The rise of racism and xenophobia in Europe



Kafka and Multicultural Europe

During my time in Prague, I had the chance to visit the Franz Kafka Museum. Kafka’s life demonstrates that multicultural societies are nothing new in Europe. Kafka was a Jew. His mother tongue was German. He was born in the Czech Republic. He died in Austria.

Despite the lame rhetoric of racist and populist politicians, Europe was always home to people with fluid identities.

After the Second World War, European countries tightened their border controls, and constructed rigid national identities, mostly based on national languages. These actions lead to the creation of more or less homogenous European societies and increased racist mindsets towards people from other ethnicities. They simply did not belong to them and should stay away.


The illusion of the return to the good old days

Today, racism, xenophobia and violence against foreigners are on the rise in Europe. They are fueled by the racist political discourse of populists. They promise their followers to bring back the good old days.

Which good old days are they talking about? The time of the First World War? The Second World War? The Cold War era?

Not a long time ago, many parts of Europe were destroyed. Millions of Europeans had to flee to other countries. They had to re-build entire cities. They worked endless hours for low wages. Women had to fight for their rights in patriarchal societies. Children suffered from malnutrition. The pollution in cities was very high.

Today, Europeans live in the most stable and peaceful time ever. Most European governments provide free education, health care, modern infrastructure, unemployment agencies, and other social services. Europeans can easily move to other European countries. Many young Europeans work and travel abroad for some time. They speak English and have friends all over the world.


The victimization of the ordinary European

In my opinion, the rise of populists in Europe is only possible because a large part of the European society does not adapt to the modern, capitalistic lifestyle. Especially members of the working-class keep on living in areas with high unemployment rates. They refuse to move somewhere else. Furthermore, they refuse to acquire new skills that are needed in order to find a well-paid job.

Populists tell their followers that governments do not care about them. They only care about immigrants/migrants/refugees.

I wonder how their followers would feel like if they had to live in crowded gyms or camps with 50 other people, unable to speak the local language, unsure about their legal status and haunted by memories of war and terror.

Populists proclaim that they are the only ones who understand the concerns of ordinary citizens. They tell their followers that they are victims. This argumentation is very stubborn. It amazes me how many Europeans want to be victims instead of taking their lives in their own hands.

I know that not everybody will agree with me on this, but I am sure that every person can find a job if he/she wants to. In addition, there are countless NGOs, public service agencies, churches, self-help groups out there. They help people in all kinds of difficult situations.
Is it surprising that populist politicians want to cut down the costs for these services? Not really…


The “others”

Foreigners do not cause the low living standard of working-class people. Neo-liberal policies produce economic inequality AND populists will not change them! They will not raise taxes for rich people and companies.
Instead, they blame immigrants/migrants/refugees/Blacks/Muslims for personal failures because it is the easiest thing to do. They are the most vulnerable groups.

Europe is ageing. We need more young people, who are willing to settle down, work and pay taxes. According to a study by the European Commission, a quarter of Europeans will be over 60 years of age by 2020. If European countries keep their borders closed, their social systems will collapse.

Populists are usually from the upper class. They have enough money to pay for private health care. In the end, the people who will suffer the most from their policies, will be their own followers.

Common Myths about Migration

1. There is a refugee crisis in Europe.

There is no refugee crisis in Europe. A crisis is a problem that can be solved over time. But migration is a never-ending process. Humans will always move to the places with the best living conditions because they want to have a comfortable life and make sure that their children grow up in a peaceful, stable environment. Right now, the most-desirable places are in the West and the Gulf countries. But this will change over time.
This means that what we currently experience in Europe is only the symptom of a structural problem created by inequality. It shows the big gap between rich and poor countries.
People migrate because of war and poverty. They get no help from their corrupt governments and the international community.
As long as Western governments keep on sending weapons and soldiers to Asia and Africa, they create more misery, terror and poverty every day. The rich countries make poor countries dependent on their products and aid, and get access to resources at the same time.

2. We need closed borders to stop migration.

It does not make sense to close borders. Poor and desperate people will always find ways to enter richer countries.
The real winners of closed borders are SMUGGLERS. They do not care if people die on the way to rich countries. If the borders are closed, human trafficking increases and more people will enter other countries through informal channels.

3. Migrants take away jobs.

Migrant workers often hold low-skilled and low-paid jobs. Many of them work as house-keepers, maids, construction workers, or they open their own shops and businesses, selling services and products from their home countries.
Local companies and employers profit from migrant workers. They can fill un-wanted job positions with migrant workers. Migrant-run businesses often employ locals as well. Both cases stimulate economic growth that again creates new jobs for the local population.
Companies and private persons prefer to hire undocumented migrants, because the procedure is easier and they can pay lower wages. In fact, many governments quietly tolerate this practise. Therefore, locals should be outraged with their governments instead of blaming migrants.

4. Illegal migration can be stopped.

As long as we live in a capitalistic system, illegal migration cannot be stopped. Companies desire undocumented, foreign workers. They are cheap, flexible and more obedient because they are not protected by the law.
And we all profit from illegal migration. We buy products and services produced by illegal immigrants because as long as it is cheap or trendy, we do not care who made it. For example, many men pay undocumented prostitutes for sexual services, families hire maids from poor countries, restaurants employ cooks and service personnel without papers.

5. Migrants are poor and un-educated.

Poor people cannot afford to migrate over long distances and are too sick or too weak to survive the journey. A certain level of education and access to the media is needed to plan the trip to a foreign country.
In fact, more development of poor countries leads tomore migration. That’s why the most flexible workforce in the world consists of managers, business owners, and government officials. If they move to another country, they are called expats, but they are migrants. The significant difference is their privileged status.
This map shows that the biggest amount of people who moved to a European country in 2015 are Europeans themselves, instead of people from Africa and Asia.


Source: World Economic Forum “These 4 maps might change how you think about migration in Europe”

IOM Summer School on Migration Studies in Prague

Globalization, wars and conflicts, poverty and climate change create vast numbers of migrants. They simply want to survive and/or improve their lives and the living conditions of their families and communities.

In the beginning of September, I was one out of 100 participants from 50 countries selected for the IOM Summer School on Migration Studies in Prague, Czech Republic.
IOM, established in 1951, is the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration and has more than 100 offices worldwide. IOM joined the United Nations on September 19, 2016.
The IOM Summer School was a great opportunity for me to gain more knowledge about migration theories and policies. I could discuss the root causes of racism and xenophobia with scientists and share interesting stories with people who work in NGOs, refugee camps and detention centers worldwide.

We all can notice that our societies change continuously, and it is NORMAL!
Human beings migrate, they adopt, they change, they evolve, they create new cultures. Every history museum is telling us these facts.
However, many people are racists. They dislike foreigners, they vote populist and nationalistic politicians and consume media outlets that are full of hate and xenophobia.
Especially since a big amount of refugees and migrants arrived in Europe in August 2015, racist attacks are on the rise and populist parties gain more and more followers.

I am strictly against racism and xenophobia, and decided to write my next blog posts about my time in Prague. I want to share some facts about migration, the root causes of racism in the EU and the situation of migrants and refugees in different parts of the world.

We should understand and respect each other, instead of making each others’ lives miserable!


My favorite places in Berlin

During a 2-weeks long stay in Berlin in August, I had the chance to visit a lot of  interesting places in Germany’s capital. I lived in Berlin for three years, while I was enrolled in a college in Potsdam, and spent a lot of time exploring its museums, restaurants and clubs. It’s a great place for young people and artists. There is so much to see and do, and every time I come back to Berlin, there are many new places. Anyways, I compiled a list of  my all time favorite places in Berlin:

1. German Resistance Memorial Center
There are loads of museums in Berlin, and if you are there for a limited time, it is hard to decide where you should go. I definitely recommend this outstanding, although not very well-known museum. It is dedicated to all kinds of persons and groups who resisted the National Socialist dictatorship from 1933 to 1945 in Germany. The exhibition is very inspiring. It shows how many brave people tried to take action against Hitler and his ministers. Plus, the entrance is free of charge!
The museum entrance is accessible through a courtyard in Stauffenbergstrasse, and can be reached after a 10-minutes walk from Potsdamer Platz. From the outside the German Resistance Memorial Center looks rather depressing, but its location is very special. The building was used by the military and it was here that a group of officers planned a coup against Hitler in 1944: the operation “Valkyrie”. After it had failed, the officers were executed inside the courtyard. Today, a memorial pays tribute to Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, Friedrich Olbricht, Albrecht Ritter Mertz von Quirnheim, and Werner von Haeftenffenberg in front of the museum entrance.


2. The “Liebknecht balcony”
Although the reconstruction of Berlin’s Stadtschloss (city palace) is still underway, you can spot a hidden gem at its huge construction site: the co-called “Liebknecht balcony.”
It was spared from destruction and incorporated into the headquarters of the East German State Council, because of its historic significance. Karl Liebknecht was the co-founder of Germany’s first Communist party. In 1918, he proclaimed the formation of a “free socialist republic” while standing on the balcony of the former city palace.



3. Book burning memorial at Bebelplatz
In May 1933, a group of university students gathered at Bebelpaltz in front of the State Opera and burned around 20,000 books with so-called “unGerman” ideas. The books were written by famous scientists and intellectuals, such as Albert Einstein,Sigmund Freud, Maxim Gorki, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Kästner, Helen Keller, Jack London, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Arthur Schnitzler, Upton Sinclair, Kurt Tucholsky, Emilé Zola, and Stefan Zweig. This event was repeated in many other places in Germany.
The book burning memorial consists of a glass panel on the ground. You can look through it, and see a chamber with four empty book shelves. They could hold the 20,000 books that were burned here. At night, the interior is illuminated. Next to the monument is a bronze plaque with a short explanatory of the site and a quote by the German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine: “Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too.”


4. Museum Island
Of course, a visit to Berlin leads you sooner or later to its Museum Island, which consists of five prestigious museums. Their exhibitions are surely outstanding and should not be missed if you are into ancient and modern history, art and culture. However, the waiting time can be very long, and there is currently construction work going on. The Pergamon Altar is closed. It will reopen in late 2019.
The Berlin Cathedral (Berliner Dom), completed in 1905, is located next to the museums. It is a very nice spot for photographs and a break.



5. The Friedrich Schiller Statue
My favourite statue of a famous person can be found at the Gendarmenmarkt: the statue of the writer Friedrich Schiller. It was erected at the center of the square in 1871, and suits very well to its historic environment. The former market place consists of the French and German Cathedrals, and Schinkel’s Konzerthaus (concert hall).
The atmosphere at the square is very nice early in the morning, and it hosts a beautiful christmas market in November/ December.



6. Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
The Protestant Church, also known as Gedächtniskirche, is located on the shopping street Kurfürstendamm in Berlin’s West. It was damaged by airstrikes during World War II. Until today, the top of the church is missing. Its ground floor became a memorial hall with stunning paintings and ornaments.


7. The Tajik Tea Room
My last recommendation is a tea room in Berlin’s city center (Oranienburger Straße 27). It was inspired by Tajik nomad culture, and is a great place to enjoy a cup of tea and yummy dishes. The tearoom is equipped with cozy cushions, wooden tables and beautiful carpets. Its relaxing atmosphere can give you a glimpse into Tajikistan’s nomad culture and cuisine.

The Atlas of Beauty

Since I found out about the photography project “The Atlas of beauty” by Mihaela Noroc, I cannot get enough of her stunning photographs of women from all over the world.

Mihaela, who grew up in Romania, quit her job three years ago, and started travelling around the world. Through her photography project she wants “to explore the unnoticed beauty which lies in people around us.”

Her portrays reveal the amazing diversity of humanity. At the same time, the women’s stories show how similar we are in our thinking and feeling as human beings no matter where and under which circumstances we live our lives.

The love story behind the Taj Mahal

In 2013, I went to India for the first time in my life. Of course, I had to see Taj Mahal in Agra! I travelled with a friend from New Delhi to Agra by train and we reached the city within four hours. Train rides are quite cheap and convenient in India, but you should book them in advance. The tickets sell out quickly in a country with more than one Billion citizens.

Early in the morning, we were waiting in a long queue in front of the red-sandstone South Gate of the Taj Mahal when an old man approached us. He was in his seventies and worked as a private tour guide in Agra for many years. We booked a walking tour with him to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. It was a very good decision because he helped us to enter the sights in an instant and told us many interesting facts about the buildings.

The Taj Mahal was built in memory of the Mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal. She was the third and favourite wife of Shah Jahan, and the only wife who was allowed to advise and accompany her husband during his military campaigns. Mumtaz’s residence in Agra Fort resembles Shah Jahan’s love and admiration for her. It was decorated with pure gold and gemstones, and even had a rose water fountain.

Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. Shah Jahan was heartbroken and went into mourning for one year. Afterwards, he ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal, the final resting place for his favourite wife Mumtaz. The design of the Taj reflects Shah Jahan’s imagination of Mumtaz’s home in paradise. He wanted her grave to be the most beautiful place on Earth and his love for his wife should be visible forever.

photo 51
After our visit of the Taj Mahal, our tour guide showed us the marvellous Agra Fort. Here, the love story of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz came to an end. Their third son, Aurangzeb, overthrew his father shortly after the construction of the Taj Mahal was finished.

Shah Jahan was put under house arrest in Agra Fort. Until the end of his life, he could only gaze at the Taj Mahal next to the Yamuna River through a window in his room. In 1666, Shah Jahan was buried alongside his wife Mumtaz.

photo 5
Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Shah-Jehan” beautifully describes Shah Jahan’s longing to preserve his love for Mumtaz forever. And it reminds us of the precious, limited time we all have with our loved ones.

You knew pretty well, Ruler of India, O Shah-Jehan,
That surges of Time takes away all life and youth and riches and honours.
The unique wish of the Emperor was
To perpetuate only your innermost sorrow.
Adamant, even the monarch’s power
Wilt while dozing like the reddening of a twilight,
Solely a prolonged sigh
Might sadden the sky by heaving constantly,
That is all you hoped.
Let vanish, vanish if it must,
The splendour of diamonds and pearls and jewels –
Even as a wizard’s rainbow glow on the horizon’s void –
Let there be
Merely a drop of tears,
On the cheek of Time, dazzling and white,
This Tajmahal.

-Rabindranath Tagore

Ossip Mandelstam: the tragic life of an incredible poet


Some days ago, I went to the exhibition “Ossip Mandelstam – Wort und Schicksal (word and destiny)” in Heidelberg’s oldtown. The Jewish Russian poet and essayist was a student at Heidelberg University in 1909/10, and it was here that he started writing. His tragic life shows how much our lives are influenced by policy-makers and that beautiful art always finds a way to come to the surface.

In 1913, when Mandelstam was 22, his first collection of poems “The Stone” was published. His early poems reveal that Mandelstam was a gifted writer, and destined to become one of Russia’s best modern poets.


What shall I do with this body they gave me,
so much my own, so intimate with me?

For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,
tell me, who should I bless?

I am the flower, and the gardener as well,
and am not solitary, in earth’s cell.

My living warmth, exhaled, you can see,
on the clear glass of eternity.

A pattern set down,
until now, unknown.

Breath evaporates without trace,
but form no one can deface.

-Ossip Mandelstam

Mandelstam was well-known in Russian literary circles, but not able to earn a living as a poet. The October Revolution in 1917 was a turning point in his life, because Stalin and his followers brutally silenced all critical voices. Mandelstam started to store his poems in his memory, instead of writing them down. Together with his wife Nadeschda, he was forced to live in inner exile in different places, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Tiflis.


I don’t remember the word I wished to say.
The blind swallow returns to the hall of shadow,
on shorn wings, with the translucent ones to play.
The song of night is sung without memory, though.

No birds. No blossoms on the dried flowers.
The manes of night’s horses are translucent.
An empty boat drifts on the naked river.
Lost among grasshoppers the word’s quiescent.

It swells slowly like a shrine, or a canvas sheet,
hurling itself down, mad, like Antigone,
or falls, now, a dead swallow at our feet.
with a twig of greenness, and a Stygian sympathy.

to bring back the diffidence of the intuitive caress,
and the full delight of recognition.
I am so fearful of the sobs of The Muses,
the mist, the bell-sounds, perdition.

Mortal creatures can love and recognise: sound may
pour out, for them, through their fingers, and overflow:
I don’t remember the word I wished to say,
and a fleshless thought returns to the house of shadow.

The translucent one speaks in another guise,
always the swallow, dear one, Antigone….
on the lips the burning of black ice,
and Stygian sounds in the memory

-Ossip Mandelstam

Mandelstam composed a vituperative poem directed against Stalin in 1933, and got arrested, tortured, and banished. In 1938, Mandelstam died in a prison in Wladiwostok. Fortunately, his wife Nadeschda and his friends could remember many of his poems and save them for later generations.

The sad truth is that Mandelstam’s tragic life is nothing special. Even today, critical writers are monitored and face punishment in all parts of the world.


The shell

Night, maybe you don’t need
From the world’s reach,
a shell without a pearl’s seed,
I’m thrown on your beach.

You move indifferent seas,
and always sing,
but you will still be pleased,
with this superfluous thing.

You lie nearby on the shore,
wrapped in your chasuble,
and the great bell of the waves’ roar,
you will fasten to the shell.

Your murmuring foam will kiss
the walls of the fragile shell,
with wind and rain and mist,
like a heart where nothing dwells.

-Ossip Mandelstam

(translation of poems by A. S. Kline)