travel


Despite, or perhaps because of, its faults, Copenhagen is one of the great cities in the world. From last April:

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About 3.5 billion. That is, half of the world’s population travels annually on the Beijing metro system. And within 5 years they wish to double to length of the system.

In October, I am off to one of the great places in the world: Transylvania. It is for a conference in Baia Mare, but the experience is much more than merely a conference. If you can go, go. I’ll be talking on socialist theory and practices concerning nationalities, with China as a case study.

The International Conference of Cultural Studies

 “Multiculturalism and the Need for Recognition”

Baia Mare, 14-16 October, 2016

 

Baia Mare

Key note speakers:

Professor Roland Boer, Newcastle University, Australia

Professor Paul Cliteur, Leiden University, The Netherlands

Professor Otoiu Adrian, Tech Univ of Cluj-Napoca, North Univ Centre of Baia Mare, Romania

Mohandas K. Gandhi once said “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”. This adage surely favours the ethics of multiculturalism placing the accent on the acceptance and integration of different cultures in a given society. And indeed, the basic objectives of multiculturalism have always been to assist cultural groups in retaining and fostering their identity, at the same time overcoming barriers to their full participation in society, to promote creative exchanges among all cultural groups, and to assist immigrants in coping with the inherent processes of cultural adaptation, mixing, and mélange.

In spite of all these, there are still voices which claim that multiculturalism does, in fact, undermine the main cultural identity of a state, endangering social unity and cohesion, and being a constant cause of conflict. Although there are voices which tend to emphasise the benefits of McLuhan’s “global village”, there are also pessimistic previsions which incline to the belief that the universe we now inhabit is nothing but a global dystopia in which various ethnic groups are engaged in asserting their need for recognition.

The idea that we are all in each other’s back yard is not so easily digestible. Not if we have in mind countries that see and understand the concept of nation in terms of ethnicity, placing the accent on the role of the ethnic group.

Presently there are countless voices that have expressed their reluctance and resistance against multiculturalism. The best example in this respect is the answer given by Central and Eastern Europe to the refugees’ crisis, an answer based exactly on the previously mentioned idea of the ethnic based national state.

The global pattern seems to have lost the contest, although there is still a lot of evidence which can testify to homogenization in global media, tourism and many other aspects of consumption. There is, nevertheless, plenty of evidence of the opposite, i.e. a constant, gradually increasing interest in ‘ethnic’ products and a need for recognition translated into a search for local authenticity.

Multiculturalism also makes reference to political correctness which can be easily translated into the efforts of previously marginalized groups to construct new identities, based on the questions of “Who am I?”, “What is my cultural heritage?”. The advocates of political correctness underline the necessity that the language employed in dealing with various ethnic groups be consistent with the principles of multiculturalism, thus avoiding stereotypes of all kinds, at the same time enhancing minorities’ self-esteem. However, there are voices which claim that political correctness and consequently multiculturalism threaten free speech, being contrary to reality and human nature.

In view of the already mentioned ideas, we invite scholars from all fields of research to explore issues related to the concepts of multiculturalism, globalization, glocalization, political correctness, politics of identity and their impact on our everyday life in the larger context of present day migrational movements.

The questions we invite you to answer are:

  • What are the lessons of multiculturalism?
  • To what degree can they be implemented?
  • Should the recent negative wave of reactions against multiculturalism mean something?
  • Are the ethnic based nations ready to be initiated in a multicultural spirit?
  • Is this tentative project of a multicultural Europe going to survive?
  • Are the former colonizers going to be colonized?
  • Can we erase the identity/alterity opposition or is it more prominent than ever?
  • Having in mind Milton Bennett’s six distinct kinds of experience spread across the continuum from ethnocentrism to ethnorelativism (denial, defense, minimization, acceptance, adaptation and integration) where would we situate ourselves?
  • Is politically correct language an imposition meant to distort reality and human nature or a way to protect cultural groups?

The organizers welcome papers in, yet not limited to, the following domains: science and technology, arts (literature, linguistics, theatre, visual arts, music) and sociology, politics, business and education, human rights and philosophy. The languages of the presentations might be Romanian, English, French and German.

Submit a 250-word abstract by May 1st, 2016 along with your professional details (name, title affiliation) to lect. dr. Tomoiaga Ligia (ligiatomoiaga@gmail.com) and lect. dr. Falaus Anamaria (anamariafelecan@gmail.com).

The time allotted to the presentation of a paper is 15 minutes, followed by 10-minute sessions of questions and answers.

For registration please visit our website:  http://litere.cunbm.utcluj.ro/multiculturalism/

Participation fee:

  • 40 Euros for international participants paying by 1 June 2016 and 50 Euros for the rest of them;
  • 100 lei for Romanian participants paying by 1 June 2016 and 150 lei for the others

Participation fee shall be paid to the account bellow, with the note:

“International Conference of Cultural Studies”

Beneficiary:
Technical University of Cluj Napoca – North University Centre of Baia Mare

Address:
62A Victor Babes Street, 430083 Baia Mare, Maramures, Romania
Fiscal code: 3825886
Bank: Banca Comerciala Romana
SWIFT: RNCBROBU
IBAN: RO 21 RNCB 0182 0341 4879 0026

The peer-reviewed papers of the conference are going to be published in a Cambridge Scholars Publishing volume.

For any additional information do not hesitate to contact us:

lect. dr. Tomoiaga Ligia (ligiatomoiaga@gmail.com)

lect. dr. Falaus Anamaria (anamariafelecan@gmail.com)

 

Some photographs, taken by me and Aina Skoland (who was in our group). As you can see, people like to dress well and go about their daily lives as one might expect.

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I am finally making my way through the many photographs from my visit earlier this year to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea). A sample:

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(I posted this one over at Voyages on the Left, but thought I would post it here too.)

‘Where are you from?’ I asked.

‘Syria’, said the young man.

‘Do you speak English?’ I asked.

He smiled and shook his head. Some minutes later, his friend arrived and they asked me about their train ticket. Or rather, they showed it to me, with quizzical faces. Their final destination was Kiel, in the north of Germany, which required a change in Hamburg. I promised to help them when we arrived in Hamburg.

I noticed that they had a small backpack each and that they looked weary, very weary. Holidaymakers hereabouts usually carry much more. And they usually stay in hotels with comfortable beds, or perhaps – like me – they stay with friends and acquaintances. These two young men were not holidaymakers and they had clearly not slept in a comfortable bed for quite a while.

My thoughts went back to the crossing of the border between the Netherlands and Germany, an hour or so earlier. I was on my way from the small town of Alphen aan den Rijn to Copenhagen, a journey that should have taken twelve hours. At the German border crossing, an unusual number of police patrolled the station and the train itself. The open borders of the European Union were not so open any more. In my carriage, they stopped to speak with another young man.

‘Where are you from?’ The police officers asked.

‘Tunisia’, he said.

‘May we see your passport?’ They asked. Upon perusing it, they said: ‘You do not have a visa. Please come with us’.

He followed them off the train, where a number of people had also gathered. Soon enough they were led off by the police for processing.

At that time, I had not yet made the connection. But with the two Syrians on the later train, it hit me: I was experiencing first-hand the European refugee ‘crisis’ of late 2015. Or rather, it was only the first, very small taste.

By the time I arrived at Hamburg, I realised I was in the midst of the greatest movement of people in recorded history – from countries destroyed by foreign intervention, such Syria, Afghanistan, Libya … It is one thing to see stories on the television or read about it in a distant newspaper, with the usual distortions and sensationalism. It is another thing entirely to experience it directly.

The train on which I was travelling arrived late, having left Osnabrück late. Hoping that in Hamburg my connection to Copenhagen was also late, I raced to find the platform. The train had already left. After rescheduling my travel at the Deutsche Bahn ticket office, I had an hour or more to explore the station. As an ancient centre, Hamburg always bustles. But this was no ordinary bustle. It was packed full of people.

In the toilets, many Syrian men were having a wash. The cost of entry may have been one euro, but the attendant was letting them in for nothing. On the stairs, in the passageways, on the platforms were group upon group of tired refugees. A family sat in a corner, with the mother quietly breastfeeding the baby. A man from Afghanistan spoke with a women next to me, saying he and his group had been on the road for four weeks. They would stay in one country for a night, perhaps two, and then move on. All of them – families, groups of young men and women, occasional older people with someone to help them – had nothing more than a small backpack and perhaps a smartphone in order to keep up with what was happening.

Finally my train arrived, although now I had to go via Jutland and around to Copenhagen. The German railway system was straining, with all trains running late. My train was soon full to overflowing with refugees. I sat next to a German woman from Flensburg.

‘I never expected this’, I said, ‘although I should have’.

‘There are so many’, she said, ‘even more this month’.

‘Where are they going?’ I asked.

‘To every city, town and village in Germany’, she said.

‘How do they get there?’ I asked.

‘The German government provides them with tickets’, she said.

‘In the Netherlands’, I said, ‘people were saying, “it is what you do”’.

‘Yes’, she said, ‘this is what we think too. However, we cannot do it alone’.

‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

‘Other countries need to help’, she said. ‘This is a global problem. But Denmark, Norway, Hungary … they refuse to take any refugees’.

‘Really’, I said. ‘But they are rich countries, with many resources to share’.

She smiled ruefully.

At Flensburg, in the midst of one of my ancestral homes by name of Schleswig-Holstein, we had to change trains. For many, Flensburg was the end of their journey for now. Arabic-speaking Germans were ready on the platform. They wore ‘Welcome Refugees’ jackets and guided people to the station centre. There they provided some food, drink and arranged accommodation for those who were staying in Flensburg.

Yet again, I had missed my connection, so I had to wait for the next train, now in the middle of the night. I did not expect anyone to board the train to Denmark, given that country’s less than welcoming reputation. The barriers on the platform for Denmark reinforced this impression. However, when the train arrived, a large group of refugees were led onto the platform. The station personnel at the barriers did not request passports – only valid tickets. Soon the train was full.

Now I became fully involved.

One young man spoke English, so he became the interpreter and de facto leader of a train full of anxious refugees. They were constantly keen for information in a foreign country with strange customs. At the Danish border, I expected them all to be hauled off the train.

Instead, a Danish police officer came through and asked, ‘Anyone seeking asylum in Denmark?’

One by one, everyone responded, ‘Sweden’.

He walked on.

An Arabic speaking woman followed him, checking to see if people had understood. One or two had further questions. By her shrug and sour look, one could tell immediately that she didn’t care and had no desire to help.

At Fredericia, in Denmark, the train stopped for some time. An announcement stated that we would not have to change, for the train would now go through to Copenhagen. Obviously, the authorities feared some might disappear on their way to another platform. A large group gathered around me as the interpreter asked what was happening. I explained the change in plans in detail, answering further questions.

Soon enough the last toilet on the train stopped working. I advised those whose bladders were about to burst that a corner on the platform was a good place for such purposes – having done so myself. A couple of women were not so keen, so I asked some station attendants of they could fix the toilets. They did so – with much relief.

After yet another delay, we departed. A weary train soon fell asleep. Children slept on seats and on the floor between seats. Old people were given the best spots. Young people did the best they could with the remaining space.

By 3.00 am we finally arrived in Copenhagen – five hours later than my original schedule. Everyone disembarked and asked me – through their translator – whether they had to take a ship to Malmø. The train will take you there, I told them.

‘I wish you all the best’, I said. ‘I hope you find a welcoming country and a place to make a new home’.

They thanked me profusely for the little help I had given, shaking my hand one by one. We waved farewell.

Walking out of the station and into a rainy Scandinavian night in mid-November, I found I could barely imagine what such a journey must be like for them, fleeing a home engulfed in war. Their towns and villages were being destroyed, people around them were being killed, mostly by foreign forces. They did not know what lay ahead.

Yet I was struck by the way everyone was very helpful. No-one pushed or shoved to get on or off a train. Instead they assisted each other. People constantly made room for anyone else, offering seats and places where needed. The feel on the train was far from any sense of danger, but rather a sense of weary and hopeful collective will.

The situation went beyond politics and propaganda. It boils down to a simple question: if someone is in dire need, you either turn your back or you help. For you never know when you will be in such a situation.

On a recent rail journey around Australia (stories here and here), I checked my email once in two weeks. For some reason, the removal from my daily life of one significant source of consistent interruption meant that I could relax in a way I have not done for a long time. Of course, on return home, I began to check my email many times a day – until today. As part of my semi-retirement, I will check my email again only on Thursday next week, and then at most weekly after that. However, I did find that when you get in the habit, another day or two extra makes little difference.

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