Friday, October 28, 2011
The protestors in Dublin have camped outside the Central Bank of Ireland on Dame Street in the city's center, naming their protest: Occupy Dame Street! For me that was an opportunity to talk to them, get to know their cause, understand it and perhaps even join them!
I decided to go and speak to one of them in a cold and rainy day in Dublin. Not ideal for interviews under a tend, but they are used to have people approaching them and ask questions. They quickly offered me a warm cup of tea. I sit down on a wet from the rain chair and speak to Emily, a young Dublin artist that is willing to explain to me why she is part of the protest.
She explains to me that the background of the people taking part, as well as their motives differ; from students, people who lost their jobs and homeless people, to people who have jobs and just want to express their anger. They go in the camp in the evenings and get up to go to work the next day, having spent the night there! Some of them are Irish but there are non Irish citizens participating too.
The group was set up by individuals that were watching the events unfolding in the other side of the Atlantic and the rest of the World. They soon set up an event in Facebook, came in contact with each other and so it started. The main purpose of their initiative was to show solidarity with the other countries in crisis or protesting!
Emily tells me that each person participates for different reasons, they have individual hopes and agendas. Some because they want the IMF out of Ireland, some others want to push for the oil and gas of their country to be returned to the people of Ireland. All of them though have an anti-Capitalist agenda, and they all disapprove that our Governments put profit before people. They demand " a real, participatory democracy- where the people's interests come first, where the people decide what happens." You may read the full statement of the movement here: http://www.occupydamestreet.org/our-statement .
" I came for two hours, and two weeks later I am still here" says Emily. Her personal ambitions are not political, rather social she makes sure to mention. They have no plans about how long they are going to continue the protest. The group makes decisions in daily assemblies and for the moment their agenda is to continue their protest as long as it takes. They face few problems of course, apart the very wet Irish weather. "Shelter problems prevent more people from coming and joining" tells me Emily. They are working to solve those issues, so hopefully they will have more protesters joining.
They get a lot of their food from nearby restaurants that offer them meals. The public is very supportive too, Emily adds: "people drop in food to us." They also have a " wish list" on their website (www.occupydamestreet.org) with things that they need and their supporters are providing them. Anything from hardware and DIY, to blankets and electronics.
She points out to me that they are trying to spread their message on-line. Promote it to "underground" media, since America set up the standards for media blockage on these protests; almost all mainstream TV media do not refer to the protests as much as they should. They avoid giving an exact image of what is happening in those protests. So they do most of the promotional work on the internet.
I ask Emily if they had any interest from any of the media. She tells me that almost all Irish newspapers have shown great interest and support. But not the Irish TV and radio media; "they had ignored us overall, apart from some small reports." They had more interest from foreign TV channels like the France 24 and Al Jazeera. And the majority of Irish politicians did not show much of an interest either, with the exception of Senator David Norris!
Their daily work involves two assemblies where people who visit can voice their opinions and express their concerns. They take note of them and trying to be the voice of the people, by including them in their statements. They organize forums, they have set up the "Occupy Dame Street University" where people can ask questions and get information. They also organize arts and culture events, that some include music and traditional Irish music. Recently they had Billy Bragg, an English alternative rock musician and left-wing activist playing in one of their events.
I leave Emily to continue with her work, as other members of the group are asking for her opinion and assistance. They have work to do as it seems and I was starting to get really cold under that cramped tend full of books, food and other supplies. I passed from their camp a couple more times during the next few days and I saw their group growing, while more people walking through their camp debating and asking questions. I think what they are doing is amazing and plausible. Someone had to start something like this and I am more than pleased that ordinary people seem to support them or at least be curious about what they are doing.
I am not surprised of course that the mainstream media and the political elite try to pretend they do not exist. They hope that the whole thing will just fizzle out and be forgotten. It is up to all of us of course, not just the people who participate in this campaign to prove them wrong. This is an opportunity for all of us to get involved and have a say in the future we want. Will you use it, or will you pass it by?
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The Single Market Forum's (SIMFO) main aims were to bring together citizens, businesses and public authorities from all over Europe to take stock of the single European market as well as to discuss on new ideas for forthcoming initiatives and on how to improve implementation of the Single Market Act.
Since 1992, the Single Market has brought tremendous benefits and created new opportunities. But free movement of people, goods, services and capital does not always come about easily. The full potential of the Single Market is still unexploited.After a wide open debate, on 13 April 2011 the Commission has adopted the Single Market Act setting out a package of twelve key actions to further develop the Single Market.
The two-day forum in Krakow will be the first of a series of similar conferences in coming years. It will mark the starting point of a constant debate among EU institutions and stakeholders on the development of the Single Market. (The above paragraphs were taken by the actual website of the SIMFO. You may find the information on the website at: http://www.tellusyourstory.eu/content/single-market-forum).
I arrived in Krakow on Sunday the 2nd of October around lunch time, with an Aer Lingus direct flight from Dublin. The weather was fantastic and amazingly warm and since I had the whole day ahead of me with no further obligations, I enjoyed strolling down the old city of Krakow on my own, shopping, browsing, dining and taking pictures for my albums. Krakow itself is a must-see European city, unspoiled, preserved with a rich and diverse heritage. The one thing that struck me apart from the vast number of aesthetically beautiful buildings, was the amount of nuns and priests roaming the city. I knew that Poland is a very religious country and Catholicism is deep rooted, but I was not expecting that.
The next day, Monday the 3rd of October was a very busy day. We met with the other four winners of the competition (Kimmo from Finland, Karolina from Poland, Barbrara from Austria and Alvaro from Spain) for breakfast in the Radisson Bleu Hotel's restaurant where we were booked, at 8.00 o'clock in the morning. At 9.00 we had to be at the Conference Center, about 20 minutes walk from the Hotel. The Forum was taking place in the Auditorium Maximum, at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. We registered after we passed all security checks at the entrance, and we went on to have another coffee before the conference begun.
There were about 1500 people attending the Forum mainly from Poland but many other EU countries as well. Politicians, MEPs, Commissioners, journalists, representatives from national Governments, think tanks, Unions and Trade Unions. The Conference was opened by its moderator, Mrs Jackie Davis. Soon after her introduction, followed speeches by the President of the European Parliament Mr. Jerzy Buzek, Poland's Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Waldemar Pawlak and the EU Commissioner for Internal Market and Services Mr. Michel Barnier.
Then our time arrived; the videos we filmed in Brussels about a month earlier were shown to the audience. Next we were called on stage by Mrs Davis to introduce us in person to the audience and we were interviewed by her. She asked us questions about our experiences, what problems we faced, how did we view the Single Market and what our suggestions would be to solve those issues we faced. Following that we had the honor to be presented with an award and a basket full of Krakowian delicacies by Mr Barnier and Mr. Pawlak. Then we returned to our seats and watched the comments on our videos and interviews, by some of the organizers, delegates and guests of the Forum like the Maltese MEP Mr. Louis Grech and British MEP Mr Malcolm Harbour.
Some amazing evidence were presented, on how much EU regulations are being misused, misunderstood and not properly applied by the EU member states. Sometimes because of ignorance of the rules and regulations by the officials in the national public services or simply by the inability of the member states to implement EU regulations. They have created the "Top 20" most common problems that people face when they shop, travel, study, move or work to another EU state from 20 real complaints and problems posted by EU citizens to various European portals. One thing that will stay in my mind was the case of a Danish girl that moved to Sweden and tried to open a bank account; but to do that she needed to have an permanent address in Sweden, and to have that she needed to have a bank account in order to give her details to her land lord and set up a direct debit, so she could rent a property. So she was stuck in a vicious circle, in vain because there are EU regulations that prevents and solves similar issues, but simply she and the Swedish bank employees were unaware of them! That opened my eyes on why people are so skeptic about their rights and the benefits that EU membership offers; they simply do not have a clue or if they do, it is the officials in their national public services that they lack the necessary knowledge!
The lunch break took place then and we had the opportunity to meet and mingle with various people. Many would come to congratulate us, others to get to know us better or comment on our experience. Soon many conversations turned political and of course we started talking about the current crisis and the situation in Greece.I was in my element. My discussions with Jenni Nikander, a Finnish employee of the EU Commission are most memorable!
Later on we had to go back to the conference and choose a workshop to participate, according our own interests or choice. There were around 7-8 workshops taking place at the same time in many different rooms of the conference center. I thought that the most appropriate for me, or of some interest would be the one regarding on how to bridge the gap that exists between the different EU institutions and the citizens. Because that is what my story was about; not knowing what is out there, our rights and opportunities that are left unexplored or unexploited simply because the people are not aware of them!
The workshop had the Polish MEP Mrs Roza Thun as a rapporteur, who she was also one of the main organizers of the Forum. We discussed the reasons why the people are unaware of many EU portals or institutions, how can we make the citizens more aware of them, the benefits of having more active participation by the citizens and other solutions, problems and challenges that we are facing when it comes to the Single Market. It was very interesting, lots of brain power and many ideas were flying around the room and some very interesting points of view. There were representatives from EURES, the program that helped me find my first job in Ireland, and also SOLVIT , a portal that helps EU citizens when faced with problems dealing with the Common Market and handles problems with a cross-border element that are due to bad application of EU law by public authorities within the EU member states.
They have presented their agencies and what they do, their plans for the future, the challenges they are facing and what they have achieved so far. Comments came from ordinary folk mainly from Poland, but from other representatives of Unions and Trade Unions from other EU states. The workshop finished around 6 o'clock in the evening and then we were free to continue exploring and enjoying Krakow.
We arranged to meet with the other winners, go for a meal, a few drinks and experience the Krakowian night life! An experience that gave me the opportunity to make some new good friends like Tiina, the wife of the Finnish winner of the competition and Roberta, an Italian lawyer that was representing her firm that deals with problems arising from the misuse of the Single Market. We had a wonderful night out, but early enough we decided to go back to our hotel rooms as the next morning we had to attend the Forum again for the last day of it. And not only that, but we were all flying back home later that evening!
While we were out, the rapporteurs and other analysts were working most of the evening to come to conclusions, gather the results of our discussions of the previous day and present them to the audience the next morning! The Conference started again with the presentation by its moderator Mrs Davis of all the rapporteurs and soon after they took their turn on presenting what was being discussed by the rest of us in the workshops. One Austrian EU Commission employee, Mr Robert Wein approached the winners of the "Tell us your story" competition, and asked three of us to present the results and conclusions of the workshops (The Krakow Declaration) on a symbolic gesture to the appropriate officials. So I volunteered and I was given a scroll with the results of the first EU Forum on the Common Market to give to a representative of the Polish Government. It should have been the Polish PM Mr Donald Tusk, but to my disappointment because of the on going electoral campaign that was taking place in Poland at the time, he was not able to make it to the Forum!
After a short coffee break, most of the organizers and delegates took their turn to conclude and make a last comment on the conclusions of the Forum, and then it all ended. Me and the rest of the winners gathered for one last drink and some lunch in the main square of Krakow, the Rynek Glowny! We said our goodbyes and headed to the airport. I arrived in Dublin late that night, tired but so pleased that I had the opportunity to experience an event like this.
To me this was a first glimpse of the works of EU and its institutions, and a renewal of hope. Despite its bureaucracy and an often very slow reaction to the citizens problems, I saw democracy in the process and for the first time I was a part of it! I was able to discuss, share my views and opinion with MEPs and EU officials, debate and learn more on what other people like me are facing in their dealings with officials of another EU country. I have learned where the problems can be found and what must to be done to deal with them. I have made wonderful new friends and learned more about opportunities that I can explore and exploit as an EU citizen. I only hope that the EU officials take this opportunity and do something about it. Press our national Governments to improve the knowledge of their officials and the knowledge of the citizens about those opportunities and rights. I hope all this effort and ideas won't go wasted and stay in the papers only; it will be such a pity!
You may visit my new friend's Tiina Linkama photo-blog to see the pictures she took from the EU Forum at the following link: http://www.villaottilia.ee/winners/
You may view and read the Krakow Declaration here: http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/top_layer/docs/simfo-declaration-op-conclusions_en.pdf
You may visit EURES 's web page at: http://ec.europa.eu/eures/home.jsp?lang=en
Finally you may learn more about SOLVIT at: http://ec.europa.eu/solvit/site/index_en.htm
Sunday, October 9, 2011
There the "Αγανακτησμένοι" (Aganaktismenoi) movement, similar to the one of the Indignados, held protests and occupied the centers of many large Greek cities.
They demanded changes and debated, discussed and staged workshops, but also gathered support with petitions from other passing by citizens. The protests in Greece were peaceful and a show of a real democracy, as citizens were taking their turns to speak and express their feelings, anger, wishes, hopes and views on the current economic crisis.
Yet our Government did everything to break such citizen mobilization and even used violence occasionally to free the squares from their camps! Many Spanish protesters have joined their Greek counterparts and spoke about their aspirations, goals and experiences on the Spanish front; perhaps the greatest example of true European solidarity so far!
Those protests are not the only ones recently though. They are linked with the Arab Spring and the protests in North Africa and Middle East, Portugal and Iceland a couple of years ago.The Arab Revolution managed to overthrow the regimes that ruled their region for decades, but in Europe the protests are still being seen as social phenomenon!
Can we see a real change in Europe like we saw in the Arab countries, or our democracy and freedom are just a placebo? In the Arab countries they managed to topple their regimes and oust Presidents. In Europe we just witnessed the former Icelandic PM Mr. Geir H. Haarde taken to court, for his responsibility in damaging the Icelandic economy. But in Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal, or any other European country we failed to achieve such development.
Protests of support for the Spaniards and the Greeks were staged in many other European cities, like Dublin, Lisbon, Amsterdam, London and Paris. "Even though protesters in Spain were of a heterogeneous and ambiguous group, they shared a strong rejection of unemployment, welfare cuts, Spanish politicians, the current two-party system in Spain as well as the current political system, capitalism, banks and bankers, political corruption and firmly support what they call basic rights: home, work, culture, health and education." (Wikipedia).
The exact same feelings that the "Aganaktismenoi" protested for in Greece. But nobody of those responsible for this crisis was prosecuted, jailed or fined and no change of the political status quo happened neither in Spain or Greece.
What we see in Greece is the constant punishment of the ordinary citizens, they are called to pay for the bail out package, while those responsible escape any austerity measures. Not only they were tax evading with the tolerance of the Greek political elite, but now they managed to escape the crisis unscathed.
Now the Indignados are arriving in Brussels, for a week of protests before a larger Europe-wide demonstration later this month, ahead of an EU Summit. They have walked from Madrid all the way to the Belgian Capital and they were joined by French and other protesters.
On the way to Brussels they walked through Spain and France, and the support they received from many villagers and citizens of towns they passed was encouraging. They also picked up comments and suggestions from people to take to the European Commission. Hopefully they will be heard and they will succeed in their efforts.
Another very encouraging recent development is that this side of the Atlantic is not the only part that is being motivated. For any real change to happen in the West, America has to participate and be taken on board. And lately that is exactly what is happening. Several thousand Occupy Wall Street protesters have marched to New York City's Washington Square Park for a peaceful general assembly.
Demonstrators marched Saturday from Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, the group's unofficial headquarters where protesters have been camped out for the last 22 days. The trek was peaceful and orderly.
On Wednesday, dozens were arrested when thousands marched on Wall Street in their biggest show of support yet. Last Saturday, 700 people were arrested after they spilled onto the roadway while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge.
Protesters are speaking out against corporate greed and the gap between the rich and poor. They say they have no leaders and are making decisions by consensus. Supporters have donated food, clothing and medical supplies. Some drop off their offerings, while others have mailed them. (Associated Press).
That is a show that even in America, the people are fed up with the current Capitalist system and they want to protest and react. They are fed up finding hard to make ends meet, while the Bankers and the Stock Brokers dictate their lives, getting richer with the money that are being deprived from the people.
The protests are spreading in America just like they are spreading in Europe, with Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia also having protests. The "Occupy Wall Street" campaign was started last month, as a protest movement against corporate power.
Both Europe and America are in a surge of citizen protests and their expression of dissatisfaction on the current political and economical condition. We have come to the end of our tolerance, we can not take it any more,we want justice, equal opportunities and those who brought us to this point to face justice.
We want change, real democracy and a different kind of economic model that will be fare and beneficial to all of us, not just the few of this World! Can we see the two values of freedom and democracy, that are the pride of our "great western civilization", in practice please? The ball is in your field now Leaders of Europe, the people are watching your next move.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
The Republic of Cyprus and Israel are proceeding with their plans to exploit the huge reserve of natural gas found in the region, but Turkey is interfering with military presence, threats and displays of power.
The gas resources are clearly on Cypriot and Israeli waters, so Turkey should not have any objections to the exploitation by those two countries. Cyprus is a sovereign nation, an E.U. state and has every right to make deals and cooperate with other countries to attract investments for the betterment of its economy.
TheTurkish Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Bulent Arinc said on Euronews recently, "Turkey has interests in the region." All nations are very protective of them in their neighboring regions, so fair enough that Turkey is promoting theirs.What is very annoying is their pretense on the Cyprus dispute, blaming Greece and Cyprus for the current status quo in the region. Clearly when they openly try to meddle with Cypriot affairs, then they should be able to take some of the blame.
What it would be great one day to see, if Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and perhaps other Balkan and Middle Eastern countries cooperated in developing their resources. We could achieve so much if we did and stopped getting in the way of each others progress, or efforts for development and prosperity.
Turkey should allow Greece and Cyprus to exploit their natural resources, if not assist them and perhaps even be part of the efforts. Because stable and rich neighbors, mean less problems for you and perhaps more opportunities for trade and development for yourself. By constantly being a bully in the region, you are only contributing to its instability and that can not be good for anyone in it.
Recently they are not just get into trouble with Israel, because of Cyprus and the Palestinian issue last year. They are also in the bad books of Russia who apparently is sending a fleet in the region, to protect their interests in Cyprus, over the Turkish ones. But also of America's, as t is an American company that will do the drilling in Cypriot waters and of course Europe, as Cyprus is an EU member state.
They have even threatened to stop all negotiations with EU for the second half of 2012, because Cyprus holds the EU Presidency. Honestly what's the point in it and how can this make Turkey more appealing to Europe?
Perhaps Turkey after decades of waiting to join the European club, is losing interest and is promoting its own interests in the Middle Eastern region. By forging alliances and pushing their own political and military muscle, they are trying to become a major player in the regional and global political scene. Sometimes though overconfidence can be bad. If they lose the support of Europe, Israel and the USA they are getting exposed to major threats.
The Kurdish problem is still a reality and not all of their neighbors are friendly to them. They must remember that the European politicians are bound in a way by the European public opinion. If the public opinion is against Turkish EU membership, then they can not ignore their voters. So how all their recent actions are helping their image to the European populace?
With their last few allies on European soil (Albania, FYROM and Kosovo) set to join EU and enter under European influence at some point in the future, to whom will they turn, Russia, Armenia, or Georgia? They are not that friendly to them and the Arab nations are not particularly so fond of them either. Their only secure ally in the region is Azerbaijan.
But why must Turkey always remain a problem in the doorstep for Europe, that must be resolved or dealt with? They could be a stable and reliable partner that poses no threat to any of EU states, eventually perhaps becoming an EU state themselves.