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Where should the welfare state end and the third sector begin? It's a question being asked across Europe as governments make cutbacks to beat the recession - and it's a question that casts something of shadow over volunteering. Are volunteers being exploited to fill the gaps in state provision?

Delegates at the Citizens' Convention all agreed that volunteering is not just a "repair mechanism" for the welfare state, but something that satisfies a human desire to help others and belong to a community. The personal benefits of volunteering are undeniable, and many of those I spoke to said they would still be involved in the same activities even if their country had unlimited funds for welfare.

But what about when governments openly ask the third sector to bear the burden of what has previously been the responsibility of the state? The UK government, for example, has introduced the concept of a "big society", but this is coupled with huge reductions in state funding for the arts, charities and other NGOs. This means that volunteers are dealt a double blow: greater responsiblity and less support.

The relationship between the state and volunteers has always been a complex one - and there was much heated debate about how integrated or separate these two things should be. Those wishing to make volunteering a more unified, sustainable movement expressed the need for regulation, including a legal framework to protect the rights of volunteers, and training to provide necessary skills. But concerns were raised that too much state involvement can lead to volunteers having to compromise their original aims in order to get funding. It was even suggested that avoiding a welfare-dependent state through volunteering was "empowering". 

So between the need for state support and the desire to maintain a sense of independence lies an inescapable confict for volunteers. Where would you draw the line?

Saturday, 07 May 2011 11:44

Art: Nutcrackers, Interns and Children.

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'Nussknacker' by Daniela Nasoni, Varese

I won't claim to understand art, or even that I particularly like it, but these three projects were too intriguing to miss. In a small empty shop in the centre of the sleepy town of Landau stood the recycled box sentinel, a nutcracker dead in the eyes, but a gift to anyone who wanted to take it away from its creator. Daniela Nasoni, from Italy, aims to make one for every person in the world, over 6 billion in total, and is wiling to spend every day of her life fulfilling this daunting task. By the end of the week the room was filled with giant nutcrackers, eight feet tall and made of cardboard.

Friday, 06 May 2011 08:39

Wired in #11: Okinawa Lifestyle

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This week's interview features two great musicians, Gigi Jikia and David Datunashvili from the Georgian capital Tbilisi. They play as an electro duo under the name of Okinawa Lifestyle. If you have already seen the first episode of E&M's documentary A Transnational Adventure, their music might already sound familiar, because Okinawa Lifestyle provided a lot of the soundtrack!

Find more artists like Okinawa Lifestyle at Myspace Musik

E&M: Okinawa lifestyle seems like a reference to life in a Japan, why did you choose that name as a Georgian band?  

OL: It actually happened accidentally. We needed a bandname for a Georgian music course, it was last day before the application was due. So we quickly started to read English directories to find some titles, and we found this name, it sounded exotic and in some way really fitting for our Georgian life.

E&M: What do you enjoy most about living in Tbilisi? 

Thursday, 05 May 2011 21:34

Landau: A Tale of Two Castles

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Landau might seem like a quiet country town but the Palatinate region has been fought over for centuries, and its story moves from royalty to revolutions. The histories of many countries converge right here. Nowhere is this eclectic heritage more apparent than at Trifels castle, where a monument marking the capture of an English king sits against a backdrop of Nazi stonework.

In 1192 the English king, Richard the Lionheart, was captured on his way back from the third crusade by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. It was here in Trifels that he was handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry VI, and imprisoned, to be held for ransom. It was also where the crown jewels of the Holy Roman Empire were kept for nearly a century.

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Photo: Markus Petz
Memorial to the capture of Richard the Lionheart.

Trifels was last rebuilt in the 1930s; its role in humiliating an English king and in housing the regalia of powerful German emperors made it a perfect fit for Nazi ideals. Instead of restoring the castle to its original form however, they followed the model of the Italian castles of the Staufer family, who had ruled in central Europe for centuries. It was said that whoever owned Trifels owned the Palatinate, and the castle's history is one of constant power struggles between vying rulers. But on the other side of Landau, high up on Mount Schlossberg, sits a castle that witnessed a very different kind of struggle. 

In 1832, the ruins of Hambach Castle were the setting of a landmark demonstration that saw tens of thousands of people, from all walks of life, protesting against the repressive Bavarian administration. Local people, including citizens of Landau, were joined by French and Polish supporters to demand civil rights and national unity. It was the first time that a republican movement had made any impression in Germany, and the first time that the German tricolour was flown.

Ever since, Hambach Castle has been described as the "cradle of German democracy". But as one of our tour guides pointed out, these two castles aren't just important for Germany; they are hugely significant milestones in European history.

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