Tuesday, 15 July 2014 00:00

Good Reads – 15/07/2014

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From the 100th anniversary of the First World War to elections in Slovenia, it's been a busy few weeks for Europe. Frances and Veronica, two of E&M's new editors, share articles that recently got them thinking about the continent. 


Frances, Sixth Sense editor



Something rather important happened on 27 June 2014. Game-changing, one might even say – if you can forgive the buzzword – for a good three million people. Ring any bells? It was during the summit of the EU heads of state, if that helps. Still nothing? All right, I'll tell you: it was the day that Albania was finally granted EU candidate status, some five years after its initial application for membership. And to be honest, I don't blame you if you haven't heard about it. By and large, most English-speaking media appear to have ignored this historic decision. At the time of writing, the BBC has not even updated its country profile on Albania to note that following a recommendation from the European Commission the small Balkan nation has indeed become a candidate for EU membership.


In fact, I only stumbled across one article – published in the English-language section of the Deutsche Welle – that really got to grips what the development means for Albania and its people. That said though, I'm not sure I entirely agree with the implication that Albania does not yet "belong to Europe". Surely to be European means more than simply living in a state where the rule of law is observed. And who's to say Albania isn't already European? Geography is certainly on the country's side; history too, I should have thought. Or are European credentials now measured purely in terms of EU membership? Somebody had better break the news to Switzerland...


Sticking with my Balkan theme, I was quite taken by an article from a recent edition of Kosovo 2.0, a trilingual magazine (Albanian – English – Serbian) published in Prishtina. With verve and humour Milan Djurasovic, a Bosnian-American author, relates a visit by three grown-up cousins, now living in Germany, to his grandparents' house in the Bosnian city of Mostar. There ensues a heated argument about the meaning of democracy and possible Western hypocrisy.


If you can get over the length of some of the sentences, you'll be in for a treat: there is a delightful wickedness to many of Djurasovic's descriptions. He also wittily punctures some of the airs and graces assumed by his relatives abroad, questioning what is to be a European. The article feels at times almost like the beginning of a novel and Djurasovic shows a real knack for storytelling when it comes to his interweaving of personal and national histories.


Last, but not least, with commemorations taking place across Europe and around the world to mark 100 years since the outbreak of the Great War, it seems only right that Good Reads should follow suit. So here goes: thanks to the unprecedented success of his book The Sleepwalkers, Cambridge historian Christopher Clark has, not to put too fine a point on it, become a superstar in the field of research into the causes of the First World War. His best-selling book examines not why, but how Europe went to war in 1914, and an interview he gave to RFE/RL provides an insightful run-down of a few of the mechanisms involved.


While the questions are not always earth-shattering in their originality, Clark's answers are certainly lucid and engaging. He has a very personable way of introducing historical figures and his comments about parallels between the build-up to war then and the current situation in Ukraine are thought-provoking indeed. RFE/RL has also produced quite a clever graphic showing how borders have shifted in Europe since 1914. If, like me, you're partial to a bit of historical cartography, it's definitely worth a look.


Veronica, Sixth Sense editor




In anticipation of the early elections, which took place yesterday in Slovenia, Boris Vezjak, professor of philosophy at the University of Maribor, the country's second oldest higher education institution, gave a personal roundup of what's been going on. One year after the 20122013 mass protests, Vezjak reflects on their failure and tries to explain why, apparently, nothing has changed so far. He argues that citizens have been unable to suggest ideas for concrete improvements and intellectuals have not prompted any possibility of change.


National uprisings grabbed headlines in the country from late November 2012 until 2013, as thousands of Slovenian citizens took to the streets in the capital Ljubljana and in other major cities. They wanted to take action against the national political elite and its corruption, as well as imposed cuts and austerity measures. But, in Vezjak's analysis, they have failed to find new ways of altering the current situation. As far as intellectuals are concerned, the article portrays them as not being as present and incisive as they ought to be in order to stimulate public debate and social development.

In the piece, which is perhaps a bit too philosophical for a simpleton like me but certainly well structured, Vezjak moves slowly to his point. On the one hand, intellectuals in Slovenia are guilty of conducting a couch-based life that keeps them separate from everyday life problems. But on the other, they are stigmatised by mainstream media outlets
more interested in sensational reporting than in serving democracy by suggesting alternative horizons. To be honest though, I'm not all that surprised by their treatment. After all, the world is a village and Europe no exception. In all EU member states you can still find cases of artists and intellectuals being underestimated and struggling to be heard.

Handle with care. Not suitable for tipsy reading sessions.


A full year has passed since Croatia's become an EU member state but the country is still said to be resistant to change. The Croatian journalist Viktor Vresnik argues his countrymen have yet to pick up European values and ways of living. In Vresnik's view, the fault lies with domestic politicians, unable to educate a population that is traditionally regarded as being opposed to change. The country is also deemed "claustrophobic and inward-looking, marked by an incredible tolerance for all kinds of small-scale corruption, a mistrust of entrepreneurs and excessively close links with its past", a description that could, to my eyes, have been just as easily applied to Italy, had the headline not stated it was about Croatia. The article itself would possibly benefit from slightly better explanations, but perhaps something went missing in the translation from Croatian to English, a thought that leads directly to my final pick for this week's Good Reads.


Short and interesting, suitable for a quick read while commuting to work or uni.


And here we are. The unresolved issue that affects everyone of us. The article is not super fresh but the question is an evergreen one and the Economist's Charlemagne blog tries to tackle the problem of which language to use in pan-European relations.

Have you ever felt embarrassed because you don't know how to approach a fellow European? The dilemma is far-reaching and ranges from how many cheek-kisses have to be given to the language you should use when addressing someone. The blog post takes a look at the problem from the point of view of Brussels and argues that English has already overtaken French in the world of European politics. Along the way, it provides some interesting linguistic thoughts on subjects such as EU institutional jargon with its English-language false friends, which may be unintelligible to native speakers, and the advantages and disadvantages of politicians speaking in their mother tongue.

The article is not the best piece of journalism I've ever read: it drives me mad to read that, according to a non-cited source (!), more than 40% of young Europeans (definition of young not given) now claim they can speak English in some form (itself a very vague indication). Nevertheless, it is worth reading and makes some broader points, for example when it underlines that there is still a big gap between the major European parties and their national equivalents. Most of all, enjoy the irony in the final paragraph, where the author points out that it might be somewhat nonsensical to keep on using English as the unifying language of the EU, given the historically semi-detached relationship between Britain and Europe and the current possibility of a Brexit.


Warning: not to be read while you're melancholy or thinking about a European partner or friends. 


Last modified on Thursday, 07 August 2014 18:17

If the Editorial team had an actual office it would have to stretch from the corner of Britain to the edges of Spain, Sweden, Germany and beyond. (With frequent trips to America too) .  The term 'from the editorial office' then, is very much a figure of speech. 

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