By Erica Piasecka
Last Saturday witnessed the first Students for Equality demonstration to take place in the town of Maastricht. In a march from the 1992 Plein to the Markt, a mix of student associations and individuals chanted, cheered, and danced along to percussionists. With the associations present ranging from Amnesty International Maastricht Students to the Green Office — all equipped with colourful banners — the event aimed to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. Yet of the 370 students marked as attending online, only a small number showed up.
As a kind of umbrella group for a wide variety of human rights, Students for Equality describes itsef as “a new initiative to promote equality for all no matter what their age, gender, skin colour, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation”. Created in reaction to the gains made by far right political parties across Europe in the last European Parliamentary elections, the movement aims to unite a wide variety of communities in the name of tolerance and respect. Yet not everyone was clear on this concept. One of the few non-students in attendance, Janneke Prins is a local activist who teaches Dutch and English at the Hoogeschool Zuyd. She expressed concern that the event was perhaps vague. A supporter of the free Palestine movement, she told us she had been asked not to show the word “Israel” on her banner. On the other hand she did say she was pleased to see some of her students amongst the demonstrators.
And in fact for the most part the mood was generally supportive. Applause was warm for speakers Sophie Kromholz of UCM who spoke about gender equality, and Fasos’ Dr Assem Dandashly. Dandashly preceded his speech on religious tolerance (particularly towards the current favoured “Other” : the Muslim community) with a call for a moment’s silence in memory of those who perished recently in crossing the Mediterranean from Libya, reminding everyone present of the work that still needs to be done.
Arts and Culture students Mona Noe and Leonie Pfaller told the Diplomat they were pleased to be there: “as students these issues are important and do affect us”. According to them, most people were probably discouraged from joining by bad weather. But a short talk with organiser Asiya Ahmed told a different story. In her introductory speech, whilst thanking those present for being there, she expressed the movement’s goal to far increase the numbers in attendance at the next event. She later told the Diplomat that for her the issue of turnout had more to with general apathy than rainclouds: “We have a generation which puts partying before anything that means something. If they want to make a difference they can, but most of the time they choose to think that nothing will, and this is the key thing that we’re tackling with students… If it had been sunny maybe we would have had an extra twenty [people]”. Let’s hope then that movements such as these are successful in engaging a generation which is perhaps too quick to resign itself to not having a voice.