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Incredible Iceland

September 23, 2016
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For the last three years I have seen various travel posts regarding the interesting cuisine, friendly people, and drastic landscapes of a small Island country in Europe: Iceland.  This past summer I was fortunately able to make it over to Iceland at the end of a teaching assistant position in Europe.

My plan was simple: rent a car, camp as much as possible, and road trip around the Ring Road (the main highway that circles the island) for two weeks.

 

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The Ring Road can be seen here in red and circles the Island

For a college student like myself on a tight budget, a great way to save money in Iceland is by camping.  As long as property isn’t clearly marked and fenced off you can pitch a tent just about anywhere.

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For an island the size of Ohio, Iceland offers a wide range of incredible landscapes.  From glacier lagoons, to black sand beaches and the endless waterfalls, chances are Iceland has something to offer for anyone who is looking to experience nature up close.

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Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Iceland sits directly on top of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate.  Essentially, Iceland has been formed by these tectonic plates over millions of years and has some of the most active volcanoes and hot springs in the world.  As these volcanoes explode, the landscape is transformed over and over again, offering different and ever-changing scenery to visitors.  Examples of this can be seen in the following pictures.

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Svartifoss and the basalt columns were shaped from volcanic lava millions of years ago.

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Volcanic black sand beaches along the western coast of Iceland.

Another great way to see Iceland is through the multiple excursion companies located around the island.  Offering a competitive price, these excursion companies will take you places you simply cannot get to on your own.  For example, I splurged on a whale watching tour in northern Iceland.  Frankly I didn’t want to get my hopes up and be disappointed if I didn’t see any whales, however to my amazement we saw an entire pod of Humpback whales, approximately sixteen of them.

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Just one of the many Humpback whales seen on the tour

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At the end of the whale watching tour we were able to fish for cod on our way back into town.

 

Sources:

http://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/travel-info/roads-safety/

Making Sense of the Latest German Regional Election

September 15, 2016
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© John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images

 

Last week the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern held their regional elections. The upstart AfD party (Alternative for Germany), were the big winners, garnering 20.8 percent of the vote and winning 18 seats in the state parliament. The traditional big three parties, the CDU (Christian Democrats), the SPD (Social Democrats), and Die Linke (The Left), all lost seats. The CDU lost 2 seats and earned 19 percent of the vote, down 4.1 percent. The SPD lost 2 seats and earned 30.6 percent of the vote, down 5.1 percent. Die Linke lost 3 seats and earned 13.2 percent, down 5.2 percent. So what does this mean for Merkel, the CDU, and Germany as a whole? Firstly, it is important to understand the AfD party.

*Statistics provided by:  http://wahlen.mvnet.de/dateien/atlanten/ergebnisse.2016/landtagswahl.html

Understanding the AfD:

The party was originally founded by Bernd Lücke in 2013, an economist and former CDU member, on the basis of Euroscepticism, with its central issue focusing on the failed common currency of the Euro Zone. Lücke was a staunch opponent of bailouts for struggling southern European states.

The party began to attract right-wing populist voters, and the central platform of the party turned from Euroscepticism to anti-immigration and anti-Islam, as Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees in 2014-2015. This key shift prompted Bernd Lücke to step down and form a new party, Allianz für Fortschritt und Aufbruch (Alliance for Progress and Renewal). The new leader of the AfD party is former scientist, Frauke Petry. Petry is no stranger to controversy, mostly recently calling for the term “Völkisch“to be destigmatized. The term is most commonly associated with Nazi racial ideology. She has also called for the use of armed force for those attempting to entry the country illegally. The appointment of Petry signified the party’s shift to what many might call the far-right. One belief the AfD holds is that Islam is not compatible with German culture and society, which is a view held by an increasing amount of Germans. It is worth noting that there is a party even further right than the AfD, the NPD (the inheritors of the National Socialist Party). The AfD party has gained momentum in recent local elections and in all likelihood will be a player in next year’s federal elections.

Understanding Mecklenburg-Vorpommern:

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern has 1.6 million inhabitants, less than half the population of Berlin. The state is located in the former East Germany, in the far Northwest of the country. The state is mostly rural, relying economically on Baltic Sea tourism during the summer months. The state ranks last of all the German federal states when it comes to GDP per capita, and 4th to last when it comes to unemployment rate.

It is also important to note that Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is considered chancellor Angela Merkel’s turf, having served there as a member of the Bundestag (federal parliament) for the Stralsund-Nordvorpommern-Rügen district of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern since 1990. Evidently many in her home state believe she has simply not done enough to secure Germany’s borders and curb in the influx of migrants, which is ironic, considering Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is only required to take in 2.04165 percent of Germany’s asylum seekers, or roughly 30,000. This puts the ratio at roughly 1 asylum seeker for every 164 Germans in the state

*Statistics provided by: http://www.bamf.de/EN/Migration/AsylFluechtlinge/Asylverfahren/Verteilung/verteilung-node.html

Any discussion of anti-immigrant sentiment in the former East Germany is not complete without discussing the Litchenhagen riots which occurred in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in August of 1992. The riots occurred in state’s largest city, Rostock. For four days, xenophobic mobs rioted outside apartment blocks housing asylum-seekers in the Rostock district of Lichtenhagen. Though no one was killed, far-right extremists raided and set fire to a building housing asylum-seekers, petrol bombs and stones were thrown, and hundreds of arrests were made. The riots attracted thousands of spectators, who stood by cheering and applauding. The lack of response by local and state politicians and police was heavily criticized following the incident. Many around the country asked why more wasn’t done to protect those under assault and why the riots were allowed to rage for four days. The riots are ever present in the German social memory of the state. Also present in the German social memory of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the state’s most prominent soccer club, Hansa Rostock, which is known around the country for having a fan scene that is heavily associated with far-right politics. For many, the election results in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern did not come necessarily as a surprise, given the AfD’s growing popularity, the economic hardships faced by the state, Merkel and the CDU’s lack of action regarding the refugee crisis, and the state’s reputation and history as a hotbed for far-right extremism.

What does it mean for Germany?

The rise of the AfD could spell serious trouble for Merkel’s CDU party in the coming year. The election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern showed that though the flow of migrants into the country has slowed since its peak in mid-2015, the issue is ever present on the mind of voters. The AfD could continue to tap into the CDU’s more conservative voters who believe Merkel and her ruling coalition have not done enough to curb the influx of migrants. The CSU (Christian Social Union), which is the Bavarian branch of the CDU, has been vocal about the need for Merkel to tighten up her refugee policy. The leader of the CSU and minister president of Bavaria, Horst Seehofer, has blamed Merkel’s disastrous refugee policy for the success of the AfD. Merkel is steadfast that the AfD’s success will not allow her and her party to be pulled to the right.

The next state elections will be held in Berlin (a city-state) on September 18th, where the presence of asylum-seekers on a day-to-day basis is much more visible than in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. It is unlikely that the AfD will find the same success in Berlin that they found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but it remains unclear. Polling numbers have the AfD receiving between 2 and 15 percent of the vote, which illustrates another difficulty in Germany, getting accurate polling numbers and information on potential AfD voters. The AfD is currently unrepresented in the Berlin state parliament so winning any type of representation would be considered a monumental victory for the party and would give them further legitimacy in the minds of voters. The next federal election is not until fall of 2017. Will the AfD maintain their momentum or will the movement lose steam and fade away? The answer could have rippling effects across the continent.

*Polling statistics provided by: http://www.wahlrecht.de/umfragen/landtage/berlin.htm

 

The Enchantment of Transylvania

September 9, 2016
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Alberto Sostre at Rasnov Fortress

 

On June 3rd, 2016, I embarked on my first ever trip to Romania to commence field research for my master’s thesis through the Institute for European Studies.

Background

For two months I volunteered and traveled throughout Transylvania in the north and visited various cities in the south of Romania. Transylvania has a unique blind of Romanian and Hungarian influences since it was formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to WWI. Transylvania is quite synonymous with Hungarian Prince Vlad III aka Vlad the Impaler born in Sighisoara and the tail of Dracula written by Bram Stoker. However, Transylvania has so much more to offer than a fictional tail written by an Irish author. From the diverse rich cuisine to the picturesque landscape, I came to fall in love not only with the region, but with Romania as a whole.

I was living in a predominantly Hungarian speaking area so Romanian was of no use. I often mixed up my basic Hungarian and Romanian to the amusement and chagrin of many locals. The locals were so welcoming and hospitable during my time there, and willing to share so much of their culture with me. In Romania I felt at home and was immensely sad to leave.

Research

Through the generosity of the School of Public & Environmental Affairs and the Russian & East European Institute at Indiana University, I obtained support that would allow me to gain such a wonderful academic and life altering experience. My research revolved around a volunteer placement at a center for individuals with severe disabilities in Cristuru-Secuiesc (Romanian) or Keresztúr (Hungarian).

The volunteer placement was facilitated by Care2Travel, an organization in the city of Miercurea-Ciuc (Romanian) or Csíkszereda (Hungarian). Volunteerism in Romania is a relatively underdeveloped concept so Care2Travel was created with the intent of improving the volunteering community in Transylvania and tackling the social problems of the area. I was a volunteer in the special needs care program and was placed at a partner center in Cristuru-Secuiesc. My research focused on social and economic integration of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Romania during the pre- and post-revolution period.

Along with my work at the center, I also traveled to other areas to visit non-profits and speak with a social worker and a professor in the field of disability rights.

Follow-up Trip

Although I am now back in Bloomington, Indiana to finish my final academic year, I will be returning to Romania for the winter holiday. I cannot express how much of an impact Romania has had on my life. I do not know what the future holds, but I would love someday to become Dutch Ambassador to the country. Romania and its people will forever hold a very special place in my heart.

http://care2travel.org/index.php/about-us/our-history/

 

 

Opening of London Underground Night Tube

August 30, 2016
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On August 19th, after nearly three years of anticipation, the Transport for London Agency (TfL) officially began service of the London Underground night tube throughout central London.

Background

Announced in November of 2013, plans for a night tube serviceunderground.jpg were announced by former mayor Boris Johnson.  It was decided that an initial release date in September 2015, would provide ample transportation for major events including the Rugby World Cup hosted in England; the official summer opening of Buckingham Palace; as well as numerous local festivals.  Unfortunately, service on the night tube was delayed until September of 2016 due to union strikes and concerns over logistics and safety of the proposal. This past May, after working tirelessly with the unions to come to an agreement, Sadiq Khan, current mayor of London, promised that the night tube would be running a partial service in August.

Initial Response

The opening weekend saw an estimated 100,300 additional trips.  When many would take the last train home around 12:30am, most were just starting their nights out, visiting various pubs, clubs and venues.  With trains running every ten minutes until the morning, the possibilities of a night out are endless for residents and visitors alike.

Future Outlook

Currently the night tube is running a partial service, with only two of the five lines
functioning, with the other three planned to be operational within the coming months.  Once all five lines are operational, the night tube is expected to provide an additional 2,200 jobs; and boost London’s
economy by oBTP_on_LU_c._Ian_Nicholson_PA.jpgver $100 million dollars within the next 15 years. There are however still questions as concerns over passenger safety have been expressed repeatedly by various groups, including the unions. To help mitigate issues of safety, TfL is expected to hire an additional 100 British Transport Police to provide security for the 24 hour service.

 

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-37108375

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-37156181

http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/22/europe/night-tube-riding-londons-24-hour-underground/

http://money.cnn.com/2016/08/19/smallbusiness/night-tube-london-business-economy/index.html

http://www.railtechnologymagazine.com/Rail-News/over-100-police-offers-to-patrol-the-night-tube

http://www.railway-technology.com/features/featurefreeing-the-night-londons-24-hour-tube-4643517/featurefreeing-the-night-londons-24-hour-tube-4643517-3.html

 

 

 

 

 

Soccer and Politics Latest Intersection – Fans of Scottish Club Glasgow Celtic Show Support and Solidarity With Palestine

August 22, 2016
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Fans of Glasgow Celtic show solidarity with Palestine during a recent match 
against Israeli club Hapoel Beer Sheva

Politics making its way into soccer stadiums across Europe is nothing new; the two have been inextricably for nearly a century. Many clubs across the continent are rooted in political, ideological, and even religious affiliations. While governing bodies such as FIFA and UEFA have done their best to separate the product on the field from politics, fans have continued to use the sport for political and ideological means.

The latest intersection of the politics and soccer occurred during a Champions League qualifying match between Scottish club Glasgow Celtic and Israeli club Hapoel Beer Sheva last week. Celtic supporters waved Palestinian flags and sang songs in support of the Palestinian cause. Celtic supporters have long identified with left-wing revolutionary independence movements, including Palestine. This is largely due to Celtic’s history of a Catholic club for Irish immigrants. The match was not selected at random, the act was carefully deliberated and planned due the opponent being an Israeli club, though Celtic supporters have shown solidarity with the Palestinian cause in the past.

UEFA, Union of European Footballing Associations, has opened up disciplinary proceedings against Celtic following the display. Under  UEFA rules, messages that are of a, “political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature” are banned and subject to fines and other disciplinary measures.

Celtic have turned the disciplinary proceedings and potential fines into a way to further their cause. Fans have helped raised over £34,000 as of Monday, August 22nd for Palestinian charitable causes, including medical aid and youth soccer initiatives. The initial goal was £15,000, however supporters answered the call and more than doubled that total.

As one member of the Green Brigade, Celtics Ultra group, (Ultra is a term used for a fanatical supporter of a soccer club, that often go far above and beyond the normal means of support.) said, “Football and sport do not live in a vacuum, separate from wider society”. Soccer and politics have been complexly intertwined throughout the history of the sport. With tensions in Europe high due to issues such as: Brexit, the migrant crisis, security concerns, economic uncertainty, and growing nationalist movements, we are likely to see an increase in political statements this soccer season. By opening up disciplinary proceedings against Celtic for their actions against Hapoel Beer Sheva, UEFA has set a precedent for the coming season that may be tough to uphold, given the vague wording of their own rules and what can be construed as politicized displays.

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-37154125

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/08/celtic-faces-uefa-charge-palestine-flag-display-160819194835372.html

 

 

 

 

 

Britain’s Independence Day?

June 24, 2016
A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags ahead of a visit from Britain's PM Cameron at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels.

Yesterday David Cameron held the EU referendum that he had promised during the 2015 Parliamentary election. All UK citizens of voting age were asked to vote on whether the UK should leave or stay within the European Union. At the end of the day, leave won 52% to 48%. It is notable that though England voted strongly for Brexit (53.4% to 46.6%), Scotland and Ireland both strongly backed remaining, and now Scotland is poised to hold a referendum vote of their own, advocating an exit from the UK and the ability to negotiate with the EU on their own terms. The world’s reaction to this vote has characterized by shock and panic, mirrored in the strained faces of stock market traders and David Cameron in front of Downing Street close to tears. Immediately after the vote the pound plunged to levels not seen since 1985, and Wall Street began today with some of the lowest averages seen in months. The aftershocks of the UK’s decisions are still reverberating, but here’s a couple things we can take away amidst the chaos.

In order for the UK to leave the EU is has to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the amended treaty that makes up the constitutional basis of the EU. Invoking article 50 is a formal legal process, and gives the UK two years to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. The article has been in force since late 2009, but because no country has yet withdrawn from the EU, the specifics haven’t been tested yet. It will be up to David Cameron or his successor or start that process, and nothing is official until they do. The president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, has said that he wants the UK to leave as soon as possible. As far as how things might look after Britain formerly leaves, a lot rides upon how the UK’s participation in the EU’s ‘single market’ will be negotiated. The EU’s single market operates as if the EU were one country, allowing the free movement of goods, services, money and people. Should the UK be outside of that market, a lot of that flexibility will be lost, and such economic barriers as tariffs may be put in place that could damage the UK’s highly globalized businesses. However, regardless of the single market decision, the EU will remain an essential component of the UK’s trading network, and the UK has now lost an important seat at a negotiating table that holds substantial power over its economic future.

Could the UK’s decision to leave the EU spark other referendum votes throughout the European continent? Far-right national parties have been on the rise in Europe, and such leaders as Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right Front National Party in France have responded to the UK’s vote with, “Now we need to have the same referendum in France and in the countries of the EU.” Geert Wilders, the head of the Dutch Freedom Party, echoed this sentiment with the statement, “Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch Referendum!” With the rise of these calls for referendums comes the question, was this more about Britain than the EU? Was this decision based on fear that due to such factors as the large influx of immigrants the ‘essence’ of Britain is being lost? Might similar referendums in other countries be based on the same brand of fear? Amidst these questions one things remains clear: Europe’s current problems aren’t going anywhere, and the UK won’t be able to shut them out even with a stronger political barrier.

For an additional perspective on what’s at stake in Britain’s decision, please follow this link to a statement by the Director of the Institute for European Studies, IU Professor of Political Science Timothy Hellwig.

 

 

Atrocities Then and Now: Germany, Turkey, and Recognizing the Armenian Genocide

June 7, 2016

 

On June 2nd the German parliament passed a resolution officially recognizing the 1915 mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Turkish government as genocide. The resolution also states that Germany, an ally of the Ottomons at the time, bears some guilt for doing nothing to stop the killings. Cem Oezdemir, a German politician in the Greens Party and one of the initiators of the resolution, acknowledged Germany’s role in the killings during deliberations preceding the vote, stating that “working through the Shoah is the basis of democracy in Germany. This genocide is also waiting to be worked through.” Oezdemir’s additional reference to the Holocaust is echoed also in Turkey’s negative response to the resolution. Shortly after the resolution was passed, Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavuslogu tweeted, “The way to close the dark pages in your own history is not by defaming the histories of other countries with irresponsible and baseless decisions.” Most recently, in a speech given at the graduation ceremony of a university in Istanbul, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated,

“Germany, I am saying this again; first you will be held accountable for the Holocaust, then you will be held accountable on how you killed and destroyed more than 100,000 Namibians in Namibia. You are the last country who should conduct a parliamentary vote for Turkey on the so called Armenian genocide. We have no issues, no problem in our history on this topic.”

His reference is to the massacre of up to 100,000 Herero and 10,000 Namal peoples in modern day Namibia by German colonial forces between 1904 and 1907, a massacre that such politicians as Oezdemir are pushing for the German parliament to recognize. Erdogan’s statement depicts a modern Turkey that is doing exactly what it accuses Germany of doing: trying to disguise its own past by attacking the dark past of another country.

The Turkish government gives multiple reasons for not accepting the term genocide for the mass killings of Armenians, one of the most notable being that genocide wasn’t codified into international law until 1951, many years after the killings took place in 1915. It also denies the systematic nature of the campaign to slaughter Armenians, a requirement in the legal definition of genocide, stating that many ethnic groups, including Turks, were killed also in the violence that preceded the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey has expressed outrage in the past when other European nations have recognized the killings in Armenia as genocide. After the current resolution was passed, Turkey’s Ambassador was called back to Ankara for consultations, echoing exactly Turkey’s response when a similar resolution passed in France. Presently 12 of the Europeans Union’s 28 members have recognized the genocide, and Turkey has maintained good relations with these countries despite initial protest. However, Turkey’s negative response to this particular resolution is seen as especially worrisome in light of the EU-Turkey migrant deal that passed this last March. Though Chancellor Angela Merkel recently tried to diffuse the primacy of resolution in Germany’s relationship with Turkey, stating “there is a lot that binds Germany to Turkey and even if we have a difference of opinion on an individual matter, the breadth of our links, our friendship, or strategic ties, is great”, the centrality of Turkish cooperation in the migrant deal still leaves plenty of room for worry.

On March 20th, the EU and Turkey signed a migrant deal in hopes of alleviating the number of migrant deaths in crossings between Turkey and Greece. In the “one in, one out” deal, Syrian refugees arriving in Greece who do not apply for asylum or are rejected are sent back to Turkey. In exchange, a Syrian refugee already housed in Turkey will be granted entry into Europe. This process will be in place until 72,000 refugees are taken into the EU, after which the deal will need to be renegotiated. In exchange for its cooperation, Turkey has been promised that by the end of this month Turkish citizens will be granted visa-free travel within Europe. Also, the payment of 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) that the EU promised to pay to Turkey to help it manage the influx of refugees has been speed up.

BBC- Migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey

These migrants were among the first to arrive in Greece from Turkey after the deal went into affect 

Even in the short amount of time that the deal has been in place, many of the worries initially expressed during its negotiation are coming to light. For example, there has been ample concern regarding the living conditions of the camps both in Greece and in Turkey. Eyewitness accounts state that the conditions in both are poor, and that these terrible conditions are causing migrants on both sides to still try and make the Mediterranean crossing, either in attempts to get to other nations in Europe or return to Turkey. Applying for Asylum status is also a slow process, amplifying the time that refugees spend in the camps, and the ever present threat of deportation increases low morale. Though the amount of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean have decreased since March, long term effects of the deal, both positive and negative, are still being addressed, and Turkey’s continued cooperation is vital.

When the debates about the German resolution began, the president of the Bundestag Norbert Lammert stated that the current Turkish government “is not responsible for what happened 100 years ago, but it does have responsibility for what becomes of this.” The primary component of this resolution is emphasis not just on historical events, but most importantly, how we remember them today. In that sense, it seems incredibly vital that both Turkey and Germany honor the atrocities of the past by aiding those fleeing atrocity today. The ability of both countries to remember rests on their ability to continue to negotiate the terms of the EU migrant deal, and should Turkey refuse continued cooperation, we should all take it as a warning for what may follow.