Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Gay Marriages and Homophobia in Europe.

"Homophobia is damaging people’s health and careers across Europe and the problem may be worse than reported because victims are scared to draw attention to themselves for fear of a backlash, an EU study said. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights said police in most countries were incapable of dealing with homophobic crime – ranging from verbal abuse to deadly attacks – and said many governments and schools failed to take it seriously enough."
From the Irish Times.

Isn't it sad that in the year 2010, Europe is still divided by a "Rainbow Curtain". More than 40 years since the beginning of the Gay Rights Movement in America and its spread throughout the western or westernized countries, Europe is still divided. The west- northern states in their majority recognize same sex marriages or civil partnerships, but the eastern -southern states do not and have no plans in doing so anytime soon.

It is also intriguing that 40 years before WW2 the first organization promoting education about homosexuality and the abolition of laws against homosexuality was founded in Germany, before the Nazis' rise to power ended all efforts. We could say then that if the Nazis stopped it, then every government that acts in a similar way behaves like them.

Homosexuality existed always in human societies. From the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Persians, the Celts, Indians, American Indians, every society in the ancient world was tolerant of it. In ancient Greece and Rome sexual preferences and partners were as natural, tolerated and accepted as today is the music that you listen to.

In fact in ancient Greece older men usually were the mentors, teachers and often lovers of younger men. They were teaching them how to fight, use the sword and even how to make love to a woman while they were in a homosexual relation.

In ancient American Indian tribes, homosexual men were honored and respected people. They did not go to battle like the rest of the men, rather stayed back and became teachers or minders of the children. They were often taking roles of the shaman and other respected figures.

Homosexuality also exists in many animal species like dolphins, geese, lions, monkeys, apes, herbivore mammals, parrots, penguins, snakes, beetles and octopuses. Animals from different species and families are practicing homosexual sex, each for different purposes.

From just fun in dolphins, to strengthen social ties in our closest relatives the bonombo chimpanzees. Male to male couples of geese are often proved to be more successful in raising young. Because both are stronger than females, thus having an advantage. One of them mates with a female and they drive it off its nest so they can raise the young on their own.

Female lionesses often practice same sex games, in order to strengthen their ties before a hunt. Scientists have found a species of octopus on the bottom of the oceans that when its population explodes, a percentage of its male populations "turns" gay and their population is reduced again. In other words nature controls some species populations' by homosexuality.

Homosexuality  is in fact a natural practice and occurs in about 10% of the human population of all races, every ethnicity, religion, sex and age. Now why we ended up loathing and humiliating our homosexual minorities comes down to religion and it's role in controlling human sexuality and freedom of expression.

Sexuality, passion, creativity, love, emotions, free thinking are all interconnected. If you want to control one, you will have to control all others. And all three main religious movements (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) did just that. After  centuries of suppression of human sexuality it became the norm to the masses of people that homosexuality is something evil, devil derived, ridiculous and laughable, a degradation from how God wanted us to be.

I will have to laugh on this after the recent scandals of child abuse in the Catholic church. They preach against consensual sex between two adult males or females, while they were raping innocent children throughout Europe and America for decades or even centuries. Hypocrites!

So we ended up having homophobia rooted deep in our mentality and only recently attitudes started to change again. In few European countries they have already given full rights to homosexual couples, while in others are taking steps towards it.

There is also a huge misunderstanding on the issue of gay marriage. Gay couples do not just want to get married in a church like the straight ones. Rather they are seeking same legal status for their union, in all aspects of it apart from sex. Buying a house together, inheritance, social benefits etc. Legitimizing by law their union and achieving equal status for it as any couple, gay or straight should. And I really do not understand the Church's objection to this.

Why it supports monogamous relationships for all people while they object to it for gay people? One would thought that promoting monogamous lifestyle and sex life in gay people would be what they wanted. Since they can not eradicate homosexuality as it is a natural occurrence, then why not try to bring it to the same level as heterosexuality?

Who would want gay people to have casual sex only and never be able to form open, loving, caring and long term partnerships, that is more natural and healthy than hiding and practicing sex in the shadows? In that way, they are pushing the gay minority to have an unhealthy lifestyle that harms them, with the spread of STI's and AIDS.

The role of the media is also dubious. They are promoting the gay lifestyle in TV series, soap operas and reality television, but they seem to promote only one type of homosexuals. Are there really any cliche types of gay people? We have abolished apparently ghettos in our neighborhoods, but we have implanted them in our heads.

We are giving "freedom" to homosexuals to be open and "come out", but we immediately promote a stereotyped lifestyle that all of young gay individuals should follow. Ghetto is not just an area that you live in, it is also a state of mind. I think the society is succeeding in creating an image of gays that is camp, funny, feminine and interested in clothes and fashion. It forgets though to mention that some of the greatest artists, painters, ballet dancers, writers, actors, musicians, thinkers and even politicians and military men in human history were homosexuals or bisexuals.

Why would anyone object that two people that love each other, can form partnerships that have legal protection for the two partners in case of death or separation? Securing and protecting not just the interests of each individual in the partnership from one another, but in the case of death, from the family of the deceased partner.

The religious conservatives hold this notion that sex is only acceptable for procrastination purposes, despite observing even in Nature and other animal species that sex is not used just for this. And even if it did, why would we like to bring ourselves to the same level of the other animals? We claim that we are the most advanced species on the planet and we take pride of it. But they insist when it comes to sex, to take example of the allegedly laws of Nature and have sexual relations only when we want to have kids.

Humans are the most complex species on this planet, yet we chose to ignore their mental or emotional needs that are more complicated than any other animal. And from the spiritual angle of this, if two souls are in love with each other, why should the body be the obstacle to their union?

We insist in projecting young gay people, while in the most difficult period of their lives, to this damaging, humiliating experience of having to endure bullying, discrimination and rejection even by their own family. We don't realize that those practices only create damaged and dysfunctional people in our societies, afraid to be what they want to be and behave in a natural to them way.

There is also the issue of gay couples adopting children. For the moment I would not support such move by gay people who do not already have children of their own. Not that I do not have faith that gay people can raise a child as well as straight people. But our society is not ready to accept gay marriages, so I have concerns about the possibility of bulling that the adopted child might face at school, for having two same sex parents.

I would not exclude it though later, after our societies are fully ready to accept this and gay marriages have become as normal as the heterosexual ones. But for the cases when one partner has already kids by a previous heterosexual relationship, is another thing. Their other half should be able to adopt the children and give them protection and financial security if all parties agree. It is not unusual for people to have both homosexual and heterosexual relationships throughout their lives and have children with their straight partners.

It is time to rethink the family structures and norms that we have set for our societies. Since our sexuality is not as black and white as we think or are told it is and since our societies are changing fast, what good is to cling in old and failed practices that only perpetuate human misery and sadness?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Why it is important to keep voting in the European Parliament elections!

Democracy in the western world and Europe, is one of our fundamental assets, the spine cord of our civilization and the pride of our culture. Yet democracy, is a relevant idea if it lacks it’s main ingredient: the public. Any democratic system that it’s people are indifferent, ignorant or hostile to it’s institutions and functions, is in danger of becoming nothing more than a theater without the audience and the actors. An empty and meaningless institution.

Democracy can exist in a national, and an international level. As long as the people who are affected by the decisions of the Parliament, the heart of every democracy in the world are getting involved, vote, debate and being informed for the decisions taken by it, democracy exists and prevails. Either in one nation state, or in an international organization that is formed by many states like the EU, democracy can be present once it’s laws are being respected and implemented.

The duties of each one of us who is a citizen of a democratic country or a group of states, are most importantly to vote, care, be aware and participate in the functions and decision making of the democratic
system we belong. Our actions are necessary for the establishment of a functioning democracy.

Turn your back to it, or have no interest in participating and you do not just lose your voice, your influence and your chance to express your satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Technically you lose your right to democracy.

It works for you and with you, but without you, not only it loses it’s power, but you also lose every right to complain about everything you dislike in the country you live in. Or the group of countries who form the democratic institution your country belongs.

By voting in the European elections, you do not undermine your country’s sovereign status but you are increasing its influence and voice in the EU. Something that is so important for every country in
it, since by sending the most suitable MEPs to represent your country, you are securing the best interests of your nation and Europe’s in general.

Most "euro-skeptics" will argue that by giving power to the EP, you are giving away your country's sovereignty. But just think about this: are we really sovereign in a globalized world and how independent do you think you are at a national level? Do other regions of this world really have 100% say over their countries or their continent? But unlike the others, we have a chance to unite our voices, coordinate our actions and protect our collective interests better than them.

The role of EU is not to threaten the sovereignty of any member state as many believe. The argument of losing your national identity and becoming “European” if you vote for the European elections it simply
silly. The EU is not one nation or country, rather a union of states that want to work together, co-operate and share knowledge, resources, and policies towards a common good. “European” is something that we already are, since we inhabit this continent and participation in European affairs is something that we all should take seriously since whatever happens to Europe, affects us all directly.

To me the only way that Europe could become fairer and a better place to be, would be the formation of a partially federal government. To offer an alternative to our national often corrupt governments, paralyzed by the interests and monopolies of the ruling elites that were established after WW2. Lets give them competition and shake up the European established political elite.

Europe should be governed in three levels: The local, national and the European one. And for all matters European, we should give full power to the EP. We should not allow our national governments to mix or impose national politics onto European ones. Our countries and economies are already widely intertwined, so trying to solve European issues applying national solutions does not work anymore. Keep our national governments for all issues national.

Indifference, hostility, radicalism, nationalism, or simply lack of interest, can have disastrous consequences. Democracy does not work well with those elements. Any decision taken under such circumstances can be the wrong one and when it is an important one, the results can be negatively affecting the whole of  Europe for decades to come.

So the importance of a vote should be clear to everyone. It is not something imposed to us, it is our right and we should be proud and protective of it. We fought for it, we deserve it. Use it and use it wisely. In the next European Elections make sure you are present and give your message to your Government and all our European leaders.

What kind of Europe do you want? Vote to say that you care, that you are bothered. Vote to shape Europe, and influence it. No one will ignore you if the turn out is large. The more people turn out to vote, the more serious the elections are, the more seriously your politicians will take you.

If the turn out is small, do not be surprised if you are ignored again. Be responsible and use your rights. Vote! Let's make EU democratic and fully functioning.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Whaling and CFP should not be an issue for Iceland's EU accession!

I am reading with a great interest the progress of Iceland's application for EU membership. Iceland might be a tiny nation, but has a great strategic importance. Located near the North Pole, can give EU and Europe access to the region until and if Norway ever wants to join.

It holds as well a good fisheries stock and a good expertise in finding alternative energy. Their infrastructure is very interesting and many other European states can learn a lot by them.

The fisheries is not the only issue that is a potential obstacle for Iceland's EU membership. The debate on the whaling practices of the small country also raise a case for concern.

It is no lie that EU's CFP (Common Fisheries Policy) is outdated, just like CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) and in need of reforms. Some good policies exists in it, but I disagree with many others. The quotas that are set in the policy may not be always the right ones, but quotas are necessary. We need to control our stocks and managing them better. Because they are not going to last forever if we keep exploiting them like we do.

Nevertheless I do not agree with the way we handle our fisheries. Here in Ireland and in Greece, small fishermen complain and blame the EU for destroying their fisheries. In fact EU policies destroyed the small and medium sized fishing industries, as well as many local fishing communities almost completely.

 Large fleets from Spain come to Ireland to fish, and from Italy to Greece to do the same. Small fishermen have lost their jobs and livelihoods to big fleets from large fishing companies. Again it is the people that suffer the consequences, but that does not mean that Ireland or Greece as states have lost from the deals. When each country enters the EU, it negotiates what will give and what it will take from the rest of the Union's members.

From my knowledge, when Ireland entered the EEC, it chose to get support for it's farming industry and money for infrastructure in other areas, but it gave up completely its fisheries. In a way it exchanged them for better farming and development in the areas it was most interested in. So if the Irish want to blame somebody, then they should blame their then government who had no real interest in safeguarding their fisheries and the welfare of their fishermen, not the EU.

But Iceland's position is totally different. One of it's main industries are the fisheries so I doubt if they will abandon them as easily. Nevertheless I disagree with Europe's mentality on this issue overall. Why take all the fisheries from a nation and it's people, do not allow them to exploit them themselves according to quota you give them, so each state can then chose who and how much can catch.

Once a nation depletes it's quota, it can go and exploit another nation's that has not yet done so, and thus provide fish to the whole of the market. I watched a documentary recently about how smaller pacific nations exploit their fisheries, only catching what they need and want. I think it is time for Europe to do the same. Encourage smaller fishermen to work and provide for their families and local communities, following the national and European quota.

Fish are not just commodities to me. They are living organisms that belong to no one else but themselves and to all creatures that depend on them for their food. I disagree with the industrialization of the fisheries as it kills off many species and threatens them with extinction. EU should protect them so the quotas are needed after relative researches are done, to establish which species need protection. De-industrialization of the fish stocks and a new more eco and animal friendly fishing practices in Europe, is the way forward I am afraid.

The CFP should and from what I hear is meant to be reformed during the next few years. I will be certainly be watching the developments and Iceland's or Norway's reaction to them. 

Iceland should protect its fisheries, but it could allow other countries to fish in a percentage of their waters. Smaller fishermen and small fishing industries will have the exclusive rights to fish and provide the national and  European markets in a percentage of Iceland's fishing grounds, while other regions will be international. I hope that this will solve any issues on fisheries.

The whaling issue I think it is even simpler. In USA and Canada, they allow the native tribes to catch a quota of whales each year, even though both USA and Canada have banned whaling. They have allowed their native American population of the north to continue catching a small number of whales, for cultural and ethnic heritage reasons.

Though I love whales and I am sad to see them killed, I realize that there is no difference between a whale and a pig, an animal also intelligent that we kill it for meat. Though pigs are farmed and whales can not be, we could still after careful research point out which species have recovered and how many deaths can they support each year by humans. And so allow the Icelanders and a small number of Norwegians, the native populations of northern Europe, to continue catching a limited number of whales for the same reasons that the Innuit people do in north America.

Whaling is a part of the Icelandic heritage and I respect it totally, but I also want to preserve the whales. If the Icelanders agree to lower their quota each year on the number of whales caught and use their meat only for their internal market consumption and not for exporting, then I see no reason for whaling being an obstacle to Iceland's EU accession. 

They could agree on a quota given to them by a new EU whaling body that should be set up,especially for this reason. To monitor how many whales are caught by Iceland or Norway, in what way and how their meat is being used. Or perhaps the Fisheries Commissioner should have this responsibility, instead of creating a new position and it would be best if he/she was coming from a Nordic country.

Why should we always lift barriers when it comes to finding solutions in a problem in Europe? There is always a way around things, if we truly want to work on European integration. Imagine if Europe wanted to strike a special deal on farming with India that would benefit the continent, but the Indians found very upsetting that in Europe we eat cows, their holy animal.

So suddenly the Indians placed a demand out of us to stop eating cows, thus destroying a whole industry in Europe that focuses on turning cows into burgers! Should we comply? We have lost Norway in the past from becoming a very valuable EU member stated, because of the stubbornness of France's De Gaul. We are losing Turkey now with the reluctance of a few members in accepting the country in the club. Should we lose Iceland and the very important door to the North Pole, because of rejection of the Nordic diet?

Energy Issues of Europe.

Could the European nations find new ways to explore alternative sources of energy? Becoming in that way energy efficient,independent from oil or gas exporting nations and of course "greener".

So far they are encouraged by EU or their own governments to do so, on a national level mostly.

There are very few inter-national efforts and those apply mainly in oil or gas imports. Can we start building alternative energy production units from renewable or "green" resources collectively?

Europe has such a variety of climates and diverse natural habitats. We have strong streams and winds at the north and western part of our continent, hot sun and wind in the south. We could start exploiting solar, wind and sea current energy in the Mediterranean  EU states, both existing and future.  While exploit wind and sea currents in the North Western states.

Why could we not work together, a number of states sharing the expenses of exploration and building new kind of power-plants. Why spend money engaging in wars, to keep the flow of oil and gas from third party countries? Or putting so much effort in political involvement in countries that the oil or gas pass through to reach Europe.

Of course the companies that have invested so much in these activities and have huge interests in these regions, won't approve such thing. And it is clear that renewable energy probably cover all Europe's needs in energy. But we definitely can replace a percentage and reduce not only our CO2 emissions, but a costly trade with producer countries too.

A number of EU nations could co-operate, co-finance or co-build a source of alternative energy provider together, belonging to all of them and perhaps to the whole of Europe. Sharing expertise, knowledge and resources can lead to greater results.

The EU could create a common fund for exploration and development in all countries, accessed by all countries. We have CAP and CFP, how about a CEP (Common Energy Policy)? We shall all profit, benefit from and share this power generated and shall contribute to become independent and energy efficient. One of the purposes of EU is to make European nations cooperate and work together,so we can achieve our goals. Why not in energy issues as well?

As long as we are relying on others too much for our energy we will always be at their mercy. Countries like Nigeria, Iraq, the Middle East will always suffer and be undeveloped so the rest of the World can find cheap oil. Transit states like Ukraine and the Caucasus will also always be unstable.

We could put an end to all this or we could limit its effects, by producing a part of our energy needs from natural resources and renewable energy. Stop investing in efforts to get more cheap oil from poor and devastated nations. In that way we create a new market and a new source of exploration and exploitation.

And with them new jobs and industries, new kind of growth changing Europe's economy drastically. The future of Europe can be greener. But the benefits of such changes, won't just help our pockets and the way we heat our homes. They could also help European integration, by encouraging the creation of many trans-European projects and economic activities.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Europe and Islam.

There are simmering tensions growing in Europe, between its native Christian population and the immigrant Muslim one. Traveling throughout Europe,  I came in contact with local people that expressed their thoughts and feelings about their country's Muslim minorities, that in many cases were not positive.

Coming from Greece, a country that associates Islam mainly with Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, it sounded natural. The opinions of course I was getting in their majority were coming mostly from a more populist aspect, that of the unemployed European who must compete with non natives for the same jobs and welfare.

The root of the issue is hardly religious. Europe is a secular continent and the times that  the Europeans and Muslims were fighting to prove the superiority of their God are gone. Different countries have different problems with the Muslim communities.

In Greece any rise of it's Muslim population is seen as a threat, since our largest neighbor is Turkey with 71 million population. Many even believe that the rise of immigration of people from Muslim countries into Greece, is a Turkish policy to weaken the Greek-Orthodox nature of our country, thus "Islamizing" Greece.

It happened when we were under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans were using forced Muslim immigration into the northern Greek region of Macedonia to weaken the Christian and Greek element, thus making their grip more firm onto the region. So any rise of the immigrant Muslim population, especially through Turkey, reminds to the Greeks those times.

Other countries of Europe have a different approach to the issue, depending their own past relations with Islamic countries. Some of them used to be colonial powers and their view of Islam differ. Racism of course is ever present in our societies and contributes to the problem. As varied is the European public opinion on immigration from Islamic countries, it is of course the relation of the Muslim immigrants for Europe and their adopted countries.

Muslim immigrants do not come from one single nation. They are from various countries, each with its own distinctive culture, heritage and religious beliefs. Some are closer to European values, some far from them. It is not fair to treat them all in the same way.

Most Europeans fear the loss of their ethnic identity, culture and way of life from the huge influx of non European immigrants. That results to the rejection of any different culture and the rise of nationalism. The fact that we are in war in the Middle East with some Muslim nations and the role of our media do not help. These two facts contribute to the rising fear of people of Islamic background.

Could this rising "threat" be manufactured? In the past we had the constant threat of the Communists and their regimes but now that they are gone, do we need another bogey-man to threaten us? I was never threatened by Iraq for example before 9/11, or the Afghan militia and didn't even heard of their will to destroy all Western nations.

All of a sudden Muslims in Europe are being targeted and  there is a mistrust created between the two communities. But if we do have problems with Islam, then why don't we curve immigration from Islamic countries and encourage immigration from Latin America that already have European culture and the Christian faith?

In the past Christians and Pagans were also arguing and fighting on European soil. The result was the creation of Christianity as we know it today, created by the Roman Emperor Constantine. Christian and Pagan beliefs were mixed to create a new version of Christianity with pagan elements, and the total control of the psyche and way of thinking of the Europeans begun. Will the new infighting lead to the unification of the two religions and the creation of a new one?

I have to admit though, us Europeans are a hypocrite breed. In Switzerland they allow Muslims in their land, but they do not want to see the minarets anymore. They do not mind a Turk serving them in a restaurant, but it is the minaret that reminds them of the spread of Islam in Switzerland. And in France and Britain, the two countries that boasted to the rest of us about their tolerance and multicultural societies, we now see their policies fail.

Personally I do not agree with the radical branches of Islam. It is unacceptable to give a citizenship and nationality to someone who rejects the secular laws and constitution of the state that she or he wants to live in. If you reject that, how can you demand acceptance from the others? If you adopt a new country, you adopt also the laws of it.

And if a cartoonist or Dutch politician have personal issues with Islam and create cartoons or films against it, why does this have to become a thorn between the two communities? We have freedom of speech in Europe. There is a secular Muslim country called Turkey, so I would like to see a European version of Islam. You can be European and you can be Muslim. The first does not forbid the second one.

But definitely you can not be European if your ideas about religion, homosexuality and women are set in a radical Islamic mentality. We in Europe fought hard to get rid of that Catholic and Orthodox Church control and manipulation of our lives. We have liberated our women, accepted homosexuals as equals, we are not going backwards!Either we are dealing with radical Catholicism, any other Christian sect, or radical Islam our attitude should be one; rejection.

We allow Muslims to come here but with no real interest in integrating them. We need fairer and reformed immigration policies and work on our relations with the Muslim world. In the past it was the Arabs that kept ancient Greek scripts and studied them, developing Maths and Algebra. Not the Europeans that were living in the Middle Ages and the control of the Christian Church.

Hopefully in the future we will have lots to learn from them again, and themselves from us.