Friday, 09 January 2015 00:00

Good Reads – From Russia and the West to Iran's youngsters

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With the New Year, Good Reads is back on track and our editors are going to keep on sharing the best online articles that got them thinking about Europe recently. This time around, freshly appointed Chris Ruff will be introducing himself to E&M readers by sharing some reflections on the way we consume news these days and also about the German Pegida movement.


Chris, Heart/Legs editor


Chriss Ruff

2014: a year to forget


Whilst reflecting on 2014 around the dinner table with friends this Christmas, it seemed that none of us could remember a year with quite so many awful things that had happened. ISIS, the Ukraine crisis, Gaza, two (now three) passenger jets dropping from the sky leaving no survivors, terrorist attacks in Pakistan, Australia and elsewhere, schoolgirls captured in Nigeria – the list could go on.


2014 will certainly go down as a grim year for humanity. However, part of this phenomenon of negativity is due to the way modern news is consumed and distributed, lending an immediacy and urgency to current events. News is now omnipresent – available to us in more ways and at more times than ever before. Events are almost impossible to miss. As such, our perceptions about say, air travel, have been negatively influenced by what appears to be frequent crashes, although the data clearly shows that travelling by plane is actually safer than ever.


Yet despite the rolling 24-hour news channels and the pervasive impact of social media, journalism in 2014 has often felt stale or formulaic; perspectives on global crises have seemed like tired re-runs of old arguments, stuck in a by-gone era. It is for this reason that when a piece with genuine insight appears, such as this opinion piece by Jeffrey Sachs, it really makes you sit up and notice. Sachs, a former economic advisor to both the Polish and Russian governments following the end of the Cold War, eloquently describes the West's differing approaches to both countries and how this has had a profound effect on their subsequent development. In short, if the West had chosen to pursue a similarly conciliatory debt strategy with Russia as they did with Poland, the outcome would be very different. Instead, the US and Western Europe's desire to consolidate their victory with punitive measures has led Sachs to compare it with the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles. The article adds even more, as it is written in first person on the basis of direct experiences.


The new Monday protests: Dresden and Germany’s PEGIDA problem


One month after Germany's magnificent 25th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the slogans of that famous era are being can once again be heard in the former East. However, whereas "Wir sind das Volk!" ("We are the people!") was once used to signify the unity of the German people against an oppressive state, the latest incarnation has an altogether different meaning.


manifestation against Pegida berlin
Photo: Gilly Berlin; Licence: CC BY 2.0
Demonstration against Pegida in Berlin, on January 5, 2015


Throughout December increasingly large crowds have gathered in Dresden every Monday to protest against the swelling number of asylum seekers and perceived changes to German society, chanting these famous refrains from 1989. What is particularly striking about the movement, which calls itself PEGIDA, translated as "Patriotic Europeans against the Islamicisation of the West", is the way it has mobilised large groups of seemingly "normal" people. The sheer number of people involved (estimated at over 10,000 for the latest protest) shows that these ideas have gained currency beyond traditional neo-Nazi groups. This article on Der Spiegel’s English language site provides a neat run-down of the events, the background to the movement, as well as what it means for German democracy.


Iran's young people get more and more European


As is the tradition on British local news, after so much doom and gloom it seems appropriate to share a more positive story at this point. Unfortunately I struggled to find a story about a hamster that has learned to water ski. What I did find, however, was a lesson in hope from an unlikely source.


Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Iran's young people have essentially been living in a police state not dissimilar to the above-mentioned German Democratic Republic. Nevertheless, despite the obvious hindrances of night-time curfews and strict controls on music, alcohol and Western-influenced lifestyle choices, Iran born Hossein Fatemi's stunning photo collection shows that Iranian youth culture has flourished behind closed doors. My particular favourite photo by Hossein, who is now living in Chicago and has been internationally awarded, shows a rock band practising in private (presumably with the sound turned very low), deliberately flaunting the strict guidelines lain down by the ruling clerics.


I wish you all a very happy New Year and look forward to a successful year for E&M.

Last modified on Friday, 09 January 2015 09:09

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