“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

I have been watching BBC World News since I woke up this morning, and I’m pretty sure I will continue doing so until I go to sleep. The quote that serves as the title for this post was a soundbite is from JK Rowling’s character Albus Dumbledore, but I find it quite fitting to the Unity March that is now spreading from Place de la Republique to the other streets of Paris, until it reaches Place de la Nation. The images show me the huge sea of people, the countless flags from all over the world, the French President François Hollande and the 40+ world leaders and community leaders that have joined hiim and the French people on such an important moment, the family of victims of this 3-day horror story heading the march.

I had no words for this on Wednesday. In a way, I still don’t. There is nothing that can justify such barbaric acts. There is nothing that can justify killing someone because they don’t agree with one’s opinion or share one’s views. There is nothing that can justify killing another human being because they offended you. For this, I repeat: I have no words.

But for today’s march I do have words. It has filled me with words.

Hope. Unity. Tolerance. Liberty. Solidarity. Strength. Plurality.

To see so many people, with such different backgrounds, coming together to make their stand for what unites them (and us all) is moving, refreshing and uplifting. The future is uncertain and no one can guarantee that attacks like the ones in Paris won’t happen again – sadly, it’s highly possible that they might. But as long as people come together and make as many stands as they can – not just in marches, but also with small gestures in their daily lives – against fanaticism of any kind and against terrorism, then there is hope. There is hope that we can still shine a light and stand strong against those who insist in covering us with darkness, fear and desperation.

The attacks in France struck us all, regardless of our origin, skin colour, religion, political convictions, what have you. It struck all of those who hold freedom – and in particular, freedom of expression –  and tolerance dear. The images coming from Paris right now show that there are no boundaries for our desire and commitment to these values.

Let there be no mistake: the old adagio says that the pen is mightier than the sword. Let’s make sure it will always be so.

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Photo credit: AFP / Le Monde

The end of the “permissive consensus”?

As a soon-to-be Master of European Studies, it was with great attention and concern that I followed the European elections’ results last night. As much as I would like this blog to be all about good things and nice music, I cannot ignore the pressing reality that must be discussed and debated as much as possible. And one of the reasons why I created this blog was so that I could speak my mind freely, instead of having to deal with narrow-minded classmates on Facebook who immediately label as “naïve” people who happen to have a different vision… I’m not saying that won’t happen in the comments later on, but such is life.

I have a lot to say about these results and I hope my line of thought is clear enough…

The media and the political elites already labelled last night’s results as an “earthquake”. I will say that, sadly, such outcome was already expected. We can blame the powers-that-be in Brussels, who dismissed citizens’ dissatisfaction way too many times; we can blame the low-turnout, for it helps the rise of extremist parties. We can blame national parties for spinning European concerns into national ones as a way to galvanize votes for the upcoming national ballots, instead of focusing on what really matters right now. We can blame whatever and whoever we want, but the reality isn’t going to change: from now on, we have a extreme-right, hard Eurosceptic front in the European Parliament, and we will have to find a way to deal and negotiate with them. Jean-Claude Juncker, who according to last night’s results is the best positioned candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, kept saying throughout his campaign that he won’t dialogue or acknowledge Eurosceptic voices, let alone extremists. I will say that, if he is indeed appointed and approved, he really has the work cut out for him…

Although he did not get my vote, I very much approved Guy Verhofstadt’s aftermath speech. He did not dismiss or ignored the European Parliament’s new reality and, although not addressing it directly, he did show throughout his speech the need for a united pro-European front from now on. One of my lecturers addressed the famous “unity in diversity” slogan a couple of days ago, saying that it should be replaced by something along the lines of “Divided we stand”. I somehow think he is right…

I come from an European country in crisis, although I don’t live there – and certainly won’t due to personal reasons and choices – anymore. I know what austerity measures are doing to my fellow citizens, how much they have costed them. And it sincerely pisses me off that abstention rates were so high last night. I understand that the present situation led to a feeling of hopelessness and disenchantment. I see why people are so sick and tired of the current parties and politics – I am one of them. What I don’t understand is, when given the chance to finally have a say in the way the European project is steered, they simply don’t get up from their couches and vote. Even a blank vote sends a powerful message. What is worse, most of those people who don’t bother to vote are part of my generation – a generation who is (or should be) qualified and educated enough to understand that refraining from voting won’t solve anything, quite the opposite. But politicians and elites are also to blame for this. They need to stop acting like ostriches and sticking their head in the stand. They need to make voters – especially the younger generations – interested in politics, or at least in the matters that do have an impact in their future and daily lives. They need to come up with feasable alternatives and to reach out for the European youth, and not just say “I feel for you but blame solely your national government for the crisis and unemployment” (I am looking at you, Mr. van Rompuy…).

Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Danish ultranationalists, the Five Star Movement in Italy, the Greek Golden Dawn… We do forget too easily. Give them a chance and we’ll be back to 1945. The European project needs an effective and deep structural reform in order to avoid such an outcome. But it also needs to listen. It desperately needs to listen. And it desperately needs to change. We all need to change. From Eurocrats who prefer to ignore what’s in front of them, to politicians who only care about their paycheck at the end of the month, to citizens who think that refraining from voting is a good thing, to the so-called “good ones” who could help to improve the current situation but prefer to stay aside. We need a change for the best, or else we’ll change for the worst. And the worst is already here…