SAIS Next Europe

Culture



November 26, 2008 12:25 PM

Germany's New Obamania

European politicians - whose nations have long struggled with the issue of racial integration - have duly noted the excitement generated by the U.S. electorate's choice of an African-American as its next president.

Now, Germany may be on the way to its own version of Obamania - thanks to the election of Cem Özdemir as Green Party leader. Özdemir's parents are originally of Turkish descent and immigrated to southern Germany during the peak of the Turkish guest worker immigration. Although there are now over 2.6 million ethnic Turks in Germany, Özdemir is the first ethnic Turk elected as a party leader and the highest-ranking politician ever with an immigrant background.

Ozdemir's election comes at a time when German leaders are struggling to fully integrate immigrants into Germany, and Ozdemir's election can be seen as reaffirming the government's efforts. The election will be inspirational for German youth of Turkish background, even if it does not immediately solve real problems such as unemployment and poverty. And too the Greens may have just discovered a new source of electoral strength within the immigrant community.

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December 19, 2008 3:02 PM

France's Swan Song? Not So Fast

I was home in Paris recently and two articles I read struck me: one in Le Monde was an interview of Donald Morrison, the recent author of a book that develops an argument first presented in a Nov. 2007 Time Magazine article, "The Death of French Culture". The other one was a poetic account by Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist, of his nostalgia for the Paris of his youth.

For both authors, Paris has lost its luster. No more intellectuals in the cafés of the Latin Quarter. No more Ernest Hemingways and Henry Millers drawn by the city's cultural edge. Now, French authors and scientists flock to the United States, where they find the vitality that Paris seems to have lost.

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January 13, 2009 5:27 PM

In Bulgaria, Out With The Old...

Anyone who has visited Bulgaria before the turn of the century and returns to the country today might be immediately shocked by the sweeping transformation of its architectural landscape. In the capital of Sofia, casinos and new hotels have popped up in the most unusual of places, replacing the city's older historic appeal with the atmosphere of a gambling resort. At the same time, a quick expansion of nightlife to the city's student neighborhood has contributed to escalating incidents in the area (including the murder of a student early last month) and has earned the academic hub the nickname 'Sin City'.

Behind these changes are a serious corruption problem, a dysfunctional legal system and inadequate regulation under the current administration, all of which have led to a blooming of the country's organized crime network. As the New York Times reported last year, that network has also managed to penetrate Bulgaria's ruling elite. In the process, mafia members have been capitalizing on a thriving construction industry, simultaneously using the opportunity to move some of their operations away from the underground world.

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January 16, 2009 1:44 PM

Artwork, Toilets, and EU Identity

A large art installation, billed as a collaborative effort between artists from the 27 member states of the European Union to highlight their respective countries, was hung above the entrance to the EU Council headquarters in Brussels this month. But the representations are hardly flattering.

The Netherlands: underwater, with only minarets poking above the waves. France: bearing a sign reading "on strike," stretched across the whole country. Luxembourg: a piece of gold for sale. Sweden: packed into an IKEA box. Romania: a Dracula theme park. Worst of all, Bulgaria: a series of toilets.

Nor is "Entropa" truly what its creators advertised: the work of 27 EU artists, as it was originally sold to both the EU and to the Czech government, which took over the EU's rotating presidency this year. In fact, it is the work of a single Czech artist, David Černý, perhaps best known for putting sculptures of creepy crawling faceless babies on the already weird-looking Žižkov Television Tower in Prague. The other artists don't exist.

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February 11, 2009 2:51 PM

What Europe and America Each Teach

The most unforeseen merit of studying at Johns Hopkins' campus in Bologna, Italy is that of becoming conscious of the hidden pitfalls of both American academia and the Italian way of life. I say hidden pitfalls because the darker sides of a rigorous, world-class education in one of Europe's most culturally rich locations are exposed more fully then ever when these two worlds overlap and most powerfully, when they collide.

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July 10, 2009 4:35 PM

Soccer's Role in Germany's Future

Soccer championships seem to bring out the German identity debate. Who doesn't remember the sudden proliferation of black-, red- and gold-clad fans, cars, windowsills and even hairstyles during the 2006 World Cup? Commentators around the world saw it as the country's chance to get comfortable with its national identity.

During last month's European Under-21 soccer championship in Sweden, another display caused quite a stir. This time it was not the overwhelming show of the German colors, but the names of players on the German national team: Khedira, Özil, Castro, Dejagah, Aogo - all names that many Germans still have trouble considering their own.

What is German? It's a heated debate. The late 1990s brought calls for a German "Leitkultur;" a defining, leading culture serving as an anchor for all Germans and especially as a point of reference for immigrants coming to Germany. Debate still simmers about whether Germany should be an immigration nation or not. And the recent resolution by the Christian Democrats (CDU) to make German the official language of Germany has also sparked controversy.

But the success of Germany's multi-ethnic team - Germany won the tournament in a 4-0 shootout against England - might elevate this debate. Immigrant children are twice as likely to drop out of school, and some argue that they are responsible for more than their share of crime. Job applicants with German names are ten times more likely to be invited to an interview than applicants with Turkish names. So the triumph of a young and determined team, whose captain's name is Khedira, may work against those stereotypes. It might also allow immigrant adolescents to follow the paths of these role models, whether in sports or elsewhere.

Germany needs these discussions, and not only to come to terms with the troubling parts of its past. In a time when low birthrates impede the success and viability of the German society, an inclusive discussion about the role of foreign-born Germans and their children is more than necessary. Maybe soccer, in its own way, could contribute to Germany's future.

Nikolas Foster is a graduate student in Energy and Environmental Policy and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.


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