< SWITCH ME >

love1.jpg
Photo: Matthias Ripp; Licence: CC BY 2.0
 
Love for all 

 

Being in a love relationship can be at times complicated, right? Besides the ups and downs of a "regular" story, those who are in a long-distance relationship may find it way harder to overcome misunderstandings as well as to share nice moments. Broadening the topic,we wanted to go deep inside the feelings and thoughts of a young European couple currently split up into two different places, unveiling their fears, their struggles and their hopes for a future together. E&M's Veronica Pozzi tells the story of Marta and Johannes, an Italian-German couple who have grappled with national stereotypes and modern technology as part and parcel of their relationship.

 

"I was terribly late. It took me a while to get from my flat to the underground station and the way to get there had been quite weird, featuring a soldier from the German army who paid my bus ticket as I had run out of coins. After getting lost and adding more minutes to my already huge delay, I managed to arrive at the place. And he was there. With his blond hair, drinking a rather big beer. Looking very German indeed. Without taking my eyes off him, I started to talk to an Italian friend, who arranged the evening together, and as I was talking to her (read: very loud and with lots of gestures) I thought I must look truly Italian. And then the show began".

 

The memories Marta tells us are a strange but clear mixture of funny and sad bits. Her willingness to be abroad brought her to Germany, but she never thought that she was going to be so involved with that country as she is now. She was in that situation when you are not really on the look-out for a new story. But the guy she met there impressed her a lot and the dates that followed made her feel so comfortable, interested and happy that she felt she didn’t want to miss out on him. So, almost two years ago, their relationship started –  more as an emotion-driven decision rather than a totally rational one. But here they are, and, in these two years, they have gone through quite a lot.

Sunday, 16 September 2012 08:56

European identity is a sandwich

Written by

European identity is a sandwich. That was one of the conclusions from the "Does Europe lack cohesion?" event organised by the Körber Foundation, Eurozine, Europa neuer Ideen e.V. and E&M as part of the series Europe@Debate. A sandwich because you can add different layers - such as local, regional, national or European identities - and because adding one doesn't mean you need to take out another. That is, European identity is diverse and not exclusive.

The metaphor was created by Croatian journalist Slavenka Drakulić when Matthias Naß, International Correspondent for Die ZEIT and the panel moderator, asked the participants how they would describe the European identity they define themselves with. Drakulić brought up the sandwich, E&M's Julia Schulte mentioned politics as in the achievement of democracy and freedom of movement, and Saila Huusko, from FutureLabEurope, explained it was something she first felt when she was studying abroad in the US. The truth is, it is the eternal question in Europe, and the answers always seem to be highly dependant on metaphorical references like that of Drakulić's sandwich.

Philosophical symbols vs tangible experiences

In a previous article, Mourad Mahidi came up with the idea that European identity is a rooftop built upon national identities gathering the values they have in common. "It is more like a philosophical concept," he said. And looking at Hamburg's event, European identity was indeed seen as a set of values rather than tangible common experiences.

Drakulić and Schulte both agreed that all national identities are an artificial construction, and that what Europe needs is a leadership that takes those values and convinces the citizens to adopt the construction. "If big parties don't address this, nationalists or extremists will take their place," warned Drakulić.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012 05:43

Bosnian summer – A European travel journal Pt. 4

Written by

Having visited Srebrenica, I really want to see another side of the Republika Srpska (RS). The next day I rent a car and drive to Višegrad.

Part 4: The Bridge on the Drina – Visegrad, Republika Srpska

The town in the south of the RS is only a few kilometres off the Serbian border. Like Srebrenica, it had a Muslim/Bosniak majority before the war and is nowadays mainly inhabited by Orthodox/Bosnian Serbs. There are stories about expulsion and rape camps in the town and mass killings of Muslims on the Drina Bridge. But despite this Višegrad is still a kind of a magical place for me because Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić’s novel on the town's history, The Bridge on the Drina, was what made me fall in love with Bosnia and Herzegovina before even travelling here.

The actual bridge on the Drina was, like her little sister in Mostar, built by the Ottoman occupants and has always been a symbol for the connection between East and West, Orient and Occident. I reach my destination right after a thunderstorm. When the sun breaks out of the clouds the bridge over the green water is strikingly beautiful.

However, the town offers the same deserted pictures as Srebrenica: due to the heat the streets are empty. The tourist office closed

No_1_P_III_-_Visegrad_Orthodox
Photo: Julia Schulte
Orthodox Chruch in Višegrad.

at 4 pm. Only up the hill, some people are standing around in front of the Orthodox church. The priest, a friendly man who came here from Serbia after the war, asks his teenage son, who speaks a little English, to show me around. Before we go, I am allowed to visit the church - and the cemetery. Again, most graves date from the early nineties, but this time the black, rectangular tombstones also show photos of the deceased. It is hard to look at the young men, portrayed posing in uniform and sunglasses on an army tank, or with weapons in their hands.

Downtown I am shown a seemingly more promising project: hidden behind a hoarding, a couple of medieval looking houses are under construction. On a land tongue between the Drina and the Rzav river a new town centre is being built - and it is called Andrićgrad (Andrićtown) in honour of the great writer.

Monday, 10 September 2012 10:06

Bosnian summer – A European travel journal Pt. 3

Written by

Part 3: More dead than alive – Srebrenica, Republika Srpska

I apologise in advance, because there are some facts I have been holding back: the political situation in Bosnia is far more complicated than described so far. I have already written about the three constituent peoples in Bosnia and Herzegovina and how they mostly live in a kind of interethnic apartheid. But the segregation isn't only done by invisible lines like in Mostar. The whole state is divided into two entities which hold most of the legislative and administrative powers. The two federal states are The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina where mostly Croats and Bosniaks live, and the Republika Srpska (the RS, meaning "Serbian Republic") where mostly Serbs live. Additionally, there is the Brčko District - a small neutral area, too mixed to assign to any of the federal states. Federation and Republic - sounds like Star Wars? Well, this is real and unfortunately it is also less easy to distinguish good and evil.

GRAVEYARDS AND FUGITIVES

After having spent three days in the Federation I now wanted to see the "other" side. I reach Srebrenica at noon two days before the anniversary of the massacre that took place here on 11th July 1995. About six kilometres before the town sign, the bus passes the Potočari Memorial with the graveyard for the massacre's victims. More than 5600 bodies from the mass graves have been identified and buried here so far. When the bus reaches Srebrenica the first thing I see are graves again - this time not the white Muslim but the black Orthodox tombstones. The town itself is nearly empty due to the great heat. There seem to be more dead than alive here.

Srebrenica massacre

On the 11th July 1995 Bosnian Serbian forces under Ratko Mladić took over the UN safe area without the UN soldiers firing a single shot. More than 8000 unarmed Bosniak men and boys were systematically killed. Women and children were raped and tortured and eventually deported to areas that weren't under Serbian control. It is considered one of the worst crimes in Europe since the Second World War.

I meet Nedim at the motel in the middle of the town. He is here for the summer, as a volunteer to help former inhabitants who fled the town during the war and need to come back now for registration. The Council of Europe is coming to town today to monitor this registration process. Allegedly, human rights violations take took place that they want to investigate, but it seems questionable whether the Serbian police will let them in.

Nedim is a tall, dark haired young man with a three-day beard who orders Gulash soup and frequently has to interrupt our conversation because one of his two mobile phones rings. He is project coordinator at "Youth Initiative for Human Rights" (YIHR), a regional NGO-network with independent offices in Sarajevo, Belgrade, Zagreb, Potgorica and Priština that aims to promote laws and legal mechanisms to improve the protection of human rights and democracy in the ex-Yugoslavian states. The transnational approach sounded too good to be true and I am excited to find out more about what to me seems like a truly 'European project' and its approach to reconciliation.

NEXT ISSUE
IN -827 DAYS