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.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The major European economies are the gangrene of this continent.
Ahead of the European summit in Brussels on 24 October, French President François Hollande said that economic growth was a bigger priority than the EU pact limiting national deficits to less than 3% of GDP, and that France would therefore apply a “maximum of flexibility” when interpreting the rules. (Debating Europe).

That of course means that France will once again "be forced" to break the EU budget rules, for the good of its economy and naturally, the good of all European economy.

Because "they are too big to fail," the EU leadership will allow France to bend the rules, instead of proceeding with a partial bail-out like in Spain, or tightening its supervision on the French economy. The excuse is that if France fails, Europe will not be able to bail it out and so the whole European economy will suffer, France being the second largest euro-zone economy.

That is true, but Europe can certainly place some limitations on France, so the country's government and policy makers do not act carelessly ever again. If limitations are not followed, then perhaps an IMF supervision if not a bail-out, would force the French leadership to focus on the economy and stop creating scandals around their private lives.

After all it is outrageous, only years after the EU and its richer member states slated Greece for breaking the rules and getting itself into trouble, now they are so lenient on France. You see it is easier to criticize and point the finger, when you know that the same rules won't ever apply to you.

It is not just the fact that Greece had to be humiliated from its very "partners," nor that it had to become the scapegoat for all the faults in the euro-zone and most EU institutions: what is even more unacceptable is that the Greek people had to see their living conditions dramatically lowered, just so the European banks-which include many French ones- could be saved.

If we examine the connection of the Greek, Cypriot, Irish and Portuguese debt with the German, French, British and American bond holders in their banking system, then it is clear that whatever money was saved from the severe spending cuts in these nations, went straight to the maintenance of the European banking system.

In other words, the Greeks, the Irish and the Portuguese, had to go through painful austerity measures in order the banks of this continent, but also the euro itself to be saved. And while these nations were happily sacrificed by the European elites in order to achieve economic stability in the continent, other nations like France are spared not just from humiliation but also the degradation of their citizens' living standards.

Thus it is clear that this type of "union" that the EU is at the moment, is anything but equal or fair. Bigger member states can get away with everything because they are too "important," while others are called to pay up and are humiliated on top of that, for something that was not entirely their fault in the first place!

It is not just France but also Italy, Germany and Britain who have been acting like bosses, spoiled brats and bickering divas for the past years of the crisis. We have witnessed the German elites dictating other nations how to "keep their books" or deal with their affairs, while they hold a less painful solution in their hands: Germany needs to start spending.

But because this would go against their very economic philosophy and also hurt their economy and interests, they think they can dominate the economic policies of the whole continent and tell other nations how to run their countries.

With the excuse of also being "too big to fail," or Europe's leading economy that has to bail out the rest of "less competent" member states, they have hijacked the European economy. The fact that the euro benefits their economy the most, while it is seriously hurting the rest of the smaller states conveniently eludes them.

And not just them, but all their satellite economies like Holland, Finland and Austria have been very bold in the past of criticizing other nations about their economic affairs, seeking to indulge their citizens with populism and cover up the cracks in their own economies.

Cracks that in the case of Holland but also Finland who recently fell back into a recession, can not be covered by blaming the Greeks, the Irish or the Portuguese anymore.

Britain and Italy are also up in arms over the EU's budget and we have even seen the British PM David Cameron lashing out at the EU, about a €2.1bn surcharge on the UK from the union's block, branding it as "unjustified." All this, even as it emerged that British officials played a role in endorsing the calculations. (Financial Times).

This bill in other words has been agreed by all our government officials beforehand, but Cameron just wants to indulge the British public with some good old traditional Tory Euro-skepticism. As UKIP gains popularity, he is basically trying to save the interests of his party and his career as PM, using the EU once again as a scapegoat.

It is clear that the EU is a serious mess, not because of the "laziness" of the smaller states, rather the constant bickering of the major economies of the continent. France is arguing with Germany, Britain with both and the EU itself and Germany with everyone else in the block, about how the European economy should be run.

The interests of the countries who are branding themselves as "too big to fail," are hurting the unity of Europe, but also the economies of all the smaller nations caught up in the middle of the big nations' power games. And while the citizens of the peripheral economies are seeing their incomes slashed, the living standards of those in the big economies remain the same, if not getting better.

If we want to keep the euro and build a fair European union, the living standards, salaries and pensions in the euro-zone must be harmonized. In other words, if the salaries of the Greeks are slashed by 40% in a couple of years, then something similar must be applied on other richer euro-zone members until all reach a similar level.

Yet in this case the French citizens will evade such fate, because they are lucky to live in a country "too big to fail." But when the Greeks and the Portuguese arrive in their country seeking a better future, because Europe's economic policies have destroyed theirs in their own countries, then they will complain about the rise of immigration. Additionally perhaps just like Britain, they will seek to limit the free movement of citizens in the EU.

Something which I will remind them is a de facto right for all EU citizens since the creation of the Single Market, now the rich nations are seeking to reverse in order to protect their own interests. After reading all the above, one would ever thought why would any country would seek to join such union.

A union that is dominated by former colonial or imperial powers, that have not forgotten their skills of how to rob off resources from smaller weaker nations. All they have to do now, instead of invading them is to throw more and more debt on them and force them into bail out agreements, which they will have to repay for decades to come.

The real problem here is inter-governmental-ism and  the selfish attitude of the rich elites, of the richer nations that while trying to protect their own interests, are bickering among them on who will get the lion's share. There are two solutions for this mess: either dismantle the EU or proceed with a closer federation.

Dismantling it could mean a very messy break-up which most likely will destroy what is left of the European economy. Moreover it could also lead to war once again knowing Europe's recent history, or the absolute surrender to third powers like Russia, America and China. Once European nations are divided and weakened, it will be easy for other regions to rise and take advantage of the situation.

A closer union will mean that the interests of the "too big to fail" nations are put aside and a European federal or confederate government, will make sure that all countries are treated equally and wealth or opportunities are equally shared.

But Europeans have not yet reached a certain level of maturity to realize this and so protectionism, conservatism and nationalism prevails.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Scottish Independence Referendum: A lesson for Europe.
For one day, the whole Europe turned Scottish. The Referendum on Scottish independence got the attention of the whole continent and everyone is waiting for the result. The outcome of the referendum is undoubtedly important for Europe, for a number of reasons.

First of all, one of Europe's biggest powers will never be the same again. If Scotland decides to leave, the United Kingdom, it's flag, economy and its position in the EU will dramatically change.

If Scotland gains its independence from the UK, as it is the most pro-European nation in the Kingdom, it will inevitably affect the referendum on UK's EU membership scheduled for 2017. Without the Scottish vote, if the rest of the Kingdom is still as Euro-skeptic after the Scottish departure, it will surely mean the withdrawal of the country from the EU.

That will create unprecedented changes for the EU itself as well as the UK. Economically a separated Scotland will face many challenges, but there will be surely some for the remaining Kingdom itself. Both they will have to either re-apply or re-negotiate their EU membership and as the UK is one of the EU's major economies, things can get complicated to say at least.

If the YES side of the referendum wins and Scotland becomes an independent nation, it will open the door for many other regions of Europe to also seek theirs: Catalonia is closely watching the Scottish vote result, but also Corsica, Flanders, Sardinia, the Basque country and many other regions might follow suit.

This will create a new Europe, a continent of regions. Many Europeans fear the secessionist agenda of the nationalist movements across Europe, as they fear the collapse of the whole EU and the European economy. Others welcome the development, believing that a new united or federal Europe must be a federation of regions and not of the traditional states that we know, so they see their breaking up as necessary.

No matter what, if Scotland says YES to independence, Europe will never be the same again. And even if it votes NO, some lessons are still to be learned for the EU itself.

One of the driving forces of the surge in popularity of the nationalist party in Scotland, was the very bad policies that the centralized UK government in Westminster followed for the past years. The London based elites, were ignoring the signs coming from Scotland, taking for granted the fact that their country remained united for more than 300 years.

They continued to implement neo-liberal policies, while the Scots were obviously increasingly unhappy. In fact some analysts believe that the whole referendum is based not so much on driven nationalism, but continuous dissatisfaction with Westminster's financial policies.

Similar events triggered independence movements and uprisings in European history so many times before. If a population is not happy about their ruling elite, they will eventually protest or revolt. And when this population has a national identity different than the elites that rule them, then what starts as a protest against the policies adopted, it becomes a nationalist and independence movement.

That was exactly what happened during the collapse of the Ottoman empire and the former Yugoslavia. So why don't our leaders ever learn? It is obvious that the economy and how it is managed is sometimes a greater force than any nationalist feelings.In fact dissatisfaction of one's financial reality can often incite them.

Our leaders should always keep the population happy and prosperous to avoid dissidence, or give the nationalists an opportunity to gain popularity. 

This can prove as a very valuable lesson for the EU itself and I think there are already signs of revolt against it, from ordinary Europeans. When power is centralized and detached from the people it is supposed to govern, it becomes irrelevant and secessionist or nationalist movements are eventually tearing this governing power apart.

So even if I am pro-European and a European federalist, I do not wish the EU to become a centralized government, under the model of France and Paris for example. A looser federation or confederation is more desired, especially when we are talking about 28, soon to be more different nation states.

If Brussels concentrates all power in Europe, it will soon (if not already) start behaving like Westminster: ignoring the voice or wishes of the people, blindly following policies that are very unpopular. That in return will empower the nationalists that will seek any opportunity to break away and so the dissolution of the EU as an institution will be inevitable.

If the EU or the UK are to survive, they need to change from within, before they are forced to change by the people. The weakening of a centralized power, taking always into account the public opinion and giving national and regional governments a greater say, might just do the trick to save a union.

It is obvious that the UK has failed but also others like Spain and the EU itself are not far behind. More integration does not necessarily mean concentration of power in one place, but standardization and harmonization of economic prosperity, living standards, opportunities and education throughout any union.

The above combined with a constant respect of the public opinion, cultural exchanges and a strong focus on our common identity, will prove much more effective in keeping the EU alive for the long term. At least more effective than a centralized government in Brussels.

If 300 years of unity fail to convince the Scots in remaining in the United Kingdom due to economic failures, what can be said about the EU with just over 50 years of history?

The European Union must become a federal socialist entity, promoting prosperity and equality across the block. Yet it must not limit itself to economic governance, it must become a cultural and a social project itself. After all it is also culture and common values that bind people together, not just a single currency.

The best of luck to Scotland, no matter what the outcome. This day is yours and the whole Europe is watching you. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The neverending war on terror!
Since last Monday and after the International Conference on Peace and Security that took place in Paris, the world edges closer to another war in the Middle East. (The Guardian)

Western Powers, this time joined by leaders of many Arab countries,vowed to use "whatever means necessary" to defeat the ISIS threat. France and Britain already are stepping up to join the US in the fight against the militants.

Overall leaders and diplomats from over 30 countries agreed on the urgency of stopping the expansion of ISIS in Iraq and the surrounding region. 

Sadly I am afraid that Europe and the West has no choice but to intervene. We should have never meddled with the region's affairs and declare a war on "terror" so easily, especially when there was no evidence to back it up. Europe made a mistake in joining the war in Iraq. 

We have destabilized the region and what is going on over there is serious. We need to take action, or it will  come back to bite us if we ignore it.  

In case the region falls under ISIS control, it is obvious that these fundamentalists won’t stop there. The whole region will sink into a radical theocratic Middle Ages and having a neighbor like that is not good. How could we have relations or trade with a country gripped by such regimes?

After they committed their recent gruesome criminal acts, of beheading two US journalists and one British aid worker, their hatred towards the West is evident. It is one thing to kill captured military personnel and another to kill an aid worker, who is there to help and do humanitarian work.

To them, the late David Haines was just another much hated Westerner. The fact that he had nothing to with the policies that his country has pursued in the region, did not bother his executioners. Solely his nationality was enough to get him killed. 

So imagine how could we ever send businessmen, tradesmen, aid workers, tourists, doctors or journalists to a region gripped by radicals and enhance our cooperation and collaboration with these countries. In other words, while ISIS is strong in the Middle East, we can never have any safe relations with the Levant.

And not just that, but if we take into account the number of the European born Muslims that were radicalized and fled to Syria or Iraq to fight, the issue becomes even more serious. It is known that Mr. Haines' executioner had British accent. In other words, there are radical Muslim individuals, perhaps with connections to ISIS living in Europe as we speak.

If ISIS gets absolute control of the region, what tells us that they won't seek to act within our countries too with their European Muslim members? Perhaps they could organize terror attacks on European soil, in retaliation of Europe's involvement in the US led wars in Iraq.

Everyone in Europe could be in danger then, either their government took part in the operations against Iraq or not. The free movement of people within the EU could be in jeopardy, once we enter a phase of high terror attack risk and the implications will affect everyone.

It is clear that the threat of ISIS must be eradicated. But it must not be only the work of America, Europe or the "West". Firstly because we can not be seen as the "Crusaders" again, as this will drive more people into the ISIS circles. 

Secondly, Arab countries and other nations from the region must actively participate in the operations. It is in their interests too to stop the spread of radical elements in their neighborhood. ISIS has been killing Islamic religious minorities in the territories that they have captured. 

The threat they pose is universal, so the Arab and other Muslim nations (yes, including Turkey and Iran-they are at risk too after all) should stop hiding behind America's or Europe's back and take action. If ISIS gets more empowered, it will be their citizens, either Christian or religious Muslim minorities that will also be under threat. What nation would allow that to happen?

My overall attitude is anti-war and against any European, or Western invasion and military intervention anywhere on the planet. But since we have made a huge mistake in following America in every war, now it is time to face the consequences and clean our act up. Having ISIS and any other radical organization right on our doorstep, with potential members in our lands and with a totally mistaken policy towards the Middle East, is a recipe for disaster and a serious security threat.

I hope Europe and the West have learned a lesson here. Next time they decide to intervene and meddle in another region's affairs they must think twice. Once you destabilize a region you open a Pandora's box. All bad things that were hidden dormant, or were laying as sentiments in the bottom are stirred and come up to the surface. 

Especially when you are doing a shake up to overthrow a lesser bad, or someone who you have been supporting initially, it indicates either the highest level of stupidity or corruption in the Western political elites.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Peace in Europe is obviously in the hands of the ordinary people!
 I can not believe what is happening in Europe once again.

It is almost a year since Ukraine entered a very turbulent and critical stage in its history. From protests and demonstrations, to edging very closely to a civil war.

The country is in a critical stage, that could destabilize the whole region, Europe's relationship with Russia and the continent itself.
The European and Russian elites have been engaging in a ridiculous tug-of-war over the country. The two regions are close partners and rely on each other, never mind the close historic ties that binds them. Russia was always an integral part of Europe and its history. But ever since the cold war, both sides are wary and critical of each other.

Europe's suffocatingly close alliance with America and the megalomania of the Russian leadership, with the vision of restoring Russia's former"glory" and pride, is tearing Ukraine apart. It is no secret that both sides have interests in the region and they are trying to promote them. But the Ukrainian people must have the final say themselves, about the future of their country.

Personally I do not see why the Western powers are still feuding with Russia and vice versa. Europe, America and Russia would be better off as close partners, but the remnants of the cold war are still a thorn in their potential deeper partnership.

The European elites imposed sanctions on Russia, by ending its exports of oil equipment, placing an embargo on Russia's arms trade and cutting off Russian bank finance, as well as placing sanctions on individual Russian elites. Russia in return, placed a ban on EU fruit, food and agricultural products.

This is the silliest trade war there has been for a while. By placing sanctions on each other, the two sides are not only harming the other's economy, but also their own. They are behaving like children that are angry with each other and so they are destroying whatever good they have built together!

Can these elites be trusted? No! In the past it was the same attitude of Europe's political elites that led to two world wars that killed millions of Europeans. Interestingly enough, this summer we commemorated the 100 years since the beginning of the First World War, in which millions of young European perished.

Are we people, going to allow them to do the same on European soil once more? Will hundreds or thousands of young Ukrainians, Russians and other Europeans have to die, over the future of Ukraine? A country that should after all decide its future on its own, by all democratic means.

I do not understand why the Russians are so afraid of "losing" Ukraine. The Russian minority in the eastern part of the country, will always remain ethnic Russian, with the only difference that they will be also EU citizens if the country joins the EU.

Russia will have a direct influence and a say in the EU, if MEPs and other politicians from the Russian speaking regions of the expanded EU, enter the Brussels institutions. Provided of course that the Russian minority is treated with respect by the Ukrainian and European authorities.

But the attitude of Europe is also wrong towards Russia and Ukraine. The American influence in their relations is obvious, and it is not helping. The only way to encourage the integration of the few remaining nations in the eastern region of Europe to join the EU, is what Europe does best: trade!

We should be engaging with trade and bilateral agreements, with all former USSR democracies. If Europe offer "funds" in order to gain control over these nations, it then corrupts these countries. We give money in one pro-democracy party, that in the end becomes addicted to foreign money and uses all means to stay in power, by keep twisting the arm of their donors for more funds, in exchange for more democratic reforms and keeping the status quo.

These money are being misused and they corrupt the "democratic" elites which eventually they become gangrenous both to the country and the donors. It would be better to engage with them with trade, and bit by bit via investments and continuous cooperation, change will come naturally, as well as their entry in the European institutions. 

It will be the people themselves who will initiate it, after seeing how we in the rest of Europe live, come in contact with our values and way of thinking, once they come over here to work, study or do business. And vice versa, when European tradesmen go over there to start businesses and invest in their countries, they can become beacons of European values.

The exact same attitude Europe must have towards Russia. The more we criticize the country for the bad decisions and practices that their corrupt elite is doing, the more we help nationalism rise among the population and support these elites, as they are viewing them as heroes and protectors of their nation and values. This is going nowhere and Russia should become a key ally of Europe and even America itself.

In other words, the wrong attitude and grave mistakes of the Russian and European elites, could cost the lives in a great number of Europeans once again (I include the potential Russian victims, as they are Europeans after all). We should not allow them to bring disaster in our continent again. 

The Ukrainian people have nothing to separate with the Russians, the Russian with the Europeans and so on. We are all striving for a better future and living standards, our goals and interests are in fact uniting us. If our elites want to play games with our welfare, over power, land and dominance over another then they are not representing our interests and we should show them the way out! 

If there is any chance for peace in Europe, it is obvious that is lies in the hands of the ordinary Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians. Do not fall for your government's propaganda, for blinded nationalism and the promise that your interests lie in a nation state, a national government or on constant power games between your nation's and other neighboring ones.

Refuse to be part of your political elite's mistakes and wrong doings, or it will be you and your children that will pay the price once again.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Europe: a place of peculiar judicial systems and leadership!
This week, three incidents that took place in our lovely continent had me absolutely outraged! The first one comes from my native country, Greece. A country that for the past six years of recession, looks more like a theater of peculiarities and a freak show.

I can never understand under which circumstances, someone who shoots at his employees for rightfully asking their hard earned salaries, walks free! I am talking about the incident in Manolada in Southern Greece, where an strawberry farm owner and his cronies, opened fire to 28 migrant Bangladeshi workers seeking simply to be paid.

The incident happened last April, but the verdict was announced today. The owner, who had been accused of human trafficking and one other had the charges against them dropped. Two others were handed prison sentences of 14 years the most, but were also freed pending appeal. (The Daily Star)

It is known that there is a huge problem of corruption, especially in the police, judicial and state institutions in Greece, but that incident is absolutely unacceptable for an EU member state. These practices were more common in the "Wild, Wild West", and they belong to that time and place.

The immigrant workers in Greece and in every other European country, form the backbone of its economy. They do the work that nobody else wants to do, cheaper and often better. They pay higher taxes and have to also keep applying and paying for a visa, just to stay in the country.

To treat such people like dogs, brings disgrace on the whole local community of Manolada, but also on Greece itself. I myself am outraged and appalled by the very incident, let alone today's verdict. How can the country attract workers that it needs now, when we are showing to the world that we actually want slaves to work without pay. And that we are going to shoot at them if they ask for money and get away with it.

Such practices belong to another era, where slavery was legal, not in Europe of 2014. The judicial system of Greece and the people responsible for such decision must come immediately under scrutiny, if necessary by a European or international judicial body.

No one can treat immigrants, human beings above all like this and get away with it. The Greek government must act on it immediately and see to the punishment of such businessmen, or itself must be accused of racism and fascism. The EU must investigate and act accordingly.
Speaking about far right elements in governments throughout Europe, the second peculiarity in the European continent came from another EU state, Hungary.

We are used lately of the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr. Viktor Orban's controversial policies and speeches. But things are getting really serious, after his latest speech on July 26th, at a retreat of ethnic Hungarian leaders in Baile Tusnad in Romania.

Mr. Orban stated that he wants to abandon liberal democracy in favor of an “illiberal state,” citing Russia and Turkey as examples. Together with China, he listen the above nations as "successful," while stressing that the global financial crisis in 2008 showed that “liberal democratic states can’t remain globally competitive”. (Bloomberg)

While I am not fond of the way that economic "liberalism" has developed over the recent years and what it represents nowadays, Mr. Orban's aspirations will result in more troubles for his country. For a European leader to be inspired by Russia and Mr. Putin, a country that sees a surge of homophobia and xenophobia, while it demonstrates expansionist agenda, it is a worrying development.

Especially when Mr. Orban is very keen in his country's relationship with Hungarian minorities in other European, even EU states. Not to mention that in the case of Turkey, which we witness a barrage of freedom of speech violations recently, for any politician to  be "inspired" by them is simply laughable.

The Hungarian people must realize where Mr. Orban's "vision" will lead their country and decide more wisely during the next elections. If in any doubt, just check the human rights, freedom of speech and personal development records of Mr. Orban's three role model countries.

Yes economic neo-liberalism may be troublesome the way it developed and it may have also caused lots of problems for the average European household and middle class. But going towards the other extreme is not the solution either. You can not have a country that is nationalist and conservative, in an international organization that promotes integration of European economies, societies and states. 

The solution to Hungary's and in fact most of the European nations' woes, would be actually less state intervention and more European governance, directly elected by the European people collectively. Our national governments are in most cases the ones responsible for Europe's economic collapse, though the EU as an institution is not blame free.

Yet if we accuse the EU Commission as the root of all bad policies adopted by the EU, well think who appoints these men and women in these positions in the first place; our national governments! 

Finally, speaking about Turkey as an "inspiration." On the 28th of July there was the third case of peculiarity in Europe, with Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç stating that women should not laugh out loud in public, complaining about “moral corruption” in Turkey. (Hurriyet Daily News) Seriously as if some politicians are trying hard to damage their political career.

Thank God that the Turkish ladies gave him a proper answer, flooding the country's social media with pictures of themselves laughing! I am not sure what got into Mr. Arınç's mind but whatever it was, it was silly and utterly misogynist or sexist! Not appropriate for a Deputy Prime Minister, in a country that wants to join the EU one day. Time for the Turkish people to rethink about their leadership too perhaps.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Europe's neighborhood is in flames: Ukraine and Palestine.
The past few days we have witnessed the world going crazy. Two ongoing conflicts-one very old and one recent-got out of control, resulting to the deaths of hundreds of innocent people.

On Thursday (17th of July 2014), a Malaysian passenger airplane was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, allegedly by Russian separatists. As result, 298 passengers were killed, all of them civilians that had nothing to do with the regional conflict.
During the same week, we had the flaring up of the Palestinian fighting, with Israeli forces invading the Gaza strip again on Thursday. This conflict lead to another 310 human lives being lost in Palestine, plus two in Israel.

Overall in one week we had over 500 deaths in Europe's neighborhood, as result of land, political, ethnic disputes and power struggles.

During this time Europe is absorbed by its own internal problems, in the aftermath of the European elections and the slow decision process in agreeing the next EU Commission leadership.

Since the elections, the candidacy of the former Luxembourgian  PM Jean-Claude Juncker for above post dominated the European leadership's interest, while the public was absorbed by the FIFA World Cup football games. So the developments in Ukraine slipped for a while as top story of interest in our continent.

But Europe can not be passive anymore, as this time the victims are not just Ukrainians. With the MH17 aircraft tragedy, not just Europe but the whole international community is directly involved. Out of the 298 people who perished in this atrocity, none of them were Ukrainian or Russian. They died because of a war that apparently until now had nothing to do with them.

The victims are from many different nationalities from all over the globe, so as result the war in Ukraine affects all these countries. And that is not all. Because many of the passengers of the tragic flight were leading researchers and campaigners attending the 201th anniversary AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne- Australia, their loss affects humanity itself.

Thus this time Europe and the international community as a whole, can not remain just observers in this conflict. So far the EU and the US have imposed sanctions against top Russian officials and offered financial aid to Ukraine. This hasn't worked.

It would be unwise to to enter an open war with Russia and its oligarchs, as this could have even worse implications. But we could work to unite the rest of the world against the Russian separatists, or any other extremist element in Ukraine. Draw in the international community and place sanctions on all those who are to blame from either side, or offer an overall support to the country.

Europe and America can not and should not try to find solution to the problem on their own. The ongoing conflict of interests between Eastern and Western powers, is the main root of the problem in Ukraine and it has played a role in the disputes in the Middle East too.

The Europeans and the Americans must involve the governments of other countries and organizations, putting aside any personal vendettas with Russia and its leadership. If the more countries of this world isolate the Russian leadership, the pressure will be greater.

This tragic accident offers a chance for a global, united response against the actions of Russian interests in Ukraine, but also all the shortcomings of the Ukrainian government itself. As long as Europe and Russia struggle over the country there will be no solution to the conflict, with the very danger of becoming one day, as old as the Palestinian one.

A conflict that if the international community really wanted it, it would have been solved already. Sadly, the interests of the big powers of this world, are not really interested for a handful of Arabs living in Palestine. Although the Palestinian side has a fair amount of blame in the problem, if Israel and its allies really wanted a solution they already have it in their hands: it is called capitalism!

As long as the people of Gaza and Palestine are isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, with no opportunities and with very low living standards, the easier it will be for Hamas, or whatever other organization to find willing recruits.

When Gaza's youths have no future and prospects like the young people in Europe, plus when they see their family being killed in Israeli air strikes, it is easier to radicalize them and make them fire these rockets. If they "enjoyed" capitalism like the rest of us, or they had wealth similar to those of many other Arab states, the last thing they would want is to be killed in an air strike.

These options may look far fetched and impossible, but as long as our leadership insists on the ones they have been working on so far, I afraid that nothing will change. Ukraine is on Europe's borders and is a problem that won't go away, since Russia is equally trying to promote its own interests in the region.

This world edges dangerously closer to a bust up and this is a prospect that should terrify us all. It is now clear that as long as Ukraine is unstable, the rest of Europe will be affected directly. It is not something that is happening only in Ukraine, it is something that happens in Europe and the great number of European victims in this tragedy confirm this.

With this blog-post I wish to offer my condolences to all the families affected in these tragedies.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thoughts on the European Elections 2014 results. weeks after the European Elections 2014 took place across the continent, nobody has clarified to the citizens of Europe what their decisions will mean for them.

After years of austerity and increase in social injustice, it was inevitable to have a surge in the popularity of populist, "Euro-skeptic" parties across the union.

Until the economic crisis, they remained in the periphery of the political life in each member state. Yet they have now managed to gain significant support and increase their presence in the European Parliament (EP).

In certain core EU states like France and the U.K, the Euro-skeptic parties UKIP and the National Front, have claimed victory in the elections by winning the majority of the votes. In other countries such as Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Austria, far right, radical left or anti-EU parties gained a significant number of seats in the EP.

In Italy, the Movimento 5 Stelle party came second in votes, while in Greece the Golden Dawn, in Austria the Freedom Party and in the Netherlands the Party for Freedom came third. In Greece we had also the radical left party Syriza also winning the elections, although they are not hard-line anti-EU party.

Of course the majority of the seats again went to the "establishment" parties, despite the significant gaining of the Euro-skeptic ones. And while one would think that having a diverse European Parliament, with many smaller parties being included is a good thing, in this case is anything but.

A large number of smaller parties with a pro and pan-European agenda in the EP like the Federalist Party, would actually be of benefit for democracy in Europe. In the EP's case, we need to start having politicians and parties that have an EU wide agenda, if we want to have real democracy on European level.

But with parties that not only oppose any further integration, but they have a very conservative, nationalist and radical approach to politics, the EP will lose its power and influence. A divided European parliament by an increasing number of Euro-skeptic MEPs, makes it difficult to reach to decision fast and effectively, thus weakening it.

In return, a parliament that is not as efficient is being stripped of the citizens' support, as they see no use of it. And rightly so. When considering the circumstances that led to an increase of anti-EU parties in the heart of one of its institutions, we can not but blame the European elites for their handling of the euro-zone crisis.

Under the lead of Germany, Europe's governments for years have tried to make the working classes of the continent pay for a crisis that they did not start. They have nearly destroyed the continent's middle class, pushing millions of Europeans near or under the poverty line in many countries, especially those of the periphery.

And not just that, but they placed the EU as an institution in the forefront of every disastrous decision they have taken the past few years, shifting the blame from the national governments to the EU institutions. A very clever diversion to have an institution to use as a scapegoat, when it suits you!

Understandably the European citizens have voted for radical parties, as a protest. For years they have seen their wages, social security and worker's rights being slashed, so the results of these European elections were expected.

What the citizens do not understand, is that if they continue to place Euro-skeptic politicians in the European Parliament, they are actually harming their own interests. The EP is the only tool that we, the voters have in the EU. It represents our voice. And that is why our leaders do not give it the power that it needs to have to be effective and efficient.

They want to have an EU to promote the European elites' interests, but an EP with just enough power to give the European project enough legitimacy, so the people won't protest. Yet if we judge from Mr. Cameron's recent staunch opposition to Mr. Juncker's election as the head of the new EU Commission, our governments do not want to hand over too much power to the EU.

That is not necessarily a good thing for us, the citizens. From the constant power struggles between the three main EU institutions, the European Parliament, the EU Commission and the EU Council it is we, the people who pay the price.

When the EU is governed by inter-governmentalism, the bigger states like the UK, France and Germany have a bigger and more decisive say in the institution's direction. The governments of the rich nations can control and shape the EU's agenda, according their own interests.

That is of course anything but a democracy. If we want to have a more equal and fair Europe, it is the European Parliament who must have the major role in policy making, in most Europe wide affairs. And that does not mean absolute centralization of all power in Brussels, as many fear.

Europe must be governed in three levels, local, national and European. For all matters European, the decisions must be taken solely by the European Parliament, while the national governments must keep control on national issues. And that is where the clash takes place.

The governments of the core European economies, do not want let go of the control they have over their affairs, or the influence they have over the smaller European nations. They want to arrogantly lead Europe according their own interests, ignoring the needs of the peripheral states or refusing to share the wealth and decision making with them.

That I am afraid is not a sign of a united Europe, rather of an unequal continent that the rich elites, of the rich elite nations rule to the detriment of every worker across the continent. Is it bold to think that the weakening of European Parliament by pushing citizens to "democratically" elect extreme parties, was planned by the European governments and the elites they represent?

They want to take back control from "Brussels" and keep "national" interests under the national governments. That is a fallacy, considering the extreme neo-liberal policies they have pursued during the past decades, which have undermined the interests of the ordinary citizens, in every EU member state, either rich or poor.

Their policies widely favor big banks and multinational businesses, to the detriment of all European workers. Through populist and inflammatory media context, they also incite a war among the European peoples and the continent's classes. Immigrant against native, Eastern against Western, Southern against Northern European. While us citizens, have a common enemy: our own "national" governments and their policies.

So if we really need to achieve real change in our continent, voting for far right or radical parties, is certainly not the way, as we are making our governments' work easier. We are shooting ourselves on the foot. The far right parties are helping the establishment to keep the status quo in place, not our "nations" to defend their interests.

What we need is a Europe wide action and cooperation, a strong European Parliament and European political parties to be more dominant in it. Thus bringing our continent under a federal political formation, in which solidarity, equality and other similar values will prevail.

Secondly we need our governments to start listening to their citizens and respect their vote! The attitude of Mr. Cameron and other who support him in his opposition in Mr. Juncker's election as a head of the EU Commission, even after he has clearly a legitimate claim and support of most political parties in the EP, is scandalous.

You may want to join this Facebook page, Respect our Vote,  and express your support for democracy in Europe.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Time for Europe to alter its view on its LGBT communities and human sexuality.
On May the 10th Conchita Wurst, a drag queen from Austria won the Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The result was seen as a major breakthrough for the LGBT community in Europe by some, but for others it was outrageous. Many described how Conchita's appearance in the contest would turn it into a "hotbed of sodomy".

Countries such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine unsuccessfully tried to ban Austria's entry in the competition, while public opinion in many countries was also divided. Comments in social media platforms were either condemning and showing outrage, or showing support for Conchita.

What is peculiar about the behavior of those who criticized Conchita's participation in the Eurovision, is mainly the fact that it is not the first time is that we had a LGBT person in the competition. The contest is very popular among gay audiences and it is inevitable to have drag acts participating.

In 2007 the song "Molitva" sang by Marija Serifovic, an openly homosexual woman, won the competition. In 1998 it was a transsexual from Israel, Dana International who managed to come to the first place. There was little condemnation in Marija's entry and as for Dana, her song went on eventually to become a big hit in many European countries, despite condemnation from ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Conchita's appearance of course is very provoking. A drag-queen with a beard, is an unusual sight to most viewers. Yet, that did not stop her from winning the competition. Her victory might be a political statement towards Russia, whose entry was apparently booed during the competition. Nevertheless it was heartening to see conservative countries such as Greece, Israel, Italy and Ireland giving their 12 points to Austria.

If Conchita's critics fear that the "behavior" of such individuals will become the new "norm" and they will have to see more of "these people", then they should wonder: did her appearance made or encouraged anyone to wear a dress and rename themselves as Chiquita Pastrami? No! 

I may not be the greatest fan of her look either, but her voice and song were good and that is all that matters. All that this individual wants and desires is acceptance, for whatever she is or represents and for the many transgender, transsexual, gay, transvestite or other individuals that exist and find themselves outside of the "mainstream"  social norm. 

Conchita's appearance promotes tolerance, not homosexuality or transvestism itself. If you don't have it in you, no matter how many drag queens you are going to watch in song contests, they are not going to make you or your children homosexual.  

There are scientific researches showing that children of gay/bisexual individuals in homosexual relationships, are no more likely to become gay themselves, than children who have grown up in a traditional family. That is about 5-10 % of a chance, just like as any heterosexual, traditional family!

Acceptance is what Conchita is seeking, not to make all of you and your children to wear dresses . Besides transvestism is nothing new, there are evidence that even in ancient Greece and Rome, transvestites were not something unknown. People like Conchita exist in all countries, ethnic groups, religions, races and social classes.

And what is really hypocritical about our societies, is that we all know that these people live among us, yet we chose to ignore them. When I was serving my military service in Greece, there was a transsexual serving too in the batallion. Technically, as he was physically still a man, he had to enroll and serve in the Greek army. 

The stories he was telling to the rest of us, about how many "real" men were seeking to have sex with people like him, then they were abusing them verbally or physically were sickening. There is a great deal of pretentiousness in our societies and I do not think we should be judging or condemning.

Besides, not every man who wears dresses is a homosexual. Many straight men in heterosexual relationships, like to put on dresses. They are the so called cross-dressers and there is a huge stigma and misunderstandings about their condition too. 

Transvestism, transsexualism, cross dressing, homosexuality are only terms that remind us that human sexuality is as complex as our brains and psyche. There is simply every "shade of grey" out there in sexual preferences so instead of condemning, we should first accept this fact, try to understand it or even explore it.

It would be easier to just admit the fact that human sexuality is much more complex than that of the cow or the sheep. Humans are far more complicated beings, mentally, biologically, spiritually and emotionally to just have sex with a partner of the opposite sex and only for reproduction .  

Even so there are plenty of cases of "gay" animals, especially among the most intelligent life forms like mammals and birds. Thus any argument of "normality" on sexual relationships and practices is absurd by any conservative folk that are offended by people like Conchita. 

Europe must become a continent of tolerance and to do that we need to start exploring outside of our traditions to find answers. Millions of people live in unhappy relationships, or unfulfilled emotional, romantic or sexual lives, because of the self imposed restrictions and taboos that we have placed upon ourselves. 

It could be your children or grand-children facing what Conchita has gone through, to find acceptance and tolerance. No one has the right or authority to prevent other human beings from finding happiness and love with anyone who they desire.

Happy and balanced emotional human relationships, mean happy and balanced, highly creative people. Not a demoralization of our societies or "sodomy" as many view homosexuality. It is in fact the current misplaced sense of morality that is a greater threat to our social fabric, as it drives millions of people into unhappy lives.

If Europe really wants to be a place or equality for all its citizens, then eliminating prejudices and promoting LGBT rights in all its member states, must become as important as any other initiative for equality and prosperity. 

And so the victory of Conchita Wurst is only a reminder of our continuous battle against prejudice. It is only a small victory among the many battles that must be fought in changing people's minds, reversing the injustice that has been inflicted upon all people of different sexual preferences.