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Slavoj Zizek’s new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology (official website), is meant to be a wake-up call, not a propaganda film. While most things we see on the big screens are idealised, romanticised, stereotypical versions of reality (and especially of morality), the "big problems" eat away at us because public opinion avoids tackling them. This is especially true for Eastern Europe, where years of dictatorial regimes taught the population to not ask too many questions and less than 25 years of democracy haven’t yet produced a particularly opinionated generation. In several short scenes, Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher, film-maker and the protagonist of the movie, uses examples from film, music, history and current events to discuss various ideologies.
One of the fascinating points Zizek makes in the film is how the financial crisis became a source of violent outbursts and protest movements across Europe. He believes Europe no longer faces "an accident", something that can be fixed, but rather is undergoing a structural phenomenon. Crisis has become a way of life, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer until the poor act out. What these protests lack, though he says, is a coherent agenda. Putting it this way, most of the manifestations of protest in Europe, including the Eastern countries, have been nothing but rage episodes or wannabe-copies of what a public manifestation should look like.
And Zizek may have a point. In May 2010, one of the biggest Romanian protests of the past decade took place in Bucharest. Over 30,000 people protested against the Emil Boc government and the austerity measures he had implemented. Far from touching on any violent frustration, the protest turned into what will be remembered as one of the largest-scale dance parties in Eastern Europe. People performed carefully synchronised choreographies on a well-known Romanian party-classic: the Penguin Dance. It’s on YouTube. And thus the grand reason why everyone gathered was forgotten. As Zizek would say, it started out from a spirit of revolt, but wasn’t followed by an actual revolution.
We live in a society where our government's failure to provide framework and legislation for abortion has resulted in the tragic and unnecessary death of a 31 year old woman. Savita Halappanavar was 17 weeks pregnant when she was admitted to University Hospital Galway, in the Republic of Ireland one week before she passed away on 29 October 2012. Savita had been admitted as a result of back pain, which turned out to be due to a miscarriage. Despite her continued request for a medical termination, doctors refused her on the grounds that the heartbeat of the foetus was still present and Ireland 'is a Catholic country'. The fact that Savita Halappanavar was neither Irish nor Catholic was immaterial to her pleas.
After she had endured more than two further days of agony from the foetus that was dying inside her, doctors finally removed it once the heartbeat had stopped. By this stage the damage had been done. Savita was transferred to the high dependency unit, before being moved to intensive care where she eventually died. The cause of her death was septicaemia, or in simple terms, blood poisoning. Although both the hospital itself and the Health Service Executive (HSE), a government body responsible for providing health and social services to people living in Ireland, are undertaking investigations into the case, it seems evident that had Savita's request to undergo a termination been respected, then the outcome might have been a whole lot different and she might have survived.
The case of Savita Halappanavar is greatly distressing, but perhaps even more so given the fact that the same thing could happen again tomorrow to another woman in any hospital in the Republic of Ireland. I find this thought extremely discomforting: should I find myself in similar circumstances one day, my survival could depend on which side of the Irish border I am living on.
This week two E&M editors share their favourite European reads. From blog posts to essays, it can be anything that amused them, worried them or got them thinking about Europe.
Velislav, Diaphragm editor
The EU deserved the Nobel Peace Prize...
Recently, the EU as an entity, and respectively each of its some 500 million citizens, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. According to Tim Judah, who has been covering the Balkans for the past two decades, this was well deserved - the EU as a laureate was the "right choice at the right time." While admitting that it is facing considerable difficulties at present, he emphasises its significant security achievements – not only is a war between its Member States now unthinkable, but it has been central to the slow reconciliation between ex-Yugoslav Balkan countries. Citing the foreign ministers of Croatia, Macedonia, and Georgia - all countries that still look up to the EU - he makes a well argued case...
Or perhaps not?
The Economist on the other hand, is more suspicious about the achievements of the EU. The Charlemagne column stresses the current economic turmoil in the eurozone, subtly mocking the committee's choice - "Note that it does NOT win the Nobel Economics Prize."
When you think about institutional Brussels, you picture suited up adults carrying a suitcase on their way to work. Cheerful kids are harder to imagine in the grey bureaucratic bubble that many have built in their minds, but evidently, the so-called eurocrats have children too, and nurseries and schools also have a place in the city's institutional life.
The European School, or Schola Europaea, stands out among all the educational options provided to EU officials and workers because of its initiative to promote European citizenship and common values among the students. Created in Luxembourg in 1953, the project tried to bring together kids from different mother tongues and nationalities, an educational experiment supported by the Coal and Steel Community of the time. Today, there are 12 schools spread across Europe, all financed by member states, and all with the following words sealed in the foundation stones of each building:
"Educated side by side, untroubled from infancy by divisive prejudices, acquainted with all that is great and good in the different cultures, it will be borne in upon them as they mature that they belong together. Without ceasing to look to their own lands with love and pride, they will become in mind Europeans, schooled and ready to complete and consolidate the work of their fathers before them, to bring into being a united and thriving Europe."
Matilda Sevón, a 31-year-old Finn living in Brussels, arrived at the school when she was 15, after her father got a job in the Parliament. Today, looking back at the statement, she doesn't feel it quite fits her situation. "I think of other Europeans as much closer to me than I did before going to the European School, but in some ways I have also become more fond of my own country," she says.