Photo of the Day #129 
Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 08:00 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

Goodbye Slovakia! At least for now… I am headed to the airport and back to New York so I won’t be blogging as much this week. But in the meantime here is an interesting piece from our friends at Der Spiegel which discusses what has been happening in the twenty years since the Berlin Wall fell.

“The year 2009 is a one of remembrance for Europe. It has been two decades since the democratic revolutions of 1989, a major turning point in both European and world history. This anniversary year provides an opportunity to reflect upon the last two decades: Where was Europe in 1989? What has been accomplished since then, and where are the political deficiencies that still need to be addressed? What challenges still exist for world politics, and what role can Europe play in addressing them?

“The transition from the 1980s to the 1990s was a "moment of hope," during which almost everything seemed possible: the worldwide spread of human rights, democracy, and wealth; and for Europe, nothing less than the transformation of the Western European integration into a real union for the entire continent. Twenty years later, we are fortunate to live in a Europe that is very different from that of 1989. For the first time in its history, Europe is largely at peace. The continent has eliminated its nuclear arsenals. Even the Western Balkans, wracked by bloody ethnic-nationalist wars for much of the 1990s, are now relatively stable.

“However, 2009 is the year in which the "post-Cold War" world will definitively come to an end. With the collapse of the world's financial markets, the neoliberal triumphalism of the post-Cold War decades has been deflated for good.”

And the walls came tumbling down. Berlin 2006 © Damaso Reyes

It is very easy for us to get caught up in our own journey and to forget how much the world is changing around us. That is the very reason why I have embarked upon this project: to offer a glimpse at the changes which are happening and a world which is slowly transforming before our eyes.

This year offers a great opportunity for us to reflect on the last twenty years as well as the next. I think that the changes the future has in store for us will far outstrip anything our imagination can conceive of…

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Photo of the Day #128 
Monday, March 30, 2009, 08:15 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

As it always does my time here is growing short! Tomorrow I head back to New York but I can say that I had a very good time here in Slovakia. In life you never know where the road will take you and that has been very much the case here in Slovakia. I have met some interesting people and hopefully created some interesting images as well.

In the meantime, we return to a reoccurring theme here at The Europeans: the increasing use of English. This time we learn what is happening from NRC Handelsblad.

One language to rule them all. Amsterdam 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“The role of English in Dutch higher education is growing rapidly and not only in festive speeches. The proposal to make English the official language of instruction at Dutch universities was first introduced in 1990 by then education minister Jo Ritzen. If Dutch higher education wanted to continue to pull its weight in the sciences, Ritzen argued, it had to become more international.

“The intellectuals of the Netherlands were up in arms. Aside from the objection that it just won't do to squander one's own language, there was the fear that the quality of the education would suffer and the uniqueness of Dutch academics would be lost.”

It is very interesting for me to observe this debate, especially when it happens in academia, which is dominated by English. Whether a rule or law is passed English, like French before it, will become the language of international exchange. If you want your paper read outside of your home country you have no choice but to publish in English. At the same time too many non-native speakers are shy about using English, something which could be cured if English became the language of instruction. At the same time I don’t believe it is something that must be legislated. I think over time it will happen anyway so why force it?

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Photo of the Day #127 
Thursday, March 26, 2009, 08:21 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

Progress comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s big, like the election of Barack Obama. Most of the time it’s measured in much smaller increments. No matter how small change for the better is always welcome as we see in this article from the Guardian.

Change you say? London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“The most extensive comparison of British and American racial attitudes over the last 50 years has found a softening of prejudice, creating the conditions necessary for a black prime minister to emerge in the UK.

“A joint study conducted by Harvard and Manchester universities has found a "deepening tide of tolerance" in the attitudes of both Americans and Britons.

“Ed Fieldhouse, the study's co-author and executive director of Manchester's Institute for Social Change, said: "The good news is that in terms of the underlying attitudes of the majority, Britain is in the same place as the United States. Whether it is willingness to work for a black boss or to welcome a non-white person into the family, majority British opinion – just like majority American opinion – is gradually getting more tolerant.”

Europe in general has a long way to go when dealing with its minorities. Certainly there needs to be a far greater representation of diversity in continent’s parliaments. But ever so slowly change, especially in attitudes, is happening. Europeans under thirty, who are more likely to have traveled, worked and studied abroad are among the most open people I have met. Let’s hope these attitudes continue to spread…

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Photo of the Day #126 
Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 08:43 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

Times are tough all around. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Irish. Ireland was once the belle of the ball; now the Celtic Tiger is hurting like the rest of Europe. With a 10% unemployment things will likely get far worse before they get better, as we learn from the Washington Post.

Goodbye goodtimes. Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“Niall O'Donoghue grew up in a rich country. He got an architecture degree, a top-paying job with a pay raise every year and a bonus at Christmas.

“O'Donoghue and his wife bought a house in the city and another in the country. They have two cars, two mortgages and two children under age 2. Then a month ago, O'Donoghue, 33, was laid off, jobless for the first time in his life, another well-dressed victim of one of the world's fastest and deepest economic reversals.

"It's a bit of a shock to the system, especially for my generation," O'Donoghue said one recent morning, waiting in the cold with dozens of other people in line outside the Limerick unemployment office. "I don't think things will ever be as good as they were in the last five, six or seven years. That's the bitter truth of it."

“Young Irish people accustomed to economic boom times have suddenly found themselves living a bleak page out of Irish history. Many in their 20s and 30s -- a generation raised on the assumption of jobs and prosperity at home -- have had their expectations crushed by the global economic crisis.”

Of course the news isn’t just bad of the Irish, but for the tens of thousands of immigrants who have come to the island nation during the boom. Now many are headed home with not nearly as much to show for the journey as they might have liked.

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Photo of the Day #125 
Tuesday, March 24, 2009, 08:11 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

In the boom times there are jobs that most of us wouldn’t bother even thinking about: washing dishes, picking fruit, driving trucks. When the boom times go bust things have a dramatic tendency to change as we read in the International Herald Tribune.

Sign of the Times… Barcelona 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“José María Gómez Jimenez thought his days of toiling in the Andalusian countryside were over. For much of the past eight years, Mr. Gómez, 29, earned about $1,900 a month plastering walls and working weekend shifts as a chef in this prosperous, strawberry-farming town. He bought an apartment, often went to parties after work and splurged on trendy sneakers.

“A year ago, Mr. Gómez lost his construction job. Now he is harvesting strawberries for $1,100 a month on a farm outside Lepe, in the Andalusian province of Huelva.

"Picking strawberries is the last resort, but it's all there is," Mr. Gómez said, stretching his back on a recent morning as he stood between rows of plants covered by polyethylene tunnels. "The fat cows have gone, and now the lean cows are here."

“As jobs disappear across Andalusia, workers like Mr. Gómez are returning to the fields they abandoned for construction sites, hotels and shops during Spain's decade-long economic boom.”

My biggest problem with the current economic situation, aside from the universal pain it is causing, is the increased economic competition that is sure to ensue. For decades there was a whole class of jobs that were only good enough for developing world immigrants. Now even E.U. citizens are desperate enough to want to fight for them. What I fear is we will see an increase to the backlash against immigrant that is already all too familiar in Europe. There are few things more feared than economic enemies and xenophobes will no doubt use this as yet another tool to rationalize their irrational fears and hatreds…

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Photo of the Day #125 
Thursday, March 19, 2009, 10:31 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

The large issues which face Europe are all interconnected. Earlier in the week we started by talking about immigration in Italy. Well one of the reasons Western Europe needs immigrants is because of a shrinking workforce and declining birthrate. Well European leaders are not completely asleep at the switch. Of course that does not mean that they are choosing the correct course of action as Der Spiegel explains.

An increasingly uncommon sight. London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“For months, it looked like Germany might have put a stop to its shrinking birth rate. Indeed, in 2007, the country actually managed a bit of population growth. And, with a fast graying population that will be knocking on the door of the local pension office in the next few decades, it was high time, too.

“But a reversal of Germany's demographic fortunes has proven to be a mirage. In October 2008, the number of births in Germany suddenly dropped. And in November, as preliminary numbers released by the German Federal Statistical Office, released on Wednesday, show, the number dropped again. Compared to November in 2007, fully 11.7 % fewer babies were born.”

Promoting families is all well and good but that will not be enough to stop the trend. In fact it is immigrants who are by and far having more babies in Germany which does nothing to keep German blood “pure.” Germany, like the rest of Western Europe needs to accept the face the fact that it needs immigrants to work in its factories, teach in its schools and work in its hospitals…

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Photo of the Day #124 
Wednesday, March 18, 2009, 09:48 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

The economic downturn has impacted everyone, even nations who for many years felt that they were immune to the gyrations of the marketplace. The Celtic Tiger is now whimpering but that doesn’t mean that Irish workers are not trying to fight back as we learn from the I.H.T.

Handmade, but for how much longer? Solms, Germany 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“What do you do when your employer announces that your company has shut down and that you no longer have a job, effective immediately?

“You can take the fatalistic approach and stay home, one more unhappy immigrant in the vast land of the unemployed. Or, like the employees of the Waterford Crystal factory here, which ceased operating in January, you can go to your workplace, occupy the building and refuse to leave.

"We said, 'You're not going to stop people from coming to the place they've worked all their lives, where their family worked, and where they have built up the brand themselves,' " said Tony Kelly, 51, describing how a crowd of angry employees prevailed on security guards at the headquarters to unlock the front doors and let them in, on Jan. 30.”

European workers have always been among the best organized in the world. Now they must use their collective strength to try to find a way out of the troubles all of Europe faces. As more and more companies are on the brink we are beginning to see workers fight to save the jobs and industries that politicians and businesspeople are all too often not willing to save.

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Photo of the Day #123 
Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 15:46 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

One of my pet peeves in Europeans foreign policy, or lack thereof. It seems like I am not the only one who is noticing that their might just be a small problem. American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Europe brought out just how uncoordinated the European Union is, as we learn from the E.U. Observer.

A fine mess. Stuttgart 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“In laying out with clarity a new US foreign policy, Clinton’s visit also highlighted just how fragmented Europe’s position is when it comes to serious foreign policy questions - Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, Russia.

“Europe’s member states may share similar principles - most shared also with the US - but when it comes to turning these into policy we are beset by our national agendas, by history, above all by the absence of leadership. The result is a policy patchwork, lacking reason or coherence, for which we apologize as best we can.”

The simple fact is that Europe can accomplish far more if it works together than its individual nations, even large ones like France and Germany, can achieve separately. But where are Europe’s leaders? Who will be brave enough to say what everyone already knows? Who will be able to look beyond simple, short term nationalistic interests and start the hard work towards building a European Union that has the power to back up the strength of its convictions?

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Photo of the Day #122 
Monday, March 16, 2009, 14:39 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

All too often the media’s coverage of the issue of immigration is monolithic with very little nuance, or detail for that matter. Even worse we rarely get to hear the voices of immigrants themselves, which is why this article in the International Herald Tribune is all the more important.

One Europe, many faces… © Damaso Reyes

“On one side of a drab street in working-class Milan, a squat structure houses a conservative mosque linked in the past to suspected Islamic terrorists.

“On the other, an office building houses the budding newsroom of "Yalla Italia" (Let's Go, Italy), a monthly magazine written by 2Gs - the name here for second-generation immigrants - for young Muslims juggling identities and for Italians curious about a religion and a way of life barely extant just 20 years ago here.

“The two buildings symbolize the different worlds inhabited by Italy's Muslims, a burgeoning community of more than a million that increasingly demands to be heard.”

One of the common refrains of those opposed to immigration is that new immigrants do not wish to assimilate. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. If presented with a society that welcomes them (all too often not the case in Europe) immigrants are happy to adapt to their new surroundings, after all, they came from far and wide to have a chance at a new and presumably better life. When they aren’t welcomed they find solace in one another and their common heritage.

It’s important to remember that assimilation is a process, not something with happens overnight. By the second and third generation the sons and daughters of immigrants are more at home in the nation of their birth than in the “old country.” At the same time that does not mean that they should have to abandon their heritage while making their way in their society. In New York there are more Irish bars and pizzerias than you can shake a stick at. That doesn’t make their owners any less American; in fact America would be a poorer place without the unique cultural gifts that immigrants have brought with us. It’s high time more Europeans began to understand this…

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Photo of the Day #121 
Friday, March 13, 2009, 08:07 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

I know that it seems like what I do is a lot of fun, and it is! For all of you Europeans who want to get in on the picture taking fun there is a contest that lets you do just that.

Smile for the camera! Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“For over 50 years, the European venture has provided Europeans with an area of peace, stability and security and has helped raise their living standards by creating a single market and single currency.

“Yet, Europe is much more than that. Today, the European Union of nearly 500 million people tackles subjects which affect us in our everyday lives, subjects such as citizens' rights, job creation, regional development, environmental protection and the fight against global warming.

“When it was set up, the European Union was comprised of just six countries. Now, 27 countries are united in diversity and work together every day in a spirit of solidarity, curiosity, tolerance, creativity and innovation.

“We all know that an image can express a thousand words. The members of the PES Group in the Committee of the Regions therefore invite you to express everything good that Europe has brought you in your everyday life, as seen through your lens.”

The contest is open to amateur photographers who reside within the European Union. I really like the fact that the focus is on everyday life, which of course is very much what The Europeans is all about.

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Photo of the Day #120 
Thursday, March 12, 2009, 08:20 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

And now for something completely different: good news! Or at least not depressing news. This article comes from the IHT and it focuses on sustainable living, and remodeling, in Barcelona.

“The floor tiles made from smashed television screens did not, in the end, work out. Neither did the pulley system Petz Scholtus's boyfriend rigged to haul her stuff up three very steep flights of stairs to her new apartment in the Barri Gòtic, or old city, when she moved in over a year ago. But the move itself — by bicycle through the streets of the oldest and most cinematic neighborhoods here — was a carbon-neutral success. (It helped that Scholtus had no furniture then.) So, too, were other elements of her eco-renovation.

“That is the phrase Scholtus, a 28-year-old product designer from Luxembourg, has been using to describe the ongoing restoration and decoration of a one-bedroom apartment in the 18th-century building where she lives and works. In Barcelona, a city that has long prized the new and the glossy, Scholtus's project amounts to a countercultural effort.

"Here people have an idea that sustainable is for the rich or that it's something horrible and low-quality hippy," Scholtus said. "I wanted to see if it was possible to make it inexpensive but also, you know, cool."

The ultimate building job. Barcelona 2005 © Damaso Reyes

It’s nice to see that sustainable living and building is taking root so firmly in the city I hope to live in some day soon. Europeans have been leaders in conscious living for a long time and it is nice to see such a public example!

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Photo of the Day #119 
Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 09:16 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

Last week Vanity Fair Germany closed. It is not particularly surprising given the current economic climate or the large number of American newspapers which have closed or filed for bankruptcy. Nevertheless it is saddening for me personally since I worked there as an Arthur F. Burns fellow for two months in 2007. We learn more from The Guardian.

Tombstone Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“Condé Nast has closed the German edition of Vanity Fair two years after it launched the title amid great fanfare, blaming the economic downturn.

“The final issue of Vanity Fair Germany, which was published as a weekly, appeared yesterday. It is unclear what will happen to the 80 Berlin-based staff who worked on the title.

“Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, who committed to keeping the magazine running as recently as December last year said it was his "sad duty" to announce the closure.

"It is a shock when an excellent magazine is closed and particularly so in the case of Vanity Fair Germany. Only 11 weeks ago I publicly vowed that Condé Nast would continue to publish Vanity Fair in spite of difficulties," Newhouse said.

Personally I felt the magazine was too celebrity driven as I discovered while I was there. At the same time it was published on a weekly basis, something which is very hard to do. I think that if the magazine had tried to be more like its American namesake: publishing monthly, doing more in-depth and investigative pieces, it would have been better received. What I hope doesn’t happen is that the German publishing industry see this as an excuse not to try new things…

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Photo of the Day #118 
Tuesday, March 10, 2009, 08:13 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

Turkey has been a question on the lips of many within the European Union. Of course no one has an answer. But in the hopes of joining the E.U. Turkey’s leaders, with great difficulty it must be said, has been pushing to modernize their. Gender rights are just one part of that process but a very important one. In this article from the New York Times we learn about the challenges that a women’s football league is facing.

Our turn. Berlin 2006 © Damaso Reyes

“Football is seen as a man’s game in Turkey,” said Nurper Ozbar, 30, the coach of Marmara Universitesispor, the top team in the second division of the league, which also has two youth divisions.

“We’ve had men come to watch our practices and yell at our players: ‘What are you doing here? You should be at home, cooking!’ ” said Ozbar, one of the few women accredited as a soccer coach in Turkey, and the only one in Istanbul. “It’s going to take time to change this.”

“Turkey has thriving professional women’s basketball and volleyball leagues. Soccer, for the most part, remains a men’s-only zone. In a country of 70 million, only 798 women and girls are registered as players with the Turkish Football Federation, soccer’s governing body. In comparison, about 230,000 male players are registered with the federation.”

Personally I believe one day Turkey will take its place among the nations of the European Union but the changes that it needs to make aren’t just political or economic, they are also social. A large part of the hostility that I have encountered among Western Europeans regarding Turkey has more to do with perceived social differences than anything else. That’s not to say that Turkey must lose that which makes it unique. At the same time if it wants to join the Union then all its citizens must be free to pursue their dreams.

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Photo of the Day #117 
Monday, March 9, 2009, 10:11 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

It seems that when there are economic tensions in the world political ones are not far behind. They aren’t always directly related but they coincide often enough for the relationship to be more than coincidental. Tensions are brewing in Bosnia, the site of so much sadness in the 1990s as we learn from the International Herald Tribune.

“Srecko Latal, a Bosnia specialist at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Sarajevo, the country's capital, warned that the West, distracted by the global financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, was ignoring trouble signs in Bosnia, in its own backyard. ‘The United States and the European Union must engage, not just for the sake of Bosnia but because the world can't afford to allow what happened the last time,’ he said.

“Bosnia's security is guaranteed by 2,000 European Union peacekeepers. But Latal said the force was not strong enough to contain hostilities, should they erupt. Sketching a worst-case possibility, he warned that if the Serb Republic declared independence, neighboring Croatia would respond by sending in troops, and Bosnian Muslims would take up arms.”

Waiting… Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

The European Union has a large role to play here; the question is whether or not it will take the leading role. Rather than defer to the Americans Europe’s leaders need to step up in the very place where their hesitancy cost so many lives. With so many other distractions it is hard to say if the E.U. will be able to pay close enough attention, I certainly hope so…

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Photo of the Day #116 
Friday, March 6, 2009, 08:41 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

The current economic crisis is not limited to the United States by any means. Europe has struggled for years with stagnant growth and high unemployment. Now Germany is being asked to help out some of its smaller E.U. neighbors as we learn from this opinion piece in Der Spiegel.

“Twelve months ago it seemed inconceivable that any European Union member could face a sovereign debt crisis. It would have been the stuff of fantasy to argue that Ireland or Austria could be among those at risk. Yet such an outcome is now within the realm of possibility. And if one country suffers a crisis, it will almost certainly trigger a wave of crises, plunging the EU, and especially the euro zone, into turmoil.

“There is nothing inevitable about this. But a way out requires Germany and other fiscally sound but highly export-dependent economies, such as the Netherlands, to show more vision.”

Where I lead you follow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the financial problems that Europe and America are facing. President Obama has decided that large, bold action is needed to solve the current as well as systemic problems that face America. It remains to be seen whether his plan will work but it has certainly encouraged home among many in the States.

Now we look to Europe and we don’t see the same sorts of bold moves. True the crisis isn’t a bad here, yet. That of course does not mean that it won’t get worse. The leaders of Europe are still pretending that they are independent of one another, as if an economic collapse in Austria or Ireland would not have disastrous effects on the U.K. or Germany. One would like that the adoption of the Euro would have made the interdependence that is an economic fact of life more clear to the high and might. Clearly it has not…

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