Western norms and values


Heavy times in Europe right now. Everybody was shocked when the first boat sank. But now, when we have to share our land, we are not that shocked anymore. Sinking boats are something from daily life. Suddenly we have to share our little country with another nation, with another culture and another religion. Nobody ever said it should be easy.

When I was little I was taught not to burp at the table. Always to look people straight in the eyes, to have respect for everyone and every culture I was with. These are norms, with the value to respect everyone. In Europe a big discussion is going on right now: do we have the duty to welcome these people? Even though they stick to another culture, another religion?

A few famous, populistic, politicians say we have to overthink our own Western Norms and Values and protect them first, instead of just taking everyone. Even though they see norms and values, which are normal to us, in another way. So, my question, what are these norms and values exactly?

Je suis Charlie. Paris 7th of January 2015. Two men in black suits shot cartoonists. Cartoons emerged afterwards: cartoons from ‘western people’ with duck-tape stuck to their mouths. It seems so important to us: our freedom of expression. We have this famous politician in Holland: Geert Wilders. He is repeatedly accused for insulting remarks/expressions against Muslims. His expressions and speeches are banal and heavy, and many people wonder why he has so many followers. It is because of this, we all had the same feeling when the cartoonist got killed: our freedom of expression is in danger. ‘We have fought for it through history’. I think this is an important value in Holland, so it is in Europe. People get angry when they feel they cannot say what they want, even though it is hurting other humans. Right now, in Poland the government decided to lead the state television, which means they can control when and what people say on television. According the rules from the EU-membership this is forbidden. But with another crisis to carry, the EU doesn’t pay that much attention to this problem. Even though it imparks the Polish citizens’ freedom of expression.

New Year’s Eve. Cologne 1th of January 2016. Sexual harassment is a big issue and was put on the spotlights after the incidents in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. First the refugees came to ‘touch’ our freedom of expression. Now they’re touching our women: the world has gone mad.

So, safety should be a value. Safety on the streets to walk everywhere and at every moment you want, in the clothes you like. So, according to our European identity there are two important values: freedom of expression and safety (no sexual intimidation). The most important values, but in my opinion also the most empty values. I wonder, are you free when the government checks everything you are doing on the streets and on the internet in the name of keeping terrorists away from planning attacks?

For example: in Amsterdam you can be who you are and by that I mean the gay community. The Ministry of Education in Holland decided to educate asylum seekers in gay rights in the Netherlands. As the minister Jet Bussemaker told the media: ‘Refugees often come from countries where female- and gay rights are not always self-evident’. I think this is not only a Dutch value: discrimination is also not allowed in other European countries. So I think we can say that ‘no discrimination’ or ‘tolerance’ also are Western values.

So with this we come to a few important values belonging to our Western European World: Freedom of expression, safety (on every area), against discrimination, tolerance. And with these we also come to another value: the European Identity. Some European citizens are afraid Europe will lose her identity and her dominant culture, when lots of people from other cultures come to live here. I think this is not true, because I think diversity and tolerance towards other cultures and religions is one of the strongest values a country can have. We have to defend this values, but not because they’re ‘our Western values we have fight for through history’. We have to defend and think about them because these are values that are always very important.

What allows us to teach refugees not to condemn people on their sexual preferences if we still condemn people on their culture and religion ourselves?


About the author:

Adinda BlankAdinda Blank (18) participated in our workshop in Amsterdam in 2014 as a student of Montessori Lyceum Amsterdam. She is dreaming of becoming a journalist and enjoys history, singing, rowing, drawing as well as writing stories.

A Helping Hand for the Refugees

1The closing of the Serbo-Hungarian border in October 2015 caused a massive influx of refugees seizing their last chance to make it into the European-Union through Hungary. Katharina* (54), housewife and mother of three children in Munich decided in October 2015 to go to the Serbo-Hungarian border to offer her help to the refugees.

She agreed to share her experience with us in this interview.

YCF: What motivated you to go to the Serbo-Hungarian border?

Katharina: I decided to go there, when the refugee crisis and particularly the position of the European-Union at its borders were at the center of media attention. The spotlight was put on the Syrian refugees and their struggles at the borders to get into the European-Union by land or by sea. When I saw these people in Hungary walking by feet on the streets direction Austria I couldn’t stop thinking of them.

Furthermore, there was a wave of solidarity coming up in Munich, the city in which I live, as well as in Germany in general.

But the thing, that pushed me the most, was the urge of the situation and the will to face it. I mean, there was a huge humanitarian crisis just about 500 miles away and I couldn’t stand it, just to stay in my comfort zone and not do anything about it.

YCF: How did you go? And who did you take with you?

Katharina: I got in contact with a small group of people in my neighborhood who also wanted to do something. Most of them helped by donating stuff and/or money, but two of them were willing to come with me to the border to help the refugees there – a German architect who was about 40 years and a Syrian man who has lived in Munich for over 40 years.

Once the group was formed we decided to rent a truck and fill it with the donations. We even got supported by a charity organization which gave us among other things strollers and baby-carriers.

We first arrived in Budapest, where we originally wanted to help, but we were quickly told that there were enough people willing to help in the city. However, there was a huge lack of people at the Serbo-Hungarian border.

YCF: Once there, what was your first impression?

Katharina: I was surprised by the lack of infrastructure when we arrived. We first had to clean the surface to even think about creating a kind of infrastructure where we can welcome the arriving refugees. Then we distributed tents and made a plan to create a structure.

I was also surprised, that there were just very few people who came for humanitarian causes and a lot of journalists. I even felt, that there were more journalists than volunteers that came to the border. And there were quite a lot of Hungarian policeman at the border as well.2

YCF: What were your main activities at the border?

Katharina: Well, the activities varied. As already said, we installed tents to welcome the refugees, but we also gave them dry clothes when they arrived wet from head to toe because of the heavy rain. And we gave shelter and information to the disoriented refugees. We even gave money once in a while when they lost everything on their way. We also gave the often terrified children some toys and brought families to main train stations so that they could continue their way from there. As you can see, we always had something to do.

3YCF: What impressed you the most?

Katharina: I think it was to see so many families. Of course, I expected to see some families, but I was surprised to see that many families with small kids I thought meeting a lot more young to middle-aged men, who made the way to get their wives and kids later.

I was also surprised by the dignity and the decision of the refugees. Some of them had made very tough ways to get to the border and most were very tired. But all people were incredibly respectful and helpful one to another. I’ve never noticed a violent skid or even a feeling of aggressiveness.

Last but not least, I was surprised by the fact that there were not only Syrians trying to cross the border, but also a lot of Iraqis and Afghans fleeing terror and war.

4YCF: What was your most shocking experience

Katharina: One evening we were looking out at the border, if there was anyone who could need our help. We noticed someone hiding in the bushes, so we went a little closer. It was a young woman with a newborn in her arms. The young mother just gave birth a very few days ago in Serbia. But she didn’t have the time to recover from the birth. She had to continue her way direction Hungary. Once they arrived at the border, she sat down in a bush and stopped moving. She stayed in a severe state of shock with her newborn for one day and one night. The baby was almost not dressed. He wouldn’t have survived one more night like this in the cold.

At the example of this woman you can see how the refugees are going to their extremes. There is no going back for them.

YCF: Are you still active in the help for refugees today?

Katharina: I am indeed. I joined an organization in my city that offers different types of workshops for the refugees. The aim is, to integrate them and to offer them something to do during the long days. The workshops vary from German-classes and help in the bureaucratic steps to sports and cooking workshops. I personally lead a painting workshop with another woman. With this workshop we try to give them an opportunity to show their artistic skills and to express their experience. At the end of the workshop we’ll expose the paintings in a gallery to show it to a broad public.

* name changed as requested

Interview: Clara Hachmann

About the author:

Picture Clara HachmannClara took part in our “My Europe”workshop in Munich in 2013. She is one of the winners of the international writing contest from the workshop and has been actively representing the voice of young Europeans through the “Youth Council for the Future” (YCF). Read more…

Let`S Be Clear

Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl, Spotlight Europe
A new series by the “My Europe” initiator Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl has started. (picture: Remix by Spotlight Europe)

A new series has started on Spotlight Europe! Each week, the founder of “My Europe” Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl will present his thoughts on ongoing matters in the European Union. He will show which role the youth can take to make its interests in current and future European affairs known.

Riots, fear and uncertainty about tomorrow’s events prevail in Europe. Populist left-wing and right-wing groups threaten to compress freedom and jolt the doors of the European fortress:

– In Greece Alexis Tsirpas who is leading the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza) has recently become prime minister.

– In Spain, the new populist left-wing movement Podemos has assembled a considerable amount of supporters.

– In France, Marine Le Pen is constantly gaining support for her right-wing party Front National.

– In Italy, Matteo Salvini has successfully transformed the conservative Lega Nord party into a populist, right-wing Anti-Euro party.

– In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders advocates nationalism with his right-wing party PVV.

– In Great Britain, the patriotic Ukip party which is led by Nigel Farage (who has a seat in the European Parliament by the way) demand their country to leave the eurozone.

– In Denmark, the Danish right-wing populist party DF rejoices at an increasing support among voters.

– In Austria, the Freiheitliche Partei Österreich (FPÖ) is also gaining momentum.

These parties clearly want to build a different Europe and seek to abolish its common currency, the Euro. Their further claims are regionalization and nationalization. With the help of negative populist slogans these groups discredit the unity of Europe and deliberately endanger the common currency.

“Europe has a historic obligation.”

Once you have taken notice of their statements, you also have to keep in mind that after centuries of war and expulsion which resulted in the death of millions of people, the unification of these European countries is historically unique and shows that peace is always an option. Sometimes the fact is forgotten that European nations like Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, France and to a minor degree also Germany (and since the beginning of the 20th century also the United States of America) used to dominate the world and exploited their colonies causelessly. The afflicted nations in South America, Asia and Africa still haven’t forgotten about this difficult time. Especially Europe – the European Union – has a historic obligation to do its utmost to promote a peaceful coexistence of people on all continents.

Europe’s youth, which is heir to this historical dimension, wants peace and freedom. The young Europeans aged between 15 and 25 years who engage in the “My Europe” initiative, stand together behind a unified Europe and the Euro as common currency.

For them, the Euro is not only a solely financial factor but a common culture and identity that they will defend with all possible means.

“We want to call the youth for advocating the European values.”

The Youth Council for the Future has recently presented five criteria that clearly and uncompromisingly indicate how Europe’s future should be designed. These are: Gender, Education, Religion, Tolerance and Employment.

These are the central topics that have been voted on in a poll among the adolescents. These are also the topics that they want to work on in order to shape a peaceful future.

You as young people – your are Europe´s future!

We want to call the youth for advocating the European values and to resist all groupings that seek to defeat these values or make use of them exclusively, that discriminate minorities and/or work against the equality of people.

Young people of all countries, unite! Make it plain to all political, economic and social groups that you want to live in freedom and peace.


About the author:

MP1Prof. Dr. Manfred Pohl is the Founder and Chairman of Frankfurter Zukunftsrat, the think tank that organises “My Europe”. more…

Albania’s Integration into the EU (2/2)

The Albanian and the EU flag in front of a mountainside in Gjirokastra, Albania; SpotlightEurope_Zoela3
The EU and Albania – a shared vision and a common future?(Flickr:Nomad Tales/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The youths are embracing the so called Western culture and consequently forgetting theirs. There are efforts in the EU to reinforce the sentiment of a common tradition such as: the European flag and hymn, Eurovision song contest, etc. Nevertheless, Zhan Mone, the creator of the EU, later said that given the opportunity, he would have given more importance to culture than to economy. Thus, “So similar, so different, so European” means that there are countries which serve both as good or bad examples.

“The youths are embracing the so called Western culture and consequently forgetting theirs.”

When it comes to a social state, will we become similar to the countries of northern Europe or the Mediterranean ones? When it comes to rights, will Albania be as liberal as Spain to allow marriages of the same sex or will it be conservative like Malta which didn’t allow divorce? To put it differently, EU holds a number of good and bad examples. Yes, we may reach standards superficially and convince Brussels one day. We choose to follow good or bad models. However, completing something superficially, results in superficial products too. Integration in the EU is an outcome of democracy, not a democratization ready formula. Moreover, Albania has and is benefiting from a number of EU instruments of assistance. On the one hand, in 1999, it benefited from the Autonomous Trade preferences and in 2000 duty-free access to the EU market was granted too. On the other hand, in 2007, the visa facilitation agreement was signed.

“Our closest duty is to do what we see clearly in the present, not what appears vaguely in the distance.”

All of these acquisitions convince us on worshipping the EU as an admirable safe haven. When Greece was in crisis the EU helped, but being constantly dependent on others enslaves a person, enslaves people. I wish that membership comes in the right moment when we see the EU once and for all as an opportunity to develop democratically. Beyond contradictions, beyond insecurities, I believe we have worked hard so far and shouldn’t give up. It’s not the politicians’ challenge only, it’s everyone’s challenge, everyone’s future. We are all in a feverish anticipation of legitimizing victory to embrace and enjoy once and for all our European dream.

Immediately, deep in the soul and in my youthful hopes, something flourishes that by pulling me away from the current time, it brings me closer to a brighter future. Something that, I know for sure will give me the validity to declare with pride: “I’m European, I live European, I think European”. Our closest duty is to do what we see clearly in the present, not what appears vaguely in the distance. “We are one and the change comes a little from all to reach good for all”.

About the author:
Zoela Dimo as speaker at an event, Spotlight Europe
Zoela Dimo – Author at Spotlight Europe

Zoela Thanas Dimo (18) is a graduate from Turkish high school “Mehmet Akif” in Albania with high results and several achievements which opened up her way to studies in Turkey. Currently she´s  an economics student at Bilkent University, Ankara.


Albania’s Integration into the EU (1/2)

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha meets Catherine Ashton, former High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, SpotlightEurope_Zoela2
The Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha meets Catherine Ashton, former High Representative of the EU (Flickr:European Council/licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“We want Albania to be like the rest of Europe”. This slogan was used in the student protests which overthrew the communist regime in 1991. More than 20 years after Albania is not like the rest of Europe. Today our democracy is fragile and the rule of law lacks behind. Today ahead of us we have an EU perspective and a roadmap with tasks to fulfill before making our dream come true. Today we listen every day to our political leaders claiming that EU integration remains a priority. We tend to believe that joining the EU would be a solution to most of our problems, but in this rather naïve belief rests the optimism of a nation for a better future.

Often, as a high school student that I am, I struggle to understand how much of this tasks are with our government and how much of it rests with the political decision of EU institutions. It is every day that I try to understand what I could do or what could a high school student do to help our accession efforts. Like everybody else, I find myself trapped in the trumpeting of EU integration slogans that are part of the everyday political language. I wonder if our leaders found an easy refuge into this subject and that’s all. Such slogans are repeated over and over throughout my childhood and now in my adolescence. It is only lately that I enquired on my ownhow this process looks like and below I will try to present my findings.

“It seems that criteria are stronger than wishes.”

There have been years of waiting, years of promises and yet neither new nor positive is on the horizon. Albania started the negotiations on the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) in 2003. In 2009 we applied for EU membership. Following the submission, the Council asked the European Commission (EC) to prepare a detailed assessment of Albania. In 2012 the EC concluded that 4 out of 12 priorities were met. On 23rd June 2013 Albania held general elections that were mainly regarded as free and fair. The EU ambassador to Albania said on July 17th that we, Albania, might be an official candidate by December 2013. Yet, to this date Albania has not been granted the status. All this pending confirmation procedure brings up the question: What is wrong with us? It seems that criteria are stronger than wishes.

No other country has suffered such as ours. Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro surpassed us in an initiative we firstly took. There is no certitude when we’re getting a firm confirmation, even though we’re famous for being the most pro-European country. So, politicians, I regret to say it’s your mistake. You’re the ones who failed. EU integration is a group mission. We as citizens have completed our duties. We on our own want and know how to live as Europeans. On the contrary, the politicians’ unjustified behavior of the parliament embodies nothing else but chaos. Maybe in another moment they may play their theatrical role: like there really is compromise, by shaking hands in front of the cameras, and… For a moment everything is better than ever and then, who knows, our European dreammay come true. But… Can we fake it to the end? Can the EU really be deceived?

It’s not a matter of good looking than it’s of content: Fulfilling our homework that will be checked by the EU. The process requires realism and pragmatism by sharply pointing out our objectives and opportunities. Whoever thinks Albania won’t develop, then it won’t do so. Whoever truly believes, will truly contribute. This means that whenever we get a “NO”, we shouldn’t focus on finding the guilty ones but on working harder. Because when we aren’t a united family within ourselves, how do we pretend to survive in EU? We shouldn’t see it as a problem solver, not as the need of a small country to stay under a larger umbrella.

“Are we ready to change our multilayer identity, the real us?”

Only by constructing the right vision of democracy, Albania avoids the danger of remaining out of the EU. Meanwhile, it avoids another danger, the one of being left behind without fulfilling the responsibilities after membership. Let’s have a look at the gist meaning of being an EU member. Let’s start by their quote: “So similar, so different, so European”, which belongs to a system so widely known as “a sui generis-of its own kind”. Rightfully, it suggests a union that constantly changes. The EU made that brotherhood, its idea becoming superior to each country’s own patriotism. But… Albanians are best known for their cultural values and their strong feeling of patriotism. Are we willing to give up some of our uniqueness for the sake of EU’sadvantages? Are we ready to change our multilayer identity, the real us?

About the author:
Zoela Dimo as speaker at an event, Spotlight Europe
Zoela Dimo – Author at Spotlight Europe

Zoela Thanas Dimo (18) is a graduate from Turkish high school “Mehmet Akif” in Albania with high results and several achievements which opened up her way to studies in Turkey. Currently she´s  an economics student at Bilkent University, Ankara.



“He is one of us.” (2/2)

Two Bavarian musicians standing at a lake, Spotlight Europe
“He is one of us!” Why not present European TV spots in which every regional culture is introduced? (Flickr:Anna/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

In the first part the author described his experiences during his professional sports career, namely that sports has the strength to unite people. This common spirit should be transfered to Europe so that people see themselves as Europeans. The second part deals with what can be done to achieve that spirit.

Can we not initiate a series of spots for Europe? In each spot presenting a person from any of our countries with a typical regional theme in the image, joyfully stating the testimonial: …”And here in Europe – I am at home.” Or: …. “And here in Europe – I feel at home”.

We all learn at school that Europe is a unique continent of rich cultures. This is true but it´s a remote, intellectual statement. Would it not be more convincing if we would raise more awareness and emotions for this incredible historical achievement, grown over 2.000 years, amongst the 500 million? Should the EU then start a series of ads in the media in all our countries, with the following content? :

Christopher Columbus, Albert Einstein, William Shakespeare, Leonardo da Vinci, El Greco, Moliere, (and many more, each nation has contributed with geniuses)

….they are all: “one of us”. Us as Europeans.

“Let us build up the biggest family in the world.”

When, during this year, a German astronaut has been living and working in the International Space Ship for months and currently an Italian astronaut (a lady) accomplishes the same, all 500 million Europeans should be proud since both astronauts are: “he/she is one of us.”

Surrounding the globe, in addition to telling us how wonderful the World looks from space, could our European astronauts not also mention how wonderful it is to see our Europe?

(This is also a European mission and these astronauts are Europeans.)

“He is one of us” is obviously causing a feeling of family to all of us. Let us build up the biggest family in the world: 500 million Europeans. It will take much time – but it can become reality.

Finally for today:

We could invite, say 100 children from all our nations, wearing traditional, regional costumes, to stand in front or inside the European Parliament on the first day of a new term. Imagine the emotional, touching, colourful image, creating a strong emotional feeling and pride in all European countries, with all people.

It seems to me to be a promising plan that we in “MyEurope” propose the idea of the same lyrics to at last be written for the European Anthem (composer Ludwig van Beethoven) in all our languages, speaking about our great values, our common Europe so that all 500 million can sing to the same tune.

We need to foster and bring Europe forward, beyond intellectual arguments as valuable as they are.

Europe is about emotions. Europe in our hearts.

About the author:

Jochen BenderJochen Bender is a passionate European. He has lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro, London and Germany. He is a developer of tourism and hotels. He travelled on business to almost sixty countries and spent a total of seven years in developing countries. More