Tuesday, February 17, 2015

We share a European heritage, we do not own parts of it.

When we are trying to discuss or explain national identity or its negative side-nationalism- we tend to focus on the things that separate us from other nations. Like our ancestors' achievements, our art, cuisine and language, as well as events that marked our country's history.

But when we try to analyze what means to be Polish, Greek, German of a Spaniard and what makes us so special or different than others, there are often disagreements.

The reason of course is that our continent has been divided and partially united so many times, that the ethnic and cultural lines are blurred after all these centuries. Many great civilizations and empires on our continent clashed in its long history, and from their shatters new nations were born.

Europe's borders were ever shifting and its people were also constantly on the move. And as it is in human nature to copy others and exchange ideas, Europe has created a unique mosaic of cultures that are so different, yet so similar to each other.

In fact, Europe's cultural richness and diversity derives from the constant moving, meddling and mixing of its peoples and cultures. And today it is one of our advantages, when compared to other regions.

If we try to analyze each nation's cultural or genealogical elements, we will realize that our modern nations are the result of this everlasting mixing, mingling and intermarrying of our ancestors.

It is this cultural diversity that created all of the ancient civilizations that we know. There was simply no "pure" ethnic group or culture in human history whatsoever, apart perhaps the ever wondering tribes-people.

For example Ancient Greece, which was the result of the migration and mixing of the Greek tribes, that conquered and assimilated the previous inhabitants of the southern Balkan peninsula, was not a homogeneous nation as we understand it today.

It was since then debated who was of Greek origin and if a city state or kingdom was agreed to be one, then in was allowed to participate in the Olympic games. Back then these games was an agreed reference of "Greekness," just as today we are trying to define our "Europeaness" by identifying a common set of values.

Similar debates are taking place today. For example about how European Turkey or the nations of the Caucasus region are and if they should join the European Union. Many identify a nation as "European", if it is located in what is perceived to be the geographical region of Europe, plus if it is a Christian nation.

Others have a different point of view. For some, "European" is not necessarily Western or Christian, as there are European Muslims in the Balkans. Besides, the region of Anatolia, used to be part of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires and was heavily colonized by their people.

Thus for many individuals these nations have undoubtedly inherited European heritage, through their historic links with the rest of the continent.

It is not uncommon to encounter many other disputes in Europe too, over names, products, customs, historic sites, cuisine or beverages. That is partially understandable given the number of times Europeans had to fight against each other, while keep redefining their identity each time an empire collapsed.

If only we could see things through a different perspective. Bringing as an example the region I originally come from-the Balkans- the most underdeveloped region of Europe and the most volatile, we could see how misled our nationalism is.

The richest region of Europe historically, is the poorest financially. And the reason is because its inhabitants haven't managed yet to overcome their complexes and settle old disputes.

If only every Turk, Bulgarian, Albanian, Greek, Serb, or Slavomacedonian realized that they share a common Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic and Ottoman heritage and instead of fighting over it, they should be proudly promoting it to the rest of the world.

Instead of that, each nation is entering a never-ending debate over absurd "ownership rights" of the region's greatest exports and achievements.

The Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, were multinational and multicultural melting pots. There might have been a dominant ethnic group in most of them, but their achievements can never be limited or monopolized by one nation.

The influences that created the heritage of these empires, were extracted by every single ethnic group living within their borders.

And so now we have the same type of food or beverage, being popular across this region, yet in every country is being served as a national dish.

The ancient ruins of the former civilizations that existed in this part of Europe, can be undoubtedly classified as Greek, Roman, or of any other culture of the antiquity. However they should not be a hot-spot of debate or dispute.

Anyone can recognize artifacts of the Greco-Roman civilizations, yet they do not solely belong to the heritage of the modern states of Greece or Italy; but also to the countries that they are discovered within.

They are part of the collective heritage of the whole region of the Balkans and the Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans, left their mark and influence throughout these lands, thus these artifacts are only a manifestation of this fact.

As long of course the nations in which their discovery takes place, do not try to alter historic facts by presenting them as their own, to serve their nationalist propaganda in an effort of national self determination.

I would be very proud to see one day other nations like Turkey and FYROM, proudly exhibiting their Greek heritage and not necessarily be intimidated by the fact that Greeks inhabited their lands in the past. The whole of Europe claims Greek heritage and Greece's neighbors have been exposed obviously the most to it.

Equally so, the Greeks should accept and be proud of their Ottoman heritage. The fact that they were subjects to an empire dominated by a different ethnic group, does not take away from their "Greekness". It actually contributes and enhances the country's cultural and historic diversity.

We were all part of four very rich, powerful and influential empires, that defined Europe and its history for thousands of years. That is a fact that should be uniting us, not dividing us. If we think about it, we got more things in common that we want to believe.

Of course such issues do not affect the Balkans only, but they can be found throughout Europe; especially in regions that old powerful empires have been established, like the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Yet other nations have been a bit more successful in dealing with their common heritage. No one disputes for example that the Vikings originated from Scandinavia and who they were.

So while today the Scandinavian nations claim Viking ancestry, other regions like Ireland claim their heritage too, without entering into any disputes.

Ireland has been colonized by the Vikings, as well as many other regions like Britain, Northern France and Russia. While these countries are including and promoting their Viking heritage, they do not try to claim it as their own, alter it or the historic facts that are evident from the Viking colonization of their lands.

Similarly, many nations that share a Celtic heritage (like Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Britain) instead of fighting over it, they have created numerous heritage events, celebrating their common music and culture.

These cultural events should be promoted in every region with common historic and cultural links, but also throughout Europe. If something ever is going to unite the European continent, it definitely won't be a single currency or market.

All Europe's regions have inherited more than one heritage. We are a continent with a very rich history and culture, but that should not stand in the way of creating a diverse and competitive continent. We should be including these elements in the creation of the Europe of the future.

Besides, we Europeans love our history and heritage so much and it is evident in our folklore, the movies that we watch and every corner of our cities and countryside. We could never have a Europe without them.

They are also very attractive to so many tourists from all over the world, making our tourism industry vital to our overall economy.

To conclude, more needs to be done to promote our shared European heritage. It can be used to end disputes across the continent, unite all nations and regions and provide a vital life-line to our economy through tourism. How could we exclude or overlook our true wealth from our future?

It can also be a reference of inspiration instead of promoting nationalism and bigotry, if we study it with our eyes open. Our nations were created, prospered and developed, because of the constant cultural exchanges and ethnic mixing, not because of the absolute exclusion of anything "foreign".

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SYRIZA's victory in Greek elections is the Troika's and Germany's fault!

As expected, the victor of the Greek Parliamentary elections in 2015 is the so called "radical" leftist party, SYRIZA.

A day after the party won the majority in the Greek Parliament, only the markets from the international community were quick to react. As result the euro fell even further against other currencies.
Greece's European partners have been slow to comment on the party's leader Alexis Tsipras' victory, or congratulate him.

The outgoing Greek Prime Minister Mr. Samaras, has even avoided to welcome Mr. Tsipras in his new residency as Greece's next leader, as it is the custom.

Their response clearly shows their annoyance or perhaps awkwardness, if not their ignorance and bad manners.If you are a politician with a good ethos, you treat your opponent with the expected respect, even after your defeat.

Yet throughout Europe and especially in other EU member states under an austerity program, the SYRIZA victory was welcomed by leftist or anti-austerity parties. Many citizens across the union received the news as a new hope deriving from the Greek result. But others are more skeptical.

In reality, it is too early to say that the new development coming from Greece can be perceived as "hope". Because if SYRIZA or Mr. Tsipras himself want to ever get reelected for a second term, they will have to negotiate with Greece's creditors.

If they stick to everything that they ever promised, most likely they will lead Greece in a very dangerous territory and direct coalition with  its European partners, especially Germany or the Troika.

That could mean a much feared "Grexit" from the euro, that would result to more hardships for the already troubled Greek economy. And if that happens, the Greek voters will be reluctant to vote SYRIZA back to power.

On the other hand we find ourselves in a peculiar situation, that the two extremes should be avoided. Either if Mr. Tsipras does everything that he promised, or none of it, the outcome could be equally damaging for his party.

If he does not proceed with the much promised reforms and demands from the Troika to end austerity, then the Greek voters will turn to another party to fulfill them.

And here comes the tricky part. Because as much as hated SYRIZA is by the European bourgeois, there could be a much worse result than this in the next elections, following Tsipras' hypothetical failure.

On last Sunday's elections, the far-right party Golden Dawn, has kept all of its seats in the Greek Parliament, remaining the third party in the country.

If the Europeans do not want to negotiate with Tsipras and bow to at least some of his demands, then the EU should be prepared for potentially its first Neo-Nazi government, the first since WW2.

These elections have showed that the Greek electorate did not just vote for Golden Dawn by "mistake,"or as a protest vote. The party's voters have conscientiously chose to  maintain their support to it.

It should act as a wake up call for Europe's leaders. With the far-right rising everywhere across the continent and as Golden Dawn is far more radical than SYRIZA, the Troika and Mrs Merkel ought to better be willing to compromise with Tsipras.

Besides, that is all the Greek people want; some relief after six years of austerity and the return of hope for their future. They want to see investments and new jobs, while the country's economy to start growing again.

The majority do not want to leave either the EU or the euro-zone and if such tragedy ever happens, it will not be Tsipras' fault, but the Troika's. To their feet and those of the German political elite, we should lay the blame for the Greek elections result.

If they were a bit more lenient and compromising over the past six years towards the troubled economies of Europe, we would not have such dilemmas now.  They currently have no other option but to negotiate, allowing SYRIZA to implement at least some of the policies that it promised.

It is outrageous though to think that Europe did not learn from its past mistakes. We have been in similar situation just before WW2 in Germany itself. How could anyone ignore history's lessons?

When you apply such catastrophic policies and ruin a country by all means, it is inevitable to get some extreme reaction by the voters. They always turn for radical parties.

How on earth did the German and European leadership ever hoped, that they could treat the Greeks as they did and get away with it, after what happened in Germany in the past. Unless of course they do aim to destabilize Europe for the long term.

Only a fool would believe that with an ongoing economic crisis and such harsh austerity measures, the Greeks would be afraid to turn to more "radical" parties. Especially after the scaremongering campaign by Mr. Samaras' government, plus those of the German and EU officials.

We know that these tactics do not always work; in Ireland the European bourgeois lost too many referendums in this way. Why keep taking this risk, by disrespecting democracy and the needs of the people?

If Mrs Merkel and the Troika even manage to force Tsipras to back off his expectations plus deal with the Golden Dawn, they better get prepared for more future turbulence. Because Spain is due to vote for its next government by the end of this year.

And the Spaniards who are also fed up with austerity and especially after SYRIZA's victory, are as well expected to turn to the "radical" leftist party Podemos. This could lead to a domino effect, with more and more EU member states possibly following suit.

A European Union with a strong and organized Left, should be a great result for Europe's workers and ordinary citizens. But not for the continent's elites. So one would anticipate a quick compromise from their part.

It would be much preferable to deal with Tsipras now, allowing him to relief his voters from some of the heavy debt burden. In fact austerity as a policy across the EU should be reconsidered, for the very important task of gaining the public's trust and support in the European institutions again.

This economic crisis has done a great damage on the citizens' confidence in them, due to the fact very few policies are aimed at their interests or the greater good.

The EU has merely become an economic experiment, hijacked by almost fanatic economists, lobbyists and bankers that seem to be ignoring the reality of millions of EU citizens. For them, succeeding with their projects at all costs is of the utmost importance.

The euro and its economics, or any of its financial institutions should exist for the betterment of a society as a whole, not just the privileged few. No nation should suffer for the survival of a currency. In the end I believe that our leaders have got their priorities totally wrong in this.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

More Europe is the solution for security issues, not less.

Since the Paris attacks earlier this month, the security and anti-terrorism issue across Europe returned to the limelight of our continent's reality.

The worse affected nations outside of France, were Bulgaria and Romania, that saw their hopes to become members of the Schengen Agreement Area,being destroyed.

The focus on the restriction of the Schengen, with partial reinstatement or stricter border controls across the continent resurfaced. The Far-Right French leader Marine Le Pen, called for a suspension of the Schengen Agreement, to deal with the new national security threat.

While this argument is valid, the best solution would be a pan-European reaction to any security threat that any member state is facing, rather a national one.

It is unacceptable that in every crisis, Europe's leaders turn against one of the few benefits that we citizens are enjoying with our country's EU membership. Yet they never are as vocal to limit the banks' or lobbies' influence in the club.

The free movement, programs like the Erasmus and EURES, are highly beneficial for the ordinary Europeans, but in the long term for the European economy too. By having a highly mobile, multilingual and diverse working force, Europe can gain an advantage against its global competitors.

Yet populism seem to sell very well in every crisis. A better pan-European coordination, would not require more centralization or giving "more powers to Brussels", as many fear.

But by deeper cooperation and solidarity among all EU member states, we could turn the Schengen not just into a free movement Agreement, but a common security and defense area.

Partially this has already started. In light of security concerns, the member states established a joint database to be used in manhunts. Called the Schengen Information System (SIS), it has now been reformed in an attempt to make sharing information between offices faster and easier. (Deutsche Welle)

Thus, there is no need for national politicians to scaremonger their citizens anymore, just to gain a few votes. When we are talking about issues that affect all Europeans, national or personal interests should be set aside.

And as we should all learn to stand by each other, I do not see why Romania and Bulgaria should tolerate this unfair treatment by their European "partners." They have to suffer the rising populist agenda in the EU's "heavyweights" like France, Germany and the Netherlands.

To appease internal issues, fears and complexes, the leaders of the core European countries are keeping Bulgaria's and Romania's Schengen membership in suspense.

That is unacceptable and discriminatory against the Balkan nations. They maybe poor, but they have proven to be committed to the European Union, more than many of its older members are.

United we are stronger and the more states participate in a common European defense and anti-terrorism mechanism, the better. You can not secure Europe's borders, by excluding some of the club's members. It is just awkward and nonsensical to talk about protection of the European territory, keep the free movement, while excluding million of your citizens from it.

It is clear that in this case, "more Europe" is the solution. Closer cooperation in policing, defense, anti-terrorism action, immigration and intelligence agencies.

This unity could also be very crucial to the so much feared Russian "threat", that notably the Baltic states are increasingly worried about.

If Europe shows a determined and fully functioning unity and solidarity, no external threat could in reality challenge it. The rest of the European states must show an increasing support for the club's Eastern or Southern borders, instead of sitting comfortably and passively safe behind the efforts of the bordering nations.

Either with or without the Schengen, immigrants and human traffickers will still strive to enter the heartlands of Europe. It is not Bulgaria's or Romania's fault, it is the result of Europe's economic supremacy over other regions.

Instead of limiting the citizens' freedoms, we should be enhancing them with a coordinated action. Fight populism with resounding results and pan-European initiatives.

End the exclusion and discrimination of certain nations, while supporting those member states that are located in the continent's borders. We are all in this together after all.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why the economic crisis could result in a disaster for Europe's demographics.

During the past five years Europe and especially the southern part of it is gripped by an economic crisis. The immediate reaction of the continent's leadership, was to impose harsh austerity measures to tackle it and ensure the viability of the euro, plus the continent's banks.

Yet while they were quick to deal with any threat to the single currency and the potential losses for the European banking system, they seem very reluctant to do so for major social issues that arise from the austerity measures, that they have imposed on us.

Unemployment is high and salaries are slashed. Emigration from the worst hit economies to the more affluent regions of Europe is increasing, as people are getting desperate. And it is mainly the younger generation that emigrates, in order to build a future.

That leads not to just an inevitable brain drain, but also a new demographic problem. Demographics for the European continent have been quite gloomy for the past decades. After Japan, Europe's countries and especially those of the South and Eastern regions, are heading for the worse population decline.

That trend is the result of capitalism and a dramatic transformation of the European economy. Living in our continent may be easier than many other regions, but it is also very expensive and competitive.

We are encouraged by our governments to become consumers, by the constant bombardment of advertising and the creation of a lifestyle that is based on the accumulation of goods, property or services. Europe's industries have been outsourced to countries with cheaper labor costs, so that the multinational corporations could gain more.

That leaves very few low-skilled jobs in our continent, that are usually filled by immigrants. Besides, few Europeans would opt in making a career in such jobs, because they pay little and they offer no secure income or prestige.

As result, European youths must study for longer-well into their mid or late 20s-postponing the age of starting a family, in order to attain degrees that would allow them to have better career prospects. In addition the lifestyle in Europe and the West in general, is becoming more egocentric.

Young people are spoiled by choice and materialism, plus they certainly do not wish to start a family before the age of 30, or even later. The consumerist mentality that we have been embedded with, dictate for a university degree, a car, an apartment, travel the world and buy everything that we possible ever wanted, before we get married, start a family and be bogged down with responsibility.

This trend becomes even worse when finances are bad. European youths tend to stay longer with their parents, simply because they can not afford to live on their own or start a family. The economic crisis has made this certainly very evident in Greece and Spain, where even youths who had initially moved out of their parental homes, returned to live with their parents again due to unemployment.

Even when they decide to have a family, the fertility rates are falling across Europe too.The average child per European woman rate is around 1.59, as of 2009. That is one of the lowest in the world and it is almost sure that it will get even lower due to the economic crisis. People not only do not want large families anymore, but now they can't even afford to have children.

One would think that our leaders would recognize the potential  catastrophe that looms over Europe and act on it, as quickly as they did to save the euro. Wrong! Not only they have taken little measures to deal with the problem, but they chose to cut social security services that helped large families cope with the expenses, as part of the austerity measures.

And all that to make sure that the bond holders in Europe's banking system get their money back. No single currency, market or banking system should be above people, in fact they should serve their interests. The reason of their existence is to make people's lives easier, not make them suffer. It seems that in a capitalist system that is a utopia.

Bringing Greece as example, the forecast looks rather gloomy. According to one of the country's leading newspapers-Kathimerini- Greece's population declined by approximately 60,000 in 2013, mainly due to the economic crisis. The deaths for the first time surpassed the births by 16,300 people and 44,200 more individuals decided to emigrate out of the country than those who entered in Greece. (The article in Greek is here)

It is evident that the crisis has made the demographic problem of the country even worse and no solution has been offered by the Troika, or Greece's European partners. The utmost important issue to them is to save the euro.

Across the Southern region of Europe, just like in the Eastern part after the collapse of Communism, people are getting poorer and many kids are forced to leave their education plans, because their parents can not afford them. The crisis takes young people out of schools and throws them in a future with no jobs or forced emigration.

And since immigration into Europe is also increasing from other war torn, or poverty plagued regions of the world, poor Europeans are faced with a very harsh future prospect. They will have to compete in their own country with immigrants, bringing the two communities in an inevitable clash.

The signs are already visible. Europe is becoming more intolerant, xenophobic and is turning against its very European values or dream. Far-right or nationalist parties are mushrooming all over the continent and they are gaining popularity fast.

Under such developments the continent's leadership seem to be paralyzed and unable to deal with the problem.

They prefer to leave the issue to the next government to solve, but by then it will probably be too late. Europe is aging fast and in the future there just won't be enough young people to work, to sustain the ever increasing number of pensioners. Our continent will simply not have enough workers to tax and pay for the elderly.

A fast solution would be more immigration, but with the recent economic developments across the continent, that will also lead to a worsening backlash. Europeans are afraid of the loss of their national identity, or the so called "Islamization"  of Europe. Higher immigration rates in a short period of time, will only aggravate the continent's xenophobia.

It will be too easy to look at countries that took certain steps towards a solution, with good or medium results. But our governments are too short-sighted. The Scandinavian countries or others such as France, could offer some insight.

Necessary measures do not include more cuts in social security measures, but in fact an increase of support for young families. France pays mothers for up to 3 years parental leave and a monthly cash incentive, which is nearly the minimum wage for a mother to stay off work, for one year following the birth of her third child.

Plus it has developed an income tax system, based on the more children the less tax to pay and government subsidized daycare for children under the age of three, and full time school places for over threes paid for by the government. (BBC)

That has made France into one of the European countries with the highest birth rates. In Scandinavia on the other hand, they give parental leave to both parents to take in turn. Sweden’s family policy is aimed at supporting the dual-earner family model and ensuring the same rights and obligations, regarding family and work for both women and men.

Generous spending on family benefits, flexible leave and working hours for parents with young children and affordable, high-quality childcare are the main factors for success. The country's gender pay gap is also the lowest in Europe. (Europa.eu)

Under an EU led program, we could copy the above policies and promote them across Europe, especially to those countries in need. It is not just the recent crisis hit EU members like Greece, but also most of the former USSR democracies like the Baltic states, that face a gloomy demographic future.

So why isn't there an agreement on this, or a collective action or creation of a family oriented fund, to tackle Europe's demographic problems? If we do not act now, it will be too late. Just by 2050, our continent's population won't be able to support any growth in the economy.

So instead of wasting billions in trying to save the banks, why don't we make a much wiser investment that will prove far more necessary and crucial for our economy in the future; in our social security and child policies.

Europe must start investing in its youth, they are the future and they are the most valuable asset of the continent, than any market or currency. Without future workers, citizens, voters or consumers, the single market that the European elites are trying so hard to salvage to the detriment of social security policies, won't survive anyway.

If the future generations are poorer or unable to have children, then there will be no future for Europe. It is time that our continent changed its priorities and focus on policies that are more people and family oriented.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je suis Charlie......

Today is a sad day for France, Europe, freedom of speech and all of us who in our own little way are trying to influence public opinion, or simply entertain it; cartoonists, bloggers, journalists. All of us constantly with our eyes on current affairs, informing, analyzing, satirizing.

If only somebody who disagrees or gets offended by what we do, storms in our offices, our homes or  work environment and kill us in cold blood.

Such attitudes do not belong in a free and democratic society, and those who commit such crimes should not call themselves civilized human beings. If they want to be part of an open society or a democracy and avail of all the benefits that they bring, then there is one simple rule: you respect another person's opinion even if you disagree with it.

Of course I am referring to today's incomprehensible, sad and outrageous events that took place in France's capital, Paris. Three young men stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine that often hosted cartoons that were lampooning Islam and other religions, and killed 12 people. 

Three young men that should be looking at creating a life for themselves, that they had their whole lives ahead of them, living in one of the most privileged countries in the world, chose instead to become terrorists. They killed in the name of their religion, 12 innocent and creative individuals, accomplished and with so much more to offer.

Killing in the name of a religion, in this day and age, is one of the most daft, tragic and outrageous reasons I can imagine. There is no way to explain it. 

Their actions could have very serious consequences for France and Europe in extend, but also for all European Muslims. In a period where France is experiencing an increasing shift to the far-right, with the National Front's Marine Le Pen being tipped to be one of the two major contestants of the next French Presidential Elections in 2017, this could not come at a worse time.

Mrs Le Pen leads the polls at the moment and her major rival, former French President Mr. Sarkozy, will have to make huge concessions to the rising nationalism among the French voters, in order to have a chance to win. If the Far Right wins the election in France, it will inevitably mean more hard times for Europe.

From now until 2017, we will have the Greek elections by the end of this month, the British EU membership referendum and the French elections, where "radical", "anti-EU" parties have gained significantly ground. How will Europe be able to cope under their pressure?

It could also mean that the whole Muslim community across Europe, could face further pressure and discrimination. Just this week we had a march of around 18,000 in Dresden, Germany, against the "Islamization of Europe".

It is clear now that the European Muslims must reject all radical elements in their circles and cooperate with the authorities to isolate them. Simply announcing a statement of condemnation, won't be enough, if incidents such as this are blown out of proportion. 

The young men who did this despicable act today, were French citizens of Arab origin, raised in France. They allegedly have recently returned from Syria, where they have been radicalized. That issue is not anything new. Thousands of European born Muslims have joined the ranks of radical fighters in Middle East.

If the Muslim communities want to avoid any unfair back-clash, then themselves should reject such elements from their communities.  They should stand in solidarity with Christian, Jewish, other religion followers and secular elements in their communities, for the good of our communities and countries. 

But above all, to make a statement both towards the Europeans but especially towards these radicalized individuals, that these acts are not welcome or accepted by anyone in our continent.

Europeans on the other hand must all stand in solidarity and do not scapegoat the whole Muslim community for the acts of a few. These people do not represent a whole religion, but sadly their actions speak louder than the peaceful coexistence of the majority of the Muslim community among us.

Our tolerance, faith, patience and values will be tested. But we should not give into their pressure and entering the chaos of bigotry, hatred, xenophobia and Islamophobia. 

I wish to offer my sincere condolences to the families of the victims and I would also proudly state: I AM ALSO CHARLIE!  Rest in Peace brothers.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Why Europe should not be terrified of SYRIZA!

Just before the end of 2014, the current Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, has called for snap elections on the 25th of January 2015.

Mr. Samaras has requested that the Greek parliament be dissolved, following parliament’s failure to choose a new president after three rounds of voting. (euronews)

These elections will be crucial not just for Greece, but Europe overall. With the current opposition party SYRIZA, tipped to win these elections by promising an end to the German inspired austerity program, it is clear that the European but also global focus will be on the Greek elections results.

Because if SYRIZA keeps its promise to the Greek people to end austerity, meaning that Greece will have to abandon the bail-out program and its commitment to its European partners, the very existence of the euro currency is in jeopardy; at least according to some analysts.

It is understandable that the Greek people are fed up with austerity and rightly so. After six years of massive salary and pension cuts, combined with a rise of taxes and reduction of social services, their living standards have been constantly been reduced.

If there was a solution or recovery in sight, the Greeks would grin and bear it for a little while. But the situation is actually getting worse. The very social fabric of the country is being dismantled and there is a very real threat of a social unrest, even civil war, if Europe is not careful.

What is making this reality even more infuriating, is that the ordinary Greek people are not to be blamed for the mess; it is the Greek political and industrial elites, in cooperation with their European counterparts that created the crisis.

A fair amount of blame is to be laid to the neo-liberal agenda that Europe has adopted for the past few decades, giving way too much weight and power on its banking sector, than focusing on the real shortfalls of the European economy as a whole.

Now the European elites fear that if SYRIZA comes to power, the smooth cooperation that they have established with the Greek elites over the past few decades will be damaged; and about time. Both Greece and Europe in general need a political shake up.

In their despair, they threaten the Greeks about a euro-exit if SYRIZA keeps its promises, adding that hell will be unleashed upon the country. In reality they know that if Greece exits, more countries will chose to follow suit, like Italy, Spain and Portugal.

That will definitely mean the end of the euro-zone as we know it; a plain scaremongering. It is evident that the European elite (including the Greek one) are terrified of a change of a status quo. Thus they are focusing too much energy in propaganda with doomsday scenarios on the election of a new Greek government, that will not be lead by any of the established political parties.

Their attitude is hypocritical. Instead of wanting to punish the Greek elites for lying about Greece's economy, they are trying to actually protect it and empower it. If that does not prove their guilt and fair share of blame on the situation of the Greek economy, then what is?

The real problem of Europe is intergovernmental-ism. Since the end of WW2 and the creation of the EEC, the European elites worked together without the knowledge and consent of the European voters, in modeling our continent after America.

They favored the interests of the strong multinational corporation lobbies, against those of Europe's voters and tax payers. With the rise of "radical left parties" (as they describe them) like SYRIZA, this balance is being challenged; and it is a good thing!

If we want to create a better, more equal continent, it is highly favorable for the ordinary citizens, to have a strong European Left. SYRIZA can be at the forefront of this development. The party's policies may sound and indeed in most cases they are unrealistic and populist.

But they are using them just to get into power. It is unlikely that once they get elected, they will implement everything they promise to the Greek people. It will be a political suicide to bring the country to its knees by implementing disastrous economic policies. Besides, which Greek government ever in the country's history kept its promises to its people?

I do not think that anyone in SYRIZA would want to be the party that will get Greece kicked out of the euro, out of the EU and try to turn the country into a communist haven! If they ever want to get re-elected they will not proceed into such madness.

Most likely they are using these promises to get the votes of the ordinary Greek people. Populist as it may be, it is the only way to beat the propaganda and scaremongering that the Greek establishment is unleashing upon the Greek voters, through the country's media.

Once SYRIZA gets elected, it is expected to tune down its rhetoric and act more logically. If they want to save the country and work for the good of its people they have no choice. There will be some compromise between the SYRIZA led Greek government and its European counterparts.

In other words, SYRIZA won't be able to implement all that is promising, for the simple reason that everything in politics is a compromise. If they want to remain in power and do not damage the image and reputation of Greece, isolating it and turning it into a pariah in Europe, then they will have to meet their European counterparts half way.

That will be just and fair. After all the Greek debt is not just Greek, but European. The Greeks, Cypriots, Irish and the Portuguese are not paying to save only their banks, but the European and American bond holders in Europe's banking system! Thus the bail-out money that these countries have received, are not staying in their economies but through them, they are returning to the continent's banks.

The election of SYRIZA is a great opportunity for the European Left, the peripheral European economies, for the countries of the East and South Europe and the European working class, to bring democracy and a balance in Europe.

Their promised policies may sound little more than mambo-jumbo at the moment, but Europeans are missing out the whole point.

If the European Left gets more power by organizing itself and if the Southern countries stand behind SYRIZA and Greece, Europe can become a fairer and more democratic continent.

When the voice and interests of the people can also be heard in the European powerhouse that is the EU, not just those of the big corporations, then it will be a historic victory for all citizens across the continent.

Europe and above all Greece, need this radical change, we should not fear it. Either it is SYRIZA or any other leftist but reasonable party, they will bring the much needed reboot that European politics need. The established political parties have created the current mess and nothing will ever change if we keep voting for them.

Only under the pressure of "radical" parties like SYRIZA, will Europe's elites consent to change, hear our voice and respect it. Either you support the Left or not, the Greek struggle can and will define European politics for decades to come, for the benefit of the whole European working class. And that can only be a good thing. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Listen here Mr. Juncker!

EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has warned Greece against electing "extreme forces" into power and said he would prefer "known faces" - so far the strongest intervention of the EU top brass in the Greek campaign.

"I think that the Greeks - who have a very difficult life - know very well what a wrong election result would mean for Greece and the euro-zone," Juncker said during an Austrian public TV debate. (EUobserver)

In other words Mr. Juncker and in extent the European elites, are afraid that if Syriza gets in power after the next Greek general elections-something that is very possible- their "necessary economic healing program" that has kept Greece in harsh austerity for the past 5-6 years, will be in jeopardy.

Meaning that both the Greek economy, but what's more important to them-the very euro-zone itself- will face further instability and will be in danger of a total collapse.

As result, Mr. Juncker directly advises the Greek people, to keep voting for the established political parties that are predictable, willing to cooperate and do whatever the European and the global capitalist elites are advising them to do. In other words, those who are happy to proceed with the selling out of their people and their country's resources.

The oxymoron in this case is, that these established Greek political parties, are the very cause of the Greek economic collapse that put the whole euro-zone under the threat of disintegration.

It was these parties who lied about Greece's finances and economy, to join the euro. They are the ones who have made secret deals with Goldman-Sachs to cook the country's books and it was again them who misused EU funds.

Instead of Mr. Juncker and the European elites being angry at them and help the Greek people to punish them by replacing them, it is very peculiar that they now support them and are threatening repeatedly the Greeks that if Syriza comes into power, Greece will be kicked out of the euro and the whole hell will be unleashed upon them!  

In addition, they punish the ordinary Greek citizens with unbearably harsh austerity measures, even if the collapse of the Greek economy was not of their doing, rather of these political elites that Europe now supports.

It is clear that the European elites are corrupt to the core, just as the Greek ones are. They are all in this together, using Greece and other countries under austerity programs not just to simply fix the European economy; but mainly to safeguard the interests of the banks or the global capitalist elites.

Because if they really wanted to help the overall European economy, austerity would not be applied to the periphery states, as they are not the main cause of the faults within the euro-zone. How can a country that amounts for only the 2% of the euro economy, be solely at fault for its woes?

It is evident that Greece is sacrificed and used as a scapegoat, to cover the corrupt and rotten to the core European political and economic reality. Greece is only a small piece of this corrupt monstrosity that Europe has become, or perhaps it always has been.

And as it is the weakest link, it bares the bulk not just of the austerity, but also the slander and propaganda that accompany it, to cover the real issues that plague Europe at the moment.

Yet the European elites do not like to see a change in any country,or their "recipes" disturbed or challenged. No, I do not think that Syriza is the best solution that Greece needs right now, nor I support them.

But it is obvious that Greece-in fact the whole of Europe- needs a political reboot, with many new parties, political voices, ideas and activists that should be entering the mainstream political European reality. We need new politicians and leaders, together with an overall new political and economic reality across the continent. Because the old have failed us!

If Mr. Juncker and his colleagues in the EU institutions want a solution, they better start listening to the people and their needs first, not just the lobbies that surround them.

The European project must become something that the citizens will aspire to, not something that will be used by the rich elites,of the rich elite nations to maintain their wealth and economic or political status quo. Europe must become an equal continent with equal opportunities for all its citizens, and wealth equally distributed in all its members.

Sadly, I do not hope for Mr. Juncker to share this view, when his country under his leadership became a tax haven, gathering lost revenue from all other EU and non EU member states. Revenue that these countries badly needed and they are now called to collect from their poorer citizens to save their economy.

While Luxembourg of course gladly indulged in the unethical accumulation of the extra revenue and high living standards.The small country naturally is not the only one to be blamed, as many other states-especially the wealthier ones- across Europe have also implemented similar policies.

http://www.irishtimes.com/business/lux-leaksBut how can Europe be truly united if it is unequal, or how can a country be proud or justify the fact that is part of an economic system that promotes inequality and poverty in other regions of the continent?

And not just that but then dare to lecture them on their economic failures and advise them on how to run their country. It is outrageous!

The LuxLeaks scandal has a far greater importance, as it is an indication of the reality that plagues the European economy and I am sure that it is only the tip of the iceberg.

It is in our interests as citizens to demand more transparency plus less intergovernmental-ism in the EU and other European international and national institutions. It is also in our interests to start getting more engaged with European politics, social issues and vote responsibly.

It will be very favorable if we manage to help each other in limiting the power, or replacing the old political elites that have ruled us since WW2. We need new parties to be formed that will bring new ideas, solutions and practices. Either the European establishment likes it or not.

Maybe it is not radical parties like Syriza that we need if we want change, but voting for the same parties that led us to this absolute disaster is definitely not wise or ideal.

Starting from Greece and the other EU states under an austerity program, it will be very refreshing to see new political powers emerging that will actually challenge the current status quo. Parties which will decisively proceed with the necessary reforms that these nations and in extent Europe itself, desperately need.

Because if these reforms do not take place, then the radical far right parties will surely become even more powerful in the future; and we all know what happens when these elements come to power.

Thus, if the European elites want the Greeks not to vote for extremist parties, they better start helping the citizens -not the rich of the country- get back on their feet and gain their trust again on the importance of the EU institutions. The rise of radical political parties in Greece was after all, partially of Europe's making!

By mishandling the EU economy plus allowing plutocracy, greed, elitism and intergovernmental-ism to be at the core of European and Greek politics, parties like Syriza and the Golden Dawn in Greece-but also many similar ones in other EU nations- found the opportunity to gain power.

Perhaps if the European establishment fears the challenges that these parties bring, they should soon proceed with something that they should have done decades ago; reform and reinvent themselves.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A sex purchase ban across Europe?

As Ireland is on the way to join the Scandinavian nations in making illegal to purchase the services of a sex worker, could this be an initiative for a pan European effort in eliminating prostitution and one of its main consequences; human trafficking?

On Thursday the 27th of November, the Irish Justice Minster Frances Fitzgerald made the formal announcement of the plan. That will make Ireland, after Sweden, Iceland and Norway, the fourth European state to proceed with the implementation of legislation that criminalizes paying for sex. (The Journal

The law undoubtedly worked in Sweden, but could it be a successful model for the rest of Europe? In Sweden the purchase and brokering of sexual services have been criminalized several years ago, although the selling of sexual services remains legal. The law provides for up to six years in prison for pimps and up to 10 years for traffickers of prostitutes. (Spiegel Online)
As result Sweden has significantly less prostitution than its neighboring countries, even if we take into account the fact that some of it happens underground. Another benefit of the ban is that hardly any country in the European Union has fewer problems with human trafficking.

According to the Swedish police, 400 to 600 foreign women are brought to Sweden each year to be prostitutes. In Finland, which is only half the size of Sweden, that number is between 10,000 and 15,000 women. Illegal trafficking is facilitated in Finland by the country's proximity to Russia and the Baltic states, but now Helsinki is also considering introducing a law based on the Swedish model.

The ban on the purchase of sexual services is also intended to bring about a fundamental change in societal attitudes. Nowadays every schoolchild learns that purchasing sex for money is illegal. The next generation in Sweden will consider this to be much less ordinary than we do today.(Spiegel Online)

The oddity with this law is, that it is going to be legal to practice prostitution, but illegal to buy it. It is like being legal to sell cigarettes, but illegal to buy them. And if this works as we have seen in Sweden, why don't we apply it for other social issues, like drugs and alcohol abuse? We could prosecute drug users on a similar note and leave drug dealers alone. Why is that not ethical?

After all, if drug users are thought to be vulnerable and unstable members of the society, so are the prostitutes and those who seek to have sex with them. Many of the girls that practice this "profession" have had a very turbulent adolescence or childhood. As many of the men who visit them.  

 In a relative article published by the Guardian four years ago, some interviewees explained their reasons to the journalist, of why they visit a brothel. One of them, named "Alex", spoke about his experience of childhood cruelty and neglect and linked this to his inability to form close ­relationships with anyone, particularly women.

He admitted sex with ­prostitutes made him feel empty, but he had no idea how to get to know women "through the usual routes". When asked about his feelings ­towards the women he buys he said that on the one hand, he wants ­prostitutes to get to know and like him and, on the other, he is "not under ­delusions" that the encounters are anything like a real relationship. But to the third person, he would like them to appear as they are "in love".

On a similar note, a German photographer named Bettina Flitner, took portraits of clients at the brothel Paradise in Stuttgart, Germany. The men, aged 21 to 73, told her why they visited brothels. Their answers were quite frank and revealing. (Animal NewYork)

Most of the men said that they visit brothels because they could not attract the women they wanted, or they did not have the patience or confidence to approach them. Others they were simply unable to ask what they liked in a sexual intercourse, from their wives or partners. Some, they felt that they had full control of the act, since they paid and they get what they wanted.

From the above responses it is clear that finding a partner and having sex is not something that comes easy for everybody. And in a capitalist society we are used to be able to buy anything. So some people find it easier to pay for their most intimate moments, than get over their issues and reach out to other people, for a healthy relationship.

But this is nothing new. Prostitution always existed in human societies, since the antiquity. The fact that it is referred as the "oldest profession" in the world, manifests that. Yet it is not something that involves women only. Male prostitutes, the so called gigolos are also common.

These laws do not clarify how the male prostitutes will be affected or even if they are also included. In addition they do not address the profession of escorts, either male or female. Do these laws apply only on the "lower end" prostitutes, those of the streets and brothels?

It is well known that escorts for the rich elite circles are very common too and they often stem out from the modeling profession. If these cases are not included, then it will mean that these laws are solely targeting the prostitutes of the streets, perhaps because in these circles, criminality is more widespread.

As result, the act of purchasing sex will still remain a privilege of the rich. Plus, the success in Sweden has not come without side effects.Prostitutes themselves are for the most part, opposed to the criminalization of their customers. They feel that they are being pushed into the role of victim and that the ban robs them of their livelihood.

The fact that there are fewer customers narrows the prostitutes' choices. When things are bad, they are willing to go with guys who want to have "rougher" sex and don't want to use a condom. Many feel that their "business" has become tougher and more dangerous, with more competition and more violence.

The "nice" customers are afraid of being caught. And so the girls are left to work with the more "troubled" men, those with whom they have to drive far out of the city so that they'll feel safe from the police. Thus putting them at their mercy. (Spiegel Online)

Some sex workers dislike all kinds of projects that focus on portraying their clients as immoral and predatory.They believe that anti-prostitution advocates or “abolitionists” cherry pick the worst examples which put pressure on law enforcement and the state to arrest sex workers and their clients and create laws that create further trouble for them.

Instead of trying to understand these men, they illustrate them as villains them and are not doing sex workers any favors. Sex worker and blogger Caty Simon explains: "They are awful bullshit which is about classing sex workers as victims without agency and pathologizing people’s sexuality.  Obviously, within a patriarchal, whorephobic, transphobic, racist capitalist context clients can be exploitative of sex workers".

Caty made an analogy to McDonald's, to explain how she feels about such laws.  "Customers and employers can treat food service employees like shit in the context of capitalism but that doesn’t mean the act of buying fast food is inherently wrong.  Clients and people in general should be taught to respect sex workers and their labor rights.  Not to be told that transactional sex is wrong. Plus, criminalization of clients, as we see in Sweden, leads to pathologization and marginalization of sex workers as the trade is driven underground, while the state perceives sex workers as victims". (Animal New York).

In other countries like Greece, prostitution is legal and regulated. Brothels are also legal and persons engaged in prostitution must register at the local prefecture and carry a medical card, which is updated every two weeks. It is estimated that fewer than 1,000 women are legally employed as prostitutes and approximately 20,000 women, most of foreign origin, are engaged in illegal prostitution. (Wikipedia)

As we see from the above example, if the laws in Greece prohibited illegal street prostitution, the result would be very favorable. Since fewer than 1000 women are legally employed as prostitutes, with a medical card and health care, then the real issue that contributes to human trafficking and any other illegal activity, is exactly the fact that the corruption in the country allows for illegal, uncontrolled prostitution to flourish.

Another example of a different approach to prostitution can be seen from another wealthy country, Switzerland. Prostitution there is also legal and regulated. Recently the country saw drive-through brothels being established and after a year in operation, the plan was granted as a "success".

The sex workers agreeing to take part in the scheme, have to get permit and pay tax to avail of the drive-in's creature comforts, which include a laundry, showers and a cafe. At the same time, the city of Zurich launched a crackdown on unregulated prostitution and confined the oldest trade to just the drive-thru and two other zones.

The city's officials are pleased with the results. 'The new regulation of street prostitution has attained its objectives of protecting the population and the sex workers,' they said in a statement. Social services said that as well as protecting prostitutes, few neighbors were bothered by the comings and goings at the drive-in in the Altstetten district.

No increase in street walkers had been noticed in the two other districts of the city where prostitution is tolerated, they said. Previously, residents had risen up in protest at the number of prostitutes descending after dark on the Sihlquai, a main street near the city center, and the authorities were worried about human trafficking if the trade was left unregulated.

'The first year of the service has been positive,' Zurich social services said in their statement. The number of prostitutes working in the drive-in averaged 15 a night, half the number who worked the old red-light area before the city stepped in to regulate the business. 

Sex worker rights advocates all over the world along with organizations such as World Health Organization, and UN Women all agree that full decriminalization, rather than Swiss-style regulation and licensing, is the best human-rights based approach to keeping sex workers safe. (The Daily Mail)

These are only but a few arguments for or against the criminalization of purchasing of sex, or how to deal with the issues of prostitution and human trafficking. As Europe has a wide variety not only of cultures, but also temperaments and climates, it will be hard to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

How would people in the Southern, warmer parts of Europe respond to a total sex purchase ban for example? Could they be as easily deterred from buying sex, as the more controlled Swedish men? Or could more culturally conservative nations, follow the example of those who are more liberal, like the Netherlands?

Perhaps it is time to alter our views on sex and sexuality, or even prostitution altogether. If we legalize prostitution and bring it totally under state control, then as we have seen both prostitutes and the men who visit them can be protected in terms of health and working conditions. 

Yet this does not guarantee a solution to the human trafficking problem, as the case of Greece shows. Mainly because while there could be legal prostitution, it must come under a total ban of the illegal one and most states fail to achieve this. Even in the case of Switzerland, violence and other illegal activities among the prostitutes and their circles are still an issue. 

In the case of Sweden on the other hand, while prostitution is almost eliminated-at least from the public eye- the prostitutes themselves are left in a greater danger and more vulnerable. Perhaps if we chose to adopt this model, we could also offer support and help to these women to either start another career, or quit their addiction to drugs, which is often the reason why they become prostitutes in the first place. 

Criminalizing prostitution in effort to eliminate it, but only publicly and the streets where is visible, does not mean that the root of the problem is dealt with: it just goes underground. And though the laws in Sweden have brought definitely results, it is left to be examined how the health of the sex workers is fairing after being forced to work without condoms. Or how their working conditions are being shaped, when they have to put up with more violent clients. 

Sex workers also need to be included in this plan and their needs to be met, or their voices to be heard. Maybe it is time to see their "profession" or contribution in our societies differently and grant them more respect, ending many very old taboos. A number of them are coerced into prostitution, while others are doing it as a necessity or because of drug addiction, poverty, psychological and mental problems or lack of education. 

If we try to understand the issues that push women (or men) to sell sex and men (or women) to buy it from them, then we could find a fairer and more permanent solution that could be applied across Europe. Because apart from the moral issues that arise, prostitution together with drug abuse form two of the main causes of criminality across the continent. 

Yet dealing with this particular problem, that is so intertwined with one of the very basic need of every human being-sexuality- can be tricky. So sometimes banning laws, prohibitions, fines and criminalization can only mask the problem, not solve it effectively.

We should not allow our traditional version of "morality" to get in the way of a solution that will affect millions of sexually dysfunctional individuals, because in some cases, it is this "morality" that makes them dysfunctional in the first place. And a society full with such people, it can't be a healthy one either.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

IGLYO: fighting the corner of LGBT youths in Europe.

http://www.iglyo.comCurrently Europe’s youth is facing a very challenging future. Unemployment and an ongoing economic crisis, with an ever increasing competition for skills are placing a great pressure on young people.

But a small minority is faced with even greater challenges, as they are fighting an ongoing battle for acceptance and equality. Europe’s LGBT youth is often misunderstood or ignored. Fighting their battles are a number of various NGOs and organizations, many of them established by the young people themselves, like IGLYO.

IGLYO (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organization), was founded in 1984. It has over 80 member organizations working in over 40 countries in the Council of Europe and beyond, focusing on LGBT youths.

Patrick Dempsey, the Co-Chair of IGLYO, talks to the Eblana blog about the work of the organization and the recent worrying developments for LGBT individuals in the Eastern part of the continent. Finally, he explains what measures should be taken in the future to ensure equality for all in Europe.

Patrick describes how the Court of Human Rights, has played an important role in achieving basic freedoms for LGBT people across the Council of Europe. “In Western Europe, there is more of a chance a nation will have legislation in place, safeguarding gender identity issues. In the East, we recently have witnessed homosexual propaganda bills being considered or being passed in national parliaments,” Patrick describes.

Russia's 'non-traditional sexual relations' bill has led to an increase in societal prejudice toward LGBT people, and similar laws were considered in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

There are also cases within the EU's borders. “Latvia for example, is considering something similar. In Lithuania, the law on protection of minors against detrimental effects of public information and providing punitive guidelines can be used against individuals and organizations,” he continues.

Posters, placards, slogans, lyrics, and public speeches fall under the vaguely-worded bill. The 'homosexual propaganda' laws are the harshest and most worrying challenges to fundamental rights and freedoms in many years, Patrick explains.

On a more positive note the EU has included a section of LGBTI rights within the accession candidate country reports, which focus on the accession candidate countries’ protections of LGBTI people and raises concerns.

The European Parliament passed the Lunecek Report which calls for a road-map on sexual orientation and gender identity. A road-map on sexual orientation and gender identity would ensure there is a comprehensive policy to protect the fundamental rights of LGBTI people, securing existing rights within the areas of competency of the European Commission.

“It would also be significant in the area of education,” Patrick believes. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner has already spoken out on equal access of education to LGBT youth and recommends IGLYO's minimum standards on tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying as positive guidelines in the area. 

But primarily, it all depends on the national government policies. Some nations have grasped the multilevel approach of ensuring that anti-bullying policies are pursued by all stakeholders at all levels, between Department's of Education, teachers bodies, LGBT youth organizations and student bodies.

Still in some countries their activities are hidden, ignored and actively discouraged. Russia and Lithuania's 'propaganda' laws are clear examples where states are actively trying to stop the vital work of LGBT youth organizations.

IGLYO has been fortunate in working at the Council of Europe level. “We have great partners, particularly with the European Bureau of Secondary Schools Unions, the European Student's Union, the European Youth Forum and other human rights organizations like the European Disability Forum and Roma organizations,” Patrick says.

IGLYO is in its 30th year and a big issue during these times has been education. “This year, we conducted research on the impact of homophobic and transphobic bullying in education, training and employment,” he continues.

“We launched minimum standards, shaped by LGBT youth across Europe, to help tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying. We conducted norm-criticism seminars with stakeholders and are working teachers’ guides and tool-kits. We also worked with the European Parliament on a seminar on homophobic and transphobic bullying,” Patrick describes.

Inter-sectionality, which explores the intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination and how different types of discrimination interact, is a focus for IGLYO. The organization wants to ensure that all of its work and members reflect the diversity of LGBT youth. “We have held roundtables on gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and dis-ability, which were a great success. We also ran a conference to empower activists on this issue,” he notes.

IGLYO is the main representative of LGBT youth and continues to work closely with European Parliament, Council of Europe, UNAids and other human rights organizations in ensuring the voices of LGBTQ youth are heard.

Currently their concerns often evolve around marriage equality. It is a very important step in recognizing the validity of a same-sex relationship, according to IGLYO. Loving same sex relationships are as positive for society and families as loving opposite sex relationships.

Marriage equality is not just important in ensuring full rights and responsibilities. For LGBT young people it allows them to have equal aspirations as their straight peers. “All young people dream of their futures, whether that's to do with jobs or family,” Patrick mentions.

“Marriage equality implies to young LGBT people that if you want a family of your own, that's just as valid and supported as your straight friends wish for a family. It tells them that they aren’t second class citizens, nor will their families be,” he adds.

Patrick believes that civil partnerships are a welcome step forward, but the title still implies a difference between relationships and families. Full equality should be considered a minimum standard, not 'equality, but...'

Yet for some of IGLYO's members, marriage equality is not an issue as of yet. For them, they are more concerned about their right to assemble peacefully, organize themselves, attend prides and ensure their own safety.

“This does not mean marriage equality is not a concern, just that it is a prospect  many LGBT communities in Europe can't think forward to as they are fighting for their most basic human and democratic rights. In the EU, half of LGBT people felt discriminated against in the past 12 months,” Patrick states.

Additionally it's important that there is a basic level of respect and understanding in European media, as words can have great impact. In terms of marriage equality debates, very negative language has been used in debates to 'other' LGBT people - saying that LGBT people are not capable of raising families, when they already have done, and are doing.

The public and social media must ensure debates are open, but also must ensure they are fair, respectful and do not promote hate speech. Hate speech can have a negative impact on LGBT young people and act as a trigger for substance abuse or self harm.

Another issue concerning all European youths in general is that often there is a presumption that sex education can promote promiscuity and poor choices. “Sex education puts a weight on how big of a deal sex can be,” Patrick says.

It empowers young people to make safe and informed decisions about sex and their own bodies, as well as ensuring that young people are aware of the legal age of consent and encourages them to say no if they feel uncomfortable. “LGBT young people should have equal access to sex education and ensure that they too are informed and safe,” he concludes.