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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.

Published in Good Reads
Thursday, 29 March 2012 07:45

Nomadic reverie - Romanies in cinema

Who are today's nomads? Tourists, artists, gypsies, students, seasonal workers, or immigrants? The many conflicts that still arise in today's Europe between states and nomads like the Romanies should incline us to take a look at what nomadism really is, how the European community perceives it, and what our national borders and policies do to it.

Tony Gatlif, an Algerian-born French director of Romani ethnicity dedicated his artistic life to portraying Europe's biggest and oldest nomadic community. The Romani people (otherwise called gypsies, tsigans, gitan, halab, bohemians) are said to have left India in the direction of Europe around two thousand years ago. In "Latcho Drom" ("Safe Journey," 1993) Gatlif begins a journey retracing the paths of those nomads who later became Romanies. Wandering through the lands of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France and Spain, the silent camera participates in the journey and the musical traditions of today's nomads.

Devoid of any dialogue or articulated comments, the film's strong images nevertheless carry an explicit political message. The story starts in the deserts of Rajastan in northern India, where certain communities still live a traditional nomadic life in the wilderness. One cannot help but see these images as an artistic celebration of the idea of nomadic freedom. These young, graceful and beautiful nomads travelling through a timeless space, practising mystic rituals, are presented as the semi-mythological prototypes of the Romanies. Gradually moving towards Europe, the images lose their abstract and idealistic sense. On their way to Europe, the travellers encounter hunger, accommodation problems and prejudice. The film shows the nomads' journey out of India as a road towards poverty, eternal exile and struggle with western urbanisation. The film ends in Spain where a Romani community is just being evicted. As the scene takes place, the famous flamenco artist La Caita sings: "Why does you wicked mouth spit on me? / Sometimes I find myself envying the respect you give to your dog."

Published in Cafe Cinema
Thursday, 22 March 2012 17:33

Brussels stereotypes for beginners

National stereotypes are relative to your own nationality. Especially when it comes to Belgium and its capital, Brussels. Because, let's face it, the home city of the EU institutions is rather unknown to most Europeans. You know that Parisians are snobby, Berliners are alternative and Romans are loud. But...what are Brusselians like?

The adjective you choose will most likely depend on the place you come from. When asked by a newly arrived Italian, my German colleague said they are "disorganised," the Brit chose the word "boring," and I, the Spaniard, just replied that the city was "cold" and "grey." The French apparently look at Belgians as their "villager" neighbours, while everyone else agreed on the word "bureaucratic." 

It is not a very warm list of stereotypes for a welcoming... Until you realise that Brussels is an acquired taste. Like coffee and beer, you might not like it on the first try, but by the end of a long stay, you will have learned to love it. Its charm, as with most true treasures in life, is a bit hidden.

You will, however, only wonder about Brussels' identity once you are done with the touristy stage of admiring the beauty of Grande Place and wondering about the importance of the Manneken Pis, the peeing boy that has become the city's emblem. And when you do, you might just reach the conclusion that there is no such thing as a Brusselian identity.

After all, what can be the unifying factor of a country and city that is divided into Flemish and francophone communities? Not to mention the multiculturalism provided by the presence of the EU bubble, as well as the immigration waves from Congo and the French-speaking Arab countries. (You probably wouldn't have guessed that the #1 name among new born children in Brussels is Mohammed.) The doubt is reasonable. But the fact that the identity of Brussels is hard to comprehend according to our own systems doesn't make it non-existent. It is just complex. And it mirrors the complexity of the institutions the city hosts.

Published in Brussels Bubble
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