Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 09:17 - Commentary, Photo of the DaySturovo, Slovakia
As you know immigration is one of my favorite topics. Perhaps it is because I am the son of immigrants. My story would be far, far different if I had been born in Germany or France and I am sensitive to the way immigrants are viewed and treated. From France we see another move towards making immigration as difficult as possible, as we learn from the Daily Mail.
“France's hard-line new immigration minister is set to implement legislation that would allow DNA testing of new arrivals.
“Eric Besson, who was appointed this month, has said the tests would establish which foreigners were claiming visas by making up fictious family ties with those already settled in the country.
“Civil liberties groups have reacted furiously to the controversial scheme, which was approved by the French parliament 15 months ago but does not come into effect until the appropriate minister has signed the legislation.”
I just want to be free… © Damaso Reyes
Instead of working hard to better incorporate immigrants France and many other European nations seem to be doing all they can to make them feel unwelcome and this is just another sign of that mentality…
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Tuesday, January 27, 2009, 11:00 - Commentary, Photo of the DaySturovo, Slovakia
It seems like things just go from bad to worse in Iceland, as we learn from the International Herald Tribune.
“Iceland's coalition collapsed Monday, the latest fallout from a global financial crisis that has sparked angry demonstrations across Europe.
“Prime Minister Geir Haarde said he was unwilling to meet the demands of his coalition partners, the Social Democratic Alliance Party, which insisted on getting the post of prime minister to keep the coalition intact, The Associated Press reported from Reykjavik, the capital.”
Time to face the music. © Damaso Reyes
The small country was very hard hit by the banking crisis which crippled the nation’s currency. But it’s not just Iceland’s government which is having problems. Latvians are demonstrating in the streets as well and have clashed repeatedly with police. Even the laid back Spaniards are coming out in force to demand that government do something about the crisis which threatens more and more workers.
The next few days and weeks will be a true test of European cohesion. We remember that France’s president was a leader in trying to bring together world leaders to solve the growing problem but the question is will European governments continue to deal with the current financial crisis independently or confront the problem in a more coherent way?
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Monday, January 26, 2009, 09:38 - Events, Commentary, Photo of the DaySturovo, Slovakia
And how was your weekend? Mine was great, thanks for asking! I got to experience some local culture on Saturday night when I was invited to attend an annual dinner/dance here in Štúrovo. It wasn’t exactly the traditional balls I went to this time last year in Vienna but it was an interesting mix of local tradition and the kind of rotary club event that we have back in America. One of my running jokes at the table every time another cover of an American pop song was played: “Wow, who knew Hungarian folk music was so interesting?”
Send in the clowns… © Damaso Reyes
Now that I’ve been here for a little over a week I am starting to get a sense for some things I would like to shoot, both here in town and in Budapest. I am still figuring things out so if you’ve been this way feel free to throw some suggestions my way.
Happy shiny people everywhere… © Damaso Reyes
Part of the reason why I like to spend several weeks in a place is that I can absorb things through osmosis, rather than trying to understand a place or its people in a rush. Walking down the street, sitting in the local pub (hooray for $2 glasses of Leffe) and interacting with people gives me a chance of learning something outside of what I would as a tourist.
Can’t you just hear the music? © Damaso Reyes
Sometimes the process is slower than I might like. But as engrossing as the shooting process can be the down time I get, to read or just socialize outside my normal sphere is really energizing. When I am out in the field I can relax in a way that I can’t when I am back in New York, if for no other reason than I know am I where I need to be, doing what I need to do.
Feel the love… © Damaso Reyes
What will come over the next nine weeks? I can’t say that I know but I am pretty sure it will be interesting!
I like the nightlife… © Damaso Reyes
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Thursday, January 22, 2009, 09:08 - Commentary, Photo of the DayBut what about the white man you ask? Of course the story of European integration has a lot to do with ethnic white populations as well. in the few days that I’ve been here I have talked with a few people who are living abroad and the challenges they face are no less difficult. Today I came across an interesting article in The Guardian about a newly released report called Who Cares about the White Working Class?
"Britain remains blighted by class division, and economic background is still the best predictor of life chances. Class is central to how people see their place in Britain today. Returning to the issue of class inequality and social mobility is therefore long overdue," the report says. Socially, Britain remains dominated by the same class divisions that have been in place for 40 years with scorn for poor white people and their "perceived" culture not only socially acceptable but also rampant.
“But it also warns that there is a danger the "muted and repressed" debate on class that is re-emerging could prove harmful. It argues alarmist predictions that Labour's neglect of the white working class will boost the British National party are little more than veiled attempts to curb race equality.”
And what about us then? Surbiton, England 2005 © Damaso Reyes
The article goes on to say:
“The study says the affliction and resentment of many sections of the white working class is a real cause for concern but it is vital to address its actual cause: "The white working classes are discriminated against on a range of different fronts, including their accent, their style, the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the social spaces they frequent, the postcode of their homes, possibly even their names. But they are not discriminated against because they are white," it concludes.”
Class and race go hand in hand in America but when it comes to immigration and integration class is a huge factor, sometimes even more important than race. Often I am tolerated simply because of my class and background. If I were an African asylum seeker my treatment would be wholly different. The U.K. is one of the most class conscious places in Europe; indeed I found it so distasteful it is one of the things that led me not to consider the U.K. as a base. While I have found that the U.K. has dealt with its racial minorities better than perhaps anywhere else in Europe, it still has a long road to how when it comes to class relations…
Wednesday, January 21, 2009, 12:14 - Events, Commentary, Photo of the DayBudapest
What a day!
The view from Budapest. © Damaso Reyes
It was a day that some said would never come. But it did. I went to Budapest to watch the inauguration at an Irish pub where some other expats and Hungarians had gathered. I came early and while I sat drinking my Guinness the place slowly filled up with people of all colors, ages and nationalities waiting for the moment.
We waited with baited breath! © Damaso Reyes
It was a long time coming. © Damaso Reyes
I watched along with the others and smiled when he took the oath. As the son of immigrants myself, the moment, and its importance, was not lost on me. This day was another step forward on the long road that is America. His speech touched on a lot of notes but he said one thing that I had been saying about the nations that make up Europe for some time.
And it was worth the wait! © Damaso Reyes
“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself….”
Those words apply as much to Germany or France as they do to the United States. Perhaps those on this side of the ocean will see Obama and what he represents as something meaningful to themselves…
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Monday, January 19, 2009, 16:03 - CommentaryŠtúrovo, Slovakia
Happy MLK Day!
And of course it is a very special one because of what will happen tomorrow. Forty-six years after Dr. King gave his speech in Washington, D.C. Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of the moment for all Americans.
“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.”
We are one step closer to making the dream a reality. If you haven’t read or heard the entire speech, or have not done so in a while, I suggest you take the time to do so right now. Listening to his words more than forty years later one realizes how far we have come and how much further down the road towards equality we must still travel…
© Damaso Reyes
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
Friday, January 9, 2009, 12:07 - Commentary, Photo of the DayIf it’s not one thing, it’s another. As we have discussed before, us photographers are having a tough time of it. If we’re not being laid off or shot at, odds are we are being hassled by the Man, at least if we live in the United Kingdom, or as it is increasingly being called, the Nanny State. The latest chapter come courtesy of the Independent.
Artist or Terrorist?
“Reuben Powell is an unlikely terrorist. A white, middle-aged, middle-class artist, he has been photographing and drawing life around the capital's Elephant & Castle for 25 years.
“With a studio near the 1960s shopping centre at the heart of this area in south London, he is a familiar figure and is regularly seen snapping and sketching the people and buildings around his home – currently the site of Europe's largest regeneration project. But to the police officers who arrested him last week his photographing of the old HMSO print works close to the local police station posed an unacceptable security risk.
"The car skidded to a halt like something out of Starsky & Hutch and this officer jumped out very dramatically and said 'what are you doing?' I told him I was photographing the building and he said he was going to search me under the Anti-Terrorism Act," he recalled.”
This would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous. Billions of people have cameras on their mobile phones but it is the conspicuous photographer with real equipment that gets singled out. After all, if you were a terrorist why wouldn’t you use a mobile phone camera to do your recon? This is another sad example of the government trying to make us feel safe instead of actually doing something to keep us safe…
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Thursday, January 8, 2009, 12:33 - Commentary, Photo of the DayWhat to do about Russia? There is perhaps no larger foreign policy question echoing around the capitals of the European Union than this. A long simmering dispute between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas has exploded as Russia has cut off all deliveries of natural gas, not just to the Ukraine but to Europe as well. Because the pipeline that supplies Europe with gas goes through the Ukraine this is a crisis that has taken on much larger dimensions, as we learn in an article from the BBC.
The Big Chill…
“Heating systems shut down in some parts of central Europe, as outdoor temperatures plunged to -10C or lower.
“Russia and Ukraine have blamed each other, and the EU says it wants its own monitors to check the flow of gas.
“The EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80% of which is pumped through Ukraine.
“The list of countries that have reported a total halt of Russian supplies via Ukraine includes Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia, and Austria.
“Italy said it had received only 10% of its expected supply.”
The E.U. needs to engage Russia more aggressively instead of feeding its fears that Russia will somehow be diminished as the European Union expands. Until then Russian leaders will continue to try to find ways to show that they are still in control, especially in regards to their former satellites.
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Wednesday, January 7, 2009, 13:17 - Commentary, Photo of the DayWell all the news concerning immigrants in Europe is not bad. In fact there are even a few examples of what I believe the future will look like and NRC Handelsblad gives us a fine example from The Netherlands.
“It is almost impossible to overestimate the symbolic value of Ahmed Aboutaleb's career: born in Morocco, moved to the Netherlands as an adolescent, local councillor in Amsterdam, junior minister and, from January 5, mayor of the country's second biggest city Rotterdam (population 583,000).
"For many immigrants the Aboutaleb success story must amount to a modest 'Yes we can'. "His appointment is a breakthrough," says Andreas Wüst, political researcher at Mannheim University in Germany. "He almost certainly will be an example to many immigrants, and not just in the Netherlands."
“Aboutaleb will be the first ethnic minority mayor of a major European city, a position which shows the relative openness of the Netherlands' political system for newcomers. In Holland people with an immigrant background are better represented in elected political and administrative functions than in most other European states. This may be because mayors in the Netherlands are not elected but appointed and because of the system of proportional representation and party lists.”
Perhaps I can be a General one day. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes
Of course I’m not a big fan of appointments and prefer direct democracy but the fact that he was appointed is even more of a breakthrough (could you imagine Barack Obama being appointed over Hillary Clinton for any position?). Hopefully more and more Dutch citizens will understand that their national and cultural identity has less to do with race and heritage than it does with shared values and hopes for the future…
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Monday, January 5, 2009, 13:00 - Commentary, Photo of the DayThe new year has just begun but as in most years there is quite a bit of carryover from the past, as if the year gone by just doesn’t want to let go. The past is ever present in Europe, nowhere more so than in Germany where extreme right-wing attitudes and even violence are still prevalent as we learn first from Der Spiegel and then from our friends at the Economist.
“The mayor of the small town of Warin in eastern Germany has gone into hiding after a threat against him appeared on a far-right Web site.
“Hans-Peter Gossel, 53, has been under police protection for a week after the following entry appeared on Altermedia, a Web site popular with neo-Nazis: "Watch out!!! It's high time for Lebkuchen cake knives!! The next 'victim' is making himself available! Gossel?" Gossel said the Web site also contained a video showing a matchstick man being cut up with a knife.”
Not a good answer either… Vienna 2008 © Damaso Reyes
“ALOIS MANNICHL, police chief of Passau, in Bavaria, pursues neo-Nazis to great lengths. A group recently buried a leader in a coffin draped with the swastika. Mr. Mannichl had it dug up. On December 13th they took their revenge. Crying “you will not trample the graves of our comrades any more, you leftist pig,” somebody stabbed and almost killed Mr. Mannichl at the door of his house in Fürstenzell, near Passau. This brazen attack on a senior policeman brings a “completely new dimension” to violence by right-wing extremists, declared Bavaria’s interior minister, Joachim Herrmann.”
Clearly what Germany has been doing up until now to combat right-wing violence has not been as successful as it needs to be. As I have said before, the nation’s policy of banning political parties and limiting speech and expression does nothing to solve the problem. A more intensive social dialogue needs to happen, from the top down as well as the bottom up. These areas, I’m talking to you east Germany, need to be targeted. A problem of this magnitude doesn’t go away overnight but it does seem like the German government needs to take a new tack.
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Wednesday, December 31, 2008, 12:43 - Commentary, Photo of the DayLooks like “Pay to Play” is not just an American phenomenon. When it is done by governments isn’t not called bribery, just persuasion. As we know the passage of the E.U. Constitution has been a carefully managed disaster. But instead of starting from scratch the big brains in Brussels has decided to go another route, as we read in a recent article form Der Spiegel.
Keep them voting until they get it right! London 2005 © Damaso Reyes
“The Irish "no" during the first referendum in June has derailed the entire EU reform process because the treaty, which has been in the works for many years, can only go into effect if it is ratified by all member states. In exchange for a new referendum, other EU member states are pledging that if Irish voters accept the treaty, they will be given a long-term commissioner seat in Brussels and assurances that they will be able to determine their own legislation on issues like taxation, neutrality and abortion largely independent of the EU. But the Irish would also like to see these concessions written in a way that is legally binding. Problem is: That's not an easy thing to do.”
Some people feel that the future of the E.U. can be decided as easily as its past: namely through backroom negotiations and treaties signed by heads of states. No, if the E.U. is to become a major force in the 21st century it can only do so by becoming legitimate in the eyes of its people. Stunts like this, which patently ignore the will of the voters will only make people feel as though their voices don’t count. Those who argue for a closer union need to make their case to the voters and convince, not compel them to accept their point of view.
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Monday, December 29, 2008, 11:21 - Commentary, Photo of the DayThere is no question that politics is much like a pendulum, it swings back and forth over time. After eight very long years the pendulum has swung back to the left in America. In Europe it seems like the rightward swing has not yet reached its apogee, as we learn from IHT today.
What are you waiting for? Integrate! Berlin 2006 © Damaso Reyes
“Two weeks ago, the country's biggest left-wing political grouping, the Labor Party, which has responsibility for integration as a member of the coalition government led by the Christian Democrats, issued a position paper calling for the end of the failed model of Dutch "tolerance."
It came at the same time Nicolas Sarkozy was making a case in France for greater opportunities for minorities that also contained an admission that the French notion of equality "doesn't work anymore."
But there was a difference. If judged on the standard scale of caution in dealing with cultural clashes and Muslims' obligations to their new homes in Europe, the language of the Dutch position paper and Lilianne Ploumen, Labor's chairperson, was exceptional.
The paper said: "The mistake we can never repeat is stifling criticism of cultures and religions for reasons of tolerance."
Government and politicians had too long failed to acknowledge the feelings of "loss and estrangement" felt by Dutch society facing parallel communities that disregard its language, laws and customs.
Newcomers, according to Ploumen, must avoid "self-designated victimization."
She asserted, "the grip of the homeland has to disappear" for these immigrants who, news reports indicate, also retain their original nationality at a rate of about 80 percent once becoming Dutch citizens.”
Any government that believes it can force immigrants to integrate more quickly is deceiving itself. Integration is a process one that takes generations. The most important factor in how long this process takes is how welcome the immigrants feel and how able they are to succeed in their adopted society. Tolerance is an integral part of integration and anytime a government attacks the idea that diversity should be respected the agents of intolerance will see it as an opportunity.
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 12:50 - Commentary, Photo of the DayAs Christmas approaches it is a great time to sit with family and enjoy some downtime. It is also a great opportunity to explore how other cultures celebrate the holiday. Almost none is as unique at The Netherlands who have the familiar face of Santa Claus but also a less recognizable fellow named Zwarte Piet ("Black Pete") as we learn from Der Spiegel.
Not so funny. Cologne 2007 © Damaso Reyes
“Perpetually in tow is Sinterklaas' slave, Black Pete. At least that's what he was called from his 19th century origins up until the 1950s, when a new focus on cultural sensitivity led to a slight watering down of a tradition that was slowly subjected to the rigors of political correctness. In the new tale told to children each year, that pesky black face paint on Zwarte Piet's face comes from soot collected as Santa's helper wriggles down chimneys to deposit branches in the shoes of badly behaving kids or to help deliver presents from Sinterklaas for the good ones. Some whitewashers of this racist little tale also like to say he's a chimney sweep. "It's just an excuse used by people because they don't like to be reminded of the dark nature of Black Pete," says Walraven.
“The arrival of Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet is an event covered live on national television and the festivities are celebrated across the country. For several weeks, dozens of Zwarte Pieten and Sinterklaases can be seen crisscrossing the lowlands country, culminating on Dec. 5 with the exchange of gifts. Throughout the celebrations, you can buy Black Pete cakes, plush toys, balloons, chocolates and any number of knickknacks.”
I’m all for cultural diversity but this is one tradition that I think will begin to fade as the Dutch begin to accept the growing diversity of their nation not as a threat but as a blessing. That, of course, will take some time but in another two or three generations Black Pete will either fade to the background or be seen as a harmless cultural anachronism.
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