Sounds…. All around…. Can’t escape

An exhibition on sounds… Sounds with political and social implications. Nothing to see….. But listen…. Open your ears and imagination….

That’s what we did today at our first museum in Luxembourg. Advertised as an contemporary art museum the Casino Art Museum is currently hosting an aural exhibition. Nothing what we expected a modern art house to show. There were some intriguing displays like the empty room with a single radio or the fluorescent white walled room with bass humming or the steps outside the building leading to the sky listening to the “bustle” of Luxembourg city.

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Some Things are Better Left in the Past

After the World Wars, people hoped to never experience the atrocities and world destruction brought on by an all-out war.  Institutions such as the European Coal and Steel Community (the foundations of the EU), NATO, and the UN were developed in an effort to bring peace and trust among nations by creating an area in which to discuss relations that would unite nations together in such a way as to make war costly and unadvantageous.  So far while there have been wars and conflicts none have been as large-scale and devastating as WWII.  

In the past few years feelings of  pre-WWII tensions have emerged, especially in the older generations who remember the 1930s and 1940s.  My godmother is Dutch and her mother (who was a close family friend) grew up in the Netherlands under the political turmoil of the 30s, the Nazi occupation during the war itself, and the American reconstruction afterwards as an older teenager and a young adult.  About five or six years ago she mentioned that socially and politically the world felt as it did in the years leading up to WWII.  I believe that then the such an idea would have been scoffed at in the media and possibly by the diplomats themselves at that time.  Our main concern in America was the Middle East and the war on terrorism something that did not spark memories of the Nazi domination.  Yes, there had been a few squirmishes in the East with Russia in Estonia and Georgia, but Russia was still seen as country trying to recover itself from losing a large portion of its territory about twenty years prior and the collapse of a political orientation.  The EU and NATO had seen enlargements– promising the continuation of peace and democratic norms on the European continent.  Despite these appearances, something did not sit well in the air for her– she could smell turmoil coming.

 

Looking at current global events the parallels between now and the pre war era are strong.  Even some of the diplomats and military personal involved in NATO and the EU that we have talked to on this study abroad have brought up the uncanny idea that events are playing out awfully similar to the 30’s. So just what are these similarities?

1. The entrance to the twentieth century saw the rise political ideas like communism, socialism, and fascism.  These were considered radical groups.  The past EU elections saw the rise in the radical right.  These groups are becoming more popular with the people as their trust in the EU diminishes.  While they do not form a formal political group nor do they have the majority of seats in the EU parliament, there number of radical right MEPs increased to be about 1/6 of the parliament.  

2.  1929 saw the collapse of the stock market and unemployment around 27% in the U.S.  High inflation persisted throughout the world, most famously in Germany.  Granted this downturn was worsened by the dust bowl.  The “Great Recession” in 2009 is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  Once could call it the the Great Depression of this century.  

3.  In 1938, Hitler invaded the Sudetenland under the pretense of protecting the German speakers in Czechoslovakia…… Sounds familiar to what our good friend Putin announced a few a weeks ago in accordance to his annexation of Crimea — The protection of Russian speakers.  

4. Hitler continued to take land, yet the Brits called for Appeasement, the French followed suit, and the Americans stood by in an efforts to be isolationists.  Putin annexed a part of Ukraine with no war and no formal agreement between the two states.  What did the rest of the world do???? Oh, Ukraine, you are not a NATO member nor an EU member state, therefore, we can not defend you.  We can only support you.  We can step up security measures in member states who are neighbors in an effort to show military strength in that area.  We are willing to send third party observers to confirm that Russia is not acting within norms that were agreed upon in the NATO-Russian Council.  A statement that Ukraine is an Eastern European country that means nothing to the West nor our self-interests.  In a sense we are using Appeasement methods again, and that just leads to more conflict in the future.    

5. Goebbels was the propaganda minister to Hitler who waged essentially a propaganda war– Just check out the movie Triumph of the Will  by Leni Riefenstahl.  Now, look at just look at the titles of articles from Pravda: “Ukraine: Another US mission gone wrong”, “The West: Blind, Manipulative and Evil” or this quote from the article “Can Germans afford it a third time”– “Yet the West is accusing Russia of deploying armed forces and arming Russian-speaking protestors to create unrest and chaos in Ukraine to prevent Presidential elections on 25 May.”

6. While the rest of the Europe and her allies were decreasing their militaries, Germany increased hers despite the100,000 men restriction.  As a result of the 2009 “Great Recession” and ensuing Eurozone crisis, the European members of NATO and the EU struggle to find the room in the budgets to increase or at least maintain defense spending.  Europe is in a minor security crisis trying to create a  “smart defense” that is effective in providing interoperable military capacities.  Russia doesn’t seem to have this issue, with 4.5% of their GDP going to defense spending, while most NATO countries are not even at half of that.    

 

 If the people running our governments and controlling the alliances acknowledge this parallel, what does that mean for our policies that will be developed in the future against these developing threats?  Could just the talk of the past war lead to policies that reflect what happened in the 1930s?  Could we be brought closer to the brink of war, again??

 

 

     

Here We Go Again…

“In Germany, whenever the government begins to infringe on individual freedom, society stands up. Given our history, we Germans are not willing to trade in our liberty for potentially better security. Germans have experienced firsthand what happens when the government knows too much about someone. In the past 80 years, Germans have felt the betrayal of neighbors who informed for the Gestapo and the fear that best friends might be potential informants for the Stasi. Homes were tapped. Millions were monitored.” ~Malte Spitz, The New York Times. 

 

I find it extremely fascinating how European culture and history play such a large role in the national politics and the EU politics. History seems to be a role of the day-to-day life of the citizens that I have come in contact with here in Brussels.  They are aware of their past, where they come from, and who they are.  They see the implications of history and make connections from the past with current events. They are learning from History, taking notes, trying to prevent past atrocities from happening again.  This is something I don’t see at home in America.  There is an increasing dis-concern about history.  For most Americans history is of the past, it has no relevance, especially world history. And, frankly that’s beyond sad.  It’s disgusting!

Why is that world history is of so little importance to the American citizen? Has the United States become such a Hegemon that we have forgotten the past and the importance of our History?  Are we so egotistical that we think that the world should revolve around us and our current interests politically, economically, and socially?  We have a habit of not taking the culture and traditions of a country into account when we walk or barge in.  We demand everyone to conform to our standards.  Remember the Manifest Destiny, the Marshall Plan, the McCarthyism and Red Scare???? All displays of America promoting our form of “civilization.”

So, what does this mean for a twenty-first century Transatlantic deal (TTIP) and the subsequent relationships?  Each member state of the EU calls on their own culture and demands to protect it from Americanization.  The citizens hold their heritage close to them. It is what makes them French or German or Belgian or Dutch.  They respect their right to privacy, something we don’t have here in the States.  Lack of privacy is a quality of an era in which no European wants to relive and remember (the 1930s and 40s).  Their history and culture help to protect them from another wanna-be-Hegemon, this time American corporations and government.  Europeans know and remember what a control on information could lead to: fear, mistrust, lack of Locke’s guaranteed rights, and hence freedom. Fear and mistrust could lead to a fall in EU and US relations as well as NATO alliances.  Currently, mutual trust (and common norms to an extent) is what is holding these alliances together.  So with these implications why can’t we as Americans respect European culture and heritage?

What is art?

In itself art has always been a form of political expression or propaganda in some sense depending on when and who used it.  In the medieval era, the commoners were illiterate so the church commissioned works so that the people could understand what the Bible was teaching.  It was a way to inform the masses of the correct behavior in society, as the church was an integral part of the state.  The Renaissance art provided a statement of wealth and power, the more art one collected/commissioned the more influential that person was.  The formation of guilds in this time was a push against a society in which workers were extremely poor and forced to live under feudalism.  It was a way to protect themselves from the Lords and his vassals.  As the Industrial Revolution came to age, art worked against the highly industrial scenery and the dirty crowded streets.  The early nineteen hundreds brought the avant-garde period in which art pushed against the societal norms and welcomed the new “radical” changing of life.  In Russia, you see this with the ballet, opening up to communist ideals in their stories.  Tied into this avant-garde art is the art nouveau seen in the earlier years as a push against the Industrial Revolutions affects of highly built cities with little personality and style.  Brussels became the so called capital of this artwork.

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While Brussels may be this artsy old world place, the city is ransacked by graffiti everywhere including houses and buildings built centuries ago.  This is quiet a depressing observation.  Despite the harsh connotations that go along with it, graffiti is a new form of art. So continuing with my idea that all art is political in some nature, what is this urban writing rebelling against?  Today will at the EU parliament in Brussels, there were several graffiti writings saying “NO TTIP, NO TAFTA.”  Clearly, this is rebelling against the new and old trade agreements between the EU and the States.  He tactically chose his spot near the parliament building to make more of a statement and so that  MEP’s and their staff will pass his mark of protest every day on the way to work.

Brussels could be considered the Washington D.C. of Europe with the EU and NATO offices in Brussels and the relatively close by areas.  Politics are hot within the EU and within the city itself.  Could the myriad amount graffiti just be a result of the copious amount of inter-european politics playing out near-bye?  Is this graffiti another form of public demonstration against polices that happens to have a lasting and permanent mark, always there to remind us of the artists agenda and always there to provoke our thoughts?