Hi!

My name is Ronald. But you can call me Ron if it is easier for you. I am an undergraduate student of intercultural relations between Latvia and France. I play the clarinet, the piano. I used to sing, now I am doing it only while taking a shower. I worked at circus and discovered a whole new world for me. In brief, I like adventures. And so, one new one for me is politics.

I am one of the travel grantees who had the possibility to travel through Europe for making a research on populism. So in this blog, you can read my observations. My main goal is to start a discussion, make you start to reflect about the problems in politics in EU. In my opinion, there is nothing more interesting than people. I love to listen to others, make observations and analyse them. As well while traveling it was very important for me not only to understand the political situation in different countries but also to understand how it affects people lives and what they are actually feeling. You know what? It is a paradox. Despite a list of problems, I made a conclusion that people are surprisingly optimistic. They are living their life, more or less influenced by politicians but at the same time they keep going, they do not stop and do nothing.  My question is – will the situation change in the near future and how populist messages affect minorities?

I hope you will enjoy my blog and I can not wait to publish more as there are lot of things which I would love to share with you. Do not hesitate to contact me directly or leave a comment below. Talking, discussing is one of the most effective ways to solve problems.

Sincerely yours, Ron.

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ATHENS

My final destination was Athens. One of the most popular tourist destinations during Summer. On its history, the culture of Europe is based. Dozens of architectural monuments, a plethora of picturesque sceneries, masses of people enjoying themselves, enjoying Athens. And, many, many problems, with which Greece is coping. In cities where tourism is not a mandatory field, a crisis is being felt even now. Elsewhere the main income comes from tourist masses. Every tourist is important as many restaurants, for example, are based only on profits, gained during the Summer period.

I was used to sitting in a park, making conversations with locals, drinking coffé. In Athens, it was not the most enjoyable thing to do. It almost felt like entering others’ persons’ home. Parks is a place where refugees live and spend the biggest part of their day. As well, there are a lot of white tourists, especially senior males, who are offering money to young refugee men for sexual activities. I would not believe in it if I would not saw and heard a conversation, where a man, approximately 50 years old, almost begged a young man to go to his hostel. And, there was money in the old man’s hand.

In Athens, I meet Alexis. He is studying political sciences and recommend me to watch a movie “Golden Dawn Girls” to understand better a political situation in Greece. The absurdity and nonsensical is that what Greek people often see when they watch TV, listen to the news or read the news. As he said: “you can’t trust no one”.

Problems exist. Everywhere. But in Greece, almost everyone was talking only about good things, in what they take pride. It was hard for me to get any negative information from a local. Should Europe take an example from Greece? It is a question for a discussion. As what will happen if we will continue to keep silent?

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The Victoria Square has been a meeting place and a makeshift home for thousands of migrants since the refugee crisis hit Greece two years ago – and now it is increasingly becoming a prostitution hub for underage refugees.

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Small migrant camp near Acropolis of Athens.

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Athens Street Art.

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Athens Street Art.

SOFIA

There is not much to tell about Sofia. I hope that you, the one who reads it, have a better experience with this city. Or, if you have not visited Sofia yet, I would recommend you do it. On the one hand, it is a part of Europe. On the other hand, comparing with other capital cities of the European Union countries, you will immediately see differences. In the first moment, I did not understand, why nobody is eating on the terrace in front of the restaurants and cafés. They have a more esthetical function because of dozens of homeless people who are asking for money or food not only for persons who are walking the street but also (and especially) for those who are having a meal. I was surprised when the worker gave a food for women with two children who stopped next to my table and started to ask for a food. I guess, he did it so she would let me have a peaceful meal. Bulgarian society is divided, in general, in two parts – those who are rich and those who are poor. Sadly, but it seems that the biggest one is the second mentioned. Corruption is everywhere and the power is in the rich people hands who are making their life better without thinking about smoothing the situation and making the contrast between these two parts of society less recognizable. Most of the time while I was in Sofia I spent in bed because I was still sick (I got sick while being in Belgrade).

So, I made myself a promise to come back to Sofia.

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“Women’s Market” and two flags – The flag of Bulgaria and The European flag.

 

 

BEOGRAD

If there is one nation that takes pride in itself, then it is definitely Serbian. It is a place which is trying to make a big effort in developing everything. Why make a restoration for a building if they can build a new one? Innovations everywhere, especially in New Belgrade which has become a business center and place where you can almost smell the money.

I stayed at Iva’s place. She owns her company and she could be “walking advertisement” for Belgrade. As one of the biggest problems, she mentions that while traveling a lot of people choose Belgrade as only a place where to spend few days because they do not think that there is something special to visit; that it is not worth to spend a longer period here. I must admit, that I was one of them, too. But after spending here three days I realized that I should have planned to stay there a few days more.

Since I got sick, most of the time I spent in my bed and I highly appreciated the professionalism of the pharmacy staff. As well, I was surprised by the low price of medicine.

You can catch a feeling, that here everything is okay, that people are living a regular life, having enough of incomes. But, I might be a mask, maybe they are just pretending? Minorities, at least, are afraid. They opened an LGBT center and it is secured all day long. It was the only sign about an upcoming pride which will take place there. At the same time, LGBT people are quite optimistic that the government will allow same-sex marriage. They might be afraid to show their sexuality on the streets but at least they are trying to make an effective dialogue with the government.

Whatsmore, Serbia is not afraid to admit that they like Russia, they support Russian military force in their country. There are at least 100 organizations and media which are financed by Moscow; they propagate fake news in favor to Russian Federation. It might be a reason – that people are not well informed – why everyone seems to be satisfied with populists leading there. Because they do not understand which ones are populists. They have no idea who are they.

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Milica Ružičić. “Serbia 2004, Zrenjanin, Jugoremedija”.                                                             Jugoremedija is a pharmaceutical factory in Zrenjanin, Serbia that striking employees occupied from December 2003 to September 2004, subsequently winning in court a right to self-management. The workers protested the state’s illegal changes in the early 2000s to the factory’s ownership structure, which gave the private capitalist Jovica Stefanovic some 68% ownership of the factory and reduced the workers’ share down from 58% to 32%. Stefanovic’s public relations team complained the workers’ occupation was “a rebellion, a state of anarchy”. His private army tried several times to remove the workers.
The ‘personal security’ inflicted severe injuries on a number of strikers. They even used trained dogs. One woman was badly injured, two women had dislocated arms and one worker received a blow to the head. In an incredible scene, women workers lay down in front of the security vans, and defended their factory.
Throughout the summer of 2004, Stefanovic’s private army tried several times to take over the factory, but the workers, with breathtaking courage, kicked them out. Sometimes using their body to block the military vehicles.
In September 2004, Stefanovic’s army and state police finally succeeded in evicting the workers, who were illegally fired and charged with disturbing the peace. However, in the summer of 2006, Serbian courts ruled that the state’s ownership structure changes were illegal and restored the workers’ 58 percent ownership in the factory. The workers announced plans to “begin work in our democratically run factory under worker control.”

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Dušan Otaševič. “Comrade Tito, White Violet, Out Youth Loves You”.

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Uroš Đurić. “Populist Project. God Loves the Dreams of Serbian Artists: SK Sturm (Graz)”. The referential idea in the creation of the Populist project was based on the thesis that Populism has these days become the supreme ideology, replacing the well-known Social Utopias. The populist project tries to explore these territories and uses all of the three parts (segments) to pervert the fights for social, class and sexual emancipation.

BUDAPEST

Buda. Pest. For one it may seem to be “a dreams come true” when first being in this city. For me it was more like – where is a peace of Buda? If there is a city which never sleeps then it is definitely Budapest.

In Budapest, I stayed at the artists’ residency, which was like an oasis where you can hide from a noisy city. His name is Arpad and he talked a lot about politics, about statements of Victor Orbán and the ideas he spreads. Victor Orbán, Hungarian Prime Minister, also known as one of the biggest troublemakers of EU, wants to rebuild the democracy of the EU, as well as the constitution of Hungary, his hate for refugees. People went on streets after the results of elections because to show their attitude that results are fake. But he told me that to get an objective opinion about the situation, I have to visit at least one or a few other cities of Hungary. Budapest is hated by the rest of Hungary and likewise.

Women, with whom I spoke in public transport, told that you can have good living conditions only if you live in Budapest and outside the city, the situation is really bad. She told as well what I mentioned before – Hungarians hate Magyars (people who live in Budapest) and vice versa. Sunflower crop has fallen, taxes are getting higher; living for many people has become more like a survival.

After a conversation with a French guy who moved to Budapest three years ago, he told that life conditions here are good but, as he has not felt any discrimination, he chose to not to be interested in what is happening. He tends to be out of everything by not reading any news. “That is the best way how to run away from all the negotiations.”

It seems that the government wants to keep Hungary as it is, without the influence of the process of globalization.

 

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The artists’ residency.

BRATISLAVA

My story about Bratislava will be based on a conversation with Dominica, a student of physiotherapy, who is working in a café and dreams about owning one by herself.

She claims that the political situation is terrible. One cannot believe in any of politicians, they lie all the time and steal money. Lots of people want to move abroad because they have lost hope, trust in the country and for a better future.

Minimum wage is too small for the prices of food, accommodation, and other expenses. Soviet Union influence is still there, not only by houses but also in the way of how people think. Even Dominica, who seemed to be an open person and the one with whom to talk about any subject, refused to talk about minorities, especially, homosexuality and LGBT people. It does not exist there, of course, not exist openly.

She says that Slovaks are against refugees. But they are not interested to stay in Slovakia as well, as they see the same problem with government and unordered system. They want to move to, for example, Germany.

Slovaks are quiet, they choose not to talk about problems but acquiesce with them. One field where we can see it is tourism – they do not expel, do not make it as attractive to tourists, as they could make it because there are a lot of beautiful places what to see in Slovakia.

Her boyfriend to my questions answers with one short phrase: “Corruption everywhere, no more comments.”

Among the picturesque sceneries and urban landscapes, you can see Romani people villages. In suburb, you can find a house where Asian people not live but also have opened their restaurant and shop. Both of the groups are minorities and both of them do not seem to pack their bags and move away. The question is: have not they loosed a hope yet? Because others, I guess, has.

 

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Street Photography Exhibition. Made by documentary photographer Jindřich Štreit.

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                                  The latest exhibition of Rudolf Sikora at Bratislava City Gallery.                                        IN ENGLISH:   “Propaganda of some Slovak politicians… People are afraid of refugees ( 45 %) / People are aware of ecological problems ( 8 %). From the opinion poll conducted in Slovakia (January 2018)”.

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IN ENGLISH: “We must help Africa! Now! Not just symbolically – African people have to have an opportunity to work in their homeland. It is our moral duty. The world has been exploiting and ruthlessly colonizing Africa for centuries”.

WIEN

As soon as I entered a flat where I booked a room through Airbnb, my “flatmate” (there were two actually, but the second one I met only on the last day of my staying), started a chitchat about where I am from. “Latvia? Lettland? Where is it? Aah, it is next to Russia. East Europe,” and he entered his room. I had to catch him later and explain what is Latvia, that Latvians are not as bad as he might have assumpted, that I can be good enough to talk with. Then I ruined our conversation again after asking a few questions about politics and getting quite interesting answers (which I will write later), I offered tried to persuade him to let me make a video interview. No worries, we became friends again after.

Leo, 19 years old undergraduate law student, was skeptical about the future of Austria. “Political situation is getting worse. People are dissatisfied. I want to go and study masters in France, it is a country I like and I guess it is more important to live in a place and environment you like despite the fact that political and economic situation there is not better than here in Austria.”

The other one who lived in a flat was a student as well and he is planning to go and continue his studies in Australia. Describing political situation he used lots of words who must be censored, in brief, everything is f**** up.

The girl who gave me keys of the flat, Catharina was Ukrainian. She moved to Austria when she was 16 (now she is 21), she studies, has found local friends, learned the language and she admits that “I have never felt not accepted, I think that I am integrated into the society pretty well.”

But not everyone has integrated well. You can still find lots of refugees on the street, as well as locals who ask for money or something to eat. I met a Syrian family in a grocery shop, who told that it is not easy to live in Vienna, they have to plan very carefully their expenses but they are determined to live a regular life here and despite a small contribution from the government, they try to give their children everything they can.

After graffiti on walls of buildings, you can easily understand the most sensitive problems they are coping with. One of the problems is 60-hour workweek. In Vienna a protest action was held against the plans of the Austrian government to extend the permissible working day to 12 hours, and the working week to 60 hours. After I told about it my parents, they were shocked – “is it even possible for a person to handle it”?

LGBT minorities at least do not have problems of being accepted, at least I saw lots of gay and lesbian pairs walking on the street and not hiding their relationship. Of course, I assume that some of them were foreigners, as few days after I went away there was a gay pride who lasted one week and there were lots events to celebrate love, pride, and equality. Although, on the wall of the building where my flat was located, there is an inscription “smash the sexism”.

People here are open, as long as they do not realize that I am not a local and these few phrases I can say in German is everything I can say. Despite problems of the political system, people find their peace in public parks, enjoying themselves. For many foreigners, Vienna is their dream city. And locals seem to savor that they are living here; that they are Austrians.

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Poster against 60-hour workweek.

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Exhibition at MUMOK.

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