Western norms and values

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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.

Syrian conflict: what is it all about and why we should be interested in it?

syria-1151151_1920Most Europeans do not possibly remember when they last saw a news show where the Syrian conflict was not mentioned. It sometimes appears that we almost got used to hearing about renewed bombings, numerous casualties and fruitless attempts of diplomats to alter the course of events in the Middle East region. However, taking a closer look at the developments in Syria might help to understand many processes in the contemporary world starting with the refugee crisis and ending with the continuing hostility between the United States and Russia.

The roots of the Syrian Civil War lie in 2011. Following the Arab Spring movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, public uprisings against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in Damascus. The peoples of Syria, however, were not as successful in forcing their leader out of power as the protesters in North African countries. A civil war between the government and the rebels began.

In a short time the conflict was no longer limited by the Syrian borders. Iran’s support to Assad’s regime together with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States declaring their support to the rebel forces followed by the involvement of the United States (on rebels’ side) and Russia (on Assad’s side) caused a polarization of all the countries having interests in the Middle East region. The situation was even more complicated by the Kurds (a national minority in Northern Syria) renewing their struggle for independence.

Finally, the conflict gave an opportunity for the emergence of the Islamic State (also referred to as Daesh). The terrorist state was formed after the Syrian al-Qaeda branch fighting against Assad’s regime bearing the name of al-Nusra Front merged with the Islamic State of Iraq and occupied large territories in Eastern Syria. Daesh’s ambitions of establishing a global caliphate and several terrorist attacks have brought the attention of every single nation in the world towards Syria.

What are the results of all this mess? According to Amnesty International, the number of victims of the conflict had reached 220 000 by the end of 2015 and is constantly growing. During the five years of the conflict the economy of the country suffered irreversible damage, numerous human rights’ violations occurred and a chemical weapon was used. At the moment about 50 per cent of the Syrian population is displaced and 4 million people fled their country as refugees.

The question that one may ask is why the conflict continues? Who is it beneficial to? The ones who win the most are, doubtlessly, the terrorist groups. The lack of order in Syrian governmental institutions makes any control of Syrian territory almost impossible, thus allowing the Islamic State to establish its own institutional and economic mechanisms in the east of the country. Uncontrolled Syrian borders also give the IS a possibility to perform international terrorism.

However, the Islamic State is not the main factor preventing either the reconciliation between the rebels and Assad’s regime or the decisive victory of one of the sides. In some ways the situation in Syria surprisingly resembles the local conflicts of the Cold War that took place in Korea or Vietnam. The involvement of Russia and the United States on different belligerent sides turns Syria into the arena of an international conflict between the two greatest military powers in the world.

This clash of the two Cold War enemies also leads any legal international intervention attempts to an impasse: both countries have the right of veto in the United Nations Security Council, which makes passing an effective resolution to solve the Syrian Civil War issue practically impossible. From this point of view the situation cannot be expected to change soon as the conflict remains a matter of influence in the Middle East region which both Russia and the US always sought for.

European countries played little role in the beginning of the conflict but are now being drawn into it more and more firmly. Europe’s role in the Syrian conflict mainly consists of two aspects. First, Europe becomes one of the main destinations of civilians fleeing Syria. Some countries of the European Union advocate the open-door policy while others oppose it, thus causing the internal division of the EU. The problem aggravated as the continuing flow of Syrian migrants gave a pretext to many economic refugees from Northern Africa to search for a better life in Europe despite the absence of any military threats.

The other way in which Europe contributes towards the developments in Syria is the fight against the Islamic State. Following the attacks in Paris France and Great Britain have carried out several bombings in the territory of the IS. However, it is always difficult for democratic governments to receive the popular approval for military actions, which makes it doubtable whether the European role will be significant in giving a decisive blow to Daesh.

The main interest of the European Union is, of course, finishing the conflict. This would sustainably solve the refugee crisis and the newly formed Syrian government would be able to regain territory from the IS. But as military intervention is hardly possible and hardly desirable the main role the EU should play here is that of being a diplomatic intermediary striving to reconcile the belligerent sides. Remaining completely neutral is no longer possible: the conflict taking place in Syria is no longer a local one and it is a duty of every single nation in the world to contribute to solving it.

 

About the author:

Picture Gediminas GodaGediminas (18) took part in our workshop in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2014. He attends International Baccalaureate course at Vilnius Lyceum and is dreaming of being a professor at university in the future. His interests are literature, politics and board games. More…

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…

From Syria to Germany: The story of 25 year-old Mohammed

path-892947_1920My name is Mohammed. I am Palestinian. I am 25 years old. I was born in Attal, Damascus, Syria. I went to Lebanon to continue my studies as a nurse and graduated in 2007. Then I started working from 2010 until 2015. I decided to leave Lebanon because of the war and the bad and worse treatment and because of the absence of peace and safety in our country. Our frightful journey started when we left Lebanon. We traveled to Turkey by Air using one way ticket. From Turkey we moved to Greece by sea facing the dangers of the wild sea. We stayed standing on foot for seven hours outdoors suffering cold and bad weather conditions. It was raining heavily when we moved to the camp in Macedonia where the authority put us in trains and transferred us to Serbia. There we also had to walk on foot for three hours until we reached Hungary. We also crossed the distance from Austria on foot. Finally we reached Germany in September 2015 and I am still here. I speak Arabic and English and started to learn German. I am still struggling with the accent of some of the letters. But sooner or later we’ll be able to deal with the language. So far, I did not find it difficult to meet Germans. They welcomed us with sympathy, love and warmth. They felt with our suffering and our state. It is something interesting, nice and wonderful to deal and interact with Germans from the region where I am currently staying. It shows equality and cultural interactions between citizens, refugees, tourists and every person in Germany. In Frankfurt I went to an event where refugees and Germans met to cook and eat together. It was nice to learn about the traditions of this country: how the citizens offer food and the traditional way of offering food. It is interesting to see how different countries have different specialties. All these social and traditional ways of cooking and interaction among people enrich and build friendship among them. All this may help refugees to interact and get acquainted with the traditional, educational and social traditions in Germany. It is an organization that shapes the opinion of refugees about Germany. It is important to deal with people from all around the world. If you don’t know their language, you will not be able to interact and understand their words. I have attended the cooking event twice and was so happy to make new friends and learn about their social and cultural tradition. And I wish to join and share any similar festivals or activities. I would also like to tell others about my culture and contribute to society and offer my duties and activities, to make myself proud, show that I am a good person and leave a good impression in Germany.

mo - KopieAbout the author:

Mohammed is a 25-year old Palestinian who was born in Syria and now lives in Germany. More…

Opening the borders for refugees

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Nowadays the current refugee crisis is, perhaps, the most widely debated issue. This is affecting a lot of people from Afghanistan and Syria which are involved in a terrible war, thousands have left everything looking for safety. Also it is a problem for Europe, because there are too many people arriving to the European coasts, people that European countries have to maintain. Whereas some people believe that these people have to be rescued and accepted in Europe others think that Europe shouldn’t let them in. We all know that on what all the refugees are going through is an inhumane suffering, but why is this negative for Europe?

Having an open border would be very positive in two ways: In the first place, the refugees would not have as much problem as they have now to reach Europe. Secondly, Europe would not have to make sure that there are no crimes against humanity are produced and comply with the fundamental human rights. Finally, it would also reduce the political problems between countries. Apart from that, as an opposite case we can find Hungary’s one, which is deterring the pass of the refugees through their territories. This decision has had very different opinions attached to it, the great part doesn’t agree on what Hungary is doing and in addition they are contributing to the distribution of the migrants.

On the other hand we have the negative aspects of this massive migratory movement, which mainly belong to the economic facts. When all these people come to Europe and they are inserted, they obviously will need to eat, to sleep, and all those basic needs everyone needs to fulfill, everything they need is paid by the European Union which is affected at the same time by a huge economic crisis, and many countries like Hungary will not be able to take part in the distribution of the refugees mainly because the situation there is quite bad already. Besides that, no one knows when all these people would be able to return back home, so for how much time is Europe going to pay the maintenance of all these people. It is okay, we will help these people, they are suffering an ordeal just to be safe, but economically Europe cannot maintain all these people for a long time.

We can conclude by saying that fundamental human rights have to be respected, but maybe in the middle of an economic crisis we should be taking care of the European citizens mainly and then give help to all the refugees.

 

About the author:

David Fernández Peña David Fernández Peña (16) is a student from Spain and interested in politics, technology and sports.

Refugee crisis

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“The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War Two” states a report by the UN refugee agency. Not surprisingly at all, the current refugee crisis has become one of the most widely debated issues due to its repercussion on a global scale. While everyone agrees that the origin of such crisis was the Arab Spring, a series of peaceful, pro-democracy movements that began in 2011 across the Middle East which, unfortunately, led to terrible wars in Libya and Syria, most people fail to have similar ideas regarding what should be done in order to tackle the problem of how to host millions of people.

The notion that Europe should take in a number of refugees as large as necessary has been backed up by many using the following arguments. In the first place, since the article 14 of the UDHR states that everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy asylum in other countries, the advocates of an open European border claim that it is the duty of all to host the refugees. Besides the fact that it is a basic human right, empathy makes people want to help to the extent possible to those exposed to inhumane situations; would a normal person not want help when he has been forced to abandon everything he knew, to live in harsh conditions in refugee camps, or even to attempt to cross seas with no safety measures risking his life and the lives of his loved ones? Secondly, developing regions hosted 86% of the world’s refugees. Taking into account that according to UNHCR, it would cost $20,537,705 only to finance the Syria Regional Refugee Coordination Office, it becomes clear that the costs are high. Developing countries appear to simply not be able to afford to invest the necessary money on refugee camps as opposed to European countries. Lastly, refugees have skills, talents and aspirations, and the ability to contribute socially and economically.

On the other hand, a number of European nations have made it clear they are not willing to welcome many newcomers, despite the current crisis, e.g., Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban built a barbed-wire fence along Hungary’s border with Serbia and introduced a new migratory law making any fence crossing a criminal offense. Those who agree with the Hungarian Prime Minister often argue that taking in all asylum-seekers would have a negative effect on European societies as well as economies. Refugees will not only be a “loss of capital” for the states but also a threat to their civic identity. People shudder at the sight of the potential change that the refugees might bring with them, something which contributes to the rise of an anti-immigration feeling. Illustrating this point, Orban stated: “Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”

In conclusion, the EU has announced an emergency quota system that will spread out the influx of refugees across its member states, aiming to improve the situation and avoid irrevocable mistakes. I strongly support the opinion of having open European borders for all Syrians and Afghans and honestly believe that the European Union should be realistic about the number of refugees that will arrive in the near future to our continent as to handle the crisis appropriately.

 

About the author:

Photo Mónica Martínez Jorge is 16-year-old student from Spain who is interested in politics.