After the war ended, new bells were placed in the church. Inscribed on the rim of the bells is 'Be Content in Hope.' In Altenburg's words:

“You have to have hope. That’s all we have.”


Sadia is a photographer and documentarymaker from India. She runs her own platform - Yours unapologetically


the Search For Happiness | Grenzenloos



What does happiness mean to the European generation that grew up without borders? GRENZENLOOS (borderless in Dutch) is a young and dynamic group of students who have made a documentary about the life and happiness of 'generation Y'. In this short documentary, consisting of 6 chapters they travel from Eastern to Western Europe to interview young people about how they experience life and happiness. 

Chapter 1 | Zagreb
Chapter 2 | Budapest
Chapter 3 | Bratislava
Chapter 4 | Prague
Chapter 5 | Berlin
Chapter 6 | Amsterdam


Love Against All Odds

 source: Wikimedia Commons

source: Wikimedia Commons



Why most Ukranian nationalists also love Europe

by Tobias Wals

Nationalists vs. globalists – these are the two sides that will face each other in Europe’s 2017 elections. As political debates move from economic themes to questions of identity, the old left-right divide has become obsolete.

Globalists choose an open society, intensive international cooperation and a strong European Union. Populist nationalists like Le Pen, Wilders and Petry put national interests first and imagine a society with closed borders, strict immigration laws and economic protectionism. Their ultimate goal? The dismantling of the European Union.

In Ukraine, as elsewhere in Europe, nationalism is flourishing. But there’s something strange about Ukrainian nationalism: it is not at odds with Europeanism. On the contrary: in Ukraine, the most devoted nationalists are more often than not strong supporters of European integration. The dichotomy of nationalists vs Europeanists does not apply here. Indeed, when I ask my Ukrainian nationalist/pro-European friends why their convictions don’t clash, they don’t even understand what I’m talking about.

in Ukraine, the most devoted nationalists are more often than not strong supporters of European integration

According to a poll conducted by Rating Group Ukraine last October, 51% of Ukrainians wants their country to join the EU. When asked about their general attitudes, 44% of respondents stated to be positive or very positive about the EU, another 40% remaining neutral. Out of twelve countries in the poll, only Poland and Belarus scored higher.

Russia came in last.

Pro-European Ukrainians can, by and large, be divided into three groups:

1. Idealists, who see (partial or full) European integration as a chance to reform Ukraine into an open society, with transparency and the rule of law

2. Opportunists, for whom Europe means higher living standards and visa-free travel

3. Nationalists, who seek recognition from Western Europe and support for their struggle against Russia.

Note that the lines between these three groups are blurred.

For the nationalists, being pro-European and being anti-Russian are two sides of the same coin. They see their shared past with Russia as an historic mistake that can only be corrected by joining the European community. In their eyes, Ukraine’s conflict with Russia is a civilizational war, in which Ukraine is Europe’s foremost outpost.

Here people will give you funny looks when you speak Russian to them. Here, too, 79% of respondents supported EU membership in the October poll
 The link between nationalism and Europeanism is most obvious in Western-Ukraine  source: Guillaume Herbaut 2004

The link between nationalism and Europeanism is most obvious in Western-Ukraine
source: Guillaume Herbaut 2004

Russia: the great antagonist

The link between nationalism and Europeanism is most obvious in Western-Ukraine. This region used to be part of the Habsburg Empire and Poland. It only became part of the Soviet Union in 1939, after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Here you may find young men with mohawk-style Cossack haircuts and graffiti showing the controversial nationalist Nazi-collaborator Stepan Bandera. Here people will give you funny looks when you speak Russian to them. Here, too, 79% of respondents supported EU membership in the October poll (compared to  24% in Eastern-Ukraine).

Ukrainian nationalists show the same obsession with identity that is also taking hold of nationalistic politics in the West. Indeed, the way they blend folklorism and pseudo-history with a chauvinistic and even xenophobic discourse closely resembles the political style of Front National, UKIP and the FPÖ. But somewhere along the way, their nationalism aligned with pro-European ideas. All because of the great antagonist: Russia.

Ukrainians teach us that if you love Europe and your country, too – there’s nothing wrong with you.

Still, if nationalism and Europeanism do not clash in Ukraine, then why do they elsewhere in Europe? Perhaps Ukrainian nationalists are naïve and don’t fully understand  the consequences of European integration. After all, full membership of the EU would mean giving up a substantial chunk of sovereignty to Brussels. When push comes to shove, I wonder whether Ukrainian nationalists are really  willing  to do so? And will they willingly embrace Western-European values, such as  feminism and gay-rights?

Look at Poland, which is also decidedly anti-Russian and until recently showed the same odd mix of national and European fervour. That is, until the ultraconservative PiS administration came to power and declared the liberal order of the EU to be anti-Polish. The same backlash might await Ukraine when (or if) it joins the EU.

But you can reason the other way around, too. Europe’s nationalists like to pretend that Europhilia is antithetical to love for one’s country and nation; perhaps the case of Ukraine shows they are wrong.

Populist nationalists in Western-Europe rebel against the establishment – which happens to be the EU. Ukrainian nationalists love the EU because it’s the opposite of Russia. Both motives are equally arbitrary. Ukraine teaches us that nation ≠ Europe is just a political frame.

With some big elections coming up and populist-nationalists leading in the polls almost everywhere, this is something to remember: if you love Europe and your country, too – there’s nothing wrong with you.


Tobias is a translator (Ukrainian and Russian) who lives in Kiev. His mission in life is to open up Ukrainian literature to Dutch readers




Kebab, Coffee & Culture
Unity in My Own Neighbourhood

by Julia Muller

At around five p.m. - with the sunset well on its way - I make my way home. Home is Utrecht and specifically Lombok, a neighbourhood west of Utrecht’s central train station.

As I walk through the tunnel to cross the train tracks, two greenly lit towers beam at me, marking the passage into Utrecht’s multicultural heart. The towers are the minarets of the Ulu Mosque. When the Mosque was built three years ago, the square surrounding it was bare and deserted. Now, the square is occupied at any hour of the day by the daily hustle and bustle of middle-aged men attending the mosque, students buying their groceries at Albert Heijn and people of all colours and ages queuing at the Kebab Factory. Although Dutch multiculturalism used to function as a successful example of integration for other European countries, it has become a controversial term referring to all that’s wrong with society nowadays.

This is my plea for the re-appreciation of multiculturalism in its purest form, taking my own neighbourhood Lombok as a role model.

Yes, it’s personal. And yes, it is therefore subjective, coming from the perspective of a liberal and privileged student. However, it might be the only convincing way to move away from a political approach and focus on the experience of daily life in the Netherlands. With the Dutch elections being a mere two weeks away, it might be productive to shed some light on the concept of ‘unity’ in terms of existing examples, rather than presumptive promises made by political parties.


Let’s talk statistics first. Lombok has some 5.000 inhabitants. Of these 5.000, 13% is of non-Dutch Western descent and 20% is of non-Western descent. Officially, both of these categories are referred to as ‘allochtoon’, which literally translates into ‘foreign’ and means someone was either born abroad or at least one of their parents was. Yet, the term ‘allochtoon’ is nowadays mostly used to indicate people of Turkish or Moroccan descent, most of whom are by now third generation Dutch inhabitants with full Dutch citizenship. Concerning colloquial terms, we haven’t come up with a fitting alternative to specify such people’s ancestry, apart from simply calling them Dutch, which in fact I’m a firm advocate of.

"It is this diversity of language, cuisine and customs that allows for cultural exchanges to take place and which result in a new blend of Dutchness"

When I say that most people who live in Lombok are ‘just Dutch’, it does not mean that I am denouncing the richness of the cultural diversity that characterises the neighbourhood. It is specifically this diversity of language, cuisine and customs that allows for cultural exchanges to take place and which result in a new blend of Dutchness. A Dutchness that in my opinion is much more likely to successfully deal with globalisation and other contemporary ‘threats’ because of its versatility and adaptability.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cultural diversity is to humanity what biodiversity is to nature; a source of innovation and creativity that is not only beneficial but also highly desirable to the future of mankind. This might sound vague, but I will try to illustrate it by taking some personal encounters I recently had, and using them as examples for what I consider to be the ultimate form of multiculturalism and unity within that diversity.

Note: I did not purposely look for these encounters; they happened naturally and in fact were the inspiration for this article, instead of the other way around.

Encounter #1 - The Pharmacy
My pharmacy is located in the heart of Lombok. On a Tuesday morning two weeks ago, I went to pick up a medicine recipe. Upon entering the pharmacy, I drew a ticket. When my number was called out, a tall man stepped forward and took my spot. Obviously, I was pissed. Some minutes later, a woman with a stroller, who was already at the counter next to the man, was told that the medicine she was picking up for her baby is not entirely covered by her insurance. She had to pay an additional 2 euros and 45 cents. I can hear her mutter that she does not have her wallet on her, thinking she would not need it. Then something happens. The man who had cut the line only minutes before turns around and kindly offers to pay for her, even though she objects. After an elaborate exchange of ‘Shukran’ (Arabic for ‘thank you’) both ways, the man and woman leave the pharmacy together, still taking in Arabic. I am left speechless, ashamed of my so-called Dutch manners.

Encounter #2 - Albert Heijn
Any Dutch person reading this has some sort of relation with Albert Heijn. Being the largest supermarket chain, it is loved by many and disliked by just as many, mainly because of its high prices. Usually, Friday afternoon is the busiest hour in the Lombok store, meaning long lines and hasty cashiers. After placing my groceries on the conveyor belt and paying, the cashier asks me whether I would like ‘Efteling stamps’ (little tickets you can stick on a stamp card in order to save for a discount for the Efteling, the Netherlands’ most famous theme park). When I tell her no, I look back and offer my tickets to a woman wearing a hijab, who’s in line behind me. Her eyes start to twinkle and while I continue packing my groceries, she tells me about her four children and how she wants to take all of them to the Efteling once she’s able to fill enough cards. All of this in perfect Dutch, leaving me to, again, embarrassedly reconsider my first impression. Together we get to 2,5 full stamp cards; only 1,5 to go! With a big smile on my face I leave Albert Heijn, knowing that four kids will have an amazing day trip really soon.

Encounter #3 - The Thrift Store
My very favourite place to go on a Wednesday afternoon is the Emmaus, a local thrift store chain that sells clothes, books, records and anything else one might need in and around the house. Wednesday is the first day of the week it opens, and it's the best day to go, because of all the new arrivals. It seems that everyone in Lombok knows this, so when I arrive the store is already packed with young men from the asylum center around the corner, Moroccan mothers with children and hipster students. Especially the women’s clothing section is overcrowded. One of the thrift store volunteers is unpacking some more newly arrived jackets. With a thick Utrecht accent she starts handing out jackets to whom she thinks they fit best, disregarding age, size and colour. There, in the aisles of the thrift store, all differences between women are overcome. All that matters is who wears the red woollen sweater best and gets to take it home. For 4 euros.

In anticipation of the coming elections, one of the Dutch public television channels is broadcasting a series called Op eigen kracht (On our own). The series aims to uncover the resilience and self-reliance of Dutch voters in different places of the Netherlands, one of which being Utrecht. Whereas in neighborhoods such as Overvecht, Ondiep and Leidsche Rijn the gap between ‘foreign’ and ‘native’ inhabitants has increased over the past two decades, Lombok is considered a ‘multicultural dream’. According to a survey done by the municipality of Utrecht, Lombok’s inhabitants view multiculturalism in their neighborhood as an asset. "Op eigen kracht" emphasized how entrepreneurship in the Kanaalstraat en de Damstraat, varying from Afghan stores to Turkish bakeries and Iraqi butchers to old Dutch pubs, supposedly is the secret to this multicultural success story. I think they are right. Who cares whether the owner of the organic deli is Iranian?! What is important is that the goat cheese he sells is tasty. The multiplicity of all these little stores makes that people choose where to shop according to quality and price, making that they naturally interact with people looking for the same thing. Buying medicine, groceries and clothing is so embedded is people’s daily lives, that suddenly the people with whom they do so are too. When this happens to 5000 people with over 40 different nationalities, it creates a natural cultural equilibrium, which - sadly - is quite unique in the Netherlands.

To me, these three encounters show the power of connecting with people who are very different from you, but at the same time similar in so many ways. What is missing in the current debate on multiculturalism and the influx of refugees in the Netherlands, is the acknowledgement that the Dutch way of doing things is not necessarily the best way. Again, we need a new conception of Dutchness, one that is less concerned with standing in line neatly and more directed at connecting the people you’re standing in line with.

What I think makes a general Dutch identity thrive in this tiny squared kilometer of urban space, is that people are not obsessively trying to label one another. Common practices such as buying groceries, drinking coffee and enjoying warm summer nights by the canal have overcome the political urgency of identifying who’s who and what’s what. In that way, I identify with Lombok’s Dutchness so much more than so-called historical forms of Dutch identity. I warmly invite anyone who hesitates to embrace multiculturalism to have a cup of Arabic coffee in the Kanaalstraat and see for themselves what the Netherlands could look like!


Julia is an are we europe staff writer interested in cultural conflict, unity and identity


Borders & Bombs with José


Turn on subtitles on YouTube and watch in HD (it's worth it)

by Nestor Romero Clemente

An intimate encounter with 87 year old José Pere Nerin, who lives at the border between Spain and France. He speaks about how difficult it was to cross a border back in the old days, and why he feels that closing them again would be a mistake.

He talks about borders, bombs and shows the fragility of borders.

Nestor is an AWE staff documentary-maker interested in the humans of Europe

Screen Shot 2017-03-01 at 23.59.29.png
 Photo:  Garon S

Photo: Garon S

Who’s Afraid of Generation Europe? | pt. 2

By Ellyn van Valkengoed

People I know – friends, classmates, colleagues -  say they no longer believe in democracy, because ‘as a system’ it can never work. I don’t think they mean it, since they’re the same people who wandered the streets at night in a daze after the American presidential elections and (almost) cried over Brexit. It seems like the natural thing to do: when things aren’t going your way, blame it on the system.

But I worry that the rest of the world won’t see it this way, in a time when even the New York Times reports that millennials no longer consider democracy ‘essential’ to government. This isn’t even a fact, but a misinterpretation of the original research results as it turns out. I’m worried that damage is being done; that everyone will mistake this showcase of cynicism about democracy for the real thing, the same way parents worry about sensitive high schoolers who dye their hair black and stitch skull-shaped patches onto their backpacks.

In the first part of this essay, I wrote about the ways in which politics now seem to be carried out against the interests of young people and why, in relation to this, we’re not making ourselves heard.  That was about the system. This part is about us. Specifically, about our identity as Europeans.


If my generation is in any way more skeptical about democracy than before, Europe must be where it started. This isn’t only because national independence, the voice of the people and membership of the EU are the issues that are at stake for many of the political parties shaking up the establishment now. It's also because we sense that Europe, the continent, finds itself at a critical turning point.

In 2014, academic Jonathan Holslag (1981) wrote a book which he dedicated to his students first and to Europe’s youth second. It’s mainly for us, he states, that the hollowing out of Europe and its politics is more evident. The world order is shifting: Asia is on the rise while the United States’ hegemony is waning, and Europe’s borders have become hotbeds of violence. Then there is the fallout from a global economic crisis to deal with and battles fought over immigration and employment.

Yet it’s not all bad: Europe, to me, is also a shorthand for how we grew up, with its adventures and opportunities. It’s Erasmus, cheap air travel, interrailing passes, every flavor of beer imaginable (Earl Grey and caramel, anyone?). It’s clubbing in Iceland till your fingers curl and freeze, and friends gained and lost as they move to and from Brussels or Paris.

The trouble with European identity is that its greatest strength – a diversity of experiences – is also its predominant flaw

Being European comes with a sense of connectedness owing to hundreds of hours of history classes on WW1 and WW2 and the French revolution. It’s part of the timeline of our childhoods. The treaty of Maastricht, which formalized the EU as we know it today, was signed in 1992, the year I was born. It was followed by the introduction of the Euro (2002) which opened possibilities to cross borders IRL, just as the internet (Google, 1998; Facebook, 2004; YouTube, 2005) made it possible to talk to anyone anywhere.

Even our sense of style isn’t as unique as we’d have you believe: If Instagram had existed back in 1774, I am sure Young Werther would have had an account. It would have featured snaps of sunsets and the yellowed pages of old books and brown leather riding boots that fold at the knee. 25-year old Johann von Goethe had already come up with a pretty successful parody of the hipster phenomenon, long before anyone even knew what that was.


The trouble with European identity is that its greatest strength – a diversity of experiences – is also its predominant flaw. Europe is easy to understand when you are zipping across its borders or watching the sun flash on the surface of the Thames, but hard to explain in a crisis. It’s a bit like going on a gap year: you sense the world is bigger and more interesting than you’d imagined, but there’s always a moment when you come home to the old bedroom in your parents’ house. You’ve changed, but everything else is the same as before.

Europe leaves you with a language made for academic papers, newspaper analyses and history books. Its rhetoric doesn’t scale down to a tweet or up to a television debate. And everyone knows that in the end, decisions are made at home: or even in another member state, while you wait powerlessly for referendum results to come in.

I also know it’s not entirely fair to assume everyone of a certain age considers Europe the way I do. Of course we didn’t all go to university, and we didn’t all study abroad. Most of us can’t understand each other when we’re ordering beer in the pub. We’re not all dealing with the same situations either: some of us twentysomethings are living in mom’s basement, others buying their first houses.

But not thinking about this issue further is a recipe for disaster. Or, as Holslag wrote:

‘The tension doesn’t lead to unity, but instead to a paralyzing divide between rebellion, outrage, cynicism, and, for those who haven’t been struck by crisis yet, a conservative apathy.’

I think 2017 might be the year that crisis begins to catch up with all of us, equally. Cynicism and apathy aren’t the answer, but a starting point to talk about democracy and Europe and its future. If democracy could be better, how could we improve it? How can we make room for experiences that aren’t our own? We will go home, but let’s try to not lose sight of each other.

Read the first part of Ellyn's essay series here


Ellyn is an Are We Europe staff writer focussing on European identity and other issues

ParisProtests (1).JPG


When We Give In, We Die - Unity in Romanian protests

text and photos by Cristina Grațiela Chiran

If I were to draw my teenage years in Bucharest I would trace thick pencil lines from my home behind the Parliament Palace to my high school just off Calea Victoriei / Victory Avenue, then all the way up to Piața Victoriei / Victory Square. There, behind the Government building, I would spend my afternoons at the Art School with my best friend who studied sculpture. Victory Square would be a graphite nexus, as fine pencil lines would start at the art school and cross the Government place and stop at the Romanian Peasant Museum where we'd watch old films under a starlit sky.


If Romanians from Bucharest drew their months of January and February 2017, their graphite lines would converge at Victory Square too. There, the intensity of all the pencils would make a hole in the map the shape of a nucleus with branches on the six boulevards that surround the Government building.

This collective map would trace the path of the recent street protests in Bucharest. Similar maps would tell the stories of Romanians that protested in cities throughout Romania, such as Cluj, Brasov, Iași, Timișoara, Sibiu, and throughout Europe including Paris, London, Brussels, Copenhagen and Rome.

Why did people take to the streets?

In the first month of 2017 Romanians were confronted with two legislative proposals that would allow more room for corruption and abuse of power. The Government proposed a draft law that grants amnesty to officials (who have been accused of corruption), and the emergency decree (in Romanian, ‘Ordonanta de Urgență’) OUG 13/2017 that decriminalises official misconduct up to a threshold of 200,000 lei, or approximately €42,100.

Romanians started drawing the first graphite lines on the maps of their cities as early as the 18th of January. That night 5,000 people took to the streets, 4,000 of them in  Bucharest. On Sunday, 29th of January, Romania witnessed its largest ever protests since the fall of Communism. The collective maps were being ripped apart  by the push of pens, as 90,000 people protested throughout the country, 50,000 of them in Bucharest alone.



Despite this massive civil uprising, on the 31st of January at 22:00 our Minister of Justice announced that the Government had passed the emergency decree and referred the amnesty law for debate to Parliament.

One hour later, thousands of people gathered at Victory Square in front of the Government to contest the decision. By 1AM the number had risen to 20,000. The following days witnessed even larger waves of protests.

Two weeks of protests … and counting

I’m sitting in my little office in Paris. Bundles of books and articles about Plato's democracy and international human rights law lay abandoned on the side of my desk. My eyes are glued to the laptop screen as I rush through articles from the New York Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, the Independent, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg - everyone seems to be reporting about the thousands of Romanians protesting against corruption laws. Distant Facebook friends are posting photographs and live streams from the spot in Bucharest or Cluj. On the phone my mother tells me:

There are more people protesting now than at the Revolution in ‘89.

Over half a million people protested throughout Romania in the days after the emergency decree was passed.

On the 6th day of the protests the emergency decree that took people to the streets was withdrawn. The legal process was to do so via another emergency decree called OUG 14/2017. Even though the news came out at 16:00, over 250,000 protesters in Bucharest and 600,000 throughout the country continued taking to the streets.

 Source:  Cristian Ro

Source: Cristian Ro

If Romanians living abroad were to draw their month of February, every Sunday their pencil lines would come together. The Sunday when the decree was withdrawn, my graphite line joined over a thousand others at Place du Trocadero in Paris. We took photographs, shouted slogans and felt our hearts beating faster than usual, perhaps even beating in unison. It was empowering to be amongst fellow Romanians and draw my graphite line from the 5eme district all across Paris. It felt more real, somehow, than merely reading about the numbers of protesters and seeing aerial photographs of the masses. It's empowering to exercise democracy at home and away from home - after all we're not just citizens once every four years when we vote, right?

Frozen collective maps continue tracing protests at freezing temperatures. At -7 degree celsius on the 12th of February over 50,000 people gathered in Bucharest, and 24,000 in the biggest cities throughout the country. Protests are still being organised every Sunday.

 I thought I could leave you alone with the laws for 5 minutes... Watch out I'm coming back for you... #diaspora

I thought I could leave you alone with the laws for 5 minutes... Watch out I'm coming back for you... #diaspora

Why do the protests continue?

Even though the emergency decree OUG 13/2017 was withdrawn, if OUG 14/2017 (used to repel the former) is ruled unconstitutional, then OUG 13/2017 will enter into force. Moreover, the amnesty law is currently being debated in Parliament. As the slogans say, peaceful protest is the only way to show that Romanians are watching their politicians.

 'We've got our eyes on you' #wecanseeyou

'We've got our eyes on you' #wecanseeyou

The Culture of Protest in Romania

In only five days Romanians have become experts in national and international legal matters. Slogans were referencing punishments for official misconduct in Europe similar to the new proposal for Romania. Have Romanians always been so civically engaged? Looking back, the answer is actually, yes.
In ‘89, Communism was overthrown by street protests and a historic revolution in Bucharest, which resulted in the capital having its very own Piata Revoluției / Revolution Square. In the nearby buildings one can still see the bullet holes that were fired on the day itself.

The protests continued in the summer of 1990. After the fall of Communism the National Salvation Front came into power, a party formed by Communists, with a Communist leader, Ion Iliescu. Protesters - especially students and academics - gathered in front of the government building, and occupied the University of Bucharest and areas around it. In an attempt to stop the protests, Iliescu called on miners to come to the capital and help restore the 'democratic order'. The miners came and, collaborating with the police and secret services, they acted violently towards the protesters and vandalized the city. Known as Mineriada, this violent movement led to a long-lasting political and civic reluctance among Romanians when it comes to protesting. It's also the reason why protesters nowadays insist on peaceful protesting. Its lasting heritage translates into the motif of Tineriada (tânăr = youth) meaning the power of the youth to take to the streets to protest.

The next largest nation-wide mobilisation took place 23 years later. In 2013, Prime Minister Victor Ponta proposed a draft law granting a foreign company a  permit to mine in the region of Roșia Montana and relocate the population in order to create the largest open- pit  gold-mine in Europe. The mining method involved the use of cyanide which is highly toxic for people, animals and the environment. The day after the law was proposed, thousands of people took the streets against the law and asking for the demise of the PM. The protests escalated, lasting four months, and were successful: after national and international protests,  the law did not pass in the end.

Two years later, in 2015, a new wave of massive protests hit the country. Romanians denounced corruption after night-club Colectiv caught fire despite having obtained all the official approvals to function. #Colectiv is still an open wound in recent Romanian history. 64 people died and 147 were gravely injured. On the fourth day of protests politicians met  the people’s demands - the Prime Minister resigned, along with his Government  and the Mayor of District 4 (where Colectiv was located). Many night-clubs who had illegally obtained authorization were closed, and smoking was prohibited inside.

 Photo from the solidarity protest in Paris. The banner reads 'Corruption kills'. #Colectiv making a reference to the incident in the club and previous protests. The line ' the day we give in is the day we die'  is part of the lyrics from  Goodbye to Gravity , the band that was playing the night of the club fire. 4 of its 5 band members died in the fire. It has become a leitmotif for the #Colectiv protests and it has been reused in the recent wave of protests.

Photo from the solidarity protest in Paris. The banner reads 'Corruption kills'. #Colectiv making a reference to the incident in the club and previous protests. The line 'the day we give in is the day we die' is part of the lyrics from Goodbye to Gravity, the band that was playing the night of the club fire. 4 of its 5 band members died in the fire. It has become a leitmotif for the #Colectiv protests and it has been reused in the recent wave of protests.

Unity can achieve wonders. In Romania’s current political system, it seems that dialogue between citizens and politicians can only exist when people come together, united in their requests. When people join hands and hold authorities accountable, the Government is reminded that they should work not for themselves, but for the people. What better example is there of real-life Unity?


Cristina is a film graduate, human rights & humanitarian action student. She currently lives and studies in Paris.


European Citizen Popsong


By Max Rozenburg

"Are We Europe? Yes, We Are!"

This is one lyric from the European Citizen Popsong by Belgian performer and playwright Marieke Dermul. She has set out to create a collaborative and participatory pan-European song, aiming to promote European Unity. Coincidence? We think not.


Belonging | on ice



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

Vishwaraj Jadeja left his native India for the Netherlands to achieve his one goal: to win a medal for India at the Winter Olympics. “Everytime I’m on the ice, everything feels calm.”

The clicking of ice skates echoes through the Vechtsebanen [an indoor skating rink] as Vishwaraj emerges from the dressing room and approaches the smooth ice. He is the only skater with Olympic ambition hailing from India at the rink today. The freezing wind, typical for a Dutch winter, cuts through the open space. Outside snow is falling. Vishwaraj lifts his skates high into the air as he steps onto the ice. He stops just in front of the track and pulls his hat down over his ears.

Every time I’m skating on the ice, everything feels calm. It’s everything about it, even the way the cold air hits my face. That feeling of calm gives me a sense of belonging. I just know I’m right where I should be.

Vishwaraj trains every day with two Dutch skaters on coach Wim Nieuwenhuizen’s team. His personal goal is to win a medal at the Winter Olympics. “I like Holland, sure, but it’s because I am progressing all the time that I am still here. My coach is a big part of that, he is one of the reasons I have not given up. It’s really me and my coach against the world sometimes. Every personal record of mine is a national one for India, but I can do more. In India we see life as a gift instead of a right. That’s why I feel it’s my job to make the most out of my skating talent. No matter what.”


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.


Belonging | at a train station



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

One can often find Illfet Subasi (26) at central station in Rotterdam. As a journalist, she always commutes to her work by train, but that’s not the only reason she is often at the station. “Everything begins and ends here,” she says.

“My cousin got married in the bar ‘Engels’, just around the corner,” she says while standing at the square right in front of the station. “And my father, brother and sister in law live in that neighbourhood over there,” she continues, pointing in a different direction.

People make their way around her - all in a rush to catch their trains. It’s a sunny, late summer afternoon and Iffet’s headscarf gently dances in the warm wind. She then takes her headscarf in her left hand and starts playing with it just as girls play with their hair. “I love the hustle and bustle here,” she says, glancing around. “The people around me tend to calm me down,” she continues with a smile.

Happy memories make me feel at home here.

“There are so many places in close proximity of this station where I’ve collected nice memories,” she says. “They sell, for example, the best curried chicken sandwiches just a bit further down the street. And I conduct all my interviews on a street that’s only a few blocks away. In the building over there, the Manhattan hotel, I once went to a press conference of Zülfü Livaneli, an influential Turkish writer I admire. That was very special. Besides, this station is the place where I always meet my friends. I think that all these happy memories make me feel at home here.”

Feeling at home is a moment

“Turkish-Dutch people are often asked ‘Where do you feel at home most, in The Netherlands or in Turkey?’ One’s home is often related to a country, but one can feel at home in multiple countries. Feeling at home is a moment to me. When I get off the train at the station after a day of work I always get this nice feeling, like ‘finally, I’m home’.”

“Besides,” Iffet continues, “choosing between Turkey and the Netherlands is like choosing between your mom and your dad. It’s impossible. Being both Turkish and Dutch is not the same as being only Dutch or only Turkish. By combining aspects of both cultures we have created our own culture.”

“Ever since the station was reconstructed, the station has an actual living room - did you know that? In this living room you have - just like at home - wifi, couches and nice decorations; this creates a really cosy ambience. You can take a seat there without having to order something at the bar. This one time I forgot my key and my mom told me ‘Why don’t you wait in the living room?’ It really feels like one.”


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.


Belonging | on a ferry



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

Sander Pothuizen (30) has sailed the ferry across the river Lek, between Beusichem to Wijk bij Duurstede in the Netherlands, for eight years. If it were up to him, he would do this job until retirement. “When I see the sun breaking through the clouds on an overcast day, I know I have seized the moment of the day.”

With a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, Sander looks out across the expanse of nature stretched out before him. He sits in the ferry’s control room, leaning back and turned away from the controls. He has just started the engine and the ferry is now being steered by the board computer. He looks out the window, his feet resting on the cold radiator. Before him, the spectacle of life on the Lek unfolds: hovering birds, flowing water and the rustling leaves of trees on the riverbank. A ragged  Dutch flag flutters on a flagpole. The members of a motoring club rev their engines impatiently as the ferry approaches the far bank.

When I arrive here in the morning everything around me seems muted.

Sander: “Even it is not mine, it feels like the ferry belongs to me by now. My boss only comes to watch occasionally and that makes me feel even more free. When I arrive here at half past five in the morning everything around me seems muted. I am alone and see the sun slowly rise. The colour of the water is different and I hear nothing at all. That moment of peace is beautiful. I am truly surrounded by nature. I experience all the seasons and they all have their moments of beauty. When the sun breaks through the clouds on an overcast day, or when Gijs, the greylag goose, comes alongside to eat his fill or to swim along. Then I experience my moment of the day. Or when dark clouds pass over the ferry, fantastic! Those are the beautiful things.”


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.


Belonging | in old houses



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

Louis Schoonenberg (57) works independently on renovation projects. Currently, he fixes up historic buildings in the centre of Utrecht. And that is exactly where he feels at home. “When a job is finished, I have to find emotional closure.”

“Look, that’s one I did,” Louis points out. He is standing on the bridge over the Oude Gracht in Utrecht and is pointing to a house with green shutters overlooking the canal. “Number 302. And the one next to it, with the white tower. Do you see that one? All work from my own hands.” His face relaxes and he is quiet for a moment. “Nice, isn’t it? Here you have canals, terraces and people who always stop for a chat while you work. Wonderful, a bit of cheerfulness in life. After all, life is short.”

Here people always stop for a chat while I work.

“At the moment I do a lot of work for Stadsherstel [city restoration services]. For the cash of course, but that is not reason number one. I am a city person. I was born here and I moved houses within the city centre many times. Now I live in Houten in a modern apartment building. It is impersonal and cold there, the town sleeps. I went to live there with an ex-girlfriend because we needed a house, but to be honest I don’t like anything about it.”

My modern apartment is impersonal and cold.

“I feel good when I’m near old buildings. Every old building is alive. I find them all beautiful, but when I finish a job I look for emotional closure. You can’t develop strong feelings for every building. One building that I still feel a bond with is 30 Ganzenmarkt. It dates way back to 1583. It was in ruins when I came and together with my colleague Hans I made it beautiful again. I was given plenty of time and confidence on the job. To be allowed to work there was sublime.”

After every job I find closure on an emotional level too.

“The first time I renovated a house I did so with my mother. We moved from the Springweg, where I was born, to Hopakker. We worked on the house together. I learned to renovate houses by trying things out. It’s all in the fingers: you either have the gift or you don’t.


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.


Belonging | a place to stay



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

Patty Golsteijn (31) moved from Echt, a small village in the Dutch province Limburg, to New York by way of Eindhoven, Dordrecht and Rotterdam. Only to discover that she feels most at home in Rotterdam. “There was always a reason to move away: to study, for love or business. But there is no reason to leave Rotterdam. I live here because I really want to.”

“Look, another giant passes by.” Patty points at a ship sailing past her living room. Her place is situated on the fourth floor of an apartment block on the shore of the river Nieuwe Maas. Through her window she sees ships sailing by all day. “This is a really big one,” she says enthusiastically while she opens the doors to her balcony. She steps outside and leans over the railing. Her red-dyed hair blows across her face and back. “I really enjoy this,” she says without taking her eyes off the ship. “All this activity will never bore me.”

You can’t feel at home if you still long for somewhere else.

“In New York it became very clear to me. I craved going out for coffee spontaneously with friends and being close to my family, but also cheese,” she laughs guiltily. “Not presented to you all fancy on a platter like Americans do. No, just a slice or a cube that you pop into your mouth straight away.  You can’t feel at home if you still long for somewhere else. I know that now.”

“During a surprise visit to friends and family in The Netherlands I felt like I loved the Netherlands for the first time. On the train from Schiphol [Amsterdam Airport] to Rotterdam I looked across the fields and I was happy. I had always looked down on this country, but now I suddenly felt proud. It is so fucking beautiful here. This is my country, I realized in that moment. Here I am no outsider. I’m allowed to be here,” Patty says with shining eyes.

The ships of Rotterdam represent the simple way of life in the Netherlands

“We live such fucking good lives here,” she continues. “Dutch people work hard, but we also know how to enjoy ourselves. The ships of Rotterdam to me represent the pleasant and uncomplicated life in the Netherlands. Every time I see them, I feel proud again. When I decided to return to the Netherlands for good I knew I would live in Rotterdam.”


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.


Belonging | at a pier



By Joost Gijzel (pictures) and Anoek Hofkens (text)

Jan Hoedeman (55) casts his fishing lines at the northern pier head in Scheveningen at least once week. “This place has such a historic Dutch feel to it. It has existed for a hundred years and will still be here in another hundred.”

Jan sits on a folding chair at the pier, keeping a close eye on his fishing rods. He’s wearing a miner’s light, because it's only six in the morning and pitch black. It’s quiet - you hear nothing but the waves and the wind. “Ho!” he cries suddenly and leaps from his chair. In two strides he reaches the rod that moved. The moment he reels in the line it becomes tense. Jan pulls his catch from the sea with a single heave. “Cod!” he shouts. He grabs the fish and pushes it to the ground. “The tenderhearted should look away,” he warns. It takes four whacks of the club to beat the life out of the slippery animal.

More nationalities come here, but it doesn’t feel less like home because of it.

“This is my spot,” says Jan as he fixes new bait onto the fishing hook. “I know where to cast, where it's slippery, where I shouldn’t go and where I’m taking risks. I've been on the other side before.” He points to the southern pier end. “But it's different there. It's more Dutch, only locals fish there. More nationalities come here, but it doesn’t feel less like home because of it.”

“It gives me an enormous sense of peace to be here. When I come home after fishing, I drink a glass of red wine and take a bath. The rest of the day I feel reborn.” Gradually the pier is illuminated. The sun rises and paints the sky pink and orange. “Look, how beautiful.” Jan turns toward the light and raises his camera to take a picture. “Every time the colours and the clouds are different. It makes me so happy. Even when the weather is bad I enjoy myself. I can’t help it,” he smiles. “Even if the catch disappoints, I’ll always have photography.”


By photographing and interviewing different kinds of people who feel at home in the Netherlands, photographer Joost Gijzel and journalist Anoek Hofkens show how diverse the Dutch society is. The question 'Where does someone belong?' is difficult to answer. It’s not necessarily the place where someone was born or where someone is meant to be. Where you belong is the place you long for at times when you’re not there.


Eirôn | Coen-Reinier Lap - our staff cartoonist / political commentator / cynical guy

march - VER 2 - the united european union.jpg

Sit-Down with photographer Ignacio Evangelista

We sat down with Ignacio Evangelista, a Spanish photographer whose photo-series about former border checkpoints, After Schengen, portrays the fading borders across Europe. We asked him about the role of borders in a unified Europe and whether photographers should accept a role in public debate. 

Capture d’écran 2017-03-02 à 10.24.57.png
  source: Pixabay

source: Pixabay

Are We The World?


Millennials are the most educated generation in the history of humankind. Most of us tend to think highly of ourselves. Maybe we are right to; but now the time has come to prove it. While Europe continues (or not) to drool over bloodthirsty politicians, why don’t we, the fortunate ones, put our minds to assembling a brand-new humane order?

by Anna Jelezovskaia

People in the EU are growing more nationalistic. We may still be in denial, but it must be true, for without nationalism the right-wing populist rhetoric would not appeal as effectively to all those who give the movement its teeth. The trend, as we all know, is at odds with the supranational unity the EU has been working towards in the last decades. With the pivotal Dutch, German and French elections just around the corner, my search for consolation has pushed me to understand the core of the sentiment that threatens the grandiose European project: nationalism.

For a long time I attributed my inability to grasp nationalism, as well as its non-militant alter ego ‘patriotism’, to my international background. Having left Belarus fourteen years ago, I do not identify with my homeland at all, so criticising the sentiment I could not comprehend seemed wrong. Eventually, I understood that the reason behind my scepticism lies elsewhere. In fact, as an “adopted” European I enjoy  the  refreshing perspective of an outside observer. My conclusion is: in addition to all the bigotry involved, a huge flaw of nationalism lies in the blindness of those who ‘worship’ it. And that, we ought not to accept.

At the heart of any coherent nationalist discourse, we find divisive thinking, manifested in a focus on emphasizing the differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’. That’s why there are people who openly claim they are worthy of preferential treatment by virtue of being British, French, Dutch, Hungarian and so on. In this group, there will be those who believe that ‘nationalism’ is an inevitable product of our natural predilection to organise our societies - which can be better achieved when we are surrounded by those who share the same roots.

Can we honestly suggest that what makes us thrive in the company of our friends and colleagues is common ancestry? I don’t think so. It’s almost more plausible to imagine how two people can immediately ‘bond’ over a new Netflix series.

Of course, we might feel more comfortable in the company of those who grew up and were shaped by the same cultural environment. Our overlapping backgrounds create easy topics for conversations. Common language enhances this illusion of an almost intuitive understanding we have with many compatriots. Yet, as a longtime ‘citizen of the world’, there is something I have learned with regard to the nature of social unity of my generation (also referred to as Generation Y).

As of 2017, it sounds rather odd to say that what brings us closer is the illusion of a past we share. Can we honestly suggest that what makes us thrive in the company of our friends and colleagues is common ancestry? I don’t think so. It’s almost more plausible to imagine how two people can immediately ‘bond’ over a new Netflix series.

In shaping our social circles, we are drawn to individuals who share our interests and have a similar vision of the world, and fall in love with those who makes us shiver with their smiles.

What I see – and allow me to be entirely unscientific here - is that people of the ‘Information Age’ connect on levels that go way beyond their national IDs. In times of political uncertainty, we need to finally embrace one simple truth, so straightforward and old that it’s regretful that we still have not learned to live by it: the only thing that truly unites us is our humanity.

If we really dig into the nature of human interactions, we find that everyone needs affection and care. In shaping our social circles, we are drawn to individuals who share our interests and have a similar vision of the world, and fall in love with those who makes us shiver with their smiles.

Those people who stand firm on preferring the exclusive company of ‘their people’ simply have not met enough foreigners. When I moved to Spain nine years ago, I was afraid that my ‘Eastern European’ mentality would get in the way of forming friendships with international peers. As time allowed me to integrate, I was surprised to find that what prevented me from feeling at home in Spain was a faulty state of mind – I had put up my own barriers.

  source: Pixabay

source: Pixabay

More often than not, only a small realization like that is needed is to change one’s perspective. Once you do, you discover that you have always had what it takes, but you just turned a blind eye to it, often unconsciously. Because even people who describe themselves as ‘ethnocentric’ cherish their loved ones for their kindness, sense of humour, generosity, intelligence - not their nationality. These are  personality traits that are universal.

In the English language, the word ‘home’ is intentionally abstract: it  reflects this idea that we find belonging not only in geographic locations but also in those places where we feel unity in the presence of others. Globalisation has illustrated that young people like me can, and do, feel absolutely fulfilled in the company of like-minded individuals with whom they share no nation-specific traits (if those even exist beyond clichés). Hence, 21st century nationalism cannot serve as a true civil religion, because people are not hardwired to hate others simply because of their manmade label.

With the liberties you have, it’s almost a moral duty to devise a system that takes into account the equal dignity of all human beings.

Why, in spite of everything I have just said, do we close our eyes and repeat mistakes of the past?

First, because human beings are intrinsically bipolar – we are born with a lot of light around us, while there is also darkness. Both are equally powerful, like ‘yin’ and ‘yang’. When capitalism hits hard and globalisation, together with new technologies, undermines the way we live our lives, we are particularly susceptible to dark influences lurking in the shadows. In a world of unprecedented value pluralism, we crave authority whenever things get shaky. Sensing this, nationalism – embodied in the likes of Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders - usurps the throne and sways us towards the side of aggression and egotism.

On top of that, we have suffer from a cognitive bias. Various studies carried out in the field have illustrated that the mere fact of belonging to a group – in our case, the nation – results in hostility towards “outsiders”.

According to the so-called ‘social identity theory’, individual self-esteem is enhanced through the positive perception of group membership and a corresponding discriminatory comparison with the “worse” groups. This explains an almost unconditional loyalty expressed by many citizens towards their nation today and their contempt towards the unknown.

This is not necessarily a call for open borders, or turning into ‘hippies’ or anarchists. It is an appeal to revitalise our humanity, hardened by the dog-eat-dog mentality.
  Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

To combat this, I suggest we broaden the scope of our group. By using the knowledge gathered by psychologists, let’s try defining ourselves as ‘humans’ first, and only then as ‘citizens’. Only this way of defining humanity would be humane enough to align with our ‘light’ nature and, as a consequence, to save our home - the EU.

Of course, nation-states will remain important, but a positive shift in collective consciousness could occur. Certain electoral decisions will assist us in pursuing this overarching aspiration. For starters, ‘exiting’ the EU is not a good idea. Unlike humanism, nationalism can’t last long. Any system built on hostility is doomed to fail for the mere reason that it will never cease to destroy. First, it would get rid of refugees and immigrants – the external enemy. Then, it would find an internal one, to be eradicated by means not as obvious as ethnic cleansing, but more obscure like intergroup eugenics. Nationalism is a gun directed at those who load it. In a world where terrorism already poses such a huge threat, you don’t want to be the target of a Frankenstein monster. “United we stand, divided we fall,” remember?

There is a great “infrastructure” out there that institutions like the UN and the Council of Europe have worked so hard on, for us. By uniting sovereign members previously engaged in a perpetual state of warfare, the EU has given us the building blocks for long-lasting peace.

Having witnessed the state of political affairs in Belarus and Russia – where dictatorships have corrupted the system like a fatal disease - I find it shocking that many young Europeans are still not aware of this. With the liberties you have, it’s almost a moral duty to devise a system that takes into account the equal dignity of all human beings.

What is clear is that once humanism is woven into our policies and laws, we might finally come close to winding down wars, eradicating economic inequality and combating widespread human rights abuses. Until then, the vicious cycle of misery and disarray will have no end.

We can start by learning how not to hate. We also need to stop thinking in numbers only, and work on cultivating sympathy for those who seek our help. This is not necessarily a call for open borders, or turning into ‘hippies’ or anarchists. It is an appeal to revitalise our humanity, hardened by the dog-eat-dog mentality. We can focus on both existing and new local projects, since altruistic initiatives benefit all parties involved.

Instead of striving for exorbitant personal incomes earned in dubious industries, we can consider pursuing jobs in the education system – future generations need us now more than ever. We can become engaged in sustainable business activities and create passionate art. With the help of technologies, we can improve the democratic dialogue between stakeholders at the local, national and international level; and so on.

What is clear is that once humanism is woven into our policies and laws, we might finally come close to winding down wars, eradicating economic inequality and combating widespread human rights abuses. Until then, the vicious cycle of misery and disarray will have no end.

I know, if we stare at the (stinking) pile of global problems today, these pretty words sound empty. Indeed, there is a long and difficult climb ahead. But if we succeed at remembering the inherent value of all human life whenever we make a decision – be it personal, professional or civic – the status quo that seemed set in stone will finally blossom with new colours. This is a simple truth, hardly a new one, but one that needs to be repeated again and again. By me, by you, by us.

Millennials are the most educated generation in the history of humankind. Most of us tend to think highly of ourselves. Maybe we are right to; but now the time has come to prove it. While Europe continues (or not) to drool over bloodthirsty politicians, why don’t we, the fortunate ones, put our minds to assembling a brand-new humane order?

Is that youthful idealism? For sure; but don’t you think it’s not all too utopian? Besides, as of today, what other lifeboat is there for the EU?


Anna Jelezovskaia is a law student and aspiring writer/journalist, currently based in Paris.


Free InterRailing | Johanna Nyman | AWE Asks  



Interrail for Unity?

The European parliament proposed to give a free Interrail pass to young Europeans on their 18th birthday, hoping to "give the opportunity to all young people regardless of their social and educational background to discover Europe diversity."

Are We Europe asked European Youth Forum president Johanna Nyman whether she believes the plan will ultimately achieve that goal. 

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the Island of All Together



Every summer, many Greek islands in the Aegean Sea attract European tourists that are looking for a sunny holiday. However, this year the islands are also a home to thousands of refugees that crossed the sea in search of a new life in Europe. Normally, the paths of the tourists and refugees hardly cross, as the refugee camps are often located outside of the commercial areas. 

Filmmakers Philip Brink and Marieke van der Velden brought these two completely separated worlds together by inviting tourists and refugees to talk to each other about their lives. The result is, in their own words, "a short documentary with conversations of war, fleeing, home, work, love, but also cars and pets. It's an ode to humanism and shows what happens when we take time to sit down and talk with each other in stead of about each other."

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We’re Breaking Up: Reinventing Politics for the iPad Age

 Photo: Website Pakhuis de Zwijger

Photo: Website Pakhuis de Zwijger


Ellyn's interview in Confrontation

An interview with Wouter Welling from Positief Links

By Ellyn van Valkengoed

Friday night. When I arrive at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, the DJ is already on stage and I can feel the bass thumping beneath my feet. People are milling around the bar or sitting at round tables, talking and studying the shiny black iPad at the centre of every table.

It’s crowded: late-comers are standing, nursing their beers. Purple disco lights flash across their faces. Nothing about the scene suggests this is a political meet-up, but that’s exactly what I’ve come for.

“Politics should be fun,” says Wouter Welling (30). “You want to go out, meet your friends.” Wouter is the co-founder of Positief Links (the Positive Left), Amsterdam’s ‘first political start-up’, as the movement calls itself. Positief Links is not a political party: there are no candidates, no slogans and no televised debates.

Instead, Positief Links is all about generating ideas. These meet-ups aren’t called meet-ups, but ‘Idea Factories’. They’re hoping for the kind of ideas that could change politics by inspiring left-wing parties to work together.

The main goal is to reach people who have given up on politics. Whether you find politicians too cynical, feel disappointed by promises broken or you zone out when people start saying things like ‘coalition government’ and ‘proportional representation’: there’s a place at the bar for you tonight.

Connection lost

For Wouter, it made sense to look for a solution to political disengagement online. In his day job, Wouter works for the Dutch government in The Hague on the digitalization of citizen information. In other words, he helps people find their way to government services online.

“If you’re worried about privacy, don’t be: the records are a mess, the government isn’t very good at keeping up with technological developments,” he grins.

I decide not to take his word for it, since he warmly recommends the dystopian Netflix tv-series Black Mirror to me in the same breath (“chilling”).

When I ask Wouter what he is worried about, he becomes earnest:

“Not many people get involved with political parties anymore.  Not because they’re not interested in political issues – my friends talk a lot about what should be different in society in the pub or at the kitchen table – but because they don’t connect with politicians.”

“Especially on the left, politicians come across as angry and bitter. They seem to be competing against each other to point out everything that’s bad, there isn’t much room for optimism. Of course, it’s advantageous to say we’re all doomed. If you create a problem and blow it up to huge proportions, people will be very relieved when you come up with the solution.”

But recently this tactic hasn’t been paying off: many left-wing parties are struggling in the polls, losing their traditional demographic to populist movements.

That’s where Positief Links and their iPads come in.

So what’s the deal with the iPad?

“What’s missing is a way to take ideas that are going around online and put them on the political agenda,” Wouter explains.

That’s why Positief Links works with a website and social media channels where you can share ideas and give your feedback. But that’s not enough: “It’s easy to feel powerless online and become an internet troll, raging against the system,” Wouter says. “But you end up going unheard, because politicians don’t really listen to what is going on online anyway. We think people would rather meet up in real life than always communicate from behind their keyboards.”

At my table, I quickly find that most of the others are at a Positief Links meet-up for the first time as well. Across from me, a postgraduate student in biology tells me that she supports the green party, but that she strongly feels a need for more optimism in the debates about politics. The young man to my left works in logistics. Within five minutes, he brings up Donald Trump and how worried he is about ‘the bomb’.

One older gentleman – grey beard, eyes somewhat clouded behind thick glasses– shrugs when I ask him what brought him here. “I had nothing else to do tonight, anyway.”

The moment the pitches start, the old man sits up straight in his chair. It turns out he has an opinion on every pitch’s topic: whether VAT-free repairs are a good idea (“yes! It’ll create so many jobs”) or if we should appoint a minister of the future (“depends on the party providing him”).

Meanwhile, the students are laughing and filming the live band on their phones, which performs humorous songs in the intervals - think three men, a guitar and an xylophone.

Talking heads

The light-hearted, relaxed atmosphere is also what attracts criticism of Positief Links. How can five minute discussions be anything but shallow? Aren’t the iPads just gimmicks? How will PL influence anyone?

From what I’ve seen, I’m surprised how fast a room of people debating each other can come to key arguments relating to the ideas they have just heard. But observation aside, I think these critics misinterpret what Positief Links is and what it isn’t. Wouter considers it a “movement”, one that “most likely” will not ever run for government itself.

He implies we should rely less on politicians and on old ways of doing politics, and instead should put more of our own energy and effort into the state of our democracy. “Politicians are just talking heads, they appeal to people’s intellectual laziness,” Wouter says, “they point us to the easy solution. But that’s not necessarily the best solution.”

I wonder if a more fitting description of Positief Links could be that it’s not renewing the political party at all, but instead works more like a think tank.

That’s why PL doesn’t invite people who are already well known public figures to pitch their ideas. “If we can provide anyone with a stage for their idea that otherwise might never have been heard, then we have succeeded.” It seems like people appreciate this approach: Positief Links is now into its second year, sustained by volunteers and crowdfunders.

I wonder if a more fitting description of the organization could be that it’s not renewing the political party at all, but instead works more like a think tank.

When I point this out to Wouter afterwards (on Twitter, of course), he writes: “I thought about what you said and I think it’s right – we’re making the think tank modern and open to everyone, in order to influence politicians with great, positive, left-wing ideas.”

The platforms we choose for public debate say a great deal about the ways in which we integrate our digital lives with our real ones. In a time defined by fake news and filter bubbles, it’s high time for a more optimistic vision of the role the internet could play in politics.




Getting the Young to Vote, One Kick at a Time

 still from #Polertiek YouTube channel

still from #Polertiek YouTube channel



Getting the Young to Vote,
One Kick at a Time

by mick ter reehorst

        A bus filled with a restless television personality, a bunch of volunteers and a few cameras is driving down the highway on a regular Saturday in early February. Destination: a higher vocational education school in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Nothing all too remarkable, one might think.

Yet this bus, or rather the concept behind it, has shaken up the Dutch news last month. With this first school visit they are now kicking off their campaign to get first-time voters to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections on March 15th.

      They don’t have explicit permission to go into the building and do their little show, but that is sort of part of the concept. So while the side of the bus rolls open to set up the music stage on the pavement, the frantic YouTube presenter, some volunteers and a bunch of cameras rush into the school and urge everyone to go outside. The classes are interrupted, the front desk looks baffled, and some teachers seem even seem a bit annoyed. Slowly, a crowd starts to gather in front of the school and while more and more students come out - somewhat reluctantly and confused - the DJ asks the crowd of some 100 students: “who here is feeling like a little party?”

    The reason for this party is not what most people - especially not adolescent youth - would come out for. But as the organizers themselves say: ‘What isn’t party-worthy about our most basic democratic right?’ It’s a question that is asked by the people behind the campaign, yet in a rhetorical way. De Stembus 2017 (the VotingBus, where the Dutch word also means voting booth or polling station) is going to raise money from drive around the Netherlands to get some 800.000 first time young voters to “vote the shit out of it”. So now, presenter Tim Hofman stands on the makeshift stage coming out of the bus, and addresses the crowd of young students: “We celebrate the birthday of our king, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate the first day of the year, but we never celebrate the fact that we can fucking vote!

     He then asks them who is going to vote on March 15th. About half of the hands go up and some cheers go around, but some students are looking at each other to gauge if it’s OK to raise your hand for something like this. “When I yell, please yell back, otherwise it’s fucking embarrassing”, Hofman says, and asks again: “who is going to vote on March 15th?”

         This initiative started off innocently, with a tweet by Gosse Bouma, an Amsterdam-based cinematographer, on January 29th. “Feel like starting a movement to get everyone aged 18 - 25 to the voting booth”, Bouma tweeted. Within a few hours, much of the Dutch social medium was ablaze with supportive twitter, and Tim Hofman, a popular television presenter and video blogger was one of the @twitterhandles to express his support. Hofman presents a program on national television and is the brain (or the beauty?) behind the YouTube series #BOOS (#ANGRY) & #polertiek (#politics), where he takes disillusioned and angry youth to an organization, company or person to express their anger with an issue. He is very popular with millennials and generation Z, or whatever you want to call the next generations. One thing is for certain, he is able to reach the young voters, as the outburst of media attention in the days after the Twitter-conversation between the seven initiators showed. Within days, they gathered a following well into the tens of thousands on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. And their target audience was not resistant to the call, as thousands of young Dutch echoed and shared their catchy videos and tweets. Shortly after, Hofman went on the most popular national talkshow and said: “young people need a kick under their ass and should go vote.” It rang on in the media for a few days.

#BOOS (#ANGRY) with Geert Wilders and Henk Krol. Try putting on auto-generated English subtitles for even more fun.

But why would it work better now?

Every election cycle, you can hear the same arguments. But campaigns like de Stembus try to counter the notion sthat young people are apathetic when it comes to political participation and voting, that they are lazy, they would rather sit behind a screen, don’t read, and don’t care. It’s such common criticism, and every election cycle has seen campaigns aimed at activating youth to vote and participate in the democratic process. These efforts have mostly been unfruitful, since time and time again the statistics are not very encouraging. The age groups 18-25 and 25-30 have consistently seen more than or around 30% of abstention during elections, according to the Dutch Bureau of Statistics.

    Sooooo.... why would this time be so different?

Well, for starters, everyone on all sides of the political spectrum argue that there is more at stake now. “These elections are of historical importance,” says Rutger de Quay (21), one of the co-founders of de Stembus movement. He mentions Brexit, the refugee crisis, the EU and Trump in one breath, and then says, “it’s about our future and that why it’s so crucial that young people speak out on this.” Not completely satisfied, I ask him again why this time and their campaign would be different. He hesitates for a bit, then says, “because we understand where we can reach the young people. We get well-known people like Tim Hofman, YouTubers and rappers involved, address them on the channels where they are active already. They make their own content and talk amongst themselves already, even about political subjects. We just need to activate them. And we go to the schools with the bus, to really grab their attention.”

    Two more campaigns, who bear quite some resemblance in their names, and VOOT2017 are urging (young) Dutch voters to use their democratic rights. They use well-designed social media platforms, Facebook-videos, vlogs and graphics to reach the millenial voter. These campaigns might lack the nation-wide media attention of de Stembus, but they show that youth activation is starting to get a bigger issue with each election cycle. What they do try to do is to make politics sexy, says Marije Poort (24) of VOOT2017. “Politicians are often old. When you’re eighteen, they can be your parent. That isn’t sexy. Plus, politics is slow and content-oriented. Young people live online, everything has to be short and fast. Politics is so far away for young people.”

    Another TV program specifically catered to young voters is de 2e Kelder, a reference to the name of the Dutch parliament. The young presenters interview politicians and advisors and try to break down issues into bitesized video pieces. They (try to) take a neutral stance, criticizing every side of the very broad Dutch political spectrum using humor and memes. Similar campaigns have sprung up in France, and to a lesser extent in Germany, where the elections are still quite some months away. Whatever the reach of these campaigns may be, the mission to inform and activate youth is ambitious and might be a very difficult one.

    But.... again... how are they going to succeed this time around?

The youth is more and more disillusioned with politics, and not without reason. This year’s Dutch, French and German elections see the future of the European Union hanging on their outcome, and the political discourse is filled with inflammatory debates on refugees and immigration and outsider anti-establishment on the rise in all countries. The Brexit-vote in the United Kingdom and Trump’s victory in the United States has shown that the older generation has taken control over politics again. The Netherlands even has its own 50Plus party, particularly aimed at everyone over 50. De Quay also mentions that party, to illustrate that “this generational divide will only grow larger if young people are not encourage to go and vote”. Hofman also said a similar thing on that stage in Rotterdam: “don’t let the generations before us decide where the future of our country lies.”


      A recent report in the Economist stated that everyone may be wrong about millennials. That they do want to act up, that they do want to be a part of the political process, but only when they feel inspired. It pointed to the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in the United States for instance, which showed that an entire group of people who might never step into the political mayhem in a normal – ‘boring’ – election cycle full with debates between old, grey, white candidates, will do so when they truly feel heard and energized. Barack Obama rode on the waves and efforts of an army of youthful volunteers, who finally felt they had a candidate to fight for.

    But back to the Netherlands. It is the same there, as there is no candidate who even comes close to embodying what the millennial generation might feel or what they stand for. It’s the outsiders who are making an impact. Far right-wing and anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders and his Party for Freedom are apparently quite popular amongst youth, while Jesse Klaver, the leader of GroenLinks, the green leftist party, is one of the youngest leaders of a mainstream party in Dutch political history. He bears resemblance to Justin Trudeau, and even uses much of the Canadian Prime Minister’s and Obama’s rhetoric. But will he be able to inspire enough young voters to make a difference in the Dutch elections?

  Justin Klaver & Jesse Trudeau

Justin Klaver & Jesse Trudeau

    Unsurprisingly, both Poort and de Quay stress the fact that it is very important to go vote on March 15th. And they are putting quite some efforts into. But even though it seems like the campaigns are getting more attention this time around, it might prove to be a long and difficult campaign. Their battle cries might inspire young voters, or fall on deaf ears. Poort says that “young people should realize that their vote really counts”, and then adds, “I don’t know if we can make an impact. But every small effort helps, right?” De Quay gave similar responses, but echoed Hofman’s call to action on national television by saying,

get off your lazy ass and go vote, because the Netherlands is also ours and us young people really do have a say in the policymaking!

         On Facebook last month, De Stembus asked their thousands of followers what their slogan should be. Between a Descartian pun on “Ik Stembus Ik Ben” (translates to ‘I Vote Therefore I am’, but it works better in Dutch) and the more abstract “vote yourselves completely the mother", they finally settled on “Make Voting Great Again”. Now it is up to these campaigns to mimic Trump’s political earthquake by actually getting these first time voters to cast a ballot. First, they have to mostly make politics sexy again. And that can prove to be an uphill battle these days.


Mick is an are we europe core team editor and keeps himself busy with reading some stuff, writing about young people and stuff, and filming + taking photos of stuff

Note for Dutch voters - #BOOS also created an app for all #polertiek videos - check it out


European Musical Talents


For you, from us: a list of the best up-and-coming European bands

by the musical geniuses of the AWE staff 

Who would have thought that the European Commission would ever have been involved in kickstarting the careers of James Blake, Milky Chance, Hozier, Bastille and Ásgeir? We sure didn't. 

Pictures taken by Jorn Baars, Bart Heemskerk and Siese Veenstra

But you will be surprised. What all these artists have in common is a performance before a European audience in Groningen, a town in the northern part of the Netherlands.

Why on earth in Groningen? Well, every year the European music festival Eurosonic is held in this town. With artists from 32 countries, the festival attracts more than 42.000 visitors and is subsidized by the EU.

According to the festival itself, Eurosonic is supposed to be the place where you can spot all the up-and-coming European musical talent. Because we all like the idea of discovering the next James Blake, Are We Europe decided to select the major highlights of the 4-day festival (11 - 14 January 2017) that you should check out.

1. Vera Jones Experiment (Jazz | Soul - Hungary)

With a song that is as beautiful as their hometown of Budapest, Vera Jones Experiment made an impressive debut at Eurosonic. The band was one of the lucky few to perform two nights in a row, which made their performance even more unforgettable. 

2. Albin Lee Meldau (Soul | Pop - Sweden)

Sporting a similar haircut to that of James Blake, a unique sound and only 1000 views on YouTube, this guy is probably one of the exceptional talents present at the festival with a bright future ahead of him. Music reviews of this year's edition did not mention him at all, but he definitely deserves to be center stage. As you might have noticed: we're big fans. 

3. filous (Alternative | Electronic - Austria)

In French 'filous' means 'rascal', but with its warm electronic vibes his music is surprisingly innocent.  This hipster-epitome & singer/producer from Austria sure knows what he's doing and didn't win the EBBA award for nothing. 

4. Gallowstreet (HipHop | Trap - The Netherlands)

What's better than a brass ensemble to lighten the mood? Gallowstreet is gonna be brassing for many more years to come. Listen to their songs and you'll see that you'll be tapping along - or even sneakily dancing -  when alone in a room. 

5. Bazart (Indie-pop | Belgium)

"Bazart is the latest example of the 'goud' (gold) that Belgium seems to have plenty of," claims the festival's organization. Well, amen. 

6. Coely (Soul | Rap - Belgium)

Coely is everything Nicki Minaj is not: she can be charming, sing and is not made out of plastic. On top of that, she can also rap. Don't they say that Antwerp, her hometown, is the city of diamonds?

7. Weval (Electronic | The Netherlands)

We first spotted Weval four years ago in a local club somewhere in Amsterdam, and now the two dj's have gathered international attention. Due to their dreamy electronic music with its solid base, Weval is definitely one of a kind. Don't expect to easily spot them at Amsterdam venues as frequently as before, for now the gates to European festivals stand wide open. 

8. Birthh (Folk | Electronic - Italy)

Maybe a shame that her performances can never be as good as her video clips, but her music is even better live. The Italian Alice Bisi is only 19 years old and already reminds us of the electric guitars of The XX. Let's hope there are many more songs to come.

Last but not least, we might have said before that we don't need the United Kingdom for our musical needs, but these British talents sure made us reconsider that entirely: 
Stormzy - even though he's far too well-known nowadays to label as a discovery... 
VANT -  responsible for the longest queues of people at the festivals wanting to see them. Their music ranges from indie, to rock and punk - you name it.

All in all, the Eurosonic festival is a great way to discover the most talented (starting) artists from all over the European continent.

Here are the countries that were represented at Eurosonic:

Here are the countries that were represented at Eurosonic:

What better to get up to date with these talents than by listening to a new Spotify playlist? Make sure to go check it out.


What Indifferent Youth?


Are We Europe editor Marije calls out Vice-President of the European Union Frans Timmermans on how the 'indifferent youth' can reach the European leaders. Filmed at the Open Conversation with Frans Timmermans at Utrecht University in February.

Footage provided by the EC AV Services


Flixbus & the New Poor



Traveling by bus: a portrait of Europe’s new poor

"To me it seems that instead of targeting young students, Flixbus ended up gathering all the people that have no money. But doesn’t Flixbus then just provide those people with an easy way to cross ‘borders’? And isn't that just what a more united Europe needs?"

by Emma Bubola

On the front seat of the bus, Lina (75) is slowly peeling an orange. Her daughter has been living in France for 12 years, and is married to a French man. This was the second time Lina went to see her, taking a bus from Mestre, the Italian town where she lives. The bus is the only option she can afford, with a retirement fund of 800€ a month. She says she doesn’t mind spending almost a full day in the tiny bus-seat. “Some pain in my old back is worth it, I got to see my grandchildren,” she says, “do you want to see their pictures?”

The new European intercity buses enable people like Lina to travel very cheaply. Those who are willing to spend long hours squeezed into a small bus-seat can now go from Brussels to Amsterdam, from Berlin to Prague, for under 20 euros. The novelty of bus travel is due to the liberalization of inter-city bus routes that took place in most European countries over the past few years. France was the last one to move towards de-regulation last summer. Since then, 3.4 million people traveled by bus, according to ARAFER, the French Authority of Transports.

“I used to travel by train, but it became too expensive,”

“The poor people who could not travel will travel more easily” : these are the words of Emmanuel Macron, French presidential hopeful and author of the law that liberalized bus transport in France.

“Those who travel by bus are the poor families, the students, the unemployed or those who have an unstable job,” said the former-Minister-turned-Presidential-candidate. Even if slightly generalized, Macron’s claim was not ill-founded. On a green bus that clocks up the miles from one European city to another, one can draft a portrait of Europe’s new poor.

On the night ride from Paris to Milan, a Turkish man stretches his legs and arms, waking up from his crouching position on the small seats. The Mexican woman sitting next to him whispers to her mum on the phone. Francesco Allegro (28) sitting in the back, calls himself “a musician and a professional pasta-maker.” Benito (60) an Italian carpenter, is sitting alone by the bus window. His face is covered by a tidy white moustache and he speaks with a very heavy regional accent. He took a 19-hour Flixbus ride to go visit his wife and daughter who live in Lyon, and he is now heading back home to Frosinone, in Southern Italy. “I used to travel by train, but it became too expensive,” he says. “I don’t mind spending a whole day in the bus, anyway, I don’t have work every day these days anyway,” Benito says, while also referring to the 2008 crisis that dealt a heavy blow to the Italian economy. He used to sell his crafts all around Italy, he says, but that is no longer the case.

We are witnessing a new European boom: the low-cost inter-city bus industry

The financial crisis of 2007-2008, and the subsequent austerity measures in many European countries, generated a category of people that we now call the ‘new poor’. They are the millions of medium-skilled workers, university graduates and small-business owners that face new hardships. The 'new poor' join immigrants at Italian soup kitchens, writes Marie-Louise Gumuchian in The New York Times. Well, the new poor have now also joined immigrants and students on European long-distance buses.

“The round-trip Lyon-Frosinone by train costs 140€; by bus it was half the price," Benito says. “Usually the prices are 8 to 10 times lower than the train”, says Yvan Lefranc-Morin, director of Flixbus France in an interview with Frenchweb. Flixbus, the market leader of European bus transport, connects 800 cities in 18 countries and offers rides starting from 1€.

High speed trains were introduced almost everywhere in Europe in the last 10 years, replacing the old lines in many cases. With the French TGV or the Italian Freccia you can cross the entire country in only a few hours, while seated on comfortable seats with ample leg room and a small table. But together with their speed and luxury, their price also rose, and a share of consumers was cut off from the market. “The train is only for rich people," says Naeem (45), a Pakistani construction worker, who opted for a 21-hour bus ride to go back from Paris to Brescia in Northern Italy, where he lives.

The lucky ones have two seats available and can lay horizontally. Others give up and rest their head on their neighbor’s shoulder in the dark promiscuity that night buses create.

In the 2000s, Europe was the stage for the low-cost airlines revolution, and low-cost carriers now transport 250 million people annually - the industry is almost double the size of its American counterpart. Middle-class people are ready to comply with Ryanair’s relatively stringent conditions in order to travel at a lower price. Think, for example, of the limited size of your hand luggage, the advertisements on board and the fact you have to pay for your snacks on the plane.

At present, we are witnessing a new European boom: the low-cost inter-city bus industry. The tradeoff between comfort and expense is pushed to the extreme by bus travelers: people are now willing to choose an 18-hour bus ride over a 4-hour train in order to cut down their expenses.

Bus companies target the segment of the market that can no longer afford to travel by train, or that has never traveled before. “Our clients are those who have a strong preference for price over comfort”, says Paolo Fumagalli, marketing assistant for Flixbus Italy.

The bus ride from Paris to Milan takes 16 hours, from 8pm to 12am of the following day. After night falls, people try to find comfortable positions to sleep in. The lucky ones have two seats available and can lay horizontally. Others give up and rest their head on their neighbor’s shoulder in the dark promiscuity that night buses create.

‘We don’t want refugees here,’ says the driver, in a - rather misplaced - joke directed to his colleague climbing up the bus to check the tickets.

At 3 a.m. the bus stops at a bus station in the outskirts of Lyon. Abdel (18) and Alex (16), two Moroccan brothers sitting very closely to each other, observe the new passengers entering the bus.

They refuse to give their real name, claiming they had gone to France for some ‘business’ they don’t want to talk about. Nobody is going to ask them to tell their real names anyway, nor what their ‘business’ is. Traveling by bus makes it possible to cross European frontiers avoiding border controls. This issue is heavily debated now that the borders of Europe are getting increasingly hermetic. According to the police, Anis Amri, the perpetrator of the Berlin attack, reached France through Holland by Flixbus, apparently armed.

“We don’t want refugees here," says the driver, in a - rather misplaced - joke directed to his colleague climbing up the bus to check the tickets. A young backpacker is the last to run inside. The door closes behind him, and the bus is back on its way to Milan.

 Copyright - Esther Bubley

Copyright - Esther Bubley

The Italian State Railways launched the company 'Bus Italy' to step into the emerging market. “It is the future”, says the spokesman of Trenitalia in a press release, referring to bus travel. Yet, buses also carry a taste of the past. In 1942, the photographer Esther Bubley captured ‘ordinary Americans’ crossing the Midwest on board of Greyhound buses. Looking through Bubley’s ‘Bus Story’, we can easily imagine our grandparents traveling and sitting straight on the bus seats. Virginia Heffernan wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, titled ‘In praise of bus travel, the least glamorous but most lovable way to travel’, referring to the bus environment as an area of freedom and diversity that carries a certain charm.

 Copyright - Ester Bubley

Copyright - Ester Bubley

But in the age of hipsterism, the vintage touch cannot go without the latest technologies. The main marketing strategy of Flixbus is to promote the ‘online experience’ of booking tickets. Clients hoping for a truly nostalgic experience might be disappointed. They don’t even require passengers to print-out their ticket, they only ask for a barcode that people can show on their phones. Flixbus follows the Uber and Airbnb business model: it only provides an online booking platform that coordinates passengers with the service providers (buses and drivers in this case).

The main target audience of Flixbus is in fact, as Fumagalli explained to me, Generation Z. Flixbus is crafted for young people, at ease with the internet, who are used to fast and virtual purchases.

To me it seems that instead of targeting young students, Flixbus ended up gathering all those fragments of society that have no money. But doesn’t Flixbus then just provide those people with an easy way to cross ‘borders’? And isn't that just what a more united Europe needs?


Emma Bubola is an Italian photographer and master student in journalism - her passion lies in documenting human interest stories 


Europe is in the Eye of the Beholder

 Persian Warriors (source: Wikemedia Commons)

Persian Warriors (source: Wikemedia Commons)



Children, gather round! No retreat, no surrender; that is Spartan law. And by Spartan law we will stand and fight... and die. A new age has begun. An age of freedom, and all will know, that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it! The world will know that free men stood against a tyrant, that few stood against many, and before this battle was over, even a god-king can bleed

By Uzume Wijnsma

These words, spoken by the Spartan Leonidas, were written for the 2006 movie 300. Both it and its sequel, 300: Rise of An Empire (2014), were a box-office successes, watched by millions of people, and earned hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

On the face of it, these blatantly American Hollywood movies seem to have little to do with the idea of Europe and unity, but they are in fact intricately tied to it. They express exactly the kind of historical thinking that has dominated many European histories and history-writers up until today. It is the (hi)story of the roots of Europe and of the rise of the West. It is the story of one of the pillars of the ‘European idea’: of Greece, of democracy, of freedom. And it is the story that I will argue against in this article.

Let me explain. When you open up a random history book on Europe, you are bound to come across three names: Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome. These classical cities function as a general shorthand for the three pillars that Europe is (allegedly) made of, namely: a Judeo-Christian culture, rooted in Athenian democracy and the freedom of (philosophical) thought, and consolidated in the rational-legal framework of the Roman Empire.

Whether people are aware of these historical notions or not, the essentials of them still resonate all over the West. You hear them when people complain about the refugee crisis, when people argue against the influx of Islam, when people condemn ‘Eastern’ despotism and dictatorship (i.e. Putin), and when Sharia is contrasted with the secular rule of law that reigns in most European countries today. These ideas, false or not, are embedded within our culture. It is what countries such as Ukraine think of when they want to become ‘more European’. It is what extremist-islamic groups such as ISIS reject when they call us ‘the crusaders’. And it is, in part, why movies such as 300 are so successful: they feed the image of ourselves that we already have - the one of freedom-loving democrats standing tall in the face of tyranny.

But are we?

So come, go look. Go read and explore. Tread down the steps of our past and come back with your story. Europe, and the world, is in dire need of hearing it.
 source: Good Free Photos

source: Good Free Photos

How our pillars came to be

As a historian, I study the Persian Empire and the responses that it generated among different groups in the region. Two of those groups would become, completely unbeknownst to them at the time, ‘pillars of Europe’. They were the Greeks, and the Jews (or ‘Judeans’).

I hope you’ll allow me a short history lesson...

In the 6th to 4th centuries BC the Greeks and the Judeans were underdogs, living in the shadow of the Persian Empire. Athens produced a short-lived democracy (excluding women, slaves, resident aliens etc.), and Jerusalem, counting no more than 1.500 people at the time, produced the first books of the ‘Tanakh’ (or ‘Old Testament’). Neither - no matter how ‘heroic’ the Greeks are portrayed in the Hollywood movies - could withstand the power of the Persians. And the two remained underdogs for centuries to come.

There were times when Jews actually fled to these empires in order to escape persecution in the ‘Judeo-Christian’ West, which had become increasingly polarized and oppressive. And while the West had largely forgotten the Greek philosophers of old, they were still read and copied in these ‘Eastern’ and Islamic states.

Now, before you start arguing with me, let me just say this: it is true that Jerusalem reached ‘global’ significance when it became a holy city to Christianity, and later to Islam, religions that spread all over the Middle East and Europe. And it is also true that the literature and philosophy of classical Greece was read and spread by the Romans. But: both cities were cut off from (western) Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. This was the start of the Middle Ages - and much of what was known about antiquity became lost in the Latin West.

Jerusalem became subject to a succession of Arab caliphates, some of them reaching all the way into Spain. Athens became part of the Byzantine and then the Ottoman Empires - the latter of which, by the way, occupied much of Eastern (and at times even Central) Europe until the 20th century. There were times when Jews actually fled to these empires in order to escape persecution in the ‘Judeo-Christian’ West, which had become increasingly polarized and oppressive. And while the West had largely forgotten the Greek philosophers of old, they were still read and copied in these ‘Eastern’ and Islamic states.

It was through them that Europe managed to ‘rediscover’ antiquity in the Renaissance, and it was only then, after two whole millennia, that Europe adopted ancient Greece as its own - as if some red, unbroken thread had really connected underdog-Athens with Christian, monarchical Europe through twenty centuries of change.

 source:  Wikimedia Commons 

source:  Wikimedia Commons 

The two cities, then, were hardly European pillars in reality - they were just claimed to be. And by claiming these, Europe by-passed all other threads of history, from its native pre-Roman tribes to its Arab and Islamic past. A strong and stubborn idea - and largely a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So much for (hi)story.

Europe’s (hi)story is yours to choose

‘So what’s your point?’ you might ask. ‘Are you just trying to underline Europe’s historical ignorance, or what?’ Well, no, that’s not my point at all. It is not just historical nitwits, let alone Europeans, who have engaged in this sort of thinking. The same process of adopting, of claiming antiquity for modern self-identification happens all over the globe, engaged in by everyone. It happens when an Iranian Nobel-laureate proudly (but anachronistically) asserts that the Persian Period Cyrus Cylinder was the first human rights charter in history, or when an Egyptian-Belgian journalist subtly (but anachronistically) suggests that Ancient Egypt could be an example for Middle Eastern feminism. I’m using the word ‘anachronistically’ here, and not ‘wrongly’, since the point is not so much that they’ve got their history wrong, but rather that they continue to infuse that history with emotions and values that resonate today. History is not simply some dead object to be dusted off and studied - it is a vibrant and essential part of life. To paraphrase an oft-repeated claim: a community without history is like an individual without memory - it has no identity, it has no sense of self.

What we choose as meaningful examples for our idea of nationhood and European identity is not dictated by any ‘inevitable’ history, but is informed by our own values and by what we hold dear today. Meaning: we can choose what represents us.

What I am trying to underline here is not so much historical inaccuracy, but the arbitrariness  of which historical periods, events, groups and cities are chosen as ‘pillars’. Why Jerusalem, when Jews were widely discriminated against up until the Holocaust, when Christians were so fragmented in sects, cults and different churches that they warred amongst themselves, when large parts of Europe were part of an Islamic empire for centuries, and when atheists make up much of north-western Europe today? Why Athens, when two whole millennia of Roman-imperial and European-monarchical rule separated that city from, say, the Dutch Republic in the 16th century? And why Rome, when much of what Europe holds dear today is precisely anti-dictatorial?

What we choose as meaningful examples for our idea of nationhood and European identity is not dictated by any ‘inevitable’ history, but is informed by our own values and by what we hold dear today. Meaning: we can choose what represents us. We can change the traditional story of inevitable European supremacy, of East vs. West and Christian vs. Muslim - of stories told and spread by movies such as 300. Historians may connect the dots of random happenings, and make us believe that there is a meaning to it all - but what that meaning is, that is for us to decide.

Europe, then, is in the eye of the beholder. What you want it to be, it is. And if you want it to be less racist, less Islamophobic, and less Western supremacy-dominated, but more diverse, more multicultural and more inclusive than it is right now, then the possible historical examples are up for grabs.

The richness of our history is not confined to the discourse that dominates today; it is made of an infinity of possible threads. So come, go look. Go read and explore. Tread down the steps of our past and come back with your story. Europe, and the world, is in dire need of hearing it.


Uzume Zoë Wijnsma is a historian and cinephile with a particular interest in how the world remembers and portrays its past. She is currently pursuing a PhD on political legitimacy in the Persian Empire


Get Off Your Couch: Students Helping Refugees



by Anton Moggré

"It is here where I think my help is needed."

A drop in the ocean. That is often the response I get when I tell people I do volunteering work for Sciences Po Refugee Help (SPRH). Would it truly make a difference? Am I really helping? My colleagues and I believe so, and we will tell you why.

For the past years we have constantly been confronted with the refugee crisis that the world - not only Europe - is currently experiencing. We have all seen the images of relentless crimes against humanity, masses trying to find a safe haven, and families being torn apart.

In Europe, these images understandably led to fear and hesitance. Still recovering from the economic crisis that hit us a few years ago, why would we cheer at the prospect of a massive influx of ‘different’ people coming to our countries? The fear of the unknown remains prevalent, and with populism on the rise, distrust and bigotry become more commonplace.

What concerns me the most, however, is the fact that many people remain relatively passive and cynical about the refugee crisis. Of course, they know very well how to articulate their opinion online (sometimes with rather limited and denigrating vocabulary), but most have a rather constrained and futile view of what the refugee crisis is actually about. More than not, the complaints talk about the clash with ‘our’ norms and values of those ‘fortune seekers’, about ‘their’ unwillingness to integrate and their ‘stubborn faith’ to their backward traditions.

But, how many of those ‘angry citizens’ also feel the necessity to actually bring about change? To set the right example? To show and explain what our ‘norms and values’ are? The truth is that most of them do not get any further than the comfort of their own couch.

What concerns me the most, however, is the fact that many people remain passive and cynical about the refugee crisis.

It is here where I think my help is needed. Despite having two cultural backgrounds, a Dutch and a Colombian one, I have never found it difficult integrate into Dutch society because my living circumstances were overwhelmingly Dutch. I went to ‘white’ schools, I mostly had Dutch friends, I spoke only Dutch at home; essentially everything in my childhood was fully Dutch. This enabled me to actually feel Dutch.

Unfortunately, it is precisely this type of privilege that many newly arrived migrants do not enjoy. In order to change this, I decided to start with my direct surroundings - I decided to join the Sciences Po Refugee Help in Paris, being part of the organization team of SPRH’s Buddy Program.

SPRH is a non-political association that focuses on refugee aid and integration, primarily acting in a positive spirit with a deeply human approach. With the buddy program, we seek to connect around forty official asylum status holders with students of SciencesPo, one of France’s most well-known higher educational institutions, assisting them with their new life in France. This ranges from visiting museums to helping them out with their administrative affairs. It is our intention to bring two worlds together, in which both sides benefit of the connection that is created - uniting into one.

With the buddy program, we seek to connect around forty official asylum status holders with students at SciencesPo, assisting them with their new life in France.

The team has five members, Alice Duquesnoy being ultimately in control of the overall program. We strongly believe that students can support the integration of these new citizens, to show what the way of life is in France, and what they should take into account once living here. By doing this, students do not only contribute to the integration of these asylum status holders, but they will also learn new cultures, languages, and lifestyles. A win-win scenario.

Alice’s main motivation stems from the winter of 2015, when she lent a hand at the makeshift refugee camp of Place de la République in Paris for one month. She said that she:

"... came to the simple realization that everyone is capable of helping, and that even the smallest help is impactful: cooking a warm meal for a new friend, discussing common interests in literature or cinema, or waiting in long queues for asylum papers."

By the same token, she also reminded us that:

“... we study in a university where politics are omnipresent, and where many students are eager to move from mere talk to action. Maybe our next project can offer a buddy program in the French government or parliament?”

Another team member is Christine Wang, an Australian citizen who has worked with refugees in Australia as well. Taking her past experiences into account, as well as the fact that she is an exchange student "at the height of the politics surrounding the Calais Jungle", she says that it only felt “natural to partake in SPRH”. She said:

“all they need is a human connection, and I really look forward to facilitating other students’ experience to simultaneously learn and assist others in need."

In other words, the team is made up of dedicated and experienced students who are convinced that this program can turn out to be highly successful. We recently had our first training session and the enthusiasm we saw among the participants only reinforces our determination to propel this initiative forward and set an example that can be followed by others.

Ultimately, for impact you need action, so if you feel that the situation needs to change, why not look at your own surroundings first and see what can be improved? Nothing comes for free. Over forty students have shown their support through participating in the project. Now all we need for you to do is get off your couch, get involved and spread the word. 


Anton studies International Security at Sciences Po Paris and is committed to refugee-work

 Picture:  Votsek  

Picture: Votsek 



The Hope for a United European Left

by petros konstantinidis

In the past few years we have witnessed the rise of the far-right and the revival of a rhetoric that had been long forgotten. We are living at the dawn of a new political era: it is the time of populism – or, because I personally dislike that word, let's call it “the return of ideology”. The post-Cold War era was the age of liberalism, characterized by the divergence of the centre-right and the centre-left to form what some have called the extreme centre. But this new era demands different political alliances. If we don't want the far-right to end up in government all around the western world, the only answer is a united left.

The end of the Cold War brought with it the end of the ideological battle between the left and the right. Social democratic parties across Europe began to disavow their socialist values and opted for the so called “third way”. Tony Blair's New Labour in the UK led the way for the conciliation of the centre-left with the centre-right. The agreement was simple: the right would follow the left with regards to social matters like minorities' rights and immigration in exchange to the left's complete submission to the right's neoliberal economic model. There you have it: the extreme centre, dominating European politics since the late 90s. This resulted in governments of the centre-right and governments of the centre-left (or, sometimes, grand coalition governments) alternating in most countries of Europe, but never actually changing policy. The most impressive example was in Germany, when the – so-called – social democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder implemented his Agenda 2010, a neoliberal reform programme characterized by cuts in social welfare and deregulation of the job market. It felt like we had reached the end of history, the end of ideology and the end of politics.

 the Roses of the left have gone bad

the Roses of the left have gone bad

And now, be ready for some serious namedropping.

Because then, the crisis roared over us and dethroned all but one of the governments of the strongest European Union states in the next elections. The Parti Socialiste's François Hollande succeeded Nicolas Sarkozy in the Élysée in 2012. Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government collapsed in 2011, passing the hot potato of Italy's economy to a technocratic government led by Mario Monti. In the same year, Spain's social-democratic government of José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was succeeded by the conservative Partido Popular and Mariano Rajoy. Finally, and also in 2011, in the UK, the Labour Party lost the election to David Cameron's Tories. The only government that remained stable during this tense period was that of Angela Merkel in Germany – and consequently it is this government that became the benchmark in European politics ever since.

Smaller countries witnessed political upheaval as well – especially the ones hit the hardest by the crisis: Greece, Portugal and Ireland. In Greece, again in 2011, the PASOK (social-democratic party) government, headed by George Papandreou, collapsed after passing harsh austerity measures as part of the deal concluded with the infamous “troika” (the tricycle of the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF) in exchange for a seemingly never-ending bailout. Papandreou was succeeded by the technocrat Lucas Papademos who led the country to elections in May and June 2012, when Nea Demokratia formed a new government under Antonis Samaras, with the participation of PASOK and the centre-left Demokratiki Aristera. The electoral free fall of PASOK in these elections (from 42.9% in October 2009 to 12.3% in June 2012) coined the term “pasokification”, used by political scientists to describe the electoral downfall of a mainstream social-democratic party, as a result of the adoption of austerity policies.

On the western side of Southern Europe, José Socrates' (later convicted on corruption charges) centre-left government fell – you guessed it right, in 2011 – to be substituted by the centre-right and Pedro Passos Coelho. Further northwest, in Ireland, the liberal centre-right Fianna Fáil party witnessed its own downfall after passing austerity measures that dealt a big blow to the Irish people and was succeeded by the – also centre-right – Fine Gael. The crisis changed Europe's political identity, destroyed mainstream parties and put a tombstone on the theory of the end of ideology.

But why did I just take you on a long journey across European politics of the past decade?

What does all the above tell us about today and how do we come to the conclusion that we need a broad, united left coalition to save Europe? With important elections approaching in the EU's power couple (France and Germany), the stakes are high. As presented above, the marriage of the centre-left and the centre-right of the post-Cold War era is leading to a necessary divorce. In most cases, the centre-left has received the biggest blow, for the simple reason that it started implementing policies that are far from its ideological – and electoral – base.

The centre-right adopted socially liberal values rather easily, while managing to keep its conservatism at the same time. With the economy becoming the major issue due to the crisis, the centre-left was exposed: accepting to follow the neoliberal dogma and implementing austerity measures, they were abandoned by their electorate. In the end, if a country is condemned to apply neoliberal policy, why not elect a centre-right wing party that actually believes in it wholeheartedly?

SYRIZA's left-wing government in Greece (in a bizarre coalition with an opportunistic right-wing party, the Independent Greeks) failed to reverse austerity and ended up capitulating to the creditors' demands in July 2015 – even after a referendum in which the Greek people emphatically voted for an end to austerity. As a consequence of SYRIZA's failure, the Spanish PODEMOS lost important ground and finished third in Spain's general elections last year, leading to a new Rajoy government. Even though PODEMOS had united its powers with the far-left Izquierda Unida, it did not manage to reach an agreement with PSOE's Pedro Sánchez, missing the opportunity for the left to unite and set forth a governmental proposal which could be more attractive than Rajoy's neoliberal conservative cocktail.

"Syriza, Podemos, Venceremos" ("Syriza, Podemos, We Will Win") - Tsipras, Iglesias, Schäubleby Tasos Anastasiou

The Portuguese, however, paved the way for the revitalized hope of a united left. After the elections of 2015 that didn't give the centre-right, led by former Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, a governing majority, the Socialist Party formed a majority with the support of the other leftist parties of the parliament, resulting in Antonio Costa's government. Portugal's example is so far showing positive results for the European left, suggesting that there is a future to the left, away from the grand coalition model.

But what can we expect from the Left in the upcoming elections? In France, the situation is ambiguous. On one hand, the PS is deeply wounded after five years of government under François Hollande. During his presidential term, unemployment rose, the social welfare system witnessed unprecedented cuts and the job market was deregulated. Hollande's presidency was a huge disappointment for the PS' electorate. On the other hand, the election of Benoît Hamon in the PS' primary has brought new hope for a return to left-wing politics and consequently a return of the party's traditional voters to their base. Hamon's agreement with EELV's (Green party) Yannick Jadot has reinforced the ex-minister's candidacy. However, it still seems that Hamon is far from passing to the second round of the presidential election, coming fourth in opinion polls, after the hard nationalist Marine Le Pen, the disoriented liberal Emmanuel Macron and the supporter of imaginary family business François Fillon.

The possible answer for the left's deadlock in France is found just under Hamon in the opinion polls. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a big figure in the French left, is an explosive and charismatic orator and has by far the most detailed programme in this election. His movement, La France Insoumise, has produced the book L'Avenir en Commun, in which the proposals of Mélenchon's candidacy are presented and analysed. Hamon and Mélenchon share a lot of ideas and proposals for the future of France. If one of them withdraws from the presidential race in support of the other, there is a strong possibility that they can be in the second round of the election, against either Le Pen or Macron. If they remain separated, this mission sounds unachievable.

At the moment, and though they have talked about it, a single candidacy seems to be a distant dream. The unwillingness of Hamon to show the exit door to the moderate, neoliberal faction of the PS (especially Manuel Valls and Myriam El Khomri) and their differences regarding the EU (Hamon being clearly pro-EU, while Mélenchon demands change in the EU treaties of Maastricht and Lisbon to support the European project) are so far keeping the two candidates apart. Will this change before mid-April, providing a chance for the European left?

In neighboring Germany, elections are also approaching. Pressure from the right has hurt the governing centre-right CDU, putting Europe's “iron lady” in an uncomfortable position. Is it possible that Angela Merkel's 12-year chancellorship is coming to an end? A few months ago, the answer seemed to be a clear no. However, Martin Schulz's long anticipated return to German politics has reshuffled the deck, with opinion polls putting the former President of the European Parliament on equal – and sometimes even better – standing with Merkel. Schulz has been criticized by many for being a populist of the left, an accusation he doesn't renounce. Breaking away from the path towards the centre and the grand coalition with the CDU that his predecessor Sigmar Gabriel took, Schulz is driving the SPD (social-democratic party) back to its original position on the political spectrum. In this context, we shall not exclude the possibility of Schulz forming a coalition government with Die Grünen (The Greens) and – at least – a part of Die Linke (The Left), following the example of Portugal's red-green-red alliance. But from today until September, we have a long way to go.

 Martin Schulz | SPD 

Martin Schulz | SPD 

All in all, the left needs to find its character again.

In the time of ideology's comeback, there is no other option. After years of playing games with the right, it is time for the left to UNITE and fight for what it stands for. The friendly relations of the centre-right with the centre-left during the post-Cold War liberal age have contributed to the rise of the far-right. With the convergence of mainstream parties, conservatives have moved to the far-right, while many leftists have changed allegiances or chosen abstention. The left needs to fight against the right and vice versa. Confrontation was, is and will always be an indispensable part of politics. The time has come for the European left to put the train back on track. Some moves in this direction have already taken place. In the form of government coalitions like in Portugal, single candidacies in electoral processes, or even with pan-European political movements such as Yanis Varoufakis' and Srećko Horvat's DiEM25, the left needs to unite and reclaim power.

 Yanis Varoufakis | DiEM25

Yanis Varoufakis | DiEM25

Time is running short for Europe. Facing the rise of the extreme-right, we need an answer. The neoliberal agenda and its destructive austerity measures did enough damage already. It is time to design an attractive alternative for the future of Europe. The Left shall finally claim its responsibility and bring about the change we want to see. To paraphrase Marx, leftists of the world, unite!


Petros is a Greek political commentator/blogger who spends his time theorizing and dreaming about a bright democratic future





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Trump's "Unity"




Edit by AWE, but full speech found through the YouTube account by Based Patriot. Look at the comments section under the video to see how people reacted to Trump's Unifying message.

Footage credits to the fantastic White  

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