Complex Maastricht – how to throw a party

By Vincent Brenn

If you are into the techno and or deep house scene, then this article about the new, established underground club Complex Maastricht is the right information you want to read about now. The information that is being revealed on the Internet is mainly found on Facebook and on the homepage.  According to the description on Facebook, all events until September are ‘construction’ parties to make the location appealing to students and to set a constant demand for the parties at this location.

            Jeff Mills will set the grand opening in September 2016. Nevertheless, in April this year, Mees Dierdorp, Sandeep and especially Fritz Kalkbrenner warmed us up by playing extremely well, letting the crowd go crazy. The underused music hall will re-establish itself into an underground club of Maastricht, playing mainly techno, deep house and other deep electronic dance music. This is what the Luc Boers, organiser of the Complex Maastricht, promised. For further clarification what Complex Maastricht is all about, I have contacted Luc to conduct an interview with him. The following questions are about creating a general understanding of the invention of Complex Maastricht.

How did you come up with the idea of Complex Maastricht?

Luc: The ambition always was an own event location when we started with events back in 2010. The idea really got big when I met Hans-Paul Nieskens. His mind was just the same as mine and we looked for venue’s in Maastricht with a night permit till 05:00 and the Music Hall, in the middle of the centre, was big but perfect.

To what extent is Complex connected to the other events going on in Maastricht, Strictly Vinyl and the “Fest.” parties?

Luc: Complex Maastricht is just an event location that can be rented by organizations such as Strictly Vinyl or Fest, or anyone else who has a good idea to throw a party! We will do 2 Claydrum parties every year with the biggest headliners in the underground genre like Fritz Kalkbrenner or if we can make it work with his brother Paul 😉

What is the concept behind Complex and who came up with Claydrum in the first place?

Luc: In 2010 I started Claydrum when I noticed that the techno (underground) scene in Maastricht was really small and I just love techno music. The first party (http://partyflock.nl/party/168300:Driehoek) with headliner Sandeep was sold-out (350 visitors) and almost everyone loved it. From that point, I worked my ass off to raise the bar every year for 6 years now and that is also what our (Hans-Paul and me) new concept Complex Maastricht is all about: raising the bar of underground clubbing in Maastricht. With Complex Maastricht, the underground scene can grow again with events till 2000 people. The Grand Opening of Complex Maastricht with living legend Jeff Mills will be on the 24th of September with a top notch show and sound-system.

What was Complex before you reinvented it and who owns the former Music-hall?  Luc: Complex Maastricht is a whole new concept in the venue formerly known as Music Hall. This rough diamond near the centre of the city was never properly exploited cause of the colours and awful black/white tile floor. We put a new sound absorbing floor in and painted everything inside black as a wormhole to give the venue a club feeling and I think we succeeded. Everyone wants to see and feel it!

Is Complex/Claydrum a student initiative?

Luc: Neither. Claydrum is just an event organisation for every techno lover, Complex is a club/venue for events for everyone who loves partying but we will have a lot of student parties so in some ways it is student-centred.

Is it true that the Gemeente Maastricht also has its share of the financing of Complex?

Luc: No, that’s not true, we finance everything with our companies.

How many people came for Fritz Kalkbrenner?

Luc: The event with the German master Fritz Kalkbrenner attract a massive 1900 visitors.

Apparently the organizer of Complex and Muziekgieterij are competing and have become rivals, is this true?

Luc: Complex Maastricht will fill in the gap of the Muziekgieterij and the huge Mecc Maastricht location. Muziekgieterij has a capacity of 900 now (in the future of 1400), Complex Maastricht has a capacity of 2000 and Mecc of 7000. In every big city, there are several locations and they are all competing with each other, that is perfectly normal. Every location has it’s pros and cons and I think it only will get better in Maastricht. This will be the centre of underground music what attracts a lot of people from the region to Maastricht and that is perfect for society.

Are you starting a new concept of daily / weekly events?

Luc: No, we only do co-productions and if the  opportunity arises that we can book a big name such as Fritz Kalkbrenner we do it as a Complex Night.

What is the target group of Complex Maastricht? 

Luc: We do our best to reach all the underground music lovers, international and local students, young creative minds and everyone who wants to join our community. That’s why we have our motto: “Born from our love of underground dance, cold beer and fine food. It’s been quite a journey”

The ‘Oslo International Model United Nations Conference’ Experience

By Vincent Brenn

If you have never done a Model United Nations (MUNs) conference, you might ask yourself the question whether these MUN’s everyone is talking about can actually be fun to go to. Although, this will mean that you have to do extra work in your free time, where you would rather have a relaxing holiday or work for your actual courses that you have to do?

I have been in this case and actually asked myself this question. Nevertheless, I have signed myself up, in order to fill my CV with extracurricular activities (the motivation of probably most newbies). Knowing that most of the adults, who work in the political spectrum of the European Union, repeatedly recommend MUNs, I made my way to the application form on MyMUN.

Coming to the question to which location you should go to, I could only recommend a place far away from where you have already been. Oslo was a mixture of the MUN conference and exploring the city. Because it was Oslo, I wanted to take my time to see all the interesting history and culture beforehand. Luckily, there was another person who had the same idea of exploring Oslo before the conference. Traveling with someone you didn’t know turned out to be quite an experience, helpful in adapting to a new environment and getting out of your comfort zone (a bit like the gap year feeling for 5 days again).

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On the second evening, we went with the other students who came to Oslo to participate in the MUN conference. Since the price on alcohol is so immensely high everyone brought their alcohol from home, which led to funny nights at the apartment of other students from Maastricht. We went out to a bar at least once, however it turned out to be hyperinflationary expensive for everyone to have one beer.

Then, to come to the Conference itself, it was much more pompous than I expected it to be. There were numerous Committees, such as the African Union, Arctic Council and European Court of Justice. I represented the delegation of New Zealand in the United Nation Security Council, with about ten other delegates. Our chosen topic, the Yemeni crisis, created some very extensive discussion in the group of delegates. Especially the delegation of Russia, China and Egypt were very active in telling the other delegates what their opinion was about the crisis.

To conclude, I made a list of what has to be included in a successful MUN experience:

1) Find a conference at a location that you have never been
2) Travel with another person you don’t know or know very briefly
3) Take your time to see the city or new surrounding
4) Be very prepared before you go to your conferences
5) Don’t come in late or you have to dance in front of the everyone at the end
6) Be open to meet new people and make new contacts
7) Go to the socials or have a drink at a bar in the evenings
8) Come back home with a story to tell

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“History will not forgive us”

An Interview with the Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands and the Head of the Palestinian Mission to the Netherlands

By Johannes Schroeten
The Diplomat is a liberal journal. Our aim is to promote peace and we can not deny that we believe in diplomacy, instead of conflict. Thus, it is hard for us to understand the ongoing violence in the Isreali-Palestinian conflict. Why are there no solutions? What are the obstacles to peace?

Who better to ask than the representatives of the respective governments. In an extraordinary chance, the Diplomat got the possibility to discuss the issue with H.E. Ambassador Haim Divon of Israel, and H.E. Dr. Nabil Abuznaid, Head of the Palestinian Mission.

The two ambassadors arrive in separate cars. Large sized models, manufactured by well-known German companies. Seeing both walking up to the building where the interview will take place, one thing comes first to mind: These two men look strikingly alike, both in their mid-50s, suits, glasses and the professional day-to-day routine, acquired from countless events like today’s. Indeed, from the distance, we could not tell them apart. An interesting observation, considering that these two men represent the strongest enemies since, perhaps, Germany and France in the 19th century.

After a few minutes for refreshment and settling, we are called into the room. One observation is evident from the start: Our interviewees are the least thrilled. Sitting side by side, they spread a sense of calmness. Staff and organisers seem to worry much more and are restless, re-scheduling and planning already the rest of the program. We, however, take seats across the table, facing now our two interview partners. A short introduction, and then we start.

The Diplomat: Thank you for having us! Let me start with a very general question: What effect will debates like today have on the ‘road to peace’?

The ambassadors look at each other. A short exchange à la “who starts” and Dr. Abuznaid begins.

Dr. Abuznaid: First, I think it is important for students to understand the conflict. Second, it is good to see us in a civilized and friendly way. Even though we have different views on this conflict. And third, to hear from people what they have to tell us and what advice they have to the Palestinians and the Israelis, since both of us in all these years of conflict didn’t find a solution, yet! So hopefully, this generation will help to bring us more together.

Ambassador Divon: First of all, I agree a hundred percent. Unfortunately, it won’t affect the decisions on the senior level. That is not the way it goes. With all due respect to what we are doing as ambassadors, these are decisions that take place at the level of President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanjahu. But, I think that many people feel that Israelis and Palestinians, whenever they see each other, they right away go into a fight. That’s not the case! Differences yes, there is violence, there are extremist ideas! But I believe that the majorities on both sides want to put the conflict behind them. For you, as a younger generation, living in Europe, it’s a bit difficult to understand. But we are both living in conflicts since the days we are born – and it’s not a picknick! We can not lose hope, but certainly you, the younger generation, you should not give up on any conflict. Keep pushing us to move in the right direction!

 

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The two ambassadors during the interview

 

The Diplomat: The international community’s attention has shifted towards other issues, such as the Iran Deal and especially the Syrian conflict. Does this maybe provide opportunity for a calm rapprochement, with absence of world attention?

Again, both struggle to figure out who starts.

Dr. Abuznaid: You want to go first? (Ambassador Hain shakes his head). Okay, then I keep going first.Maybe, we should look to the roots of the conflict. And many people say that maybe, the Israeli-Palastinian conflict in the region with blood shed for almost a hundred years, played a part to create a mentality to address the conflict. It is not healthy, it never created a healthy environment in the region. Even internationally! Today, Israel and Palastine should share a vision for security, as I told the ambassador a few minutes ago, we are together in this situation. There is a threat that could concern both of us. Violence and terror do not have borders. I agree on the issue that more attention is given to the other conflicts and we are ignored a little bit, because it is being said that there is more killing in Iraq and Yemen and Syria.  I think this is an issue where the Palastenian and Israeli situation should be handled in a peaceful manner, and the countries of the region should unite against a common threat, namely ISIS. So how does it come that we allow them to play with the Palastenian and Israeli conflict, although we say: ‘Don’t use this conflict for your own sake.’ Sometimes people think it is a just cause to fight Israelis and to use the Palastenian situation as a justification. So I think it’s a message for us and the Israelis really to try hard to finish all these problems and to unite against a common threat. So to come back to your question, it has taken some attention away, but also send a message to move forward, to end this conflict or otherwise both of us could be victims.

Abassador Divon: Yes, attention is diverted to a certain degree. But if you follow for example the discussion in the Dutch Parliament or in Brussels, you see that it is still there, although many times not in a way we Israelis like it. If you take for instance measures like labeling products coming from beyond the green line, we feel that this not the right approach. The question we ask ourselves is, by using punishing measures, do you bring two sides together? That is a question you should always ask before every step. There is a conflict, so what is the best way to get two parties to the table to negotiate? I don’t know what frustrates the Palestinians, but one thing that frustrates us is the labeling of products. This is a punishment. For what? For not sitting down, when we are ready to sit down? The approach we see in Europe is often counter productive. Again, as I said, it’s a pity that we are not able to advance a peace process. That is not up to us ambassadors, but the fact that we are sitting here, talking and respecting each other is elementary. Therefore, parliaments in the EU should ask themselves: ‘what are the best measures to press ahead’. And sometimes we feel that the measures taken against us are just creating bitter feelings, not just among the government but also among the people. The measures don’t really serve the purpose.
Although there are other conflicts which are much more grave than ours, terrible disasters and tragedies. Not that we have been friends with Syria, but all Israelis feel for the Syrian people, their suffering and the falling apart of the country. When it comes to us, I am not so sure that the approach of the international community and the UN is the right way. And this is something where we (He points to Dr. Abuznaid) do not agree, for instance. We do not agree with the steps taken by the Palestinian authorities take to get accepted in the international arena. We feel that they have to go through the negotiation process with us, as stated in the Oslo agreements. Going back to your question, yes there are other conflicts, but there is also a lot of effort to resolve our conflict, yet not in the right direction.

The Diplomat: Coming to the UN. Do you think they should get more involved in the conflict?

Dr. Abuznaid: Well, I think yes. The UN is an international organisation. We are members of the UN, the UN represent the international community, and if two countries are in conflict with each other, they should go to the United Nations. This is the representative of the world. We have an issue that we can not solve, so we say: ‘you are the international community, please give us the advice, the direction and the guidance on how we can achieve peace.’ And we should respect the international community’s decisions on our issues. We should accept them although they might not suit us. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, most of the resolutions are not implemented. So I agree, that the UN is the umbrella organisation of the international community, we should support it and we should respect its rules and regulations. They are trying to support and deal with issues on every level, education, health, environment etc. And Israelis and Palasetianans should be part of the international community, part of the civilized world and accept its recommendations and its guidance. It’s a plus for us to be members.

Ambassador Divon: My position is a bit different. Our record with the UN is not the most positive one. Look at the achievements of the UN, not only when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also other conflicts. The UN does not have the best record. And in particular, for many reasons, we are not pleased with the way the UN approaches this conflict. It does not mean that the UN should be out of it. We are very much disappointed with some of the decisions of the UN and the inability to move things ahead. I am not taking away the good intentions of the UN. But let’s try to think about where the UN was successful in solving a conflict. Their record is not so impressive. We would like to see that the players in negotiations are both influential and can be trusted. Trust is very important. By the way, if we look at Oslo, we were able to move ahead through direct negotiations. The negotiations for the peace agreements with both Egypt and Jordan were guided by the Americans. They have to take the lead in negotiations without excluding anyone from the table. But concerning the UN, we have our reservations. We let them be there, as one of the players, but certainly not the only one.

 

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The following panel debate was organized by Ambassador Lectures Series, UNSA and ELSA

 

The Diplomat: Let us come to a more personal question. Ambassadors are committed to find diplomatic solutions and promote peace. So… Isn’t it frustrating to see so much violence still going on?

Dr. Abuznaid: I think it’s not only being a diplomat, it’s also being an Israeli or Palestinian. Personally, the first thing I do in the morning is to look on my phone, and if there is no killing, on both sides, I am happy. But believe me, maybe half of the time there is killing. This is affecting us on the personal level. We are humans, we have children, we have a life. For Haim and me, both approaching retirement, we face the same question. What are we going to do? How will we continue our life? In the end, an ambassador is a human being as well. To be ambassador of Israel or Palestine is different from other areas, you have to be determined that you will continue to have the hope and the will to achieve peace. And I have no doubt that we will get there. But the question will be: Why did it take us all these years? History will not forgive us. Because we should have stopped the killing long ago. It is not a matter how many you killed from the other side, but also how you protect your people from being killed. It is really a challenge, it is difficult, so you need a commitment for peace to be a diplomat for Palestine or Israel.

Ambassador Divon: I agree with Nabil. I always ask myself, what my colleagues -and I will not mention names- do when they get up in the morning. What do they do? What’s on their desk? Living in the conflict and caring for our people and our country, and being patriots, we are in this conflict day in and day out. Wherever I go and at every event, there are always people asking me: ‘What is going on, what is happening, please explain.’ People expect answers, they want to know: ‘what is your explanation, what is your take on this.’ Even for this lecture, you would not invite ambassadors from the Philipines or China or Latin America. Because this conflict is very high on the agenda of political science, we are in the focus all the time. But it is not that I keep repeating mantras. I do not have to sit hear and rehearse government policies. We both can talk and come back to our respective governments and make suggestions, for example about possible involvement of the Dutch government which is respected by both sides. And the government did help, for example to implement scanners at the border between Gaza and Isreal in order to facilitate the movement of trucks. That was appreciated and meaningful for both sides. We visited the border crossing with the Dutch minister Koenders together, and we saw an interesting and good will of the Dutch government. That’s an example that both of us work on the conflict and try to create a platform. This is our contribution. Other than that, there is, of course, the hope that one day we will be able to put the conflict behind us for the sake of our people. No one enjoys living in a conflict. And maybe also as an example for others because there are so many terrible conflicts. Our rapprochement could be kind of the shining light in these dark days that we see in so many spots around the world.

The Diplomat: Thank you for the interview!

Being completely honest, we have to admit that we did not even manage to ask half of our prepared questions. Nonetheless, the extensive and open answers shed new light on our understanding of the conflict. Maybe it is indeed a question of small steps to approach each other. Grasping this issue as what it is, namely a territorial conflict between two different religious and ethnic groups, might make it easier to achieve a solution. To see the two ambassadors together, both being very compromising and calm, was a fundamentally different image than what we would expect. This is the misperception of the conflict that is healthy discussed around the world. The strong polarization that has taken over almost every political discourse in the world is not constructive at all. The guilt question, with a childish: ‘But they started it’ will not lead us anywhere. Thus, we entangle ourselves in immaterial discussions and lose sight of the real goal: to establish a sustainable solution between two fighting parties. Dr. Abuznaid said, with respect to his generation: “History will not forgive us!” For their generation, it is already too late to put this conflict aside and to commit to their responsibility for future generations. We should not make the same mistake!

If you want a good MUN – visit Scotland

 

By Paddy Bruell and Fiona O’Hara

By this point, the readers of this blog must have a basic understanding of what every MUN (Model United Nation) entails. Wild parties with crazy students, debating of the highest quality (usually) and the opportunity for students to experience an accurate simulation of political debates, where the topics are of global significance and importance. ScotMUN 2016 was all of these things and more. With the reception ceremony, the evening parties and the committees all having touches of the local Scottish and British culture, brought into the European and global context, ScotMUN was a unique, unparalleled and unforgettable experience.

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Set in the beautiful Scottish capital of Edinburgh and the University of Edinburgh, it can be said that the MUN was a complete success. It began on Friday, the 4th of March with an opening ceremony in the prestigious Balmoral Hotel. After a welcome speech by the Secretary General, speeches were given by Aidan O’Niell QC (Queen’s Counsel, who has litigated before the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union) and the ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) and Catherine Stihler, who is a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Scottish Labour Party. In their speeches, both guests addressed the importance of events such as this MUN, as it encourages people to learn to resolve conflicts in a peaceful and diplomatic manner, rather than resorting to force, which has often been the case throughout history, with disastrous consequences. Furthermore, both speakers noted the value of MUNs in bringing people together and uniting them for a common cause. To conclude the first evening, all students were treated to a taste of the rich Scottish culture in the form of a ceilidh, a series of traditional dances. Whilst at the beginning the delegates seemed to be all arms and legs, this soon improved and actual dancing could take place.

The first morning of actual committee sessions began in the same way most MUN mornings seem to begin. Some up bright and early and on time, others…well not. Sleepy eyes, yawns and the occasional headache where the morning story. As the delegates split up into their committees and began proceedings, the press team, which we were both part of, was quick to cover the relevant stories. With the UNSC discussing Nigeria dealing with Boko Haram, UN Women talking about female suicide bombers, and the Crisis committee being faced with a post-apocalyptic future where mankind is struggling to survive, the press team did rather have its hands full.

What made ScotMUN 2016 unique however, was the addition of a second Crisis committee, in which delegates re-created the 2015 General Election of Great Britain, which secured David Cameron a second term as Prime Minister. Such an ambitious committee had never been created before and it was a new experience for all involved. Delegates had to take on the identity of a certain politician and were then organised into their respective parties. Once familiar with their fellow party members, delegates had to work together on an arduous two-day campaign to try and secure as many seats as possible in Parliament. Overseeing their efforts were the Crisis Co-ordinators, who evaluated their efforts and created scenarios that the political parties had to deal with. As the media plays an important role in real-life elections, three members of the Press Team were assigned to exclusively cover the General Election committee. Their role was to cover all of the Parties activities, assist the co-ordinators in creating problematic scenarios and of course stoking the fires of gossip. We can honestly say that the General Elections were an extremely successful committee and can only recommend it to any MUN. It does however, take brilliant and dedicated co-ordinators.

As the evening drew ever closer, the delegates were less focused on their work and more on the prospect of a great night out at one of Edinburgh’s most famous clubs, Cabaret Voltaire. By 9 the joint was heaving and with two Crisis Co-ordinators at the turntables making sure that the music was excellent, the party was a great success. Apparently too successful for some as it turned out…

The next morning, rumours circulated and were eventually confirmed by members of the press team in the form of pictures. Apparently, some delegates had not managed to find their beds after the club night and had instead resorted to falling asleep in the university student bar. Needless to say, these individuals were not present until late into the second day.

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The effect of late nights out

The second day of committee sessions continued where the first had left of. Whilst some committees had concluded with one of their two topics and were now moving on, some found this slightly more difficult and did not manage to even start debating the second issue in question. Other occurrences during the second day worth mentioning included the surprising election of Kim Jong-un as the next Secretary General of the United Nations, Emma Watson being kidnapped by terrorists in UN Women and Ed Miliband being elected as Prime Minister in the General Election committee. Staying true to the reputation of political journalism, we (the press team) could not ignore and fail to report on a certain incident that occurred at Oxford University involving Prime Minister David Cameron and a poor, innocent pig. It was unfortunate, however, that this lead to his downfall; although he was lucky that the Panama papers were not published a month earlier…

ScotMUN 2016 ended on Sunday the 6th of March with a closing ceremony for all delegates in the university lecture hall. Here, the Secretary General expressed his thanks to all delegates and his pride at how successful proceedings had been. Awards were also distributed, with the UM delegation raking up two (one of those being awarded to yours truly). ScotMUN taught us the ins and outs of working as press inside the United Nations, and exposed us to its highs and lows. From the United Kingdom declaring war on France in the Security Council (“Long Live the Empire!”) to various committees performing ceilidh dances to Uptown Funk to composing the perfect witty tweet to take down UKIP, the press team faced many exciting challenges that will prepare us for political journalism in the real world. But in all seriousness, we had an amazing time in Scotland and cannot wait to participate in the next MUN. Bring on EuroMUN!

 

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The Press team of ScotMUN 2016

 

Does money rule the world?

By Marie Peffenköver

If you just open your news app on your smartphone, look up the top 10 news of your country or open a newspaper and you just pick a random article – what will you see? Of course, the answer to this question depends on from which country you are and what type of newspaper you are looking at but you will certainly find something about the refugee crisis, the EU deal with Turkey, the nuclear summit in the USA right now or maybe even the Greek financial crisis (although the latter has silently disappeared from the popular awareness during the last months). And all of these news, no matter from which topic, they have one thing in common – it’s all about the money.

How to pay the accommodation and integration of the refugees? Will Greece need more support from the ESM (European Stability Mechanism)? “The US government spends about $500 million per year to fight terrorism” (The Guardian, 2016) and “Erdogan gets another 3 billion to stop refugees” (Spiegel, 2016) – the world’s most important commodity is once again the key issue of action and reaction. “What I would like to change about today’s society? That’s clear to me: no money that hampers social interaction”, says Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the German social movement “living utopia”. The project and action network which describes itself as “money free”, vegan, ecological and which stresses an attitude of solidarity tries to spread its core idea by offering workshops, giving lectures and creating spaces of participation where everyone who is interested in joining can do so.

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Tobi Rosswog, an activist of the movement “living Utopia” explained his utopia in an interview with the Diplomat

A world without money? Where you do not weigh whether you buy the expensive or the cheap chocolate bar? Without the “Big Business” standing behind the politicians telling them what to vote for and what not? How shall this be realized? “Of course, this is a huge contradiction with our capitalist society”, explains Tobi, “but we already made positive experiences with living utopia. People are keen to dare experiments. And if you don’t gauge everything and everyone using the monetary measure, but you share and you offer what you don’t need to someone who is in need, a society can develop a completely new dynamism.”
Building upon the idea that the overall abundance of goods enables such a “gift society”, the movement too stresses this socio-economic interaction as a way to improve the societal living-together. According to Tobi, “the capitalistic doctrine of constant growth is also in conflict with one of our most limited resources – time. We always want to get better, build higher, be faster and more modern. But this obstructs our view on the fact that we already have everything we need to live a comfortable life. We are just taught to never be satisfied.”
Fact check: Since quite some time, scientists have tried to determine the happiest country by using various criteria which suggest states such as Norway, Costa Rica or Puerto Rico as the world’s most happy country. Surprisingly, many studies and indices (e.g. Business Week) have ranked the small Asian state Bhutan to be the place where people are the happiest although it lingers on rank 126 out of 194 by states’ GDP per capita. Moreover, psychologists nowadays claim that money only satisfies you if you were already contended before while bills can just amplify who you already are.

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Yet, there are many impediments to be overcome to realize such a utopia. The biggest of them is human nature. I bet we all know these people who ask “Can I quickly borrow your pen?” and who give it back almost empty, people who free ride when writing group papers or people who looked at your lunch in primary school and just wanted to “try a little bit” – briefly, those who take the mile when offered an inch. How would a “gift society” make sure that such companions don’t exploit the entire group?

For Tobi, this problem is home-cooked as well: “We need to wonder ‘why are these people doing that?’ Apparently, they are not a 100 percent motivated as the costs exceed the benefits – a rational calculation. And this is exactly the way we are taught to think: ‘What’s in it for me?’ But if people help because they want to help – that is, because they like to get a smile or ‘thank you’ back without being offered something themselves – we can unleash an incredible efficacy.”

Central to the project living utopia is the decision to non-consumption; hence, to say “I already have enough; I don’t need this right now.” This is also related to the project’s emphasis on veganism and sustainability. The message: consumption and sustainability can be united – “but only if this happens radically sufficient”. “Excessive consumption is socially suggested”, Tobi points out. “Of course, we have basic needs but everything beyond has been created by society. If we do not keep this surplus for ourselves but if we share it and give it to someone, then something interesting happens: our goods become personalized. Thus, we establish a very close and personal relationship with everything we possess. This has a much greater value than things that we only bought to compensate for our sadness or frustration. Additionally, we become much more open to our fellows and mistrust and greed get significantly reduced. This is also a positive observation that we could make.”

Does money rule the world? Right now, it does. For some, it is desirable to keep it like this, whereas others envision a different world. Whether we believe this to be true one time or not is for everyone himself to decide. But for Tobi it is important that we abandon phrases such as “I can’t imagine!” or “This has never worked!”. “We have to dare the experiment”, he elaborates, “otherwise, nothing will ever change.”

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A silent brainstorming during a workshop of living utopia

Evo and the End of the Pink Tide

Evo Morales is easily Bolivia’s most recognisable figure. As President of the multinational country, he has been at the forefront of the late Pink Tide (marea rosa) of Socialist governments in the region. The most (in)famous, depending on your politics, was undoubtedly the late Hugo Chavez. But Morales also attracted headlines for his slightly more nuanced, yet fierce opposition of the post-Cold War, American-dominated order. A position that has earned his ‘Movement towards Socialism’ party three landslide general election wins in a row.

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Yet Morales’ bubble burst last week when he lost a referendum on a constitution to allow him to stand for a fourth term. This despite arguably being the most popular and successful socialist leader in the region. The troubles for Latin American socialism don’t stop there: in Venezuela, Chavez’s successor Nicholas Maduro is facing a gaping economic vortex due to the low oil prices and let the majority in parliament slip to the opposition. Brazil’s leading Partido dos Trabalhadores is facing a corruption scandal. The ultimate scarecrow of ‘’post-neo-liberalism’’, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was defeated in Argentina late last year.
The emergence of the Pink Tide has its roots in the reaction to perceived right-wing, and United States, dominance in the region. Several military coup d’états, facilitated by the fact that the military’s institutions were better run than the democratic ones, had struck a blow to Latin American democracy.
The most controversial academic reason was the perceived state of neo-colonialism in the region, exercised by the United States on grassroots industries. Indeed, it was the US’s policy on restricting coca plants in their latest battle on the ‘War on Drugs’ that lead to Morales’ rise to fame, as leader of the peasant union.
The idea of neo-colonialism has served as a basis for the revolutionary left since the fall of the Soviet Union. It basically consists of an ‘’update’’ on classical Marxism to our more globalised production system: Instead of bourgeois classes being internal to a state, they express themselves through the states themselves on a global stage. The result is that the USA ‘’owns’’ a huge amount of the factors of production in South America, and therefore reaps most of the rewards from any profit vis-à-vis international trade. In Bolivia though, the US’s intervention was peculiar: it consisted of restricting the production of coca as part of the ‘War on Drugs’. One such producer of the coca industry: Evo Morales.
Bolivia had been subject to some 187 coup d’états after the Second World War before Morales emerged as its democratically elected leader. For many, mostly native Indian Bolivians, Morales’ victory represented not just an opposition to the American meddling in the region, but a genuine democratic renewal after years of oligarchic dictators, the most brutal of which was General Banzer, whose achievements include a US-sponsored plot to turn Bolivia into a ‘White Flight’ country for some of the most extreme Apartheid South Africans in the 1980s, and personally overseeing the torture of his political opponents.
Morales’ victory was soon undermined by the richer eastern parts of Bolivia, who wanted to separate themselves from his government. Whilst Bolivia was on the brink of a civil war, Morales kicked out the US ambassador, accusing him of starting the conspiracy to overthrow the Socialist government.

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Of course, it seems a throwback to the bygone era of the Cold War: Socialist ruler vs Big Uncle Sam and his local, questionable allies. But the demise of the Communist block has made this conflict more and more about reviving an older political narrative: that of native Amer-indians vs white colonialist. In Bolivia, for example, the coca plant abolition, imposed by Banzer when he somehow managed to be the first dictator elected in the late nineties (soon to be followed by Hugo Chavez), was seen as a purely anti-Amerindian action. The neo-colonialism then was not just of an economic or political nature, but of an ethnocultural one.
This ultimately constitutes the first failure of Latin American socialism: its inability to unite the peoples of its country across ethnocultural fault lines, instead playing an equally divisive role as its opposition. Morales was supposed to be the exception rather than the rule. Around the mid-2000s, before he was elected, he famously adopted a more “European” name to his party and broke up with the more violent elements of the Amer-indian resistance, such as Felipe Quispe.

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The latter has labelled Morales’ policies, or Evonomics, as “neo-liberalism with an Indian face”, and there is some truth to that, looking at the results of similar economic policies in Venezuela. What you effectively have is, rather than a distribution of wealth across working class wages, a full round assault on the previous owners of capital in the region through state institutions. Venezuelan economics included price controls and maximum prices to ensure affordability of goods on such a wage. But the result is that the old oligarchs simply scaled back production to remain profitable. As one internet poster explained: “It’s almost trying to create a for-needs economy within the framework of profit maximisation, while normatively arguing for socialism, and that is bound to fail”.
The untimely death of Chavez exposed a deeper, yet all too familiar, breach in the ideological fulcrum of the Pink Tide: its emphasis on personality cults. It is hard to look beyond Evo in Bolivia or Lula in Brazil. But once chinks in the very human armour of these leaders are exposed, such as the latter Brazilian’s ongoing corruption case, it is difficult to endorse a movement that has relied so much on them. Morales’ attempt to extend his presidential term was rejected outright by a country all too familiar with the problem of personalist dictatorships.
The author is only ruthlessly critical of the Pink Tide in this regard, because he takes it so seriously: this was a genuine opportunity for an alternative system that could shift the disturbingly one-sided global political debate. But perhaps it is engrained in the South American psyche to always oppose a global status quo. Certainly the anti-‘yanki’ sentiment has shot up regardless of the left’s poll numbers tumbling down. Since the days of Bolivar, the man who provided Bolivia with its name and identity, the continent has always been struggling to achieve a certain measure of detachment from its brooding northern neighbour and old colonies. The conventional view, as well as those of the national leaders, is that the only way to achieve this sovereignty is an EU-style regional integration on an economic, then political level. But the only way such a ‘Bolivarian’ ideal would be a success is if they learn from the mistakes of the past, including that of the Pink Tide…

 

 

“Tchau, querida“

By Alice Nesselrode

Thousands of people in green, yellow and blue on the streets, holding banners that say ‘O Brazil é nao do PT’ (“Brazil is not of PT”) and shouting “Fora Dilma, fora PT” (“Out Dilma, Out PT”)- these images already went around the world almost two years ago in the protests before the FIFA world cup 2014, showing the dissatisfaction of the Brazilian people with the high corruption within their government and the governing ‘Partido dos Trabalhadores’ (PT; “Party of the Workers”).1426534645_626750_1426536494_noticia_normal

However, when the time for elections came in 2014, the majority of people (around 52%) still voted for Dilma Rousseff in the second round of elections, even though it was a head-to-head race with the candidate of the Social Democracy Party Aecio Neves- hence, Dilma started her second term as president. Ever since then, there have been smaller up heating and up roarings all throughout the country, but none of them were as extensive as the ones going on right now: In the past weeks, more and more discussions have arisen over former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a very close friend and the former mentor of current president Dilma. Federal judge Sérgio Moro shed some light on his involvement with the Petrobras-scandal, money laundering and corruption, leading to Lula being framed and put on trial.

On Wednesday, president Dilma Rousseff openly claimed that Lula would return to politics and become minister as head of the cabinet, giving him more immunity and making it harder to persecute him. In the evening of the same day, a phone call between Dilma and Lula was leaked and published by judge Moro which revealed a very interesting conversation: Dilma apparently told Lula she would help him “whatever it takes”. When finally finishing the call, Lula said: “Tchau querida” (“bye darling”)- a phrase that polarized and was turned around now in the protests. Brazilian protestors use the “tchau querida” now together with the “Fora Dilma”- to signalize their president to give up her position and finally resign. The request to turn Lula into a minister has been blocked by the judge and is still pending.

 

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Dilma Roussef and Lula da Silva after the won elections

 

Again, thousands of Brazilians took on the streets in the big cities such as Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the capital Brasilia to demonstrate against corruption in the government after the content of the phone call was made public. However, the public opinion is split when it comes to the details. The majority of the people want Dilma gone and put an end to the rule of PT- yet, what comes after that? Ironically, what seems to be the main problem of Brazil was well described by Lula himself when he famously stated in 1998: “In Brazil, a poor man steals and goes to prison. Meanwhile, a rich man steals and becomes minister”.

Some Brazilians even opt for a return to the military government that was in charge in Brazil until 1985- a time epoch when the country was in chaos but led by strong leaders, by many described as a dictatorship. It is shocking to hear that people are eager to go back to such a regime system that goes against our understanding of democracy and equality, yet it very much depicts the inner quarrel of the Brazilian people and their actual helplessness. A political change is desperately needed, but who will take the position of Dilma?

This leads to another problem: Judge Moro, celebrated by many for framing Lula and Dilma, did not undertake any actions towards the political opposition of the TP- despite the suspicions against many other Brazilian politicians such as Aecio Neves for being involved in fraud and money laundering. In fact, there are barely any politicians that are not being suspected to have at least once been corrupted or have corrupted themselves. Also the ways Moro used to gather proper evidence for the framing of Lula are dubious: the phone call he published was a private one, he was not authorized in any way to have access to it.

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Judge Sérgio Moro

The fall of Dilma after the protests currently going on in Brazil is very probable, but the question of what comes after that remains unanswered. The country might slide into a huge chaos without one main leader, but it might also be the beginning of something big, of a positive movement going through the whole of the land of Samba and Havaianas. Moreover, what a success of protests will change in the heads of each single Brazilian remains to be seen. Fact is that the country is facing a big change that will fundamentally alter its whole structure. What the Brazilians will do with this change still stands in the dark.

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Concerts and Politics

By Eszter Sailer

I have always been a concert person. I love the feeling of being there, the live music, and the energy of everyone in the room. Recently I have been to three of them (the total number is not easy to calculate). They were all different, with different styles of music and different vibes. However, they made me realize something: in a way, concerts are just like politics, even if the real world is exactly what we want to escape from at concerts.

There is something about lyrics that makes you like them, that makes you relate to them, and that connects them to politics as a whole. A political party should be relatable, right? Otherwise, you would not consider voting for them. Therefore, musicians are comparable to political parties. You go to concerts because you like them, because the lyrics say exactly what you think. A political party does the same: they promise you something, they get your votes by telling you what you want to hear. Of course, we cannot say that a band tries to get your votes and that your future depends upon it (at least not in the way it depends on a political party). Additionally, selling oneself is different with music. Obviously, a band wants you to listen to them, but for many of them, it is not only about making money and gaining power (or a fan-base in this case), but also about representing their own mind-set, and, to go emotionally even deeper, about portraying their emotions and allowing it to help other people. In this sense, they are similar to political parties, representing a wave of thoughts and trying to get both recognition and reaction.

My simple thought started out while thinking about concerts I have been to, so I compared those genres to politics – genres with lyrics, upbeat melodies. Naturally, every kind of music fits the situation described above, be it classical, electronic, or any other instrumental music. Lyrics are not a necessity to be able to compare concerts and politics, however, words are the ones that make the message more straightforward, and they are the ones that I, personally, always sing along to. However, every genre has the potential to put out something that is relatable and that influences the thoughts of the audience.

I will make the distinction between lyrics about personal matters and lyrics about general issues of the world. One can argue that personal issues, like romance, are not political, therefore, the comparison to politics would be incorrect. However, singing along to those lyrics means the same thing as agreeing with a political party. You chant the lyrics, you look up to the singer, you sing with the people around you and you are united. You share the same interests, just as you would do in a political party.

Singing literally about things that musicians seem to think of as problems with the world can add to this feeling and then comes the ironic thing about my theory. When at the concert a song of the political kind comes up, talking about the world and expressing problems in our society, people shout along and you can see by the expression on their faces that they agree and that they are fed up with how things are in the real world (Dear Mr. President, Pink/ Imagine, John Lennon). Concerts give you exactly the opportunity to express your feelings without any consequence. I am not saying that (I, or) people go to concerts because they want to escape politics or the real world, but they do give you space to shamelessly share the thoughts of the band. So that is where the contradiction is: you want to let go of your problems for a while, and you do not want to think about current issues, but you behave like you are at an event of a political party: you chant the exact words that relate to your life and to your problems (comparable to a political party’s agenda). The difference is that you do not actually change anything and that music is not about politics and it cannot change the government or current affairs, but it can change you, your thoughts, you mind-set. In a sense, you get desensitized to everyday matters because they are everywhere, but being at concerts, the sensitivity increases and you find yourself shouting every word you agree with.

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Concerts give you the chance to just be somewhere where you do not have to worry about other people’s opinions. It unites people and does the beautiful thing with the lyrics where they somehow rhyme, and are written well and you can enjoy that. You can sing along, you can jump along and you can feel that there is a community that is created among the audience, sharing the same passion: music. The thing about concerts is that you can talk about politics there, even if you do not realize that certain songs are, in fact, about it. You can do the things that are comparable with events of political parties, without concerts having an assertive agenda, and without any consequences. In the end, it gives you the opportunity to lose yourself and to detach from the outside world, but it also brings you closer to people by relating to them.

So maybe concerts are like politics, and bands can be compared to parties, but the reason we like concerts is because it is our choice to choose a band. You can choose your own political party of course, but if it does not get the majority of the votes, another party will take over control, whereas if other people like different bands, it will not affect your life. You can relate to each other and agree on terms, and still, your actions at concerts will not lead to anything, and will only have meaning for you. What could we want more than to escape the unjust outside world to express ourselves in a safe place and not having any consequences behind it? Personally, I would not mind a meet and greet with every band I see, but that is another topic.

How to date internationally? – A short guideline

By Joost Veth

Almost 5 years ago now, I left home, friends and school to take the next step: university; the real deal! Extra feature: people from different countries. Maastricht University, the most international university of the Netherlands. Awesome! Almost immediately I made international friends, spoke different languages (I’ll never forget my first Chinese lesson from a friend from China) and learnt a lot about all kinds of different cultures. But a relationship with a girl with a different nationality and culture? That seemed a step too far for me. Too complicated with the different language, the different background, et cetera. That’s what I thought. Yet, things don’t always go as you expect. By the time this article is published, I will have been in a relationship with a British girl for over 9 months. And still going strong! How do I do this? Here are some tips:

Embrace the differences, enjoy the similarities

Even when your beloved is from a close-by country, you will always have differences in culture. Even though most of them are not even unknown to you, in everyday life, you easily forget them. Take the Dutch and the Brits. Brits (and I believe all other nationalities) think that Dutch people are rude. Dutch people think Brits are overly polite. We all know this. Still, it is easy to forget this. And things that are forgotten might cause annoyances or misconceptions. Instead, you can use it to reflect. Is she so polite, or am I so rude? You can really learn a lot from each other. So don’t be annoyed, embrace the differences! Simultaneously, it’s really funny to discover similarities you never expected to have. Maybe you watched the same TV show as kids or the same music happened to be popular in both countries. This would be little more than a coincidence if you are from the same country, it is however very remarkable if you are from different countries. It’s the little things that make the day. So enjoy them!

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Be open-minded

This may seem obvious, but I think it is a very important condition for the relationship to stand a chance. Of course you don’t immediately think about the long-term future, but when the relationship gets more serious, it’s inevitable that you will. Personally, I didn’t want to leave the Netherlands. And even now, I am not entirely sure if I would want to leave. But I am now more open to it. And when you start thinking about it, it is no longer only a scary idea, but you start to see the advantages and opportunities as well. I think it’s time for a cliché: Be open-minded and doors open for you.

Discuss your culture

People with different cultural backgrounds are sometimes the best to help you reflect on certain topics. If an objective opinion can’t be formed anymore because the topic is too deeply embedded in your culture, ask the other what he/she thinks. Best example: ‘zwarte piet’, which in the Dutch culture are the helpers of Santa Claus; they may be found racist by some as they are black of skin, as the name suggests. Normally I am very good at forming an objective opinion, but this time, I couldn’t. Solution? I asked my girlfriend.

Don’t get annoyed at miscommunication, learn from it

Of course, one of the biggest difficulties of dating internationally is the language gap (Germans dating Austrians and similar couples not counted). This will always be a difficulty. But I rather look at it differently: The gap will never be as big as it was when you started dating, it will only get smaller. You could see arguments stemming from a misunderstanding as reason to doubt your relationship. Or you can learn from it so that such situations can be avoided in the future. I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned in 9 months; how many expressions I understand now that would have been an issue a year ago. And if you are Dutch, like myself, and your girlfriend’s understanding of Dutch is non-existent, I have two suggestions: Search at home for your old children books, that’s really fun, and play word games!

Don’t make these mistakes

A couple of mistakes I’ve made in English that you should avoid at all costs:

1)    Never mix up ‘mind’ and ‘matter’. For some reason, girls don’t seem to like it when you say ‘You don’t matter’.

2)    One of the ways I like to teach my girlfriend Dutch: if there is no good English equivalent for a Dutch word, I just use the Dutch one. Works fine with ‘gezellig’ (comfortable/nice) (“today was very gezellig”) Works terribly with ‘hoor’ (“You are also nice hoor”)

3)    Brits tend to refer to dinner as ‘tea’. If you forget this, it might happen that the mother of your girlfriend comes to tell you that ‘tea is ready’ and you answer ‘no thanks, I’m not in the mood for tea’. First surprised faces, then laughter on my behalf.

4)    Sleeve and slave have a very different meaning in English. Never say “I have long slaves”.

And finally, I created some of my own words: grumchy (grumpy and grouchy combined), squirks (instead of quirks), goosbuts (instead of goosebumps), earthcake (earthquake) and asswhole (arsehole). All leading to hilarity for my girlfriend.

That was it, do with it what you want and in any case, good luck with your boyfriend/girlfriend!

Remembrance of a Secretary General

By Johannes Schroeten

The 1990’s were certainly remarkable years. The Soviet Union broke down, the Cold War ended and the world was on the edge of a new era, full of both hope and threat. In these tumultuous times, a new Secretary General of the United Nations was appointed in 1992. His name: Boutros Boutros- Ghali. The Egyptian, being the first Arab and African to hold the office of secretary general, soon faced a number of crises. In 1992, he issued his agenda for peace which urged the necessity for preventive diplomacy and humanitarian intervention.

However, the United Nations struggled to adhere to this agenda in Somalia, Jugoslavia and especially Rwanda by finding the right response. During Boutos – Ghali’s term, the United Nations faced massive criticism for their inactivity in the genocide in Rwanda and the maasacre of Srebenice as well as the failed UN-Mission in Somalia.

Nonetheless, the Secretary General positioned himself as firm advocate of peace and calm diplomacy.  Neither the NATO-bombing mission in Bosnia nor the Iraq war in 2003 had his approval. His strong opinion and independent appearance as Secretary General may also have influenced the United States in denying Boutos–Ghali a second term as UN in 1996, which made him the first UN Secretary General ever serving only one term.

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Despite a difficult and troubled time in office, current secretary general Ban-Ki Moon remembered Boutros–Ghali as playing a key role in increasing the number of blue-helmet soldiers and the role of the UN in World politics.

Boutros–Ghali, born in 1922 into a coptic christian family, soon became an important networker and negotiator in Egyptian diplomacy. His greatest success was perhaps his role as architect of the Camp–David agreement in 1978 which was the base for the reconciliation between Israel and Egypt one year later. After he left office, Boutros–Ghali engaged himself in the International Organization of La Francophonie. Furthermore, he signed an appeal to initiate a parliamentary assembly of the United Nations, a first step towards a world parliament.

On 16th February 2016, Boutros Boutros – Ghali has died, aged 93.

What’s wrong with Poland?

By Jakub Biernacki

If the European Union was able to materialise, in the context of this article, it would most likely take a form of Julius Caesar screaming “Et tu, Brute, contra me” to the personification of Poland standing in front of the dictator. Of course, these supranational Ides of March would certainly be a joint project of countries such as the United Kingdom, Greece etc. Yet, the betrayal of the former would be the most painful.

A point of order – the European Union is in crisis. Lack of confidence and public resilience, undermining of European solidarity, inflowing refugees, upcoming British referendum – all of these plagues determine a picture of nowadays Europe. Europe in desperate need of inspiration.

From that point of view, European politicians may go into rhapsodies over Polish economic growth or condemn Polish expansion on Western labor markets but they cannot argue with one  point – in some ways – Poland was that aforementioned inspiration. With its avoidance of financial crisis and extraordinary pro-European approach of its government, Poland was aspiring to be this talented offspring who plays the piano, wins golden medals on yachting races, studies at Harvard, with parents being so proud of him. That was Poland for the last couple of years – a top of the European class.

Yet, last year in October people decided to change it. With a surprising outcome of the elections Polish citizens not only replaced the Civic Platform, the party that ruled for eight consecutive years, but also gave the Law and Justice, the biggest opposition of that period, enough votes to form a majority government. With that division of votes and with president Andrzej Duda from Law and Justice, chosen for a five years term just a few months before, the formation gained, to quote Emperor Palpatine, “unlimited power”.

Of course, one may say that this is not the unlimited power if a party doesn’t have two-thirds of all seats and, therefore, cannot change a constitution.  Well, this is the point where the reality begins to look like a “House of Cards” script.

Poles.

It is naturally not the aim of this article to explain how in a few easy steps new leaders of Polish democracy were able to paralyse the Constitutional Tribunal – the institution responsible for resolving disputes on the constitutionality of the governmental activities and the enacted legislation. Trust me, things seem “slightly” odd when one day you learn about the principles of constitutional courts on Comparative Government course (law student here) and another day you turn on TV and watch your government showing a system-wide middle finger to all these principles.

It is not even the aim of this article to point out that the new government took over the public media and immediately fired the management and the most popular presenters who, however, had openly criticised the party when it was in opposition. I will not make further comments about the new Minister of National Defence who without hesitation calls a crash of the governmental aircraft and the death of Polish president in 2010 an assassination. Instead, the aim of this article is to answer the question that many Europeans ask themselves since the October’s elections – what is wrong with Poland?

“The right to vote should be considered sacred in our democracy”, said Charles B. Rangel. Although most of us may consider American worship of democracy as somewhat insane, none of us will argue with the fact that democracy  is a foundation of the Western civilisation in general. None of us will even argue that it would be fair to take away a voting right from a healthy and  sound participant of society whatever his beliefs are. Yet, when I realised that for some of the people their vote for a certain party is determined by its number on a ballot, I started wondering whether our  franchise right is indeed so sacred.

Poland is a country where members of the parliament proposed the introduction of circular ballots so that people do not vote for a person on top of the list. I live in a country where once my peers finally reach a page of their chosen party, they primarily search for a funny or famous last name to check. In my country, people complain about the EU officials who make decisions in Brussels but when it comes to elections, only one-fourth of us actually takes the trouble to cast a vote. It’s slightly better when we elect a president – a usual turnout of fifty percent. Yet I doubt whether this is a proper attendance for a nation with such a lot of blood spilt for its freedom.

After all, I want to believe that Poland is just a young democracy and we, as a nation, simply have to learn how to vote. Well, maybe next four years will be like this breakthrough and earthshattering lesson for Poland in terms of the voting habits.

Of course, the Law and Justice did not win by accident. They formed a majority government which means that people at least wanted them to rule.  For most of the Western politicians this  is a mystery – how is it possible that the government that brought Poland through the worldwide financial crisis with the astonishing, given the circumstances, GDP growth, with its Prime Minister voted the new President of the European Council, was rejected by the citizens?

There are two answers to this question. First of all, throughout these eight years, the pile of sins accumulated and the Civic Platform could not rely on the social credit that they had been given in the previous years. With numerous scandals in the last few years, they lost all of their marvellous PR and became just another party in the system.

However, they would not lose in suffering if it was not for the second factor – Poles themselves. It is no secret that our most irritating national flaw is complaining. And this is probably the same flaw that caused an about-turn in Polish politics. We always seek a better life, we aspire to the title of a Western European country and we want to have an adequate standard of living. The problem is that most of us want that standard right now. This is why so many people from Poland try their luck in the United Kingdom, Germany or in the Netherlands. And this is exactly the same reason why a few months ago half of us took those ballots, threw them into the boxes and changed Poland.

So, what is actually wrong with Poland? Why do we make decisions like that? I think that if we consider all of the arguments that I brought but also many others that I did not outline, there is one correct answer. Despite all of our national and historical experience, we are still learning how to be a well-functioning European democracy. We are certainly close but still a few steps behind.

The question remains – can Europe do anything about it? Probably yes. It certainly cannot overthrow a government that was chosen in democratic elections. Yet, there is an entity that could do that. It’s the Polish nation. Because, if history taught us something, it is that in the worst moments Poles can take matters into their own hands. As for the EU, it should be like the Eye of Sauron looking at the Mount Doom. We do not want any small hobbits to throw something into the mountain and destroy the whole land, do we? The next few years may be hard in terms of relations between Poland and the European Union but after all, what does not kill you makes you stronger.

Make-up

By Marie Peffenköver

“Here too it’s masquerade, I find:
As everywhere, the dance of mind.
I grasped a lovely masked procession,
And caught things from a horror show…
I’d gladly settle for a false impression,
If it would last a little longer, though.”

– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe –

The puddle reflected the grey houses of the Town which stood huddled up together along the street, one by one, just like a set of teeth. The rooftops which were touched by the glaring rays of the cold winter sun shimmered whitely, driving out some of the dark shadows on the grey asphalt.

The Man did not pay much attention to this struggle.  He knew it all too well. With determined but still unhurried steps in soft black shoes, he walked past the array of buildings towards the huge Canteen Dome which sat enthroned in the centre of the Town like a giant spider. The queue was long today, yet with his usual patience, the Man lined up, nodding gently towards people he recognized.

When it was his turn, the Man grabbed a bottle of white milk, a colourless protein sandwich and an ashen vitamin bar; it did not really matter to him. It was just food, after all. With a quiet but forceful Beep, the Cashier pulled the supplies over the scanner, thus noting the exact time and magnitude of the Man’s lunch in his Electronic Identification Pass. The Man had once been told that a very long time ago, people had had to exchange paper notes and small pieces of iron for their food. Money had been the word, he remembered. This all was already centuries ago when people were called by ridiculous names instead of their functions, a long time before the Age of Security, before the Listeners had installed the bugging system and before they had introduced Electronic IDs. It must have been a frightful time, the Man thought.

Suddenly, something interrupted his mind games, something… unusual. Confused and his eyes screwed up, the Man let his gaze wander through the dining room, over hundreds of people and dozens of Guards.

There!  

His gaze remained locked at a young woman, twenty maybe, who was just about to sit down at a table nearby. There was something unusual about her hair. Deep down in his memories, an idea, a hunch started growing that almost broke the surface of ignorance. Like a shadow, this notion writhed and twisted, yet he could not hold it. It simply escaped his mind. The Man shrugged his shoulders. Since quite some time, here and there, he became overwhelmed by this feeling that something fell out of place. Which – of course – was nonsense. The Listeners would never let that happen.

The jarring ring of the bell indicated that lunchtime was over and with a silent routine that spoke of generations of rehearsal, all people in the hall stood up like one wave which poured out of the huge entry doors on the streets. Bright and round as a ball, the sun had reached its zenith, stretching its thin, pasty beams down to Earth like a skeleton’s bones. The Man turned up his coat’s collar and crossed the grid of streets and houses until he reached the Supply Station whose long-drawn rectangular colossus of concrete rose up into the sky like a warning forefinger.  Other Suppliers were already sitting at their places in white, open offices and wrapped white and grey food into the respective packages. At his place, the Man discovered a pile of small apples of which he was supposed to put always exactly one into each lunch package that slowly rolled past on the assembly line. He had just grabbed one of the fruits when he…

Stopped. Froze. Could not move. Had to rub his eyes. Watch again. Had to remind himself to breath out…breath in, no, he thought, I am dreaming, hallucinating, my mind is fooling me!

To put it simply, the apple looked…well…different. He had no other word to describe what he saw, had nothing he could compare it to. Just like the hunch he had had when seeing the woman in the dining hall this morning, yet at the same time not like this as well.

The Man sat there at his desk, one hand still at his coat’s button facing, holding the apple with the other one, the head bowed as if he was showing respect for something higher that only he could understand. Sunken into his own thoughts, the Man did not hear the demanding sound of the bell, warning him to continue working, to not disrupt the constant flow of the assembly line; nor did he hear the voice coming out of the speaker of the bugging system asking “everyone!” to carry out their duty for Society’s best.

Only when a rough hand tapped on his shoulder and a dark voice asked “Are you alright?” he stopped brooding. Tall and strong like a bear, a Guard stood behind the Man’s desk.

“Working time has already begun”, he explained the obvious, “and you have just been sitting here for the last minutes, starring at this apple like it’s gonna eat you.” He made a chuckling sound but then became serious again and examined the Man’s face for signs of a disease. “No, no!”, the Man quickly answered but then began to scrutinize the Guard’s face. Should he risk it? Should he show him what he had just discovered? It was perilous, that was for sure. Maybe everything was just in his mind after all and the Guard would declare him crazy and then he would disappear like all the sick and the old did. But he simply had to try it. “Wait!, the Man thus said hastily and held the apple a bit tighter. His eyebrows raised in surprise, the Guard who had just been about to continue his round through the work stations came back. “What is it now?”

Without a word, the Man held the small fruit out to the Guard, both nervous and excited about whether the other man would see the same as he had.

“Well”, the Guard said after a long silence, “I see an apple which you are supposed to put into the lunch boxes. Or are you telling me you don’t want to work here anymore?” His voice received a threatening undertone. “No, no, look!” With some disappointment that he could not get completely out of these words, the Man turned the apple around, tried to let it be lighted up by the dazzling brightness of the neon lamps. “Look closer!” The Guard started to get angry. “Well,”, he moaned between his teeth, “apparently, you refuse to do your work properly. Which means” and he pointed at the Man with an accusing finger, “that you disobey orders. The Captain will not be amused to hear about that!”

With a quick move, he grabbed the Man’s sleeve, indicating him to follow him. “Wait!”, the Man shouted and, reflexively, tried to take hold of the Guard’s hand, yet only caught the collar, pulled too hard and…

The eyes opened in astonishment, the mouth opened in a silent protest that never left his lips, the Guard stumbled backwards, waving his arms like some exotic insect. For a moment, the Man thought, they were both frozen in this moment. The moment before the Guard hit his head on the table-edge. A dark liquidity congregated on the grey floor.

Silence.

The silence that followed the fall breathed into the room like a lurking beast and was echoed thousandfold by the high walls. Hundreds of eyes fixed the Man and the Guard; eyes that could not and did not understand what had just happened. No one had ever attacked a Guard. Muffled sounds from the Town were hurled by the wind against the closed window. The Man could not move. Was he scared? No. He did not really know what would happen within the next minutes and yet, he was not scared. His entire life, the Man had never done anything against the orders. He had always dressed as the code laid down. He had always taken his meals punctually in the great dining hall. He had always been kind, he had always done a good job at work. He had never sworn, nor been impolite, nor had he said anything against the Listeners. He was a perfect citizen of the Town, just like everyone else.

But now, he just turned around, started to run. He fled. He fled from the upcoming memories that made him see what was not there, he fled from the accusation in the eyes of the other people, he fled from the angry buzzing of the machines that had never been forgotten before and he fled from the silence that covered everything and everyone like a thick, warm coat. Although he did not know where, he just had to leave. Down in the street, he crashed into a crowd that had gathered around the house, confused by the rumours which had spread faster than a disease. The Man looked into the quizzical eyes of five Cooks, three Nurses and four Seamstresses. And all of a sudden, this naive, dumb, ignorant look made him mad.

“Don’t you see what’s going on?!”, he shouted, for a moment shocked by this strong emotion he had never felt in such an intense manner. “Do you never ask? Do you never wonder how we are all that…uniform?” Yet he already knew the answer. Until today, he had never really questioned anything either. He had just taken it all for granted.

In a last convulsion of despair, the Man held the apple far about his head so that everyone could see what he was doing. With one hand, he rubbed the smooth surface of the fruit to show them, to make them see. Screams became louder when the people started to understand. One Nurse even began to cry. The sharp sticking of a syringe plunged into his shoulder blade just when he was about to make a step towards the crowd. He started to feel dizzy. The two Guards grabbed him by the arms when his sight turned black.

Pensively, the Executive Designer looked down at the unconscious Man who had been strapped up on a daybed. “How many?” The Deputy Designer checked his notebook. “With the ones on the street…thirteen in total. They have all been reset already.”- “Good.” The Executive Designer nodded. “What are we going to do about that one?”, the Deputy Designer asked, pointing at the Man. With a deep breath, the Executive Designer turned towards his team which was ready to follow any command he would give them.

“That one is a very special case. I talked to the First Listener. He and I agree that there must have been a malfunction of his breeding cell. A scan of his brain and neural system was very…well…interesting. That objective started to develop unusual intelligence.  It gained strong feelings of dissatisfaction with our society. And I have no clue how, but it became able to see colours again. It could remove the white paint of other objects and started to question. The First Listeners thinks that a few cans of paint might have expired, so we are starting a re-paint of the objects concerned. But let’s begin with this one.”

They attached the electrodes of the Binary Boltzmann Apparatus on the face, chest, head and toes. The Executive Designer pressed the reset key and tiny digits flitted across the screen. Two of the younger Designers brought another machine that resembled a very filigree piping syringe. Five orange laser beams searched the tied body for lacks of paint. With a silent, almost triumphant beep, the gadget recognized small stains where bronze-coloured skin had come to light. A small trunk-like hose winded its way out of an opening and covered the revealed skin with thick white paint. When the procedure was finished, the whole body was hidden under a dense layer of pale make-up.

Satisfied with the result of his work, the Executive Designer pressed a key on the bucking machine. “Sir”, he spoke into the speaker, “we’re done. It’s all been brought back under control.”- “Good”, a voice groaned out of the little box, “very good.” The person at the other end took a deep breath. “But let me tell you this: I will not tolerate such a mishap again. Be careful.”

The Man walked through the street, his hands buried in the pockets of his coat. It was cold this morning and the pale fog of the night subsided only reluctantly. White frost turned the grey asphalt into a slippery bottom. The Man’s soft, black shoes did not make a sound. Shrouded in a grey winter jacket, he hiked towards the Supply Station.

The open door swallowed him like a black hole.

“We do not exaggerate”

By Lize de Potter

Cologne. Known around the world for its magnificent Kölner Dom, famous for its iconic perfumes, equally renowned for its carnival festivities. And now, tragically adding mass gang assaults on women to that list, as the events of New Year’s Eve shocked the entire globe.

Anger quickly replaced the initial shock, rose across the continent, with politicians everywhere screaming wild “I-told-you-so’s” at the top of their right-winged lungs.  “I told you those Muslim refugees do not belong in our Western society. They regard women solely as objects of lust or sex slaves” and proclamations of the like.

Naturally, for reasons such as blatantly obvious over-generalization, statements such as the above are problematic and highly inaccurate, to say the least. Surely it would be foolish to overlook or belittle the identities and backgrounds of the assaulters. However, it would be equally ignorant to claim that the objectification of women is a phenomenon inherent to Muslim societies. On the contrary, it is just as much ingrained in our, depicted as progressive, Western world. Granted, on a scale gravely outweighed by the horrific events of the Cologne question, but in my eyes, not less meaningful or important.

For I have yet to meet a female who has not been victim to shamelessly inappropriate sexually tinted remarks. I say victim, for I also have yet to meet a female who felt flattered, or even indifferent, after being dog-whistled in the streets. Whether those streets are crowded or deserted, whether in parks or in bars, whether by strangers or by the creepy next-door neighbour. Ranging from “hey sexy” to the shameless groping of girls’ behinds. Anytime, any day. Objectification is fixed in our society, leaving girls and women across the continent feeling utterly disgusted, used even. And when complained about, women are more often than not characterized as exaggerating stick-in-the-muds, attention-seeking feminists.

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Although omnipresent, our society seems to like to ignore this Western variant of sexism, it seems to like to pretend it is not there. The majority of the mainstream media stays silent, but hungrily feeds on the details of the identities of the Cologne assaulters. Worse still, the majority of the women at the receiving end of inappropriate name-calling, simply keep their head down and hastily quicken their pace. Only to later go and jump on the band-wagon of judging other women to be dressed provocatively, to be “asking for it”.

This apparently socially accepted hypocrisy, it needs to be questioned, it needs to be challenged, it needs to be openly rejected.

Politicians, citizens, the strangers in the street or the creepy next-door neighbour, they most probably had no difficulties whatsoever condemning the events in Cologne. It was easy, and rightly so. Nevertheless, it is flat-out unjust that it takes events of such gravity to open Europe’s eyes, to trigger our society’s anger and indignation. Condemning daily sexism rooted in our Western civilisation should be equally easy. It should be uncomplicated, it should come naturally. For everyone in every society. Just as 1+1 equals 2, to both refugees and Europeans alike, sexism equals unacceptable, the fight against it equals a priority.

Because we do not exaggerate.

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An exposed nerve

By Johannes Schroeten

At first sight, it is a rather odd situation: a bunch of armed militia men occupying a federal building in a national park in Oregon. However, its significance should not be underestimated. The occupation is only one symptom of a new hysteria in the United States of America.

Flash-back to the 1990s, shortly after the breakdown of the Soviet empire. The United States seemed to be the all-encompassing and dominating force, the last true world-power. Its economy expanded and the rise of the digital age promised a technological superiority for years to come. In his acceptance speech, Bill Clinton called out the ‘renewing of  America’ in 1992. A break-through of democracy, capitalism and Western values in the world was only a matter of time. Or so it seemed. Flash-forward to today, and things look very different. What happened?

The American society was struck by two blows, triggering its current anxiety.

It all started with 9/11, the first foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbour. Suddenly, the US were no longer untouchable. In the aftermath, President Bush declared the ‘war on terror’ and a US-led coalition invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite an early victory, the military forces would stay, fight and die for more than a decade. The results were costs of more than 2 trillion dollars and a traumatised American society.

The second blow came in 2008.The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers let loose a chain of business failures, private insolvencies and rise in unemployment. Mortgages could no longer be repaid. The pictures of thousands of abandoned houses became the symbol for the failure of the American Dream. The economic devastation would discourage many Americans.

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Within a decade, two core elements of American collective identity, namely superiority in military and security terms as well as the perception to have the strongest economy in the world, were gravely shaken. Although the economy soon recovered and is now larger than ever, the notion of a society in which everyone can achieve anything with diligence could not be revived. Instead, a deep uncertainty spread. For many, this was a nightmare proving the American economy to be no longer the hegemon in the world economic system. Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’, still so strongly embraced and shouted in 2008, yielded to a precarious ‘Maybe, we can’t.’.

Out of these quarrels, two fluxes emerged. On the one hand, those who want to transform the US into an ultra-modern society, in which everyone enjoys the same rights and no one feels oppressed or restricted in their way of life. Examples are the civil rights movements, feminists and LGBT activists which usually flourish in urban areas and especially within the academic environment of universities. These are modernists, often politically represented by democrats.

Despite encouraging debates about structural racism and bigotry in society, their strive for political correctness has taken on sometimes ludicrous or even radical features. Not seldom, the correct name for an ethnic group or social minority can change within days. Those who might offend someone in any way easily face a ‘shitstorm’ of collective shaming and can hardly defend themselves in the outpouring hysteria.

On the other hand, a new emphasis on ‘traditional’ American values has entered the social and political discourse in the US. It is an ultra-conservative movement which is strongly oriented towards traditional ‘Christian’ and ‘American’ values. Despite the modernists, they also hate a supposedly elitist political class, the notion of a supreme government or even state structures in general.

They advocate a Christian identity of society and desire a maximum of personal security, not just from criminals or foreigners, but also from their own government. Hence a strong opposition to any restrictions such as gun control legislation. While the present and the future seem to be rather grim, they glorify their own history, be it the constitution from which they derive major arguments or the American superiority of the 20th century. This group is often formed out of middle aged white people, which tend to have received a lower level of education, and used to form the working and middle class of the US. However, due to the digital revolution and the outsourcing of production, they tend to be the ‘losers’ of the huge changes of the past decade. Ultimately, they struggle to preserve the lifestyle their parents have acquired. Let’s call them traditionalist.

The Tea Party has managed to coin this traditionalist view into a political program. Through further encouragement of bias and hysteria, it made way for Ben Carson and Donald Trump who poured more oil into the already blazing fire. The demagogic claims of both presidential candidates have fostered resentments against everyone and everything the traditionalists already dislike. With impressive effectiveness, Trump and Carson have managed to rally the underprivileged white masses behind them. Even more strikingly is the fact that moderate conservatives, such as Jeb Bush, cannot manage to pose a significant Republican alternative to the Trumpian hysteria and simplicity.

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Without doubt, both the modernists and traditionalists have always existed and influenced the political culture in the US. In recent years, however, a major shift became prominent. The social gap between rich and poor, countryside and city, majority and minorities, has only widened. Partisanship increased, resulting in debates in which facts play a subordinated role. Ultimately, the cement which used to hold the American society together has lost its grip. The (foreseeable) decline of American global influence has shed light on domestic struggles which had remained in the shadows in the past decades. Increased numbers of unarmed African Americans being shot, a hunt both online and in real life on students who might not comply with the predominant standards of behaviour on university campuses and government officials who deny homosexual couples their right of marriage are all symptoms of a frenzy which is preventing a rational discourse.

The United States would not be what they are today if they could not handle such tensions. And contrary to European politics, the dominant political tone has always been more aggressive. Nonetheless, the new developments peaking with the Planned Parenthood shooting, the Oregon occupation or the Charleston Church shooting, signal a new American hysteria. From the outside, the US still seems to be an extraordinary power. From the inside, it could face profound and radical changes. Like an exposed nerve, the American society is sensitive to any incident which in return could trigger an unpredictable knee jerk reaction.

“Capital of Belgium. Capital of Europe. Capital of Jihad.”

By James Mackle

The French polemicist Eric Zemmour lived up to his title after the terrorist attacks on his country’s capital. He proclaimed that ‘’instead of bombing Raqqa (Daech’s stronghold in Syria), we should be bombing Molenbeek”, a suburb of Brussels in Belgium. Quite how serious he is remains to be seen. This is a man who took a line in a rap song about him as a ‘’death threat’’ that he reported to the French police, after all.

But behind Zemmour’s gasp for attention in the heaving masses of media hysteria, there remains a fundamental question as to how these attack were planned in the capital of Europe rather than the capital of the Caliphate. How Brusselaren, 3rd generation immigrants, had decided to execute such a plan in cold blood. This hurts us Brusselaren more than any words of a French polemicist. Our prime minister, Charles Michel, whose political stronghold is just a half-hour south of Brussels, has had to justify how we let Molenbeek “get out of hand”.

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People in Molenbeek gather to show support for the victims and their community after bad press. 1080 is Molenbeek’s postcode

There are several theories about the demographical layout of Brussels and the causes of the ‘’hotbed of extremism.’’ Let us first start by stating that the ISLAM party of Brussels, which is as close as politically possible to demanding Islamist sharia law, got just two percent in Molenbeek alone. The same statistics are reproduced for Vlaams Belang, the Flemish separatist party with a violent history of neo-fascism. That doesn’t stop both aggressive Flemish hooligans calling for the expulsion of French speakers from the city, and apparently terrorist jihadist cells with direct links to ISIS in the Orient, from roaming the streets where European institutions lie. But it does give some perspective to the overall political standing of our city.

Political opportunists have called the layout of Brussels akin to ghettoization of certain communities. Personal experience would say otherwise: Brussels has an insane amount of variety per square meter. Suburbs such as Molenbeek would have Turks, Maghrebis and Albanians mixing with the Brusselaren, Italian workhand and the Congolese. They were very different, but lived side by side. It was only until 9/11 that they seemed to be all lumped into the same nominal variable, according to a social worker there. Antwerp, Flanders’ diamond city, is a much more ghettoized demographic, and while it has no lack of communitarian problems, it doesn’t seem to have the lack of integration one can perceive when walking around Brussels.

The concept known as “white flight” did emerge, although it is less black and white (with no pun intended) than originally thought. Many of the locals, already skilled with languages would receive the top jobs. Higher salaries, and the fervent Belgian commitment to company cars, meant an opportunity to move out of the stressful city life to pastures, while crucially still working in Brussels. Many Flemish and particularly Walloons – who lost their coal and steel industry – also came to work in the capital, taking over the lower paid jobs. The latter contributed to the ‘’Frenchification’’ of Brussels, making it a natural relocation for Maghrebi immigrants not wanting the stigma that the Franco-Algerian struggle entailed in the French Hexagon.

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Revived after bankruptcy, Molenbeek’s local football club is in Belgium’s fifth (regional) tier yet still attracts full capacity

The result is that you have a strong inner city population of immigrants who came to fulfil the low-pay work, while the top jobs, excluding the EU ones, are taken by people who have long since left their home city. The regionalisation of Belgium, pushed by Flemish nationalists and fuelled by Walloon stubbornness, led to Brussels becoming a region in itself. This meant that its guest workers pay communal and regional taxes to Mother Flanders and Father Wallonia, leaving little coin for development in an already crumbling suburb like Molenbeek. A Bruxselwa indentiteit (as the phonetic, hybrid language of the city boys denominate it) formed though, one that was held together by a siege mentality. Ni Flamand, Ni Wallon. Wij tegen Allemaal. Us versus the World. One that is all too easy to translate into the international political scene for young Muslims, passionate about perceived injustices of their religious community, in the area.

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Brussels’most famous street art : ‘’Manneke Peace’’

Poverty is sometimes cited as a causal effect of criminality. But rather than raw wealth as measurement of poverty in Brussels, one must look at opportunity as the structural reason. Opportunities are defined by what factors of productivity are available to a population. If there is a factor of production, essential for the worker in Brussels, it is the car. I once had a friend who posted a picture on social media with her driver’s licence, saying it was ‘’a permit to freedom.’’ She was not exaggerating. Many “suburbs” of Brussels are ludicrously cut off from anything remotely productive or interesting. Public transport is notoriously difficult (the fast train project was a subject of farce then frustration, as its due date was postponed seemingly year after year, for 15 years). To quote Rust Cohle of the True Detective series, we “might as well be living on the fucking moon,” no matter how close you feel to a city.

For a third generation boy with no prospects, a 35-strong class and a government that deliberately isolates his district from the rest of Brussels, there’s not much to strive for. There’s no travel to new beginnings after failure, let alone travel to exotic, luxurious summer holidays. There’s only that suburb for an indefinite amount of years. You fail, you are done. The immobility is less to do with transport, and more to do with aspiration. Boredom with lack of long term future prospects will only end in a seeking of immediate recognition and gratification, through even the most desperate and sickening means.

There’s a whole combination of other factors that also must have contributed to the Jihadist path. The play “Djihad!” by Ismael Saidi, who grew up in North Brussels, was praised for the way he took 3 completely different personalities, profiles and their problems and showed the banality of descent in radical Islam in a Western society. For Molenbeek is a profoundly Western society, despite what Zemmour, and other clichéd judges of what Western values constitute, would have us believe. It does not have the problems Syria has, it already has its own, different ones that relate to the individuals in question rather than entire communities like in Syria. For all the diagnosis on the ills of Brussels above, if we are to solve an entire community’s problem in the West, we must take as a unit of analysis the individual, just as the foundations of society would want us to. How does an unemployed individual perceive an army of eurocrats in their city that sing the praises of modern liberalism from their expensive, mostly empty offices? How does a love-struck individual handle a society that promises at the very least romantic fulfilment, if not excess, through its narrative-obsessed media? How does a bored, static individual find purpose in mundane city life when he is disinterested in the standard structures society expects of us, even in a liberal context?

Zemmour’s underlying message therefore might be correct: instead of ‘’solving’’ Syria or the entire Middle East (through throwing fireworks into a pub fight, as Scottish Comedian Frankie Boyle put it), and thinking this is somehow a solution to domestic problems, we should rethink our own, with our unit of analysis – the individual – rather than lazy ethno-cultural groups. We are too used to a paradisiac vision of our liberal society, and at the same time blaming the problems of individuals cheaply on their entourage. There are deep social problems in Molenbeek, but we must not use that as an excuse for not affording the attention that a tiny minority of individual require, or indeed any individual requires.

When the Curtain Falls

By Marie Peffenköver

It is not only since yesterday that the world is facing crises and upheavals. However, although scholars speak about a decrease in the number of conflicts and military interventions since the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, one cannot get rid of the impression that the International Community never had to focus on so many trouble spots at the same time. Daesh, refugees coming to Europe, conflicts among the EU member states, radical Islamist groups in African and Asia, economic ups and downs on every continent, climate change – the new millennium has just begun and yet it would require a wand to solve all these problems sustainably.

At the Dutch Invitational Model United Nations (DIMUN) in Leiden 2016 on 16 January, the simulation tackled these crises respectively.  With students coming from all over the Netherlands, albeit Utrecht, Nijmegen, Maastricht or Leiden itself, various different viewpoints and experiences added up to some fruitful debates which were ended successfully with the adoption of three resolutions in total. The two crises committees proved to be productive in another manner: With three Heads of States killed, the Delegate of Bangladesh kidnapped and the assassination of their chair at the end, both sub-committees can claim the highest death rate of the entire conference.

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All participants of DiMUN 2016

Facing Terror: The “What-if” Question

I personally must say that the crisis sub-committee of the South-Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) surprised me the most. Not only was it way less formal than I had expected from my first MUN conference with merely nine people present (including the chair); also, the discussion highlighted the problems in establishing cooperation against terrorism in a fictive world where there are no rules and even the killing of Heads of States is allowed (indeed, it is highly encouraged).

Both crisis committees were dealing with the same situation: The “What-if” question. What would you do if on 10 July 2017 Europe would be shaken by various terrorist attacks in Berlin and Frankfurt, with six suicide bombers in Rome, while the high number of refugees from the Middle East where warfare is still continuing are equally pressurizing the states to react? How would the United Nations react? And, over all, could they do something?

Although all states expressed the mutual will to find a communitarian solution and to collaborate in any possible way, a satisfying answer proved hard to be formulated. What would you do if you were a Head of State of an Asian country, being faced with these major crises? Close your borders as the Head of Sri Lanka proposed? “This is not going to work”, was the quick answer of the Afghan Delegate. Sent troops to fight Daesh? But what if your country is directly located at the epicentre of the terrorists’ actions? As the Delegate of Iran explained, “ISIS is right on our doorsteps and an excessive amount of troops will not be sufficient to solve the problem”.

The Craft of Warfare

Similar hard choices were to be faced by the students who represented the states in the UN’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, called DiSec. Here, to me it was most interesting to see how the group dynamics and the size of a group can influence the structure and content of a discussion in a fundamental way. Whereas in the crisis committee the debate began rather moderate (before the shouting and killing started after the lunch break), in DiSec, the chairs’ question “Are there any countries that wish to speak?” was answered by almost everyone raising their placards, sometimes truly battling about who is allowed to speak now. As a press person, this change of pace was a true challenge, but the new dynamism also offered a completely new insight: Namely that the proverb “to write one’s fingers to the bones” can really have a literal meaning.

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The DISEC Committee in action

DiSec had a very special approach to their topic of combatting piracy on the sea: the employment of Private Military Corporations (PMCs) was highly debated. PMCs are private firms offering security services and military capabilities as well as consultation for everyone who can pay enough present a special danger to the stabilization of war-shaken regions. With them lacking any political affiliation and hence loyalty, the craft of warfare becomes driven away from the monopoly of the state, giving war a new ugly and uncontrollable face of civilian violence.

Discussions regularly arise – and have also arisen during DIMUN – as the UN are employing PMCs as well, arguing that due to the ill-equipment of international troops and a lack of experience, the contracting of PMCs presents to be alternativeless. Struggling to formulate a resolution both allowing action against piracy and circumvent the use of PMCs, debates in the DiSec committee became very intense.

Additionally the talks gathered pace when one student from Leiden slipped into the role of a BBC reporter who had just found out that the Dutch gas and oil giant Shell was employing pirates to destroy the oil riffs of its competitors. Although the chairs had to pressurize the Delegates a bit to agree on the amendments and to bring the debates to an end, a Resolution was passed which also established regional taskforce as local solution (to know more, check out our article “The Shadow of the Seas”).

The Challenge of Women’s Rights in Saudi-Arabia

I found my last visit in the UN Council on Human Rights (UNCHR) the most interesting, although time allowed me to only witness the last 45 minutes of discussion. Yet, the committee had already agreed on a Draft Resolution and was in the middle of discussing several amendments when I entered the room.

The topic of the UNCHR was both old and new: Old, because it is generally known that women are extremely limited in their rights (they are, for example, not even allowed to leave their house without a male guard). New, because the message that women could vote for the first time in December 2015 presented an entirely new background for the Delegates of the UNCHR: How could the UN help the desert monarchy in promoting women’s rights?

The final adaption of the Resolution which established – inter alia – an international organization to serve as a platform to inform women about their rights revealed a (in my opinion) major flaw in the voting procedure of the UN. With a two-thirds majority, the Resolution passed. However, the states that heavily opposed the Resolution where the very ones which are seen to be the main infringers of human rights: Saudi-Arabia, Sudan, Lebanon and Iran.

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The UNHRC

Useful? “This Resolution reads like a Wikipedia entry”, was the criticism explained by the Delegate of Iran. “This is nonsense” were the harsh words of the guy representing Sudan.

Unfortunately, I did not have the time to visit the Committee on Special Politics and Decolonization (SpecPol) where the topic of PMCs was further discussed. Hopefully I will be able to do so next year.

For those of you who never participated in a MUN, I can only recommend it. Although I have not been a delegate myself, standing up in front of people, pretending to be the important and distinguished Delegate of a state, writing or blocking amendments is a lot of fun (and, yes, a bit nerdy as well).

PS: Even if you are not participating in the next DIMUN – make sure you visit the beautiful city of Leiden!

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The inner city of Leiden at night

Same same but different

By Paddy Bruell

For a great number of people around the world, the Christian celebration of Christmas and the celebration of the beginning of a new year are some of the most important and joyous festive days on the calendar. It seems that for a brief time at least, a majority of the people are united in celebration during these two events. Despite this feeling of unity, there are distinct differences between the types of celebrations that take place around the world during these occasions. Having experienced both Christmas and New Years in Germany and Australia, two very diverse countries with different cultures and traditions, I would like to share these experiences with other people and highlight the differences between the festive traditions.

In Germany, Christmas is traditionally celebrated with close family members and other relatives. Due to it being winter, it is dark early, as well as cold, and families come together in the warmth of their homes to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and exchange presents. Christmas church services are usually held on Christmas Eve in the evening and at midnight, and on the first Christmas Day. Both Christmas days are still spent with the entire family at home, since everything is closed during the holidays and almost the entire nation is at a standstill. Popular activities include taking walks through the countryside, sleigh-riding and building snowmen (the latter two can of course only occur with a sufficient amount of snow). This extended period of time spent with the entire family may however also lead to conflict: the second Christmas Day is one of the days in Germany with the most number of police operations due to family conflicts.

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In Australia on the other hand, Christmas takes place during the summer. This means sunny and hot days, along with a modified version of “Jingle Bells” and folklore that Santa Claus arrives on either a surfboard or a Holden ute instead of a sleigh. Nevertheless, Christmas has the same religious meaning and is still celebrated with Church services, gift-giving and time spent together in unity. Whilst the Church services are similar to identical to those in Germany, the timing of the celebrations at home are different. Christmas Eve is spent with the family at home, but no presents are exchanged, unlike in Germany, where this takes place in the evening of the 24th. Instead, taking after English traditions, the gifts are delivered by Santa overnight and people wake up in the morning of the first Christmas Day (25th) to find the presents delivered. The rest of the day is spent with family and friends. Several families come together in one home to have Christmas lunch together, where everyone contributes something to the table. During this day, almost all businesses are closed. On the 26th, also referred to as Boxing Day, stores open again for the After-Christmas sales (Boxing Day Sales), which are extremely popular and see record expenditure by customers. Boxing Day also sees the start of several iconic Australian sporting events, which are followed all over the country. These include Day 1 of the Boxing Day Cricket Test and the start of the famous Sydney to Hobart boat race.

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The types of celebration of a new year on New Years Eve are relatively similar in both countries, although the styles do differ. In Germany, New Years Eve is celebrated with family and friends, usually in the home of one of the families. At midnight, people have their own individual fireworks, which they organise and set off themselves. In some of Germany’s larger cities, organised firework displays are held by city councils in addition to those of the individuals. Fireworks may be purchased at regular supermarkets. Other popular activities include “Bleigießen”, a process where one person pours molten lead into cold water. The resulting shapes are then interpreted by the other people to determine how the year of the person will be.

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In Australia, individuals are prohibited from lighting their own fireworks due to bush fire danger. Instead, the councils of the cities organise centralised fireworks displays. Leading this are the capital cities Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne with Sydney alone spending $7 million on its display. These celebrations draw large numbers of people into the cities to celebrate the start of a new year. Alternatively, people choose to stay at home with family and friends and watch the fireworks on television, as they are streamed live all over the world. It is important to note that for the traditional owners of the land, the Aboriginals, New Years celebrations have no meaning. This is because they follow the patterns of nature and do not divide the years into certain amounts of time.

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Despite the differences in celebrations, Christmas and New Years both have special meaning in Australia and Germany. Both are supposed to be times of unity and happiness, with people coming together to enjoy the festivities. To add a personal note, I cannot say for certain which country I prefer to spend these holidays in. In Germany (and Europe), winter is (usually) marked by the cold and snow which makes Christmas a festival of warmth with family and drinking spiced punch at traditional Christmas markets. In Australia, the summer season means a Christmas spent on the beach and a sense of coming together of all people. It seems that the nation celebrates together, especially during the sporting events on Boxing Day. Celebrations in both countries are wonderful to be part of and the diversity of different celebrations in the world are a pleasure to behold.

“We’ll Always Have Each Other.”

By Milli Ehringhaus

When starting out fresh in a new environment, everything appears harder than it should. Specifically, when moving to Maastricht certain questions arise. Groceries at Jumbo or Albert Heijn? Which side of the bridge appeals as a more beneficial living area (East side vs. West side)? Cool Runnings or Club 69? And the list goes on… Within all the chaos of reality and out of the ordinary “newness,” is it not always more comforting to embark on this journey with someone by your side?

When speaking more precisely about changing environments; from any place in the world to the small city of Maastricht. It seems only fair to admit that the cultural diversity in the capital of Limburg brings about an immediate sense of unity. Nationalities from all over the world unite here, and a prompt connection sparks within the social groups, creating nothing short of a family.

More often than not, social frameworks build up upon similarities. Friends and acquaintances are made through the same faculties, tutorial groups, or nationalities. But what makes this sense of community so enchanting, is the fact that once acquaintances are made, a neighborly and casual bond is created, adding to the warm atmosphere of the Inner City Library or to the alternative Banditos. For if you are lucky, you will meet the person that almost ran you over on his bike, at the after-party of the FASoS Christmas Ball. And if nothing else, you have one more person to awkwardly nod at while climbing the never-ending stairs to the top floor. Of course, random coincidences exist, in which you meet the DJ you saw last night at Take 5 the next day, and an aspiring friendship grows into much more than merely drunk small talk in the outside smoking area.

This aptitude to openness in Maastricht gives a continuous feeling of comfort within the more significant changes of the individual. If you have found yourself in the position of a struggling first year; nervous, overwhelmed, and friendless, especially during the forced introduction circles, you can maybe relate to the relief of meeting someone you connect with. Usually these common interests are discussed in the ten-minute smoking breaks between lectures. And after just a few weeks, these common interests unite you and others in a very strong and lengthy bond. In Maastricht, it seems these are the criteria to becoming family. Not only do you study with your fellow pupils, but because of the city’s size you run into them everywhere, be it at the library, riding by on their bike, or in the line at the fry place after the 2am closing of Il Cavo.

Due to the fact, that most students come from abroad, seeing your family is not an option. Your social framework you build up becomes your family. Your daily chores or tasks turn into something like family traditions. You are bound to run into some part of your crew while passing by the Shamrock on your way home, or on your way to Aldi to buy booze for the nightly pre-drink endeavors. These routinely occasions in which you see people you want to see in “unexpected” places, this is the sense of unity and community created by the marvelous Maastricht.

In reality, we are privileged to be part of such an ever-growing family within the midst of our exam desperations, as well as the fight for a spot in the quiet area of the library, and last resort study sessions in front of the intimidating doors of the MECC. A feeling of ease is spread throughout the entire city because of the comfort of our community.

Let’s be honest, this all sounds like a cliché romantic comedy for the masses. But in the end, is it not always more encouraing throughout the search for a valid GBA, the borderline alcoholism provoked by the student life in Maastricht and the last minute research paper inspirations, to have a framework of people you know and trust?

Here we can find ourselves in Jack Johnson’s famous words, “it’s always better when we’re together.”

Five arguments why you should join an MUN right now

By Leon Heckmann

HamMUN 2015 was my second MUN after EuroMUN in Maastricht this year and once again it was a blast. For all those who have never been to a Model United Nations or think about attending one, here are five facts to convince you that MUN is a great concept:

  1. You take the role of a country’s (or political parties) delegate to an international body and simulate international negotiating and decision-making. This will not only provide you with information on the forum itself and the topics you will be discussing, but gives you a first-hand experience of a diplomat/delegate’s work in a fun and beginner-friendly environment.

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  2. MUN is a great opportunity to practice and enhance you public speaking and debating skills. This goes both for beginners and MUN-veterans: While for the former MUN is the perfect staging to train your rhetorical skills by representing a country’s specific interests on a topic, for the latter it can become a real rhetorical contest between the best speakers, with the prospect of the best or distinguished delegate award.
  3. However, MUN conferences are not simply a rhetorical context between individual speakers. Rather, it is all about teamwork and finding collective solutions to common problems: Without actively engaging in collaborative negotiation and resolution drafting, no MUN delegate will be successful. More specifically, key is to find allies and partners inside your committee who share a common stance with you, in order to strengthen your bargaining power collectively. It goes without saying that such teamwork and leadership skills will be more than useful in your academic and later also professional careers.
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  4. MUN conferences are also predestined to meet lots of new people and, in fact, make new friends. Especially in the smaller committees (>30 delegates) you will get to know everyone quite well during the 3-4 days conferences, simply because you will be debating, drafting and working together intensively throughout this time. Committee session normally start at 9 in the morning and the last ones may well continue until 7 pm, followed by the obligatory social few hours later (see point 5).  Moreover, the MUN community is a truly global one: You will get to know delegates from many different countries, from different cultural and educational backgrounds. It’s also more than likely that you will meet people again at other conferences throughout the world – be it as delegate, chair, or even board member of a Model United Nations. The word is that after the third consecutive conference, it is officially considered “MUN addiction”.
  5. Last but definitely not least, MUN conferences are simply a lot of fun. That is, in addition to the committee sessions, due to the social programme (which, when optional, you should book in any case): The conference hosts will provide you with parties, pub crawls and the obligatory Delegate’s Ball as highlight every evening of the conference. This gives you the opportunity to get a grasp of the conference’s host city and country and to relax a bit from university. Rumor has it that socials have also been used by some delegates for extended unmods or “bilateral negotiations”… But moreover, the socials will also test your ability to work under aggravated conditions: You will most likely need to recover a few nights’ sleep after a MUN conference.
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UNSA Delegation present and dancing!

By Alice Nesselrode

4 days of debating, getting into the role of a country’s delegate and writing your own history in international relations – that could be a summary for basically any MUN. HamMUN 2015 however was more than that. The conference which happened in the beginning of December offered for many Maastricht students also a very welcomed break from university, a little recreation before the exams of period 2 would start.

However, the 48 delegates from Maastricht were not only looking forward to the discussions in the 18 committees, no – also Hamburg’s famous night life surely posed a point of attraction to many! In a city with not only de Alla and de Feestfabrik, but many more places being still open after 2 am, every night owl finds what he or she is looking for.

UNSA Maastricht showed engagement everywhere. Be it through the 8 awards that were won (2 best delegates, 4 distinguished delegates, 1 honorable mention and 1 best position paper) or by being the craziest dancers on the dance floor, chanting “UNSA! UNSA!”, our delegation was very obviously present and showed motivation and enthusiasm.

But let’s start from the beginning.

After a long bus ride from Maastricht we finally arrived in Hamburg about 3 hours before the official Opening Ceremony. The last position papers were quickly finished, some people already started exploring the city, and then the conference already started off with warm welcoming words from the three secretary generals of HamMUN 2015 as well as one of the founders of HamMUN and other guest speakers. After that the first session was scheduled, in which the committees decided on rather procedural facts, received some more information and held the first opening speeches.

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For the evening, a pub crawl was organised, however the UNSA delegation decided to stay at the restaurant “Hans im Glück”, where the evening faded out with a good burger and the one or other cocktail.

Friday morning started -in typical MUN-manner- off early. A whole day of debates was awaiting everyone, but with the enthusiasm and power we all still had at that point conclusions and common ground was found quickly. Two committees, namely the Security Council Single Delegation and NATO, managed to adopt a resolution paper on the first topic and could move on to the next opening speeches. In the last hours, it was however more the thought of what would follow in the evening what kept most delegates in shape: A neon-party was planned for all 550-600 delegates. The party was a complete success, with many faces glowing in the dark, good music and a very present UNSA Maastricht delegation on the dancefloor. Only point of criticism would be the price of the drinks, which was unreasonably high (3.50€ for a small beer, really?).

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The next morning came too soon, and only with huge amounts of coffee and an Aspirin for the biggest party animals here and there fruitful debates slowly evolved again. The HamMUN press team was considerate enough to postpone the beginning of debates by some minutes through a video “live” set-up, which gave a broad overview over what had happened in the committees so far. The insight into the gossip box, which could be filled by any delegate, even managed to create some smiles on the tired faces. Now, also most other committees came to consensus and managed to write resolutions. In the evening then it was time to get out the fancy smoking and the most beautiful dress and prepare for the Delegate’s Dance: the traditional ball, which ironically took place at not such a fancy place- namely in a side street of the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s famous party district. Despite the dodgy neighborhood the party was a complete success, and honestly- who can say of himself that he walked the Reeperbahn in a ball dress or a smoking? The HamMUN people can now.

Unfortunately, there was no more open bar as it was the case the years before, however everyone got 6 coins for at least some drinks to start off the evening, which already brought many to the dance floor. Rumor has it that some UNSA delegates simply seized the occasion of the close Reeperbahn to get a cheap deal on Tequila shots.

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The Tequila shots may probably also be a reason why the next morning should maybe not be described in too much detail. Even though the debates fortunately only started at 10 am after another video by the Press team, many committees faced a well-known problem on the last day: Due to the absence of some delegates, the quorum could not be reached in every committee, causing a postponement of discussions. However, after finally enough of the missing delegates found their way to the halls of the University of Hamburg where the conference took place, the moderated caucusing, the lobbying in an unmod, the raising of placards and the final votes on working papers, amendments and draft resolutions could finally proceed and all committees came to good solutions. Sadly, UNSA Maastricht had to leave the Closing Ceremony a bit earlier, but at least the reason for that was the bus waiting to take us back home. The trip back gave everyone enough time to come to the awful realization: Another MUN has ended, Post-MUN-depressions are about to hit and in a few hours, the bitter reality of close exams and papers will have to be faced. As a delegate of the Security Council expressed it in astonishment: “Apparently, life at home still goes on while we’re at MUN”

HamMUN 2015 can be definitely considered a success, not only judging by all the awards that were won by the UNSA delegation but also by the happy faces, new friendships and professional experience gained by everyone!

Stay tuned for a fiel report by one of our team members, who will tell you more about his MUN personal experience!

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5 tips to save our climate

By Johannes Schroeten

Last Saturday, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris ended. 196 Countries participated, represented by 10000 officials. The expectations were high. Officials such as President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel had pledged massive cuts in CO2 emissions and fixed targets to keep the rising temperature below the magical 2 C° mark. The outcome has been perceived as a success by many observers. For the first time, the international community has agreed to a formal, legally binding treaty. The first step towards a clean future has been taken!

Reduction of CO2 shall take place in the energy sector as well as industry. But what possibilities do we have to decrease at least a little bit our personal emissions? Here are five suggestions for your very own tackle on climate change:

1) Less meat! On average, every EU citizen eats about 88 kilos of meat per year. Though depending on the animal, one kilo of meat is responsible for 10 kilo of CO2 on average. According to a BBC report a kilo beef equals 16 kilo of CO2, whereas a kilo chicken only accounts for 4.4 kilo. Of course, we should not expect everyone to become a vegetarian. At least, I could not say no to a nice rump steak. Nonetheless, if we reduce our meat consumption by only 10 percent, we could already save 88 kilo CO2 per capita.  With 500 million Europeans this would account for about 44 million tons of CO2 every year. So maybe think about one steak less during the week. Remember, Foodbank has shown us that no meat is not so bad after all. Worth a thought, right?

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And to all those who already quit meat: You can still do something! Kiwis are amazing, great taste, no CO2 emissions. Or so you thought! Because 1 kilo of the fruit from down under actually produces 3.2 Kilo CO2. Shipping, you know. Same goes for grapes produced in South Africa. One kilo is responsible for 7 kilo of emissions before its ready for you at the jumbo. So next time you do your grocery shopping, you might want to buy something locally grown. Fresh potatoes or a nice lettuce, for instance.

2) Shopping: Do it yourself! This goes out to everyone who is a victim of online shopping. It is easy, you can stay on your couch and if it does not fit you just sent it back. And that is the problem. The German newspaper ‘die Welt’ estimates that only in Germany, about 800 000 deliveries are returned every day. That accounts for 400 tons CO2 per day. So next time you order something online, just get what you really want. However, this is a critical point, because in fact, e-commerce can be more eco-friendly than shopping in stores. If you live on the country side, it might be preferable to get your stuff from amazon & co. But Maastricht, with all its fancy stores, is a good chance to reduce your personal emissions.

3) I believe I should fly… less. There is a German saying: “Why seek for the distance if happiness is close?” But of course, we all want to get out of our boring lives from time to time. Nonetheless, are you sure you always have to take the plane? The Arsenal football team recently took off for only 14 minutes. Not the most sustainable way to travel. A flight from Brussels to Berlin creates about 420 kilo of CO2 emissions. A car ride with a middle-sized vehicle will produce less than half of the amount. And you can further reduce the amount by taking others with you. So in the end, a flight would account for 9 times more emission than taking the car. Not to speak of Buses or Trains which are even more efficient.

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4) Know your Sh*t! Did you hear of this retro thing called a lexicon? In fact, it can be pretty helpful to look up things. And it is more eco-friendly than something called Google. Heard of it? Together with Wikipedia and Coffee the best friend and saviour of every student. But did you know that Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University scholar, claimed that the emissions for two searches on Google equal the boiling of water for a cup of tea? Every search, therefore, produces 7 grams of CO2. Only for this article, I boiled already more water than the Queen in the past ten years. You are probably thinking by yourself: Is this guy crazy? How can something happening in the magical digital world have so much impact on the real one? Well, every time you look something up on Google, data centres around the globe do the job for you. But those things are energy inefficient as hell (No joke intended!) All data centres combined consume the energy of 14 power plants with 1000 megawatt generation capacities. I am sure, the world would reach its climate targets if we would be willing to let questions unanswered. Next time, you might reconsider if you really have to know how many times Hugh Hefner has been married (actually only three times – I just googled it.) And by the way, CO2-neutral search engines like ecosia.org buy emission certificates and reinvest 80 per cent of their revenues into projects reforesting rainforests in Brazil.

5) Home, sweet, energy efficient home! At last, I would just like to mention a very basic one: turning up the heat in summer is actually rather useless. Letting the lights burn when you are not at home, as well. Come on! It is not that hard to check if everything is turned off. And a jumper is just as warm as heating up your room to a cosy 25 C°, so you can wear those self-made Bermuda shorts Grandma gave you for Christmas. In the US, an estimated 20 percent of Energy is wasted in Residential areas. The area outside of the old houses in Maastricht is probably better heated than the house itself. So why not turn off the heater while you sleep? And you are probably old enough to switch off the lights during the night despite potential Monsters under your bed. And by the way, this might save some money as well. Lower energy costs, you know!

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These are just a few tips. And honestly, I think if we all just restrict ourselves a little bit, we will not need to build a new arch to save at least two of us. There is no need to live in caves again, but to act with a little conscious when it comes to energy efficiency does not hurt.

 

2015 Paris Climate Conference 101

By Elysia Rezki

Talks surrounding climate change and “COP” have been particularly prevalent in the news lately, but what does it all mean, and why is it so important?

COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, is the international communities much needed response to the future of our planet. COP21 is simply an acronym standing for the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event, hosted in La Bourget, Paris, sees world leaders, politicians and 25,000 official government delegates of the 195 UN states represented. The objective? To find a legally binding and universal agreement on tackling climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.  The level of corporation and the number of participates makes this one of the largest diplomatic conferences ever organized!

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The first COP was held 20 years ago in Berlin to review the UN Framework on Climate Change adopted by the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. The framework called for action on stabilising greenhouse gasses. After 20 years of climate summits, however, COemissions do not appear to have been reduced. Rather, they have increased by more than 60% (1992 – 2014). Furthermore, evidence suggests that the past 30 years have likely been the warmest period of the past 1400 years! Climate change is likely the greatest threat we have ever faced; requiring us to come together as never before! This all subsequently puts immense pressure on those negotiating in Paris, and especially on the French Government whom hold the responsibility of ensuring the success of COP21.

Since 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been providing policy-makers with an objective source of information concerning the causes of climate change, the potential economic and socio-economic impacts, and most importantly, the possible options of response we have. To summarise the IPCC’s latest report

  • Human impact on the climate system is clear.
  • Continued emissions on greenhouse gasses will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and the eco-systems,
  • Humanity has the means to limit climate change, and to build a more sustainable, resilient future.

So, what does this mean? In essence, we are facing an unprecedented crisis, unquestionably caused by human activity. Impacts are already visible, with evidence providing increasingly worrying trends concerning extreme weather conditions. Floods, droughts, and severe storm surges are regular reoccurrences we face today; 80% of the world’s glaciers have diminished, and sea levels have risen 20cm within the last 100 years! Although industrialisation in the wealthiest countries hold most culpability, unfortunately it is the undeveloped, poorest areas that continue to suffer most.

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The world has a climate budget, and we are rapidly reaching the end of it. If we continue the way in which we are, it is estimated that by 2040, the budget will be exhausted, and it will be too late to reverse such damages. For this reason, it is the common objective of all participants in COP21 to keep the increasing global temperature below 2°C. Many experts, in addition to the Alliance of Small Islands feel the 2°C threshold is not sufficient enough, instead advocating for a threshold of 1.5°C, a level we may already be locked into. There is however some good news after all. The climate crisis can indeed be prevented. We have all the technology, knowledge, and resources to do so. Whilst a lack of political will and a lack of legal obligation has always prevailed over efforts at tackling global warming, for many COP21 is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What is being done?

The Sunday before COP21, hundreds of thousands of people came together in solidarity and took to the streets.  The Global Climate March took place in cities all over the world, from Berlin to Hong Kong, Sydney and Seattle, to name just a few. In Paris, around 10,000 pairs of shoes where set out to represent those unable to March due to a ban by French authorities following the aftermath of the attacks taken place there just weeks before. Whilst numerous events had been removed from the COP21 agenda for security risks following the attacks, President Hollande assured the world that the conference would still take place, “COP21 will bring hope and solidarity.”

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Whilst it is often argued that the political and economic elites lack the will to initiate change, it is certainly clear that the people do. Citizens from a far-reaching union of environmentalists, trade unions and other social movements are marching on the streets as well as acting online – applying pressure bottom-up where we are unsatisfied with the work of those governing us.

COP21 Progress

The draft negotiation for a global deal has already been completed. It is the role of Ministers to compromise this text into a legally binding deal accepted unanimously by all 195 parties. This will not be a simple task, in fact over 900 areas of disagreements have already been documented! The voluntary nature of previous COP deals have always been areas of criticism for the lack of progress. The fact that the aim is to produce a legally binding agreement is subsequently significant. Whilst negotiations continue to take place, most present are fairly optimistic that a deal will indeed be finalised by the end of the second week. Key topics discussed so far include questions of temperature (2°C or 1.5°C?), finance distribution (is it fair to make the poorest countries pay the bill?), renewable energies  (African Renewable Energy Initiative worth $5 billion), and deforestation (a new plan to restore forest cover to 1990 levels by 2050.) Of course, there are no overnight fixes. Whilst we cannot yet know whether COP21 will provide successful results, it is clear that climate change requires ambitious solutions which entail ongoing willingness and commitment to be fought by generations to come.

The Maastricht Paradox

Milli Ehringhaus and Catharina Wahls

Leaving home for the first time every student yearns for the freedom to do and please as he or she desires. The precedent image of “college life” that we have all gained from iconic films such as “American Pie” sets high expectations. Studying in one of the most liberal countries in Europe, should that not be the foundation for a fabulous fiesta?

And even though when walking through the FASoS Faculty, with the Venus sex store and Coffee Shop “Club 69” right across the street, you feel as though you are strutting through hipster central in Berlin, however those vibes do not go much further than the faculty itself. In reality, the hipsters of Maastricht are the ones with the man buns, and the party scene stays within the walls of the library. However, for the more adventure-seeking students, the occasional night out consists of multiple stages.

  1. WhatsNEXT*

*Check out the new app, which shows all current events in Maastricht

Typically speaking, all events in Maastricht are known several days if not weeks in advance, therefore all plans are usually those of the forced kind. Let’s take “Double Trouble” for example. Everyone knows that this diverse event of multiple DJs in the same venue takes place regularly. And even though, one could calculate the date of Double Trouble easily, it is just as fulfilling to anxiously await the Facebook event with anticipation. If we are really honest, everyone loves the fact that the abandoned warehouse vibes of the Muziekgieterij bring us back to the Hippie vibes found at UCM.

  1. 8:30 am Tutorial

When deciding whether or not to actually leave the books behind and enjoy one night of freedom, usually the answer is: “I have tutorial at 8:30 am tomorrow.”

To this there are two solutions or even opportunities that present themselves. Firstly, you could decide to be responsible, study and pretend to be grown up. Or you adapt. Meaning, you learn how to learn when you are hung-over. Worst case scenario you consciously decide to be a border-liner with a steady grade of 5.5 or you redo the course next year. If we adhere to the latter, we are able to move to the third stage of an “occasional” night out.

  1. Let’s get BUZZED

Arriving at the holy doors of Aldi, the two Euro wine usually saves most students from a hefty debt, quantity over does quality in this case. You can already feel the headache of tomorrow with the first sip. For those of us that missed the 7pm deadline of Aldi, the night shop is always a promising option for a beer or more on the road.

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  1. “Who lives here?”

Whilst drinking for the sake of drinking, one of your friends receives the enlightened text: “House party.” Usually this message comes from a friend of a friend of friends, but because of Maastricht’s size you end up knowing half of the people there anyway, which works out in your favor or not. Upon arrival, both groups are too trashed to care and social networking takes its toll. If you are lucky, the house party ends up being better than most clubs in Maastricht. And, if you are very lucky, the Politie on bikes roll in around 4 am, exceeding almost all opening hours of downtown Maastricht.

However, in the instances that the House party does get “shut-down” before 1 am, if you can call four Politie on bikes that omnipotent, Il Cavo presents itself as an alternative. Upon arrival, you are welcomed by a senior bouncer who stands in front of a door, which you would never notice during the day. If you are lucky enough to make it down the stairs without falling, behind this door lurks the first steps to a prominent night life in Maastricht. One can laugh and dance away all the sorrows of what turn the night will take, and where the party will continue next.

  1. De Last Resort De Alla

We can all agree that De Alla gives some kind of unification and feeling of togetherness in Maastricht. All desperate to continue the festivities meet there. You have already decided to either skip that 8:30 am tutorial or brush your teeth with a bottle of Jack and survive until 10:30am. De Alla is for the survivors. Even though you have to pass through sketchy metal detectors or bribe the occasional bouncer, once inside you meet all sorts of personas and probably your best friend who you lost three hours ago. From Ralph Lauren law students to black eyed techno-lovers. Once you pass the stage of vomiting your guts out in front of De Alla, I think it is safe to say, you can call Maastricht your home.

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You would think that Maastricht has a strong foundation for a glamorous night life. If we take into consideration, that every second person you meet is an aspiring DJ. Medicine students who you normally never see or hear and reside on the other side of the bridge, but are willing to supply party favors for all those in need, and the famous SBE students who could probably support the Bouncer’s whole family with their pocket money, then you would think that this town has the potential to become the next city that never sleeps. But wrong. Sadly, reality strikes here, the library seems to be open longer than most of the clubs and the Politie rolls in fairly early most nights due to complaining neighbors.

Of course, alternative places exist and often give a refreshing insight on the night scene in Maastricht, like the LBB or Food Bank, which give more of a calm atmosphere. You would think that because of all the cultural diversity in Maastricht there is a high tolerance of everyone and everything. This noticeably does not apply to some students however, who have to disguise to enter the Food Bank on Fridays. Sad but true.

If we take into consideration the Maastricht Syndrome and the Maastricht Paradox, it appears there is no hope. All jokes aside, we are striving for a brighter future. Until then, see you in De Alla.

 

 

 

“SORRY, THIS BRIDGE IS CLOSED TODAY”

By Diya Dilan and Fiona O’Hara

On Sunday the 15th of November, Amnesty International Maastricht Students (AIMS) assembled on the Sint Servaas Bridge. The aim: to raise awareness of the struggle the refugees are facing today at the European borders. By creating a human border we kept people from crossing the bridge. This made the citizens of Maastricht experience a tiny part of the difficulties the refugees face when they try to reach Europe. Was it successful, you ask? We had anticipated bad reactions, but none of us was prepared for some people becoming violent. Even the elderly tore our hands apart and charged through us. In some extreme cases cyclists didn’t stop, assuming we would open the chain to let them through. One individual even threatened to call the police. So maybe our border was physically not as defiant as we had hoped for, but what truly mattered was that we did engage in some meaningful debates with the citizens of Maastricht.

Since the civil war has started in Syria back in 2011, there has been a vast amount of people fleeing the warzone. More than 750,000 refugees have arrived in Europe by sea. And this is only a small amount compared to the refugees who are travelling by land or have found refuge in neighbouring countries. Since the Paris Attacks, France has launched numerous airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria. “We are convinced that we must continue to strike ISIL in Syria. We will intensify our strikes,” is what the French President François Hollande said after the attacks in a joint press conference with UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Russia has stated that it is going to launch airstrikes against ISIL as well. This escalation of violence has caused more bad than good and has put the lives of Syrians in even more danger than before.

More children, like the 13 year old Ahmed, might lose their families. More children might be robbed of their childhood because of this senseless violence. After losing his father in an air strike, Ahmed was forced by circumstances to quit school and maintain his family all on his own. When you hear stories like that, it makes it easier to emotionally attach to the refugee crisis. To stop seeing people who flee as a mere number. This was something we, as AIMS, found a useful tool to help us appeal to the citizens of Maastricht. However, not everyone shared the same view on refugees with us.

 

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By: Brian Megens Photography

One of the citizens we encountered believed that the borders should be closed to protect Europe. Bear in mind that this was just two days after the horrific attacks in Paris and Beirut. In hindsight, we can see that this argument is not valid since many of the suspected attackers have been identified as Belgian nationals and not refugees at all (if only Donald Trump paid attention to this instead of pledging to create a Nazi-style Muslim refugee database). We tried to emphasize the fact that the vast majority of refugees are fleeing those same people who committed the awful crimes in Paris. We tried to appeal to the citizen’s humanity and asked her if she was okay with the fact that people in the Middle East have to deal with the fear of a terrorist attack like the ones in Paris and Beirut every single day.

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By: Brian Megens Photography

Although this self-preservation attitude is completely understandable, the idea that refugees are dangerous is fear mongering propaganda spread by conservative politicians and attention-seeking media outlets. These attitudes are putting innocent people’s lives in serious danger, not just the refugees but also the lives of all Muslims in Europe. With reports of a Muslim woman being pushed into an oncoming train at Piccadilly Circus in London, we can see that the rise of Islamophobia, particularly directed at the refugees but certainly not in all cases, is a serious problem that has to be stopped. It is good to mention here that ISIL, in no way, represents the Islamic religion. They have corrupted a peaceful religion and used it for their own means. According to a recent Pew Research Study, only 0.00006625% of the global Muslim community supports extremist activities. Moreover, a recent study of Interpol shows that only 2% of terror attacks in Europe are religiously motivated.

Something that should be reported seriously and frequently but has been nearly neglected, is that these refugees are ordinary people, who once lived comfortable lives just like our own. They had well-paying jobs and family homes. These same people are now searching for the security that has been unfairly taken away from them. These people are not the benefit-scrounging thieves or ISIL terrorists that many of the people who we encountered on the bridge believed they could be. By the end of our conversations with the public there were many who started sceptical but eventually either compromised with us or agreed completely. This just goes to show that once you forget the bigoted fear-mongering and political propaganda, you can see that more needs to be done to help and protect the refugees in Europe.

Anyone and everyone can do their part to make this change; Whether it’s by donating money and clothes to charity organisations like the Dutch Parcels for Refugees, opening your home to a family in need, or even simply signing a petition to put pressure on the government to help improve the current situation. If you are really keen you can of course block of your local bridge, annoying cyclists and people who are late for their trains, like we did. Amnesty International, in the end, believes that the borders should stay open. And we believe that you should too.

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Fan-fictions: not just a crazy obsession

By Eszter Sailer

Although, for obvious reasons, it is unlikely that any kind of fan-fiction would be posted here, it is still a genre of writing, and that is what the journal committee does. It writes. Its writing might not be any kind of fan-art, but its presence in writing should not be ignored.

Generally, people who are not into it, would say writing fan-fiction is just a way for 14-year-old girls to express their obsession for their idols. Let me give you an example: ‘And then What Makes You Beautiful started playing and when it came to Harry’s solo, he spotted me in the crowd and rested his eyes on me and that’s when I passed out. I woke up backstage, with Harry looking down at me. ‘Are you all right?’ – he asked. ‘Yes, but…why am I here?’ – I looked at him confused. ‘When I saw you in the crowd, you were so beautiful and I fell in love with you and I was so scared when you fainted.’ ‘Aw Harry I love you too.’ – yeah right.

While not entirely wrong, the fan-fiction base does not only include works like the one given. It is not always about happiness and love. The best way to describe it would be ‘unpublished works by independent artists’. Because that is what we are. Independent artists. No one tells writers to write, they are not bound by contracts, and they do not expect payment either. Fanfiction is still written. Why? And what are the benefits of it? Of course, I can only speak for myself and talk about my own experiences with fan-fiction and their writers, however, this might serve as a satisfactory introduction to the topic and hopefully it might answer some of your questions.

First of all, what is fan-fiction? It is understood as a work of fiction written by fans of artists, movies, TV-shows, books and comics, but it could be about anyone or anything that is well-known. If you were wondering whether there is fan-fiction written about X, the answer is yes (there is even fan-fiction about SpongeBob, and neither is that my work, nor is it something that I am proud of).

Secondly, why are they written? Mainly, it is to put one’s wishes and daydreams about a certain character on paper, or for a reader, to read scenarios about their idols. Now, why do I say wishes and daydreams? It is because fan-fiction is about what has not happened yet or (in most cases) will never happen, but a fan wants it to happen.

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In a way, I discovered, it helps you to deal with your feelings. Even though you know the things you write will not happen, it is a feeling of relief when you write out your wishes, somehow getting a sense of reality of your dreams. As for the reader, the same could apply. When they read a scenario, they know it is not real, but reading about it can soothe their wishes. You got upset because a character in your favourite TV show died? How about making them leave for a long time instead of killing them? You can write that. Or read that, if it has already been written. You can even do both.

Fan-fiction can help with other things as well. It can improve your English (most fan-fictions are written in English), whether you read or write, and your writing skills. It can also help dealing with feelings. Imagine writing about depression, for example, your favourite character helping the protagonist with their mental-illness. There are a lot of people, also fans dealing with it. Even if they do not hear the words from the character’s mouth in real-life, it can be extremely helpful to read or write about it. It would be silly to generalize the age of fanfiction writers and readers, but young people make up a great deal of the amount and they can be easily influenced.

Now I know that usually, helping someone else is not the conscious aim of writing fan-fiction, rather the aforementioned reasons: putting your wishes and twists of reality on paper. Still, a writer can even reach out to their readers by using a famous character. With this being said, we get to another point: the convenience of having a real character.

You don’t have to make up a well-known person, you do not have to imagine an appearance for him or her, therefore the struggle when books are made into movies does not apply here. Everyone already knows exactly what their idol looks like. You might not know your idol’s personality, but there is always a general view about him or her, which can form a base to the person in the fan-fiction.

Even though a layered character is crucial to fiction-writing, even if we possess a lot of information about them, one can be a bad writer. Here comes the thing: talent. I have read fan-fictions that were poorly written, did not have any details, contained only dialogues and nevertheless received a lot of attention. I have also read works of art, very well written plots with three-dimensional characters with flaws and failings, that received less attention and feedback than they deserved. However, others might think differently about the writing that I have read or written. It all comes down to taste, and taste can determine a lot.

Some are interested in romantic fan-fiction, others in sexual or disturbing ones. For the reason that there are no rules, no restrictions and plenty of platforms to put your work on, one can find fan-fiction about anything. If your first encounter with fan-fiction was disturbing, you might think fan-fictions in general are like that. As I said before, they are not. It depends on where you look and what you are looking for. It can serve for many purposes, but generally, it is there for enjoyment.

To repeat my title, it is not just a crazy obsession. One can write without being obsessed, merely for his or her own enjoyment. Moreover, how is this non-violent, creative expression of one’s admiration for something thought of as crazy, embarrassing, even childish, when grown men at football games start fire, damage their environment and hurt each other? To conclude this article, it is safe to say that fan-fiction is not the craziest obsession out there. It can be weird, yes, but in the end, we are all just independent artists, trying to partially turn our imagination into reality.

On the Paris attacks and its aftermath

By Hendrik Jaschob

 “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” (Nelson Mandela)

Last Friday, Paris experienced a horrible night full of hatred. The city of lights suffered from a terrible attack that cost the lives of dozens of innocent people. The shocking strategy behind the violence still holds our breaths. Several strikes took place at the same time in the city centre and close to the football stadium Stade de France where the French national team once became world champion in 1998. On Friday, 80.000 people came to enjoy the game of their team against the current world cup winner Germany. The sheer idea that the attackers could have entered the stadium to commit suicide bombing in front of millions of television viewers cannot be put in words.

How to respond?

We cannot understand how much cruelty can be within a person to do such an act of terror. It is safe to say that Europe is under shock. Therefore, we have to ask ourselves how we respond to these horrific events. For example, Francois Hollande used a terminology of war in his speech in order to fight terrorists and the Islamic State (IS) in specific which declared to have accomplished these attacks in Paris. Last weekend, hence, the first air strikes were carried out against the IS in Syria. The events of Friday were also followed by raids and actions of police forces against a possible network of the extreme Islamist scene in France, Belgium, Germany, etc.  Marine Le Pen and the Front National gave another speech full of rejection and disgust against terrorists, refugees, and the idea of multicultural society. Refugees have immediately become a target again by right-wing movements. At this very moment, we have to be aware that the political reaction after 9/11 was similar. In 2001, this led us to the wars in Afghanistan and later in Iraq which also cost a hundred of thousands innocent lives. With the recent history of air strikes in mind, it shows that no one can guarantee that these air strikes do not hit a hospital, wedding celebration or children playing football.

Light or Darkness?

However, Martin Luther King once said that darkness could not drive out darkness, only light could do that. Furthermore, he believed that hate could not drive out hate, only love could. So, do we respond with hatred or with love and solidarity? These attacks pertain to our idea of freedom that connects people irrespective of skin colour, religion, or background. Thus, we should not support another war that will cause even more pain and suffering. We also should not let it happen that our idea of freedom and a multicultural society will be torn apart neither by radical Islamists nor by right-wing groups in Europe. It is a value that needs to be treasured.

From Pain to Love

Last Friday caused so many tears of people who lost a mother, father, daughter, son, uncle, aunt, or friend. Out of this pain, however, there are stories that are tearful in a positive way. For example, a man who lost his wife and love of his life answered in an open Facebook message to the terrorists with the following words: “Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.”

            While honouring the people who died on Friday, another man explains his anxious son that he has no reason to be afraid, despite their guns. He tells his little son that we have flowers to fight the mean people. After he answers his son question with a nodding yes whether the flowers and candles could protect us, the boy starts smiling again. These examples show that such a crime is an act against humanity – no matter where it happens. The Arabic world is plagued by such events, as we see by the suicide attack in Beirut on Thursday night – just one night before the attack in Paris took place. Let us remind the dreadful terrorist attacks in Kenya in April this year when 150 young students were killed. This phenomenon is a global issue. We should embrace people who flee because of these reasons or these people who organize such attacks. Closing borders cannot be a solution. People who condemn an entire religion should bear one last fact in mind: It was a Muslim man who prevented one of the terrorist to enter the stadium and thus saved thousands of lives.

Quo vadis Europe? – The refugee crisis as pull test for the EU

By Leon Heckmann

The refugee crisis is certainly the most pressing issue currently for the European Union and Europe in general. As the civil war in Syria continues with tremendous brutality and multiple fighting parties involved, millions of refugees from the Middle East make their way to Europe, with thousands still arriving on the borders of the EU every single day. The crisis has long turned into a humanitarian catastrophe of unprecedented scale, as images of overloaded boats packed with refugees in the Mediterranean and dead bodies of children on Turkish beaches shocked the world. Some analysts even speak of a new Völkerwanderung, in light of the fact that more than four million Syrians have fled their home country according to UNHCR reports. Politically, the continuous inflow of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East but also from Africa and the Balkan region painfully revealed how unprepared the EU’s asylum and migration policy was to a crisis of such a large scale. The current system, based on the Dublin III-regulation, has de facto collapsed. For many it seems that the EU has lost control over the situation, as a consequence of which some Member States have returned to nationalistic policies of isolation and blame-shifting. With Hungary setting up fences to close off its borders and several other Member States temporarily reintroducing border controls, core achievements of the EU, such as the free movement in the Schengen-area, are concretely endangered.  In addition, the crisis has revealed how fragile the ties of European solidarity and fundamental values become when sensitive national interests are concerned. In fact, EU solidarity as a whole is at stake and the Union faces one of its greatest challenges ever.

Fall-back into nationalistic policies of isolation and closed borders: Fence at the Hungarian border
Fall-back into nationalistic policies of isolation and closed borders: Fence at the Hungarian border

To illuminate and debate this topic from different perspectives, UNSA Maastricht, ESA Concordantia and Studium Generale recently hosted a panel debate on the European refugee crisis in the Dominicanen Bookshop in Maastricht. Dr. Ammar Abo Hamida, a Syrian refugee from Aleppo, introduced the discussion by telling his story. Thirty-six years old, he had a highly qualified job as an internist at the University hospital of Aleppo, where he also obtained his education and PhD degree. But when the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, it soon became clear to him that staying in Syria was not an option. In 2012 finally, he decided to take the most dangerous route to Europe: via the Mediterranean. He made it and eventually arrived in the Netherlands, however leaving his wife and children back in Syria as he considered it too dangerous for them to come with him. From his first-hand experience, he pointed out one of the major weaknesses of the European asylum system: The lengthiness of asylum procedures, during which refugees are not allowed to work. In practice, highly qualified people like Dr. Hamida are doomed to wait until their application for asylum is completed. This normally takes at least six months, in some European countries even distinctly longer.

Professor Leo Lucassen, Research Director at the International Institute for Social History of Leiden University, pointed out in the debate that “this constitutes a severe waste of human capital.” He also drew parallels to the refugee crisis in the 1990’s, when Europe faced even larger numbers of migrants as a consequence of the Yugoslavian wars. Germany successfully managed to integrate a total of more than 4.2 million Aussiedler from Russia and former Yugoslavia throughout the 1990’s, a fact which led Professor Lucassen to conclude that “the current crisis is not something we cannot deal with – we already managed in the 1990’s”. Correspondingly, he accused the Dutch government of having intentionally wasted the human capital of refugees in the 1990’s by making procedures lengthy and consciously introducing obstacles to integration, the underlying reasoning being to discourage further refugees from coming to Europe by not creating incentives for them to do so. Professor Lucassen remarked that, from a rational cost-benefit point of view, “this policy is stupid – even if you hate refugees”. Even worse, he pointed to current policies of some EU member states that seem to follow the same rationale: an example being the planned “transit zones” at the German-Austrian border, which made “absolutely no sense from an economic perspective”. On the contrary, Professor Lucassen argued that mass migration could indeed in the long run be mutually beneficial and economically profitable for the European countries, particularly in light of the fact that many EU Member States struggle with declining population numbers and shortages of skilled labor – including Hungary, which currently conducts one of the most isolationist migration policies in the EU. The prerequisite to allow migration to be profitable, however, is for governments of the Member States to invest in integration measures and to actually welcome the refugees as chances, not burdens, for their country.

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So, what conclusions are to be drawn for the EU from the current situation? First of all, it is more than obvious that the EU migration and asylum policy system need to be vastly overhauled, and that such reforms must be concluded quickly. We need binding quotas to allow for a fair and reasonable distribution of asylum-seeking refugees on all 28 Member States of the European Union. It is absolutely unacceptable and incompatible with the basic idea of EU solidarity that some few Member States carry the burden of registering and accommodating the masses of refugees currently arriving in Europe on their own, while the Eastern members of the EU in particular neglect their responsibility and isolate themselves. EU membership implies not only benefits, but also the duty to tackle Union-wide issues such as the refugee crisis. Secondly, all Member States need to reduce bureaucracy in order to speed up the processing of asylum applications and allow for the integration of refugees. This includes in particular the granting of highly qualified migrants, such as Dr. Hamida, faster admission to the job market, as well as integrating young and unskilled refugees into education and training as soon as possible. These are necessary preconditions to allow integration to be successful. Correspondingly, Member States must abandon asylum policies based on deterrent and isolation. These nationalistic policies are no longer feasible in our globalized world of the 21st century and are absolutely incompatible with the concept of open borders and right of free movement which lay at the very core of the European Union.

Finally, policy makers but also we as European citizens need to constantly remember that the people currently coming to us from the Middle East are first and foremost humans, each of whom has a very personal story to tell. Nobody leaves his homeland for no reason, and fleeing from a civil war in a country where the government is bombing its own people is probably the most comprehensive and human reaction whatsoever. Dr. Ammar Abo Hamida, the internist from Aleppo, is despite all the problems and deficiencies happy about having made it to Europe safely, where we all have the privilege of living in peace and security. He concluded the debate in the Dominicanen Bookshop with the following: “I am very grateful for everyone who creates a space a hope and light in this world of darkness.”

Procrastination, Life is Your Creation

By Marie-Isabel Theuwis

Students are known to be experts in avoiding to face the huge amount of studying to be done. The past exam weeks have been a true breeding ground for the most inventive procrastination tricks. I have exposed different types of procrastinators through self-examination and examination of fellow students. YouTube Procrastinators, Gaming Procrastinators, Cleaning Procrastinators, TV-Series Procrastinators, Social Procrastinators and Facebook Procrastinators. Many types are yet to be discovered.

Out of my own research and field-experience I thus came to an alarming conclusion: procrastination hunts many of us, and we do not realise its effects. A lot of time and energy which can be spent on other activities is prasted (wasted through procrastination). Nevertheless, few attention has yet been paid to the problem. Therefore, today I want to bravely beat the evil together with you, dear readers/fellow procrastinators.

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Eye-opening facts on procrastination

According to the American Psychological Association, 80 to 95 percent of students procrastinate when it comes down to work for university. Especially present times are heaven to procrastinators. We are only a mouse-click away from websites which grant us relief from concentration and frustration. Movies and TV-series are easily accessible, and even the library is well-suited for procrastinators. Many people to stare at, and if that’s not enough, Internet provides us with funny videos to watch. There might be some friends whom you take a break with, which often results in a one hour lasting conversation on how much studying there is to be done and how difficult that is. Not ideal.

The psychology behind procrastination

It sounds like procrastination is a natural outcome of the circumstances we as students live in. Scaling down the problem will thus be a hard job, but not impossible. We have to reveal the roots of the problem; why we have the uncontrollable need to postpone.

Researchers claim that different reasons lay behind procrastination. One reason is the threat that the student is going to be evaluated on his work, which causes anxiety. Students connect their self-image to the evaluation and escape the anxiety unconsciously through suspending the task and distracting themselves. Another reason is that some students fear that success may raise other’s expectations of them. They escape possible future pressure through procrastination, says Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD in psychology at Carleton University. A last reason is that students believe to perform best under pressure. This has however never been proved by experimental data, suggests professor in psychology Joseph Ferrari, PhD at DePaul University. “Students seem to remember the one time that maybe waiting until the last minute did pay off with a good grade, but they forget the other nine times when it didn’t,” Ferrari says.

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So, what to do about it?

Dr. Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, has a three-step approach to save our vulnerable souls from the evils of procrastination. The first step is to diminish temptation in your environment. You can for example make a “work” space, separated from the space where you relax. When having a break you leave the “work” space and enter the “relax” space. It will afterwards be easier for your brain to switch off the “relax” mood once it recognises the “work” space. The same goes for your laptop. Separate the “relax” websites from the “work” websites, by for example creating a profile only for studying, or by using Internet blocking apps like Cold Turkey.

The second step is to restrict your study time. Tell yourself beforehand to study non-stop for 30 minutes. You will be astonished by how productive you are during those 30 minutes, knowing that you’ll soon enjoy a break.

The last step is actually a piece of advice: don’t be too strict on yourself! A recent study by the University of Carleton has shown that when you forgive yourself for procrastinating, you will be less likely to procrastinate as intensively the next time.

To conclude, I hope more students (including me) will be able to resist most future temptations to procrastinate (and there will certainly be!). And if you, despite intense dedication to the aforementioned tips, have a moment of weakness, think about Amit Abraham’s wise words: “Procrastination is also a subtle act of corruption – it corrupts valuable time”.

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Playing the people’s game on the Mediterranean

By James Mackle

There is always a sense of excitement the news junkie feels when gazing at electoral euphoria in the Mediterranean. Something about the chants, the heaving masses and the armada of flags reminds us of the time politics was not such a dirty game, only more dangerous. Electoral euphoria in the Lowlands consists of suited spin doctors nodding in satisfaction in darkened rooms. The politicians themselves usually appear less confident, as even if they have won they realise how quickly a coalition between the losers could leave them in the political wilderness.

There was something deeply disturbing about recent electoral and referenda exercises in Greece and Catalonia though. Here was supposedly unified popular will under the unlikely hero, Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, rejecting redundant eurocratic austerity with massive ‘Oxi’ (“No!”) banners behind him.

Mass demonstration of support for the ‘No’ vote in Greece’s referendum on the austerity measures imposed by the European leadership
Mass demonstration of support for the ‘No’ vote in Greece’s referendum on the austerity measures imposed by the European leadership

On the other side of the Mediterranean, a few months later, another referendum was being exercised, in the form of a regional election. Indeed, Artur Mas, Catalonia’s Minister-President, had handed in his resignation to force the Catalan people to the ballot box. By allying with fellow separatists and forming a joint list (Junts pel si – Together for Yes), he had hoped that this should give their list enough votes to be able to declare Catalonia unilaterally independent. Sure enough, Catalonia’s highest turnout since the fall of Franco’s dictatorship gave his list a majority with fellow separatists CUP.

One has seen many point to the outcomes of popular expression, deploring the unfair nature of the treatment of Greece after their popular consultation, or the ongoing tough stance of Manuel Rajoy, Spain’s conservative and fiercely uninteresting Prime Minister, who is ready to continue to ignore Catalan demands for autonomy. However, both popular consultations were not as they seemed.

If we are to believe Greece’s now ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Tsipras knew a referendum would not help his negotiating stance. This was meant as a political stunt of the finest execution. By creating a Yes/No referendum on the EU memorandum, and positioning both his party and his unpopular ultra-nationalist partners, ANEL, on the No side, he created a clear dichotomy from those who stood up for Greece’s immediate national interests, and those who were to be labelled as establishment stooges of the Troika, Merkel and the suits of Brussels. No surprises then, when Tsipras predictably collapsed his tower of anti-austerian values, following the realisation that creditors usually decide what you get to do with their money. He would still re-emerge as the only credible voice in a new general election that hit the final nail in the coffin of Greece’s old establishment parties. He even managed to rid himself of the noisy left-wing of his party, presenting themselves under a new electoral banner. They failed to meet the electoral threshold.

Tsipras celebrated his re-election with unpopular coalition partner, Panos Kammenos of the Independent Greeks
Tsipras celebrated his re-election with unpopular coalition partner, Panos Kammenos of the Independent Greeks

In Catalonia, masterful politicking was also at work. Artur Mas, Catalonia’s Minister-President and leader of the Convergencia party, had ditched his centrist liberal cartel partners for current coalition mistress Esquerra Republicana (Republican Left). The two hegemonic powers of Catalan politics entered government promising to overturn “Castilian austerity”, only to lay waste to hundreds of public sector jobs in Catalonia. At the same time, they were still presiding over a dangerous increase in Catalan public debt that would leave an independent nation in ruins before it could even stand up.

Yet their decision to merge into one list for a regional election, in order to present it as a unilateral ‘Yes’ to independence, ultimately paid off. The waves of displays and mass demonstrations of Catalan nationalism and popular unity were tapped into. These popular demonstrations are rarely seen in other separatist regions of Europe, including Scotland, Flanders and Northern Italian nationalism. Mas and Esquerra remained in power after the vote, while losing the overall popular vote. This ultimately avoided the headache of unilateral independence for them. Catalans woke up with a hangover, to find that their vote for change had put the same faces in power with the same problems for 4 more years.

Catalonia has organised countless demonstrations expressing national identity above all else, contrary to similar separatist movements.
Catalonia has organised countless demonstrations expressing national identity above all else, contrary to similar separatist movements.

The only political actor who had the cojones to denounce this stunt was the fresh-faced Ines Arramalda. Despite tripling her anti-separatist party’s, Ciudadanos, electoral score, she called for new regional elections, with proper debate over the actual competences the regional government already exercises. No doubt there was also some form of long-term political conspiring behind her decision, with her party rising nation-wide. Ciudadanos is positioning itself firmly as the “No” to independence movements that still carries political weight all over the Iberian country. With a general election called for the 20th of December, Ciudadanos had showed up the traditional bipartismo (two party, centre-left-centre-right system) of Castilian politics, leaving Rajoy’s Partido Popular and the PSOE whistling in the Mediterranean wind with scarce seats to celebrate in Catalonia. If this translates itself nationally, Christmas won’t be a happy one for the two heavyweights of Spanish politics.

If we are to end this bipartismo, which was a phenomenon not just in Spain, not just in Greece, but all over Europe throughout the 90s and 2000s, is it really through the same false dichotomies and amalgamations seen in these referenda? Amalgamations, of course, related to deep rooted and sensitive political issues. Tsipras and the ‘No’ camp were accused of being pro-Russian and betraying ‘European’ values by their detractors. Those in favour of the memorandum were caricatured as Nazi collaborators, who lacked patriotic values or a supporter of international capital. In Spain, parties like Ciudadanos who think of post-nationalism, are put on the same level as Franco and the Falangist Right by Catalanists. Those talking of furthering Catalan autonomy were dismissed as traitors to Spanish solidarity, despite deep social reforms accompanying their programmes for independence. Trenches once abandoned are merely dug up again, and sections of society are now even further than each other than ever in these countries.

For all the euphoria then, the stunts have not resulted in national unity, in discourse or democratic debate, only in exposing new divisions in their societies. These new societal fault lines are more relevant and closer to the average person’s politics, compared to the various strands of liberalism bipartismo currently offers. But the only thing that remained constant was the same expected result, and the same faces in power. So before you go out to acclaim the latest politician’s victory, maybe ask yourself why he or she sent you to the ballot box in the first place.

Of Bears and Breakdowns

By Marie Peffenköver

Stress is one of the most commonly used words of the last years. Everyone knows it, the feeling of not being able to see the wood for the trees anymore, headaches, tiredness. And not only students feel like this. I know six-year olds who already suffer from insomnia or tinnitus. While on the one hand our living situations are way better than those of our parents or grand-parents, I often have the feeling that life is deprived of its quality. Nadine Burke Harris, one of the leading health experts in the US, once gave an example that I find quite fitting. Just consider what she says:

Imagine you walk through a forest. The sun is shining, the weather is great. Suddenly, you hear a sound and turn around. A bear is standing there, watching you with small yellow eyes. Your instincts tell you: danger! And then something happens to your brain which might decide over survival and death. After your brain has processed the signal of immediate danger, the hormone gland hypothalamus starts working. It sends chemical messengers through your body which accelerate your breath, contract your pupils and circulate adrenaline through your body.

So, now you’re prepared to either fight (which might not be a good idea) or run. In any case, you are ready. And if you ever participated in a sports competition, spoke in front of a lot of people or if you are nervous before an exam, you know this feeling. But now imagine you have to face this situation every day. You cannot escape. And no matter whether you’re doing good or bad, you have to come back. And suddenly, this life-saving mechanism makes you sick. This is actually how a lot of students feel right now. You always need to be better, strive higher, work harder, to be professional, reliable and well-prepared.

According to a study by the Huffington Post and the University of Cleveland, about 85% of students suffer from stress. 42% of them even show signs of a severe depression.
According to a study by the Huffington Post and the University of Cleveland, about 85% of students suffer from stress. 42% of them even show signs of a severe depression.

We are living in a world of superlatives. And it demands its price. I don’t know if you ever noticed it, but taking a look around in the lecture hall, the library or your tutorial session, you can always see a lot of students who are biting their fingernails, scratching their wrist or chin or are chewing on a strand of hair. A lot of people have sleeping problems; they either sleep too little or too much. Pretty much everyone is concerned. Yet no one talks about it. Why not?

I have given a lot of thoughts to that. Most importantly is the fact that in most professions, weakness is not allowed anymore. Those of you who are studying law, politics, economics or management are certainly hoping to get a well-paid job one time, a big car, a house. And who doesn’t? The problem is that if you want to enter today’s labour market, you have to constantly prove yourself.

Did you ever write a letter of motivation? Or did you ever have an interview for an internship, a job or a scholarship? No matter for what, when and how, we are weighed, measured and might be found wanting. True, this has never been different and you will always face such situations. But it has become harder. The World Wide Web, free movement, globalisation – if a firm is not satisfied with you, it can technically look all over the world to find a more suitable candidate. To be heard, you have to be louder than others – and often, this makes you hoarse.

A job interview: One of the situations where you need to stand out of the crowd
A job interview: One of the situations where you need to stand out of the crowd

Let’s come back to the example with the bear. A bit of stress is okay. It is even healthy. Whether you are facing a bear or an exam, as soon as your body starts pumping adrenaline through your bloodstream, you are concentrated. But too much of the good can be a curse as well. Studying, writing papers, reading texts, preparing for debates, maybe being committed to a social project, leisure, sports – if you face that bear every day, you either have to beat it or be beaten yourself.

Some people succeed in this better than others. Currently, psychologists have developed the terms “burnout generation” and “millennium burnout” for young people between fifteen and thirty to thirty-five years. According to research by the Huffington Post, about half of young adults in their twenties show first signs of this stress disorder. It is true that burnout has become a bit of a trend disease nowadays. But even if only a half of this estimated number really burns out in the next years, these statistics are quite shocking as this would mean that a quarter of our society gets sick from the expectations imposed upon them.

So, who then is to blame? Well, I don’t know. Maybe the big evil Globalisation (this always works pretty well in sociology courses). Maybe the Economy. Or maybe our Society from which we have to hide failures. Maybe all three together. Be that as it may, we have to put up with it. This finding is definitely not mind-blowing, but it might help you to take things a bit easier. I just think what we often tend to forget is that life is more than work.

It’s not all about grades. Sometimes, you just have to think of yourself first.
It’s not all about grades. Sometimes, you just have to think of yourself first.

My Earring of Change

By Jack Tomlin

I was lying in bed several days ago and I realized I had an earring. Of course, I do not mean realize in the sense that the earring’s existence had never occurred to me before, and now comes as a great shock. But, more that I do not ever question its existence. A small ball of metal next to my neck (it’s a little strange). In that way, it is a part of me that I accept. However, it’s not really a part of me. About 8 years ago, a very nice lady in a pharmacy stuck it in.

It got me thinking about how other people perceived the earring. What does it tell them about me? Does it give rise to certain expectations? By unconsciously keeping the earring in, I shape these perceptions. To take it out would be to change the way people see me (to a certain extent). I found myself struck by the urge to do just that though. Take it out and flick the damn thing down the drain.

This idea of individual change, and especially control over that change, got me thinking about how we grow, develop, evolve and how different types of change shapes us.

There are two types of change in our lives. Those changes that happen gradually with the passing of time and those brought about by action. Passive and active change. An example of active change would be the decision made to uproot and study in a new country, or it may also be to accompany a friend to a bar you’ve never been to before. Passive change would be the accumulation of knowledge one gains from studying abroad leading to a new perspective on the world, or an increased openness to trying new bars around your city.

I wonder if these are measurable. If one type is better, or more valuable than the other. As University students in continental Europe, especially at internationally-oriented Maastricht, active change is inevitable. Students have made the active decision to relocate, to take up a course of study, to take a further semester abroad – all with the knowledge it lasts only for the duration of the degree(s). After this, jobs, internships, old countries etc. take over consideration and we start again.

It is exciting and challenging. But on the other hand leaves one longing for some stability. Active change following years of passive change can help us to see the world differently, meet new people, but it can also be tiring and uncertain. To start life again, break ties and question and doubt decisions made.

Periods of passive change following active change can bring deeper relationships, greater focus, a sense of belonging and identity. Which is great. But it can leave little space for reflection and fewer points of comparison when thinking about how you want to live your life, the person you want to be, or the people you want to be with.

Belonging to the group mentioned above, active change has, and will be, a big part of my life for some time yet. And for some of the reasons listed, that’s good and bad. It’s a balance. A balance within itself, but also with passive change. For me at least, life cannot be just constant active change, or constant passive change. I am neither the world-traveller, nor the life-long city socialite.

Break ties – to form new ones. Maybe there is less time to reflect – but more to reflect upon. Gain new perspectives on the world – to apply to your old life. Keep the earring in – to balance all the change.

When you just want to go one day without hearing the “c” word

Dutch Citizens Taking the Climate Change Challenge to the Next Step

By Maddy Simpkins

Leading a secure, comfortable life is quite simple to achieve here in The Netherlands. Whether you’re a student or a long-term resident, it’s apparent that the country is more than capable of supporting our unique lifestyles effortlessly. And with a national infrastructure so sound, we’re surely protected from abrupt, life-threatening problems, right?

Well, one foundation in The Netherlands disagrees. The Urgenda Foundation first called upon the Dutch government back in 2012, asking them to take more significant measures to solve the climate crisis. Following this letter to the state officials, 900 citizens could file themselves as co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit to follow. On 14 April, 2015 the Hague-based district court opened its doors to hear these unprecedented arguments by citizens in a judicial setting. Urgenda Foundation’s Climate Case recently sparked controversy because it is the first case in Europe in which citizens are attempting to prosecute the government for their inaction. The Climate Case demands an upheaval of national climate policy, requesting from the state three central commitments:

“1. To declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide 2. To declare that the Dutch State is acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to prevent a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius 3. To order the Dutch State to drastically reduce Dutch CO2 emissions even before 2020, to the level that has been determined by scientists to be in line with less than 2 degrees Celsius of global warming, that is, to reduce Dutch emissions by 2020 below 1990 levels.” (Urgenda.nl/en/climate-case)

The concept of the two degree buffer which marks the dangerous climate change threshold was initially acknowledged during the UNFCCC 2009 held in Copenhagen. Since then, global emissions have been steadily rising and will continue to do so in the coming years. If emission reduction is not taken more seriously, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports, there will be a number of detrimental expenses including but not limited; to the obstruction of ecosystem adaptation, global food production will be threatened, and developing countries may not be able to progress sustainably. 

The Netherlands is a forward-thinking nation and has already invested millions in clean, renewable energy sources. Its people also swear by countless sustainable practises other countries might look to adopt, such as the cycling movement, solar-powered bike paths, and eco-effective buildings. However, The Netherlands’ global warming contribution is immense, with carbon dioxide emissions per capita ranking the highest in the world. But like most industrialized nations, when corporations gain government-granted authority over the air, water, and soil, carbon dioxide emissions soar as a result. There is reason to believe The Netherlands’ environmental protection policy is insufficient to prevent dangerous climate change. Already, climate change has posed a threat to The Netherlands – various negative effects can be observed from coastal flooding to rising temperatures and an overall decline in biodiversity. However unfortunately, the scope of issues this country and many others are yet to face is fully reprehensible.


If we can learn one thing from the Dutch citizens united with Urgenda, it’s that failure is no longer an option. If implementing limitations on our governments with judiciary intervention in order to avert climate change is our last resort, then we must dare to accept the challenge.

Behind the scenes of EuroMUN

By Marta Ziosi

As the blue headline on the EuroMUN site suggests, just 5 days and few hours separate us from the start of the largest Model UN conference in Continental Europe. The following days will present us with councils entangled in discussing the World’s current ‘hot topics’ in heated debates. Candidates from all over Europe will engage in a quest for real-world solutions surrounding the main theme of ‘Restoring Stability, Pursuing Peace, Security and Human Rights’.

During the day, the participants will be found in their formal clothes dealing with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the delicate situation in Ukraine or the Civil War in Syria, while during the night they will set their ‘Party Animal’ spirit free at the various social programs. However, a successful conference is not solely about the outcome, and what most of us is going to experience is merely the tip of the ice-berg.

Indeed, an enthusiastic team of young people has been relentlessly working behind the scenes for the past few months with the aim of assuring a thoroughly smooth and successful conference. We, the Press Team, decided to give a voice to the actors behind the scenes and, in order to know more, we decided to interview the very director of this spectacular conference; namely Aletta Buhler, the Secretary-General of EuroMUN.

Aletta Bühler
Aletta Bühler

Aletta is a current student in Maastricht University, focusing her interdisciplinary studies on International Relations, Development and Business. What distinguishes her from a normal student is her strong ambition and passion, the two main factors that have drawn her into taking up the Model United Nations challenge. Aletta has been extremely busy lately and she kindly invites us to conduct the interview in her office, what has lately become her new house. We are first curious to know the general guidelines surrounding her task.

First of all, she is in charge of coordinating all the various sub-teams and committees organizing the conference. Second, her position dominates all the other tasks, leading her to hold important responsibilities. ‘What is the main challenge?’ we enquire. The key-word is prioritising. Indeed, coordination is nothing without a pondered selection of hierarchical tasks. Moreover, Aletta reminds us about the difficulties in merging a whole range of different personalities working together.

‘How would you describe yourself?’ Aletta is proud to be a perfectionist and she reveals to us her main expectation for the conference. She yearns for every participant to be happy and content. ‘Chaos is expected’ she announces, ‘but I won’t let it show!’. Every big event has a potential for tension and the unforeseen waits behind the corner. However, Aletta and the team are ready to skilfully tackle them.

A life motto seems to have guided her so far, ‘Laughter translates into every language’. The application of this thought to the preparation of the conference is a really interesting one. The EuroMUN team is extremely diverse and international, the days before the conference are marked by long meetings, and misunderstandings may leave room for tension. Nevertheless, Aletta reveals to us that many apparent situations of tension within meetings have been resolved by sudden outbursts and crying of laughter. In the end, the time has come to get back to work and we ask our Secretary-General to leave a message for all the participants, ‘Show your diversity and let this be what brings you together’. Could a better message suit the utterly diverse and comprehensive nature of an MUN? We bet not.

Lastly, we want to wish best of luck to Aletta and the whole EuroMUN team. As far as the Press Team knows, they are all extremely good dancers besides beings organizers and they will delight us with extraordinary dance moves at every social event. Thus, a lot of fun is expected. Now, the only missing ingredient is you, the future participant reading this article. The conference awaits you to finally come to life!

Living the busy life

By Marta Ziosi

The more valuable something becomes, the scarcer it seems. The utility of leisure time is an emerging topic in our society and it is of overall importance. Technological development along with a greater accessibility to a range of different goods and services in developed countries provides people with the ability to appease their everyday-desires instantaneously. Even though this on-going process may stream into a positive tendency to reach satisfaction, it concurrently breeds impatience.

Our belief in multi-tasking abilities perpetrates the wrong conviction that free-time’s existence is solely justified by our duty to fill it with not one, but several activities. The pervasive nature of this thought fostered the idea that even what we consume or enjoy in our daily life should be invested with a utility function. Even though time seems not to have given credit to the famous prediction issued by J.M Keynes in 1930, stating that two generations after his, people would work around 3 hours a day and mostly by choice, the developed world has witnessed an increasing tendency towards less hours of work per week. The average leisure time has been rising since 1965 both in America and Europe, for men as well as for women.

Busy life2

Consequently, a question naturally arises; why is everyone so busy? An answer might be found in our societal set-up.  Indeed, Individualistic cultures inflict the wrong idea about leisure and people are lured to value success over affiliation. As economic prosperity escalates, the sensation of time-richness decreases. Already back in 1965, the economist Gary Becker dealt with the definition of ‘leisure’ as the assimilation of ‘productive’ consumption. He was utterly fascinated by the rising ability of people to effectively combine the use of time and material goods to produce leisure. Promptly, the economists’ pervasive grip covered the World of education.

Indeed, the educating process has started paradoxically been looked upon as an activity which prevents students from producing goods rather than an investment in future human capital. As a consequence, quarterly and trimester systems were unhesitatingly introduced. Inadvertently, students were burdened with a pressing urge to economize on their time and were compelled to prematurely value free-time in terms of utility. Thus, a time-is-money ethos has become thoroughly accepted as it conquered the previously unblemished world of education. Nowadays, current students feel the urge not only to invest their time in a part-time job, but especially to dedicate a significant part of it to activities which will be part of their CVs. Furthermore, even just the choice of University is depicted like an imminent quest for the highest future return in terms of job revenue instead than an enriching experience.

Busy life

The problem does not lie in a lack of leisure time but, conversely, in the way we make use of it. Until going out for a peaceful walk, wondering about the future in front of a sunset or taking an afternoon nap will be considered to be procrastinating activities, people will keep on picturing their busy schedule as the norm or, even worse, as the right thing. Therefore, this week between exams, papers and tutorials take a moment for reflection and invest on a surely valuable thing: yourself.

My World in 2015 – the end of the MDGs as a chance for future-development?

By Jana Echterhoff

Whether it is the eradication of extreme hunger and poverty, the promotion of universal primary education or the development of global partnership for development – the topics which the Millennium Development Goals from 2000 sought to address seem incredibly striking. Eight of them were conducted in that year in order to improve living standards in developing countries. The final year for the implementation of the set goals? The current one – 2015. The success-rates for fulfilling those goals? Rather limited, as last it was pointed out in last week’s lecture on the MDGs by Martina Kühner.

How is that possible though? Once they were set up, the emphasis was put on “only” eight goals in particular, because it seemed so difficult for the UN to establish more actually achievable goals. The emphasis was, thus, put on the following agenda as this picture shows.

MDGs

There are several striking factors about these eight goals, as it was pointed out in last week’s lecture. The first one is, as the audience agreed upon, that there are quite a lot of goals missing. The argument that a higher number and more ambitious aims could not be fulfilled seemed convincing, however. The expectations on in how far the world-community managed to step towards a complete achievement were comparably high. If there are not that many subjects to deal with, those subjects deserve a sufficient and thorough implementation!

When the UN decided upon the 2000 MDGs, they set some benchmarks – limits and numbers that were supposed to be reached. Some are self-speaking such as universal primary education or global partnership on development. Others deserve some explanation. For the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, the goal was, for instance, to halve the population of people living of an average below $1 per day. Moreover, child mortality was supposed to be reduced by two thirds.

Last Tuesday, Martina Kühner analysed which of these goals were actually achieved. Officially, it looks a bit like a semi-success-story. With 90%, almost every child enjoys primary education nowadays. Moreover, halving the amount of people living of an average below $1 per day was achieved as well as global partnership. What looks amazing in the first place requires a closer look. As the lecturer pointed out, an analysis of how it works behind the scenes is essential here. Yes, the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger was officially reached.

The question is, how this took place. First of all, the UN changed the initial indicators of the year 2000 in between, since they already figured out that they could not achieve it within the old framework. That is pretty disillusioning already, since they simply made it easier for themselves. Moreover, this eradication was implemented with setting up huge plantations, centrally established. The Millennium Development Goals are, however, actually meant to work in the long-run. Sustainability was part of the eight goals for a reason. How can plantations that ruin local business be sustainable though? Concerning universal primary education, a number of 90% is impressive. Still – the question of access does not automatically respond to the question of quality. And even if that is something for future-development, the other side of the coin is the high drop-out rate after finishing primary education. Doubts, thus, inevitably come up when it comes to the analysis how successful the achievement of the MDGs is.

Poverty

That it would be difficult to achieve a set of highly intertwined and deeply rooted problems was apparent from the beginning on. Martina Kühner then asked the audience to bring up the main problems that contributed to this “almost failure” of the MDGs, which it, according to quite a broad consensus of the people, certainly is. Without any prioritisation regarding the importance, hence a list of some ideas from the audience is presented.

  1.  First, those agreements were not binding and no measurements on how to implement them were introduced.  This is problematic, since most of the countries concerned do not have a government that could sufficiently address these issues on their own.
  2. Second, there was the financial crisis in 2008 that led to a focus-shift. The developed, industrial countries that were supposed to help the developing ones did not do so – simply because they were busy with their own problems. Still – that a country like Germany did not give the required amount of 0.8% of their national income to the fund concerned with the MDG-implementation but 0.38% instead seems like there is no real excuse for it.
  3. Third, the set of goals themselves was too broad and already pretty ambitious. From this perspective, the things that were achieved are a success already. Nonetheless, questions as of why they would set up goals that are not focussed enough and way too ambitious does not seem reasonable.
  4. Fourth, the problems behind the MDGs were tackled from a top-down rather than a bottom-up approach. The heads of state and government sat down and decided upon the MDGs. The heads of state and government/NGOs decided to build plantations to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty. The heads of state and government decided to build more schools. What about the population, however? What about deeply rooted problems such as crusted, traditional ways of thinking according to which girls are simply not supposed to go to school? Even if the people are forced to change things from top, the general outcome won’t be successful in the long-run, since the roots of the problems are not tackled.

This very small collection of arguments as of why the MDGs failed leads towards the next, final question: how can these problems be improved in the future? At the end of this year, it is likely that new goals will be set up. What to learn from the mistakes made in the past? The Sustainable Development Goals – first brought up in 2012 during the Rio 20+ conference and then finalised in 2014 – shall serve as a basis for a new set of Development Goals this year.

They, first of all, contain 17 instead of only eight goals. They, second, also apply to developed countries so that those have an incentive to actually work on a draft that seems achievable and applicable from a wider perspective. Finally, amongst many other ideas, the UN decided to start campaigning and asking people for their opinion on what should be included. The My World 2015 survey gives everyone the opportunity to set an agenda of six main-goals that should be prioritised. The degree to which the UN will take that into account is not clear. Nonetheless, the hopes that this year will see a major push towards global cooperation to achieve efficient development are certainly present. Let’s see where 2015 leads us to!

ScotMUN 2015: small committees, big debates and even more fun

By Jana Echterhoff

There are those cities which are simply amazing. You already know that this place is supposed to be incredibly beautiful even before you go there. Paris would be one of it, for example. Or New York. Then there are cities where you got to out of a particular reason – either because your friends ask you to or because there is a trip planned. That was how ScotMUN 2015 in Edinburgh looked like for me. UNSA is going to the MUN there? Sure, better join because it is probably going to be worth it! It didn’t take me long to realise how much worth it this trip would be. To summarise it within one sentence:

Edinburgh is incredibly beautiful and if you go there with 40 people from Maastricht, it makes it even more beautiful!

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After HamMUN last December and the upcoming EuroMUN-experience, ScotMUN was the second out of three MUNs which UNSA attended with a delegation consisting out of more than 40 people. This time, the conference itself took place from Friday until Sunday of which the sessions itself occupied Saturday and Sunday. Since leaving Maastricht’s student-life behind for a bit was pretty appealing to quite some of the delegation, most UNSA-members arrived earlier already though. I was part of the group which took the plane from Charleroi to Edinburgh on Wednesday evening. This offered the opportunity to spend the whole Thursday and almost the whole Friday with sight-seeing.

Even if the purpose of the whole trip was the Model United Nations, connecting the two activities was the best thing to do. On Thursday morning, we were so lucky to actually enjoy Scottish sun at the see-side. Eating Scones in a lovely “Beach Café” with a sea-breeze accompanying it seemed almost too good to be true. Afterwards, a visit of “Calton Hill”, which offered a breath-taking overview of the whole city, and a visit of the Scottish Parliament even increased the feeling of actually being on short vacation. For those that stayed in the same hostel in Edinburgh’s city-centre, the brilliant idea to cook all-together for around 20 people rounded the day up in a perfect manner.

SDC10142

Friday then saw a continuity of some sight-seeing as well as the start of the conference. In the morning, a visit of the castle – either from the inside or only from the outside – or a trip to Arthur’s Hill made UNSA-people enjoy more of the Scottish experience. In the afternoon, the conference itself finally started. Even if the opening-ceremony itself didn’t offer any further insights yet, the following evening certainly did! The so-called “formal” in the Balmoral Hotel not only made us enjoy a three-course dinner and actually get to know to our committees. It also consisted of a Scottish “Ceilidh”, a very typical dance. If you don’t know where to think of – try to picture hundreds of people dancing in pairs or in groups of pairs to traditional Scottish music. What sounds a bit weird in the first place turned out to be more than just great fun. Location, music and the people – all these things taken together made this night an amazing one.

Until this point, the formal sessions didn’t even start yet. The short amount of only four sessions then led to more intense debates, however. Whether it was the World Water Forum, UN Women or Crisis, every single committee had at least one UNSA-member in it. Topic-wise, there was a variety ranging from debates about Caesar or Piracy over fighting terrorism up to equal rights of women. Especially the latter was a quite suitably chosen topic, since March 8 was international women’s day. Which day would be better to actually discuss about equal economic opportunities for women or a review on the Millennium Development Goals on education with a focus on women? Small committees, big debates – this was the slogan with which ScotMUN promoted its conference. Even if the sessions itself were rather short, the debates were indeed intense and the committee-sizes were comparably small as well. Moreover, the range of international students was impressive as well. Apart from large delegations from Greece, the English Universities were represented by international exchange-students in particular. The MUN-experience was, thus, fully ensured.

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This applied to the social programme as well: Saturday night was dedicated to a club night in Edinburgh’s centre. Before, the idea to cook for the UNSA-delegation in the hostel again was clearly welcomed. I must say that I never expected that Risotto for 20 people could actually work. It did, however. And so did the night. It was a certainly a good evening to celebrate with the delegation as well as the committees. Unfortunately, this evening was also the last one in Scotland for quite some people from Maastricht. Whereas some stayed until Monday and went for some Karaoke after the closing-ceremony, others took the plane back already. And even if I was part of a group of nine people that had to sleep over at Amsterdam-Schiphol since we missed the last train due to a plane-delay, this trip was still an amazing experience! Last but not least, the successes UNSA-members could gain are more than worth mentioning: with two honourable mentions and two distinguished delegate awards, we could leave Scotland all-satisfied!

A Game of Chicken: Greece and Germany

By Alexander Holst

In game theory, the game of chicken requires two players. In one version of the game, each player drives a motorbike on a straight collision course with one another. The player who evades first and avoids a crash loses. The one avoiding the crash is called a chicken. The key to win the game is to convince your opponent that you will not budge in the face of the imminent crash, so that she better do so herself.

Last month, Greece and Germany played a political game of chicken. Greece lost. Crash avoided.

Four weeks ago, general elections in Greece resulted in huge victory for the Syriza party. Having narrowly missed an absolute majority, Syriza created a coalition government with the recently formed ANEL party. The two coalition partners are divided on most policy issues. Syriza, considered to represent most of the Greek radical left, wants to extend the welfare state and implement direct democratic measures on all level of government. ANEL includes strong nationalist forces, wants to reduce immigration and strengthen the role of the Christian-Orthodox Church. But there is one issue which brought these two parties together: Ending fiscal austerity.

Since the first bail-out package in 2010, Greek’s public creditors have demanded structural reform of the tax code, labor market reform and severe spending cuts in exchange for partial debt-forgiveness and cheap loans. Since Greece was not deemed creditworthy by private capital markets, the public bailouts by other Eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund were Greece’s only option to avoid outright default.

During the election campaign, Syriza had vowed to roll back the painful fiscal austerity measures. But fiscal austerity was the pre-condition under which reluctant creditors, Germany chief among them, agreed to back additional loans. In February, just days after the new government was formed, Greece informed its creditors that it will fulfil its promise to end austerity. Furthermore, Greece would rather give up the Euro currency than agreeing to further austerity. In advance of subsequent official talks, the German government responded by declaring that any future loan agreement hinges on Greeks willingness to implement austerity measures. The motorbikes were in position. Game on.

Neither Greece nor Germany wanted the crash: Greece leaving the Eurozone. The simple reason why Greece backed down in the end is that it had much more to lose. Sure, Germany has a strong interest in keeping Greece inside. Greece’s exit would maybe destroy confidence in Europe and jeopardize what little economic growth the EU can muster right now. Also, the political signal of a Eurozone break-up would strike a blow to Germany’s ambitions of further European integration. But from the perspective of domestic politics, allowing Greece to end austerity while continue to finance its debt would be electoral suicide for any German government. German public opinion overwhelmingly favors harsh fiscal discipline in Greece.

In contrast to that, the consequences of a Eurozone exit would have been disastrous for Greeks themselves. The new currency replacing the Euro would quickly lose its value, leading to citizens rushing to empty their banking accounts. Subsequently, the banking system would collapse and many other companies would need to default too. Politically, Syriza’s record of standing firm in face of foreign creditors would pale against the role of overseeing the largest economic downturn in years. Greece simply had much more to lose than Germany. In face of this, Greece wisely backed down.

But the crash may just be delayed. The new agreement under which Greece grudgingly accepted austerity measures extends the flow of money for only four months. The players are probably already working on their strategy.

Death of Individuality and Birth of the Individual

By Jack Tomlin

The West doesn’t value individuality. Not really. It likes it to the extent that a small group of idols/characters/politicians can exist and provide the majority with something unique to observe, but not participate in. You are permitted a few weird years of anxiety and hormone-induced individuality from 13-18, and that’s your lot.

What the West does value, is the individual. It wants people who can work by themselves, do what they are told, travel freely for work and adapt to organizational structures. Children are encouraged to leave home after school to pursue their own ends. Families are kept at a small and manageable size of 3-5 persons.

But why is this so?

Books dedicated to this question warrant libraries of their own, and a small blog post can add little… But, let me highlight three crucial factors from which I think a favouring of the individual can be traced.

Enlightenment/humanist thinkers advocate the unlimited potential of the human mind. From Newton conceiving of a world dictated by physical laws beyond any divine doing, to Leonardo da Vinci’s extensive anatomical studies and the philosophers of the French Revolution, the idea of change at the human hand has remained with us. As put by Jean-Paul Sartre, “Life has no meaning a priori… It is up to you to give it a meaning, and value is nothing but the meaning that you choose.” Pressure is therefore place upon the individual to design his life and achieve his own.

The secularisation of many Western states, in large part due to enlightenment thinking, shook the moral foundation upon which communities were structured. It was no longer the role of the state to communicate what, when and how one should act, if wishing to be an ethical human being. The nation state shifted from an Aristotelian one, wherein the notion of the ‘good life’ was provided and individuals’ rights were grounded around this, to a Kantian one, where the right to decide one’s own ‘good life’ comes before any prior conception of the ‘good’. Choosing what you consider to be the right thing, however, is rarely an easy task, and leaves many people constantly questioning themselves.

Finally, we have the Industrial Revolution. One of the most theatrically illustrative examples of the will of the human being. If man wants to conquer nature, he can cultivate it, destroy it, manipulate it, harness it, reconstruct it, transform it. But to do so requires labour. An awful lot of standardized labour. Ever since Adam Smith proposed that a division of labour when manufacturing pins would increase production from the dozens to the tens of thousands, much work, in factories, Universities, government institutions, has been compartmentalized. People become good at one thing, and one thing alone.

How do these three factors, leading to a love of the individual, affect us today?

The ‘American Dream’ typifies the notion that anyone can do anything. In a fully meritocratic society, where everyone has a fair shot, this sounds great. However, in reality, not everyone is given equality of means or opportunity. Some are born poor, with disabilities or are isolated. These inequalities understandably create frustration and anger. Robert Merton called this, ‘strain’. Strain refers to an individual’s inability to achieve societal goals of success, wealth and power, and how he negatively reacts to this. Strain theory, though old, is one of the prevailing sociological theories used to explain criminal behaviour…

Secularisation lead to scientific advances unimaginable to a pre-enlightened world. But it now leaves little room for religious discourse. This is not an issue in a state with a single and small religious population, but when varied religious groups interact, as in most developed countries, it can lead to rejection and a clash of ideologies. Everyday it seems, disenfranchised youth set out to join extremist groups, out of reactionary frustration and revenge. Look at Mohammed Emwazi, a British computer studies graduate, now the acclaimed executioner on numerous IS snuff videos.

Finally, a labour force that is divided by skill sets needs training. You can divide the manufacturing process of pin-making, but the workers need to know their individual tasks well. Education therefore plays a large role in shaping an effective division of labour. This means institutions of higher education aim to produce ‘professionals’, and shy away from liberal arts or holistic teaching approaches. Students enter the labour market with narrow expertise and the few relevant options accompanying that. Individuals are deprived the support they need to grow and learn as humans should.

Well, that all sounds pretty negative. And it is. I do not deny the benefits that have come with enlightenment, secularization and specialized work forces, but I think it is important to consider some of the root causes of the issues we face today and to constantly question the value to social development.

We are now, more than ever, a society of individuals.

Carnival: a stage for all

By Kiersten Meehan

Carnival is many things to a wide variety of people. For some, it is a historical festival deeply rooted in religious tradition, often tied to the beginning of Lent. For others, it is a unique opportunity to take its Latin meaning “farewell to flesh” quite literally and temporarily abandoned social norms and standards, while taking on a new identity through use of costume and masquerade. Most, however, simply view the whole ordeal as a street celebration in which heavy drinking, ridiculousness and fun are boundless.

For me, Carnival appears to be an artistic venture. Though, initially, I was admittedly unqualified to make this claim, seeing that I had no experience with Carnival nor with art.

For the first time, however, Marres House of Contemporary Culture sent a performance art exhibition to participate in Maastricht’s Carnival and I volunteered to be apart of it. The director of Marres, Valentijn Byvanck, claimed that the institution truthfully enjoys stepping out of the house to showcase work, as he believes it is important and mutually beneficial for both the town and the artists to bring art and design out into their local fabric. Nevertheless, the distinctions between society and high art often inhibited Marres of ever participating in Carnival previously. Artists felt that such a context might deride their work and some locals perceived the idea as meddling with traditions. Thus, there appeared to be hesitation from both sides.

Mette Sterre was one of the artists whose work was showcased in the festival’s parade. The piece, titled Hummelmania, featured myself and four others dressed in suits and rubber heads, which served as a critique of office culture.

Carnival

After two days of extensive practice, our ‘Hummelmanian’ clan marched down to the parade’s start. Flamboyant shades of yellow, green and red wildly colored the buildings, while outrageously dressed people danced to folk music booming in the streets. It was like the whole town had gone mad.

Following the parade, we took on the town and were welcomed warmly as we danced amongst the live bands and performed various skits. One woman approached me and said, “This is beautiful. Thank you for doing this with us.” It was then I realized it wasn’t solely us performing but rather the entire town collectively creating a unique atmosphere, which permitted anyone to play and act just as we were.

Though I did not have any initial expectations, I came out of it all with some rather definitive conclusions. Creative expression in any form is important. Whether that be art, cultural traditions or perhaps even writing, being able to pause for a moment and project your imagination is invaluable. However, due to the constraints of day-to-day life, it is also unfortunately a rare prospect. Carnival is one of the sole phenomena I have stumbled upon that effectively breaks these social barriers. All were welcome to join in the madness, though, truthfully, celebrating our creativity shouldn’t be seen as madness but rather as necessary.

Its necessity was verified in the cheerful grins and ceaseless laughter I found at each street corner. Everyone looked so genuinely happy with one another, taking immense pride in not only their own intricately detailed costumes but in each and everyone’s artistic ingenuity as well. The town became a theatrical stage open to receive and showcase all. Thus, Carnival might be many things but to me, its art and the best I’ve seen yet.

Misconception Series: Why Liberal Arts & Sciences deserve to be taken seriously

By Gesine Höltmann

When naming my field of study to people who are not familiar with the concept of a “Liberal Arts” education, I constantly find myself in front of a skeptical audience. When applying for a job or graduate studies, Liberal Arts students are often met with the same puzzlement. What the field needs is a thorough introduction as well as more publicity, to provide it with more credibility in society and make it sound less like “Arts” + “do whatever you want”.

Originally a predominantly American concept, US colleges ensure that undergraduate students choose a variety of subjects in college before declaring a major and pursuing more specialized studies at graduate level. The more recent movement in Europe however, mainly concentrated in the Netherlands and a few British universities, refocuses on the education of ‘global citizens’ by setting certain education requirements and core courses that constitute a perception of what is regarded as ‘necessary knowledge’ and convey the tools that any student should take from higher education across all disciplines. Some even see in it a return to what universities were originally meant to instill: “Universities are not a place of professional education. Their object is not to make skillful lawyers, physicians or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings” (Mill).

While this perspective on the meaning of a university education may be regarded as rather elitist, the European university landscape is changing to adapt to the needs of an increasingly volatile job market. In Europe, critical voices call for increasing interdisciplinarity and wariness of premature overspecialization. In Maastricht, one already finds features of interdisciplinarity and broad curricula, not only at the Liberal Arts college, but in all social science bachelors, giving traditional fields of study a broader outlook geared towards European or international applicability.

Liberal Arts itself revolves around a philosophy of life-long learning, of exploring many academic interests and not leaving them behind at the doorstep to higher education. It is inherently interdisciplinary and encourages students to look at their field of study from various perspectives, while giving them the power to determine what their field of study should actually encompass. Such freedom on the level of curriculum formation is rare in the age of standardized bachelor programs, where critics bemoan the evolution of ‘Group Think’ amongst students, and their willingness to “jump through all the right hoops” (Herzog, FAZ, 2015).

The criticism of academic “hoop jumping” in the US is currently led by Yale professor William Deresiewicz, who makes the bold statement that preset academic pathways and the lack of general education turned his students into ‘excellent sheep’, unable to determine their own values. His answer? A return to the original purpose of universities, namely to forge widely educated, well-rounded citizens, who can actively contribute to the overall development of their society. When synthesizing the aims of Liberal Arts, one finds just the following: the aim of educating the ‘whole person’, forging responsible citizens or “capable and cultivated human beings” (Van der Wende).

Is Liberal Arts the ultimate form of higher education that should replace the current structure of European undergraduate education? No! But it is the dominant form of education reform that answers to the increasing need for interdisciplinarity and diverse backgrounds required for the flexibility and volatility of today’s job market, next to the creation of interdisciplinary bachelor programs. As accessibility of university education in Europe increases and the number of students considering higher education grows, Liberal Arts offers an alternative to the rigidity of many of the conventional studies. Last but not least, Liberal Arts is an attempt to answer the question of what distinguishes universities from other institutions of professional training, and in that sense, a Liberal Arts element can easily be included in all forms of bachelor programs.

We are part of history-making! – Are we?

By Jana Echterhoff

History is boring, who cares about what happened hundreds of years ago? That is an opinion which quite some people would probably support straight ahead. That it can be a bit abstract sometimes to talk about how the Romans laid the foundation for this and that future-development can hardly be denied. There is another thing about history, however. It helps to explain why we are at that point where we are right now. Political science from a historical perspective, if you want to say so. From this viewpoint, we are part of history-making as well. The Ukraine-Russian crisis, Charlie Hebdo, IS-terror – a hundred years from now, students will probably sit there and read about it.

It feels a bit weird if you think about it thoroughly. Isn’t it our daily business? And who determines which events will have a long-lasting impact and whose will be forgotten? Questions over questions arise if this cake is once cut. Maybe there are that many of them, because this development is something we can hardly influence. For most events, there might be a slight feeling which makes people grasp the immense scope of what has just happened. The fall of the Berlin Wall is, for instance, an event where 90 percent of all Germans know where they have been when it happened. Nobody knew about the influence it actually had yet, but it is simply too big to not feel anything. For younger people, 9/11 in a negative sense is probably such a crucial moment. I still remember six-year-old me walking to school with friends and talking about those towers which collapsed the day before.

These moments make people feel that something “historical” just happened. How much this particular event will influence the world’s story-book is mostly undetermined at the time itself. Nowadays, the Munich Security Conference is just over. Merkel and Hollande, moreover, visited the Ukraine and Russia. Where people are waiting for now is whether people stick to the plans on which several heads of state decided on. The outcome? Undetermined yet. The influence of these events? It clearly depends on how the future decides to evolve. If there is going to be peace in Ukraine soon, our grand-children might have to study the “2015 Minsk Peace-Settlement”. If not – well, maybe there will be some future-conference which impacts the developments to a higher extent.

The question of what moments will become historical ones and which won’t is something that depends on so many factors that we cannot even grasp the scope of maybe important watersheds at the moment where they take place. The Helsinki Accords of 1975 were, for example, not regarded as too successful after having been conducted. As time went on, however, it became clearer and clearer that exactly these Accords were a crucial document for the slowly fading Eastern bloc. In contrast, many people thought that the Arab Spring was likely to stand for blossoming democracy in the Middle East in the future. Nobody could foresee the uncertain development of this region, nobody had an idea that it is IS-terror that determines the media-image of that region nowadays.

We are living in eventful times. Which of the multiple things happening in the world will impact the storyline of our world is not clear yet. There is only one thing of which we can be sure – the story will continue. Maybe we are part of historical moments, maybe there will be even more important events that overshadow today’s political developments. Nobody knows. This is, nevertheless, what makes politics and history interesting. For people that used to live hundreds of years ago, it was probably unthinkable that the small protest they started would be an important subject to study for their ancestors. Maybe the next “small” thing that happens will be historical soon. Who knows?

A costly opinion

By Sebastian Preuss

Last week Standard & Poor’s (S&P), one of the largest credit rating agencies worldwide, entered into a settlement with the US Department of Justice, agreeing to pay roughly $1.3 billion to end a lawsuit over fallacious ratings issued prior to the Financial Crisis of 2007. Although S&P explicitly denied any wrongdoings in connection with their rating practices, this settlement might nonetheless set an example.

Credit rating agencies like S&P, which controls around 40% of the credit rating market, traditionally provide information on the credit worthiness of countries, governments and large corporations. During the early 2000s, they also started to issue ratings for so called structured finance products, which pooled several assets to form a new class of securities. Most of these structured products received very favorable ratings although the underlying assets were all but riskless. During the 2007 crisis, these papers suffered severe losses, despite their rating as practically safe. In the aftermath, investors turned to the rating agencies that had issued these ratings for compensation. Indeed, several cases where investors sued for damages have been ended through settlements. How is this one different then?

S&P was the first rating agency being sued by the US Department of Justice, involving not only damages but also fraud charges. With the settlement of last week, the stage is set for the other big players, Moody’s and Fitch, which together with S&P accumulate a market share of just above 95%. At this point, Moody’s is under investigation, with experts suspecting similar allegations as in the case of S&P. The Department of Justice’s attention is not unsubstantiated, as it is widely assumed that it was in fact the rating agencies’ practice of inflating credit ratings for structured products that fueled the US housing bubble, eventually leading to the financial crisis. With the menace of fraud charges, this practice might be put to an end.

Generally speaking, rating agencies claim that their ratings merely express opinions, which provides a powerful protection against most allegations. The charges for fraud against S&P were based on e-mail conversations between employees, implying that their ratings for mortgage backed securities were simply too good to be true.  Statements like this open a new way for prosecutors: If ratings are not independent and objective, S&P might well be guilty of fraud.

However, the settlement was agreed upon without admission of guilt, which implies that S&P still can deny any fraudulent behavior of management or employees. Despite the magnitude of the deal, which wipes out a year’s profit for S&P’s parent company McGraw Hill Financial, the message would have been even clearer with a plea of guilt. Indeed, some regard this deal as a setback on the way to meaningful reforms in the industry. So far, ratings are ordered and paid for by the party issuing the securities in question, which creates a strong bias towards favorable ratings. What is more, the rating agencies were usually involved in the structuring of products they rated. The resulting conflict of interest is now being questions by investors and regulators alike.

“Resolution Revolution” – Revitalize your take on goal-setting

By Maddy Simpkins

We’ve finally made it through the first month of a new year. I find there to be nothing worse than starting out the New Year with no goals, too many goals, or no way of achieving them. Most often, people make annual commitments to improving their own health and fitness, setting budgets and saving money, goals for family and intimate relationships, accelerating career and business ventures or last but not least, the goal to travel more (Statistic Brain). Sometimes ‘overwhelming’ is the best term to describe the prospect of a new year, with all types of opportunities and possibilities laid out before us like a steep mountainous incline. Perched high on the peaks of that mountain are our dreams, goals, and wishes for a successful year. Each conscious step and each passing day brings us closer to the summit or contrastingly, regrettably lost, misled, or fallen‐ behind. For some of us, this business of resolution‐making is uncharted territory. Regardless, completing these rigid commitments for the New Year can feel like quite the undertaking.

In fact, when we relate this analogy to results from University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology, 49% of resolution‐makers experience infrequent success at achieving self‐ made goals. Additional data from the study reveals 71% of resolution‐ makers actively work towards their New Years’ goals for the first two weeks. Later found in the study, for many this hopeful change is soon cast away, as the period following brings a state of idleness and stagnation where little‐to‐no goal completing progress is made. (Hello, laziness!) Is it then possible that we set ourselves up for failure without any consideration? This subliminal and counteractive ambivalence is perhaps a psychological commonality amongst us. In only a matter of weeks or months, as many of us can find from our own experiences, it’s as if our source of dedication ceases to exist. If there is one shared characteristic throughout each person’s treacherous climb to self‐improvement, it is our downfall and our constant source of agony. Its name is Self-Doubt.

This phenomenon is not uncommon amongst us fellow earthlings. It wages a war inside us all, wishes to send us plummeting to the canyon when we’re just moments from reaching our destination. For years, I always thought it had something to do with the ‘winter blues’. But I eventually realized, that the loss of my determination was not due to the weather, but due to something ingrained into my being. That voice at the back of your skull which dissuades your drive and dampens your spirits; that Self Doubt saboteur, is omnipresent but ever more daunting when it knows there’s something larger at stake ‐ your New Years’ resolutions!

“I can’t meet my goal weight because [insert excuse here]” or “It’s pointless for me to keep trying this new method when the old one works just fine” or “OK I give in.” The past few weeks of January, you may have heard variations of these phrases tossed between fitness centre to work station to social gathering. Self-Doubt’s powers are adverse and detrimental to our vitality and self‐ confidence. It is common for Self Doubt to talk down to us, to tell us that we are not enough. But we are more than enough.

What, then, can be our solution? The plan for reconstructing our faded‐out objectives and abandoned ambitions and banishing that beast for good?

I recently read a thought‐provoking quote from writer Joanna Macy that helped me to understand how stressing over the end result of goal‐ setting ultimately teaches us nothing:

“We must learn the hardest and most rewarding of lessons: how to make friends with uncertainty; how to pour your whole passion into a project when you can’t be sure it’s going to work. How to free yourself from dependence on seeing the results of your actions. These learnings are crucial, for living systems are ever unfolding in new patterns and connections. There is no point from which to foresee with clarity the possibilities to emerge under future conditions.”

What I took from this is a concept I’d like to share with you. We don’t need to strive or expel effort for empty resolutions that only last a couple of weeks (at best). Life‐learning doesn’t require start dates or ultimatums, motivational coaches or dealing with commitment issues. We must resolve for different things, realistic things, attainable things. Everyday things. Resolve to make an effort to get to know your neighbour. Resolve to be more available when your friends or colleagues need an extra hand. Resolve to strengthen and deepen current relationships. Resolve to become familiar with the history of the spaces you occupy. Take initiative to make worthwhile interactions with strangers. Take a moment out of each day to reflect upon the things in life you are grateful for. Practise mindfulness. Of course these are simply suggestions, but the point being ‐ let yourself go from the ball‐ and‐chain of conventional result‐ based, time‐structured resolutions and spread your ambitions far into the universe.

With these new, meaningful resolutions you can make a clear, loud message to your own worst enemy. Self-Doubt will have no choice but to tremble with defeat, and at last you can be free to hope, dream and achieve whatever your heart desires. The best way to show yourself promise is to trust in yourself. Ready, set, goal!

Would You Confess to a Crime You Didn’t Commit?

By Jack Tomlin

You’re crossing the city square. Wearing a red jacket. You’re with friends. You hear screams and gunshots erupting beside you. Turning, you see men running out from a bank with heavy sports bags. In a moment of madness, distorted reality, you find yourself entangled with one of the robbers also wearing a red jacket. Your friends flee in panic. The robber pushes you to the ground and knocks you unconscious. When you come to, you find yourself surrounded by police, asking you questions. Distressed and anxious, your answers seem messy and farcical. Nonsensical. Next, you’re being escorted to the police station as a suspect of the robbery. An eyewitness identified you as the robber wearing a red jacket.

Sitting in an empty interrogation room, save for a table and two chairs, you restlessly struggle with the lunacy of your circumstances and cling to faith. Faith that the truth will out, and with it, your innocence.

Reading this, you may think a pardon and release would be inevitable. You’d be surprised. Not only are innocent people incarcerated with daunting frequency, but many result from people falsely confessing to crimes they did not commit.

The Innocence Project in the U.S has secured the release of over 320 innocent individuals wrongly convicted of crimes. They estimate around 30% of wrongful convictions result from a false confession. In a study of juveniles in 7 European countries, Gudjonsson et al. found that of all individuals interrogated by police, 14% admitted to falsely confessing to a crime. People with mental illnesses are especially susceptible with a 2009 study by Redlich et al. concluding that of 1,249 offenders, 22% had falsely confessed.

So much for young people and those with mental illnesses, but what about less vulnerable groups? Surely you wouldn’t confess to a crime you never committed?

In a laboratory-study conducted in Maastricht, undergraduate students participated in an experiment using computers, wherein they were explicitly told not to touch a particular faulty ‘Windows’ key, or all the data from the experiment would be lost. During the test, the computer crashed and the examiner asserted they ‘saw’ the participant hit the forbidden key. They asked the undergrad to sign a ‘confession’ to the action, if they didn’t, the examiner left and returned after five minutes and asked again. Under these plausible and low-consequential circumstances, Horselenberg et al. found that 77% of participants signed the document. No one touched the forbidden key.

So, how do false confessions occur? When one isn’t voluntarily falsely confessing to save face in a gang, or protect a loved one, it comes down to two main factors. An individual’s unique vulnerability (as above) and coercive police tactics. Police use maximization tactics, such as shouting, accusing the individual of more than he is suspected of, make him seem morally reprehensible or present false evidence. Conversely, minimization tactics offering deals, empathizing with the suspect and dismissing the seriousness of the charge, in effort to decrease the anxiety associated with confessing and increase the anxiety associated with denying.

These tactics combined with a lack of sleep, food, communication with lawyers and family, lead suspects to comply and confess, wishing to leave the interrogation and go home, or to actually come to believe in their guilt.

How do we stop this? It is impossible to ascertain the total number of those wrongfully convicted through false confession and total cessation is therefore unrealistic. However, the number of wrongfully convicted can be significantly reduced by video-taping police interrogations, asking courts to review them, assessing the vulnerabilities of suspects prior to questioning, providing adequate adult supervision for juveniles and the mentally ill, and mandating the attendance of lawyers.

If you ever find yourself being questioned by police for something you didn’t do, keep quiet, ask for food and water, demand sleep and contact with a lawyer and your family.

And throw out that red jacket.

Please like and subscribe: is the YouTube business model sustainable?

By Renn Karageorgieva

There are about 100 hours of video content being uploaded to YouTube every minute – from educational videos to gameplay walkthroughs, from high-tech reviews to clips of failed proposals. Being a creator on the video platform is becoming more and more common, and for some talented and lucky people, it has become a full-time job. But is it a good idea to rely on YouTube for a living as it becomes a more prominent part of our everyday lives? Is YouTube a good place to build a business today?
When the website’s revenue-sharing model was introduced in 2007, and perfected in 2012, making money on YouTube was as easy as clicking on the ‘monetize’ button next to your video. As long as you had a couple thousand viewers, you had a guaranteed amount of money coming in and as your brand and popularity grew, so would your viewcount and, consequently, your income. 2011/2012, gave birth to a lot of Internet celebrities, some of which have since made a successful transition to traditional media: Grace Helbig is getting her own television show on a major American network, Phillip DeFranco has created his own company funded by the Discovery Channel, and John Green of the Vlogbrothers is a best-selling author with a blockbuster movie based on one of his books, with another one coming to theaters soon.
But all these people are so successful because, while they got started on YouTube and gained most of their popularity there, they are building a business outside of their channel. This is mainly because earning money solely from the content that you’re creating on the website is getting more and more difficult since the market is becoming increasingly saturated. In short, viewership is growing, but revenue isn’t – on the contrary, creators are earning less and less as more competitors enter the market.
Another reason for the change is the decreased cost paid by advertisers for their ads. According to Adweek, the average cost of a 30 second pre-roll is currently $7.60 per 1000 views – almost a third less than two years ago. And even if a youtuber does put an ad like this to run before their video, they would only receive this money if the viewer watches the entire ad and doesn’t click on the Skip Ad button. This makes for a very flawed and inefficient financing model as it is based on the traditional notion of television ads that you have to sit through to get to your desired content.
YouTube is still enormously successful for a company that has existed for 10 years – according to eMarketer, it earns an estimated 21% of all video ad revenues in the US and earned $5.6 billion in gross revenue worldwide last year. But if the video hosting platform wants to grow and expand, it needs an approach towards its content contributors and advertisers that fits the needs and the behavior of its target demographics. According to YouTube Analytics, 56% of its viewers are between the ages of 13 and 24; these are young people with short attention spans that will skip an advertisement if they can, and will not watch their chosen content at all if they cannot – just because, in most cases, they won’t feel like waiting.
As for the creators on YouTube, there is no guaranteed way to gain a wider audience other than consistency and quality content. Maybe the best option is to start building you brand on your channel and branching out from there; use your audience to gain support for your other projects and not as an automatic income source. Film a movie, write a book, organize an event, build a community outside of your channel. The best way to stay relevant in a medium that is literally constantly changing is to change and evolve with it.

DIMUN: A Full Day of Diplomacy

By Jana Echterhoff and Alessandra Goio

Maastricht in the light of a Model United Nations (MUN) – this is something which usually just happens once a year. EuroMUN is probably THE event that MUN-advocates connect to Maastricht. Last Saturday, there was already the possibility to have a slight idea of how EuroMUN 2015 might look like. It was about time for the Dutch Invitational Model United Nation (DIMUN) to give people an impression and some practice before actually getting started.

Two committees, four delegations and one day of intensive debating. That is how last Saturday’s MUN was structured. For which purpose? As it was originally set up, this MUN serves to prepare students for HarvardMUN in Boston. For quite a few of the present delegations, this also applied this time. “It is my first MUN and it’s really interesting to see how things are progressing”, says Kyra from Leiden. For most people from her delegation, there is a trip to Boston waiting next month. For Maastricht’s participants, this was only a preparation for ScotMUN in March and, of course, EuroMUN. The importance of the latter was especially apparent at DIMUN. “It is great to practice the practicalities before the actual conference takes place”, concludes Aletta, this year’s Secretary General of EuroMUN and head of this year’s DIMUN organisation-team. The crisis-committee with its staff could, for example, see how well they work together.

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The delegates were mainly students from several Dutch Universities, such as Maastricht, Leiden, Utrecht and Amsterdam. For them, it is a precious opportunity to take on the role of diplomats by representing a country and by trying to negotiate agreements over many different topics. According to them, it is a unique occasion to experience the world of international relations and world affairs, as students are required to prepare in advance. In fact, they not only have to accumulate knowledge about their specific country, but they should also adopt the viewpoints of the country’s official stakeholders.

Although preparation will require a lot of time, eventually people realise that it is totally worth it. Indeed, when it comes to practice, students are enthusiastic, proactive and ready to become negotiators for one day. “I really enjoy this day of negotiations”, mentions Raphael from Maastricht, “it is great to talk to the other delegations!” Most of the participants do not believe that they could be the next generation of diplomats – too much competition in the world of diplomacy. Nonetheless, even with no big projects in mind, there was still the broad consensus that taking part in MUN is extremely useful to develop skills, which they’re going to use in the future. For instance, they get used to holding public speeches, becoming familiar with working in a team, and most importantly, they learn to bear responsibilities. At the end of the day, both delegates and organisers could only come to a more than positive conclusion. “It is always great to see the biggest Dutch MUN-associations coming together”, concludes Constanze, Head of Delegation in Maastricht.

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In this sense, an MUN is an overarching experience, since it allows people to come into contact with a lot of useful skills and to understand nowadays’ world, but at the same time, it is a pleasant experience and the perfect environment to meet new friends. Are you curious about this and would like to get involved? Do not forget that you still have the chance to apply for the 8th edition of EuroMUN, the largest United Nations simulation in continental Europe! It is going to take place from April 29 till May 3. Every year, it gathers more than 550 students from around the world and it takes place in Maastricht!

2014 – A Year in Review

By The Diplomat Team

We’re about to bid farewell to a whirlwind of a time. It does not matter whether we talk about the Olympic Games in Sochi, Ebola, or EuroMUN – 2014 was a pretty multifaceted year. Wars and crisis had quite some challenges ready for the world, but outstanding events such as the Football World Cup in Brazil this summer spread enthusiasm amongst all the people. Therefore, the Diplomat team wants to review 2014 in its own way. As an international hub of its own, Maastricht sees the world through a kaleidoscope of filters – thanks to the influence of many colorful perspectives. Through the course of 2014, we are confident that our blog divulged in a diverse medley of relevant, of-the-moment, yet still prevailing topics. Following this, you can find each month’s catchiest slogans from our Blog as we reflect back on a year to remember. Enjoy!

January 2014:
Maastricht’s Diplomat team delved deep into the turmoil unfolding in Ukraine. With many citizens across the nation and in capital city Kyiv publicly calling for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych, the democracy of Ukraine careened into a deep freeze as icy as the winter they braced. On January 16th, 2014 the majority of Parliament favored the law that would make protest activity illegal, “These laws were voted in an unconstitutional manner, that is, without any discussion and by
simple hand-voting of the majority in the Parliament, and later signed by the President” (The Diplomat’s Ievgen Bilyk, January 23rd 2014). It was a frigid time for these protestors whose near-constant presence in the streets and Independence Square displayed extreme dauntlessness despite riot police shooting, striking, and injuring citizens; and detaining activists and demonstrators who violated any of the governments newly imposed Orwellian orders. Looking forward into days to come, Ukraine faces even more problems – however with a greater emphasis on Russian intervention versus early 2014’s internal disputes.
We are able to witness, as many different hands overplay their power on Ukraine, the country’s infrastructure is becoming unsettled. Thus, there is a deeper issue impending for Ukraine’s future. As Anatol Lieven of BBC News quotes, “On the one hand, the West is clearly not prepared to make the economic sacrifices necessary to support the Ukrainian economy in the face of Russian hostility. On the other, the existing conflict in Ukraine makes it impossible for any Ukrainian government to conduct the kind of economic and political reforms on which the EU is insisting, and on which Ukrainian progress towards the West depends.” The seemingly obvious solution, as Lieven later states, is the neutralization of Ukraine. Russia and the West will both formally have to abandon the hopes to bring Ukraine into a Russian-led bloc; and the possibility of bringing Ukraine into NATO, respectively. Only then, will a clear resolution be achieved.

january

February 2014:
Though press regarding the 2014 Sochi Olympics heavily focused on the intense competition, glimmering medals and impressive performances, UNSA’s Diplomat gave us a unique view at Russia’s political injustice happening behind the scenes.
It is argued, however, that Russia’s corrupt policy behavior is relatively of the norm and Sochi just finally thrust it under the limelight. “As the high-speed downhill drama of the Winter Olympic Games wraps up in Sochi, one issue has faded from public view amid the spectacle: Russia’s corrosive culture of corruption…
Now those issues have disappeared. That is a shame because corruption has far more to say about Russia’s troubled future — and its increasingly belligerent stance toward the United States — than anything that happened in the Games, including Russia’s embarrassing hockey loss to neighboring
Finland.”

Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Sport/Pix/columnists/2014/2/7/1391795130798/stray-dogs-in-Sochi-011.jpg
Source: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Sport/Pix/columnists/2014/2/7/1391795130798/stray-dogs-in-Sochi-011.jpg

March 2014:
In March, The Diplomat reminded us of something the media had long forgotten “Fukushima on the 11th March 2011. This catastrophe happened only three years ago, even if it doesn’t seem so. And yet it feels as if it is almost ages ago – nobody talks about it anymore, especially not the media. The news lost its currency. The nuclear radiation did not.”
“In October, he (Buesseler) reported that a sample taken about 745 miles west of Vancouver, British Columbia, tested positive for Cesium 134, the so-called “fingerprint” of Fukushima because it could only have come from the plant. It also showed higher-than-background levels of Cesium 137, another Fukushima isotope that already is present in the world’s oceans from nuclear testing in the 1950s and 1960s. Last month, as more of those samples were processed, Buesseler reported that Fukushima radiation had been identified in 10 offshore samples, including one 100 miles off the coast of Eureka, Calif.” (Tracy Loew, USA Today, 11 December 2014).

Source: http://cryptome.org/eyeball/daiichi-npp2/pict62.jpg
Source: http://cryptome.org/eyeball/daiichi-npp2/pict62.jpg

April 2014:
In April, The Diplomat reminded us that slavery is still practiced today under the name of human
trafficking. “Traffickers can be anywhere, can victimize anyone, and the fight is not therefore law enforcement’s alone, but also belongs to civilians everywhere.”
July 30th, 2014, marked the first World Day against Trafficking in Persons, on which UN General-Secretary called all nations to action “to end this crime and give hope to the victims, who often live unrecognized among us.”

Source: http://goodmenproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/HUMAN-TRAFFICKING.jpg
Source:
http://goodmenproject.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/HUMAN-TRAFFICKING.jpg

May 2014:
In May, the issue of different body images was adressed.” It’s okay, cause it’s International No Diet Day – a day to remind us that there are different shapes and sizes in human bodies, no matter if day by day we are being told something different.” That was what the Diplomat had to say about it. The Huffington Post addressed the issue as follows: “Enough With the Thigh Gap! Attacking Body Image Is Not a Hobby!”

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June 2014:
If there was yet another reason to be critical of America’s ‘intervention’ in Iraq in 2003, the rise of the extremist Sunni group, ‘the Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant’ (ISIL) and its viciously effective seizure of northern Mesopotamia is the unsurpassed example yet.
Hundreds of thousands are dead, and there is a strong possibility that if ISIL manages to provoke another religious conflict, those casualties will be simply the tip of the down spiral into chaos.
New York Times from November 5: Today, roughly a third of Iraq is dotted by active battle fronts, with intense fighting and occasional Islamic State victories. But analysts also say the days of easy and rapid gains for the jihadists may be coming to a close in Iraq, as the group’s momentum appears to be stalling.

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July 2014:
The very troubled Gaza strip has been a topic covered by our writer Thomas Gidney in July. The article gives an analysis of why many European and Anglosphere countries show empathy towards the Israelis more than Palestinias, even though they suffered considerably fewer casualties and posess infinitely more firepower.
The news publications confirm that Gaza is still a topic of major concern and the dispute remains unsettled. Most recently The Guardian has published an article on an attempt of 37 Palestinianchildren to visit Israel after having lost their parents in the July-August war. Hamas authorities prevented the visit to the Jewish state.

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August 2014:

September 2014:
“Apart from the current trouble spots in Ukraine and the Middle East, there is very little else the new European Commission in Brussels is talking about.” In September, the Commission was struggling with the allocation of portfolios as there was pressure for a certain quota for women. Member States were indirectly promised should they nominate a woman they would get a more desired portfolio. The BBC confirms: “There has been intense national rivalry over the top jobs. There are seven vice-presidents for key areas such as growth, better regulation and energy. Three of the seven powerful new posts have gone to women.”
The new Commission now comprises nine women and nineteen men. Not the 50% quota promised by Schulz but still more than the initially proposed amount of six women.

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October 2014:
On the 22nd of October 2014, The Diplomat published an article about why “that Harry Potter girl” Emma Watson is exactly the right person to front the HeforShe campaign at the UN, a movement which focuses on including boys and men in the fight for gender equality.
But is feminism really an issue in 2014? Well yes, it is. In late November this year, the New York Times published an article expressing concern that Western leaders may be trading women’s rights in an attempt to achieve a peace deal with Taliban leaders.

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November 2014:
In November, the US Midterm elections caught the interest of our readers. Intellectuals and politicians across the globe are calling Obama the “shrinking president” (NYTimes.com). His own party abandoned him. Two thirds did not even vote, with the youth making up a dramatically unimpressive 13% (NBC News.com). Meanwhile, Obama would rather sit paralyzed in a gridlock than attempt to compromise. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Republicans buying support, splurging close to $2 billion and even committing supposed accounts of fraud just to ensure better footing than their opponents.
Where in this callow mess are the national goals? Political principles? Values? Surely, they are absent but the politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. Because, when you look closer, you see how similar these parties really can be. The Republican campaign heavily focused on core aspects of the liberal agenda. Republican candidate, Dan Sullivan, of Alaska, called attention to unemployment. Rob Maness, who ran in Louisiana, advocated minority rights. The list goes on. Obama also has major Republican interests in areas such as economics. He is a big supporter of the Trans-pacific and Transatlantic partnership agreements, which coincides with right-wing priorities. There is so much potential for
compatibility but no one, not even the voters, seem to want it.
The Economist also took up the issue. In the end it was a massacre. The Republicans easily gained control of the Senate in the mid-term elections, with projections showing them picking up at least six of the seats they needed, and probably more. Polling had showed that West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana were already in the bag, but other wins came thick and fast, and by wider margins of victory than had been thought. The Democrats were also defeated in Arkansas, Colorado and North Carolina, giving the Republicans their six seats. In Georgia David Perdue sailed past the 50% ne
eded to avoid a run-off and held the seat for the Republicans. Mitch McConnell, the next Senate majority leader, retained his seat in Kentucky by swatting away his Democratic challenger with a 15-point margin of victory; the polls had suggested a closer result. Elsewhere there was little comfort for the Democrats in governors’ races, with the Republicans winning close elections in Wisconsin and Florida. Our analysis of how the Republicans are likely to govern the Senate for the next two years is here.

http://newshour-tc.pbs.org/newshour/extra/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/10/vote1.png
http://newshour-tc.pbs.org/newshour/extra/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2014/10/vote1.png

December 2014:
In December, a lot of attention was directed towards the Umbrella movement in Hong Kong. The Diplomat outlined “While it is a generally accepted notion that Beijing will not allow full democratization of Hong Kong in the near future, it cannot be known to what extent it is willing to perform minor reforms or whether it will follow through on silencing the movement.” The BBC concluded that “[. . .] the umbrellas remain a potent symbol of the desire of many in this city for greater democracy, and while the protests may be over, the
fight probably is not.”

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An attempt at an utterly unbiased FAQ about the Brexit result

By James Mackle

Just about the only thing I have learned from the works of Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, once dubbed by the French as the ‘’Mr. Bean of Renaissance philosophy”, is that when a seismic event occurs, one must not descend into the binary depths of happiness or sadness. One must look past this and seek to understand.

I don’t think these words of advice would be particularly useful for David Cameron right now. After all, he understands fully well what went wrong. They will be even less comforting to the United Kingdom representatives in Brussels. They’ll be swelling the ranks of lobbyist positions to give up the insider information, in what is known as the revolving door policy in the corridors of Berlaymont. Only this time, for them, the door will stop revolving and jam to a deafening halt.

Nevertheless, a quick glance at the Facebook feed always makes the inner know-it-all of the journalist actually make use of his curiosity. While most of my entourage were pro-Remain and maybe even knew more about the effects of a Brexit than the average Brit, some of the cringe worthy posts ignore the domestic reasons for why we voted out.

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Why did we have this referendum in the first place?
Simply put, the party currently in power, the Conservative Party, has a Eurosceptic base. Because of three terms in opposition to Blairite Labour, this base was silent on the European issue that has historically divided their party, roughly among “moderates” (of which David Cameron is a member) and more radical elements of the Tory party. In 2010, for example, they agreed to shut up about Europe in order to form a coalition with the Europhiles called the Liberal Democrats.

In 2015, the Conservative Party put a referendum as one of their manifesto pledges. The moderates accepted this believing, as most people did, that another Lib Dem coalition would save them from implementing it. Instead, the Lib Dem vote vanished, the Labour opposition underperformed, but Cameron only had a 10-seat majority, enough for the fringe to demand the referendum.

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Is it all the Conservative’s fault then?
It usually is in the eyes of many a deluded folk. But the idea that the Tory party along with the far right has single-handedly voted the United Kingdom out is a fallacy. For a start, there is a sizeable chunk of Labour voters who voted out, as well as people who never voted before (turnout was higher than most elections). Add to that Wales, who have very few Tory Members of Parliament, voting in favor of leave, and that this is a one-man, one-vote system. Not constituency based.

Is it all Labour’s fault then?
This has been said by most of the Labour parliamentary members, the Conservative Party Remainers, and the LibDems, saying Labour, and in particularly Leader Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t do enough to change the mood amongst their voters in depressed former industrial zones that ultimately swung the referendum. Early polls actually suggest that the Labour vote on the issue changed little as to what was expected (something like 60-40 for Remain). Corbyn is just grossly unpopular with his colleagues off the back of a surprise victory for the radical leftist, who called himself a reluctant supporter of the EU during the campaign, and probably doesn’t care much for the EU as a whole. Most of the policies he was elected on would also be illegal under EU state aid law.

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Who is to blame then?
If you need someone to blame, you have to look geographically rather than the outdated party system, so probably provincial England. But in a 1-man, 1-vote system, the blame game is just not just ignorant but inadequate: the mentality of who or what are relative winners or losers in our society is precisely the mentality that makes the poorest in society vote out, despite absolute gains. Thus, many Scots voted in, to reaffirm their identity over some of the provincial Englanders who wanted to stick two fingers up to the London elite. These kind of reductionist proposals are what in turn feeds such a divisive, tribalistic campaign in a 1-man, 1 vote referendum. As Spinoza would say, do not look for someone to blame, dust yourself down and understand.

I see no reason to vote Out of Europe. Are the majority of Brits seeing something I am not?
No short-term, rational, cost-benefit economic or political analysis actually looked favorable to a Leave campaign. This sentence was what Remain effectively campaigned on. Remainers secretly told the political correspondents that the polls they had conducted showed that this was the only issue that could possibly get enough people out to vote Remain, rather than some glorified pro-EU stance. Cameron was not being negative when he campaigned against Brexit rather than for Bremain. He was just being realistic.

This is because of how widespread the British fear of any kind of federal Europe is. More precisely, the idea of a political superstate. It was voted for a free-trade agreement back in the 1970s. But the Brits have never been culturally and politically affiliated with the European Union; its flag, its anthem, or even its supposed values. Its state institutions and actions have always been viewed negatively, and comments from ex-Commission President José Manuel Barroso saying the EU was the first “Non-Imperial Empire” in an Orwellian example of Eurospeak, simply does not help.

While the immigration issue undoubtedly managed to push some (working-class) voters over the line into voting Leave, the vast majority of the Englanders who tend to be election-winners for political parties are small-c conservative-liberals who don’t like government the same way the Americans don’t and the French do. I reckon about 60-70% of those went eurosceptic after the Maastricht Treaty, which established the foundations for political union. Once Europe crossed this line, they were never going to support the European project in a referendum again.

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But there were no economic benefits for leaving, right? Britain is screwed.
In the short run, it seems like another recession is coming. A source in an economics consultancy department for the City of London told me he had seen nine scenarios for Brexit. Eight of them had Britain entering recession. The one that didn’t assume that a free-trade deal with the EU is similar to that of Norway’s, who negotiated theirs having not stuck two fingers up to the Commission. It also only made British households 80 pounds better off per week in the long run.

All the other scenarios make Britain worse off. Most of the others relate to uncertainty for investors both foreign and domestically. Subsequently, there is also the potential crash of the British housing market due to lower prices and interest rates fluctuating from very low to compensate for Brexit, to sky high because of uncertainty. The economist Steve Keen once proclaimed the British private credit bubble to be “The biggest Ponzi scheme on the planet”. Without stable interest rates and inflation, this should soon be put to the test.

In the long run, though, most accept the former fifth largest economy in the world (now taken over by France it seems) will survive, but worse off in absolute terms. Remember that voters, and people in general, think in relative terms though. One scenario is borderline apocalyptic, and it includes the breakup of the Union…

Does Scotland voting Remain mean they will call another referendum?
I believe voter fatigue, uncertainty over the Euro as a potential currency and the low price of oil mean that the Scots will wait two years for the renegotiation process to end before considering their options. Because the Scottish economy is still heavily reliant on England as an export destination, it does not want a shut border. If the Conservative leader negotiates a free-trade deal with the EU with favorable terms, then they may actually consider staying. If they ball it up and another right-wing Conservative government is still re-elected, then the Scots will vote out and apply for Union membership status.

Who will be this Conservative leader you speak of?
Boris Johnson is the obvious candidate, as he appears to have solely come out against the EU to try to lead his country after the referendum, having supported Cameron’s stance up until then. Unfortunately, he would be the most likely to be received as a populist, self-serving clown by the Commission and Council leaders in Europe.

Boris Johnson visit to the USA - Day 3

Theresa May, who voted Bremain but is eurosceptic (don’t ask me how that works), will undoubtedly be up there as a compromise candidate who could be better received in Brussels.
While the country may prefer a consensus candidate, ultimately the Tory membership decides, and their membership (not their voters) are likely to back Johnson.

What about Northern Ireland voting Remain? Could they opt to be united with Ireland?
Northern Ireland is a different political animal altogether due to its history and divided communities. Generally speaking the Nationalists (those who wish to unite with Ireland) had the most to lose from Brexit due to the closed border and cross-member-state co-operation, so they will have campaigned more for Remain along with some moderate Unionists, explaining the result. Nevertheless, the DUP, Ulster’s largest party and fiercely pro-Unionist, came out for Leave, and they have enough power to block Nationalist demands in the context of a consensus-based government between the two communities in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Feinn, the main nationalist actor, has called for a border poll, but they have had that stance for years and a major, divisive political event like this results in them calling for a border poll. They know that they would probably lose it due to the small Unionist majority, and jeopardize the now fragile peace process.

There is no way that this referendum is an indication of Northern Ireland’s leanings towards secession in the same way Scotland’s are.

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What will happen in the next General Election?
There is little chance Labour will win with Corbyn in power and Scotland being generally pissed off, so it will probably be to determine whether the Conservatives have a majority or minority government, the LibDems recover due to EU nostalgia, and whether UKIP or its natural successor becomes the first established right-wing populist party in the UK.

What will happen to the rest of Europe?
I have no idea, and the degree in European Studies has not helped in that regard. They are such a pluralistic, incoherent, irresponsible mess right now it’s hard to see what will emerge. Some have touted the UK’s departure as a stepping stone to deeper integration. This would require a major Treaty revision requiring consensus from 27 – not 15 as in Maastricht 1992 – Member-states. So they are stuck with their outdated Treaty and ad hoc legal modification designed by European Law students too clever for their own good (you know who you are).

Electoral forecasts show this is as much a failure of the Union as a failure of the UK to find its place within Europe. Spain will vote on Sunday substituting its centre-left pro-EU bore fest for the Eurocritical Podemos. If the PVV win in 2017 Dutch General Election, then there could be another referendum. They currently lead the polls but have a plurality, not a majority. France is fools gold for Eurosceptics: the Le Pen family and the national Front will always be too toxic for most voters. As for Germany, they cannot hold a referendum on an issue like this as it is constitutionally illegal to hold referenda after Hitler declared four to reaffirm his power in the 1930s.

So will everything be OK, like the UCMers say?
Interesting slogan for an academic environment, but not as ‘interesting’ as the media frenzy we are being led in. I was looking forward to writing about the end of a savage war in Columbia but instead, I write about Brexit. This is why Spinoza’s assertion is so true: ultimately, if you look enough, you will find dark in the light and light in the dark. To let emotion take over in times like this is not a matter of perspective, but of irrational choice.

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Urban realities in post-apartheid South Africa

By Hendrik Jaschob

A visitor’s first of impression of Cape Town is often bound up with its way from Cape Town International Airport towards the city centre. Driving along the N2 from the airport lets you pass massive informal settlements and townships with Cape Town’s Table Mountain in distant reach which potentially shocks a first visitor to the city that is inhabited by almost four million people. However, Cape Town has become one of the most visited places in the world. Recently, The Telegraph listed 22 reasons why Cape Town is the world’s best city, highlighting the city’s diversity and range of activities from hiking adventures, road trips and wine tasting to its historical significance during the struggle against the apartheid regime.  The Travel+Leisure magazine also ranked Cape Town as the 9th best city in the world in 2015. Especially for Germans, Cape Town has become a major destination to start a new life abroad, having big German communities in the city bowl. The city bowl is the cosmopolitan part of the city which is close to the lifestyle that Europeans or Americans know from home. Then, there are Sea Point and Camps Bay where properties and apartments are barely affordable for most South Africans and where you find a lot of internationals from anywhere in the world. Nonetheless, these parts of the city are mainly dominated by whites who have no relation to life realities behind the separating mountain.

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Cape Town’s Legacy

To understand Cape Town, it is important to grasp the country’s history of colonial separation which had been perfected by the apartheid regime. The Group Areas Act was implemented in 1950 and assigned racial groups (blacks, coloureds, whites) to specific residential and business areas in order to separate urban life. Although, aspiring black and coloured individuals have moved back to these mostly “white” areas since 1994, urban segregation is still very visible in Cape Town. The city behind Table Mountain spreads 40 or 50 kilometres towards False Bay in its racially assigned residential areas. Driving along the M9 and starting from Khayelitsha, which is the second-largest township in the country, towards Wynberg and Constantia, you pass by different worlds. The American writer Paul Theroux notes in his book The Last Train to Zona Verde that “the majority of black South Africans live in the lower depths, not in the picturesque hamlets or thatched huts on verdant hillsides. Three quarters of city-dwelling Africans live in the nastiest slums and squatter camps.” But what is the story behind the big informal settlements and townships such as Khayelitsha, Nyanga, Crossroads or Mfuleni? What do the people say?

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Distant Township Life

Samantha* says that a lot has changed since apartheid is over. She is in her 50’s and lives in Mfuleni which is a relatively new township which is 40 kilometres away from the actual city centre. She is engaged in urban farming and proudly shows her growing vegetables. She highlights the new opportunities to travel around the city which was not possible before. “The government even gives free tickets for weekend travel to pensioners”, she says with curiosity to get around the city. However, Samantha worriedly speaks about the barriers that still persist in the daily interaction with white people. “White South Africans still don’t like us black people”, she tells. It is an expression that also underlines the different life realities that are shaped in such a spatially divided city. Yet, there are more pressuring issues that have influenced township life in Cape Town since 1994. The South African author Rian Malan wrote in 1994 about the new influx of people in township communities from all over the country, as follows: “It was as if a distant dam had broken, allowing a mass of desperate and hopeful humanity to come flooding over the mountains and spread out across the Cape Flats”, which was caused by new travel opportunities, after the pass laws were abolished by the new government in 1994. He further notes that “within two years, the sand dunes had vanished under an enormous sea of shacks and shanties, as densely packed as a medieval city”. Today, South African cities have also become an attractive place for many immigrants from other African countries. This new influx has occasionally caused xenophobic violence over the last few years and therefore become another urging issue in urban South Africa.

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Growing Together

Michael*, who is a very committed person in his community, lives in Retreat which is rather known as a coloured dominated area in the Cape Flats. He hopes that the country can grow together, beyond the frustrating state of politics in the country. “The ANC** is currently ruining the country through all these corruptions issues and its inability to transform life of the socio-economically weakest in the country”, he says. Pointing at younger generations he states that “the future of this country lies in the younger generations that have the opportunity to go to school and grow together”. There is a certain kind of optimism in his voice with respect to the potential to lower barriers within the city, to create a new feeling of a mutual life in times of desegregation and to stir agency of Capetonians to contribute to change. The former leadership of the ANC around Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, or Ahmed Kathadra, that were crucial figures in the struggle again apartheid, was not wrong when they stated that the long walk of South Africans to freedom had just begun. This walk will continue.

*Names have been changed

**African National Congress

Interview with a Sec Gen

By  Marta Ziosi

He loves theatre, he can rhyme, sing, he is Brazilian and he loves MUNs. Who are we talking about? Well, Raphael Dias, the Secretary General of EuroMUN!

As the days are getting longer and the sun spends more time over the sky of Maastricht, EuroMUN is almost upon us and Raphael is working hard with his team to make it all happen. The Diplomat thought about taking a sneak-peak behind the conference’s curtains to reveal the workings behind it and the ‘conductor’s’ hopes and thoughts.

In the spirit of our ‘sneak-peak’, we first wanted to know who was hiding behind the formalities of a Secretary General. The question came naturally,

Is there something we don’t know about you and maybe should?

“I am a huge theatre fan, especially musicals, which lead me to end up singing in my room a bit too much. My flatmates are probably buying ear plugs by now”

Singing is also a therapeutic exercise and it might be exactly what is needed after a day of managing and organizing. However, Raphael is not alone. On the contrary, he has an active team which constitutes the perfect example of a well-blended group of colleagues who bonded throughout the year to end up becoming close friends.

We know you have a team! What are you best known for in your team?

“Yes, I have a wonderful team! I believe people might know me for living in the office or always being open for a conversation. I try to be as open as possible, to get to know the people in my team”.

It is actually through the members of his team that we got to know Raphael’s love for rhymes and any sort of creative writing. Well, we could not help but putting his skills to a test.

Someone told me you are quite a poet! Could you rhyme is some lines to convince us to come to EuroMUN?

“Oh damn, the pressure is on! Ok, let me think…

People come from near and far,

To dress in suits and hit the bar,

To debate topics and finding policies,

To change the world on their personal stories

People come from here and there,

To be amazed by what we got,

Could you miss it? Just not!”

Raphael was clearly up for the challenge. This also allowed us to introduce the other main subject of the interview, the EuroMUN conference. If the poem did not convince all of our readers, the next question will give it a second shot.

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Now let us talk about EuroMUN! Tell us something we may not know about it.

“The special thing about EuroMUN 2016 is that we bring together and highlight all the most interesting parts of an MUN. Our committees are incredibly varied, in nature and topics, our socials are going to be epic, we have partner NGOs showing real life action and with an international crowd. WE got all the best things an MUN could provide, in ONE event”.

And it is this ONE event that unleashes its great potential through the relevance of his main theme ‘Breaking Barriers: Securing Global Diversity’.

Do you see the relevance of such a conference in the light of the current events?

“Definitely! For me, the root of most of the world’s problems today lies in intolerance and hatred. An MUN, and especially EuroMUN, is about building bridges and creating mutual understanding of different international cultures while studying and understanding world politics on a hands-on approach. I deeply believe that the next generation of leaders will have gone through MUNs and have had this experience under their belt, so hopefully these current events could be curbed”.

We could not agree more. In the light of the recent terror attacks in Brussels, the pressure on Europe and its youth to foster the understanding of the different cultures residing within it is vital for its diversity to be preserved in unity. However, as any respectable interview, some data ought to be introduced.

We would actually like to have some real life data. How many hours of sleep are lost be candidates each year on average? What do you think they spend them on?

“That is a funny question, because there is not one answer, since there is not one delegate. There are delegates who spend the night working on their resolutions and battling to pass it on the floor the next day, or delegates who take the free time to visit the city more or have a great time in the socials. And of course, there are delegates that do all of this, getting to know the city and their fellow delegates while working hard”

This perfectly describes the various nature and characters of the different delegates. However, there is something which grips Raphael’s attention even more.

“I realize I haven’t answered your question, but basically because I can’t. The “why” is what I like most. Why do we spend so much time debating and trying to approve a document that, in reality, will not come into effect? Is it because of possibly inflated egos? Is it because we are stubborn or passionate? I think the answer is that we get into the shoes of policy makers and live through the pressure of this field and can’t shake that addreanline off. It is a wonderfully addictive feeling, and it is why, personally, I love doing MUNs”.

This is the answer we were looking for! Not only Raphael discerns potential in the diversity represented by the candidates but he also sees the importance of defining future goals in a simulation which provides you with the thrill of reality.

But finally,

What are you most looking forward in euroMUN? and, what will be the first thing you do once it is over?

“I am just looking forward to see it all coming together and to see the delegates arriving. We have been working so hard for this for almost a year, that I can’t wait to see the final result. And the first thing I will do is take a deep breath, have a beer and go to sleep, since I will be completely drained”.

Yes, a beer and some sleep will be clearly deserved. The conference is approaching and will be taking place from the 4th until the 8th of May! Registrations will be open until this Sunday, the 17th of April, so make sure to get a spot. Raphael and his team will make sure that everything is ready to host a great event, but the task to bring EuroMUN to life is all yours.

And of course, the Diplomat will be reporting from the event, so make sure to check out our Blog of EuroMUN live!