Friday, November 17, 2017

Blind nationalism hinders Europe's future potential.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/663946/EU-plans-United-States-Europe
Europe nowadays looks to be caught in a never-ending crisis, whether it be financial, institutional or political.

Brexit, the euro-zone and the refugee crises, plus the recent Catalan referendum for independence, portray a continent that it is tired and at war with itself, lacking a vision for the future, leadership and a sense of direction.

In under such circumstances, people understandably tend to look back to "better days," that they know and are used to. The time when nation states and local governments defined their future and fortunes.

Change is scary and every new challenge of the status, is often met with suspicion or resistance. Nationalism becomes more vocal and prevails because, in every upheaval, people tend to seek solutions from local "saviors". Even if they are just opportunists, that seek to serve their own interests.

The mentality of "us against them," sinks in and "freedom" movements, together with radical ideological political groups are on the rise. But what can they offer apart from the temporary satisfaction that any knee-jerk response brings?

Our continent seems to be in a desperate search for a new identity, or a set of values to aspire to. Nationalism and our past, offer a guideline of who we are until now, but can we rely on them to design our future?

If we keep looking at our bygones for inspiration, we keep going in circles and repeat the same mistakes. Nationalism is in most cases a toxic sentiment, that limits our potential by constant segregation and division.

It is not detrimental to look at the past for inspiration, but I doubt the people that fought and died for the formation of today's Europe, would want things to remain as they are. They died for change, whether this was a social upheaval or a fight for justice or liberty.

We will be doing them no justice though if we turned them into icons of conservatism, lack of change, fanaticism and lack of intercultural dialogue and collaboration.

Potentially the solution would be instead of nationalism, promoting a constructive form of patriotism. There is no harm in loving your country or your heritage or being proud of it.

But instead of trying ferociously to protect it, you would do better service to your nation by exporting its values to the rest of humanity.

What good would you do by being intolerant towards foreigners or minorities, or against of your country becoming a modern Western democracy, integrated into the rest of Europe and the world?

Today's battle among our nations, should be about which of us can positively influence humanity and its future development. That must be our goal, not constantly admiring our past achievements and glory.

We should be racing about who will find solutions to the problems that the world is facing first, not building walls to stop people from coming in.

Nowadays that there are no more lands or discover and conquer, or tribes to colonize and Christianize, what will we leave for the future generations to be proud of their ancestors?

Perhaps instead of desperately trying to protect our past, it is time to design our collective future. Pushing humanity as a whole forward, may be what Europe needs to be focusing on.

By reforming our own societies first to become role models or equality, freedom and economic development, we could inspire others to follow suit.

In addition, by helping other regions to reach our living standards, eradicating poverty and reducing the inequalities among the world's populations, we can give our future generations something to be proud of.

Europe should become a beacon of scientific and technological innovation, leading the world in the fight for a cleaner environment and sustainable energy resources.

But we can never achieve all the above alone. Individually, member states are very small not just to tackle all these issues by themselves but additionally, help other nations to follow our example and contribute to the overall progress of humanity.

Our continent is known for its glorious conquests, classic art, financial might and technological advances of the past. But the world is changing and other regions are now rightfully claiming their place in the globe.

Why would we retract within our own borders, excluding anyone from coming in and turn on each other once again, while we could turn Europe and all its nations, bright examples for others to follow and aspire to?

What would give you greater satisfaction, people to talk about your distant past, or view you as a role model for their future?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Dublin Greek Film Festival 2017.

On October the 19th 2017, Dublin will host its third annual Greek Film Festival. For four days, Dubliners will have the opportunity to watch features, short films and documentaries, by international acclaimed Greek directors but also emerging filmmakers.

The aim of the Festival is to promote Greek culture, through a variety of films and events and strengthen the links between Ireland and Greece. Together with a number of special events, it will take place in top cultural venues across Dublin.

The Festival is organized by a number of volunteers, but is the brainchild of Kiki Konstantinidou and Aleksandra Szymbara. Kiki, a former teacher in the Greek community’s school in Dublin, met Aleksandra while she was a pupil there.

Aleksandra’s background includes studies in culture and religion in her native Poland, plus work in various museums and other art festivals. She was already involved in a Polish Film Festival in Ireland, as marketing manager. 

Her partner is Greek, thus she developed an interest in Greek culture. Combined with her overall love for films and art, she decided to join Kiki in this project.

Kiki was always involved in various music festivals in her native Greece. After her Masters in Cultural Policy and Arts Management in U.C.D. in Dublin, she decided to organize a festival that would promote Greek culture in Ireland.

“I was constantly seeing events promoting other nations’ cinema and culture, so I thought to organize a Greek Film Festival,” describes Kiki. “In the beginning I attempted to organize it on my own, but it proved to be very difficult. Then I met Aleskandra and she agreed to be part of it”, she explains.

The first Dublin Greek Film Festival took place in April 2015, with “great difficulties, no support or funds,” as Kiki and Aleksandra had to invest out of their own pockets. Yet they were lucky, as they found support by many volunteers, plus a lot of the film directors showed understanding and did not ask for screening fees.

“Things have changed a bit nowadays, as we get a considerable amount of funding by the Dublin City Council, a media sponsor from Dublin City FM Radio and for the first time this year, we have the support of EOT (Greek Tourism Organization)”, says Kiki.

“The festival grows every year and we hope that it will become established in Dublin for the long term. We are delighted to see it bringing together Greeks from all over the country, but also Irish and viewers from many other nationalities”, she describes.

Kiki explains that they are trying to do something different each time, like bringing new producers and directors for the first time in Ireland. While creating an original Greek experience for their audience, so they can enjoy and become familiarized with the country’s culture.

“Every year we are striving to add more events related to Greece and its modern civilization, not only its film industry but its arts in general. Everyone is familiar with the Greek sun, sea, islands and beaches, but we are trying to introduce Dubliners to a different side of Greece’s reality,” Kiki says.

Aleksandra describes how organizing the festival is a big learning experience, but also very rewarding. “I am happy to see the festival growing and I hope it will continue to expand and reach more and more people living in Dublin and beyond”, she says.

“Many people know about ancient Greece's culture, but not about the modern one. We are giving people the opportunity to familiarize with it, plus learn about everyday life in Greece and the problems people are facing. It's especially important nowadays, when Europe is going through various crises”, Aleksandra concludes. 

You may find the program, venues and timetables of the festival’s screenings here.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Catalonia: Europe's newest country?

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/860025/Catalonia-independence-referendum-2017-when-is-date-Catalan-vote-leave-Spain
It has been a very dramatic weekend in Europe and the Iberian peninsula in particular last week. As the Catalans were voting for their independence, the Spanish government decided to crack down on the voters and peaceful protesters, with violence and force.

With almost 900 people injured and shameful pictures released by the media, one would wonder how all this was helping Mariano Rajoy's conservative government in its cause. Even if they were justified in their objections to the Catalan independence referendum, they have certainly lost people's support not only in Catalonia, but in the rest of Europe too.

Madrid claims-and rightly so- that the referendum was unconstitutional by law. But laws are not there not to be challenged and stay forever the same. If circumstances or the will and needs of the people are altered, then reforms or new realities have to be implemented.

The Spanish government, after years of economic crisis, high unemployment rates, corruption, lack of opportunities for its youth and austerity, showed little competence in dealing with people's needs. That gave the perfect platform for separatists to gain momentum and push for their cause, just like in other EU nations we've seen the rise of "radical" political parties and movements.

If there could be any solution to avoid such developments, it should definitely not involve violence. But dialogue, debate and deeper collaboration between the Madrid and the regional governments, plus between all of them and the citizens of Spain.

It is fair to say that the Catalan government seized an opportunity to push for its agenda, which is based on financial control and power. Just like Britain always wanted special treatment within the EU and was complaining about its budget or how much it contributed into it, the Catalan government seemed to be in disagreement with Madrid over how much it pays.

But when you belong in a state-federal or not-plus you are one of its richest regions, you always support the poorer ones. That is the case for every country. Take Finland for example. Its southern regions are much richer and developed than the northern ones and they keep supporting them financially.

Such differences in the distribution of wealth and inequality, can be blamed on lack of resources or infrastructure in the poor regions, corruption or mismanagement. But if only each rich region wanted to break away from the poorer ones. We would not have a Europe of nations, but we would go back to a feudal, divided and fragmented continent.

The difference with Spain is, that while from the outside looks a homogeneous country, in reality it is a multi-ethnic society, that has never had a proper debate and soul searching on its identity. From the imperial days to the dictatorship of Franco, the peoples of Spain as it seems, never had a dialogue on how to co-exist or manage their affairs.

And that perhaps is why the EU, remained so quiet during these days. If Belgium, the U.K. or Spain, some of the union's oldest member states, cannot function as a federation, how can Europe succeed in creating a far bigger, more diverse integrated society and government?

Perhaps we could learn by the mistakes of Spain to avoid repeating them and succeeding in creating a united Europe. But this country existed in its current form for centuries and if it has failed to convince the Basques or the Catalans to accept their dual identity, what chances does Europe have?

Another major failure of the government in Madrid, is its lack of mobilization of the Catalan people who want to stay in the Spanish union. They seemed to believe that a violent crackdown of the voters would solve the problem, relying on the fact that the Spanish constitution prohibits such referendums.

But it backfired on them. Maybe it would be better if they allowed the democratic process to take place, yet become active in it by encouraging the majority of the people who want to remain in Spain to go to the voting stations and cast their votes against independence.

Only around 42% of the electorate has voted and from them 90% supported independence. If the other 58% was motivated to take part, maybe the outcome would be different. In addition, it could have started a positive campaign to convince the Catalan electorate, rather than arresting its elected officials.

It is regrettable that the people of Spain, have been caught in a vicious internal power struggle of the local and central governments of their region. It is also sad to see that nationalism is rising in Europe in all forms.

From Brexit, to Scottish and Catalan independence bids, the rise of the far Right and euro-skeptic political parties, xenophobia, anti-immigrant or refugee sentiments of fear, the crisis in Europe does not seem to subside.

When will Europeans be able to feel comfortable in determining ourselves with multiple identities? One could be Catalan, Spanish and European, or Corsican, French and European. Instead of seeking constant fragmentation, perhaps we could just allow giving more freedoms and autonomy to people and regions, while maintaining a central form of government that will coordinate, not dictate all of them.

The developments in Catalonia will no doubt affect the rest of Europe and the EU. Apart from any economic, social and identity turmoil or instability that will most likely spill over to other Spanish regions with the same aspirations, many other parts of Europe may soon be inspired to follow suit. Or simply lose the appetite for European integration, seeing the failures of the Spanish government.

Yet we need to remind ourselves of what happens with fragmentation. We could see the "Balkanization" of the Iberian peninsula, which could cause instability for the region and Europe itself, in a period that we are only coming out of a harsh economic crisis. It could take decades for Spain and Catalonia to settle their differences, even if the crisis does not escalate in an all out conflict.

That could push the euro-zone recovery further back, with consequences that will be felt in all other member states. Therefore Europe must support and encourage the Madrid and Barcelona governments to settle their differences once and for all.

Perhaps a radical and total rethinking of the way Europe and its nations are being governed is necessary, to avoid further and ongoing similar crises of happening in the future. It is time to stop burring our heads in the sand.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Is immigration the solution to Europe's demographic problem?

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33286393
Europe is faced with a number of challenges that require careful planning, further collaboration and a united response, plus a decisive foreign policy action. 

For the past few years our continent's immigration problem and refugee crisis, have caused cracks in the EU itself, with Brexit and a number of Central and Eastern European countries refusing to take refugees in.

And although most of the new arrivals in Europe come from war torn countries like Syria, others are coming from Africa and South Asia, in search for a better life.

European states have long debated, argued and often disagreed on how to deal with the issue. Technically, the best way to limit the flow while finding a solution, would to reach the root of the problem.

There is a huge inequality in our world, with some nations enjoying a high standard of living, while others having the majority of their population living in poverty, with lack of education, opportunities and other basic human needs.

It is naïve to imagine that the people from the poor regions of this world, will ever stop trying to reach wealthier countries, in hope for a better life.

Besides, as Europe and almost every developed region of this planet, is faced with fertility rates decline and an ageing population, immigration could provide a solution to this predicament. Yet it also poses its own challenges.

How do you assimilate people with often totally different culture than yours, or how you stop the rise of xenophobia and the various Far-Right movements that have been established all over Europe in response to high immigration?

In addition to the economic inequality, there is also another imbalance in our planet. The poorer or developing regions, experience a population boom that if not dealt with soon enough, could make matters worse.

Overpopulation in one region, is putting an extreme pressure on its governments to find resources to accommodate all these people. And as poorer families are usually the ones who have more children, it is evident that there is a link between overpopulation, poverty and lack of education.

Demographic growth presents a global challenge: In 13 years (2030) the world population is projected to grow more than one billion people, reaching 8.6 billion people. It will reach 9.8 billion in 2050, and 11.2 billion in 2100. In other words, 83 million people is being added to the world's population every year.

Nowadays, the problem is not only overpopulation, but also the abnormal disparity in its distribution. On the one hand, great challenges of overpopulation are presented to poor and emerging countries while, on the other hand, the European Union, Japan and the United States will need to revise migration policies and implement new changes in their economic models if they want to guarantee pensions and social security contributions in the coming years. (World Economic Forum)

It is the very economic model that Europe has adopted post WWII, that contributed to the financial recovery and booming, but also to smaller families and a constant decline of its population fertility rates.

Better education, the equal integration of women in the workforce, consumerism, higher living standards that alter our expectations and goals in life, the extension of our life expectancy, all contribute the phenomenon of an ageing and declining population.

Yet in the past, Europe had similar mentality and culture of bigger families, just as many of the developing countries have nowadays. It needed people to colonize the rest of the world, or sustain its industrial and economic revolution. Just as our continent switched its priorities and policies, so can other regions.

Thus perhaps the solution to Europe's immigration problem does not lie in sending boats to stop the flux of migrants, or raising walls across the entry points. Maybe we should try helping others reaching our living standards, thus tackling global wealth inequality.

If the poorer regions close the gap, then their societies will also follow the developed nations' economic or social model. Combine this with better education, then their youths will have all they need to start a better future in their home countries, rather than risking their lives to enter illegally in Europe.

It is proven that immigrants arriving in Europe, adapt in its society and adopt local family models after one generation. Their birth rates fall to similar levels to those of European families. So if they can achieve this in our continent, why can't they do it in their own countries, if they achieve similar living standards?

Another one of Europe's societal changes that can be promoted to tackle overpopulation, is the decriminalization of homosexuality and the promotion of marriage equality in other regions of the planet.

If same sex couples are not seen and a taboo and are widely accepted, then they can contribute to the population reduction in the developing world, together with the promotion of smaller families and more educated populace.

While some of the Western "heavyweights" like USA and Britain chose isolationism and conservatism, some of the smallest European nations are realising that to tackle the problem, we need to engage with the poor nations and help them.

Denmark, a small European country generally recognized for its social democratic values and strong welfare state, has like other European countries seen immigration become a central political issue. The far-right, nativist Danish People’s Party has grown rapidly in recent years, becoming the second-largest political party during the 2015 elections. 

Anti-immigrant and asylum-seeker sentiment has grown across the political spectrum, just as the number of asylum seekers has spiked in the tiny country. The number of asylum seekers increased from 14,792 in 2014 to 21,316 in 2015 according to statistics from the Danish Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing, out of a total population of 5.7 million.

Speaking at a family planning summit in London last month, Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Ulla Tørnæs justified a 91-million kroner ($15 million) commitment to underwriting contraceptives in Africa.

“To limit the migration pressure on Europe, a part of the solution is to reduce the very high population growth in many African countries,” she stated. Tørnæs additionally noted that curtailing African population growth is important for Danish foreign and security policy.(Foreign Policy)

That perhaps is a much better solution, than rescuing capsized boats full of desperate, drowning people and the EU as a whole needs to participate and follow Denmark's example.

Educate the poorer countries about overpopulation and its impact on the environment, or their societies and their natural resources.

If they don't, we are going to be faced with ever increasing pressure for migration to richer and less populated countries, with potentially the cause of either conflict, or starvation in poor nations.

Our continent is one of the regions that will feel the pressure to accept more immigrants as we are currently facing from Africa and the Middle East. We need to sort out our policies on immigration and our demographics. Time is running out and we need to act soon. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Children should not be used as an argument for or against Gay Marriages.

https://www.tumblr.com/search/on%20gay%20adoption
On the 30th of June, Germany became the latest EU member state to approve same sex marriage, prompting further debate in many of its partners on following suit.

As things stand Europe is split in half, with the western part having embraced full equality for LGBT individuals, while the eastern and southern region, still failing to do so.

Currently the debate is ongoing in Malta, which is expected to follow Germany in near future and Northern Ireland, which is the only region in Western Europe still reluctant to pass similar legislation.

Just as when the debate was ongoing in the Republic of Ireland, I watched partially the discussions on the issue from the north of the border; and no surprise, the main arguments were against the adoption of children by same sex couples and the formation of "families" by such individuals.

But really, are we going to decide the happiness of two people on something that may not necessarily take place?

Instead of focusing on allowing two people to be treated as equals in the society they live in, we are trying to raise walls and obstacles to their happiness, by comparing the traditional established heterosexual families with those that may potentially be formed by homosexual individuals.

This is a mistake and both sides, those who are against gay marriages and the LGBT equality groups are wrong. They are missing the whole point.

We are talking about love and the ability to express it openly, freely and be able to have legal status among gay partnerships, as we already have for heterosexual ones.

For example, if a homosexual person falls in love with an individual outside the country he/she is living or the EU, then this individual must have the same legal status to have his union recognised by the state and be able to keep his/her partner legally in the country. Just as any straight person can do.

I do not see why children must come in the discussion and become an obstacle to their union, which is something that they may never chose to have.

I also do not understand why some LGBT individuals see as a must the right to adopt, while in reality we are discussing equality on openly loving the person you want and legally securing this union. A child, just as in a heterosexual marriage, won't save or complete it.

And as many "straight" couples are mistakenly trying to safeguard their marriage by having or adopting children, I can't see why homosexual people need to make the same error.

A child is not a puppy or a must have achievement to enhance your status, fullfill your needs or image and legitimise your union. Both gay and straight couples must be responsible when deciding on adopting a child.

Homosexual individuals do not have the burden of childbirth and have a more comforable living standards, as all of their income can be spent on their needs, hobbies and lifestyle. I cannot understand why they must insist on something that they cannot naturally have, just to make a point.

While they can have the best of both worlds and remain legally married, enjoying the joys of a newlywed couple, whithout going through the difficult phase of raising a child, which often takes its toll on the relationship.

What they must be focusing on is the absolute acceptance by the public of their unions, the legal recognition by the state and all the authorities and the promotion of the same rights across the EU and perhaps the rest of the globe.

Besides, even heterosexual marriages do not always result in having children, should these enjoy less rights and status?

I am not against gay adoption and if the law allows it for straight couples, then yes it must allow it for gay couples too. But it should not define the debate on same sex marriage or its outcome. The real issue is the legal status of same sex unions and their full acceptance by society.

The cases that surelly require special legislation and attention, are those in which one of the partners in the same sex marriage, has already a child by a previous heterosexual relationship or is a lone parent.

Then yes, these cases pose a definite argument for adoption by gay individuals and the sceptics need to understand and respect the fact that modern family is changing. They simply need to catch up with the modern reality and do not impose their own conservative views on the future of these children.

Undestandably, same sex marriage is something new and people of all sexual orientations feel the need to understand it, redefining the notion of marriage and family.

Then think that nowadays it is acceptable for two white heterosexual parents to adopt an Asian or African child, something that would be impossible to occur naturally, yet we can not tolerate the same "unatural" family when comprised of two same sex parents.

Giving the same rights to your fellow human beings, does not take away any of your rights. There are already families of mixed race, ethnic background and religious beliefs, but also one and multiple parent ones.

The institution of marriage and family was not the same centuries ago, with what it is today. It changed and developed over the years. We adapted to these changes. Now we must do the same with same sex unions.

Instead of holding on to what we know and using it to block any development for the way forward, we should just take the leap and embrace it. We ought to give every human being the ability to express or explore their sexuality openly, freely and if they chose to be in a same sex relationship we should treat their union equally as any heterosexual one.

And hopefully one day, our stereotypes of gender, sexual orientation and marriage will collapse and people will be able to chose their partner not according to what is socially acceptable, but who they really love.

Children can be born in heterosexual marriages, but grow up in homosexual ones, as their parents might split and chose another partner of the same sex. And society will accept and tolerate it, just as it does for mixed race unions. That should be our goal, not use children as an argument to push for our agenda, either it is for or against gay marriages.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

How could Europe tackle terrorism and extremism.

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-sport-northamerica-security-idUSKBN18J31S
On May the 22nd Europe suffered yet another terrorist attack, this time in Manchester, the U.K.

In this incident, 22 mainly young people lost their lives, while attending a pop concert by American singer Ariana Grande.

It happened just over one month after the attack in Stockholm, the Swedish capital, which left 5 people dead.

After France, Belgium, Russia and Germany, this is the latest terror attack which takes place on European soil. But it is becoming evident that it most likely won't be the last.

Our continent is increasingly finding itself as a target for such atrocities, so we must prepare to protect our citizens and way of life. 

Clearly one country can not achieve this on its own. We have open borders, free movement of people and multicultural societies. If we want to maintain and safeguard those values, then we must respond to this challenge united and cooperating with each other closely. 

The creation of a European Intelligence Agency is an ongoing debate and many prominent EU political figures,have in the past called for its creation. A European FBI if you like, would coordinate our efforts, speed up the exchanging of information and intelligence, helping to prevent terrorism in our continent.

It was November 2015, when the leader of the European Liberals, Guy Verhofstadt told MEPs that the creation of a European intelligence agency, as well as a corps of European border and coast guards, is more urgent than ever.

At a debate in Brussels, the Belgian politician focused on the situation in Syria and the fact that France had broken new ground by activating article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Verhofstadt stated that the activation of article 42.7, necessarily implies the creation of a European coalition that other states can contribute to. (Euractiv)

Just a few months later and the Belgian and European capital Brussels, was under attack in March 2016. Consequently, the EU Commission's President Jean-Claude Juncker stated that better cooperation of member states’ secret services was needed, to respond to the challenge of terrorism.

Juncker spoke alongside French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who visited Brussels in the aftermath the terrorist attacks in Brussels.

“It becomes more and more obvious that we must reflect over the better cooperation between our respective secret services,” he said in French.(Euractiv)

Another year has passed and we still haven't managed to make considerable progress on this plan, while the victims are increasing. 

The terrorists are getting more organised and are acting on a transnational basis, being able to high-jack trucks in one country, while attacking a neighboring one. They can also receive instructions from terrorist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere. We need to act soon.

If national governments cannot cooperate with each other effectively, due to communication breakdown, mistrust or red-tape, then a pan-European body could speed up the process by coordination.

The one thing that Europe must not do, is abandon its values or what it has achieved so far. The Schengen Agreement, the free movement of people or goods, our multicultural cities and open societies, must not be sacrificed for the sake of any extremist.

We should stick together and do not allow them to spread hatred, fear and divisions among us. We must not scapegoat our Muslim communities for the attacks, or turn against them. On the contrary, we should ask them to join the fight against extremism, including not isolating them. 

It is coming to a point that the Muslim communities across Europe must cooperate, unite and be the front runners in the fight against terrorism in our continent. If we turn against them, we will only increase their discontent and radicalization, perpetuating the condition and its outcome; terror attacks. If they feel unwanted, it is unlikely that they will chose to cooperate.

If any member of the Muslim community knows that someone is suspicious of extremist views, they should report them to the authorities. Eject any extremists from their circles, mosques, social groups and expel them. They must become more vocal and openly condemning such actions, encouraging their youths to embrace their lives in Europe and integrate themselves in our societies.

Our governments on the other hand, must find out what pushes European born Muslim young men, to reject all the benefits our countries can offer them, choosing to murder people and ultimately dying themselves. Have our immigration laws or integration process failed them, or is our culture simply not appealing to them?

Europe needs a debate on its future and to re-imagine itself as a society. We will either chose to enter the future divided, suspicious and scared, raising borders and barriers, alienating and scapegoating minorities, or we will chose to further cooperate, coordinate, unite and streamline our efforts in creating a peaceful, prosperous and safe continent for all its inhabitants. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

If Russia is a threat, why isn't Europe playing its game on intelligence?

http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/742875/europe-cyberwar-russia-hack-germany-france-netherlands-elections
The CIA’s conclusion that Russia intervened to swing last November’s presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, may be hard to swallow for some.

This investigation, may also have implications for the integrity of Britain’s Brexit referendum last June. 

Additionally, it could determine how upcoming elections in France and Germany may be vulnerable to Russian manipulation. (The Guardian)

Such reports, if they are truthful, would make anyone question the stability and solidity of every Western democracy. Imagine if the politics and electoral outcome of a country such as USA, can be influenced by apparently a coordinated group of hackers and internet trolls, or the funding of another country like Russia.

Such possibility, shatters really the validity of our elections, referendums and the very political system that we are so very proud of in Europe; democracy.

But are such conclusions real, or is it an attempt of the Western elites to discredit the undesirable electoral outcome, influencing their countries' public opinion by using Russia as a "boogeyman"?

Or perhaps they wish to place the blame for their failures on the usual scapegoat. Russia, just as the USSR, still serves as the reason why we need to spend millions for protection, defense mechanisms, military spending and so on.

During the past we needed a powerful alliance like NATO, to protect ourselves from the Soviet threat. So if Russia is launching a cyber-war on us, then why isn't Europe today developing its own cyber-defense system?

Each state in Europe has obviously its own intelligence agency, but when faced with well organized "attacks" by countries like Russia, China or even our own very allies like the USA, perhaps we could coordinate our resources better. 

A truly united and strong European continent, could pose many challenges and act as a threat to other potential global players. Therefore, if what these reports are claiming is true and our elections are being targeted by Russia or any of our competitors, we will have to defend ourselves.

Nevertheless this defense towards such attacks, should not necessarily be us hacking or interfering with our competitors' elections or internal affairs. Rather informing our own citizens about the reality of the situation.

The EU should get its own group of "trolls", which instead of spreading lies and false news, they should do the opposite. Spread facts and information. 

There are plenty of pro-EU enthusiasts, bloggers, journalists, campaigners and civic society groups from across the block, that can be employed to promote better knowledge of what the EU does, or how it works.

Debunking any myths, could be our best line of defense, preferably before the alleged foreign "trolls" are able to infiltrate our social media to spread their agenda or lies. 

However we have to understand that the biggest "enemy", is not Russia or any other "power" outside the EU. Our worse enemy is our own governments, plus that of our allies such as the USA. 

It is them who fail us with their disastrous policies, corruption, nationalism, conservative nation centered politics, while serving the vested interests of a handful of upper class from within our countries, or the powerful Western elites.

They haven't grasped that people are fed up with their neo-liberal agenda, paying for the banks, the euro and to support this outdated capitalist system, which is in urgent need of reforms.

Our leaders on both side of the Atlantic, have ignored the needs or voices of the ordinary citizens for too long, yet now it is Putin's trolls and agents that are posing a major threat to our democracy. 

Even if there is some truth in this, we will have to do some serious soul-searching first, to find why people are turning against our political and economic system or establishment, the EU, its role and achievements. 

We can not blame others, before we fix the cracks in our political structure. We also need to realize that our own media can also be biased, serving the interests of equally destructive for our societies agendas, coming from within our countries or group of allies.

Assuming that Europe is serious about succeeding and moving forward, becoming a major player in the globe, then our national governments should stop standing in the way for starters. We either move forward with this project or we do not. 

If our governments are sabotaging the EU itself, often siding with Russia, the US or any other global power to serve their own interests, then they can not blame anyone else for interfering. 

It is them that become a threat to democracy and our political system, our values and the future of our future generations. 

People are unaware or ignorant about their national or European politics and reality, because the truth has been purposely twisted or withheld from them for too long, by their entrusted governments and leaders. It is no wonder then that they are easily manipulated by the "trolls" of Russia or any other infiltrator.

The EU has an increasing number of supporters and followers, willing to work and share their knowledge and enthusiasm with their fellow citizens. This is a valuable pool of existing resource, that is unexploited. 

If only our national governments allowed the EU to fund its own collective intelligence, comprised by an active civil society but also a European version of FBI or CIA, then nobody would be able to manipulate or influence its elections and internal affairs. 

This could form the backbone of our defense towards "meddling" from the outside, securing the political stability that our continent needs to achieve its goals for the future. 

The more we delay this development, the further we will be weakened by more coordinated and organized cyber campaigns against European unity.

Our countries are small and form easy pickings for bigger players in the globe, comfortably corrupted and manipulated, turned on each other. 

Populism and nationalism can never offer solutions to this problem. Our interests for a future stable and prosperous continent, lie in a more integrated Europe, not a divided one. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why do we allow still religion to dominate our morality?

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/402227810444959852/
A bright orange bus emblazoned with an anti-transgender message has been forced off the roads in Spain, after activists, trade unions, and Madrid City Council united against it.

The slogan on the bus read: "Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled."

A Catholic group, Hazte Oir, had planned to take it on a nationwide tour of Spanish cities.

The group said the ban was illegal and that it planned to acquire a new bus.

One message on the side of the banned bus states: "If you are born a man, you are a man. If you are a woman, you will continue to be one."

It is believed to be a response to posters put up in northern Spain by a transgender rights group, which read: "There are girls with penises and boys with vulvas. It's as simple as that." (BBC News)
Well seemingly now, we've got to make sure we obey our biology,or we will offend the ever watchful and self-righteous religious groups. As if that's all that we are; mammals, that need to be identified and categorized by what we carry between our legs upon our birth.

How about finally accepting that we are also sentient beings? That we have a spirit, a soul, that we are also energy and not only flesh, meat and bones. Haven't we humans always separated ourselves from animals, often in such arrogant way that we placed ourselves above all other life, exploiting it, abusing it. 

Because we see ourselves as more than animals, more than any other "God's creations".  In fact religion always made us believe that we are "His" favorite and most perfect one. Yet now ironically, Catholics insist on identifying and categorizing people strictly on our biological anatomy, so I am confused.

Am I a man because I was born with a penis, or because I feel as one? How about what my spirit makes me feel and want, or perhaps I should stick to my anatomy. 

http://tgeu.org/trans-rights-europe-map-2015/But then what happens to my soul and all the promises of atonement or forgiveness in the afterlife, that religion is promising that I will receive.

When my penis that identified me all my life has rotten and is nothing more than dirt in the ground.

I wonder then if we belong to a sex group because our anatomy says so upon our birth, or because our "soul" urges us to behave in such manner.

If of course what we perceive as "the spirit" exists after all and religion got that right. If they haven't, well then that must force us to change our perception of religion, spirituality and God, shouldn't it?

Science has discovered  in 1991 that the hypothalamus, which controls the release of sex hormones from the pituitary gland, in gay men differs from the hypothalamus in straight men. The third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH3) was found to be more than twice as large in heterosexual men as in homosexual men

It additionally showed that in gay men, neurons in the INAH3 are packed more closely together than in straight men.

Later studies performed in 2008, have shown that the two halves of the brain are more symmetrical in homosexual men and heterosexual women than in heterosexual men and homosexual women.

These studies have also revealed that connections in the amygdala of gay men resemble those of straight women; in gay women, connections in the amygdala resemble those of straight men. The amygdala has many receptors for sex hormones and is associated with the processing of emotions.

Some studies have shown that the corpus callosum – the main connection between the two halves of the brain- has a different structure in gay men than in straight men. However, other studies have found no difference.

Gay women and gay men are more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous than straight women and straight men, according to a number of different studies.

Some researchers have suggested that this difference in handedness – preference for one hand over the other can be observed in fetuses - is related to differences in the corpus callosum. (Scientific American Blog)

From the above one would think twice before attributing any discriminatory beliefs and misconceptions to "God." Human sexuality is scientifically analysed and from all that we have found so far, there is no evidence of any deity's will, that imposes any morality on our sexual behavior.

We have to start liberating ourselves from anachronistic ideologies, religious beliefs and conservative mentalities regarding our sexuality. The reason being that they are simply misplaced. They are founded upon lies and false information.

Humans are not animals to mate just for procreation and even if they were, they are plenty examples of animals having sex just for fun. Homosexuality is not unknown among animals either, especially the most "developed ones," such as chimpanzees and dolphins.

Our sexuality is not just black or white, rather it covers all "shades of grey" in between. So why do we insist on stereotyping, discriminating against, excluding and even violently reacting towards individuals that do not fit our "respectable" and "acceptable" sexual orientations?

I doubt that anyone would respond in such manner towards a person with disabilities, which was also born with his or her condition. Trans-gendered individuals may look less normal in their appearance, but are as "natural" in their behavior as someone who was born with a disability due a brain structural "difference".

If what the above study applies for gay individuals, such findings must make a stronger case for trans-gendered people, which often express the feeling of being the wrong sex trapped in the wrong body. Science explains it all, so why do we allow religion to spread bigotry and hatred towards our fellow human beings?

Especially when apparently our faith is here to spread love and acceptance for everyone. Not to mention that it has totally failed to deal with humanity's most basic need for love and sexual intercourse, let alone prove that its representatives know exactly what "God's" will is on such matters.

If they promise people life after death but treat them as sheep that possess genitals only to procreate and to identify or categorize themselves, then we have the following oxymoron; do sheep really care about life after death, their soul, forgiveness and paradise. And if they don't, then do they need religion after all?

Before I close, I must confess that myself often find transgender individuals as "weird," or "creepy,"too. Because I was equally raised in such manner to find discomfort in everything "different". But as I get older, you know what I find even more "creepy"?

People who suppress their true self or sexuality, choosing to remain celibate in order to please some imaginary version of "God". Or those who stay in sexless, loveless marriages out of convenience, or to abide with societal stereotypes and conform with them.

They are far more "twisted" than any gay or transgender individual, simple because they are the ones who go against their true nature. And I do not believe that they should be the ones who must set the rules for everyone else. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Can Europe afford to copy Japan on immigration?

http://www.europeword.com/blog/europe/european-immigration-laws/
As Europe becomes increasingly xenophobic and populist, perhaps we need an open debate on our options on immigration.

People are unaware of the numbers, figures, conditions, reasons, policies and benefits that immigration relies upon and understandably they fear it.

But have Europeans actually engaged and got to know anyone from their country's immigrant community? Just to try and share their concerns with them and see how they are coping in their society, or what do they have to contribute.

More essentially, do we understand why Europe's leaders have chosen apparently the multiculturalism option, rather trying to keep Europe ethnically "European"?

Apart from our continent's colonial legacy, Europe became multicultural because it chose to follow USA in its financial and social policies. After WW2 the European economy was in tatters and so it was forced to copy the American model, that based its economic boom on immigrants from all over the world, including Europe.

One by one, eventually most European nations adopted this model and for many years it proved acceptable and successful. Until the aftermath of the EU 2004 big-bang expansion to the East, combined with the euro-zone and refugee crisis that is.

Now that things got tough, Europeans are reconsidering. But what could be an alternative to multiculturalism? Well another rich, industrialized nation with a complete opposite approach of that of Europe's is Japan.

Currently the country's immigrant population counts for about 1.75% of the total population, when compared with the average 10% that most Western European countries are experiencing.

Nevertheless Japan is also under pressure to accept more immigrants as workforce shrinks. Ageing population and prediction of 8 million fewer workers by 2030 spurs calls for government to accept migrants and refugees. (The Guardian)

The debate of whether the country should loosen its immigration laws is becoming more vocal. Shigeru Ishiba, who is in charge of revitalizing regional economies, stated in 2015 that since Japan’s population is in decline, the government should promote policies that accept immigrants into Japan. “It is wrong thinking that foreigners must not come to Japan," he claimed.

“It is necessary for the government to implement policies that do not cause any discomfort for us or for immigrants in terms of language, customs and other areas,” he continued.

Taro Kono, the minister for administrative reform and head of the national police agency, said that relaxing immigration laws could help President Abe reach his target of boosting GDP from the current 491 trillion yen to 600 trillion yen (5 trillion US dollars) by the end of the decade. (The Guardian)
Some might still think that Japan is a very brave country that stands up for its culture and people, trying viciously to safeguard its way of life. And they will be right. Yet they are not aware fully about the country's economic model, or its citizens' working ethos.

Japan has a welfare system that in some ways makes even the new, dismantled American system seem a model of generosity.

Applicants in Japan are obliged to get help first from their families, and a poor person physically able to work is not eligible for help -- whether or not the person actually has a job.

From some perspectives, this system has worked brilliantly. The country's already strong family ties have been strengthened, and the main safety net is the family rather than the Government. The number of Japanese in the basic welfare program has declined sharply over the last half century, as people became better off and built up savings.

Today only 0.7 percent of the population receives benefits -- compared with the 4.8 percent of Americans who get grants from Aid to Families With Dependent Children or the 9.7 percent who receive food stamps. About 2.3 percent of Americans receive grants through the Supplemental Security Income program, which serves the elderly, blind and disabled.

To be sure, Japan's welfare system operates in a very different milieu from America's. Only 1 percent of Japanese births are to unwed mothers. That compares with a percentage that keeps climbing in the United States and has now reached 30 percent.

Japan also has a far lower percentage of drug addicts than the United States has, a much lower unemployment rate, a much more egalitarian distribution of wealth, a greater sense of family obligation and an abiding sense of shame that colors almost every aspect of life. (New York Times).

Europeans love their social benefits and they fight for them. As result, our economies need cheap labor which results in higher immigration numbers. Would Europeans accept to work longer with little benefits, to see fewer migrants entering their homelands and safeguarding their culture like the Japanese?

Perhaps we should give them the choice. We could either review our immigration policies and harmonize them across the EU, but we will need a strong leadership to make all member states agree. Or we could leave the governments of each member state decide their own, as it is done at the moment and seems to be accepted with most citizens.

The only problem is, that often EU migrants end up paying the price for each member state's irresponsible immigration policies. Each nation chooses the wrong ones, or implements them for the wrong amount of time, creating divisions among native or EU citizens, versus non-EU migrants. It is an unfair situation for all at the moment, but that is not the immigrants' fault.

Since there can not be single market without the free movement of people, then immigration from within EU is essential to maintain. It supports the "goose that lays the golden egg" for our continent and gives it relatively a competitive edge. No other region has managed to establish the biggest and such a successful market in the globe.

Most EU member states-especially the new ones, could be learning from the mistakes of other countries not repeating them. Sadly, this often is not the case.

In reality our governments are looking to import labor, to be literally exploited by doing the jobs that we don't want, with less money. Because in many cases, these people entered Europe because companies wanted them to come and so they pressurized our governments to change their immigration policies.

Yet when they go bust or they decide to move to another cheaper labor marker, these people are left in limbo, unwanted and with no job. They end up in ghettos, becoming a perfect scapegoat for any populist government.

This should not be the case. We need clear cut, fair and fully functioning, ideally harmonized immigration policies across Europe. For the simple reason that if we should keep our internal borders open, one country's messy decisions on the issue, will inevitably become everybody's problem.

Europe should be looking collectively for the type of migrants it needs, by establishing EU immigration offices abroad, in the countries it seeks to attract migrants from. Essentially before they enter a boat to arrive illegally.

Finally, we should stop terrorizing the native population by scapegoating certain ethnic or religious groups. Recently Heinz Christian Strache, the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, has called for a ban on all Muslim symbols, warning that Islam is a threat to Europe. (New Europe)

If that is what Europeans will decide then fine. But will they also ban Muslim doctors, waiters, nurses, small shop keepers that save lives, attend patients, and are staying up late in the convenience stores during Christian holidays, so Europeans can find things that forgot and ran out of, at any time? 

If yes, then maybe we should limit immigration from Islamic nations. But we can not encourage people to come over here to fill jobs that we need, yet don't allow them to practice their religion. Unless of course we want them to be forcibly converted or live in the shadows of our society as pariahs.

However oppression breeds resistance,clashes and a divided society full of hatred and inequality. There is no reason why we should see our capitals' streets, ending up like many of those in America when we can prevent it, by being fair, open and honest. 

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dear Nationalists.

http://www.economist.com/news/international/21710276-all-around-world-nationalists-are-gaining-ground-why-league-nationalists
As Europe -and in fact the whole world- is increasingly gripped by successive waves of populism and nationalism, one can not be indifferent any longer.

I observe nationalistic people boast about their history, their country's economy, a very successful popular individual that comes from their country, their culture and lifestyle.

"Proud to be Irish, Greek, American, British" or whatever else is often used by people as a boastful expression for something they haven't achieved.

Or the recent "make America great again" and "taking back control," for Britain or any other euro-skeptic movement across the continent. " Greece for the Greeks, France for the French" and there is no space for anyone outside our tribe.

So all the above make me wonder; what are you so proud off? Your history may be part of your heritage and should be commemorated undoubtedly. But it wasn't you who achieved all these greatness, it was your ancestors, often numerous generations back.

Your national sports team winning, or one great athlete, actor, musician, artist or scientist excelling in international competitions or becoming successful, should not be making anyone "proud" apart from their nearest and dearest.

Except maybe your national sports team winning, which should give you some joy and satisfaction, there is little reason for such tribalism. Because that is exactly what it is; every nation uniting behind their "warriors" that beat and dominate over another tribe's. A bit primitive I think, the demonstration of such passionate emotion over a game.

Your country's economy is the result of successful financial policy decisions, that have been adopted often by previous generations. But not just that. Certain countries in favorable alliances. political blocks or geographic locations have positioned themselves as "elite" nations that have an advantage over other nations which less luck in their connections and "friendships".

So to be "proud" over often pure luck, is a bit daft. Finally, a nation's culture is often created by the constant mixing and influencing by other cultures from nearby nations, but also from countries far away since we live in a globalized world.

In an ever changing and hopefully uniting humanity, what should actually make a nation proud? Shouldn't be any development, policy or decision that positively influences and affects not only the citizens of this certain country, but also acts as a beacon that kick-starts a positive change for all human kind across the world?

Like when Ireland approved by popular vote to give same-sex couples, full and equal rights on marriage. That can stand as a beaming example, that could positively influence other nations to follow suit, extending equal rights for all LGBT individuals across the world.

Sweden is another case on its human rights activism and how it reacted on the refugee crisis that affects recently Europe. And not just this particular time.

Similarly, how many Greek islanders reacted to the scores of refugees being washed on their homeland's shores, the compassion and humanity they demonstrated, that is something that makes me proud as a Greek personally.

The above examples are just a few. Yet sadly, they do come fewer and fewer in our modern society. People need to be proud for something, to place themselves above others or other nations.

Well why can't these reasons be about the ways that your country stood as an example, pushing humanity ahead, modernizing and positively contributing in our collective global heritage currently, not just about its past achievements.

A bit of healthy competition acts as good motivation, but ultimately the goal should be focused on the greater good of the human kind.

If we keep looking back we can never move forward. If strive to look down on others, we can never be equal and develop together-or at all. If we only try to better ourselves, we leave many others behind. And this is not the way that humanity should be looking into the future, there is no benefit to live in an extremely unequal world.

We are making history as we speak. All of us, with our choices and policies we adopt, with how we treat other nations, minorities in our country and abroad. If we show our worse self towards everyone else outside our "tribe," what will future generations be "proud" of us after all?