Monday, July 15, 2019

Migrations and inbreeding are at the heart of the history of our species.
In recent years both Europe and the USA, have increasingly witnessed fears about the impact of immigration, that have almost managed to rip apart the European Union.

Yet scientists are delivering new answers to the question of European identity and ancestry. Their findings suggest that the continent has been a melting pot since the Ice Age.

People populating Europe today, are a varying mix of ancient bloodlines hailing from Africa, the Middle East, and the Russian steppe. (National Geographic)

In addition, scientists made another astonishing discovery. In southern Greece and Bulgaria, they found bones and teeth of ‘El Greco’, a new human ancestor species, that of Graecopithecus Freybergi.

All remains of early ‘hominids’ discovered until now, have been African. But towards the end of the second World War, German soldiers building a bunker in occupied Greece found part of a fossilized jawbone with human-like features.

Then, in 2009, an ancient tooth was discovered in southern Bulgaria. Until the date at which El Greco lived was determined, the dominant evolution theory was that humans have roots in Africa. Yet now El Greco has become our earliest known pre-human ancestor and he was European.

These remains suggest that modern humans evolved in the Balkan region. The lower jaw of the 7.175 million year old Graecopithecus Freybergi from Pyrgos Vassilissis, in Greece suggests that human ancestors were present in the Balkans before they were in Africa. (Irish Examiner)

The above finding, should seriously make us reevaluate all that we thought about human evolution and the history of our own species. Is it possible that we didn't evolve in Africa, or at least not just in that continent, consequently escaping in one or numerous big migrations to conquer the rest of the Earth?

Could there be a possibility that humans and other humanoid species, evolved in many parts of the world, just like many other animals and through migration, crossbreeding and evolution managed to populate every corner of our planet, in all different forms and subspecies?

What I found very astonishing and hard to understand or accept from the dominant "out of Africa" theory, is that in just 200,000-300,000 years as this theory suggests, humans managed not only to cover vast amounts of land on foot to populate the whole of the globe,but adapt in new and ever changing environments and also evolve in all the different races and ethnic groups that are known today.

All that, by just a handful of early members of the Sapiens species, that against all odds managed to get all other humanoids extinct, replacing their populations with no obvious physical trace, establishing one large single species of humanity that created our modern civilization.

Yet we are willingly and purposely deluding ourselves, perhaps because of our need for a pure national identity, or even worse, our guilt of the crimes and atrocities we committed to other fellow humans in the past. With a deep rooted romantic view of humanity due to religion, philosophy and our arrogance as a species, since we do not see ourselves as animals that fall under evolutionary rules, we cannot accept that other human species may have had an influence in our modern humanity.

In addition, we refuse to accept our most primal need and habit; immigration. We constantly try to find new ways and laws to prevent it or control it, but let's be honest about it, we have this trait deep within us since the dawn of our existence on this planet.

In fact, every single first major human civilization occurred, where continents met, people mingled and mixed, fought each other, interacted and exchanged ideas. And not just in antiquity. 

There is evidence for interbreeding between archaic and modern humans during the Middle Paleolithic and early Upper Paleolithic. The interbreeding happened in several independent events that included Neanderthals and Denisovans, as well as several unidentified hominids.

In Eurasia, interbreeding between Neanderthals and Denisovans with modern humans took place several times. The introgression events into modern humans is estimated to have happened about 47,000–65,000 years ago with Neanderthals and about 44,000–54,000 years ago with Denisovans.

Neanderthal-derived DNA was found in the genome of contemporary populations in Europe and Asia. It accounted for 1–4% of modern genomes, although estimates may vary. Neanderthal-derived ancestry is absent from most modern populations in sub-Saharan Africa, while Denisovan-derived ancestry is absent from modern populations in Western Eurasia and Africa.

However, in Africa, archaic alleles consistent with several independent admixture events in the subcontinent have been found. It is currently unknown who these archaic African hominids were.

And if you think that inter-species inbreeding and hybridization is something impossible, currently there are numerous living examples. A grizzly–polar bear hybrid, is a rare "ursid" that has occurred both in captivity and in the wild.

In 2006, the occurrence of this hybrid in nature was confirmed by testing the DNA of a unique-looking bear that had been shot in the Canadian Arctic. The number of confirmed hybrids has since risen to eight.
Genetic analysis has revealed multiple instances of introgressive hybridization between bear species, including introgression of polar bear DNA into brown bears during the Pleistocene. (Wikipedia)

In addition, the “eastern coyote” or "coywolf", has colonized the forests of eastern North America. New genetic tests show that all eastern coyotes are actually a mix of three species: coyote, wolf and dog. The percentages vary, dependent upon exactly which test is applied and the geographic location of the canine.

Coyotes in the Northeast are mostly (60%-84%) coyote, with lesser amounts of wolf (8%-25%) and dog (8%-11%). Start moving south or east and this mixture slowly changes. (IFL Science)

So if hybridization can happen in bears and dogs and we are so fascinated and ready to accept and study it, why is it so hard to accept that we as humans, have also been mongrels at some stage? In fact, this gene diversity could be what gives us that amazing variety in our skin color, shape of eyes, texture and color of our hair, stature and so on.

If early humans interbred with other humanoids and then among themselves in their migrations, then we could easily see how this diversity of ours could take place in such a sort time, rather try to explain it in evolutionary and climate factors, like the cold climate, sun exposure and high altitude, which could have a secondary role in human evolutionary morphology.

Furthermore, this reality casts a doubt in any effort to preserve racial purity, or halt immigration by building high walls, since we are all a result of crossbreeding, migration and constant mixing between different human and humanoid groups. 
Ever since the time of the ancient Greek Stoic philosophers that have introduced us to the ideas of cosmopolitanism, followed by Christianity and other religions that were inclusive to all their followers despite their ethnic origins, we see ourselves as one species, one single group of humanity; as we should.

Even more recently in modern times, globalization also makes it necessary for less nationalism, more open borders, less protectionism and the reinforcement of the idea of one human race, living in brotherhood, peace and constant collaboration for a common good and betterment. And rightly so.

But why our vision for a better future, must stand in the way of finding who we really are? Are we so immature to accept that in our past, we were nomads and of mixed ancestry, something that is still very much present today in all continents.

The fact that there has never been an ethnically pure nation, nor racially or even as a species, should actually make us more relaxed about immigration and willing to mingle and come in contact with people of other backgrounds. Sadly, it rather has the opposite effect.

We are reluctant in accepting the fact that the differences among our species, are something to be celebrated, studied and accepted as a proud badge from our time on this planet, it is our heritage and past, rather feel awkward about it.

Because what we fear is that if we openly accept that some of us have partially different gene background, immediately some groups will grasp this opportunity to divide us and spread hate and fear for one another, just like in the past, with horrendous consequences.

In the name of some absurd racial purity or supremacy and superiority, we have enslaved, butchered and annihilated other human beings, in an effort to control them and erase their culture and heritage, together with themselves. Haven't we still learned from our past mistakes I wonder.

Finally, wouldn't it be a great and long delayed recognition to our other human cousins, of their contribution to the modern humanity and perhaps not just with DNA exchanged, rather cultural ones as well.

What if the first Sapiens to enter Europe learned to survive the harsh environment that existed in our continent back then, because of their inbreeding and mingling with the dwindling in numbers Neanderthals. Maybe the latter did not just pass their genes to us, but also their ability to deal with harsh winters.

Since all Europeans are deriving from three major human ancestral groups, which in their turn could have been the outcome of other human or humanoid populations, we understand that we are the product of all these people, of all these migrations and different ethnic, racial, human species or subspecies groups and we owe who we are to all the above.

So instead of sitting comfortably in fear towards migration and bigotry towards the migrants, maybe it is time to accept that change has made us who we are and will continue to do so long after we are gone.

Not that immigration does not pose any challenges and problems that should be addressed and dealt with. Nor that we should be ashamed to feel the need to identify ourselves as part of an ethnic group, maintain our culture and pass it on to the next generation. This is after all what all the humans before us have been doing and that is why we have inherited such a rich and diverse cultural legacy.

But this cultural identity is not just our own, it belongs to all humanity, everyone of us is part of it. And if immigration, multiculturalism and cultural differences or clashes cause some problems, no need to fret, they have always been challenging and sometimes destructive. Yet in the long term, these problems should not stop us from being what we have always been; pioneering, migrating, mingling humans of all kinds. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Η Ευρώπη αλλάζει στις Ευρωεκλογές του 2019, μα η Ελλάδα παραμένει ίδια.

Τα αποτελέσματα των Ευρωεκλογών του 2019 τον περασμένο Μαΐο, έδειξαν την εικόνα μιας Ευρώπης που αλλάζει και εξελίσσεται. 

Η ήπειρος μας πλέον δεν διαχωρίζεται στους παλιούς πολιτικούς και ιδεολογικούς αντιπάλους των περασμένων δεκατιών, τους Σοσιαλιστές και τους Συντηριτικούς-Χριστιανοδημοκράτες.

Νέα κόμματα και πολιτικά ρεύματα έχουν καταφέρει να αποσπάσουν σημαντικό ποσοστό υποστήριξης των Ευρωπαίων ψηφοφόρων, αν και στην Ελλάδα δείχνουμε σημάδια παλινδρόμησης, συντηρητισμού και κυκλοθυμίας.

Το θετικό γεγονός είναι πως οι Ευρωπαίοι πολίτες, ίσως ως απόρροια του Brexit, αποφάσισαν να κινητοποιηθούν και να λάβουν μέρος σε αυτές τις εκλογές. Το ποσοστό συμμετοχής των Ευρωεκλογών το 2019, ήταν το υψηλότερο των τελευταίων 15 ετών.

Επίσης θετικό είναι το γεγονός, πως παρά την συνεχή ανέλιξη της ακροδεξιάς και των Ευρωσκεπτικιστών στα Ευρωπαϊκά πολιτικά δρώμενα, δεν κατάφεραν και αυτή την φορά να συγκεντρώσουν μια αποφασιστική πλειοψηφία.

Φυσικά και είναι ανησυχητικό το γεγονός ότι οι Ευρωπαίοι πολίτες-όπως αναμενόταν- στράφηκαν πρός τον λαΐκισμό και τον εθνικισμό : το Ευρωκοινοβούλιο θα είναι πεδίο μαχών εθνικών και προσωπικών συμεφερόντων, αντί να προωθεί και να θεσπίζει την πρόοδο μιας ενιαίας ηπείρου.

Αλλά παρά τις δυσκολίες και εμπόδια που ένας τέτοιος κοινοβουλευτικός σχηματισμός θα επιφέρει, υπάρχουν και ενθαρρυντικές ενδείξεις πως οι Ευρωπαίοι αποφασίζουν το μέλλον τους συλλεκτικά και σύμφωνα με τα τρέχοντα προβλήματα που τους απασχολούν.

Παρά τις προσπάθειες τους, οι Ευρωσκεπτικιστές και τα εθνικιστικά κόμματα είναι διασπασμένοι σε τρία γκρουπ, τους ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists), το ID (Identity and Democracy) και EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy). Μαζί αποτελούν το 24% περίπου του Ευρωκοινοβουλίου, κάτι που θα αλλάξει δραστικά όταν το Ηνωμένο Βασίλειο αποσυρθεί από την Ευρωπαϊκή Ένωση.

Οι τρεις αυτές πολιτικές παρατάξεις, παρά τις ομοιότητες τους και τους κοινούς τους στόχους, έχουν ώς προτεραιότητα τα εθνικά συμφέροντα των κρατών μελών που αντιπροσωπεύουν, καθώς και διαφορετική ιδεολογία, κοινωνικό και οικονομικό υπόβαθρο και εθνική αντίληψη.

Θα είναι ενδιαφέρον να παρατηρηθεί κατά πόσο θα μπορέσουν τα κόμματα αυτά να συντονιστούν, και ακόμα πιο σημαντικά να επανεκλεγούν. Ειδικά όταν οι Φιλελεύθεροι και οι Πράσινοι αναδυκνύονται επίσης ώς ανερχόμενες δυνάμεις στο Ευρωπαΐκό πολιτικό καθεστημένο.

Η Ευρώπη δεν είναι πια η ίδια. Ένα μέρος της κοιτά πρός το παρελθόν, απογοητευμένο ίσως από τις αποτυχίες της Ευρωπαΐκής ιδέας και πειράματος, κάτι που όμως οφείλεται κατά μεγάλο ποσοστό στις εθνικές μας κυβερνήσεις. Ή φοβούμενο απλά από τις αλλαγές που επέρχονται με τις εξελίξεις στη Μεσόγειο και το μεταναστευτικό, και τον οικονομικό μαρασμό πολλών κοινοτήτων λόγω της παγκοσμιοποίησης.

Παράλληλα, ένα άλλο μεγάλο ποσοστό αρχίζει και σκέφτεται «Ευρωπαΐκά» και συλλεκτικά. Το φαινόμενο του θερμοκηπίου και άλλα περιβαντολογικά θέματα, αρχίζουν να απασχολούν σοβαρά τους κατοίκους της ηπείρου μας πλέον και παρατηρείται μια στροφή στο κάποτε «εναλλακτικό» κίνημα των Πράσινων, σε παν-Ευρωπαΐκό επίπεδο.

Η μεγαλύτερη παρουσία τους στο μελλοντικό Ευρωκοινοβούλιο, φανερώνει πως πολλοι Ευρωπαίοι δεν ανησυχούν για τους μετανάστες ή την οικονομία του κράτους τους, αλλά επιθυμούν μια πιο συλλεκτική δραση για την αντιμετώπιση της κλιματικής αλλαγής.

Επίσης ένα μεγάλο μέρος επιμένει στον φιλελευθερισμό και την Ευρωπαΐκή προοπτική της χώρας τους. Ένδειξη αυτού, είναι η συμαντική νίκη του πολιτικού συνασπισμού του γκρουπ Renew Europe, που έκανε σημαντικά άλματα και πρόοδο σε αυτές της εκλογές, ειδικά μετά την ένταξη του κόμματος του Γάλλου Πρόεδρου Emmanuel Macron στους κύκλους του.

Οι Φιλελεύθεροι είναι πλέον το τρίτο κόμμα στο Ευρωκοινοβούλιο, ακολουθούμενο από τους Πράσινους, ενώ τα Ευρωσκεπτιστικά κόμματα παρ’όλη την άνοδο τους, δεν κατάφεραν να γίνουν τρίτη και τέταρτη δύναμη.

Οι παραπάνω εξελίξεις δείχνουν την εικόνα μιας ηπείρου που απομακρίνεται από το μεταπολεμικό καθεστώς και ιδεολογία που κυριαρχούσε για δεκαετίες από την ίδρυση ακόμα της Ευρωπαΐκής Ένωσης.

Δυστυχώς η Ελλάδα όμως παραμένει στάσιμη και συντηριτική. Έχει γίνει παράδοση πλέον ο δικομματισμός στην χώρα μας, και οι Έλληνες αδυνατούν να αλλάξουν εκλογική νοοτροπία. Όπως αναμενόταν, ακολούθησαμε για μια ακόμα φορά το πολιτικό μάντρα που έχουμε υιοθετήσει από την Μεταπολίτευση.

Όταν ένα κόμμα μας δυσαρεστεί η δεν πράττει όπως αναμένουμε, το τιμωρούμε με το να εκλέγουμε τον αντίπαλό του, που αντιπροσωπεύει την ακριβώς αντίθετη πολιτική ιδεολογία-μια από τις δύο που κυριαρχούν στην χώρα μας τις τελευταίες δεκαετίες.

Και φυσικά όπως αναμενόταν, τα αποτελέσματα των Ευρωεκλογών ήταν προάγγελος των επερχομένων κοινοβουλευτικών εκλογών στην χώρα μας. Η Νέα Δημοκρατία αναδείχθηκε νικητής, με τον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ να περνά στην αντιπολίτευση. Ένα πολιτικο-κοινωνικό ντεζά-βου της δεκαετίας του ‘80, θα μπορούσαμε να το πούμε.

Είναι σχεδόν αδύνατο να δείς αξιωσημείωτη στήριξη για φιλελεύθερα, φιλο-Ευρωπαΐκά και κόμματα Πρασίνων στην χώρα μας, αντιθέτως οι Έλληνες προτιμούν να στραφούν προς τα εθνικιστικά και λαΐκιστικά κόμματα, ώς ένδειξη της απογοήτευσης τους προς τις καθεστωτικές παρατάξεις.

Κάτι που δεν περιορίζεται μόνο στην Ελλάδα φυσικά, απλά στην χώρα μας είναι η μόνη εναλλακτική λύση. Στην Ιρλανδία όπου διαμένω τα τελευταία 15 χρόνια και είμαι πλέον πολίτης, ο δικομματισμός είναι επίσης ένα πρόβλημα.

Για δεκαετίες οι Ιρλανδοί ήταν χωρισμένοι σε μπλε και πράσινες παρατάξεις, ένα καθεστώς που είχε εδραιωθεί μετά από έναν εμφύλιο πόλεμο. Μέχρι την δεκαετία του ’90 η χώρα ήταν μια από τις φτωχότερες και πλέον συντηριτικές της Ευρώπης.

Αντιθέτως με την Ελλάδα όμως, οι Ιρλανδοί ψηφοφόροι σε αυτές τις εκλογές στράφηκαν σημαντικά προς ανεξάρτητους υποψήφιους Ευρωβουλευτές, καθώς επίσης ακολούθησαν τον Ευρωπαΐκό προσανατολισμό, ψηφίζοντας δύο Πράσινους στο Ευρωπαΐκό κοινοβούλιο. Ώς αντίδραση φυσικά και ένδειξη διαμαρτυρίας προς τα καθεστωτικά κόμματα, που τους απογοήτευσαν την τελευταία δεκαετία.

Και παρ’όλη την ταπείνωση που αναγκάστηκαν να δεχθούν μετά τα οικονομικά μέτρα εγγύησης που υπέγραψαν με το ΔΝΤ, οι Ιρλανδοί δεν στράφηκαν ως επί το πλείστον στην ακρο-δεξία και τον εθνικισμό.

Όχι οτι δεν υπαρχει κάποια έξαρση και εδώ, αλλά η Ιρλανδία επιλέγει να ακολουθεί τις πιο φιλο-Ευρωπαΐκές τάσεις και κινήματα, για αυτό και εξέλεξε Πράσινους. Φυσικά θα πρέπει να σημειωθεί πως η νοοτροπία των Ιρλανδών, λόγω του Καθολικισμού τους, ποτέ δεν επέτρεψε ακραία κινήματα και πολιτικά κόμματα να εξελιχθούν στην χώρα, είτε ακρο-δεξιά είτε ακρο-αριστερά.

Ίσως όμως εμείς ώς Έλληνες να είναι αναγκαίο να αναλογιστούμε, τι αποσκοπούμε με το να εκλέγουμε ακροδεξιούς στο Ευρωκοινοβούλιο και να στέλνουμε κόμματα όπως την Ελληνική Λύση στις Βρυξέλλες. Τι θα καταφέρουμε όταν επιλέγουμε εκπροσώπους όπως αυτούς για να προωθήσουν τα συμφέροντά μας ως έθνος, και να συνομιλήσουν με άλλους Ευρωπαίους εταίρους για την ελληνική πραγματικότητα.

Θέλουμε να δείξουμε οτι είμαστε μια χώρα άκρως συντηρητική που το μόνο που μας ενδιαφέρει είναι το έθνος μας και ο πατριωτισμός μας, ή ίσως ότι είμαστε μια χώρα πρόθυμη να συνεργαστεί, να διαπληκτιστεί και να διαφωνίσει ακόμα αν χρειαστεί, με εκπροσώπους άλλων κρατών για το καλό της χώρας μας, των Βαλκανίων και της Ευρώπης?

Και γιατί πρέπει να πάντα να μας κυβερνούν δύο ειδών παρατάξεις, μερικές οικογενειακές πολιτικές δυναστείες, εκπρόσωποι σωματείων και άτομα που έχουν συνδικαλιστεί από τα φοιτητικά τους χρόνια για πάντα?

Η Ελλάδα αν πότε πρόκειται να αλλάξει και να γίνει μια Ευρωπαΐκή χώρα, χρειάζεται νέους πολιτικούς που θα εκπροσωπούν εποικοδομητικά την πατρίδα μας, σε συνεργασία με τους αντιπροσώπους των άλλων κρατών της ηπείρου. Σίγουρα όχι εκπροσώπους που το μόνο που έχουν να υπερασπιστούν είναι το παρελθόν της χώρας μας-όσο ένδοξο και εάν είναι αυτό- και όχι το μέλλον.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

“The future of Europe cannot be defined by xenophobia and Euroscepticism”.

One of the main topics of concern in the recent European Parliament elections, were the rise of populist parties across Europe, which feed from an increasing xenophobic and Eurosceptic sentiment among Europeans.

In an interview with Apostolos Staikos, a journalist for Euronews Greece, who has extensively reported from the refugee camp in Moria on the island of Lesvos, I discussed how justified are Europe’s sentiments towards immigration.

“From 2015 until today, I have carried out ten missions on the island of the northeast Aegean, with the first year coming as a huge shock. Approximately, 100 refugee boats reached Lesbos daily back then, with around 35,000 refugees living already on it. For the past four years, Greek and European authorities have proven unable to control the situation and to create decent conditions for refugees,” he explains. 

The living standards in these camps are appalling as Apostolos describes. “I have met desperate people, but also seen a lot of smiling faces. Many refugees keep strong and optimistic about their future, but some are also shocked by what they are experiencing. I met volunteers who did their best, as well as some of them who went to Lesvos for a week to get some selfies and drink ouzo, helpful locals as well as those who exploited refugees and sold them orange juice for 20 euros”.

Dirt, mud and barefoot children walking and playing in them is in common view, yet the worst sentiment comes from the lack of hope. People feel imprisoned and fear that they will stay on the island forever.

In the island of Samos too, the situation is out of control. The refugee centre can accommodate 650 individuals but today, there are approximately 4,000 migrants ‘‘living’’ there. Greece has received significant funds, however 4 years later, the situation on the islands remains unacceptable.

This is a crisis of an unprecedented scale and Europe was not prepared nor united in dealing with it. “All member states should have been obliged to accept several refugees. Currently still, only a few countries share the burden, while others defend the ‘‘Christian tradition of Europe,’’ Apostolos thinks.

“The closure of the Balkan route in March 2016, was a cruel decision that trapped thousands of refugees in Greece. At that time, I was reporting from Idomeni, at the borders with North Macedonia. People became desperate. The EU - Turkey agreement on the issue is also problematic. Basically, Brussels is paying Ankara in order to hold refugees, but until when and for how long Erdogan can keep three million people in Turkey,” he questions. 

“Europe should have created safe passages in the Mediterranean. Instead, people got drowned and the EU offered its condolences. While Greece, Italy and Spain are the ‘‘gates to Europe’’, the refugees want to reach the countries of northern Europe, which are economically more affluent. Yet due to the lack of unity and coordination among EU nations, not only solutions remain far off, but migration was on the top of the agenda for Brexit and the rise of the Far-Right and Euro-scepticism across Europe,” Apostolos explains.

“The refugees are not a threat, nor they come to steal our jobs and distort or destroy our culture. Naturally, there are problems, as their integration poses a challenge. Most refugees try to escape from war and extreme poverty. It is simply that some media and far right parties spread fear. There are about 75,000 refugees living in Greece. Apart from the three islands where locals protest about the situation and in fairness, they do have a point, there isn’t really any major issues on mainland Greece,” he adds.

“Xenophobia and racism can in no way be justified, nor can the future of Europe be defined by these concepts. I understand that in some countries, people are sceptical, angry and even afraid. This is what far-right parties exploit”.

However, Apostolos believes that we should try and distinguish the European citizens’ sensitivities on the issue of the refugees. “A local from Samos, where refugees try to survive in appalling conditions has every right to be angry with Greek and European authorities. Someone who lives in the centre of Vienna and is afraid of refugees, is a totally different story,” he says.

“Some “radical” political parties in countries such as Austria, France, Italy or Hungary, for example, use the immigration problem to attract voters.  Euroscepticism has become not only fashionable in a sense, but opportunistic. Yet it is up to the citizens to realize that apart from some catchy slogans, what exactly do they propose for the future of Europe?”

“The question is how progressive political forces react and what do they counter-propose. We must accept that migration is here to stay; with wars that never end, extreme poverty and climate change, many more people will be forced to leave their countries. Closing the borders is not an answer; how can you control sea frontiers? Besides, we have experienced situations like these before in Europe. In the ‘50s Greeks were migrating to Germany in order to find work. Similarly, the refugees nowadays, don’t want to be illegal and they shouldn’t wait for years until their asylum case is examined,” Apostolos thinks.   

“I read all the time that there are not enough workers in Germany or that locals reject certain jobs. In Greece for instance, many don’t want to work in factories or as farmers. Refugees can fill these positions, as they have much to offer. Europe was and will always be one of the main destinations for migrants, since it’s arguably one of the best places in the world to live,” he adds.

However, according to Apostolos, the populist parties have got one thing “right”; they have increased their influence, by claiming that refugees pose a threat. People nowadays fall for catchy slogans and false promises for quick solutions, but it takes time to understand and learn through experience and debate. For example, thirty years ago Albanians were considered ‘‘invaders’’ in Greece and many Greeks treated them almost as enemies. But by now they are fully integrated. Thus, job opportunities and time are the best solution which can defeat hate and suspicion.

“Ultimately, I don’t think that migration is Europe’s number one problem but unemployment or corruption, poverty and people who can’t pay their bills. Yet it’ s much easier for politicians to divert the focus on migrants, instead of presenting their proposals on education, culture or climate change,” Apostolos says.

He adds that media have put the issue on the top of the agenda. “Strong pictures and sad stories are bread and butter for us, that’s the truth. Therefore, the audience is familiar with the issue and possibly quite worried. Politicians are aware of that and behave accordingly”.

What we learn from people like Apostolos, who have worked and experienced the refugee crisis in the front lines, have spoken and met with people who we consider as a “threat”, is that a different approach is needed. Populism and xenophobia are not the solutions, nor are closed borders and Euroscepticism. They can only sooth and comfort our fear of the new and imminent change, that comes with the arrival of the refugees.

However, is it worth to risk what we have built so far in our continent, just to exclude others from our living standards and prosperity, instead of making them part of our success by giving them a chance to contribute to it?

Apostolos and his team will return to Samos in the future, when the new refugee camp is ready around September. He is currently working on a story about gay refugees. They will also probably return to Moria, as more arrivals are expected during summer.

Monday, May 13, 2019

The commemorations of Europe’s Day can no longer be about the Continent’s past.

Europe Day is commemorated each year across the Continent, on the 9th of May. It is a celebration of peace, unity and stability in Europe, established in the aftermath of World War Two.

For decades this day reminded Europeans their path from war, death and destruction, to democracy, peace and progress. It commemorated the achievements of their continent, for the past 70 years.

Yet, recently, Europe is faced with more challenges ahead. As an aftermath of the economic crisis, the continent is divided.

Many radical, euro-skeptic, right-wing and conservative political parties have found once more a way to become prominent in European politics. Their popularity rose in several EU states, due to the continuous economic woes and the immigration crisis.

European citizens seem rather apathetic to the significance of this day. They take the privileges they enjoy from Europe’s achievements for granted, which others are desperate to acquire and even risking their lives to enter our continent.

In such considerably negative climate, one would argue that the commemoration of the 9th of May is increasingly becoming irrelevant.

On the contrary, it is not only still very much relevant, but it could become a platform for a different kind of celebrations.

Instead of waving EU flags or limiting the commemorations in EU institutions and government bodies, we could establish an annual citizens debate.

By using international, national and local media, or online think tanks and platforms, the commemorations of the Europe Day can no longer be about the Continent’s past; rather, they can start focusing more on its future.

The 9th of May could be the day that Europeans participate in a cross-continental exchange of ideas, debating on and shaping the continent they would like to live in.

Europe’s Day should be a celebration of “Europeaness,” promoting active citizenship and engagement. Citizens could additionally be informed about their rights and how currently the EU works, while also be given the opportunity to discuss how things could be improved.

Our continent came a long way since its post war era and its efforts to rebuild itself. Now while its achievements cannot be forgotten, it is time for Europe to reinvent itself.

Our nations are faced with new challenges and more obstacles to overcome. Perhaps once we manage to deal with them, Europe’s Day could become something more than a commemoration of an idea and past achievements.

In coming times, it could become a day that defines the future.

Monday, March 25, 2019

How can Europe resolve a political crisis after an economic one?

While the economic crisis that affected the EU for almost a decade seems to eventually be easing off, the continent is faced with another sort of culmination; this time political.

With Brexit just around the corner, which will propel not just Britain but the whole of Europe in uncharted territory, plus several other member states having voted in populist and euro-skeptic governments, many are bracing for more troubles ahead.

But before we get all too gloomy and pessimistic, we must realize that we chose the democratic way. And that is the most difficult, yet virtuous path to push for an ambitious project, such as unifying countries that not until too many years ago were at war with each other.

The EU is a work at progress and just like any project, everything does not always go as planned or is just plain sailing. Democracy itself is not a perfect system, yet it is the best we've come up so far. It has its pros and cons and one of them is that various factors can heavily influence public opinion, which as result can make controversial decisions.

We should not let this discourage us, however we owe to realize that the biggest problem that Europe has is lack of leadership on continental level. We have created something unique on this planet, a confederated union of a sort with huge economic advantages that other continents aspire to achieve, yet although we know what needs to be done to make it function better and fairer, few leaders will even speak about it openly.

Is it fear of public opinion which appears to be divided and not convinced, vested interests of the established elites in each country, or foreign meddling? No matter what the cause, Europe needs leaders and politicians that will be bold in their pan-European vision, that in addition will find ways to convince their counterparts across the continent.

Now it seems that only France and Germany seem not just committed to the European project, but willing to take the lead. However, Europe's economic powerhouse-Germany- has yet to act decisively on such role, apart from punishing other EU members that do not maintain a good record on their finances. Angela Merkel’s government has been reluctant in pushing for necessary structural reforms across the block, or even speak about further integration.

Perhaps Germany, just as most other member states, still is only comfortable with the economic benefits that the EU is offering and either not ready for deeper integration or avoiding it to maintain a suitable to its interests’ status-quo.
In addition, it may simply do not want the responsibility of leading such a diverse group of countries. Sadly, no other EU nation seems to do so either.

However earlier this month, the French President Emmanuel Macron, ahead of the European Parliament elections, called for a "European Renaissance," proposing multiple new institutions and a major conference to overhaul the Continent's political structures. (

These institutions will focus on defence, policing and cyber-security, environmental and social protection, trade policies and practices and finally the establishment of a "Conference for Europe" by the end of the year. Its role will be to suggest a road-map for change, built on input from citizen panels, academics, civil society and religious representatives. (

It is not the first time that he openly focused on Europe in his public speeches, yet this time he did so in an open letter to all citizens of the EU. Could this be an overambitious young politician, an electoral political stunt, or a prelude of things to come? No matter what, we need more national leaders to start calling to the European public, in order to achieve a more continental public opinion and demos.

We need to be reminded that we are not just citizens of our local communities, nations or regions, but of something bigger too. So, if our national politicians focus on domestic issues to win the European elections, then these elections are doomed to reflect national, often petty and irrelevant to the continent, disarrays.

In this aspect Macron has got it right. However, there is a problem. The protests of the "Yellow Vests" in his country signify a public reluctance to change or reforms, plus a social inequality that exists across Europe. If Macron fails to deal successfully with this challenge, how then can he be able to push for reforms across the EU? 

Additionally, many countries do not think the way the French do. France is a republic that chose a very centrist approach to government, something that other nations lack or never had, therefore they cannot accept the federal model that many pro-Europeans like Macron are promoting.

The Visegrad group, or the Hanseatic 2.0 League of nations, may find his proposals or his lead not of their taste or interests. The first grouping alliance has many times so far resisted pressure from the EU to take in more immigrants and help their southern fellow states, in dealing with the refugee crisis. 

While the second- the “Hansa,” have spent most of 2018 concentrating their energies on monetary union. Instead of more French-style political integration, they stand for national responsibility over government finances and the importance of sticking to spending rules.(Financial Times)

Yet again none of these groups have taken a leading role in the EU or proposed their own vision on the future of Europe to the rest of the European citizens. Our continent is in danger of fragmentation, or even disintegration to smaller unions, with just a statutory and irrelevant EU still existing.

So how can any ambitious young European politician promote a more centrist, federal model, reforms and policies on a pan-European level? Of course, primarily he will have to convince all countries and groups in the union, of the necessity of such reforms and the beneficial impact they can have in every nation.

But to achieve that, he will need to speak not as a French man, a Greek, a German or a Dutch, but as a European who understands and respects all the different mentalities, cultures, economies and sensitivities that comprise the EU. 

President Macron may have all these qualities, yet under his current role he can never successfully promote them. He is the President of France and this limits him greatly. Yet as a top EU official, such as the European Parliament or Commission President, someone like Macron might have a chance, if only national governments again are willing to listen and most importantly, stick with the agreements.

Consequently, Europe's openness and democratic values delay greatly any progress or quick response to problems that the continent is faced with. As the EU expands and takes in more nations, the diversity is enhanced thus any consensus is an ever-bigger challenge. It will need a very charismatic leader, to unify the quarreling Europeans. 

But as things stand, no government in Europe seems ready to accept a leading voice outside their ranks. So, Macron's initiative may be finally the only way to have a cross-country political leadership. Even if he fails in convincing the rest of the European elites to accept all his proposals, if we can have leaders of every member states taking in consideration and addressing the rest of the European citizens, it is a good start. 

Ultimately, we do need a "Conference of Europe," the way Macron has suggested it. It is time that our continent has its own established think-tank, civil society platform and "agora," something that besides was the cornerstone of Europe's first democracy; Ancient Greece. 

Modern Europe lacks a physical place outside the various online platforms, in which ordinary citizens and thinkers, together with academics from all member states and of every political, economic and social background or ideology, can gather. 

A place where they can collectively discuss their future, organize pan-European campaigns, network and get to know more about the EU and its benefits, or the challenges that each state is facing. And since no national or EU politician is willing to take the lead in giving Europe a single voice, perhaps then it will be up to the European Agora, to be the place of the formation of what Europe currently is deprived of. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

2019 will be a crucial year for Europe. What will its citizens do?

Most Europeans are unaware of the highly interesting and crucial times they are living.

Starting from the current year of 2019, our continent will go through major changes and challenges, that if met successfully, they will alter Europe as we know it.

By the end of March, one of the oldest and prominent EU members will leave the union, forcing the block to readjust internally and externally, on economic and political terms. When Britain leaves the EU, it will impose several trials to everyone in Europe.

There will be winners and losers on economic terms, as many EU countries will compete for firms, companies or banks that were based in the United Kingdom until now. However, the EU will lose out a valuable member, a wealthy nation, an economic, political, diplomatic and military powerhouse; one of the only two EU nations with nuclear weapons.

Britain, on the other hand, will see its citizens' rights being diminished, as they won't enjoy the same rights Europe-wide anymore, in case of a no-deal Brexit. In addition, many of them will have their financial status downgraded.

The country's influence in Europe will be significantly less, as it will abandon its seats in the European Parliament, EU Commission and Council. It is doubtful if it will be able to forge similar influential alliances and partnerships with other blocks.

As if this wasn't enough, there is a good chance that the U.K. itself will be drastically altered, as Scotland keeps threatening to have a second referendum if a no-deal Brexit happens. Never mind, of course, the Northern Ireland backstop and the border issue there.

Two months later in May, the EU will have its first elections after Brexit. Traditionally, the turnout for these elections is always low. But as the European Parliament seats will be reallocated with Britain's departure, how will the new EP look like?

Furthermore, with a new EU Parliament and its President, we will have a new EU Commission President as well as a Council one. That will mean many new faces on the European steering wheel, but also new alliances.

We have witnessed two different camps forming in our continent. One that has been gaining momentum for the past few years and has managed to uphold significant power in many EU states. The union might be losing one of the most vocal euro-skeptic nations, however the economic and refugee crises have managed to provide the EU with worthy successors. 

Austria, Hungary, Poland and recently even Italy, have all been to a certain degree, moving away from core European values and returning to more conservative, nationalistic, protectionist and even authoritarian political leadership, that in some cases they fought so hard to rid of in the past. The reason for this is of course migration and the problems that arose from it.

Lately the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, has travelled to Poland to "break the dominant Germany-France axis", as he strives to forge far-right alliances before the European parliamentary elections in May. 

He stated that the two countries could build a new Europe, bringing about a “renaissance of European values," away from the one that is run by bureaucrats. (The Guardian) He plans to reach out to many euro-skeptic parties from across Europe, like Marine Le Pen's Front National, in order to achieve his vision.

On the other hand, France and Germany-the union's two powerhouses- have recently renewed a decade old peace agreement, the Treaty of Aachen, in which both nations reinstated their commitment for deeper cooperation. It only remains to be seen, if they can or are interested in extending this spirit to the rest of the remaining EU members, or the future ones.

So, we are headed for another dramatic showdown in Europe by May, just two months after Brexit is expected to happen. Divisions in Europe about the future direction of the continent are not anything new, however while after the establishment of the EEC, the consensus was mainly towards building a more integrated continent, nowadays we see an effort to undo what has been achieved so far.

The disappointing thing is that it all happens for protectionism and vested financial interests, immigration and diverging ideologies. The more liberal northern European states, in order to balance out the loss of their like-minded Britain, have signed another treaty of cooperation in 2018, named as the New Hanseatic League of nations. They are calling a greater role of the European Stability Mechanism, in scrutinizing national budgets. 

Contrary to this, the Visegrad group of countries in central Europe, want less interference from Brussels in their internal affairs, but then why they decided to join a block that requires the opposite? The absolute disunited southern nations on the other hand, are still too absorbed by their financial woes and internal political and social problems. The Balkans are a brilliant example of this, thus it is no wonder that they are still one of the poorest regions of the continent.

And while one may blame external factors and meddling, from Russia or the US administration, we should not rid ourselves from the responsibility of our own decisions. In a democratic society or community of nations, there is no guarantee that the right resolutions can always be taken. That is the very essence of democracy and why this political system requires responsible participation. 

Take Brexit for example. For the Tories deal with their internal problems, they threw the whole country and Europe, in a totally unnecessary process that will leave everyone worse off. It is understandable that many in the British leadership were tired of fighting with other nations in order to promote or safeguard their interests and values. Especially when not everyone else wants to commit or play by the rules.

Yet, when it comes to giving more powers to a centralized European government, in order to achieve consensus faster, it was Britain and the other big nations in the EU who opposed it. Europe is thus a confused continent going in circles, not willing to let go of the vision of a closer union as it realizes the benefits, yet not ready to do what it needs to be done; agree to a common vision for the future and commit to it.

And while many accuse Germany of taking over Europe, they do not show the same determination to take the initiative and offer an alternative plan that will work for all, inspiring them to adopt and devote to it. If the Franco-German Axis persists and dominates the rest of EU nations, will it work equally for everyone, without creating second class member states at the periphery? 

If these two countries want to set out a plan to unite the rest of Europe, then they cannot be seen to serve solely their own interests. If they want to beat the protectionist, nationalist and populist leaders in the peripheral states that oppose decisions taken in Brussels, then they will have to offer better solutions to the citizens' problems of these countries.

But that will be hard to achieve, without rocking the boat too much in their own pond. Chancellor Merkel experienced a drop in her popularity when she decided to show leadership during the first years of the refugee crisis. Similarly, the current French President Macron is realizing now with protests by the "Gilet Jaunes" movement, that showing leadership and reforming a country is not always welcomed by all. 

And that is only the reaction on a national level. Imagine what will happen if one seeks to reform a whole continent. However, us citizens must not wash our hands completely from the direction that Europe will take in the future. It may be easier to blame our bad politicians, corruption and external "meddlers," yet we also have a fair share of blame.

Our participation in the European elections has been dwindling, while on national lever we seem to prefer populist, conservative and nationalistic parties out of desperation and disappointment. Nonetheless it has been proven that they cannot offer long term solutions, their only positive effect is to soothe our anger for a while. 

Yet the effects to our societies that a temporary, emotionally charged change will bring, can have long term disastrous consequences; like Brexit. That does not mean that we should sit and observe idle, when coming against injustice, corruption and bad policies from our governments. We just need to stop swinging from one extreme to the other and commit to a vision that will offer collectively European nations, stability and prosperity. 

And while we focus on that vision, then create a pan European civil society and pressure groups that can promote this goal. But even more importantly, participate increasingly and more responsibly in Europe's politics; starting of course by voting in the European Parliament elections. It is in our interests and we cannot expect a national government to provide us everything that we need, in an ever interconnected and globalized world. 

The current year will pose Europe with a lot of challenges, that will set up the agenda which could shape the future of our continent for decades to come. Will we, the citizens, turn our back to each other while focusing on our own version of the very similar problems that we are facing, or will we decide to be bold and set the foundations for a very different continent?