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Friday, 20 March 2015 00:00

Good Reads – from the waste­free movement in Estonia to the idea of creating a "Greater Copenhagen"

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greater copenaghen
Photo: Ulf Bodin; Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
 

Denmark wants to rebrand the Swedish district of Skåne "Greater Copenhagen". This picture was taken in Olovsfält, Hammenhög, Skåne, July 2013

 

In this week’s edition of Good Reads, E&M's Rosamund Mather shares some articles that got her thinking about Europe. Follow her inside an Estonian green movement that made its way across Europe and became popular worldwide. Broadening the meaning of identity, Rosamund shares an article on LGBT rights in Europe, starting with a recent story from France, and an article about Denmark's idea to rebrand part of Sweden “Greater Copenhagen”.

 

Rosamund

Rosamund, Heart/Baby editor

Greater Copenhagen: A spot of contention

 

As far as succinct and provocative headlines go, "Denmark wants to rebrand part of Sweden Greater Copenhagen" does its job; it got me asking all sorts of questions about common identities between countries that are in very close proximity to one another.

 

Skåne, a southern part of Sweden separated from the Danish archipelago only by a bridge, is the proposed Greater Copenhagen. And many residents of this region are up in arms about it. Why should they surrender a part of Sweden to Denmark, even if only in name?

 

But would a Greater Copenhagen really threaten Swedish identity? After all, Berlin doesn’t define Germany, and London most certainly doesn’t define the entire UK. If it weren’t for the violent history mentioned in the first paragraph – which represents a power imbalance between the two countries, making a fully-realised Greater Copenhagen somewhat problematic – then we’d probably just assume it was to do with that bizarre allegiance to the nation your passport happens to belong to. And Copenhagen happens to be a Danish city, not a Swedish one.

Given the number of people I’ve personally met who have trouble naming the differentiating characteristics of the Scandinavian countries, a light-hearted rivalry is perfectly understandable. But the article also mentions a potential economic advantage of the amalgamation of Öresund/Øresund (the official geographical name for Greater Copenhagen – choose one according to your preferred language). International cities expert Greg Clark is quite correct in saying that ‘if two smaller cities become one big region they can mobilise their assets, populations and amenities’. Hey, if that’s not transnationality, then what is?

 

A search for Öresund/Øresund on Facebook reveals a start-up news group, which indeed hints at a promising economic future, most notably for young people who need a platform to realise their entrepreneurial dreams. Sweden’s youth unemployment rate sits at about 22% , which is pretty average compared to other EU member states, but staggering when you put it next to Denmark’s 11%. Are there tangible reasons for this? I’m no economist so I won’t attempt to analyse it in detail, but ultimately it’s up to residents of both countries to decide if it’s worth swallowing pride and making a leap for new economic adventures.

 

An Estonian-inspired INITIATIVE to tidy up the world

 

What’s Estonia’s place on the world stage? As part of the 2004 wave of new European Union members, it has been doing well in crawling out of neighbours' perceptions of former Soviet states.

 

I must admit that until about a year ago, I didn’t know very much about Estonia at all. Then my brother introduced us to his Estonian girlfriend, and my curiosity about this corner of Europe was fulfilled a little bit. For example, I learned that people living in these Baltic states tend to think of themselves as Northern Europeans as opposed to Eastern Europeans.

 

Estonian World is a nice blog I came across that sets about highlighting the country’s achievements – in English, so that it reaches a wider audience. This past week, in addition to naming 12 outstanding Estonian women for International Women’s Day, they showed more hard evidence that Estonia is generating international shockwaves – in the form of environmental initiative "Let’s Do It"!. The founder, Rainer Nõlvak, didn’t want to stop at ridding the country of illegal waste in five years – he claimed it could be done in a day. And in fact, it was achieved within just five hours. According to the article, the initiative has now inspired 11 million people the world over (that’s about 10 times the population of Estonia), and led to a further project being formed, called World Cleanup.

 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about all this is the motivation that people have shown – it’s a race to show your country is the fastest, plus it benefits the environment! The fact that it’s now even reaching countries that are still navigating their way out of conflict, like Ukraine and Afghanistan, is also wonderful.

 

It’s a testimony to ambition and teamwork (very transferrable and employable skills, by the way), so maybe you should think of joining in your country’s chapter of Let’s Do It! if you are looking to add something to your CV!

French rail company suspends openly homophobic employee

 

I first heard about the case of Dutch LGBT activist Mirjam van Heugten on a French site, and indeed, most of the articles on the incident are in French or Dutch. A few weeks ago, van Heugten kissed her girlfriend on a Paris train platform. An employee from Thalys – one of France’s biggest rail companies – spotted this, and took it upon themselves to let them know this was "intolerable". This came off as particularly hypocritical, as Thalys had previously put out an ad campaign showing two men contemplating a romantic weekend in Paris or Düsseldorf.

 

After van Heugten’s official complaint was ignored, she launched an online petition calling for action, and indeed, action was taken: it has been reported that last Wednesday, the employee in question was suspended.

 

At a time when many European countries are gradually granting same-sex couples the same rights as straight couples when it comes to marriage and partnerships – Slovenia being the latest, earlier this month – it is commonly overlooked that the simple act of existing in a heteronormative society is a struggle. Marriage is either a far-off luxury or simply not a priority for many, and the fight for rights and recognition doesn’t end there. Equal marriage could be legalised everywhere tomorrow, yet people would still be afraid to come out to their families and co-workers, they’d be hesitant about showing affection to their partner in public (as perfectly illustrated in this example), and they would still feel exasperated from dealing with strangers who presume heterosexuality by default or ask invasive questions about their sex life.

 

This is also a case that proves that a company’s image and the personal attitudes or beliefs of the company’s employees are not always in line with one another. Here, we are forced to ask ourselves whether a capitalistic world actually cares about the pursuit of happiness in oneself, or if it’s just one more strategy trying to pander to a certain market.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 March 2015 15:51
Rosamund Mather

Rosamund Mather is an E&M editor, freelance copywriter and translator based in Berlin. You can follow her on Twitter @spookytofu or read her blog.

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