Thursday, March 15, 2018

Immigration made us who we are; so why are Europeans still afraid of it?
Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán has claimed “Christianity is Europe’s last hope” in his latest escalation of populist rhetoric ahead of April’s elections.

The Prime Minister warned “dark clouds are gathering” as he accused politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris of facilitating “the decline of Christian culture and the advance of Islam”.

Speaking at the 20th annual state of the nation, he also outlined government plans to oppose UN and European efforts to make migration acceptable to the world and continue his fight against what he believes is an “Islamisation” of Europe.

He also claimed with mass immigration, especially from Africa, “our worst nightmares can come true. The West falls as it fails to see Europe being overrun.” (The Independent)

Mr. Orban is not the only person in Europe to have such views, yet he is the most vocal head of state and openly calls for what many people in our continent are thinking. Immigration is a very challenging subject, that has polarized European societies for decades. 

It is a phenomenon that alters the fabric or the continent's population and that for many, together with all the challenges and changes it brings, poses a threat; to our traditions, culture, ethnicity, race, religion and in fact, everything we've known until now.

Understandably, many have become skeptical and in combination with badly adopted economic policies and financial troubles, immigrants have become once again scapegoats. It is true that immigration poses certain challenges and requires proper handling, that should be reflected in each country's relative policies.

Many Western European nations have made some mistakes in such legislations, plus often failed to integrate their migrant population to a certain degree. But countries like Hungary have the advantage of learning from their failures and instead of opposing immigration altogether, they can embrace it correctly.

In addition, it is odd that politicians like Orban are more concerned about the "darkening" of Europe, but not for its "greying" or population decline. Most experts agree that our continent and especially its eastern regions, will experience a substantial population drop.

So perhaps instead of using populism to incite hatred towards migrant communities, exploiting the public's fears on the issue for electoral gains, it would be better to come with solutions to turn immigration into a win-win situation. 

Not just Hungary but Europe as a continent, ought to really start creating functioning immigration policies, together with family planning that will include further gender equality roles. For this, we could get inspiration from a non-EU state, Iceland. 

In the small Nordic nation, equal rights start at home. Men and women are entitled to three months parental leave each per child, plus an additional three months to share between them. (Euronews) That is something that could be adopted by most EU states, to help European couples starting and keeping families with ease.

Another point we could work on, is the East-West divide on economic and social terms. The old EU states are more advanced on these spheres, causing an influx of migrants from the new members towards their western counterparts.

That only increases xenophobia in Western Europe, resulting in negative outcomes such as Brexit, but it also contributes to a brain-drain and population decline in the Eastern part of the continent. 

In 2000, Latvia’s population stood at 2.38 million. At the start of this year, it was 1.95 million. No other country has had a more precipitous drop — 18.2 percent according to U.N. statistics. ( Most other Eastern European nations, face similar challenges and population decline.

The EU needs to close the economic disparities in the block and start investing in the East, in order to keep its population there and thriving. Thus, harmonizing the eurozone's economies is crucial for the future. 

But not only that. People do not flee the new EU states solely for economic reasons, but social too. And by having a very conservative political elite, like that in Hungary or Poland, is actually counterproductive for the region's economic and social catch-up with the rest of the continent.

Thus populist leaders such as Orban, might not be the best choice to deal with Hungary's problems in the long term. Besides, it is funny to hear such rhetoric from a country that is located in a region that has been a crossroad and a melting pot of peoples and civilizations for centuries.

Europe has a rich variety of cultures because of immigration. Hungary, in particular, is a mixture of cultures, as well as peoples. Its language is not even Indo-European rather it belongs to the Finno-Ugric and Uralic linguistic family, meaning it originated further afield in Eurasia, rather in Central Europe. 

Each European nation is comprised of numerous ethnic and cultural elements. What would Ireland and Britain be without their Viking heritage? Or Spain and Portugal without their Germanic or Arabic one? Italy without its Greek heritage in the south of the country, or Greece without its Jewish influence from the populations expelled from Spain? 

Recently a team of researchers in Britain, made a shocking discovery. The bones of the oldest near-complete human skeleton ever found in Britain, named as the "Cheddar Man," had its DNA tested, taken from bone powder by drilling a hole through the skull. It showed there was a 76 percent chance that Cheddar Man was of ‘dark to black’ skin tone and having blue eyes. (Daily Mail)

Although the findings cannot be 100 percent accurate, it throws a light on human immigration in the European continent. For millennia, different groups from different regions, found their way into Europe. Recorded migrations come from the Middle East, Africa and Eurasia, all taking place at different times and in waves.

It is almost certain that not all of them belonged to the same race or ethnic group, or even to the same species. It has been known for a while that all populations outside of Africa, have a small percentage of Neaderthal DNA, that has been acquired by modern humans while interbreeding with our cousins. 

So to be so frightened by immigration while all humans are a product of it, ethnologically or culturally is absurd. It is not like we are going to open the borders and "allow everybody in," as many nationalists fear. That would be disastrous both socially and economically. 

Yet if we manage to implement the appropriate policies that will allow the right number and type of immigrants that we need, plus laws that will help European couples across the continent to have families and equal living standards, then immigration could provide solutions for the future.

We should not give in to fear, racism or xenophobia. Europeans have migrated all over the world over the centuries, altering and shaping it. In the future, we should also help to influence a more integrated and interconnected world, by establishing open societies, inclusive and equal for all its inhabitants. 

Eliminating global inequality, would take the pressure off Europe's societies to accept more migrants in. But for this to be achieved, it will take the reformation of most trade deals that our continent has conducted, especially with its former colonial subjects. 

That could be the legacy that our generation of Europeans will leave to the world. It is definitely better than a chauvinist, xenophobic and nationalistic one, sure we have tried this before with disastrous consequences. Perhaps it is time to change our priorities for the future. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

America’s addiction to weapons is contagious.
Recently the world was shocked by yet another school gun attack in the USA. On the afternoon of February 14, 2018, a mass shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Seventeen people were killed and fourteen more were taken to hospitals, making it one of the world's deadliest school massacres. The suspected perpetrator, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was identified by witnesses and arrested shortly afterward.

Since then a huge debate has grabbed the American nation, on the need to reform the laws that secure the right to bear arms in their country. One of the proponents for the right to bear arms is the National Rifle Association and its political wing, the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

The NRA has been described as one of the largest and most powerful political lobby groups in the United States. In America, it is easier to buy a gun than certain kinds of medication, which in Europe and the rest of the world can be sold in any pharmacy.

The lobbies that support the "right" to bear arms are of course trying to protect the interests of a thriving industry. America is investing heavily in arms manufacturing and its substantial military budget. If you invest so much in an industry, your economy depends on it, thus making harder to proceed with necessary changes, when incidents such as these occur. 

Consequently, reforms are very hard to achieve without huge sacrifices: jobs cuts, protests from the newly unemployed and most importantly the "grilling" from the industry elites, that will have their income reduced and their lifelong investment won't be as profitable.

But why should we, in Europe and the rest of the world be bothered about a seemingly internal, political, economic, cultural or social issue of another country? Because America’s addiction to weapons is contagious.

By establishing a very profitable industry and cementing its importance as one of the pillars of US industry, we understand why America is always in a state of war; either with external threats or with internal attack incidents, such as these.

In addition, in order to increase the profits, this industry is always seeking for new customers and markets, both in the US and abroad. So there is absolutely no way that their lobby will accept a change in US policy on the right to bear arms.
It will take a very strong-willed President to clash with this group and do the right thing. And so far, no American leader ever dared to do so. Sadly, the need to sell arms is not just limited to the US internal market.

America is one of the major exporters of weapons to other countries. So war and any hot conflict mean good business for them. And that is why the rest of the world should be bothered about America’s addiction to weapons.

In Greece we have to spend a large proportion of our GDP in importing arms from countries such as the USA, to protect ourselves from Turkey, a NATO ally of ours. Arms industry companies, corrupt Greek and other nations’ politicians, in order to proceed with sales of weapons that often are not needed.

Plus, is it any wonder that America is constantly in a state of war with other regions? If you produce so many weapons and guns and your internal market is not able to absorb all of them, you need to export your "goods." Thus having some regions in a constant state of conflict is crucial, to make sure they are dependent on your exports.

Invading other countries and maintaining a war there is also crucial, in order for one of your biggest industries to make more profits and thus helping your economy to grow. War is a profitable business, for such economic models.
It is poisoning generation after generation, on the necessity of war and weaponry. To achieve this, industries such as film movies, gaming and other entertainment platforms are used to accustom people to violence. 

Just watch any of the Hollywood action films and you will see how many models of guns and other weaponry are being "advertised" subconsciously to the audience. Carrying a gun, is considered so natural in some communities in the US that as a solution to the increasing number of innocent victims shot at schools, is seen to arm the teachers.

If such move is approved, we will have trigger-happy ex-military personnel educating the next generation of America’s youths! The circle of war and violence will never end.

Of course, they could be doing the obvious and ban, or at least limit the number of weapons that are allowed to circulate in the American society. But they just don’t want to accept it. As result, these tragic incidents will continue to happen throughout the US.

Sadly, it is not only the American people that will suffer or be affected, but the rest of us too. Regions such as the Middle East will never see peace and prosperity. Greece will continue to spend millions on weaponry, even if it doesn’t need it. Europe will continue to be at loggerheads with its neighbor Russia, over the establishment of missiles pointing at them. 

America, of course, is not the only country to be blamed. Its European counterparts and NATO allies, have also a fair share of the blame. Countries such as France and the UK are making profits from arms sales in countries that suffer from on-going conflicts.

It is a sad realization, that our civilization accepts the capitalization on human suffering, in order to maintain “economic growth.” Europe needs to step up and change this situation. Firstly it needs to lead by example, then lobby other countries and economic blocks of this world, to limit the production and trade of weapons. And yes, even America.

Our world does not need more weapons, rather people with a vision and the ability to debate and come up with solutions to humanity’s problems. And since most of them derive from violence, injustice, crime and conflict, using weapons to solve them is as absurd as employing a thief to protect your money.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The relevance of EU-NATO in Greece-Turkey relations.
It seems that EU hopefull and NATO member Turkey is on down-spiraling course, regarding its relationship with its neighbors, as well with USA and EU.

On Feb. 11, Cyprus announced that the Turkish military was holding exercises that blocked a ship operated by Italian oil and gas company Eni. Cyprus had hired the company to drill in its waters, which Turkey claims as its own. 

Then on Feb. 12, a Turkish patrol boat ran into a Greek coast guard ship that was anchored off the islands of Imia/Kardak, claimed by both Greece and Turkey. In response to both events, the European Union issued a statement asking Turkey to "refrain from any actions that might damage good neighborly" ties.

Seeming to acknowledge the EU request, both Greece and Turkey on Feb. 14 withdrew their ships from the Imia islets region in an effort to ease tensions. But the dispute between Cyprus and Turkey over the drilling blocks remains in play.
(Stratfor Worldview)

Turkey's volatile relations with Greece and Cyprus is not anything new, but there is an oxymoron in this story. Both Greece and Turkey are technically allies in NATO. If two allied countries are hostile to each other, then what can be said about the legitimacy of this alliance? 

And while in the past Turkey has only been showing its hostility towards Greece, recently it has grown its confidence so much, that is even challenging the USA itself, as the recent developments in Syria show. 

Turkey’s current fight, against U.S.-backed Kurdish troops in the northwestern Syria territory of Afrin, is destabilizing enough. But the real risk will come if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan follows through on his repeated promises to press further east toward the Kurdish-controlled and U.S.-patrolled city of Manbij. (Politico Magazine)

With his megalomania, plus because for years Turkey's actions were tolerated and supported by its US allies, Mr. Erdogan is turning against anyone, even America itself. Inspired by President Putin, who in fact he has become closer in recent years, Erdogan is jeopardizing Turkey's relationship with all its allies and has already shattered the country's hopes for EU membership. 

Until now, it was Greece and Cyprus that had to bear the cost of Turkey's erratic behavior. Greece, in particular, had to spend millions of its budget in defense, to protect itself from Turkey, its ally in NATO! 

Something that, of course, suited other big players of the alliance, like USA, France and the United Kingdom, all which were selling arms to Greece, enhancing their economies, while the Greek one suffered. The Greek-Turkish hostilities were being continued for decades, in order to perpetuate a situation that served the local elites, as well their international allies. 

By keeping the two countries in constant fear and competition with each other, international arms industries profited, while the nationalistic elements in both nations were satisfied, diverging the public opinion towards this constant threat, while other issues were being pushed under the carpet. 

And so we reached a stage that both countries are financially, politically and socially unstable, but while Greece is an EU member and gains some security and stability, Turkey, on the other hand, is going rogue at every direction. 

Here is a proof that Turkey's EU membership would be good, not for any other reason, but to bring the country under the control of Europe. NATO has been proven to be insufficient to keep Turkey in check, mainly because of America's foreign policy and interests in the region, which are not always for the benefit of Greece or Europe.

A strong and stable, united Europe with Turkey as a member, would be the only way to safeguard stability in the region and relief Greece and Cyprus from the burden of constant Turkish threats and insults. 

Yet, as Europe is evolving and hopefully with continue to evolve towards a more federal formation, the prospect of the Euro Army gives hope to Greece and Cyprus. As both countries have signed the PESCO Defence Cooperation, they have now an enhanced protection against Turkey's threats.

Ideally, Cyprus would be better in NATO, to gain some protection from Turkey. But as this is highly unlikely since Turkey does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus as a state, nor the Cypriot public opinion favors such move, then PESCO gives the small island nation access to European and NATO protection in the future. 

Since the European Army will be allied to NATO, it is a Cypriot entry into the alliance through the back door. The two allied armies will strengthen both Greece's and Cyprus' security and defense, something that perhaps annoys Turkey, thus it is acting up now, in order to make a point and remain relevant.

Turkey knows that on its western front things have changed and will continue to change. Bulgaria has also joined the EU and NATO ranks, while the rest of the Balkans are poised to do so in the next decade. 

Thus Turkey's elites are looking elsewhere to throw their weight around and satisfy their internal nationalistic elements. Europe and in fact NATO itself, if it wants to stay relevant in the European continent, must stand by Greece and Cyprus, trying in addition to bring Turkey back in their ranks. 

It is absurd for two allied nations to have such a bad relationship. It looks bad for NATO and diminishes its role and prestige. But in the end, if NATO fails, Europe can always rely on itself and PESCO, as it should have for years now. 

Hopefully, Mr. Erdogan and Turkey will realize where their interests are better served and reconcile their differences with their EU and NATO neighbors soon. It is ridiculous to thrive in old hatred, nationalism and expansionist views, that not only are not realistic in today's interconnected world, but are holding back generations of young Turks due to lack of full access in European institutions and programmes. 

It is in Europe's interests to have a stable and prosperous Turkey, either as a neighbor or a member. Thus it can not rely solely on America and NATO to achieve this, since America's interests are not totally synchronised with Europe's. Thus our continent must assert itself and form its own policies towards its neighbors and implement them.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The EU's future lies with its citizens' choices and engagement.
Europe as a continent is at crossroads. But it is not just an economic or a political dilemma. The continent suffers from an identity crisis and a lack of direction.

Since the eurozone economic crisis and the refugee emergency, the hiatus from the big-bang EU expansion in 2004 seems to have withered away.

Now the EU has to deal with a growing euro-skepticism, Brexit and a change of direction in the Visegrad states.

The question is what do we, the citizens of Europe gain from all this. We have managed to establish a stable, prosperous continent, one of the richest in the world. And most of our problems lately seem to revolve around who gets more, pays more and the ethnic background of the people that do the jobs that we prefer not doing.

Not that Europe does not have some serious problems or challenges. But in their majority were created by corruption and mismanagement predominantly on a national level. Of course, the EU institutions have had their fair share of scandals, but the lack of transparency can solely be laid on our national governments.

The EU's democratic deficit is a direct outcome of the unwillingness of our national politicians, to proceed with what their predecessors started after WW2. The European integration was a vision for peace and stability, born in the ashes of the continent after the two major disastrous conflicts.

But once prosperity set in, despite it being a direct result of policies that were decided on a European level plus naturally due to the stability that peace created, our governments claimed this success as the result of their own work.

The citizens were kept in the dark on how the EU works or the decisions are taken, in order to be kept preoccupied with national issues and nationalistic agendas. To the benefit of course of local elites and politics.

For every bad policy the EU was blamed, while for every success, national governments were claiming the praise. They strived to maintain a nation-centered culture and mentality, while in fact a Europe wide one was being formed since the free movement of people encouraged it.

Yet, in recent years due to major mistakes that state administrations have committed on a European and national level, a surge of euro-skepticism gripped the continent, giving extreme nationalistic political parties, the chance to get a good foothold in European politics.

The process was faster in Eastern Europe, which only a few years after joining the club, some returned to the authoritarian political elites, that they fought so hard to overthrow to join the EU. Many of the region's leaders modeled themselves after other authoritarian leaders like Putin and Erdogan, turning against EU and its values, or shunning further European integration.

Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, once proud to be joining the club and while they are ripping all the benefits of their membership, have recently flagged themselves as opposition to many of EU's policies, notably on immigration and the refugee crisis, but also the euro.

Britain, on the other hand, decided to leave altogether, in hope of joining states like Norway and Iceland in EEA, or going it alone. While EEA offers some certain economic benefits, it lacks democratic legitimacy, something that the EU is often blamed for by many Eurosceptics.

The decisions are taken by the EU institutions and members of EEA must abide, while only having a lobbying presence in Brussels. It may suit small states like Iceland, but for a big player like Britain, it surely is absurd not to to be at the heart of Europe, leading it.

Under such grim political and economic environment, the European public is understandably confused, angry, divided and naturally skeptical about the future of Europe and the EU itself. Yet they must understand, that going back to what we had before is not the solution. We have been there before, if we want to progress, the way is forward.

As things stand, it is obvious that Europe isn't functioning properly. We can either go backwards to what we know and trusted before, the nation states that collaborate solely on an economic level, or move forward to a fully fledged European democracy.

It will be easy to think that the best solution would be to stop or even reverse the integration progress and maintain a free trade agreement. But what would be the cost of abandoning the euro, closing the borders again and halting the free movement of people, some of the dominant reasons that Europe prospered and progressed for the past few decades?

We must consider if the outcome would be greater than the risk. What would any of us benefit by dismantling what we have built all these years?

If we go the other way and form a European Republic, there is room for improvement and something to build on.  The problem of inequality and lack or transparency or democratic deficit, lies solely within our national governments. They refuse to let go the control of our national resources, thus keeping EU governance on an intergovernmental level.

Something that any citizen should be wary of. What is being discussed, agreed or compromised by our governments behind closed doors, that we never hear of? In such arrangements, it is naturally the bigger, more powerful and robust economically nations that have the upper hand, pushing their interests through.

But if we citizens, take the EU fully in our own hands, by giving the European Parliament (EP) all the powers that it must have to function like any parliament, then we take this power away from our governments and the lobbies that run Brussels. The EU Council and Commission can be joined to the second chamber of government, like the US Senate.

By becoming more engaged, committed EU citizens, it doesn't mean that we become EU cheerleaders, blindly accepting or applauding anything that the EU does. We are simply safeguarding our own interests and what better way to achieve this, but by having a fully fledged European Democracy, supported by its main pillar the EP.

EU citizenship must become something more than the right to travel anywhere in the EU, rather become engaged in a pan-European civil society, criticise the EU institutions and their failures and lobby them, just like citizens are doing in any nation-state across Europe.

It does not mean that we are giving up our national identity, rather enhancing it with an additional one, that of being European. An identity that we already possess, yet we haven't given it a legal and political dimension.

Europe should be governed in three levels; local, national and European, with each authority to be given certain legislative powers and responsibilities. It could well work, as long as we citizens are engaged in all three and have trust in them.

That perhaps could be our task and purpose for the future, a target that we must reach. Our legacy to the future generations of Europe. Rather than leaving behind a fragmented continent, we could be the ones that will finally unite it.

The benefits can be substantial. In the future, we will have a multi-polar world, with numerous emerging economies and states. Europe will have to collectively invest in order to keep being relevant and competitive.

A region that is prosperous needs political stability to maintain its wealth and that is what a fully functioning European Republic is offering. Otherwise, Europe will be just a trading block, a huge market that will benefit multinationals for as long they do not discover new, emerging economies to invest in.

In addition, decisions that are being taken solely on trade rules and purpose, can never have democratic legitimacy as they are agreed on intergovernmental level. That must be something that should always worry us, citizens. If we want more equality, we must demand more transparency and democracy in Europe. But that either we like it or not, this can never be achieved with less Europe.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, like Pontius Pilate he is "washing his hands off", now coming out as a supporter of a second referendum on the British EU membership. The same person which blasted the Irish government and the EU itself, for having second referendums on the Lisbon Treaty among others.
"Respect the Irish vote", he was claiming, together with other UKIP MEPs in the European Parliament, holding signs. He criticised the move as being undemocratic and bullying by the EU, which is disregarding totally the will of the people. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 17, 2017

We got to tell both sides of the story in sexual misconduct in Hollywood.
In the recent months, the showbiz industry of Hollywood and beyond has been rocked by a number of sexual harassment or misconduct allegations, against many A-listing men.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Blind nationalism hinders Europe's future potential.
Europe nowadays looks to be caught in a never-ending crisis, whether it be financial, institutional or political.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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