Monday, December 8, 2008, 13:47 - Commentary, Photo of the DayThere’s trouble happening in Greece and it’s not going away. After police shot a teenage boy dead in the streets of Athens last Saturday night riots broke out first in the capital and have now spread throughout the peninsula as we learn from the International Herald Tribune.
May 1st, 2007 in Berlin © Damaso Reyes
“The riots began hours after the boy was shot during a confrontation between the police and youths in the Exarchia neighborhood of central Athens, a district of bars, bookshops and restaurants where many young leftists live and socialize.
“The youths regularly clash with the police, whom they view as symbols of the establishment. In most cases, the confrontations are relatively contained and end at the gates of universities with the young people holding off the police with gasoline bombs, rocks and slingshots.
“But the speed with which the riots spread over the weekend — and the ferocity of the protests — seemed to take the government by surprise. The police nationwide were not put on alert until Sunday night, only after fires had destroyed dozens of businesses, including a high-end department store in central Athens.
“Throughout the clashes, rioters used text messages and Web sites to organize and communicate their responses to the police and other security forces.”
Events like this do not happen out of the blue. Clearly there has been a great deal of animosity building up among the Greek youth for many years for this to have spread so quickly and so far. How the government chooses to deal with the incident and its aftermath may well decide if it stays in power.
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Friday, December 5, 2008, 13:31 - Commentary, Photo of the DayYou can say a lot about the Swiss but they are hardly predictable, which is why I like them so much! There was an important vote over the weekend about drug decriminalization and the vote was split as the Associated Press reports.
Playing in the snow. © Damaso Reyes
“The world's most comprehensive legalized heroin program has become permanent, with overwhelming approval from Swiss voters who simultaneously rejected the decriminalization of marijuana.
“The heroin program, started in 1994, is offered in 23 centers across Switzerland. It has helped eliminate scenes of large groups of drug users injecting drugs openly in parks that marred Swiss cities in the 1980s and 1990s and is credited with reducing crime and improving the health and daily lives of addicts.
“Sixty-eight percent of the 2.26 million Swiss voters casting ballots Sunday approved making the heroin program permanent.
“By contrast, around 63.2 percent of voters voted against the marijuana proposal, which was based on a separate citizens' initiative to decriminalize the consumption of marijuana and growing the plant for personal use.”
It’s interesting to me that heroin is less stigmatized than marijuana but an important first step has been made when it comes to harder drugs. Of all the things that increasingly cash strapped governments can spend money on the War on Drugs is perhaps the least wise. It will be interesting to see if any other European countries take a cue from our Swiss friends.
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Wednesday, December 3, 2008, 12:28 - Commentary, Photo of the DayGreenland recently voted for more independence from their colonial overlords the Danish. The last vestiges of European colonialism are falling by the wayside as the world’s largest island begins the process which may lead toward independence.
The Power of the Polls. © Damaso Reyes
“On Tuesday night, fireworks burst over Greenland's capital city of Nuuk, as election results showed that an overwhelming majority of residents of the isolated island voted for increased independence from its former colonial ruler, Denmark. The final result was no surprise -- polls projected correctly that 75 percent would vote in favor of the proposal -- but residents were no less happy to celebrate the historic achievement.
“Prime Minister Hans Enoksen has said that the vote is a stepping stone on the way to full autonomy that would end over three centuries without sovereignty and give Greenland's Inuit population a presence on the world stage for the first time.” Der Spiegel reported.
There is little doubt that even if Greenland becomes independent that it will retain close ties to Denmark and Europe. Nevertheless it is an important moment for the residents of an island who were colonized the same year Americans threw off the Imperial yoke – 1776.
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Monday, December 1, 2008, 13:24 - Commentary, Photo of the DayWhen talking about racism in Europe there is rarely an opportunity for optimism but a recent report from researchers at Leipzig University and reported by our friends at Spiegel Online conclude that racism and xenophobia in Germany have actually declined over the past few years. As always there is cause for concern…
Not really a solution… Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes
“The final report, called "Movement in the Middle," found a decline in all categories overall -- with some alarming exceptions.
“In "hostility to foreigners" the leading states were Saxony-Anhalt (39.3 percent), Bavaria (39.1 percent) and Brandenburg (34.6 percent). Those states also happened to lead in "chauvinism" (Bavaria 30.4 percent, Brandenburg 24.5 percent), but it was Bavaria that distinguished itself in the "anti-Semitism" category, with 16.6 percent, above Thüringia and Baden-Württemberg (12.9 and 13.3 percent respectively).”
So progress is being made in Germany but clearly there is still room for improvement. The challenge will only become greater over time as the need for immigrant labor will continue to grow. How Germany and Europe meets this challenge will ultimately define whether or not Europe succeeds in the 21st century.
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Friday, November 28, 2008, 12:55 - Commentary, Photo of the DayI hope all my American friends had a happy Thanksgiving, I know I did. In Amsterdam they aren’t so happy as we learn from Reuters…
Legalize it! The Hague 2005 © Damaso Reyes
“The Netherlands will ban the sale and cultivation of all hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms from next week, the latest target of a country seeking to shed its "anything goes" image.
“The Dutch government proposed the ban in April, citing the dangerous behavioural effects of magic mushrooms following the death of a French teenager who jumped from an Amsterdam bridge in 2007 after consuming the hallucinogenic fungus.”
Of course if this were really the problem the best thing to ban would be alcohol. The number of drunk driving and accidental deaths, not to mention embarrassing late night phone calls, exceed the number of mushroom related deaths by far. Of course it is just a matter of perspective and by making magic mushrooms illegal it is doubtful that demand will all of a sudden end. They will simply become more expensive and help fuel crime. For decades The Netherlands was a leader in harm reduction and decriminalization and it is sad to see them take a step backwards. Hopefully they will look closely at the results of this new ban and if the data warrants it repeal it down the line. But as we all know it is easier to pass laws than to repeal them.
In other news I will be posting only three days a week for the month of December. Not only is it my birthday on the 11th, but numerous holidays, not to mention grant application deadlines, will keep me pretty busy. I hope you still swing by every one in a while!
Wednesday, November 26, 2008, 16:18 - Commentary, Photo of the DayWe have concentrated a lot on racism and discrimination in Western Europe but of course the problem is not so neatly contained as we learn from our good friends at Der Spiegel online in an article about anti-immigrant violence in the Czech Republic.
The writing is STILL on the wall. Barcelona 2005.
“Czech police battled hundreds of far-right rioters armed with an array of weapons north of Prague on Monday in a successful attempt to prevent them from entering a Roma neighborhood.
“The riot took place in the northern town of Litvinov, which lies 110 kilometers (68 miles) northwest of Prague. The estimated 500 members of the far-right Workers' Party had gathered for a march in the town before suddenly turning off the approved route toward Janov, a section of the town with a large Roma community.”
Racism and violence against foreigners continues in many E.U. member states and the governments that have the worst problems need to do the most. What really needs to happen is an open and honest debate about the pros and cons of immigration. It’s a hard conversation to have but the leaders of the European Union need to step up to the plate, and soon…
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Monday, November 24, 2008, 15:07 - Commentary, Photo of the DayAll of you Francophiles who have long worried about English dominating Europe, especially its culture need not fear. As an article in the New York Times explained that a new digital library of European Culture has emerged and the French seem to have conquered it!
Vive la France! Paris 2008.
“But when the new site, called Europeana, begins life on Thursday, more than half of its two million items will come from just one of the 27 countries in the European Union: France.
"So comprehensive is France’s cultural dominance over this cyberspace outpost that other countries are having their own history written for them — in French, of course.”
So intense was the demand that the servers crashed within a day of the site opening (check back in December). But what this tells me is that the diversity that makes Europe so special is alive and well even as the Union grows stronger…
Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 13:48 - Commentary, Photo of the DayOfficial reports are usually pretty boring and don’t tell us much interesting but the European Commission has come out with a recent one that the International Herald Tribune tells us supports the idea that immigrants are good for Western European Economies.
Waiting for acceptance… Berlin 2006
“Despite heavy currents of migration among East Europeans over the past decade, their increased presence in Western countries has done virtually nothing to alter local job prospects or wages, according to a European Union report on Tuesday.
As a result, those nations that still restrict workers from Eastern Europe should abandon those curbs, the European Commission said.
The report essentially concluded that worries that the "Polish plumber" would displace West European jobs were ill founded.
In fact, the report said, migration "contributed significantly to overall economic growth and employment expansion in the EU." The report even suggested that some Eastern nations had paid a heavier price in terms of brain drain and social upheaval than Western nations who received an influx. In Poland, for example, people talk of the "EU orphan," or child brought up by relatives because both parents are working abroad,” Stephen Castle writes.
This backs up an idea that Frau Bock, the director of an NGO that helps immigrants and asylum seekers in Vienna told me. She explained that people don’t give up their lives back home to come to Austria for no good reason. They seek a better life and desperately seek to become part of the society to which they have emigrated. But old prejudices die hard and there are still far too many people in Europe who see immigration as a threat, even when all evidence points to the contrary.
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Monday, November 17, 2008, 14:17 - Personal, CommentarySorry that I haven’t been around for the past week but my very good friend Mark Ferguson died last week after a battle with cancer. He will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with his family.
Mark in Action! Wheaton Village 2006 © Damaso Reyes
We met ten years ago when I was still a student at NYU. Needing to complete some elective credits I decided to try my hand at glass blowing and fell in love. After taking a few classes I was offered the chance to become a teaching assistant and one of the instructors I helped was Mark. I helped teach a number of classes with him and we became good friends over the years. His sense of humor and endless curiosity about the world are the things I will miss the most. His kindness and humility are the traits I will most try to emulate.
Mark at Sleepy Hollow 2008 © Damaso Reyes
I have very few close friends and Mark was one of the oldest and dearest. I will miss going with him to the Russian and Turkish Baths on a cold Sunday morning. I will miss having Thai food with his wife and children. I will miss his smile and how he never failed to play Devil’s advocate. He was patient and kind, two qualities the world needs more of.
Hayden and Mark Brooklyn 2007 © Damaso Reyes
During his illness he never gave up; never complained about his lot in life and even accepted help, something difficult for such a strong and independent man. If we could all live the way that he died we would be remembered well.
During the past few months I had a chance to spend a lot of time with Mark. Every other week I would pick him up from chemotherapy and when he was feeling up to it we hung out watching movies or even going for a walk. I remember wandering very slowly through the Village looking for a store that sold walking sticks. We never found what we were looking for but I remember his determination even in the face of death. As hard as it was to see him weaken over the past few months I was so happy that I got to spend the time with him that I did. I only wish it had been more.
Mark, Leah, Eleanor and Hayden in Brooklyn 2008 © Damaso Reyes
Mark, I love you and will think about you often. Take care…
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Tuesday, November 11, 2008, 16:07 - Commentary, Photo of the DayAs we discussed yesterday there have been all kinds of reactions to Obama’s election. In an interesting story in The Guardian we get to hear from Trevor Phillips head of the U.K.’s equality watchdog.
Shout it out! London 2005 © Damaso Reyes
"If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour party."
Europe has to come to terms with its minorities, not as an inconvenient problem that won’t go away but as an important part of society that has a great deal to offer. That certainly means tacking institutional and societal racism. But it also means a frank and open discussion about how immigration is changing the face of European society. We have to address people’s fears, both the real and the irrational and find a way to try to bring people together because despite the fondest wishes of some on the right they ain’t goin’ home…
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Monday, November 10, 2008, 15:54 - Commentary, Photo of the DayThere are two kinds of people: those who love mirrors, stopping at every one they see in order to check their appearance and those who do everything they can to avoid them. The lens is a kind of mirror too, holding up an image of ourselves, often one that we would rather not see.
Mirror, Mirror. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes
The election last week of Barack Obama serves as a kind of mirror as well. Americans, even those who didn’t support Obama see his victory as an important milestone that deserves to be celebrated. Around the world the cheers have come. Of course there are always exceptions.
Der Spiegel tells us about how one prominent Austrian television personality viewed the American election.
“I wouldn't want the Western world to be directed by a black man. When you say that is a racist remark: right, without a doubt."
Americans are "racists, now as before, and it must be going very badly for them that they so convincingly ... send a black man, and a black, very good-looking woman, into the White House," Klaus Emmerich said.
This would be funny if it were in a satirical newspaper like The Onion which did run a very funny article titled Black Man gets Nation’s Worst Job. But it wasn’t.
Then we have our good friend Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy who the New York Times reports:
“amiably called the first African-American president-elect in United States history ‘young, handsome and suntanned.’”
Clearly there are many in Europe who would like to go back to the good old days before immigration, presumably sometime before the rise of the Roman republic I imagine. Both Austria and Italy are having problems dealing with immigration and xenophobia ao it is not so surprising that these comments come from these nations. Of course these two men don’t speak for the entire population. That said, they are indicators of who a not insubstantial percentage of the population feel. The question is how can we move past old prejudices and into a society that is reflective of the diversity of our world?
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 12:18 - Events, Commentary, Photo of the DayOur time for change has come.
Hope for Europe as well. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes
“Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States on Tuesday, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.” So said the New York Times today. Clearly this is a historic moment in American politics but one that I believe will serve as a symbol to Europe as well.
American elected the son of an immigrant from Africa. A member of a minority that makes up just 12% of the population. Today he has become the very face of our nation, the embodiment of our hopes and dreams. This is a powerful statement about what kind of nation America truly is and the kind of place it hopes to become.
In Vienna and Paris; Berlin and Rome there are millions of young men and women just like Barack Obama. Young boys and girls who want to take part in the fullness of their nation’s lives but for many reasons cannot. If the nations of Europe are to live up to their own ideals this must change. As in America it won’t be easy but Europeans must begin to see each other not simply as decedents but as aspirants to a common dream of a better future. And that future includes people of all races and heritages.
“For many months, we've been teased, even derided for talking about hope. But we always knew that hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the tasks ahead or the roadblocks that stand in our path.
It's not sitting on the sidelines or shirking from a fight. Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it and to work for it and to fight for it.” President Elect Barack Obama in January 2008.
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Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 06:29 - Events, Commentary
Yes We Did...
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Tuesday, November 4, 2008, 15:21 - Commentary, Photo of the DayI woke up this morning ready to vote. When I went outside it was a warm, lovely fall day, the kind that reminds you fondly of summer. When I was a kid I used to love these days although I hated the fact that I had to waste one of the last fine days of the year in school.
In the shadow of history… © Damaso Reyes
Today I went back to my old elementary school to cast my ballot. It seemed like this day would never come but it finally has and I was quite happy to have a chance to pull the lever. In twelve short hours we should have a President-Elect and I will spend this evening like so many others around the country and around the world waiting for the results.
A change is coming… © Damaso Reyes
I don’t think I will be disappointed…
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Monday, November 3, 2008, 12:03 - Commentary, Photo of the DayIt is going to be a busy week, what with the historic election happening tomorrow. But I thought I would start things off with a light little article from the U.K.’s Telegraph. Apparently an expat Brit has become the accidental mayor of a small Spanish village.
Sorry about that Mr. Mayor. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes
“Mark Lewis, 58, has been left in charge of the town hall in San Fulgencio after the mayor, deputy mayor and four senior councillors were all taken into police custody following allegations of real estate corruption.
"Mr Lewis, who lives in Spain with his wife and daughter, was given the title by default on Wednesday on the grounds that he is one of only two councillors from the ruling coalition not to be arrested.
"Mr Lewis has taken charge of the council on the grounds that he is the fourth deputy mayor. Everyone above him in the pecking order has been arrested," the source added.”
It seems that corruption is not just an issue in some of the newer members of the European Union!
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