Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Greece and FYROM: a march for peace and reconciliation anyone?

On Sunday the 21st of January, hundreds of thousands of Greeks marched in the country's second largest city Thessaloniki, to protest against the use of the name “Macedonia” in a solution to a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

The event was organized mainly through social media and it came days after U.N. Mediator Matthew Nimetz, presented new proposals to end the 25-year-old dispute between the two countries.

He wouldn’t comment on the ideas he presented but said: “I myself don’t think it’s realistic to expect the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia not to have Macedonia in some form in its name.”(The Washington Post).

As result, his remarks started a wave of objections and protests among many Greeks in the country and among the Greek diaspora, who oppose the use of the term "Macedonia" in the neighboring country's name.

While I do not object to the right of people to organize marches to express their opinions, this protest was obviously something solely for internal consumption. The view of the majority of Greece's public opinion has always been known, but international diplomacy does not work in the same way. 

Both the EU and NATO are keen to expand and include the Western Balkan region in their circles, thus it is only a matter of time before they apply pressure on both nations to solve their dispute. In addition, the leadership of Greece and FYROM also seem to want to find a solution. 

The two countries' Prime Ministers have agreed to intensify UN-sponsored talks on their long-standing ‘name’ dispute, announcing a set of concessions aimed at showing their good faith during their first meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos recently. (Balkan Insight)

FYROM has said it will rename its airport in a step designed to reassure Greece and unlock its NATO and EU bids.

"To demonstrate that we're committed to finding a solution, I'm announcing that we'll change the name of the airport and surrounding avenues," FYROM prime minister Zoran Zaev stated, referring to the Skopje Alexander the Great Airport.

The airport title is part of a bigger dispute with Greece over the country's national name."We don't want to just solve the issue of the name, but to put the relations of our two countries on solid foundations," Zaev said. (EU Observer)

Thus any protests from the Greek public, no matter how well intended, honest and patriotic, do not help the efforts to end the stalemate. They are simply a desperate attempt to satisfy its nationalism and insecurity. The atmosphere during the march was often so charged as if there was a war brewing. How can this help the negotiations?

One could wonder why should the Greek public be bothered about the neighboring country's fate. Afterall, Greece is already in the EU and NATO, plus it has a veto so it can do whatever it wants. It shouldn't have to compromise.

But they got to realize, that as long as the region is divided, unstable and each country at each other's throats, no country in the Balkans will ever be as prosperous as the rest of Europe. Stability means prosperity, plus cross-border and foreign investments to better the region's infrastructure and economies. 

It also means competitiveness and cooperation between all nations, which participate in the European single market. Finally, it makes absolutely no sense to have a hostile country at your doorstep. 

I personally am tired of all this hatred and nationalism in the Balkans. In Greece, we have been kept in constant fear that all countries around us want parts of our land. Turkey wants the islands, Albania the North-Western part of the country, FYROM wants Macedonia. 

Some may do; there are nationalists in every country in the region and even in Greece, there are still people that dream of getting lost lands back. How futile this is in modern Europe. Instead of trying to become a modern European society and economy, people in the Balkans want border redistribution. 

However, the Macedonian issue for the Greeks is not financial, rather emotional and of national pride. Partially they are right. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, we saw a rise of nationalism in all its former republics. FYROM started a barrage of propaganda to appropriate Greek history, in order to establish its own identity.

That didn't go well with the Greeks and especially the more nationalist and conservative elements in the country. Since then, Greece has continuously blocked the entrance of FYROM in both the EU and NATO, in order to pressure the country to back off its claims.

In this instance, the Greeks are rightfully trying to protect their heritage. But they must also accept that when we are talking about Macedonia and its history, we are not only talking about the ancient or the modern one. 

Between these times, Macedonia as a region was in constant change, both in terms of borders and its ethnic groups or society. And while the Greeks are right to try to stop FYROM from appropriating anything to do with the ancient kingdom, they conveniently forget that during the rest of Macedonia's history, its society was multicultural and diverse as many of today's Europe's regions. 

So who has the right to call himself Macedonian? Obviously, everyone who resides or resided in the region for generations. Just as anyone can call himself European, once he and his ancestors have been living on the continent for a considerable amount of time. 

Thus, if FYROM learns to respect Greece's sensitivity on the matter, there is no reason why the two countries can not share the name or even the heritage. As long as FYROM understands that if it wants to link itself to the ancient kingdom, it must realize that it has itself Greek heritage. There is no shame in that.

In Europe, we have a very exclusive view of our heritage, with each country trying to safeguard it against its neighbors. In reality, it is the result of years of cultural exchanges, occupations, invasions, wars, expansions, trade and intermarrying. 

So instead of heritage dividing us, it should be uniting us. In the case of Greece and FYROM, this division has been poisoning both countries for decades. Why can't the ancient kingdom and its history act as a link to bond the countries together, rather turning them hostile to each other? 

It should be an honor for us Greeks if any of our country's neighbors, is claiming that it has links to our ancient heritage. But this is not the same as appropriating, just like FYROM tried to do until recently, especially with its previous right-wing Gruevski government.

We must learn to work together in the Balkans but first, we need to understand and respect each other. So perhaps the next massive protest the Greeks should organize about Macedonia, would be to walk all the way to the borders and meet people of FYROM and hold joined demonstrations for peace and reconciliation. 

The two countries have been close economic partners for decades, with Greeks investing in the country and visiting its casinos or hotels and vise versa. Many tourists from FYROM are visiting Northern Greece each summer, contributing to the country's economy. 

Imagine what can we achieve if we manage to put this behind us. Both countries can gain a valuable ally in the region and a close partner in EU and NATO. Together perhaps with Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and other Balkan democracies, they could form a formidable economic block within the EU. 

In fact, EU membership is the safest option to end all disputes in the region. Once inside the block, how can one member have territorial or other claims against another? The EU would immediately act against such member and mediate for a solution. 

It is heartening that the current FYROM PM Zoran Zaev is making considerable efforts to reverse Gruevski's damaging populist policies, that offended and infuriated many Greeks. Similarly, it is exciting to see that on the Greek side, people are becoming more open about the possibility of finding a solution, that will include the term "Macedonia" in the neighboring country's name. 

The Republic of Vardar Macedonia, as is one of the five possible names for the small republic that Matthew Nimetz suggested, is what I would personally go for. It sets a clear distinction between the two regions, without the possibility of any territorial dispute that a "North" or "Upper" term, would potentially imply, making many Greeks uncomfortable. 

It still gives the right to FYROM to keep its name and identity, without cutting off Greece from what is rightfully its own; its history and heritage that its people are so proud and protective of. 

Twenty-five years of hate, diplomatic failures, trade embargos, cyberwar and bullying, propaganda and blockage to enter the EU and NATO institutions are enough. It is a toxic situation that we all should be ashamed to pass on to the next generation. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Why Brexit must happen now.

Nigel Farage has proposed a second referendum on leaving the EU to settle the issue for a generation, as he believes the result would be the same again.

The former UKIP leader suggested another poll would ultimately kill off the campaign for Brexit to be reversed, which is championed by "remainers" such as Tony Blair, Andrew Adonis and Nick Clegg.

Speaking on Channel 5’s The Wright Stuff, he said: “My mind is actually changing on all this. What is for certain is that the Cleggs, the Blairs, the Adonises will never, ever, ever give up. They will go on whining and moaning all the way through this process.

“So maybe, just maybe, I’m reaching the point of thinking that we should have a second referendum on EU membership. I think that if we had a second referendum on EU membership we would kill it off for a generation.
(The Guardian)

It is not sure if Mr. Farage's intentions are as he says, "to kill off the debate", or simply like any other good populist, he is sensing the mood of the British public changing. And perhaps he does not want to have his name forever linked with the most disastrous decision in the British history. 

Thus, like Pontius Pilate he is "washing his hands off", now coming out as a supporter of a second referendum on the British EU membership. The same person which blasted the Irish government and the EU itself, for having second referendums on the Lisbon Treaty among others. 

"Respect the Irish vote", he was claiming, together with other UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament, holding signs. He criticised the move as being undemocratic and bullying by the EU, which is disregarding totally the will of the people. 

His claims, among many other populist, Far-Right, Far-Left and other anti-EU groups and political parties, helped increase Euroskepticism across Europe. 

When people were voting for something, they had to vote again as it appeared and thus, it legitimised Farage's claims of an extremely undemocratic EU. 

How can we now, accept a second British referendum, which if we judge from the current public mood in the country, will be for staying in the EU. Wouldn't this give another reason among many Euroskeptics, not only in the U. K. but across Europe, to slam the EU once again for "bullying" and disrespecting people's wishes? 

Won't this move, give a sense that a country cannot leave the EU, even if it wishes to? "What is the point of a referendum to leave," many will think "if we have to vote again on it". And they will be right. 

Understandably, the British public is exhausted by all the debate, hugely divided, confused, angry, feeling cheated and in despair. Most likely they will vote to remain this time, in order to avoid years and years of uncertainty that will have a disastrous impact on their economy. 

But it was them that voted to leave. It was their decision. For too many years the British governments failed to tell the truth to their voters, about the benefits of EU membership, in order to take credit for any successes and to feed petty pride and nationalism. 

Being a blogger for over 10 years, I was always amazed about the passionate hatred that the British pensioners and other Euroskeptics had towards the EU. They were among the most vocal anti-EU protesters, not only always rejecting any possibility for further EU integration, but wanting to dismantle the block altogether. 

When I took a look at the British press though, it all became clear to me. While the anti-EU media and parties, were spreading their corrosive propaganda against an "EU superstate", the British elites did absolutely nothing to counterpart these claims. In fact, they even played along, in order to gain votes and reputation. They turned the EU into a punching bag for their failures. 

Sadly, now the country is deeply divided and on the brink of collapse, as Scotland considers to abandon the U. K. altogether and join the EU alone. Numerous pro-EU rallies take place and the public is angry. But it is too little, too late. Brexit must happen now. 

If there is a second referendum then the Far Right or Far Left and other anti-EU parties will grab this opportunity to slam yet again the EU for being a bully and undemocratic. This will be always used as an example to block any further EU integration, not just by British Euroskeptics, but perhaps in Hungary, Poland plus other countries too. 

This phenomenon has to stop and it is sad that Britain must become an example, but there is no other way. We have to let them face the consequences of their choice, see how it is outside the EU, satisfy their curiosity and nationalism and if they decide to rejoin the EU, there will be no more cherry picking or skepticism. 

The EU will move on to deeper integration and if the British want to rejoin, they will have to agree to it, stay out or in EEA. So everyone will be happy and receive what they want, deserve or suits them. If the British government decides to cancel Brexit, then they must find legal loopholes to do so, depending on their constitution. But a second referendum must be out of the question.

We cannot let the whole European project to fail, just to satisfy the cyclothymia of just one nation. However, one possible positive outcome of all this will be if we agree to give British nationals EU passports and citizenship. Those who wish to remain EU citizens, could together with other EU/EEA nationals apply for an EU passport. 

It has long been debated, that it will offer the benefit of belonging to a European republic, only for those who chose to do so of course. Brexit could make such move a necessity, but it should not be only available for British nationals. 

Others, like the Norwegians, Icelanders or indeed any of EU nationals that feel passionately about their EU citizenship, could also apply and attain such passport. 

Brexit certainly poses many challenges, in all fields; economic, political and social, not just in Britain but the whole Europe. It is scary as it is uncertain. But many lessons could be learned from it and perhaps, people will finally learn to love the EU, see its potential for the future and be proud of our collective achievements, once they experience the effects of Brexit.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

We got to tell both sides of the story in sexual misconduct in Hollywood.

In the recent months, the showbiz industry of Hollywood and beyond has been rocked by a number of sexual harassment or misconduct allegations, against many A-listing men.

In early October 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker reported that dozens of women had accused Harvey Weinstein, a prominent film producer and executive, of engaging in sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape. More than 80 women in the film industry subsequently accused Weinstein of such acts. He denied, of course, any of these allegations. (Wikipedia)

About a month later, another Hollywood A-lister faced the same fate. Kevin Spacey came under fire for sexual misconduct against a then 14-year-old young actor, Anthony Rapp. 

Since then, more than 30 people have come forward with their own allegations against Spacey, with accounts ranging from harassment to attempted rape. As result, Spacey has been fired by Netflix and the hit TV series "House of Cards". His agent and publicist have also backed away from him.

The list is continuously growing, with Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman and Oliver Stone also being accused of similar misconduct among many others. 

While the public is shocked to watch the fall of many of its favorite stars, let's step back one minute to evaluate the situation. Hollywood is not your average workplace or industry. 

It has always been focusing on sexuality, physical attractiveness and the sex appeal of its stars. Most of them are battling alcoholism, drug addictions and numerous mental disorders. Add all the above to the toxic mix of power and fame hungry young men and women and you've got it; a recipe for indecency. 

Not that there is any excuse for any of the above stars' actions, but we've got to realize that these people have an ultra-inflated ego, since thousands of young women and men are striving for their attention all the time. 

It is sadly a human condition that exists everywhere, yet in a place with so many spoiled for choice individuals, the situation was always out of control. It is doubtful that it is anything new, or the industry was not aware of it- if not tolerated it.

Power and control issues exist in all industries and workplaces, but in those professions were beauty and sexuality play a huge part in becoming successful or not, it is almost a curse. 

Yet, while it is easy to point the finger towards these men and be disgusted by their actions, if we have to be totally fair, we need to examine the whole picture. 

In a recent interview, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace stated in Swedish daily news agent SVT Nyheter about the Weinstein case, that "a lot of women have played the game and climbed the ladder." 

"They've stepped in, been part of the game and used it to their advantage", she described. And in reality, that is the case. Some women refused the advancements and lost out or seen their careers downgraded, but others have "played the game" as she says, pushing their career forward. 

We've got to realize that they are also part of this problem as they gave power to these men. If we want to be fair, we should be hearing about their cases too. Which of our favorite female or male stars, are where they are now because they gave these men (or women perhaps) what they wanted; sexually or not.

And by doing so, they assisted the perpetuation or exaggeration of the issue. These men continued doing what they were doing, because firstly they were tolerated by the industry, getting away with it and in addition, they were having what they wanted by a number of young and aspiring stars and starlets who consented. 

If you seek the attention of an older, famous individual to boost your career, make sure you don't give the wrong impressions about you. Keep it professional and if things get out of hand, report the incident. If you don't, then you become part of the problem and you are spoiling it for many others who chose not to give in. 

It is not totally unimaginable that in such industry and many others, sexual favors, nepotism or strong connections are often needed to get you to places. That is how it has always been. Not that it is right or that it has to remain as such and hopefully, this will offer an opportunity to eliminate such attitudes in this and every industry, with the appropriate legislation. 

I have also lost a job once, to a woman which gave in to the advances of a manager of a hotel I used to work as a barman. I am not sure of which one seduced the other first, as the chemistry between them was intense, obvious and reciprocating.  

But the result was me always being sidelined, that resulted in my resignation after 3 months in the job. I imagine something similar exists in Hollywood too, but much more exaggerated. 

If we want to put a stop to such phenomena, we should first of all start being nice to our colleagues or the professionals that we have to work with. Keep it safe and professional. We should not be afraid to speak out, be ashamed or feel guilty. 

Sex and sexuality are in our nature and should be celebrated and enjoyed. But they should never become a currency that out careers and their progression should depend on.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Europe must grasp its place in the globe now.

Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic party has recently sketched out red lines for talks to form another coalition government with Angela Merkel.
In a speech at the SPD’s party conference in Berlin that called for the creation of a “United States of Europe” by 2025, as well as a more robust social security net and a phasing out of coal power.

He also warned that “the continent cannot afford four more years of German European policy a la Schäuble”, referring to the austerity measures of the country’s conservative former finance minister.
Schulz told delegates that he wanted EU member states to sign off on a “constitutional treaty” that committed the bloc to take steps towards a federal Europe – a proposal likely to be met with some resistance from Merkel and other EU leaders.
“Such a constitutional treaty has to be written by a convention that includes civil society and the people. This constitutional treaty will then have to be put to the member states and those that don’t approve it will automatically have to leave the EU,” Schulz said. (The Guardian)
He is the first top European politician to call recently and openly for a "United States of Europe" in a bid to enter a government. Until now, only the French President  Emmanuel Macron, has mentioned his support for "more Europe," or further EU integration, yet he did not put it as boldly.
It is evident that there is an increasing interest among the European elites, but also from a large number of citizens, to federalize the continent. Recently in a poll in Euronews, 56% of the people participating said that they support Schulz and a Federal Europe. (Euronews).
And it appears to be inevitable. America shows signs of fatigue and is in an identity crisis of its own. With Donald Trump as their President, their foreign policy has become erratic and provocative, threatening the peace and balance in the rest of the world.  
Not only he boldly went on and threatened to "totally destroy" North Korea, leaving the globe biting its nails over the next action of the two hot-headed leaders, but he deemed the USA, the only nation not to sign the Paris Agreement.
While every nation, even the war-torn Syria is on-board in this crucial global effort to save the planet, Trump had other ideas in his mind. 
Recently, he once again caused an outrage, by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Causing, of course, a backlash in the Arab world and beyond. He forgets that he is not just any public figure at the moment, seeking attention with his tweets or controversial statements, he is the leader of a country and he represents it.
Until now, America was considered the leading nation of the "free world," of the West and all democracies on the planet. But under Trump, America's leadership shows a fatigue and lack of direction. Instead of leading the world to a new era, he attempts to drag us all backwards.
It is now that Europe must affirm itself and show leadership, promoting its own interests and vision for a different, better world. Not to compete or go against America, the two must remain close partners. 
But the world is, in fact, becoming more multipolar. Many former developing nations are now challenging not just America's, but all the "First World's" hegemony and rightly so. The so-called "BRICS" nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), are gradually amounting to more growth in the globe, than many of the developed nations. 
And it is a good thing too. For too long one or two hostile superpowers have dragged the rest of the world to the direction they wanted, often a catastrophic one. We should be very concerned when one nation, in this case the USA, can take control of the whole planet and impose their bad choices of a president or certain policies, to the rest of us. 
With a stronger and united Europe, but also firmer and assertive BRICS, plus the rise of more players and blocks around the globe, we can finally have a balance and a more equal distribution of wealth. 
We should not fear it, it is what humanity needs to eradicate poverty, inequality and take the next step forward and tackle our biggest challenges united, cooperating with each other. As things are at the moment, our planet is too divided to solve its problems, like climate change, the prevention of many diseases, natural disasters, the extinction of many species and so on.
We need everyone on board, active, equal and willing to share their resources. When we have too many underdeveloped countries, humanity can not progress to its next phase. It is holding us back, as we keep dealing with problems like hunger, mass immigration and poverty.
Thus, Europe has to rise to these challenges and play a key role in their solution. This is what we Europeans must aspire to, it has to become our destiny. Things won't get better unless we mobilize ourselves and become beacons that others will want to aspire to. 
We must show leadership and promote our interests to the rest of the world, as each country on its own, is too small to raise its voice to bigger, emerging players. If Europe becomes a pioneer in solving humanity's challenges, not only we will secure prosperity and stability for our descendants, but another thing to be proud of being Europeans. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Europeans must change the way they vote.

In the recent years, we have witnessed the rise of several Far Right, but also radical Left movements and political parties in Europe, mostly due to the economic and refugee crises.

It is disappointing that Europeans are failing to accept the new reality, which the continent is finding itself in. The world is changing rapidly and so must Europe and its citizens.

Why would anyone seek to find solutions to our new challenges, by studying political ideologies or realities of the past?

In my native Greece, people are still divided between the communists and conservative nationalists, a division that exists since the Greek civil war. They oppose each other at all costs, forming numerous radical subgroups that brainwash their followers, to follow their ideology strictly like doctrine.

This indoctrination begins in our universities, that have become breeding grounds for all these radical political movements, as well as recruitment agents for the two main political ideologies and parties in the country.

It is no wonder that Greece has progressed little as a society, since its population is still stuck in a war that took place 70 years ago. Time to move on.

The country is nowadays heavily integrated into the EU and it is about time it started acting like a modern European society and economy. But it is not just Greece that suffers from the "past".

In Ireland there are still scars from their civil war and many former colonial powers like Britain, suffer from a post-colonial nostalgia. A lot of the Eastern European nations are sliding towards more authoritarian regimes, similar to what they fought so hard to liberate themselves from.

How can Europe ever move forward, while constantly looking back? And why must we follow one ideology or another?

Just like any great recipe for a successful dish which is not comprised of only one ingredient, so must our political system be diversified. Why must we follow socialism, communism, liberalism, nationalism or capitalism blindly, while we could create a modern political system that has elements from all the above, under a pro-European agenda and reality?

We should be striving to create a European but also national parliaments, that are comprised of politicians that are representing our new reality and needs, plus that are capable to think outside of their ideology.

A socialist politician is needed to promote social equality and justice, as much as a liberal is needed to support a free society that is the pillar of a modern, integrated Europe. A capitalist is needed to promote the interests of businesses, that either we like it or not, are much needed to promote innovation, a competitive marketplace and economic growth that we all enjoy after all.

I do not see why we should support only one or another, while we need a bit of all the above. You would not cook a dish just with salt and expect it to be tasty, you would add different spices and herbs to achieve the flavors you like. So why are we as voters, are stuck in one ideology that we support so blindly?

In addition, we need to realize that our communities are increasingly being diversified, thus we need to reflect these changes in our elected representatives, in order to give every community a voice.

Women are still largely under-represented in our parliaments, while having a minister of an ethnic or religious minority background, or sexual orientation is still often considered a taboo.

And as if national parliaments are not bad enough, when it comes to the European elections we are still to take them seriously. As if the European Parliament (EP) and its decisions are not affecting us at all.

Furthermore, we have yet to get rid of the many restrictions when it comes to voting in the European elections. We have a highly mobile workforce, thus an ever moving electorate. Understandably, when someone has been living in a country for a handful of years, cannot have the same voting rights in the national or local elections; but how about the European ones?

When we vote for the EP, we do not only vote to represent our country in the EU institutions, we have our members of the EU Council for that. We should start voting for the most competent politicians to serve Europe as a whole, as a group of nations.

Therefore, why are we still reluctant to vote for a politician of a nationality other of our own, to represent our interests in Europe? If I am a highly skilled professional, that through my job I am forced to move to a different EU country every 5-6 years, or my spouse is of another nationality and I reside in a third country for work, wouldn't it make sense to have an option for a cross-border voting ballots and electorate lists?

At the moment as an EU citizen, I have to register with the local authorities each time we have European elections, so I won't be able to cheat and vote twice; one in my home and one in my adopted country.

But why can't I permanently register in the Irish electorate lists for the local and European elections, which I am entitled to vote, since I am a resident here? With one simple declaration, I should be able to express my wish to be permanently added in the Irish electorate, thus the Greek and Irish voting lists should be cooperating to track their citizens and exchange, add or remove my information.

And since EU citizens are able to stand as candidates in another European country, we should ideally start moving away from our "traditional" family political affiliations and start considering voting for openly pro-European candidates, either of our own nationality or not.

Corruption in Europe in facts exists, exactly because we keep voting for the same family or ideological political dynasties, thus we have created a nepotistic and clientelistic relationship with our elected representatives. Isn't about time we challenged this status?

The future of Europe lies in our hands and our votes, therefore we ought to be looking forward, not backward. We should never wish to return or remain in an era of the past, since the rest of the world has moved on.

Europe must be striving to lead the globe, by becoming an example for the rest of its nations, not going in circles constantly in an eternal soul searching and hesitation. We have come this far.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Blind nationalism hinders Europe's future potential.

Europe nowadays looks to be caught in a never-ending crisis, whether it be financial, institutional or political.

Brexit, the euro-zone and the refugee crises, plus the recent Catalan referendum for independence, portray a continent that it is tired and at war with itself, lacking a vision for the future, leadership and a sense of direction.

In under such circumstances, people understandably tend to look back to "better days," that they know and are used to. The time when nation states and local governments defined their future and fortunes.

Change is scary and every new challenge of the status, is often met with suspicion or resistance. Nationalism becomes more vocal and prevails because, in every upheaval, people tend to seek solutions from local "saviors". Even if they are just opportunists, that seek to serve their own interests.

The mentality of "us against them," sinks in and "freedom" movements, together with radical ideological political groups are on the rise. But what can they offer apart from the temporary satisfaction that any knee-jerk response brings?

Our continent seems to be in a desperate search for a new identity, or a set of values to aspire to. Nationalism and our past, offer a guideline of who we are until now, but can we rely on them to design our future?

If we keep looking at our bygones for inspiration, we keep going in circles and repeat the same mistakes. Nationalism is in most cases a toxic sentiment, that limits our potential by constant segregation and division.

It is not detrimental to look at the past for inspiration, but I doubt the people that fought and died for the formation of today's Europe, would want things to remain as they are. They died for change, whether this was a social upheaval or a fight for justice or liberty.

We will be doing them no justice though if we turned them into icons of conservatism, lack of change, fanaticism and lack of intercultural dialogue and collaboration.

Potentially the solution would be instead of nationalism, promoting a constructive form of patriotism. There is no harm in loving your country or your heritage or being proud of it.

But instead of trying ferociously to protect it, you would do better service to your nation by exporting its values to the rest of humanity.

What good would you do by being intolerant towards foreigners or minorities, or against of your country becoming a modern Western democracy, integrated into the rest of Europe and the world?

Today's battle among our nations, should be about which of us can positively influence humanity and its future development. That must be our goal, not constantly admiring our past achievements and glory.

We should be racing about who will find solutions to the problems that the world is facing first, not building walls to stop people from coming in.

Nowadays that there are no more lands or discover and conquer, or tribes to colonize and Christianize, what will we leave for the future generations to be proud of their ancestors?

Perhaps instead of desperately trying to protect our past, it is time to design our collective future. Pushing humanity as a whole forward, may be what Europe needs to be focusing on.

By reforming our own societies first to become role models or equality, freedom and economic development, we could inspire others to follow suit.

In addition, by helping other regions to reach our living standards, eradicating poverty and reducing the inequalities among the world's populations, we can give our future generations something to be proud of.

Europe should become a beacon of scientific and technological innovation, leading the world in the fight for a cleaner environment and sustainable energy resources.

But we can never achieve all the above alone. Individually, member states are very small not just to tackle all these issues by themselves but additionally, help other nations to follow our example and contribute to the overall progress of humanity.

Our continent is known for its glorious conquests, classic art, financial might and technological advances of the past. But the world is changing and other regions are now rightfully claiming their place in the globe.

Why would we retract within our own borders, excluding anyone from coming in and turn on each other once again, while we could turn Europe and all its nations, bright examples for others to follow and aspire to?

What would give you greater satisfaction, people to talk about your distant past, or view you as a role model for their future?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dublin Greek Film Festival 2017.

On October the 19th 2017, Dublin will host its third annual Greek Film Festival. For four days, Dubliners will have the opportunity to watch features, short films and documentaries, by international acclaimed Greek directors but also emerging filmmakers.

The aim of the Festival is to promote Greek culture, through a variety of films and events and strengthen the links between Ireland and Greece. Together with a number of special events, it will take place in top cultural venues across Dublin.

The Festival is organized by a number of volunteers, but is the brainchild of Kiki Konstantinidou and Aleksandra Szymbara. Kiki, a former teacher in the Greek community’s school in Dublin, met Aleksandra while she was a pupil there.

Aleksandra’s background includes studies in culture and religion in her native Poland, plus work in various museums and other art festivals. She was already involved in a Polish Film Festival in Ireland, as marketing manager. 

Her partner is Greek, thus she developed an interest in Greek culture. Combined with her overall love for films and art, she decided to join Kiki in this project.

Kiki was always involved in various music festivals in her native Greece. After her Masters in Cultural Policy and Arts Management in U.C.D. in Dublin, she decided to organize a festival that would promote Greek culture in Ireland.

“I was constantly seeing events promoting other nations’ cinema and culture, so I thought to organize a Greek Film Festival,” describes Kiki. “In the beginning I attempted to organize it on my own, but it proved to be very difficult. Then I met Aleskandra and she agreed to be part of it”, she explains.

The first Dublin Greek Film Festival took place in April 2015, with “great difficulties, no support or funds,” as Kiki and Aleksandra had to invest out of their own pockets. Yet they were lucky, as they found support by many volunteers, plus a lot of the film directors showed understanding and did not ask for screening fees.

“Things have changed a bit nowadays, as we get a considerable amount of funding by the Dublin City Council, a media sponsor from Dublin City FM Radio and for the first time this year, we have the support of EOT (Greek Tourism Organization)”, says Kiki.

“The festival grows every year and we hope that it will become established in Dublin for the long term. We are delighted to see it bringing together Greeks from all over the country, but also Irish and viewers from many other nationalities”, she describes.

Kiki explains that they are trying to do something different each time, like bringing new producers and directors for the first time in Ireland. While creating an original Greek experience for their audience, so they can enjoy and become familiarized with the country’s culture.

“Every year we are striving to add more events related to Greece and its modern civilization, not only its film industry but its arts in general. Everyone is familiar with the Greek sun, sea, islands and beaches, but we are trying to introduce Dubliners to a different side of Greece’s reality,” Kiki says.

Aleksandra describes how organizing the festival is a big learning experience, but also very rewarding. “I am happy to see the festival growing and I hope it will continue to expand and reach more and more people living in Dublin and beyond”, she says.

“Many people know about ancient Greece's culture, but not about the modern one. We are giving people the opportunity to familiarize with it, plus learn about everyday life in Greece and the problems people are facing. It's especially important nowadays, when Europe is going through various crises”, Aleksandra concludes. 

You may find the program, venues and timetables of the festival’s screenings here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Catalonia: Europe's newest country?

It has been a very dramatic weekend in Europe and the Iberian peninsula in particular last week. As the Catalans were voting for their independence, the Spanish government decided to crack down on the voters and peaceful protesters, with violence and force.

With almost 900 people injured and shameful pictures released by the media, one would wonder how all this was helping Mariano Rajoy's conservative government in its cause. Even if they were justified in their objections to the Catalan independence referendum, they have certainly lost people's support not only in Catalonia, but in the rest of Europe too.

Madrid claims-and rightly so- that the referendum was unconstitutional by law. But laws are not there not to be challenged and stay forever the same. If circumstances or the will and needs of the people are altered, then reforms or new realities have to be implemented.

The Spanish government, after years of economic crisis, high unemployment rates, corruption, lack of opportunities for its youth and austerity, showed little competence in dealing with people's needs. That gave the perfect platform for separatists to gain momentum and push for their cause, just like in other EU nations we've seen the rise of "radical" political parties and movements.

If there could be any solution to avoid such developments, it should definitely not involve violence. But dialogue, debate and deeper collaboration between the Madrid and the regional governments, plus between all of them and the citizens of Spain.

It is fair to say that the Catalan government seized an opportunity to push for its agenda, which is based on financial control and power. Just like Britain always wanted special treatment within the EU and was complaining about its budget or how much it contributed into it, the Catalan government seemed to be in disagreement with Madrid over how much it pays.

But when you belong in a state-federal or not-plus you are one of its richest regions, you always support the poorer ones. That is the case for every country. Take Finland for example. Its southern regions are much richer and developed than the northern ones and they keep supporting them financially.

Such differences in the distribution of wealth and inequality, can be blamed on lack of resources or infrastructure in the poor regions, corruption or mismanagement. But if only each rich region wanted to break away from the poorer ones. We would not have a Europe of nations, but we would go back to a feudal, divided and fragmented continent.

The difference with Spain is, that while from the outside looks a homogeneous country, in reality it is a multi-ethnic society, that has never had a proper debate and soul searching on its identity. From the imperial days to the dictatorship of Franco, the peoples of Spain as it seems, never had a dialogue on how to co-exist or manage their affairs.

And that perhaps is why the EU, remained so quiet during these days. If Belgium, the U.K. or Spain, some of the union's oldest member states, cannot function as a federation, how can Europe succeed in creating a far bigger, more diverse integrated society and government?

Perhaps we could learn by the mistakes of Spain to avoid repeating them and succeeding in creating a united Europe. But this country existed in its current form for centuries and if it has failed to convince the Basques or the Catalans to accept their dual identity, what chances does Europe have?

Another major failure of the government in Madrid, is its lack of mobilization of the Catalan people who want to stay in the Spanish union. They seemed to believe that a violent crackdown of the voters would solve the problem, relying on the fact that the Spanish constitution prohibits such referendums.

But it backfired on them. Maybe it would be better if they allowed the democratic process to take place, yet become active in it by encouraging the majority of the people who want to remain in Spain to go to the voting stations and cast their votes against independence.

Only around 42% of the electorate has voted and from them 90% supported independence. If the other 58% was motivated to take part, maybe the outcome would be different. In addition, it could have started a positive campaign to convince the Catalan electorate, rather than arresting its elected officials.

It is regrettable that the people of Spain, have been caught in a vicious internal power struggle of the local and central governments of their region. It is also sad to see that nationalism is rising in Europe in all forms.

From Brexit, to Scottish and Catalan independence bids, the rise of the far Right and euro-skeptic political parties, xenophobia, anti-immigrant or refugee sentiments of fear, the crisis in Europe does not seem to subside.

When will Europeans be able to feel comfortable in determining ourselves with multiple identities? One could be Catalan, Spanish and European, or Corsican, French and European. Instead of seeking constant fragmentation, perhaps we could just allow giving more freedoms and autonomy to people and regions, while maintaining a central form of government that will coordinate, not dictate all of them.

The developments in Catalonia will no doubt affect the rest of Europe and the EU. Apart from any economic, social and identity turmoil or instability that will most likely spill over to other Spanish regions with the same aspirations, many other parts of Europe may soon be inspired to follow suit. Or simply lose the appetite for European integration, seeing the failures of the Spanish government.

Yet we need to remind ourselves of what happens with fragmentation. We could see the "Balkanization" of the Iberian peninsula, which could cause instability for the region and Europe itself, in a period that we are only coming out of a harsh economic crisis. It could take decades for Spain and Catalonia to settle their differences, even if the crisis does not escalate in an all out conflict.

That could push the euro-zone recovery further back, with consequences that will be felt in all other member states. Therefore Europe must support and encourage the Madrid and Barcelona governments to settle their differences once and for all.

Perhaps a radical and total rethinking of the way Europe and its nations are being governed is necessary, to avoid further and ongoing similar crises of happening in the future. It is time to stop burring our heads in the sand.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Is immigration the solution to Europe's demographic problem?

Europe is faced with a number of challenges that require careful planning, further collaboration and a united response, plus a decisive foreign policy action. 

For the past few years our continent's immigration problem and refugee crisis, have caused cracks in the EU itself, with Brexit and a number of Central and Eastern European countries refusing to take refugees in.

And although most of the new arrivals in Europe come from war torn countries like Syria, others are coming from Africa and South Asia, in search for a better life.

European states have long debated, argued and often disagreed on how to deal with the issue. Technically, the best way to limit the flow while finding a solution, would to reach the root of the problem.

There is a huge inequality in our world, with some nations enjoying a high standard of living, while others having the majority of their population living in poverty, with lack of education, opportunities and other basic human needs.

It is naïve to imagine that the people from the poor regions of this world, will ever stop trying to reach wealthier countries, in hope for a better life.

Besides, as Europe and almost every developed region of this planet, is faced with fertility rates decline and an ageing population, immigration could provide a solution to this predicament. Yet it also poses its own challenges.

How do you assimilate people with often totally different culture than yours, or how you stop the rise of xenophobia and the various Far-Right movements that have been established all over Europe in response to high immigration?

In addition to the economic inequality, there is also another imbalance in our planet. The poorer or developing regions, experience a population boom that if not dealt with soon enough, could make matters worse.

Overpopulation in one region, is putting an extreme pressure on its governments to find resources to accommodate all these people. And as poorer families are usually the ones who have more children, it is evident that there is a link between overpopulation, poverty and lack of education.

Demographic growth presents a global challenge: In 13 years (2030) the world population is projected to grow more than one billion people, reaching 8.6 billion people. It will reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. In other words, 83 million people is being added to the world's population every year.

Nowadays, the problem is not only overpopulation, but also the abnormal disparity in its distribution. On the one hand, great challenges of overpopulation are presented to poor and emerging countries while, on the other hand, the European Union, Japan and the United States will need to revise migration policies and implement new changes in their economic models if they want to guarantee pensions and social security contributions in the coming years. (World Economic Forum)

It is the very economic model that Europe has adopted post WWII, that contributed to the financial recovery and booming, but also to smaller families and a constant decline of its population fertility rates.

Better education, the equal integration of women in the workforce, consumerism, higher living standards that alter our expectations and goals in life, the extension of our life expectancy, all contribute the phenomenon of an ageing and declining population.

Yet in the past, Europe had similar mentality and culture of bigger families, just as many of the developing countries have nowadays. It needed people to colonize the rest of the world, or sustain its industrial and economic revolution. Just as our continent switched its priorities and policies, so can other regions.

Thus perhaps the solution to Europe's immigration problem does not lie in sending boats to stop the flux of migrants, or raising walls across the entry points. Maybe we should try helping others reaching our living standards, thus tackling global wealth inequality.

If the poorer regions close the gap, then their societies will also follow the developed nations' economic or social model. Combine this with better education, then their youths will have all they need to start a better future in their home countries, rather than risking their lives to enter illegally in Europe.

It is proven that immigrants arriving in Europe, adapt in its society and adopt local family models after one generation. Their birth rates fall to similar levels to those of European families. So if they can achieve this in our continent, why can't they do it in their own countries, if they achieve similar living standards?

Another one of Europe's societal changes that can be promoted to tackle overpopulation, is the decriminalization of homosexuality and the promotion of marriage equality in other regions of the planet.

If same sex couples are not seen and a taboo and are widely accepted, then they can contribute to the population reduction in the developing world, together with the promotion of smaller families and more educated populace.

While some of the Western "heavyweights" like USA and Britain chose isolationism and conservatism, some of the smallest European nations are realising that to tackle the problem, we need to engage with the poor nations and help them.

Denmark, a small European country generally recognized for its social democratic values and strong welfare state, has like other European countries seen immigration become a central political issue. The far-right, nativist Danish People’s Party has grown rapidly in recent years, becoming the second-largest political party during the 2015 elections. 

Anti-immigrant and asylum-seeker sentiment has grown across the political spectrum, just as the number of asylum seekers has spiked in the tiny country. The number of asylum seekers increased from 14,792 in 2014 to 21,316 in 2015 according to statistics from the Danish Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing, out of a total population of 5.7 million.

Speaking at a family planning summit in London last month, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs justified a 91-million kroner ($15 million) commitment to underwriting contraceptives in Africa.

“To limit the migration pressure on Europe, a part of the solution is to reduce the very high population growth in many African countries,” she stated. Tørnæs additionally noted that curtailing African population growth is important for Danish foreign and security policy.(Foreign Policy)

That perhaps is a much better solution, than rescuing capsized boats full of desperate, drowning people and the EU as a whole needs to participate and follow Denmark's example.

Educate the poorer countries about overpopulation and its impact on the environment, or their societies and their natural resources.

If they don't, we are going to be faced with ever increasing pressure for migration to richer and less populated countries, with potentially the cause of either conflict, or starvation in poor nations.

Our continent is one of the regions that will feel the pressure to accept more immigrants as we are currently facing from Africa and the Middle East. We need to sort out our policies on immigration and our demographics. Time is running out and we need to act soon. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Children should not be used as an argument for or against Gay Marriages.

On the 30th of June, Germany became the latest EU member state to approve same sex marriage, prompting further debate in many of its partners on following suit.

As things stand Europe is split in half, with the western part having embraced full equality for LGBT individuals, while the eastern and southern region, still failing to do so.

Currently the debate is ongoing in Malta, which is expected to follow Germany in near future and Northern Ireland, which is the only region in Western Europe still reluctant to pass similar legislation.

Just as when the debate was ongoing in the Republic of Ireland, I watched partially the discussions on the issue from the north of the border; and no surprise, the main arguments were against the adoption of children by same sex couples and the formation of "families" by such individuals.

But really, are we going to decide the happiness of two people on something that may not necessarily take place?

Instead of focusing on allowing two people to be treated as equals in the society they live in, we are trying to raise walls and obstacles to their happiness, by comparing the traditional established heterosexual families with those that may potentially be formed by homosexual individuals.

This is a mistake and both sides, those who are against gay marriages and the LGBT equality groups are wrong. They are missing the whole point.

We are talking about love and the ability to express it openly, freely and be able to have legal status among gay partnerships, as we already have for heterosexual ones.

For example, if a homosexual person falls in love with an individual outside the country he/she is living or the EU, then this individual must have the same legal status to have his union recognised by the state and be able to keep his/her partner legally in the country. Just as any straight person can do.

I do not see why children must come in the discussion and become an obstacle to their union, which is something that they may never chose to have.

I also do not understand why some LGBT individuals see as a must the right to adopt, while in reality we are discussing equality on openly loving the person you want and legally securing this union. A child, just as in a heterosexual marriage, won't save or complete it.

And as many "straight" couples are mistakenly trying to safeguard their marriage by having or adopting children, I can't see why homosexual people need to make the same error.

A child is not a puppy or a must have achievement to enhance your status, fullfill your needs or image and legitimise your union. Both gay and straight couples must be responsible when deciding on adopting a child.

Homosexual individuals do not have the burden of childbirth and have a more comforable living standards, as all of their income can be spent on their needs, hobbies and lifestyle. I cannot understand why they must insist on something that they cannot naturally have, just to make a point.

While they can have the best of both worlds and remain legally married, enjoying the joys of a newlywed couple, whithout going through the difficult phase of raising a child, which often takes its toll on the relationship.

What they must be focusing on is the absolute acceptance by the public of their unions, the legal recognition by the state and all the authorities and the promotion of the same rights across the EU and perhaps the rest of the globe.

Besides, even heterosexual marriages do not always result in having children, should these enjoy less rights and status?

I am not against gay adoption and if the law allows it for straight couples, then yes it must allow it for gay couples too. But it should not define the debate on same sex marriage or its outcome. The real issue is the legal status of same sex unions and their full acceptance by society.

The cases that surelly require special legislation and attention, are those in which one of the partners in the same sex marriage, has already a child by a previous heterosexual relationship or is a lone parent.

Then yes, these cases pose a definite argument for adoption by gay individuals and the sceptics need to understand and respect the fact that modern family is changing. They simply need to catch up with the modern reality and do not impose their own conservative views on the future of these children.

Undestandably, same sex marriage is something new and people of all sexual orientations feel the need to understand it, redefining the notion of marriage and family.

Then think that nowadays it is acceptable for two white heterosexual parents to adopt an Asian or African child, something that would be impossible to occur naturally, yet we can not tolerate the same "unatural" family when comprised of two same sex parents.

Giving the same rights to your fellow human beings, does not take away any of your rights. There are already families of mixed race, ethnic background and religious beliefs, but also one and multiple parent ones.

The institution of marriage and family was not the same centuries ago, with what it is today. It changed and developed over the years. We adapted to these changes. Now we must do the same with same sex unions.

Instead of holding on to what we know and using it to block any development for the way forward, we should just take the leap and embrace it. We ought to give every human being the ability to express or explore their sexuality openly, freely and if they chose to be in a same sex relationship we should treat their union equally as any heterosexual one.

And hopefully one day, our stereotypes of gender, sexual orientation and marriage will collapse and people will be able to chose their partner not according to what is socially acceptable, but who they really love.

Children can be born in heterosexual marriages, but grow up in homosexual ones, as their parents might split and chose another partner of the same sex. And society will accept and tolerate it, just as it does for mixed race unions. That should be our goal, not use children as an argument to push for our agenda, either it is for or against gay marriages.