This “advice” of Finnish police to women is so stupid and pathetic that I don’t know whether to first laugh or cry. Apparently, if a woman feels threatened, the best means of defence according to Finnish law enforcement is “forcefully waving” with her hand towards the attacker. The sad fact is that this is perhaps the only thing left to do, with everything else, including pepper sprays, being banned in a number of European countries (Scandinavia but also Belgium, for instance). God forbid that you hurt the attacker – or kill him! It’d be hard to find a better example of softening of the brains in Europe – or in one word, decadence.
German thinker Martin Heidegger said that language is “the house of being”. What he meant is that language is not a tool. It is no mere collection of words and phrases that our mind has at its free disposal. Language is woven into the very fibre of human existence and it is that existence which speaks to us with a language. So when sun shines, it speaks with sort of a primordial language – the language of being. For example, it may be a dawning sun at a meadow above a town, on the day of a happy return home after months’ absence. This all could well be retold in a spoken word back in the house to a family, or captured in a poem, or snapped as a photo with an accompanying description. But what comes first, Heidegger says, is that everything speaks to us. And we respond.
To summarise this for the impatient reader who is eager to learn what I want to say by this hefty introduction: language matters, language is important, language makes the world that we live in. That is why there is a distinction between public and private conversations, between what we say to strangers, business partners, friends and those who we love. Each occasion “deserves” different expressions, because it already speaks with a different primordial language to us. It is different.
One of the signs of 21st century postmodernity is that such distinctions and boundaries are eroding and disappearing. People speak the same way to their colleagues as to their friends, and a sign of a successful politician is that he or she speaks a simple youthful language, as if to the best buddy in a bar. Written conversations are increasingly taking the abbreviated form of text messages or Twitter and are rid of onerous phrases of politeness. Meanwhile, political correctness dictates pretence and obscurantism in our daily behaviour. What gets on our tongue cannot be said because it may go against the ideological current. Since “it may hurt someone,” the established wisdom says, it is better to keep quiet. That communication and conversation, in apt and right words corresponding to reality (“primordial language”) even if it can be discomforting (and it will always be, for one or another) is necessary to improve ourselves is a thought long left forgotten.
In consequence, words that we speak too often become disconnected from context, people, and situation. Making distinctions between what is private and public, spoken and written, what is a thought and feeling that deserves expressing and that is not worth the same privilege – all that seems to disappear. In many areas of life, the words acquire a sort of virtual existence and stop being attached to the language that “the world” conveys to us.
With such bleak analysis, my following point may seem a minor one. It is about the way that the European Commission, the EU’s “executive arm” itself communicates. Because to a great extent, it embodies much of the above trends. Any political body, especially the one that claims a mandate to represent 500 million people, should speak a language that may be formal, yet understandable to all citizens. The reader can judge for himself or herself if the European Commission fulfils this role from this tweet from Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for “International Cooperation and Development”:
Can someone tell me if Mr Nimica is talking about gardening, finding a solution to the migrant crisis or perhaps securing development aid for countries in Africa? No one will ever know, at least not from this tweet. To put it in a greater context, it was kindly sent to me by a friend of mine last week, with a reference that I should compare it to the stuff produced by a “eurospeak generator”. For anyone who tries: the resemblance is striking, although both would inevitably fail on the famous Turing test.
The problem with this technocratic babble is that it obscures from the European public the real content of decisions that are made in Brussels. The content of many of these decisions is political and not technical, as the Commission pretends and also demonstrates in its choice of language. National politicians very well know this and the European Commission, which always tries to come out of debates ‘neutrally’, is often blamed for decisions done by Member States. Vice versa, credit is always national and sold to the voters back home.
On the one hand, national politicians are happy if such a controversial political issue as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with United States) is negotiated by the European Commission. On the other, the European Commission gullibly perpetuates its technicalist myth, thinking that this is the right path to building a “politics-free” consensus and thus deepen European integration. It goes back to the neo-functionalist approach to building a European Union, which foresees that political integration will inevitably follow economics. Rather than being a “bottom-up” process with the support of the European people, this is obviously a “top-down” approach, where people are expected to eat what politicians serve them on the plate.
But I can kindly ask my reader to imagine what would happen if the European Commission started speaking about TTIP, for example, in a human language. That means as of a political issue rather than as of an inevitable turn of fate that brings happiness to all (and more progress and growth to corporations and grannies in backwater villages alike, so to say). The politics within TTIP ultimately entails answering the question whether one is for or against neoliberal capitalism. If someone at the top of the Commission was able to formulate such a stance, put their fat salary in risk by speaking out, then we would have an administration that could be properly loved or hated – because of political choices it makes, rather than painstakingly avoids.
The European Union is not a community of destiny, those are nations into which we are born. Instead it is a community of heart and mind, so that it has to appeal to both. Heart is primarily culture, mind is real defence of European interests. Both require that such mission is expressed in a corresponding language, language of politics that formulates clearly what lies at stake behind each choice.
European Strategist’s editor Alice Máselníková interviews Katrín Oddsdótir about the socio-political situation in Iceland following the draft of new constitution in 2011, direct democracy, and the power of the people.
Katrín Oddsdóttir is a lawyer, activist and human rights worker. She was member of Iceland’s 2011 Constitutional Council, together with 24 other citizens of Iceland that drafted the new Icelandic Constitution, an occurrence highly unprecedented in modern European politics.
On days like today it is hard to love one- and thyself, to still believe that people
are born to live and dream freely. I wonder what Rousseau would say of the chains
that we forged for ourselves in full, but willing ignorance.
We got too used to the fact that wars are not fought in our lands,
that guns do not sound in our towns and people do not die in our homes
in vain. They do.
Not just today, and not just here. We must see it clearly, and need to realize that
a hidden war is still a war even more when we close our eyes to stay
There have been countless wars, pointless wars,
even wars fiercely justified. All of them unfair wars.
Tell me though, who ever fights fair?
No man is ever prepared for war and
you see, to say there is a war does not solve anything.
For years now we have been ignoring the rest of the world,
happy to stay in our growing bubble of lies and political machinations.
So many slaps in the face we brushed off and justified.
For years now, we have been hearing empty phrases:
Something needs to be done. But no one wants to begin
by saying: This is the problem. Terrorism started somewhere. It was our fault.
On days like today living in this place makes me sick down
to the very unknown pits of my stomach.
So this is the famous celebrated humanity? Remember, what it was again
we said that makes us human? What was it, which is proper to a man?
The logos, the laughter, the mourning, the shame, the clothes,
the vengeance, the art, the war, the power, the fear of death, the love,
The highly developed intelligence,
which we seem to have shed along the way, stupid enough
to let our politicians pretend the problems are far away (but really so big they clouded our minds)
It is the news and even more it is our very inner self who got shell-shocked,
who thought it was safe in its clever human form.
All this makes me want to crawl down on all four and lick salt of
kindly offered stones until my tongue bleeds out, as bitter might be the only feeling
we still have left as
humans. The deer laugh at as now.
The first one: the history. No, we never learn. That is man’s trace;
The witchcraft will not save us from
our death. The self-pity will not save us from our guilt.
Wars, they will not be challenged by words.
(The world leaders condemn the killings.
the politicians condemn the killings,
the intellectuals condemn the killings,
the media condemn the killings.)
If only condemnation could be enough.
We need to condemn our inability
We need to say our fears and keep our heads up,
start to speak out loud, as citizens, as Europeans, as people.
Two: logos. The language that we speak
(all those words). So many languages you stand in awe of,
facing beautiful, beautiful vowels rolling off strangers’ tongues
that you will never be able to pronounce or understand.
So many words but we do not talk to each other. We do not dare to
talk of things that matter to us because that might hurt, the realisation that
The world is not perfect. That not everyone is made equal.
That buying things does not pave the way to happiness. That problems
Will not go away just because we do not name them.
That there are different religions, and different races, and different cultures.
That we all live here, now, and we want to live here then and we want to
travel and show our children what the world is like. We need to work this out,
differently, and not tomorrow.
Third: the capacity to feel shame.
We are very good at being ashamed of the wrong things: of our feelings
betraying us in public, of our weaknesses: the petty secret milk and sugar cravings
in the middle of the night, of nudity: hiding our scrotums instead of
being grateful that our bodies still do not give up on us.
Who is not ashamed of the things we have not done?
Shame on us for all the hatred we sow and we now reap
for choosing weak leaders for our countries.
for our indifference and comfortableness.
for our proud blindness
of the untouchable animal.
I love my country, the Czech Republic, with an especially soft spot for its Eastern part, Moravia, where I was born and raised. I have always admired our modest yet rich and curvy landscape with apple orchards, small vineyards, calm rivers and thick forests filled with wet smells of pine bark and fresh mushrooms. I am fond of my compatriots who are, with all generalisation included, down-to-earth kind of people, who have always used common sense and brittle humour to survive the twists and tugs of the history’s trials. We have kept good neighbourly relationship with our former Slovakian brothers, fondly remembering their similar yet slightly softer and more melodic language and exchanging friendly double-bladed jokes. Although I have lived abroad for the past several years, I always return home keenly and with a bittersweet nostalgic pang in my chest.
La Révolution Française n’atteint jamais sa cause ultime à cause de la misère, ce fléau social qui la mena non pas vers le chemin de la liberté, mais vers celui de la Terreur.[ref]ARENDT, Hannah, On the Revolution, p. 351.[/ref] Du côté de la Révolution Américaine on pourrait parler de succès, car celle-ci aboutit non seulement à l’établissement de la première Constitution, mais elle déboucha sur une période de stabilité qui perdure encore de nos jours dans la plus vieille démocratie de l’époque moderne. Malgré cela il faut néanmoins nuancer cette réussite si l’on tient en compte que la liberté, telle qu’elle était comprise par Hannah Arendt, ne fut ni atteinte ni garantie lors de l’aboutissement de la Révolution Américaine.
Today we bring you an exclusive interview with Nigel Farage that was made by two of our authors – Jakub Janda and Ondřej Šlechta – during Mr Farage’s working visit to Prague on 16 June. As a magazine that supports a sovereign and federal Europe, our editorial team does not agree with a ‘Europe of sovereign nations,’ the idea that Mr Farage very elequently and vigorously defends, although we are in full agreement with him when it comes to criticising Europe as a technocratic and dull project that has fundamental flaws when it comes to democratic oversight. Nothwithstanding our individual views, it cannot be denied that Mr Farage is the only EU politician, who is famous all around Europe. He rightly criticised Hermann van Rompuy’s dubious mandate and equally well points out that the stream of summits is beneficial to no one, but to ‘too big to fail’ European banks, which are beneficiaries of the constant flow of taxpayers’ money. For that, his speeches on YouTube are rewarded with such high viewing rates that many other European politician could dream of. We therefore think that we should give him voice on our ‘federal pages’ and grant you the opportunity to consider his ideas.
Abortion is a controversial issue due to its moral, ethical, practical, religious, and political aspects. Countless number of politicians, clerics, doctors, and representatives of women’s associations have in the past spoken out about this medical procedure and actively participated in debates, for or against abortion.
- “Poverty and Trafficking in Human Beings: A Strategy for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings,” Department of Global Development, 2003. Available at: www.sweden.gov.se/sb/d/574/a/20262 ↩
- Susan Dewey, Hollow Bodies: Institutional Responses to Sex Trafficking in Armenia, Bosnia and India (USA: Kumarian Press, 2008), 37. ↩
- “Trafficking in Person to Europe for Sexual Exploitation,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2010. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/documents/publications/TiP_Europe_EN_LORES.pdf. ↩
Here we are again. It is exactly 21 years and one month since the last time when Latvian people had to stand up for their fundamental values. In those cold winter days of January 1991, Latvian people were united in their common effort to regain their independence, freedom of speech and democracy. It had to be achieved in a non-violent way – people barricaded central streets with concrete blocks, set bonfires and sang while expecting an assault from Soviet forces that was about to come…
Today, no one is threatening us with tanks, yet one of the core national freedoms has been challenged again – the Latvian language. 18th February 2012 was a notable day in the modern Latvian history. More than 1.1 million Latvian citizens or 71% of all registered voters went to the polls to decide on amendments in the Latvian constitution that would allow the Russian language to become a second official state language in Latvia.And three fourths of the voters said clear NO to this project. It should be understood that this referendum was bound to fail since there was little expectation of any other outcome. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how did the Latvian nation find itself in this humiliating situation where it once again had to defend one of its fundamental values.
For 20 years there has been an ongoing failure of social integration policy in Latvia that left a core of the ethnic-Russians broadly marginalized. Historically, during 1960’s and 70’s the Soviet government displaced them to Latvia from other Soviet republics to use them as a labor force – thus implementing the so-called “russification policy”. In 1991 they formed some 35-40% of the Latvian population; most of them being non-citizens with no right to vote or to take part in any other political activity. Notwithstanding the fact that the state had introduced a naturalization program for ethnic Russians that would allow them to obtain citizenship by passing Latvian language and history exams, a great part of them did not use this opportunity. This was most likely because they were receiving hints from Russian politicians that Russia would stand up for ethnic Russians‘ interests in Latvia. Another factor is the immaturity of the leading Latvian politicians, who until this moment failed to acknowledge that their political actions only widened the political and social polarization between Latvian and Russian speaking communities. When the Centrist parties of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and ex-president Valdis Zatlers refused to make a coalition with the “Harmony Center” that was supported by the ethnic Russian and that had actually won the early election in September 2011, it produced a perfect precondition for pro-Russian activists such as Vladimir Linderman1 and Yevgeny Osipov from the radical left Osipov Party to consolidate their forces and launch their response, calling it a protest against attempts to assimilate the ethnic Russian minority. On top of everything was the radical right party “All for Latvia! – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK” (invited to form the coalition instead of the “Harmony Center”) and its initiative for a referendum that would force all public schools to use Latvian as the only teaching language. Many political experts in Latvia believe that this initiative – even though it failed due to a lack of public support – was the ultimate pretext for pro-Russian activists to launch their counter-initiative for Russian as a second language in Latvia. Therefore it becomes obvious that the level of amateurism and myopia of Latvian politicians is huge. Not only they have failed to address these very sensitive ethnic problems for last 20 years, but with their irresponsible actions they have also triggered a counter attack from ethnic Russian activist organizations.
Nevertheless, one should not consider this referendum only as Latvia‘s inner affair. Our Eastern neighbor has always been willing to use Latvia‘s relatively high percentage of ethnic Russians as a fifth column in Latvia as a political tool to defend Russia’s interests in the Baltic region. Indeed, many Latvian politicians believe that the plan to introduce Russian as the second official language of Latvia can be traced back to Russia, or it could have even been outright devised by Kremlin, and that the pro-Russian activists are financed by Moscow and are mere executors of its instructions. A telling fact is that the referendum was initiated by the organization that is lead by Vladimir Linderman. Linderman is not a Latvian citizen (which is yet another challenge to the Latvian legal system: how can a non-citizen initiate a referendum in which only citizens can participate?) who has spent several years in Russia until he got “expelled” to Latvia. This makes him a perfect candidate to organize here a Russian “fifth-column”. Another fact that displayed Russian interest in the referendum was a note that Russia sent to Latvian Foreign Ministry two days before the referendum, and in which they requested the presence of two Russian observers on site at the referendum day. When the Russian request was refused, just a day aftera Russian bomber TU-22M “visited” skies over the Baltic Sea, which was immediately followed by the launch of a NATO air patrol from a base in Lithuania.
How can we interpret Russia’s activities in the context of EU-Russia relations?
Actions carried out by Russia towards the Baltic States seem to be fitting perfectly into Russia’s recent doctrine of trying to regain as much control as possible over the post-Soviet space, which, as Russians still believe, had been unjustly taken away from them. Their argument that they are defending ethnic Russians abroad doesn’t work because it would be then in their best interest if their compatriots in other countries enjoyed the same rights as local citizens. Unfortunately, we see that instead of encouraging Latvia’s ethnic Russians to finally accept the change in reality and to fully integrate into the Latvian society, Russia does its best in inciting a part of population against the state. This effectively makes Latvia’s Russians into political hostages in a conflict of Russian propaganda and Latvian state policy (such as naturalization). And it is the latter to which their primary loyalty should belong. Naturally this leads to instability and tensions between the two communities, and if these problems continue to be ignored by politicians and no effective measures are taken to integrate the communities into one society then the whole Latvian nation is doomed to repeat events like those of the 18th February.
This referendum brings one other message to the EU. The left-wing Latvian Member of the European Parliament Tatyana Zdanoka (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance) announced that at a party congress in March 2012 she will initiate a campaign of collecting signatures for a petition that would make the Russian language one of the official languages of the EU. The fact that this initiative arose simultaneously with the referendum on the status of the Russian language in Latvia is not a coincidence. According to some political experts, with this referendum Russia made a clear attempt to bring its language to a certain status in the EU by putting pressure on the EU member state that holds the largest percentage of ethnic Russians,
Indeed it is hard to find any other explanations for the Russian support. Russia has simply discovered the weakest part of the chain and embarked on making Latvia into a “little Russia in Europe” (to use the words of German MEP Bernd Poselt).
Yet there are lessons to be learned. First, leading Latvian politicians should not perceive the results of the referendum in an exaggeratedly victorious way as many of them do. The outcome, of course, is a vital achievement in defending nation’s fundamental values and yes, it is a certain slap in Kremlin’s face, but one should not forget that this referendum had to happen only because of unsatisfactory integration policy of the last two decades and due to major ignorance of of existing ethnic problems. Such referendum should be therefore regarded as the clearest and most obvious sign of failure of the country’s integration policy, which should never be repeated again. In this regard, Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis has made a correct conclusion when, only 3 days after the referendum, he issued a resolution in which he asks all the responsible governmental institutions to draw-up proposals on a more efficient integration policy in two weeks time.
Secondly, this referendum serves as an obvious reminder that Russia has not given up the hope of regaining the influence in the territories that Moscow lost after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Following the tradition of expansionism that emerged in the 16th/17th century Russian foreign policy, Russia is using even today every possible means to interfere in domestic affairs of its neighboring countries. Therefore in countries like Latvia a policy field (like inter ethnic policies) that from the first sight might seem as a domestic affair can actually be one of the cornerstones in shaping its foreign policy with Russia. It is even more unacceptable that politicians are ignorant of Latvia‘s ethnic polarization since that way they are offering Russian politicians a ‘dagger’ that will be sooner or later used to stab Latvia’s back.
Thirdly, referendums like this help to uncover politicians who are are disloyal to the Constitution and to the country for which they are (supposedly) working for. If a majority of the opposition members of the Parliament support Russian as a second official language (even though they have sworn to defend Latvian as the only language) then there is a serious legal question if they deserve to serve for the country against whose fundamental values they are standing for.
Fourthly, the status of the Russian language is not only a Latvian concern. There are plans by Mrs Tatyana Zdanoka, pro-Russian MEP from Latvia, to launch a proposal that would give the Russian language a legal status in the EU institutions. Had the referendum in Latvia approved Russian as a second official state language, it would have been much easier to push Mrs Zdanoka’s idea through the European bureaucracy. If the EU doesn’t want this to happen,it should acknowledge that with this referendum Latvia has done a great service to the EU.
Fifthly, 18th February 2012 for many meant a call of duty to defend the Latvian language with the same importance as those cold January days in 1991, when the Latvians stood up for their freedom. This referendum surely showed that in a critical situation Latvian people can be as united as ever. Although the government has made many mistakes during the past two decades, when it comes to the people to decide, they will do the right thing.
And sixthly, this referendum has finally turned the page of period that had been ongoing for more than two decades with discussions and debates about the status of ethnic minorities in Latvia. There were almost no doubts about failure of this referendum but it was important to have an overwhelming majority saying NO to this project, which would leave little space for political speculation and possible provocations in future and give a strong message that there is only one option available to ethnic minorities: a full integration.
- Vladimir Linderman is a former leader of the Latvian branch National Bolshevik Party, now leader of the society “Native Language”. ↩