Photo of the Day #117 
Monday, March 9, 2009, 10:11 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

It seems that when there are economic tensions in the world political ones are not far behind. They aren’t always directly related but they coincide often enough for the relationship to be more than coincidental. Tensions are brewing in Bosnia, the site of so much sadness in the 1990s as we learn from the International Herald Tribune.

“Srecko Latal, a Bosnia specialist at the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Sarajevo, the country's capital, warned that the West, distracted by the global financial crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, was ignoring trouble signs in Bosnia, in its own backyard. ‘The United States and the European Union must engage, not just for the sake of Bosnia but because the world can't afford to allow what happened the last time,’ he said.

“Bosnia's security is guaranteed by 2,000 European Union peacekeepers. But Latal said the force was not strong enough to contain hostilities, should they erupt. Sketching a worst-case possibility, he warned that if the Serb Republic declared independence, neighboring Croatia would respond by sending in troops, and Bosnian Muslims would take up arms.”



Waiting… Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

The European Union has a large role to play here; the question is whether or not it will take the leading role. Rather than defer to the Americans Europe’s leaders need to step up in the very place where their hesitancy cost so many lives. With so many other distractions it is hard to say if the E.U. will be able to pay close enough attention, I certainly hope so…

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Photo of the Day #116 
Friday, March 6, 2009, 08:41 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

The current economic crisis is not limited to the United States by any means. Europe has struggled for years with stagnant growth and high unemployment. Now Germany is being asked to help out some of its smaller E.U. neighbors as we learn from this opinion piece in Der Spiegel.

“Twelve months ago it seemed inconceivable that any European Union member could face a sovereign debt crisis. It would have been the stuff of fantasy to argue that Ireland or Austria could be among those at risk. Yet such an outcome is now within the realm of possibility. And if one country suffers a crisis, it will almost certainly trigger a wave of crises, plunging the EU, and especially the euro zone, into turmoil.

“There is nothing inevitable about this. But a way out requires Germany and other fiscally sound but highly export-dependent economies, such as the Netherlands, to show more vision.”



Where I lead you follow.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the financial problems that Europe and America are facing. President Obama has decided that large, bold action is needed to solve the current as well as systemic problems that face America. It remains to be seen whether his plan will work but it has certainly encouraged home among many in the States.

Now we look to Europe and we don’t see the same sorts of bold moves. True the crisis isn’t a bad here, yet. That of course does not mean that it won’t get worse. The leaders of Europe are still pretending that they are independent of one another, as if an economic collapse in Austria or Ireland would not have disastrous effects on the U.K. or Germany. One would like that the adoption of the Euro would have made the interdependence that is an economic fact of life more clear to the high and might. Clearly it has not…

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Photo of the Day #115 
Thursday, March 5, 2009, 08:35 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

Since it seems like we are fixed on Germany here at The Europeans, we might as well have some fun with it as well as try to shift our focus to the E.U. as a whole. This article from the Economist.com takes on an important issue in a lively way.


Babel. Heidelberg 2008 © Damaso Reyes

“The evidence points to the imminent collapse of the European Union’s official language policy, known as “mother tongue plus two”, in which citizens are encouraged to learn two foreign languages as well as their own (ie, please learn something besides English). Among Europeans born before the second world war, English, French and German are almost equally common. But according to a Eurobarometer survey, 15-to-24-year-olds are five times more likely to speak English as a foreign language than either German or French. Add native speakers to those who have learnt it, and some 60% of young Europeans speak English “well or very well”.

“This is a clear win for English. But paradoxically, it does not amount to a win for Europe’s native English-speakers. There are several reasons for this. Start with a political one. European politicians long feared that the use of English in the EU would lead to the dominance of Anglo-Saxon thinking. They were wrong. The example of newspapers is instructive: thanks to English (and the internet), a genuinely pan-European space for political debate is being created. It has never been easier for other Europeans to know what Poles think about the credit crunch, Germans about the Middle East or Danes about nuclear power. English is merely “an instrument”, says Mr Versteegh of NRC Handelsblad, not “a surrender to a dominant culture.”


Most European intellectuals I know feel the same way about the English language. It is a way to communicate more broadly with the world, and an essential tool at that. Get seven Europeans from different countries in a room and odds are the one language they have in common will be English. And it’s not just about Europe, English is as global a language as it gets. I don’t think the rise of English means the fall of other language, unless people allow it, something I don’t’ think is likely to happen anytime soon.

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Photo of the Day #114 
Wednesday, March 4, 2009, 08:33 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

It only seems like it’s Germany week here at the Europeans but in all fairness it is the largest country in terms of G.D.P. and population so I suppose it is only fair that it catches the spotlight every once in a while. Also perhaps this will motivate me to keep practicing my German this week (Hallo Peter, wie geht’s?).

In an interesting article in the International Herald Tribune, we explore the fate of some Germans who found themselves on the wrong side of the line when the post-WWII borders were redrawn.

“The damp mud falls away easily from the long thighbone jutting out of the dirt wall of the trench at the gentle prod of the shovel's tip. Beyond the mass grave filled with the skeletal remains of some 2,000 people, presumed to be Germans who died in the closing months of World War II, stands the red-brick fortress of the Teutonic Knights that was once one of Germany's greatest landmarks until it was forced to cede the territory to Poland after the war.

“Until then, Malbork was the German town of Marienburg, and the authorities believe the dead men, women and children buried together here were inhabitants of the city, along with refugees from places farther east, such as Königsberg, now Kaliningrad, fleeing the devastating Soviet counterattack that would eventually capture Berlin. Several dozen of the skulls have bullet holes, which prompted speculation of a massacre when the first bodies were found last October, whereas now the talk centers on cold, hunger and most of all typhus, which was rampant at the time.”



Bringing out the Dead. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

The article makes some very interesting points one of which is that it is no longer verboten to talk about the suffering that German civilians suffered during the war. To me this shows an evolution to the discussion of recent history, one that is more accurately starting to reflect the nuance and subtlety that allows history to truly tell the story of those who lived through it.

As an American it seems like the weight of history is everywhere. Sometimes that history seems incredibly oppressive as well. But part of understanding history is to make it one’s own and that is a process that never truly ends…

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Photo of the Day #113 
Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 08:04 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Stúrovo, Slovakia

Those of you who know me well know that I have a new obsession: my Amazon Kindle. It’s an electronic book reader, about the size of a trade paperback it can hold thousands of books. After years of traveling I have managed to get what I pack down to the bare essentials. I had a much harder time paring down my reading materials. Between books and magazines I could easily have two or three kilos worth of weight. The worst part was when I was done I had to leave my books behind. The real problem was that if I was traveling in a non English speaking country I had a hard time finding books to read and those I did were often expensive or not what I wanted to read. The Kindle solves all those problems for me. So far on this trip I’ve read more than a dozen books, far more than I would have been able to carry or find even if I was that lucky.

The Germans are getting on the eBook bandwagon as we learn from another article in The Local.


Past and Future. © Damaso Reyes


“Some 100,000 German books will be available in digital format via an ambitious new online platform libreka! when the Leipzig book fair kicks off on March 12.

“Our goal is to offer all deliverable German books within three to five years,” said Ronald Schild, head of the MVB marketing service of the German book publishing industry.

“The total number of e-books available will eventually reach 500,000 to 700,000 and publishers will charge a set price for the titles that can be downloaded to different electronic book readers, he added. Up to 1,000 publishers will contribute to libreka!, which the MVB hopes to make the premier site for German e-books.”


This is similar to what Amazon has done with its library of more than 230,000 books except it is being done by the publishing industry itself, a bold and far sighted move. Germans are voracious readers and the government has done much to protect the industry. But this is a great example of publishers embracing technology rather than fearing it. It will also expand the global reach of the German language, something some people fear is dying out. Being able to order a German book online and get it anywhere in the world instantly will be a huge boon to expats as well as those learning the language.

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Photo of the Day #112 
Monday, March 2, 2009, 09:48 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Štúrovo, Slovakia

I hope that you enjoyed the photos we posted last week but we also know that you come for the interesting news and discussion about Europe so this week there will be a bit more of that. To start things off I thought I would highlight an interesting article I found a while back at The Local in Germany about integration.

“At Hamburg’s Colón Language Centre, the integration course this correspondent attended was broken into two parts. From 8:50 am until 11:15 am each weekday, students learned grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Most of the morning was spent copying terms from the blackboard. Questions were welcome, but only if they were in German and at a recent class few people spoke up.

“The course brought people from Syria, Peru, India, Italy, Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, the Philippines, Turkey, Colombia, Brazil, Tibet, Belgium, the United States and Spain together for half a year, and varying social mores, educational backgrounds and ages occasionally caused a clash of cultures. A brief lesson on the German word for kissing, for example, upset the women from Egypt and Tunisia. And one person’s idea of helpful instruction was another’s idea of being bossy.

“But sometimes the global mix made things interesting. After unanimous approval of students, the class hosted a Christmas party. Instead of a variety of salty Teutonic snacks, revelers ate delicacies from around the world. And simply because they sat next to each other in class, a Spaniard ended up learning standard German greetings from a young bride from Turkey."



A paragon of integration. Cologne 2007 © Damaso Reyes

The piece is very interesting and well worth reading. I think that it shows that some in Germany, and in Europe, are starting to understand that integration is an active process, one that also takes time. How Western European nations choose to deal with their immigrants will ultimately decide how successful these countries are in a global society.

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Kid's Play 
Friday, February 27, 2009, 10:32 - Shooting
Komárom, Hungary

Yesterday I went with my friend Szilvia to photograph at her job in Komárom. She works at Gekko, which is focused around early childhood development and education. I spent the day with her as she took the children who stopped by through games and fun exercises designed to teach as well as entertain. Here are a few images…


Walking tall. © Damaso Reyes



Building blocks. © Damaso Reyes



Spin time. © Damaso Reyes



The mirror within. © Damaso Reyes



International impact. © Damaso Reyes



Small steps… © Damaso Reyes

Have a great weekend!

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A Winter Festival 
Wednesday, February 25, 2009, 10:42 - Travel, Shooting, Events
Sturovo. Slovakia

Over the weekend I went to an interesting festival (Maskarázás) in Chlaba, nearby town. As it was explained to me the purpose was to banish Winter (which we all hate don’t we?) so that our friend Spring can come along and make us happy. It seemed like a good reason to dress up in strange costumes, play with fire and drink on a Saturday morning. If you don’t believe me check it out for yourselves!


I shall scare you with my… what is that? © Damaso Reyes


Now we must jump over burning bails of hay. © Damaso Reyes


They are very hot! © Damaso Reyes


But they do not frighten me! © Damaso Reyes


Spectacle. © Damaso Reyes


And now we dance! © Damaso Reyes

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A Winter Walk 
Tuesday, February 24, 2009, 08:28 - Travel, Shooting, Personal
Esztergom, Hungary

Winter has been visiting us quite a bit here in Eastern Europe. Now those who know me well understand I am not really in favor of this whole business of cold and snow but sadly until I get that villa in southern Spain I will no doubt be seeing a lot more snow. In the best spirit of adventure I recently crossed the Danube and took a little walk around. Come along for the ride!


One moment. © Damaso Reyes



Footsteps. © Damaso Reyes



The dividing line. © Damaso Reyes


The shore. © Damaso Reyes


Trapped. © Damaso Reyes


A new path. © Damaso Reyes


Reflections. © Damaso Reyes


Sunset. © Damaso Reyes

Wasn’t that a lovely walk?


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Photo of the Day #111 
Monday, February 23, 2009, 08:30 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Štúrovo, Slovakia

The European Union is perhaps the most perfectly imperfect of all multinational institutions. If it were a car, it would be held together by duct tape right about now. But that is not preventing the drivers, nearly thirty at this point, from trying to drive this metaphorical car as recklessly as possible, as if they are trying to strain every rivet and bolt to see if they can be the one to send the constituent parts flying in every direction and rather unmindful of what impact that would have on themselves. We learn more from the New York Times.


The joy of politics. Vienna 2008. © Damaso Reyes


“The European Union and the European Central Bank are struggling to deal with a broad economic crisis that is affecting every European country, some feeling it far worse than others. Under the pressure of the crisis, a collective of shared sovereignties built on the idea of a common market of goods and services is being riven by statist policies and incipient protectionism.

“The eurozone itself is being strained by the desire of some countries, like France, to suspend or break budgetary rules and spend their way out of the crisis, and by the poor performance of countries like Greece, Italy and Spain, which have never cared much for the budgetary rules and can neither devalue their currencies nor alter interest rates. The Czechs, like the Germans, are much more cautious about violating European fiscal standards.

“In a time of economic crisis, we see atavistic instincts emerging,” said the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, describing the way that individual nations are responding to popular distress by patriotic and protectionist measures and statements and by playing down the unity of Europe.”


I don’t know what it will take for the leaders of Europe to realize that they can accomplish far more together than they can separately. I am beginning to think that ultimately it will become what it has always been, a process of osmosis, slow and steady. I had believed that the E.U. had reached something of a critical mass but increasingly I think that further integration is something which must happen at the lowest levels possible, namely between people because the politicians are too invested in their own power, however limited it may be, to give any of it up any time soon…

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Photo of the Day #110 
Thursday, February 19, 2009, 11:40 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

Kosovo just celebrated its first independence day this week. The country has come a long way in the past year but there are still many hurdles not least of which is the fact that most nations in the world, including several members of the European Union, do not yet recognize Kosovo as an independent state. We learn more from the International Herald Tribune as well as from the Economist.


An uncertain future. Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“Jubilant ethnic Albanians poured into the streets Tuesday to celebrate the first anniversary of Kosovo's independence from Serbia, as nationalist Serbian lawmakers joined their ethnic kin in northern Kosovo to try to undermine the tiny country.

“The twin moves highlighted the division that has plagued Kosovo and threatens to split it along ethnic lines. It also underscored the challenge Kosovo's authorities face in asserting control over areas where Serbs live."




The Economist states:

“The bad news is that Kosovo remains poor and its administration weak. Serbia’s government has led a highly effective diplomatic campaign against it and Kosovo has a bad image abroad. Yet it is often unfairly singled out for blame. It lies on a main drug-trafficking route, for instance; but so do some EU members, such as Bulgaria and even Austria.

“It is widely believed that Albanians, including Kosovars, play an inordinately large role in Europe’s drug cartels, but research does not often bear this out. According to a report by the Kosovar Stability Initiative, a think-tank, in 2006 only 6% of those arrested for heroin smuggling in Italy were ethnic Albanians; 65% were Italians and 19% were north Africans. Some stereotypes widely believed and repeated about Kosovars abroad are merely racist.

“So are Kosovars downcast? Far from it. A recent survey by the European Fund for the Balkans and Gallup found that, among seven western Balkan countries, Kosovo’s people are the most satisfied. They will certainly enjoy their birthday.”


Kosovo was, and still is, an important test for the European Union. The simple fact that not all E.U. members have recognized Kosovo is a prime example of the dysfunction that E.U. foreign policy is beset by. How the E.U. managed, or mismanaged Kosovo’s move towards independence highlights the need for a common foreign policy, or at least one that members can agree on. Until member states realize they can accomplish more on the global stage as a group than they can independently the status quo will likely remain…

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Photo of the Day #108 
Wednesday, February 18, 2009, 08:05 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Sturovo, Slovakia

When a young child jumps up and down and screams do you:
A.) ignore the child
B.) hit the child
C.) try to calmly reason with the child

Well the saga of Geert Wilders, a Dutch right-wing politician continues. He was recently banned from entering the United Kingdom even though he was invited by members of parliament. We learn so much more about the sorry incident from Der Spiegel and The Guardian.

“He was refused entry … anybody who is refused entry to the UK will be detained and returned," a Home Office spokesperson told the French news agency AFP. "The government opposes extremism in all its forms. It will stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country."

The Dutch politician had vowed to defy the Home Office's order to bar him from the country so that he could present his film "Fitna" in the House of the Lords, where he had been invited to show it. In its letter earlier this week, the Home Office claimed Wilders' visit would pose a "genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society. … Your statements about Muslims and their beliefs, as expressed in your film 'Fitna' and elsewhere, would threaten community harmony and therefore public security." The ban is a blanket one that Britain claims has been applied using EU laws that allow member states to exclude entry to anyone whose presence could threaten public security,”
Der Spiegel writes.


Fight for your right to protest! London 2005 © Damaso Reyes

“The National Secular Society president, Terry Sanderson, said he wrote to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, saying she should not have denied an application by a "democratically elected politician from a sovereign state who wants to come and express an opinion".

"It may be a controversial opinion but he is entitled to express it," he said.

“The Home Office has said it would "stop those who want to spread extremism, hatred and violent messages in our communities from coming to our country.

“The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, Chris Huhne, said that while it was important to defend freedom of speech, Wilders "has overstepped the line that should be defended in a civilised society,"
The Guardian tells us.

That last statement is the one I have the biggest problem with. Who should have the right to say where the line is in a civilized society? Once the government has that power all sorts of unpopular things, people, ideas get banned. More importantly society misses out on having a sincere debate on important issues. Wilders and his ideas will not go away simply because he was turned away at the airport. If anything this silly incident has give him and his viewpoint far more attention than it otherwise would have had. Like it or not he is the democratically elected representative of his district and if Obama can say that America should reach out to Iran and North Korea why can’t the U.K. engage with someone like Wilders?

Is British democracy so fragile that it cannot withstand ideas it finds unpalatable?

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Now Starring on Kodak's Homepage... 
Tuesday, February 17, 2009, 08:28 - Project News
Sturovo, Slovakia

Just a quick update to let you know that one of my images is now being featured on Kodak’s homepage for professional photographers! When you have a chance, stop by and check it out…


Kosovo 2005 © Damaso Reyes

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Dance Nation 
Monday, February 16, 2009, 08:54 - Shooting, Events, Commentary
Štúrovo, Slovakia

On Friday I went to the annual dance that the local high school puts on for its students. What was remarkable is how unremarkable it was. Girls were all dressed up and had their hair done; the boys looks uncomfortable in their suits and tuxedos. They danced to bad music and had a good time. The scene could have been in Berlin or Brooklyn for that matter, which is very much the point.


Swinging and swaying… © Damaso Reyes


Watching and waiting. © Damaso Reyes


Music Playing… © Damaso Reyes


Hoping… © Damaso Reyes


In the moment. © Damaso Reyes


I’ve also visited the school twice to talk to students about my work. For me what’s interesting is how they view themselves and their lives, which is to say very much like their Western European counterparts. All of them have mobile phones and computers and plan on attending university. They shop online and listen to American pop music. Just twenty years ago this of course wasn’t the case. The entry of Slovakia into the European Union no doubt accelerated this trend.



The future is now. © Damaso Reyes

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Photo of the Day #107 
Friday, February 13, 2009, 08:51 - Commentary, Photo of the Day
Štúrovo, Slovakia

I thought I would end the week on a positive note, or at least as positive as I can manage given the state of the world at the moment. A new government has been formed in the storm battered nation of Iceland. At its head is Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, whom we learn more about from the International Herald Tribune.


Let the games begin! Stuttgart 2007 © Damaso Reyes

“Sigurdardottir, 66, is a former flight attendant and union organizer, and served as social affairs minister in the previous government.

“She is Iceland's first female prime minister, and her Cabinet is the country's first to be split evenly between men and women.

“Sigurdardottir also is the first openly gay national leader of modern times, apart from Per-Kristian Foss, a Norwegian politician who briefly served as his country's prime minister in 2002.”


Progress comes in many shapes and forms. In America, the election of Barack Obama is one such example; another is the fact that we have had two female Secretaries of States in a row, the current one would likely have been president if Obama had not won the nomination. It seems like more and more we are heading towards a world where the circumstances of one’s birth will not limit one’s opportunities. But as we all know a world where that is fully realized is still some time away.

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