Book I: Social instability
Social instabilità and instabiliteit: Italy and the Netherlands
Estructuras inestables: vignettes of a contemporary, not quite collapsing country – Mexico
Demographic instability: Serbia
Nestabilumas of Gediminas Hill and the threat to the symbol of the state: Lithuania
Instability, a stable reality: Venezuela and America
Political and social instability: the Brexit mess
National нестiйкiсть: Ukraine
Unstable identities: Ecuador and Europe
The castaways – on the verge of life: Syria
Mental and cultural instability: Russia and Turkey
Svetlana Novoselova Bichen
Cultural instability: Belarus and Poland
The instability of Turkish education and its effect on culture and literature: Turkey
Impotence: Venezuela and Columbia
Rodrigo Arenas Payan
Staying and starting in instability: Romania
Instabilitas toleransi: Indonesia
Stable instability: Moldova
Book II: Personal and existential instability
Embracing instability: Spain
Jonay Quintero Hernández
Psychosocial instability in Argentina and America: El granero del mundo and the Manifest Destiny
Loving Lady Instability: United Kingdom
Instability or … flexibility? Russia
Legal and emotional instability in a transgender life: Ireland
Unstable nature: Norway and Denmark
The instability of tyranny: Syria and the Syrian diaspora
A house on a hill: America
Psychological aστάθεια and inestabilidad during the economic crisis: Greece and Spain
My intimate imbalanced inclination: Serbia
The emotional stability in expecting emotional instability: Brazil
Instability in relationships: Russia
Whatever happens, it is experience: Czech Republic
Angry folk: Korea
Unstable air pollution – unstable solutions: Mongolia
Inestabilidad in interpersonal relationships: Chile
Emotional estabilidad: the key to a happy life: Cuba
Marilin Guerrero Casas
Book III: Artistic and linguistic instability
The stability of instability: Turkey and Syria
Linguistic instabilité and instabilità: France and Italy
The absence of linguistic стабiльнасць: Does the Belarusian language have a future?
Niestabilność and адсутнасць стабільнасці in the arts: Polish and Belarusian theater
Instability in language: Russia
Нестабилност/Nestabilnost in language: Serbia
Stability is not an option: Egypt
Isis Kamal Farid
Book IV: Political and economic instability
Decades of economic instability: Macedonia
On the road in search of stability: Argentina and Turkey
Instabilitate vs. Stabilität: How important are cultural differences? Romania and Germany
Political instability: Lebanon
Economic instability: Poles at home and the Polish Diaspora
Political instability: Electoral coups in America and Bulgaria
Historical and Psychological Bizonytalanság within Hungarian Culture
Social and economic instabilidade: Portugal
The instability of change: India
Modern instabilité: Youth and employment in France and China
Economic instability: Guinea and Gambia
Living in inestabilidad: Argentina
Silvana Renée Borghi
Political instability: Guatemala
The Нестабилност of Transition: Macedonia
The Emblems of Instability Transposed and the Anthology of Global Instability Transposed are an examination of instability around the world. The authors and photographers are, for the most part, completely ordinary citizens. In the case of the writers, almost all of them either live in or come from the country they are writing about.
This project is the current modest acme of our more theoretical and academic work on transposition and our more creative endeavors that we call pэrypatetik (constantly in motion or changing). Here, for the first time, we have managed to combine the two previously separate strands of transposition and pэrypatetik creation.
Our invented genre of transposition falls somewhere between translation and adaptation. Originally applied to literary fiction, the method of transposition involves retaining the form, i.e. the original sentence structure, of a foreign text, while shifting the content to the modern day, with the new context determining the configuration of this content. In the case of emblems, the form becomes a concept (e.g. instability), while the content is interpreted indirectly as something like “the means of living, coping, surviving,” which naturally differs from context to context.
Perypatetik has sought currently relevant knowledge independent of the material bias that is inherent in nearly all alleged truths on both the left and the right. Based on a subjective interpretation of contemporary civilization, we have come to view modernity as a period strongly resembling the baroque epoch. Some of the defining traits of this epoch were instability, uncertainty, polarization, extremes, eschatological thinking – to name a few. Our experience, primarily in America, England, Germany and Russia, has led us to believe that the resemblance between these two epochs seems to be an international phenomenon.
In the quest to provide relevant knowledge we not only need information from the international community, but we need it from completely ordinary people whose opinions and thoughts are not filtered by a corporation, company, publishing house or media outlet with the goal of generating profits while providing useless or poor information informed primarily by a materialist agenda. For this reason, the texts have been composed by non-professional writers; the project is organized by independent freelance translators (no kickstarter campaign, no investors, no loans, no shareholders) and is being presented in an independent coffee shoppe run not by businessmen or –women, but rather two young women venturing into the unknown…
The synthesis and presentation of life against this backdrop will not only reveal what the emblems in combination with the photos demonstrate, namely, that even in the case of immense instability – and some of these countries are facing or have faced extreme turmoil in the past or recent past – you can enjoy a poetic life and create magnificent work. But that is not all. It will also clearly show in various forms and in various places that those of us who are less fortunate materially or less interested in material acquisition – we gain access to the most spectacular realm: the aesthetic or metaphysical. That is what we see time and again in any world of upheaval. It is what we find in absence. It is the origin of all literature, art, music chasing perfection in a harmonious age or imperfection in a disharmonious one.
The Anthology of Instability Transposed is a work in progress. It will be peripatetic itself. What you see here is only the rough draft for the sake of collecting the old emblems.
We hope, above all, that the project inspires you to create yourself. The easiest, best, most fulfilling activity is not consumption (be it of texts, movies, books, clothes, food, etc.), but rather living or creating. In living or creating you will experience transient moments of the sublime. Do not wish for them to remain. It would get boring. And your life or project will get better each time you leave and try to return.
Figure 1 Venice, Italy – Flooded – Michey
Social instabilità and instabiliteit: Italy and the Netherlands
Italy – Perpetuum immobile
In 1961, a booming Italy celebrated the 100-year anniversary of its unification. So many momentous events (two world wars and a 20-year long dictatorship in-between, to name but a few) had passed since then, and it was a very dynamic society that greeted a new era of economic prosperity and hope for an increasingly better future.
Yet, it is possible that – in those same years of social mobility and flourishing entrepreneurialism – the seeds of fear of instability (instabilità) were sown.
In a woefully mistaken understanding and application of the noble concept of social welfare (or, most likely, in order to gain votes), many jobs were created in the public sector and people started to value being secure in their jobs (i.e., never ever letting go of them until retirement) far more than enjoying them, or – at the very least – more than being generously paid. The utopian island of posto fisso had been found, a dream to which – apparently – many still cling on.
Posto fisso can be loosely translated as permanent position, though this phrase doesn’t convey all the nuances it does in Italian – people can have permanent positions, while frequently changing the places and roles they work in during their lives, whereas a posto fisso is the one you take (or, more often than not, someone else – a relative, a politician, a connection – secures for you, in exchange for more or less unsavory favors) and keep for life, in a kind of till-death-do-us-part, monolithic pact.
Instability for us carries a hefty degree of menace in itself. In a country geologically, politically, economically challenged like Italy, where a distinct lack of civic culture and a widely spread amoral familism 3 have been a constant throughout its brief history of unification, and way beyond, instability is regarded as something to avoid at all costs.
People want security no matter what, at the cost of sacrificing their own job satisfaction and – on an increasingly wider scale – fairness, meritocracy, social mobility, national competitiveness.
Even the liberal professions experience this kind of immobilism, when the children follow in the family footsteps – inheriting their parents’ household names and clients’ portfolios – and therefore don’t learn to fend for themselves. Freelancers are seen as reckless dimwits, heading down the inevitable road to starvation. Couple that with an overly complicated tax system and we have the reason why people long for the warm, if suffocating embrace of posto fisso.
The predictable results of this mindset were already apparent in the Seventies, but, even more so, they are painfully felt today as a new wave of highly skilled and well-educated people can no longer aspire to obtain a posto fisso and are leaving the country in droves, in search of better prospects and more dynamic work cultures, moving mostly to the UK, Germany, Northern Europe, just as they did in the 19th and early 20th centuries when their great-grandparents moved to the Americas and Australia.
Surprisingly enough, Italy is still there, one of the largest economies in the world, but how long can a country allow such a brain drain and lose its most precious resources?
It wasn’t always like that. In a distant past, Italians had been ‘able merchants and intrepid navigators’, always ready to brave stormy oceans and commercially conquer faraway lands. Instability was accepted as part of our everyday lives, it was a matter-of-fact way of life, as life in its essence is ever-changing, unpredictable, unstable.
Finally accepting and embracing instability, seeing it as a chance for a brighter, better and fairer future, could be one of the answers. Relying on our own strengths and – equally or even more particularly – building mutually trusting business and social relationships, establishing solidarity way beyond our closest families’ and friends’ circles, could bring a fresh perspective, provide a new start for exciting ventures and – albeit slightly ironically – lay a path to a less unstable future.
The Netherlands – Going with the flow
In the Netherlands, we don’t seem to be too bothered by instability (instabiliteit) – we built our country on sand and water, learnt to live with them and exploit them to our advantage. It has been neither easy, nor straightforward, and it has costed us blood, sweat and tears for centuries on end, but now we’re able to rein in those unpredictable elements.
We even named our country according to its peculiar geological features. We could say that not only do the Dutch live on the edge, many of us live under it.
The sea still defines our lives, as it did in the past. We were whalers, merchants, navigators. The overseas expansion of our geographical borders had a very dark side to it – wars, colonial exploitation, slave trade. But at home, we succeeded in developing a relatively tolerant society, open to people who faced religious persecution in their countries, such as the Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal, and the French Huguenots.
The foundations of our modern identity were made stronger during the Gouden Eeuw (the Golden Age) in the 17th century, when we dominated many of the trade routes, the sciences, the arts.
In the 20th century, we finally lost our empire, survived the Nazi occupation, and emerged again on the world scene as a dynamic and exciting, albeit small and over-populated nation and, quite credibly, a shining beacon of emancipation, tolerance, acceptance.
Was it, though? During the noughties, what we had thought of our society was being shattered to the core by the consequences of 9/11 and two local political assassinations. Suddenly, a new sense of disorientating instability became apparent. We had to come to terms with the fact that, most probably, we had mistaken emancipation with integration and that our unshakable pragmatism was considered too overreaching by a not so small minority of Dutch people.
We are aware that our peculiar geological landscape is something we have to face rationally on a regular basis, and that we will have to work hard around it every day of our lives if we don’t want to be swept away by the constantly rising sea levels. This kind of instability may even look less scary because it can be monitored and checked. But when it comes to people, a merely dry scientific approach isn’t at all helpful. Thinking in terms of numbers or in terms of “us versus them” could actually deepen the sense of fear and instability.
This is the new challenge we have to face nowadays: to reevaluate and redefine our core values of openness and inclusiveness, in order to rebuild those solid grounds that allow our society to withstand instability.
Estructuras Inestables: vignettes of a contemporary, not quite collapsing country – Mexico
The internet goes off one more time – it becomes unavailable when it rains. You never know how long it will be gone, just as you can’t predict when the pouring rain will stop. I live in the state of Yucatan, in a small town, only a few hours away from the world-famous tourist gem, the Riviera Maya, in the north of the neighboring state of Quintana Roo. Unlike there, life is quiet and simple here, without excitement and artifice, unpretentious. No glamor. As much as I love these prodigal showers, especially the sound of constant pouring rain and the visual textures the drops create, when you depend on being online for a living, the rainy season in small towns like mine can be a sure source of frustration.
I went back to the empty house one more time, looking for that big stray dog, one among the many “malixes” in my neighborhood, but the one that looks like a hyena due to the severe mange that’s eating her up. It’s hard to know when the strays are really strays because many people who own dogs in this town never take their pets out for a walk on a leash; instead, they leave them to wander the streets on their own, no collar or ID, to face adventure or misfortune, to mate, fight, and rummage, unsupervised. Like cats, birds, iguanas,
and other local fauna, canines use these unfinished homes – there are several of them scattered randomly among the inhabited ones – to take shelter from the piercing sun, unrelenting rain, and even to deliver and nurse their offspring. So it was odd today to find a polished white, fancy, brand-new door suddenly guarding the entrance of this hollow little house, an unimaginative block of concrete with holes for windows and doors, with no panes yet, and no back door. I saw no one around, but they were finally starting to finish the details, painting the facade, etc., very slowly, after months and months of inaction. Some people might say these grey structures produce a sad impression, as rubble and debris collect inside and around them; unused materials, glass, empty bags of cement, scrap metal, twisted wires, all lying around. Like swallows flying in and out at will through the big window openings, light, water, and dust travel freely through the house. Humidity promotes an uncontrolled growth of plants, a little jungle of weeds and grass surrounding the place, and puddles for the zika and chikungunya-carrying mosquitoes to lay their eggs and reproduce. Now, is this sad as some people say? Let’s just say it’s full of life. And full of possibilities. It is not rare to see children playing and daydreaming in full HD in and around these houses. These kids seem to know the value of a work in progress; anything and everything can nest and hatch out of a raw, incomplete, open structure. Use your imagination. There are many possible scenarios for these scattered elements.
Materials lying around, broken glass, scrap metal, twisted wires. The buildings in Mexico City torn apart by the earthquake. They look unfinished: their guts exposed to the casual passerby as their external walls have partially come down. Rubble and debris spread around; their structures shaken to the core by two destabilizing forces: the movement of the Earth’s plates and corruption down to the core. Architects, builders, bricklayers, the government? Who is to be held accountable for the poor quality of the construction? Who is going to pay for the lives lost to the unstable concrete blocks and cheap foundation rods? The building next door, despite the earthquake, is still standing. Oh, but this one looked so pretty, it was new. This family had just bought their first apartment, things were going really well for them, and “this looks so nice, a little fancy, but we deserve it.” They were really impressed by the new technologies flaunted over and over by the real estate company praising this self-sustaining home : solar panels, solar water-heater, natural ventilation, truly state-of-the-art. What’s most striking about the photos from the September 19, 2017 earthquake are not the buildings that were completely demolished by the quake, but those that are still standing precariously, vulnerable, unstable to the core, their flaws exposed, but not quite destroyed.
“Deconstruction is not demolition, or dissimulation. While it diagnoses certain structural problems within apparently stable structures, these flaws do not lead to the structures’ collapse.” The frenzy in deconstructivist architecture has finally reached Mexico. A favorite spot – Cancun. The genius of the late Zaha Hadid and her firm envisioned a state-of-the-art ecological residential project for Punta Nizuc, to be open and habitable by 2018. One can already find presale offers online, starting at $306,000 for the smaller apartments. Tourists and foreign investments keep coming in by the thousands. Other examples are the ambitious Nickelodeon and DreamWorks theme parks, recently approved to be built in the area. Also, since 2014, the internationally acclaimed Canadian Cirque de Soleil has had a permanent 30-million-dollar theater on the Mayan Riviera in Quintana Roo.
Ironically, these figures are only comparable to the plundering by the former Quintana Roo governor, Roberto Borge. He is said to have left this state swamped by millions in debt. He is only one of several Mexican ex-governors in
recent history that fled the country after being accused of corruption. Investigations and audits, according to national and international news sources, reveal that Borge and a network of people in his administration embezzled this money from the Mexican public treasury, diverting resources to external bank accounts for personal use and illegally selling property that belonged to the state.
But, wait, still more figures are going up in Quintana Roo: the number of individuals shot at gunpoint by the drug cartels in broad daylight at a shopping mall, a bar, in a taxi, at the BPM Electronic Music Festival in Playa del Carmen, the decapitated or dismembered bodies found tossed at random along the scenic Ruta de los Cenotes in Puerto Morelos and other areas of this “paradise” have also been on the rise since 2016. On October 11, 2017 alone, five individuals were executed, adding to the number of murders in Cancun, which now amount to 146, so far, only in 2017.
“Deconstruction gains all its force by challenging the very values of harmony, unity, and stability, and proposing instead a different view of structure: the view that the flaws are intrinsic to the structure. They cannot be removed
without destroying it; they are, indeed, structural. […] What is finally so unsettling […] is precisely that the form not only survives its torture, but appears all the stronger for it. […] This produces a feeling of unease, of disquiet, because it challenges the sense of stable, coherent identity that we associate with pure form.” These words are taken from the 1988 exhibition catalogue for Constructivist Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), New York, which Zaha Hadid was a part of. This very exhibition is said to have catapulted the constructivist style in architecture and design to the top of contemporary world trends. And Hadid’s project in the show was described as: “four beams…twisted relative to each other, bringing them into conflict with each other as well as with the artificial landscape.”
One would have thought that a billionaire project connected with someone of the stature of Zaha Hadid here, in such an area of inestabilidad, would be completely out of place. But, who knows, after all, the apparent tensions and high ambitions of such elaborate aesthetics might perfectly mimic the volatility of this uneven, dynamic, seemingly-falling-apart-but-not-quite-collapsing place. Nevertheless, they will never surpass the imagination of people playing and daydreaming amid gray structures, rubble and a jungle of weeds teeming with life. Potential…
Demographic instability: Serbia
Anybody born in Serbia could testify that our native country is a vivid symbol of instability. Through the tumultuous 20th century, Serbia went through six different countries and forms of government, it survived six wars, losing approximately one third of its population in WW1 alone (Radivojević; Penev, 43). The longest period of peace and prosperity in Serbia’s recent history was during three post-war decades in the then communist federation of Yugoslavia, in which Serbia was one of six constituent republics. As of the early 1980s, the relatively brief period of growth and stability gradually shifted to a period of economic decline, fuelling ethno-religious tensions in the multinational federation, ultimately ending in a bloody war and the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. At the turn of the century, socialist Serbia was still based on the remains of the once-mighty communist Yugoslavia, both politically and economically. However, after democratic forces assumed power in 2000, the country opened up to the world and made a sharp turn in terms of its economic organization.
All of these changes inevitably had an economic, political, social and psychological effect on the country and the people living in it. One of the adverse aftermaths of these transformations is a steady decline in the country’s population, especially in rural areas. The depopulation trend is manifested in several ways – negative population growth, brain drain and massive migration of people from rural regions to urban areas.
Current demographic нестабилност (instability) is a result of a combination of several unfavorable factors. Without any doubt, the economic situation in the country has contributed to the problem. In the early 2000s, Serbia made an abrupt transition to liberal capitalism from a relatively closed, self-sufficient socialist system. The opening of the Serbian market inevitably had some positive effects – we suddenly gained access to a wide range of good quality products at relatively low prices, but the transition from a self-sufficient economy to an import-oriented market meant that many jobs, factories and entire industries became redundant.
Negative population growth is mostly linked to a low standard of living and high unemployment rate (above 13%, according to the Statistics Office), however, other factors seem to be involved as well. The fact that poor families often have 2-5 children whereas well-off couples generally have one or none seems to support this viewpoint. A modern lifestyle requires economic well-being and chasing money as absolute priorities, even more so in a challenging
environment such as Serbia. Consequently, many couples tend to regard having children as an undesired extension of their list of obligations and an obstacle to career development, rather than something worth making the sacrifice for. Not so long ago, when agriculture was still the main branch of industry in Serbia, large families were not only commonplace, but even necessary – farming required a lot of physical labor, so extra family members were considered an asset rather than a liability. However, industrialized society has largely replaced agricultural communities, making them less prominent and less appealing, especially to younger generations gravitating towards urban environments and lifestyles.
As a result, another aspect of adverse demographic change in Serbia is a massive depopulation of rural settlements in favor of urban areas, stemming in part from the severe geographic centralization of our country. The trend is especially evident in remote mountainous regions, where, unlike in urban areas, the main issue is not unemployment, but rather a lack of labor. Despite being a promising yet underexploited sector of Serbia’s economy, agriculture and the lifestyle usually associated with it are extremely unpopular with younger generations. A giant problem in some rural areas is also a lack of transportation and municipal infrastructure, educational facilities and social content that could keep the young population from leaving. Out of about 4,700 villages in Serbia, over 1,200 are on the verge of extinction (Gulan), being sustained in life exclusively thanks to their ageing population. Here in Serbia we even have a jocular saying about how our children explain what a village is – “it is a place where one’s grandparents live”.
Apparently, big cities are where all the fun is, and the migration of the young population seems to work like a snowball effect. Young people will naturally be attracted to places with already existing large communities of young people, such as cities with a major university. In Serbia’s case, that means less than five cities, and if we add popularity to the equation, probably no more than two. Most of the young people that migrate in pursuit of higher education never return to their home towns and villages – even if they cannot find employment in their new places of residence.
Internal migration is neither the only nor the most damaging type of migration in Serbia. Since the early nineties, Serbia has been experiencing a steady emigration of highly educated young people with no chance of employment or any kind of professional advancement in our native country, alongside all others who fled the country in search of a more stable and prosperous environment. According to a recent survey, 82% of Serbian citizens are willing to emigrate for employment (MojPosao portal), making Serbia the leader on the list of 11 Central and Eastern European countries included in the survey. Political elites seem too busy fighting for personal gain to show any interest in solving at least some of the many problems citizens are facing on a daily basis. Bleak economic prospects, omnipresent nepotism and politically motivated employment are to blame for the nationwide feeling of abandonment and betrayal; however, the brain drain gained such momentum that young people are willing to leave the country without even considering any other options they might have. Instead of advertizing jobs and promoting entrepreneurship, newspapers in Serbia openly and deliberately promote emigration to “popular destinations” such as Germany, the countries of Scandinavia or Canada.
The combined result of these negative trends is the following – as of 2016, only seven municipalities or cities in the entire country have had positive population growth – two of which are the country’s second largest city Novi Sad and the capital’s suburb of Surčin. In these two cases, the population growth is, sadly, not a result of high fertility rates, but rather of the immigration of people from rural areas and smaller towns and cities. According to the Statistics Office of the Republic of Serbia, the Serbian population is declining at a rate of 38,000 citizens per year – the size of an average Serbian town. For a small country with a population of 7 million, this is by no means irrelevant. With an estimated population of 2 million, Serbia’s capital of Belgrade is demographically devouring the rest of the country – there is even a specific term – “Beogradizacija” (Belgradization) – coined to describe the mass migration to Serbia’s capital and the ensuing devastation of rural areas.
Another factor contributing to bleak economic prospects and accompanying demographic decline is Serbia’s maladjusted educational system which is, despite many “cosmetic” changes, still a relic of our communist past, totally at odds with the laws of supply and demand. This system involves “mass production” of profiles and professions the market does not actually need, resulting in tens of thousands of “educated” people whose only options are to keep waiting in employment offices for years or to leave the country in search of a brighter future. A related phenomenon is a devastating lack of entrepreneurial spirit in young people – another “illness” inherited from the communist system, where attaining higher education, or even simply being willing to work, automatically guaranteed employment. As a result, Serbia is probably one of few places in the world where you can often hear that someone is “waiting for a job” instead of “looking for a job”.
Nevertheless, if we put things into a brighter perspective, even the fact that (almost) nothing works properly can mean that there are many possible starting points for improvement. Our future will look a lot brighter if we manage to get the proverbial snowball rolling in the opposite direction. Hopefully, our government will finally see the warning signs and pull their heads out of the sand. A good starting point would be a radical reform of the education system and its harmonization with actual market demand. Our inert mentality should be countered by the promotion of an entrepreneurial spirit and the stimulation of agriculture through purpose-oriented rural development strategies. A positive example of improvement is the growing industry of rural tourism in Serbia, with a steadily increasing number of tourists arriving to admire our culture and the breathtaking beauty of Serbia’s nature. Maybe we can even learn something useful from them – it is often from someone else’s perspective that we discover the positive things about us and the unused potential our environment has to offer.
Nestabilumas of Gediminas Hill and the Threat to the Symbol of the State: Lithuania
Lithuania is Europe’s fifth flattest country. People say that Lithuania is so flat you can watch your dog run away for two weeks. Really, that is just a flat joke. Although Lithuania doesn’t have any actual mountains, we are really proud of our hills – Lithuania’s highest hill is 294 meters above sea level and we call it The Highest Mountain. Nevertheless the most important hill is Gedimino kalnas (Mount Gediminas) which is located in Vilnius – the capital of Lithuania. This hill is so important because there is Gediminas Tower standing on top of it – the remaining part of the Upper Castle, which was built by Gediminas, the Grand Duke of Lithuania, in the 13th-14th century, when he decided to make Vilnius his capital. That’s why it is the symbol of the Lithuanian state. The other thing Lithuanians are proud of is their nature. We have the Baltic Sea in the West and we have about 3 thousand rivers and lakes and numerous springs. We also have a lot of rainy days and some researchers believe that the origin of the name Lietuva (Lithuania) is related to lietus (rain). And here the problems of the rain country start.
The hills and entire Lithuanian landscape were formed by the last glacial period in the 10th millennium BC. Natural processes do not stop working. Lithuanian hills always suffer slope slides, washouts that are caused by the flow of water underground, water pumping and other phenomena. Underground water and rivers (Neris and Vilnelė) near Gediminas Hill make the terrain unstable, and landslides are common. As I said, Gediminas Hill and Castle are the most important Lithuanian symbols, so related news is of great interest to a majority of the people. It sounds crazy but an unstable hill transforms into instability in Lithuanian society. The last mayor of Vilnius ordered all the trees on Gediminas Hill to be cut down. He and researchers said that old trees with a weak root system could further move the slope under the impact of strong winds. But different people have different opinions. Some think that trees and their roots help to strengthen slopes. Furthermore, slope deformation is a serious threat to the stability of the walls of the castle buildings. Public opinion is split: some think the hill looks better without trees, and the slopes are more stable this way, while others are sure that cutting the trees was a crime.
To cut or not to cut those trees? It seems there is not only a wide field for discussion but also plenty of space for experimentation. We have three more beautiful historical hills near the Gediminas one: Kreivasis kalnas (The Crooked Hill) also known as the Bleak Hill and the Hill of Three Crosses, Gedimino kapo kalnas (Hill of Gediminas’s Grave) and Stalo kalva (Table Hill). All of them are unstable as well. Why are Lithuanians so concerned about the landscape? Vilnius scholars of history, culture and architecture overwhelmingly admit that the most important attribute of our capital is its terrain. Vilnius city is characterized by an exceptional natural environment. The city’s natural surroundings include the Neris and Vilnelė river valleys, their slopes and hills. Throughout history our country has experienced instability during wars with Russians, Germans, Swedes or the Union with Poland but people always had their land, landscape and hills. They were symbols of the state, glory and greatness in those uncertain times. This is why every stone in the old Gediminas Tower or every tree in the Park of Hills does matter to Lithuanians.
Let’s forget the dispute over the trees and think about how to rescue unstable hills and how to save the symbol of Lithuania – Gediminas Castle. The hilly terrain is exposed to and impacted by human activity, extreme weather, construction, and other factors. In historical sources, several catastrophic landslides are mentioned: the Gediminas Hill landslide, which took place in 1396, Bekeš Hill in 1838 and 1843. Records say that the Gediminas Hill landslide on the western slope destroyed Montvydas palace and killed 15 people. In the 16th century a retaining wall was built to reinforce this slope. We are about to face similar problems now, especially during the spring and winter. The ground is soaked and wet because of rain and melting snow, the layer of snow creates an additional load and then landslides occur. The main issue is that when slopes are deformed to the point where they start moving, it is very difficult to make them stop. It is both technically complicated and also very expensive. So to start with, we have to take all possible measures to prevent new deformation. It would be wise to make a good rain drainage system, plant flowers, shrubs or other greenery that help to reinforced soil.
As I said, there are 3 more hills around Gediminas Castle. Collectively, they are called the Park of Hills. It is a majestic place. You can see the historic center of Vilnius from the tops of the hills, the park hosts multiple events like concerts or sports tournaments. It is also a perfect place for people who want to be in the city center but do not like to be in a crowd. In Park of Hills you can meet romantic couples, students who decided to bunk off school or friends who want to have a beer in a public place and avoid the police. I have to admit that it is a wonderful place during the summer – beautiful view, a lot of greenery, cozy and quiet in the center of Vilnius. It is very nice to feel the freedom of the place, however one should stay on the pathways and avoid trying to take shortcuts or climb the slopes like some medieval warrior storming the castle in order not to do any additional damage to the landscape.
Hills and mountains aside, there are a lot of other unstable things in Lithuania. Politically, the same party has never – in 27 years – won an election twice in a row since the restoration of independence and becoming a democracy. Control of the government constantly changes between the parties on the left and right – it is all business as usual. Health care and the education system seem to be reworked every few years. Sometimes people tend to think having loads of universities is a good thing; other times they realize that having 3 good ones is probably better than 20 of those good-for-nothing ones. Sports teams go bankrupt after winning the championship the season before. A football club (soccer to North American readers), FBK Kaunas, won the championship 7 times in 8 years – only to cease operation after its owner realized he actually liked basketball more than football. 9 years later, the owner is wanted by the police and hiding somewhere in Russia (most likely). Needless to say he was forced to abandon the basketball club too, leaving it in tremendous debt.
So as you can see, not many things are unicorns and rainbows in the rain country. But it is all brushed aside when the instability of some hill is in question. And that is because we are proud people and we love our country with pride. That very same hill is a symbol of our history, of the past glory of our country, of who we are. It touches something in every heart. So the stability of that one hill in Vilnius comes first.
Instability, a stable reality: Venezuela and America
The only steady thing is change: atoms and cells are always moving; thoughts are always flowing; clouds are always floating; and planet earth is always spinning. So why does a country’s instability wreak havoc on our well-being?
Financial hardship, insecurity, political uncertainty and veiled labor-slave workforce economies are to blame and they’re taking a toll on people’s minds, bodies and souls. Stress, fear, inadequacy, depression, repression and pure anguish are knocking on many doors without discerning between palaces and shelters.
I do not intend to adopt any political position or endow myself with the credentials of an expert. I’m just a citizen of two countries and a victim of psychological and emotional instability in both.
I remember Venezuela back in 1999: I had just finished my superior studies and was eager to take on life. I remember we had everything the country needed to satisfy all demands without exception; supermarkets had lots of different brands and items to choose from and all our basic needs could be met at reasonable prices. We had every kind of medicine, both original and generic, from various pharmaceutical companies producing at full capacity.
Now we are in 2017. What was a good healthcare system is a mere shadow of itself. Although hospitals are free, they lack the most basic supplies and equipment needed to treat patients. Doctors find themselves working for a ridiculously low salary and do not have gloves, gauze, painkillers, anesthesia, antibiotics, antipyretics, alcohol, stitches, the right kinds of needles, working IC units, working blood banks, x-ray machines or food to feed patients.
People of all ages, races and colors die every day because they can’t find the medication they need. Furthermore, we can no longer just go to the pharmacy or store around the corner to get what we want. Now we must tour the whole city in order to find it… if we do.
Venezuelan butcheries have no meat, factories have no raw materials, and bakeries don’t have enough flour to cater to the needs of the public. This is the reason why the government has ordered them to sell just one loaf of French bread per person. So to feed a family of four, the whole household has to come along for the ride in order to get their share. That’s happening with all items affected by the national shortage and identified as “regulated products,” meaning they’re restricted in the quantity that can be bought per person.
To top it all, hygiene products such as mouthwash, toothpaste, soap and deodorant, as well as diapers and sanitary towels, among others, are sometimes almost impossible to find and are sold at very high prices. Since this is the case with many other items on the market, it is impossible to stick to a budget. And then there are the constant fluctuations that accompany galloping inflation and a never-ending recession where it has become a struggle to put food on the table and make ends meet.
Cities and towns have no water because the reservoirs aren’t working. The government is rationing the supply of water in some cases to once every 10 days and for a short period of time. Car shops have no oil, tires, batteries or most spare parts. Although this an economy with tremendous oil resources, there are constant blackouts either because of unmaintained equipment failures or simply to cut expenses for the system to later cook the books and give the people no benefit for their suffering.
Crime is at its peak. Cops have no guns, but criminals have grenades, bazookas and riffles so to speak. Even those who aren’t religious start to pray when they get to the doorsteps. Taking our phone out in public has become unthinkable; it is a recipe for disaster and a common motive for robbery and even murder. Many lives have been taken due to the incredibly high value of an old phone or a pair of shoes.
The mortality rate from crime surpasses those of war casualties, and walking around with our groceries now makes us an easy target. People are being stopped at gun point all the time when they stop at traffic lights and intersections, in the middle of the day, even in crowded areas. Everywhere you look there’s fear. The whole country is a huge red flag where there is no place to hide. Only God, faith, pure luck and fate can keep us safe.
Anger and worry are felt in almost every household, no matter what political party we support. We are dollarized in the commercial-ization of goods (meaning prices are based on dollars), but not in salaries, and the minimum wage covers only a few items at the grocery store. People are hungry and desperate for change.
News channels are gone, CNN in Spanish was recently banned, as were many others before, which have been closed down. There is no paper to print passports, so many Venezuelans have been stranded inside and outside the country unable to travel, including myself (I have been waiting for my passport for 4 months and cannot leave the country), as corrupt agents are illegally charging up to $500 to speed up the process, an insanely high amount in such a devalued economy.
However, to me the grass has seemed greener on the other side of the fence every time I’ve changed sides, so for me changing countries, even when I can do that relatively easily since I hold dual citizenship and have no family of my own, feels like a trade-off between which kind of unhappiness I decide to pick.
As a US citizen as well, I’m deeply grateful for all that the country has given me. I held my first job there, had my first rented apartment there, my first young adult dream, my first car, my first form of labor-slavery, my first financial anguish, my first economic hardship, my first loan, my first debt, my first repo and so on.
Needless to say, I have also received the best customer service possible, as well as endless things to choose from. Supermarkets are packed with everything imaginable, stores have the unthinkable, dreams hang from the rooftops and the hardship of financial reality hits at rock bottom.
The more I look around, the more I realize that even native-born Americans feel the same way; we are overworked, under-paid, in debt, unhappy, isolated, having a hard time making ends meet and borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. We also fear getting sick, getting old, retiring without savings, being replaced by a ferociously competitive market and always being on the verge of becoming disposable. Many have no benefits from their jobs; the young are already buried in student debt; yearly vacations are a luxury; and taking more than a few sick days can get you fired and sometimes even cause you to become homeless.
Hospitals may have all the supplies you can think of as well as the best equipment, but just stepping through the door sets the ball of bills in motion, and those bills can be astronomical – reason enough for many people to forego care. However, and I speak for myself only, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, many of us now have access to at least some sort of insurance coverage at a reasonable price, as it had become a struggle for middle class people to receive good healthcare treatment since we were not poor enough to qualify for subsidies nor wealthy enough to cover the high normal premiums, on top of all the tax obligations the government hits salaries with. If that were to change, it’d be a really tough choice for someone like myself who needs monthly medical treatment, because although I would find all the medication I need, I would have no easy access to healthcare at a reasonable price, while in Venezuela I’d have easy access to private doctors who are still somewhat affordable and are very well trained, but I would find no medication.
So, back to Venezuela, what’s good about it with all of these worrisome problems? A gray or informal economy may be a polemical topic for economists, but life isn’t much different, and it’s our duty to try to make it as bearable as possible by having an informal economy that allows people to make ends meet when, otherwise, it would be simply impossible to eat, and although it may not be one of the best forms of economics for a country, it’s the only way we’ve been able to survive due to the massive embezzlement of funds by government agents who look out for themselves before discharging their duties in a system where checks and balances don’t exist.
What does it all come down to? There is a sense of freedom and autonomy over our own lives, real or illusionary, which brings some sort of happiness and the hope that with effort we might be able to make it. So where do I feel more stable after all? On the other side of the fence every time I’ve changed sides.
Political and Social Instability: the Brexit Mess
It is fair to say that in the last few years – and specifically, in the last few months – the world has sunk into quite a state. Terrorist attacks, the ensuing refugee crisis, the rise of populism, a potential new Cold War, fake or “alternative” news. You name it, we may have seen it. And yet, as a European national living in the United Kingdom, I believe the biggest blow to my future was possibly inflicted by the results of the Brexit referendum.
Believe it or not, I was not one of those who blindly believed the polls. The last few months of the referendum campaign had been exhausting for everyone, including those of us who could not vote on a matter so close to us. And it is true that the Remain supporters were running out of steam, much to the satisfaction of the Leave camp, which could then play a few trump cards. Also, much could be said about appealing to sheer ignorance in regard to what the EU really does. That is why, when I checked the results of the referendum that morning, part of me was already expecting it.
For many, me included, the United Kingdom had always been a beacon of hope for diversity, acceptance, tolerance. The 1990s were a shining example of how different cultures can meet, cooperate and benefit from each other. In the UK, everyone can dress as they like, speak their mind and stand out from the crowd. In universities, creative thinking and personal opinions are strongly encouraged. In Italy, on the other hand, people will often look down at you if you do not wear the latest brand-name items, and academia usually expects you to regurgitate verbatim what
this or that professor said in class. But all of this was about to change. Too swiftly, even.
One British aid worker living abroad quite aptly summarized the outcome of the referendum by stating that the UK experienced 48 years’ worth of intrigue in the 48 hours after the results were announced. And it is true. If in the past everyone had always believed things could not change (or not much anyway) and that the UK would always be solid and stable, the Brexit changed all that. In a matter of days, major players in the referendum abandoned the sinking ship and left others to deal with the mess. Resigning became the latest trend. So much so, in fact, that we were left without a Prime Minister and with less than half of the Shadow ministers there were before. Unheard of. Had never happened before. And yet, it did.
The political turmoil and instability continues today. Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister, has been repeatedly found unable to lead. The Economist blamed her indecision on her will to control everything in person, a strategy which may have served her well in the Home Office, but which fails to deliver as the PM.
And this is without taking into account the various drafts and versions of the infamous Article 50 bill, the existence of which has been put to doubt multiple times. The referendum was launched without a clear idea of what would happen next. Everyone knows that now, but many were fooled into thinking there was an underlying strategy when they voted to leave the EU. The vote on the various aspects of this proposal only took place last week, more than 6 months after the actual referendum. And only, in my humble opinion, because of pressure from the EU member states, the press, NGOs, people and many British MPs.
My friends and family back home in Italy often ask me what the situation is like here. “What is going to happen now? When is Article 50 going to be triggered? Will you be deported?” The answer is I do not know. No one does, and this is the real problem. In an era where everything you want to know is at your fingertips, clear, unbiased and reliable information on the next steps in the secession from the EU is very hard to come by. As a result, panic and instability ensue. The pound sterling keeps on going down, much to the joy of Europeans who can now trade with the UK on almost even ground. European nationals (and not only) living in the UK have been targeted by racist and xenophobic attacks.
Companies relying on foreign employees now face the prospect of having to pay more for visas and work permits, although that is just one of many options. Foreign nationals are usually the backbone of academia, which relies on a steady stream of researchers, teachers and professors from many different environments to offer a thriving and culturally-enriching environment to students in the UK. Now, however, freedom of movement may be limited, with serious consequences for the quality of undergraduate and postgraduate education in the country. Many EU nationals have attempted to apply for permanent residency in the UK, a process which requires a gargantuan amount of time and documents, including a 90-odd page form to be filled out in its entirety.
It is fair to say that the British people have spoken. However, it also goes without saying that the constant uncertainty, the sheer political instability, social division and conflicts, and turmoil generated by one very divisive vote are a price the whole of the UK is paying, not just the EU nationals living here. And what is going to happen now? That is a very good question indeed.
National нестійкість: Ukraine
We have no role models as well as no success stories, since every such endeavor ends with either prison or departure
A. German junior
Люди [ˈluːdɪ] are just living out their lives when all of a sudden their government declares war and redefines the meaning of patriotism – for those expecting нестійкість (instability) in Ukrainian-Russian relations this is the story of what has been happening over the last couple years in eastern Europe between two formerly “brethren-countries.” And to figure out the reasons for the нестійкість we have to start from afar.
There is only one word in the first sentence that may be difficult to understand. Люди are what compose, define and drive a country. Indeed, they are influenced, quondam, by history and, in praesenti, by media. Nevertheless, люди, both in Ukraine and Russia have the same problem – they are not prepared for the postmodern way of living. In a society that had been subject to constant dictatorship, especially the one Soviet authorities imposed, this authoritarian system would definitely leave an imprint on how its люди behave and act. When люди are used to being directed, it can be quite confusing for them to gain full control of their actions and take all responsibility for their moves, failures, and fortunes. Sudden change from the modern to postmodern era can never go smoothly, especially under the given circumstances.
Ukraine is really young as an independent country. Historians would say it has been almost a thousand years now since the Ukrainian fetus appeared. But I’d rather say it started with Taras Shevchenko in the 19th century. He set the foundation for something we know today as Ukrainian literature truly reflecting the life of ordinary люди. This was the time the люди obtained a voice. Ecclesiastical and colloquial languages were combined to create standard literary Ukrainian.
If you read through the early texts you’ll find ordinary люди rendered as the lower layers of society, struggling. And since then very little has changed. We never really emerged from serfdom. Nor did the Russian Federation. Unlike the Ukrainian government, however, the Kremlin’s secondary goal is to gain and retain control over its люди. You can see this in the laws adopted by Russia over the last twenty years. On the one hand, they are aimed at empowering the authorities and the Orthodox Church, which has more of a business agenda than an ecclesiastic one. On the other, the laws are disempowering regular люди and any expression of protest.
There is one major problem with education both in Ukraine and Russia – люди don’t know what they want to study. It all begins with compulsory schools, which function pretty much like they did 30 years ago. The education system had its flaws: e.g. forcing all left-handed pupils to be right-handed until mid 80s. And now, with a school teacher’s salary impossible to live on, and old-school teachers trying to apply antiquated methods, the education of adolescents results in low productivity and disoriented teenagers.
Then come universities. The majority of kids just don’t know what they want to do so they let their parents decide on the university or school they should enroll in. Of course the option of not entering one is completely unacceptable since the absence of a diploma means rejection by society. But hopefully this misconception will last for just another decade or two.
Once a student attends a university, another problem rises. There is corruption at practically every state institution. And I wish it were only about the corruption, but it is about the temptation as well. Why would you bother studying something if you could just hand over some hryvnas and have the best grade possible? That mindset will probably stick with a person forever, applicable in other areas of life.
Based on my own observations, by the end of their degree program, only 5% of students stayed devoted to their field, while others paid or didn’t do anything at all. The worst thing is that the government likes it that way. It is easier to control a crowd full of uncertainty.
The reason for люди
You may have guessed it already, but люди means “people.” As I said before, people are what compose, define and drive a country. So why don’t the people of Ukraine and Russia just stand up and tell the authorities they are mistaken? That they should stop war as well as corruption, and turn to more contemporary and efficient economic models? In my opinion, aside from everything mentioned above, the answer is loyalty.
At every great university – Cambridge, Oxford, MIT, etc. – they develop a special feeling of loyalty. That helps a student set things straight, find their goals, and know what to fight for. The same goes for a country. The last century, for both Russia and Ukraine, was a period of forced loyalty. People had no choice but to be loyal to the current regime. Now, when the people are on their own, there is a choice, but no real option, at least in Ukraine, while Russia has leaders who offer a similar way of life to what they had before. And despite opposition, люди in both countries have reconciled themselves to the situation since they are used to having no choice.
That’s just easier.
Unstable identities: Ecuador – Europe
Each of our identities settles within the limits of a tradition that involves habits, legacies, a piece of history, and very often a political ideology originating in the collective acceptance of certain events interpreted by a power group. To question or think about the limits of our understanding of the world is advisable for our mental health as it comes up in different moments of our lives when we confront situations that differ from the ones we consider normal from the point of view of biographical origins. Nevertheless, it is distressing to observe how critical thinking is a politically dangerous exercise in increasingly globalized societies and has declined due to all kind of social, political and religious definitions. This is, together with the overwhelming power of technology, breaking up the way we are in contact with others and ourselves. The world seems smaller today.
Another possibility for us is to turn to pure speculation even at the risk of losing our own identity. In The Immortal the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells about the voyage of a Roman soldier who longs to taste the waters in the river of immortality. His identity, over the course of the pages, ends up merging with the one of the mysterious character that was determined to follow him until one day he recalls himself as the writer of the Odyssey’s verses.
I asked him what he knew about the Odyssey. The practice of Greek was arduous for him; I had to repeat the question.
Very little, he said. Less than the poorest rhapsodist. One thousand one hundred years have passed since I invented it.
To be something, to be someone is simply to be. Immortality implies being able to be everything, but then our memory would dissipate with the inexorable passing of time – as the wind erases traces in the desert – and we would no longer identify with any experience or event that was associated with our identity in the past.
Nobody is somebody, a single immortal man is every man. Like Cornelio Agrippa, I am a god, I am a hero, I am a philosopher, I am a demon and I am the world, which is an exhausting way to say that I am not.
Travelers are commonly identified by the place where we were born and stayed until we started our voyage. That place is marked by our accent. “I am a Spaniard” is the easiest answer I can give to a taxi driver that takes me to a destination in Quito. “Return the gold that you stole” was the reaction of a young student at the campus of the Central University of Ecuador when I was asking the group he was with about the location of a building.
Living in countries where we were not born may be disadvantageous in some aspects. However our understanding grows in several ways as we simply compare livelihoods and cultural horizons. In Italy’s different university system I learned about the common origins of my mother language and a new world view. By trying to speak a new language, I experienced political conflicts between Castilian and Catalonian cultures in Barcelona. I was a philosophy student and a teacher of comparative Spanish in Austria. I was part of the country’s environmental management and worked as a consultant on micro-economic projects at the UN. These and other circumstances took me to Latin America. I came with the dream of implementing environmental projects. It collapsed.
We run up against political ideologies that promote an external development model. It is about a model that depends on the extraction of minerals such as oil, gold, coal or coltan, and the privatization of natural resources such as water and territories. This model is very linked to technological investment and the destruction of nature and local, ancestral traditions. It intends to create wealth by satisfying rising demand for raw materials in urban areas of the so-called first and (also) third world, to the detriment of the ecological and social well-being of the inhabitants in the exploited territories.
In Ecuador the development model adopted by the current government is based on a mestizo, urban, one-party socialist ideology that harms many indigenous communities throughout the country. Over the last eight years, as the country has increasingly collaborated with China, the deforestation rates have grown due to new mining and infrastructure projects – mainly roads to carry the minerals. This model goes back to the original age of industrialization; it is often supported by countries like the US and China and is repeatedly described as a form of neo-colonialism in African and Latin American countries. It shows how an identity is instrumentalized by a powerful elite and defended by a population group expecting an improvement in their standard of living. This results in the conduits of commerce coming from abroad and the acculturation of local urban, rural and indigenous populations.
Another unfortunate case is the imminent destruction of the Quitu-Cara and Incan heritage in the historic center of Quito due to the construction of the subway’s infrastructure, which is being funded by the World Bank. This center was, together with the historic center of Krakow in Poland, the first to be declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on September 18, 1978. “We are adding different classes and cultures. We will have all the populations, all cultures,” said the architect and researcher Diego Velasco Andrade during a guided tour of historic places in Quito.
The destruction of the cultural memories by powerful elites leaves us isolated, insecure, transitory, foolish, empty and deeply unstable as the model breaks down.
The castaways: on the verge of life – Syria
—- 1 —-
“Things do not start to become normal, father, till something dies within us. Just imagine the number of things that have died before we got used to all of this happening around us.” (Idwan)
Wars have this bizarre impact on those languishing in them. Wars contradict everything you know and everything you read. They adamantly demonstrate your humanity and inhumanity. They make you feel like you are simply a dwarf in this infinite space of worthlessness. Wars continue to happen despite being rejected by everyone. When they start, they do not stop no matter what you do.
To cut a long story short, four years ago a war broke out in Syria. Another war broke out in my mind, things got chaotic, every book I read, every term I believed in, say humanity, love, peace, mercy… seemed utterly and completely trivial and nonsensical. I never understood how we could wake up every day to continue living this “human epic.” We simply wake up to hear about a new school being bombed, a neighboring city shelled, or hundreds drowned in the sea at the cusp of another continent. Everything was happening against the most basic of logic: We exist in life but are not alive.
It is amazing that a crucial experience for the human race, “what to do or not to do in armed conflicts,” is never taught in school! We just found ourselves in this here. Never were we told how we should act.
We taught ourselves how to continue, or, better, we figured out that there is no other option than to continue. Anyone walking in Damascus nowadays will conclude that after four years of war – with death rates breaking records, the collapse of the Syrian economy, an increasing number of children dropping out of school, poverty rates soaring, but still… – we are doing well. People are still moving, smiling, laughing and crying. Eating choking…celebrating and of course… dying. Thus, if anyone outside Syria asks me how we are doing in there, I simply answer, we are doing well! And I start telling stories which I know would startle those listening.
Like yesterday, I was at the university campus when suddenly a very familiar sound broke through the sky making everyone freeze and hold their breath. Eyes lifted to the sky. Silence enveloped the campus for two seconds…one …two….” Damn that was close”… voices began surfacing again. That was it, then everyone went back to their business. This is something I would never forget. The landscape of around two hundred students lifting their heads in one motion to see the rocket passing above our heads and putting them down again all together when they figured that this rocket was not going to fall on us, and continued their lives… What else can one possibly call this other than a decisive defiance of death and war. It broke my heart to see these young people are being left alone to endure this in the 21st century. The 21st century in which all nations have pledged to extend their hands to help each other. But again everything written and promised is merely an utter and complete amount of nonsense.
—– 2 —-
Once upon a war there was this little boy who “ate his fingers due to extreme hunger, leaving his index finger and his middle finger in case victory came.” (Kirdieh) In another version this same boy ate all of his fingers and left only the middle one in case victory suddenly occurs!
Wars do not save anyone. It is like this big celebration that everyone is forced to join. Like it or not! You have to step in and start dancing. But the age group that suffers the lion’s share in this party is the children. I can no longer recognize the children of my homeland. They are children but not like the ones I used to see in the past. They speak differently, smile strangely, walk and play weirdly…. They have this strange look in their eyes. I wish if I could take hold of every one of them and shout “This is not us… do not believe what you see in the media… do not listen to their stories…Syria is not what you see now…close your eyes.”
The other day when I was heading to work, I saw a four-year-old boy smoking in the middle of the street. He was so small, so tiny, so little and so scared… not because of the sounds of the ongoing bombardments which have not stopped for the past four years. Nor because of the war planes wandering in the sky, neither because of the massive crowds racing in the streets to catch the only bus to take them home. He was scared to be caught smoking!! He was hiding a cigarette behind his back, taking a drag and then hiding it again. Every time he took a drag, his eyes would search left and right in the people’s faces as if expecting someone to slap him on the face for smoking… but no one approached… everyone saw him smoking, raised an eyebrow, but no one stopped for a second to say a word to him. The boy finished the cigarette, waited for a few minutes and then slowly lit another!
I approached him and asked his name. Rabie, “Spring,” he said, in his babyish voice. This is our Spring in Syria. Can we ask for more than this “Spring” to come into our life? I guess not. Our “Spring” is destined to be covered with smoke and dirt. We have to compromise with destiny and accept whatever this “Spring” is going to bring. Because it is simply “Spring.”
To cut a long story short, stop the war in Syria.
Mental and Cultural Instability: Russia and Turkey
Svetlana Novoselova Bichen
I was born in Russia and have spent the largest part of my life there, so I consider myself a truly Russian woman. It’s been 5 years since I moved to Turkey. Living abroad and learning a different culture lets us better understand our own culture and who we are.
In Russia everyone has always dreamt of a better life. As the proverb says, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And there has always been a strong tradition of learning and broadening our horizons. That is why many people left villages for larger towns and cities where there were more possibilities not only to learn, but also to get acquainted with art and culture. As a student I always dreamt of leaving my motherland and emigrating abroad. And I was not alone. We all witnessed the tragic and uplifting events of Перестройка (Perestroika). We were small children at that time, but the urge to go to the once forbidden “abroad” was in the air. Everything Russian – from Russian dolls to the Russian language – seemed so trivial. And many did leave Russia for the United States, Europe, New Zealand and other countries. As did I. But what makes me happy is that the sense of patriotism is getting stronger in Russia day by day.
I am a Turkish citizen now. We like our country and plan to live all our lives here. We go abroad, we travel the world, but we always come back. Many of us were born in villages. And even if we live in large cities, we still have numerous relatives in villages and do our best to visit them on holidays. We are proud to be villagers. We say that every Turk is a villager, even if we live in large cities and work in offices. Not many of us dream of emigrating. Most of us worship our country. There are Turks living in Germany, who went there to help rebuild the country after WWII. When the construction projects were finished, some of those people stayed and continued to live in Germany. But we do not forget our culture, teach our children to speak Turkish and prefer to find brides in Turkey. And we do not renounce our citizenship to acquire German citizenship, thus retaining the bond to our motherland. I find it very good to be highly patriotic, but learning other cultures never does any harm.
Music is another sphere of life where I see instability or нестабильность. In Russia you find people who listen to a very wide range of music. Some like classical music, others prefer pop; there are people who enjoy listening to rock and punk rock, as well as those who gravitate toward electronic music. But most of the preferred genres of music originate in Western countries. As for original Russian folk music, it is not popular among the general public. There are folk music groups – the most famous two are led by Nadezhda Babkina and Nadezhda Kadysheva. They wear national clothing and sing to traditional musical instruments. The most common ones are the балалайка (balalaika) – a three-stringed, triangular sound-board, the домра (domra) – a small three or four-stringed Russian variant of the mandolin, the гусли (gusli) or баян (bayan) – a chromatic button accordion, the волынка (volynka) – traditional Slavic bagpipe, the бубен (buben) – an equivalent of the tambourine, the ложки (lozhki) – an equivalent of spoons, and many others.
Traditional music is considered old-fashioned and has been relegated to specific festivals. Almost 10 years ago in 1998 a band named Ivan Kupala was formed. The band members took ethnographic expedition material gathered by Soviet scientists and transformed it for modern taste. The mix of traditional Russian folk songs with electronic sounds was a huge success and won a lot of fans in Russia. Unfortunately, the project was discontinued – no new albums have been released, although the band still plays at occasional concerts and festivals. Mainstream music is dominated by western styles. However, every now and then popular singers incorporate traditional motives into their songs as Tina Kuznetsova did in her song Vanya.
In Turkey folk music is as popular as foreign and western music. One can hear traditional music everywhere – in cafes, restaurants, on TV. The number of folk singers is about equal to the number of western-style performers. We listen to Turkish music when we celebrate, when we party at home, with popular names including Sibel Can, Muazzez Ersoy, Alişan, Özcan Deniz.
The Turkish version of the international reality singing competition (The Voice) know as O Ses Türkiye is a huge success in Turkey. There have been five seasons of the show for adult contestants with the 6th running now. A large number of contestants choose Arabesk music for the blind auditions. Arabesk or Arabesque music is an Arabic style of music created in Turkey. Predominantly in a minor key, it sounds melancholic and focuses on longing, love issues and strife. Among the typical instruments there are bağlama (a stringed musical instrument), zurna (a wind instrument) and other traditional Middle Eastern instruments. However, the main role in Arabesk music is assigned to the singer. The contest jury is composed of representatives of different musical styles popular today: there are two leaders of a rock band (they share one chair), two pop singers and an Arabesk singer. However, almost all of them are happy to join a lucky contestant on stage to sing a classic Arabesk song together when asked to do so. High appreciation of traditional music is definitely a good thing since music is an integral part of our culture.
Russian ethnic dances, similar to folk music, are mastered by a small group of people. Usually, they are professional dancers and actors. Most of us learn the basics of folk dance as small children in kindergarten. The xоровод (khorovod) is one kind of these. It is a circle dance with an unlimited number of dancers. Another one of the most well-known dances is called Русская пляска (Russkaya plyaska). Some of the basic moves include alternating the position of your feet between your toes and heels with arms akimbo. Men clap their hands, slap parts of their body and the tops of their boots. Women tap with their heels and slightly rock their hips. Usually dancers step out into the center and compete to demonstrate their mastery. Folk dances were considered inappropriate by the church, and gradually European dances became more common. This could be the reason why we lost our skills. We enjoy watching the ethnic dances performed by professional dancers, although we cannot dance them ourselves. We enjoy the traditional music, but to our shame we cannot move to the sound of it. I wish traditional dance became popular again.
In Turkey ethnic dances are familiar to everyone and still in general use. We dance at weddings, conscript send-off parties, birthdays, hen parties and stag parties. The most common types of dance include bar, horon, halay and karşilama (karshilama). Karşilama is a couple dance and its name is translated as “welcome” or “greeting.” The figures vary from region to region. Some of the dances are characterized as male or female dances, when the performers dance in lines, hand in hand or shoulder to shoulder. Other dances have no gender specificity and are performed together in a crowd, but men and women dance separately and never hold hands. Children pick up moves watching adults dancing. Those who often visit relatives in other regions learn the dances typical for that geographic area and demonstrate the acquired skills on the dance floor at the next occasion. It is definitely good that traditional dances are so popular, but a foreigner may feel a little uneasy at a party and may need to learn fast.
It may seem that Russia is unstable, whereas Turkey is stable due to their relationship to tradition. But it is not so. The fact is, some changes may be less evident than others, but they certainly occur. Instability may be frightening, but it is not a negative phenomenon. It shows that countries and their respective cultures are alive and transforming.
Cultural instability: Belarus and Poland
Cultural continuity in Belarus has been broken by more than 70 years of Soviet rule (1922 -1990). Only a few monuments commemorate historical figures from the pre-Soviet period. Now and after 25 years of sovereignty, we have not reunited with our grassroots culture.
The markers of the Soviet past create a world which no longer exists. The names of the main streets, squares and parks resemble the history of the previous century and are mostly dedicated to the Soviet era. Using names from a monolithic history in everyday discourse creates the illusion of stability at the present time.
Subconsciously, we gain strong impressions from the things we repeatedly see. Although the Soviet Union collapsed more than a quarter century ago, the references to facts and people from Soviet history continue creating our reality. The main streets in most Belarusian cities and towns bear names such as Lenin Street or Sovietskaya Street. There are usually central Lenin Squares with a monument of Lenin in the middle. According to a website dedicated to Lenin monuments around the world, 600 Lenin monuments were built in Belarus during Soviet times and about 400 are left. The Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Belarus has listed only nine sculptures of Lenin as part of the country’s cultural heritage.
The Soviet reality is preserved in the names of Oktyabrskaya, Komsomolskaya, Krasno-armeyskaya, Kommunisticheskaya. The names of K. Marks, F. Engels or F. Dzerzhinsky are used for streets located close to the city center. The cities are divided into administrative districts named Leninsky, Frunzensky, Oktyabrsky. Almost a third of the population of Belarus was killed in battles on its territory during World War II. Many street names and monuments from the Soviet period remind us of this tragedy and honor the names of heroic generals, soldiers, pilots and partisans. Every day we see, hear and walk the path of Soviet history.
We have far fewer monuments and street names that commemorate Belarusian poets, historical figures from the period before the Soviet Union. Among them are Francysk Skaryna, the first printer of books in Belarus, and poet Adam Mickiewicz, playwright Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkyevich and composer Stanislav Moniushko. At the same time, there are only a few names of famous leaders from the XIII – XVIII century – the period of prosperity in Belarusian history. And modern Belarusian history also has its own heroes – among them is Svetlana Alexievich, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 – but they are also rarely commemorated.
Yet why do we still retain symbols that no longer exist? One of the answers might be that as humans we want to see the world as a stable place and tend to rely on things that seem to be stable. Over time things change. It is a natural process. But we do not want changes. We cling to the idea of “stable things.” This idea of stability becomes a habit. Because of our tendency to be attached to this habit, any change brings pain when it occurs.
Today instability talks in figures. Recent years in Belarus have been marked by several waves of devaluation, the redenomination of the national currency in July 2016 and overall decreases in salaries. This instability is compensated in everyday life by references to the habitual Soviet past.
All of us tend to prevent instability by trying to save, buy health insurances and change our jobs to get higher salaries. Marketing techniques promise us that if we put our savings in a certain bank, we will have a stable life. If we buy a product from a certain company, we will have better health. We follow the advice of advertisements because of our unconscious desire for stability. This fear of change is a general tendency.
We do not want suffering and are easily caught up in the illusion of stability. When the USSR collapsed in 1990, many people were literary lost. They had to make personal choices and independently decide what values they would live by. This was not an easy thing because the Communist party and the Soviet Government had been making decisions on behalf of their citizens for 70 years. The Soviet system was “a Great Illusionist.”
Poland shares some of Belarus’s experience with the Soviet past. After gaining its independence in 1989, Polish society eradicated most of its Communist heritage. Some buildings and monuments were preserved for the sake of history. The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw is famous and called by its nickname “Stalin’s gift.” It was built by a Russian architect as a present from the Soviet Union to the Polish people in 1955. Situated in the center of the Polish capital, it is believed to be the highest building in the country. The architectural style resembles the main building of the Moscow State University.
Many Poles have a negative view of the building, as it reminds them of the years of Soviet suppression. At the same time the streets, squares and public places bear the signs of historical completeness and suggest an unbroken lineage. They are named after national leaders of all epochs and include native religious leaders.
The controversy between illusionary stability embodied in the Soviet signs and the actual world create the subconscious feeling of instability. Consciously creating new positive markers and emblems from modern history will turn us towards the present. It takes some courage and time to rethink the past and accept the reality. Many countries in the former USSR demolished Lenin statues and other symbols of the Soviet rule during the first years of their sovereignty. This was a process of open public discussion and sometimes painful dialogue on the Soviet past, perhaps allowing for a bit of confidence in the turmoil of instability.
The instability of Turkish education and its effect on culture and literature: Turkey
İstikrar (stability) is a word one sees being thrown around all the time in Turkish media. It is used to describe anything and everything ranging from economic growth and political power to the fragile balance of intellectual polarization. İstikrarsızlık (instability), on the other hand, is shunned, hardly verbalized, but looming over every aspect of our daily lives.
The official dictionary published by the Turkish Linguistic Society defines instability as “being in a state of imbalance, indecision, unsteadiness.” The description is quite fitting for our education system – one of the most altered, modified and amended aspects of Turkish society.
Modern Turkish education started with the centralization of schools in 1924. A few years later, the Arabic script was scrapped in favor of the Latin alphabet – As a nation which buried its own archaic alphabet along with its nomadic past in the steppes of Central Asia, this was the end of yet another era. We started, as we like to say, “facing westward,” embracing European culture with the new alphabet and public schools. Village Institutes were founded to educate people from rural areas, who would return to their villages as teachers and educate others. A “translation movement” started – suddenly, hundreds of classics became available in Turkish – including Zola, Dostoevsky, Cervantes and Verne. Spearheaded by an idealistic Minister of Education, these translations and institutes would breathe new life into our society – literacy rates skyrocketed, and our horizons were broader than they ever were before. However, instability was looming in the background – it would take us half a century until we realized that it was impossible to fit into Western culture.
The birth pains of a new republic and global political turmoil following World War II contributed to the instability of Turkish education. The Village Institutes had a quite short lifespan among the power struggle of giants. After their closure, the countryside declined again into a state of regression, while the large cities continued to improve.
Still enwrapped in the driving power of the translation movement, a new literary scene flourished, especially in Istanbul, the historic capital of both the Ottoman and Byzantine empires. Influenced by Western literature once foreign to them, many now famous authors wrote their classic novels around this time. The ideas in these works also paved the way for younger students following the same movements of thought – which, unfortunately, escalated into violent clashes between supporters of ideas.
The first military coup to “stabilize” the republic came in 1960. It was, in fact, more related to what was happening in parliament than the political clashes of thought movements on the street, but the street clashes sparked the unrest – university students, fueled by the new intellectual thinking, started movements on their campuses and soon on the streets of entire cities. Under martial law, a number of precautions were taken to prevent polarization, but the seeds were already sown. The next decade witnessed four failed coup attempts and one military memorandum (coup by memorandum). Domestic political instability took the country by storm, and after 1971, a dark ten year era commenced – a violent war on the street based on opposing ideologies and run out of universities. During this time, almost no actual education occurred as the universities were split in two factions fighting against each other, engulfed in political turmoil.
1980 was the year of the most brutal military coup in Turkey. Every aspect of the country was crumbling to its foundation, but education took the worst blow. Determined to stop any ideological violence once and for all, the new military government took some drastic measures. The “Higher Education Institution,” which was to control, supervise, administer and manage the universities in the years to come, was founded with the aim of stopping any dangerous ideology from capturing the minds of students once and for all. This also meant that lower levels of education, including high schools, saw drastic changes in their modus operandi. Casual dress was banned in all the primary, secondary and high schools in favor of school uniforms; history classes were designed to include Ottoman times and the early history of the Republic; and politics classes were left out altogether. A central examination system for enrolment in universities was put into place. Mutating over the years, this central examination system (called the Student Selection Examination back then) was mandatory for anyone who wanted to study at a university in Turkey, regardless of the program or school. Overseen by ÖSYM (Ölçme, Seçme ve Yerleştirme Merkezi – The Measuring, Selection and Placement Center), the central examination soon became the very heart of Turkish education. Becoming increasingly difficult, this behemoth of an exam is the entire life of a Turkish student – from the moment he/she finishes elementary school up until successful enrolment in a university. The Higher Education Institution succeeded but with a twist; it did not only strip politics from the education system but also yanked any purpose from it as well. The entire goal of the education system, slowly but surely, turned into passing “the exam.” We started studying for the exam, dropping some classes because they weren’t in the exam, and most importantly, started choosing professions not because we liked them, but because they were important for the exam point structure. We were concerned with getting into a program with a higher level of importance in the exam placement system. The instability of modern Turkish education was established with this system.
While schools in the 1990s were designed around the exam; private teaching institutions, called “dershane,” also mushroomed and spread around the entire country. These institutions, while not legal schools, served the purpose of the system better than their counterparts sanctioned by the Ministry of Education since they were a product of the new system. As the dershanes weren’t able to issue a diploma or equivalent certificate, they were essentially paid add-on classes. After a whole day of school, students would go to these places to practice for the exam, often between 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm, destroying any chance of free time, free thought and free will.
This “duality” didn’t work wonders for a stable education system of course. The instability increased over time since the exam became increasingly difficult to counter the special institutions. The increasing difficulty demanded more institutional time of students, meaning that we cut down school time, mostly using medical reports given out by doctors who had no chance to turn down students who simply had to leave school to attend another institution. The response by the supervising center was harsh. The exam system changed almost every 5 years, forcing institutions to change and adapt, and leaving millions of students without a proper education in its wake. Over the years, the exam increased to 180 questions in 180 minutes, divided into two parts, changing rules every other year and so on. The game of cat and mouse continued.
Then, fairly recently, the Turkish government tried to put a stop to the special institutions by turning them into Ministry-controlled high schools, requiring a shift by the institutions to ensure various political agendas. As the unstable relationship between politics and education has lingered, the country saw yet another attempt at a military coup in the summer of 2016, revealing, among other things, that Turkish education is as unstable as ever.
Impotence – Venezuela and Columbia
Rodrigo Arenas Payan
I´m writing this in my capacity as a Colombian citizen, with the pride of living in one of the longest and most stable democracies in the region, but also suffering the pains of one of the longest wars in the world, which, it seems, is coming to an end. Within a context of change and reconciliation, it hurts deeply to see the situation of our neighbor to the northeast, our brothers, the Venezuelan people.
When calling them our brothers I do it in the strictest sense of the word because we´re only separated by an artificial line, created by man, because in some zones it is not possible to distinguish which country a person belongs to: culturally and socially we are the same people.
This brotherhood comes from many years, from a long time, of being part of the same great nation, and this has left us with common values that a line on a map cannot erase. We can never forget that an illustrious Venezuelan gave us the foundation to achieve our independence, and not only us, in total there are 5 nations that owe their independence to Simón Bolívar: Colombia, Perú, Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Given the context of our common origins, it is easier to understand the horror and indignation that causes us to see our brother country immersed in a serious crisis that only produces immense pain, hunger, misery and a perception of instability which is spreading throughout the region.
It is hard to believe that a nation so rich in natural resources has people suffering from physical hunger. The communist model implanted in Venezuela has meant a regression in its inhabitants’ quality of life. The decade of the 1980s seems very distant: it was a period where development of epic proportions took place with the construction of roads, infrastructure, and the living standards of its inhabitants rose and were worthy of admiration and in our case of envy.
A land blessed with large oil fields deserves a different fate. In these times of prosperity, as is easily predictable, there are problems involving inequity and inequality, but in my opinion it is something that could be solved by means of correct political management.
Recent press headlines have reported on the executive branch giving peremptory instructions to the judiciary on the need to immediately imprison certain citizens, all of this in clear violation of the separation of powers, a fundamental pillar of healthy democracies.
These actions immediately remind us of past times that fill us with pain and shame, times of tyrants and megalomaniac despots who after their passage through power left their people in misery and democratic institutions destroyed and depredated by their allies, who normally held their positions for their closeness to and flattery of the tyrant and not for their skill and knowledge in decent and fruitful service for the people.
We have a lot of examples:
• “Generalísimo Trujillo” in the Dominican Republic, who held power for several decades, directly and through third parties, using methods of terror and death where only his worshipers benefited, left the country in a terrible crisis and misery.
• Mariano Melgarejo in Bolivia, a rebel soldier, decimated the country to such an extent that they are still working to overcome it.
• Juan Vicente Gómez in Venezuela was an authoritarian ruler from 1908 to 1935, contributing significantly to the country’s economy, but suppressing freedom of expression and eliminating the opposition.
All these examples, and others that I do not mention but still hurt us, left millions of victims and determined in some way our future as a continent. No serious economic strategy could take place in the territories ruled at the whim of a tyrant; it is not possible to think of development policies when governments are established by force.
The current Venezuelan reality is very close to the authoritarian models that we should have left behind: opposition silenced by force, ignorance of minimal democratic principles, censorship of the press and content control by the state, absurd economic policies and worst of all: hunger.
This political, legal and democratic instability affects the whole continent. Venezuela has become a refuge for illegal armed groups that use the territory as a base to operate their criminal activities tacitly permitted by the state. This criminal activity affects a large area of the continent, since it is known that from there they coordinate the shipment of large quantities of illicit drugs, and the privileged geographical position of the country facilitates the scourge of drug trafficking and impacts us as well.
What can we do?
At this moment in Colombia we are in the middle of a terrible humanitarian crisis resulting from the arrival of massive numbers of Venezuelan refugees fleeing from hunger and violence, seeking safety in our territory. This aggravates our health and well-being, as our economy has so far been recovering from the wounds of the war that we suffered for many years. Notwithstanding this, we have extended our fraternal and supportive hand in order to contribute to the recovery of our brothers, but we need the leaders of the region to adopt a stronger position.
There is no doubt that what is happening in Venezuela is out of control. There is systematic disrespect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; there is a serious problem with public health and lack of food and resources. We have supranational agencies (OAS, UNASUR) that must make decisions, and this must be done fast. It is clear that the instability of a country so important in the region affects us all and does so beyond political and economic considerations; we speak of lives that are lost and families and dreams that are destroyed every day while the international community does nothing.
Staying and starting in instability: Romania
My children will be away for two weeks. They left the other day to visit their grandparents during the holidays; in the meantime we will be moving to a new house, in a whole new town. This is not the first time we will have moved over the past ten years and every time I look at my children’s faces I can’t help but wonder whether they will still be here in 15 or 20 years’ time, whether they will be following our model or whether they will embrace a totally different lifestyle. When I got married to my husband from a different country, my grandmother said: “If only you had married X from Yeud…”, knowing that Yeud is a village only two kilometers away from the village where I was born and raised in my early childhood. I laughed and nodded but deep down I knew that things could not go on as in her own youth. The country was still recovering after the end of communism yet we had started to enjoy a certain openness and grasp, with our own hands, the Western world beyond our borders. In today’s increasingly globalized world my grandmother’s way of living would simply be impossible to achieve…
Everything is shifting so fast and Romania is different, too. My country has undergone a lot of changes since the era of communism, and this has sped up since we joined the EU. The beneficial effects of our joining were felt almost instantly – we had the freedom to travel without invitation letters or proof of lodging; we could find products we had only seen at our relatives abroad on the shelves of our own shops, and ridiculous as it may seem, even the major bands touring in Europe started to put Romania on their destination list. In areas such as consumption we have reached almost the same level as our Western European neighbors. Obviously, we do not earn the same wages and we may be working more hours in order to keep ourselves afloat but we are finally able to enjoy similar products and services.
In terms of the private sector, the quality we get is usually worth its price; nevertheless, the public sector is still struggling, and two major areas we are drastically lagging behind in are health and education, to mention only two core areas affected by a lack of sufficient investment and properly trained personnel at the head of institutions, a reason good enough for many to leave the country. Unpredictability and instability in some of the most important sectors of our country – where the role of the state is vital – is defining our current life here in Romania and hence our biggest fears and concerns regarding our near or distant future.
Will we be properly taken care of if we get sick? Will we benefit from a decent pension when we retire after having paid our dues throughout work life? Will we be able to provide for the education of our children or pay our loans if something happens to our jobs?
These are the main questions that I hear around me and which are fueling our concern as nobody can guarantee the answer. I am a freelancer generally working with foreign customers, so most of the time I am unable to estimate my income for the weeks and months to come. I am also unable to say whether it will be sensible to continue as such in the future because the social system that is supposed to support us is drastically deficient. The laws regarding taxation and contributions to the social system have changed several times over the past decades, and there is no predictability as to what will happen over the upcoming years as the laws change with every newly-elected government. The same goes for education, where the rules regarding high school graduation and enrolment in college are regularly amended.
Until a few years ago I still believed that we were witnessing a phenomenon similar to what had happened at the beginning of the twentieth century, when young Romanian students studying abroad came back to Romania eager to implement what they had experienced in Western countries – with sometimes disappointing results as a Romanian critic put it: “the theory of the forms without substance.” Recently, I have come to believe that there is more than this, that the ones ruling our country are neither interested in the form nor the substance – corruption is still present and has embraced subtler yet more complex forms that are difficult to eradicate. We are striving to have a prosperous life in a country which has every opportunity to grow beautifully due to its position and resources but which is being restrained by factors a normal democracy wouldn’t accept. And yet, human nature or a pattern that defines us causes difficulties – no more than six months ago the elected government was trying to overthrow its own prime minister due to internal conflicts in the ruling party. The government changed its plans and is promising visible and significant changes for the improvement of the country but we are still being treated in hospitals equipped as they were some twenty years ago, we are still getting on the same trains that we were travelling during my childhood, we are still seeing the same communism-reminding faces during political talk shows, and two very different Romanias are growing in one and the same place: the one owned by the state and the one owned by the people.
I love my country, the natural beauty that defines it, the comfort that I draw from being close to my family and living in an environment that I know, but I can’t help wondering whether I made the right choice when I decided to stay here. When young, at the beginning of our careers, we dream of changing the world, of making it a better place starting right here, in the immediate, the familiar, as this is what we know best and is the easiest to approach. But with every disappointing answer from the system that surrounds us our confidence in the ability to change things diminishes, and we finally ask ourselves whether we should continue on the same path, whether we should accept the reality that surrounds us or whether we should make a swift change and dare to live out our dreams.
Romania is still struggling with old issues and mentalities that are difficult to change (although not entirely impossible). Things are changing, but not always at the speed we would want or in the direction we had thought. But there is change. And change can overcome deficiencies over the long term, and stability may be achieved although nothing can guarantee its duration. The unpredictable is always there, in our personal lives and mirrored on a global scale. Enjoying our personal achievements and success may be a way of countering external disappointment although we live in a unitary system that affects us all. We may know the solutions but find it difficult to implement them, or lack the people to work with for that purpose. Social activism may be the one thing able to connect us and instill change in our society that is still deficient on so many visible levels. But at least we are aware of this, and that is always a good place to start.
Instabilitas Toleransi: Indonesia
In mid-2016 a riot in the North Sumatra province of Indonesia saw several Buddhist temples set on fire. The riot was provoked by a hoax disseminated through social media. Someone began spreading lies that a Buddhist immigrant complained about and insulted the adzan (Muslims call to prayers). It infuriated people and led a few to burn several temples in the neighborhood. Ironically, a police investigation showed that the guy who started the rumor didn’t even live there: he was from Jakarta.
With 259.1 million population, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world after the US, China and India. A country with more than 546 languages, 1300 ethnic groups and 6 officially acknowledged religions is bound to experience instabilitas toleransi (instability in tolerance) between different groups. These days tolerance can be destabilized even for the tiniest of reasons and is easily fueled by unethical social media usage.
Social media allows us to get news about things happening in other parts of the world in (almost) real time. Attacks at the Bataclan concert venue in Paris, outside the Istanbul soccer stadium or Christmas market near Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin, were discussed by Indonesian social media users not long after the incidents. Information travels easily, turning the world into one big global village.
Yet social media is not only about technology and communication. It also portrays behavior, the embodiment of humans’ desire to socialize and share experience. Studies show that we tend to choose content suitable to our liking and surround ourselves with those of the same mind. Instead of looking for a new opinion or point of view, understandably, we tend to look for support online (Pew Internet’s 2014 study: “Mapping Twitter Topic Networks from Polarized Crowds to Community Clusters”). This, coupled with users’ immaturity and anonymity behind the screen, has been creating instabilitas toleransi between diverse groups in Indonesia, especially in big cities.
The ease of social media access is also (intentionally) used by groups with a certain agenda. Based on Techinasia’s report published on January 2016, Indonesia has 88.1 million active internet users and 79 million active social media users. In Indonesia, we can easily find videos promoting calls to join ISIS. Personal blogs or community websites publishing articles provoking intolerance are also easy to find. This will make intolerant people feel like they are being supported and given a platform to do as they wish.
Another interesting example of instabilitas toleransi started by/on social media in Indonesia can be found in Jakarta’s gubernatorial election in February 2017. Just like young people in general, Indonesian youngsters basically don’t care about politics. But this election campaign for governor brought about a change in this phenomenon. The race between three candidates never felt so personal. Social media enables supporters of each candidate to unite openly and ‘fight’ against their rivals. The phenomenon of social media may be something virtual, but whatever is written on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram can feel real, especially when it comes to things we don’t necessarily agree with. People have opinions, they throw in their arguments. When arguing, supporting facts are assumed, and both supporters and opponents often don’t bother to check the validity of the presented facts and numbers. Somehow a lot of people (choose to) believe that if you can find it on the internet, then it is legitimate.
There are also people who are very creative with their memes or photoshopped pictures, meant satirically, but used by people with a hidden agenda or poorly understood by those who don’t get the satirical meaning behind the memes or pictures. The anonymity of being unseen behind the screen makes it easy to say whatever comes to mind, without regarding ethics or other people’s feelings. Rules and ethics in real life are often easily ignored on social media and may even result in violations of the law.
Multicultural Indonesia is a source of great power, but it can easily turn into a weakness when not approached properly. Apparently the sentiment of us against them is still very easy to sell. Especially when it comes to religion. And then there is majority against minority. Indonesia is not an Islamic state, yet Islamic principles often influence political decision-making. If you live in Indonesia, you’ll see for yourself that some extreme Muslim groups have been able to influence political decisions by (barking) violence. A recent example of this absurdity is the candidate for governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, being put on trial for blasphemy. And how do these groups gain followers? Don’t let their somewhat naive appearance fool you, their social media usage is just as advanced as yours and mine.
A lot of Indonesians will say that they grew up in (what they believe was) a very tolerant Indonesia. The way things are going these days makes many people feel uneasy. The instabilitas toleransi driven by (among others) unethical use of social media has become real. Also due to the nature of social media, information travels fast, which means that uneasiness also travels fast. The hope, however, is that these dynamics will encourage people to act to turn the instabilitas around or ensure peaceful instability between various groups.
Balea, Judith. “The latest stats in web and mobile in Indonesia.” Techinasia. January 2016.
Lamb, Kate. “Jakarta governor Ahko’s blasphemy trial: all you need to know.” The Guardian. Dec. 11, 2016.
Stable Instability: Moldova
If you open up Wikipedia and search for Moldova, you may find that it is the poorest country in Europe. At the same time you may learn about the existence of such a country. Is the situation in Moldova today due to the poor financial possibilities? I would say no. Not really. A part of it is the corrupt government. It also has something to do with belonging to the Soviet Union. And it has something to do with the consequences that were left behind by those morally horrible times, when people were offered good salaries and good jobs, but in exchange were forced to teach their kids another language, the Russian language. The fact that the times were financially good back then, and that Moldova has faced multiple difficulties ever since it declared independence, twists people against their own countrymen. It affects our parents and grandparents most of all, with some of them saying, “I would learn another language now just to have the possibilities I had then,” referring to their predisposition to have the country occupied yet again just to avoid poverty.
Every day is a mystery. One wakes up and hears on TV that some journalist was arrested for doing their job. Some law was adopted in the middle of the night that no one talked about until last night. Maybe politician and oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc will steal another billion dollars from the people. After all, it’s just a fifth of the country’s GDP, and who cares about that, right?
But that’s not the worst of it. What I see as being the worst is the people’s twisted mentalities that vary from place to place. Someone might say hi to you on the street, and someone may spit on you for wearing pink. How come people are so extremely different from each other? Part of this is all the methods of manipulation. You see, unfortunately, people do what I call “suffer from the need to belong,” which is the need to belong to a social group, to be able to identify yourself as a human being, psychologically speaking, and live your life as a social being. To this, I shall also add public and private conformity. It happens when, in order to be accepted by a group, we must change our beliefs, so, for example, if all of my colleagues are against our current president, and they won’t accept me if I say I like him, in order to remain in good relations, I must publicly say that I am against the current President as well. The issue with this is that over time public conformity easily becomes private conformity, which means I start to dislike the president even when I’m not around my colleagues. And somehow, at some time, a long while ago, we were introduced to habits of manipulating people to act as we like. People ask questions similar to: “Do you not respect me?” “Are you not a man?”; or make statements like: “You’re crazy.” When I talk about my plans to become a singer, I hear words like: “Drop this, and be like a normal man,” “Be like everyone else,” and I mean that literally.
These kinds of statements attack an individual’s need to belong, and if not strong enough, people give up their style of dressing, their favorite activities like dancing, just to be accepted by colleagues. And as if that isn’t enough, society is desperately trying to change every new individual. As if it isn’t enough that they are trying to change an individual’s mind and move it closer to a Russian one, you should also have the right haircut and behavior. Maybe the youngest are starting to change, but so many over the age of 50 just can’t let go and accept that their kids want to have a certain job, or get a certain degree, and they put pressure on them and yell and insist that their kids do what they say, manipulate them, saying if you respect me at least a little bit, then do as I say, in cases where the choice should belong to the individual alone. Some people have European tendencies; others will beat you if you do not approve of the accepted mentality. And judging is everywhere. It’s hard to believe that only once in a few months have I experienced a day in which a person hasn’t judged me in some way. The riflemen will leave their position and cross the street just to offer me a free haircut, because they think real men should have short hair. Medical insurance, in Moldova? Even if you buy it, you still have to pay for the doctor’s visits and, needless to say, pay for the treatment as well. Private clinics are for those with luxury cars, not the average person. People flee the country, going illegally to Europe to make money for their children to have clothes and food, and in exchange they lose their children, weaken the connections between each other, and most importantly, traumatize some of the kids that have no one to lean on in their shuffled and confusing teenage years.
Another thing is that the young people don’t really get along with the older ones, and the elderly don’t get along with the young, generally speaking. Our parents and grandparents grew up on rules; they were forced to do as they were told without asking questions, while the younger ones believe in freedom, transparency, choice, and independence. This can make relationships both inside a family and in the society quite complicated. Judgement, as mentioned, is everywhere. Criticizing, not understanding, people will vary extremely from one street to the next, which is why, when I accidentally bump into someone, especially an older person, and immediately apologize – I don’t know if they are going to say “it’s okay” or start lecturing me about how blind I am and that I have no respect for the elderly.
And this has been going on for years, decades, all of this – the irregularities, the unpredictable reactions, this chaos filled with routine and unhappiness, the differences in people and yet the similarities between them, being similar through difference – this stable instability surrounding the country and nestled in people’s hearts – it’s driving me nuts.
And all I want is to see a community within our society, one which I may never even experience. A lot depends on the government. People may think, “they can’t influence us,” but it’s enough to lower the salaries and raise the price of gas and food, and soon teachers won’t be happy at work and will demonstrate their anger, influencing students, which influences their families, resulting in more anger in society, and so the ripples spread.
The majority of the world’s population may not know about this country’s existence, or our situation, but others do, some of them hold high positions in the European Parliament. They help with some things; the United States helps with some things, but it is still a mystery to me why they do not help more not in terms of grants or projects, or financial aid, but rather with education, and not just for students but also for grownups as well – something to help change our society more. And while some are waiting for change, some are bringing the change that they want to see in the world; while others spread negativity – this stable instability still holds sway, and I just hope it won’t be for long.
PERSONAL AND EXISTENTIAL
Jonay Quintero Hernández
If you ever happened to rise your arms and shake them afterwards before a mirror, that treacherous foe, you might have already realized what instability really means. Not to mention, beer bellies, non turgent breasts and other bodily parts profusely attacked by the wickedest force of all, age- yes, I know you were thinking about gravity. Preposterous It might seem, becoming existentialist when “half the party is over “ (Brian Ferry dixit) and having a sense of there must be“ more to life than this“(sic Bjork) is something very common among normal, mentally healthy people.
Each person is a world of its own and has different ways of facing this: some may leave their partners for a significantly younger one, buy themselves a new car-if they can afford it- and others, like me, acquiesce to growing a beard and writing amateurish writings that somehow reflect what many feel and while reading it, don’t feel like they are alone.
What would happen if at an age where your life should have been, already “settled“ you find yourself like starting over again as if you were in your twenties, living in your parent’s house, but with much less field to run ahead? Probably you would wonder like the Talking Heads, Where is my beautiful house?, where is my beautiful wife? And my automobile? Therefore, living like a youngster again though not being a Fluorescent Adolescent (Arctic Monkeys) any more.
Of course drinking milk from the brick and laying on the sofa in underwear may seem very enticing prospects, but moaning and permanent self-pity are not and can not be, valid alternatives for a life that, a car crash once taught me, may end very abruptly. However, the reasons for these changes in the personal sphere are more global and far reaching that may appear at first glance. Some examples below:
In a country, Spain, where 90% of new contracts are temporary- data from Spanish Ministry of Labor- you may find it hard to have access to mortgages or financial aid to start a business. This is the first instance of how this new era of instability is changing everything . The curious thing about it, is that in the 90s there was another crisis-not as strong as this one- and our pathos was more like a pose than a real pain, mainly because my conteporaries and me were true teens at that time, and we even had grunge and brit pop to swallow the bitterest of shots. What do nowaddays youngsters have? Justin Bieber and David Guetta? Poor prospect. I, personally, have always considered what happened at that time as an unnoticed warning of what has taken place later- many a thing could be said about the cyclic crashes of the capitalist system- and the dawning of this new era of instability.
While the generation of our parents defined themselves by their oficios (carpenter, farmer, plumber, nurse, etc) we are forced to undergo a few momments of embarrassment when asked the sempiternal conversation starter: what do you do?(God can anybody notice how inapropiate and rude this question can be?), above all if the inquirer has got a job and the inquired one hasn’t got any, in that case I should regard it as an insult and claim for a propper satisfaction, after smacking the other’s face with my glove. In this context, one feels unsure about deciding whether to answer wholeheartedly with a V-sign accompanied by a four letters word of medieval origin, or uttering a hesitant it depends….I can be a writter, translator, interpreter, proofreader, editor, web designer, digital marketer, subtitler, localizer, programmer, video editor, woodworker, and sometimes I even make bracelets that I sell on Etsy.
The general trend leads more to a series of “entrepeneurs of themselves“, rather than to a collectivity of employees as it has happened until recently in the post industrial societies. We are being slowly forced to be service providers, rather than employees that must be “sustained“ by an employer. In an ideal world, workers would be regarded as the main asset of a company, since they will always produce products for a value substancially higher than their salaries.
Deprived from the possibility of planifying their futures people are increasingly becoming used to a more short termed, ‘not looking too far ahead‘ existence. Making plans for the future, while life is that thing going on right now, may not seem the right thing to do. Not knowing where you next month’s income, if any, is going to come from, gives a feeling of the earth moving under your feet.
In addition to this, workers are becoming increasingly defenseless as unions can no longer provide a propper shelter to people that lack of attachements to the companies they work in for a few hours a week. The postindustrial reality of big companies where hundreds or thousands of people used to work, supported by strong unions, seem to have passed away. Spanish and other european governments regulations, clearly in favor of the corporations and against labor covenants are also parts of this new reality.
Everybody seems to have accepted that the next generation will live worse life conditions than the previous one, and that is a bit scary. Is not that the current or the previous generations were living buoyant and luxurious lives, but some small caprices they used to indulge in, will not be accessible to the millenial generation. Lower wages, worse quality jobs, structural unemployment, contribute to a final discouraging picture.
Is everything really that bad?“Is this the end of the world as we know it?“(REM). No, frankly, I don’t think so. I believe it is simply the time to move on to something else. To keep going or pulling our own weight. Use the words that suit you best. If you have not got a job or jobs available are not good, may it is the right time to go solo. It is easier said that done?. Of that I am sure, since I have gone through that path myself.
In my last unsuccessful work experiences I became aware of a truth, so long silenced to myself: I don’t want a job, I don’t want to be an employee if I can avoid it and heaven knows I’m misserable now (The Smiths). Educated in a culture of ‘getting the things done by yourself‘ (unfortunately almoust disappeared) and, why not, also encouraged by the Internet and the international trends of DIY, I felt so much inclined to leave the labor work force and the long lines in the job center, in order to become a freelance. Now I am on my own, when there is nothing to lose, everything is to be gained, and anyway, as my granfather said: If you can work for yourself you better don’t work for anyone. There is not need of working in something you do not like, just for the sake of having access to a potencial retirement pension, that no one is certain to ever be able to get paid. For this last aspects other alternatives exist, such as, real estate investments, private pension plans and all sorts of investments related to the stock exchange.
In a world were information, capital and companies move around “freely“, the instability of labor market, economy and society had to become true sooner or later. May be it is not so crazy to stop fighting or running away from instability, but to embrace it as the new paradigm that will rule our lives. A wiser money management, leaving consumistic behaviors aside and trying to be as collaborative and self sufficient as possible, may be ways to confront this new environment.
In this concern, governements have, as usual, a great deal to say. Making easier to any individual to create new businesses, removing burocracy and taxes from home energetic self-sufficiency installations would be very helpful. Currently, many people are being left out of the system (jobless, homeless and without access to public social aid) that might be creating alternative systems of their own. In this contexts have appeared in the last years, things like the common welfare and collaborative economies. The first one applies to a better distribution of wealth, with a strong bias of ethical aspects, the second is more related to the better use of resources: energetic, transport and all sorts of goods by sharing, exchanging or renting. Owning something is becoming less important than being able to use it.
The new environment makes it difficult to survive the old traditionale way but, in return, provides lots of tools to fight for ourselves and make it through a new world. I have mentioned the internet and collaborative economy, I’ve talked about becoming a freelance or creating a home business based on whathever your tastes or your skills are. Exchanging time for money is and will always be an option for those who are not very keen of this new paradygm, but be ready to accept the consequences of either choice you make.
Psychosocial Instability in Argentina and the US: El granero del mundo and The Manifest Destiny
Argentina’s society is one of many contradictions and paradoxes. As some readers may know, the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, has been called “the Paris of South America.” If you have ever been there, this nickname shouldn´t strike you as impossibly ridiculous. Buildings such as the ones in the pictures below are not very hard to find, and the cosmopolitan atmosphere in Buenos Aires and its European-style restaurants and theaters will make you feel that its nickname is more than fair.
However, when you look at other places in Argentina, and even at Buenos Aires itself, the incongruity of “Buenos Aires, the Paris of South America” should dawn on you rather quickly and help you understand what I am trying to say: Argentina is Paris . . . and it isn‘t. Argentina may have the architectural sophistication of Western Europe, but her economic strength is more along the lines of her neighboring countries. The truth is that there are more things than not that Argentina shares with the rest of the nations in the region. But because Argentine children have been, and still are, brought up with stories about how Argentina is the best country in the world, with the best beef and the most beautiful woman (we even have a song (by Bersuit Vergarabat ) about that), it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a widespread feeling of uneasiness among Argentines. A certain psychological instability arising from a mismatch between what we should be and what we actually are. How come we are so great yet have so many problems as a country? Every Latin American is probably aware of that age-old running joke that says we’re cocky. We are. But behind that cockiness there is a certain fear, a defense mechanism. A way to cope with a truth we don’t like. How come we’re the best yet no one, not even ourselves, seems to see it?
When I look at the United States, the parallels are just as striking. I don’t wish to talk about the new US political situation nor of the possible implications of that situation. Political analyses should be left to political analysts. But I find the US position in the world to bear a striking resemblance to Argentina’s position in South America. Bear with me. After WWII, the US cemented her status as the most powerful nation in the world. That was but the last step on a long road to success, which can be easily be said to have its roots at least in her 19th century Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, Argentina was considered El granero del mundo, “the World’s Barn“, and one of the richest countries in the world, at around the same time.
But what about now? The United States is still the greatest of the great powers, but there others today, coexisting with America. Argentina’s economy is but a shadow of its past, and many neighboring countries that Argentina used to greatly outperform, well, do much better than her now. We could spend days and thousands of pages trying to analyze the reasons why these changes occurred, but suffice it to say that they did.
What I’m trying to say is that the collective uneasiness that has been a recurrent feature of Argentina’s society for a long time now seems to work in similar ways in the United States. Of course Argentina and the United States are not the only (and possibly not even the most representative) examples of these somewhat predictable fluctuations in the global system, but I’m from Argentina and the US is the most powerful nation in the world. Thus my choices.
So what? Is it relevant that culture, politicians, and mothers alike tell us that we are still the best of the best? Well, it may. If Argentina and the United States are not as powerful as they used to be and we fail to understand that this is not necessarily a bad thing, but an opportunity, and instead lie to ourselves and respond with fear, cockiness, or whatever . . . well, things can quickly start to sour.
Please, don’t misunderstand me. I know that if you see all these changes as the equivalent of losing your prominent position in a company, you’re probably going to be afraid. But we need to understand that this isn’t a win or lose game. Argentina may not be the World’s Barn and the US may not seem to be the nation chosen by God all the time now. But we’re still great countries with great people. This psychosocial state of uncertainty should be embraced as a key element in the constitution of the collective psyche of two cultures that are contradictory, but beautifully contradictory.
Loving Lady Instability: United Kingdom
Instability is a Lady. I’m sorry, but it’s true.
She used to go by a different name – one that rang down the centuries in art and literature. For Instability is none other than Fortuna, the Roman goddess who raised men up then dashed their hopes – who made princes of paupers before pushing them back into the excrement.
You will find Lady Fortuna among the leaves of many ancient texts, but nowhere is she described so accurately and ruefully as in the Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius. This vast rattle-bag of knowledge and moral truth describes, among other things, how Fortune, with her proverbial ever-turning wheel, is responsible for the exaltations and miseries of all who become infatuated with her.
Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius knew all about fortune – both good and bad. In the late days of the Roman Empire – a period during which hairy Goths called themselves Caesar and civilization seemed to be falling apart – he gained high office in what remained of the Roman administration, only to have the rug pulled out from under his feet by cunning enemies. Accused of treason, he was imprisoned, tortured and eventually executed in the most horrible fashion.
Undaunted by this sudden, downward trajectory on Fortune’s wheel, Boethius set himself to writing. In his cold, dark cell he created a work of literature that speaks across the centuries to anyone suffering at the hands of that fickle lady. Consolation of Philosophy is a towering text, but its message is straightforward: our lives are in the hands of Fortune, and changeability is her nature, so it is better to accept with equanimity whatever life brings you rather than expecting it to suddenly become safe and predictable.
Over the centuries, that simple spark of wisdom has kindled a fire of hope in many lives, but in the twenty-first century, Goddess Fortuna underwent a makeover. Out with that nasty old wheel and in with the corporate shoulder pads. These days she calls herself Instability, but she works in just the same way. Some rise at her behest – acquiring celebrity and wealth without a shred of talent to back it up – and some fall, brought down by the barbed arrows of journalistic malice. We scramble up the rickety ladder of professional success only to find redundancy and a minimal pay-off at the top. The economy swells, becoming impressively large and shiny, only to spring a leak and deflate with a sound like an old person’s fart. Changeability is the nature of fortune.
So, what can we learn from old Boethius, toiling in the gloom? How can a sixth-century public official help us to weather the storms of our tempestuous twenty-first-century lives?
Boethius lived in very similar times to our own. The old order was passing away with terrifying speed. Rome, which had once seemed unassailable – a bright beacon of light and order – was descending into perpetual war, cultural confusion and economic disarray. This is not just something that can be seen in hindsight by historians. Roman citizens living in the fifth and sixth centuries felt like they were staring over a cliff. Saint Augustine, who died in 430 AD, tried to imagine a new, spiritual Rome to replace the civilization that was disappearing, describing it in his magisterial work The City of God. Our own times have something of the same feeling – the sense of an epochal shift that is occurring at a terrifying speed.
The reaction to these huge changes, especially in the press and other areas of public life, takes two forms. There are those who bewail the loss of certainty and order, and there are those who gloat over it. But would Boethius have subscribed to either of those positions? Almost certainly not. Unperturbed by either the fate of his city or his own fate, he chose to write a work that enshrines much of the wisdom of the classical world. Far from complaining about – or celebrating – the imminent demise of the Roman order, he took all the beauty and knowledge of his civilization and wrapped it up as a gift to future generations.
In our own small way, we should ask ourselves how we can do something similar for those coming after us. My suggestion? Teach your children the value of religious faith, crude jokes, neighbourliness, love of country, cooking and eating together, marriage and walking. They are life’s chief joys, but are increasingly treated as bad habits to be practised in secret, or personal eccentricities at best.
Some of the best advice given by Boethius in Consolation of Philosophy is the idea that we can rise above our circumstances by choosing to live nobly. He is careful to point out that nobility is not a question of birth but of character, and goes on to explain that it consists in ridding yourself of pride and greed, exercising generosity and behaving compassionately towards the poor. So, whether your fortunes raise you up to the exalted heights of royalty, or bring you down to the level of a shoemaker – you can still live well in the most meaningful sense.
Saint Augustine expresses a similar thought in one of his sermons, delivered to a congregation in Roman North Africa some time at the start of the fifth century. He explains that it is pointless to worry about the times you live in – the way you choose to live is what makes the times either good or bad.
So, choose to live well today. Choose to be less proud in your dealings with family, colleagues, strangers in the traffic jam and anyone else who crosses your path. But be especially humble in your dealings with family – when you have had a bad day, they often bear the brunt of it, and they shouldn’t. Choose to be generous with your time, attention, opinions and, if you can afford it, your money. At the very least you will have the pleasure of watching those around you flourish like plants after a shower of rain. Choose to act nobly, and the times will seem better.
Instability or… Flexibility? – Russia
Isn’t instability so inherent to all of us? We are so unstable from any point of view. Is a human being characterized by instability… or flexibility? Can we say that anything changing is unstable? Is instability more good than bad or vice versa?
Would anybody argue that our inner state is constantly shifting from one mood to another? Would you argue against physical changes in our bodies? An ability to change emotionally, mentally and physically is a strength and a powerful factor letting us adapt to a changing world and keep adjusting to any minor and significant change to feel comfortable. It’s an open secret that the more flexible (or unstable?) a system is the more viable it is. A rigid system can hardly adapt to change. Anything unable to undergo change can be easily destroyed. It is the same with us, humans.
When we are born into this world, we are unstable too, and this is a given condition no one can influence. At least, at the very beginning. Instability is the basis of evolution, progress, adaptation, life and existence.
Being brought up by our parents we absorb the mindset, suggestions, restrictions and limitations, implicit or explicit attitudes and frameworks of our mother and father and the people who take care of us. In Russia our upbringing is far from nourishing. Parents treat their children like property, and one can neither interfere in the process of upbringing, nor disrupt it even if there is obviously something wrong. Sometimes, when we are adults, we find ourselves with a handful of attributes no longer working properly or effectively, no longer bringing us happiness and harmony, self-expression and joy. The mindset is so deeply unconscious that it rules us, it makes us behave in a certain way or make choices we can’t explain. And we call it fate. Thank God, human psychology is unstable in regard to flexibility, and we have a chance to correct the mindset we inherited from our childhood. The path toward healing our restrictive mentality is challenging and requires an internal need for change to start with. It is not easy to realize that there is something unconscious that rules our lives and acknowledge that we need some guidance and coaching or tutoring by professionals with relevant knowledge and experience and understanding. Some of us may simply have a creeping feeling telling us to change something in ourselves. Do I have to “upgrade” myself to move forward as if I have wings behind my shoulders? Can I do something with myself to feel more comfortable inside my mind, to become more successful, free and more… myself? This feeling may be so subtle that we can hardly recognize it. Decades of economic instability and our country’s historical background have prevented Russians from taking a close look at ourselves, at what we are and who we are. Not many people are able to confess “there is something wrong with me.” We are more willing to put the blame on our partners, children, spouses, bosses, colleagues, etc., not on ourselves. This is how human psychology works.
Russia has never been a country where psychologists were treated like other “medical” doctors. If we have a toothache we rush to a dentist. But if something goes wrong in our relationship with ourselves and others, if we feel the need for love, safety, acceptance, joy, if we feel the inner need to change our lives for a better future… we don’t know how to help ourselves. We, here in Russia, never go to psychologists to heal ourselves and – I even dare say – get acquainted with ourselves to some extent. We are more used to sharing problems with close friends, parents, relatives… or with nobody at all. We’ve become convinced by generations of ancestors that we should not wash dirty linen in public. Nobody has ever taught us that what you’ve done is enough, it’s okay to be satisfied with ourselves, it’s okay to be strong and ask for help at the same time… Unlike Americans and Europeans, the idea of visiting a specialist in human psyches is hardly conceivable for many Russians. Just gain awareness of old limitations operating in the background and get rid of them to shift to a better life full of harmony, supportive relationships and self-expression. We need to overcome our cultural background and start treating specialists in psychology as those doctors who will help, support and heal. Relative to men, women are more flexible, more sensitive and emotionally unstable. Generally, Russian men are more likely to accept challenges and fight and find solutions without asking for help, especially from specialists like psychologists, psychotherapists.
But the good news is that the world is so unstable and changing faster than ever, so we can see more and more people willing to get out of the traps that keep us stuck in an unsatisfied sense of well-being. Working on our psyches is an essential basis for courage, creativity, innovation and simply happiness. The outer instability gives us an impulse to change ourselves, and inner flexibility gives us an opportunity to follow and catch up with the changing and challenging world instead of being left behind. We are now shifting our interest to ourselves, to who we are and to what we can become.
Since the world of today is so fragile and unstable, now more than ever, new values are required like cooperation, wisdom, collaboration, a brand new form of leadership and more. We are now living in a specific time, transformational period of evolution and progress, at crossroads of ages. It’s like a milestone and new people are in demand, men and woman capable of new leadership in families and corporations, at home and in public. Those who are capable of making an impact on instability and creating a new level of consciousness are needed as well. More and more Russians are shifting to a completely new approach to life now. More and more we feel the need to change our mindset, to become more open to the changing world, to meet the new challenges it brings. We, humans, have an unlimited potential to express ourselves in the best possible way, to enjoy our lives, to become supportive and accepting. And this all comes from inside. But this path is not for everyone. It’s for those who are deeply ready and committed to making changes by doing difficult work studying and learning themselves. And when we step this way, we may become leaders of a new age, the age of positive instability that brings a brand new development, enlightenment and harmony. A new era and a new world begin with us. Starting with ourselves we can not only accept changes but also influence the changes and even generate them. And it is instability that gives us the power and the chance to change ourselves and the world around us, to evolve and grow up, to become ourselves and thus enrich our lives and future and the people around us.
I wish all of us nothing but the best understanding of who and what we are in as much depth as possible to continue gaining valuable experience seeking to further enhance harmony and success, to multiply that knowledge and the technologies, to make a breakthrough into the conscious world. I wish us nothing but the best in taking as much as possible from our flexibility, from our potential to change ourselves and generate positive change and realize our great potential as humans.
Legal and Emotional Instability in a Transgender Life: Ireland
What it is like for those born these days I do not know. It is not an experience I have lived myself. But I do know what it was like for those of us born a few decades ago.
When you are born, you get a letter—M or F—on a piece of paper. That letter and that piece of paper will determine the course of your whole life, because the law, society, your family, those you know, those you don’t know, everyone you come into contact with will regard that letter as you. It is what you are. It is what you must be.
Perhaps for a while you don’t question that verdict. You are told that you are a boy, or you are a girl, and you don’t question that because you are not even aware that it might be possible to do so. It is the only option you are given, and you don’t realize that there might be others.
As you grow older, though, you begin to realize that something doesn’t quite mesh. Something doesn’t make sense. You are a boy, or you are a girl—then why aren’t you like all the others you know? What is different about you?
That is when you begin to sense that you have nothing to stand on. You realize that somehow you are different, that you don’t fit into the accepted scheme, that there is no provision for you. You are something that you should not be, something that theoretically, legally, does not exist.
That is when confusion sets in. If I am what I am, then why does no one else realize and recognize what I am? But what exactly am I? If there are only two categories, I must be one or the other, but I cannot see how I can fit either. And if I do not fit in, then where am I? I am nowhere.
That is when all sorts of conflicting emotions set in—perhaps shame, for example. All around you, you see people who have no difficulty fitting in. They are what they are supposed to be, what they are defined to be, and they are perfectly comfortable accepting the definition imposed on them at birth. They don’t know the uncertainty, the instability that you are struggling with. If they are right, then you must be wrong, and you are ashamed that you are not what you are supposed to be, something that seems so easy to be.
Or perhaps you feel some guilt. If you are wrong, then you are clearly at fault. Perhaps you aren’t trying hard enough. Or worse, perhaps you’re not trying at all—because you don’t actually dislike what you are. Shouldn’t you feel guilty about finding yourself acceptable when you are something you shouldn’t be?
Or perhaps it is fear that you know. You know instinctively that what you are will be severely condemned, particularly in the strict environment you are growing up in. The exact consequences for you if you are discovered to be what you are, are unknown, but you know in your heart that you don’t want to face them. You must hide—from those closest to you, and more importantly from yourself. You cannot afford to even think about what you are. So you try to repress it.
But you cannot. You cannot any more stop being what you are than you can stop breathing. As you grow older, as you go through adulthood, your frustration steadily mounts. You are suffocating, you are suffocating yourself, and in the end it becomes unbearable.
Then a miracle occurs: a thing called the “internet” is invented. All of a sudden you have all sorts of information available, you have all sorts of people available. You realize that you aren’t alone. All over the world there are millions of people like you. You learn that there is nothing to be ashamed of. You simply are. Like a tree or a highway or a river running through a meadow or like the clouds on high, you are simply one more thing that exists in this world. You are what you are.
That is when you truly begin to be tested. You long to live, you long to breathe, you long to be free. You start to test the water: you go out among people as yourself, you let them see what you truly are, you let them see that you are not that letter that was put on a piece of paper so long ago. You wonder if it is possible for the people around you to simply let you live. It’s a roll of the dice. Some may not care: they will accept what they see as no harm to themselves. But others will react furiously: they will try to re-impose on you all the emotions that filled you as a child.
And you will still find yourself in a no-man’s land: you will want to make changes. You will want to change your name. Above all you will want to change that hated letter that was marked down on a piece of paper so long ago. And you may well discover that the law doesn’t allow you to do that.
Everybody has an ID, the purpose of which is to properly identify you. But for you, the law insists on giving you an ID that actually misidentifies you. If you want a passport, you cannot get one that accurately states who you are. So you may decide to do without one. Or a government office might demand an ID that you cannot produce because another office has refused to give it to you. Or a government office might offer you a proper ID, but you cannot get it because you must first provide them with other bits of supporting ID that you do not have. Legally you are nowhere.
Or perhaps it’s worse than that. Perhaps an employer will refuse to hire you, and you find that you have no legal recourse. Or perhaps someone will refuse to rent you an apartment, and they have every legal right to refuse. Or perhaps you are assaulted or bullied, and the law cares nothing about that. The law gives you no protection because the law does not even recognize that you exist.
Then another miracle occurs: in Ireland in 2015 the state declares that a transgender person will be recognized as transgender, that we will be allowed to be what we are and to live as we need to live, that we will be entitled, like everyone else, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
For a moment you are thoroughly confused, disoriented. All your life you have been nowhere, you have been outside the accepted scheme of things. You have had no place to stand. That is the way the world has always worked: the circle was drawn and you were left outside.
All of a sudden it is as if the world has been turned upside down. The certainties you have always had were painful, but at least you knew what they were. You knew how things worked, even if they worked to your disadvantage. Now there is a new dispensation: you no longer know where you are because you are in a place you have never been before. You don’t know how to react, you don’t know how to feel or what to do.
But you quickly find yourself. You make an amazing discovery: you now have a place to stand. You can walk down the street, you can go to work, you can go the supermarket or the pub or the library or anywhere you want to go, and you can go there as yourself. And no one can challenge you. Because you are “legal”: you now have legal certainty, and that legal certainty gives you a sort of emotional certainty you have never had before. You have a place in the world like everyone else. You are a citizen, a human being like everyone else.
Now, if your legal documents are incorrect, you have a legal right to request (i.e., demand) that they be corrected—and you find to your satisfaction that the officials in charge don’t hesitate to make those corrections. You see that the law is on your side: if there are still any opposed to the exercise of your rights, they will find themselves in the wrong. The law, the police, the judge, the parliament, the government are now behind you.
You can walk through this world with your head held high. You can go about your business and your life like anybody else. The law has said that you are somebody, and finally, at long last, after so many years of doubt, you feel in your heart that yes, indeed, I am somebody. It is a remarkable feeling.
Unstable Nature: Norway and Denmark
We who live in Norway and Denmark know a lot about instability. Both countries are particularly vulnerable to nature’s whims – forces that people cannot fight.
Sometimes the picture outside our house changes when we wake up in the morning. A Norwegian mountainside may have collapsed, or the sea may have taken a big bite out of an area of Denmark.
Norwegian mountains are widely known and admired for their beauty and strength. They are tall and proud, have been standing for millions of years – admired by people from all parts of the world. The Norwegian mountains are our identity – we identify ourselves with them – we are as robust and faithful as they are. To be “as steady as a mountain,” is a compliment.
But not all mountains are equally steadfast. Some of them move, mountainsides crumble, and we have to evacuate our homes, leave places we might have lived for many generations. Some mountains are dangerous. There are steep cliffs, overhangs, large boulders that would like to move on. But when? Nobody knows, although a large agency is watching them. Well placed at the peaks, in high monitoring stations, their staff is always on duty around the clock.
Rockslides often end in a fjord and create enormous tsunamis. In Norway, we have deep fjords which run more than 100 meters into the landscape. These tsunamis are caused by rockslides and have repeatedly wiped out small rural communities and even today some people are living an uncertain life in fear that the next night might be their last. But still, we are not moving from our ancestral homes. The mountain will stand there for another thousand years. We think – but we do not know.
Therefore the rocky mountains are under constant surveillance. Although statistically only two or three major accidents happen every hundred years, the mountain is moving slowly year by year, here and there accelerating for several days or weeks, until it explodes. We know well the mountain’s whims, and that’s why preparation is good.
Norway has the world’s 7th longest coastline, with fjords and steep mountainsides defining the coast. We live along the coast and therefore must ensure nature as best as we can by monitoring every move in the very unstable hillsides.
Our neighbor, Denmark, has the sea as its unstable neighbor. The sea is eating away increasingly large chunks of the country, and in recent years it has seen many storms. Nearly five-meter high waves head inland and batter the shore. High waves, sometimes up to 15 meters, erode the coast. Every year several meters of Western Jutland disappear. Humans cannot prevail over the forces of nature and stop the disintegration.
Several villages have disappeared, and churches have crashed into the sea. Despite all the preservation work – the sea is gnawing away about two meters of land every year. This leads to major flooding when the sea breaks through the dunes. Over past centuries, there have been twice as many floods as before.
In southern Jutland, we live just a few meters above sea level – in a delicate balance with our unstable neighbor. When storms are raging, the sand ends up everywhere. Inside the window, the door, and if we go out, we have sand in our ears, eyes and nose. Gray sand covers everyone and everything.
We have tried to fill up some places along the coast with sand again, but where there is great danger of flooding, we have to use stronger methods, such as concrete, to keep the sand in place.
For 2-300 years people have been trying to improve the landscape by planting various kinds of plants along the coast. It has kept the sand steady. The problem is that it destroys the beaches, which attract both Danes and foreigners.
To secure the coast is important for Denmark, and although we asked the politicians to do it, they did not. 35 years ago, in 1981, the biggest storm ever hit Denmark. In southern Jutland, more than 30 meters of the high dune mountains disappeared in one night. The roads to the sea were gone – and it all looked like a bomb crater. Then the politicians woke up. Afraid of seeing our county disappear, they adopted measures to start preservation.
Large boulders from Norwegian mountains came to the rescue. These are incredibly heavy, and even the sea does not dare to play with them. Hopefully, we will manage to control our dangerous neighbors – the mountains and the sea.
Nature, like so much else, is unstable – but fortunately, people are incredibly adaptable.
The instability of tyranny: Syria and the Syrian diaspora
Circumstances have obliged Syrians to flee their country, to escape with their children from a horrendous war. Most of them have already suffered a great deal by the time they arrive in their new home of European peace and asylum.
Once they arrive, however, their ordeal is far from over. While they have finally found the security they hoped for, they still face numerous obstacles due to the extensive differences in culture.
Refugees must adapt to a new way of life and they must understand the culture of a new society in order to live. All of this has resulted in the disintegration of family ties, which may have been resting already on an unsolid foundation.
That is why we hear about a Syrian father who was seen hitting his son at a restaurant. The German authorities intervened and took his son from him and placed him with a German family for the child’s safety.
A fair number of refugees undeniably wish that they had never left their own country in the first place. Maybe if he had not left, the Syrian father would have had the freedom to discipline his son however he saw fit; or his wife would not have rebelled after she found a job and realized that her income would buy her freedom from an abusive husband. His daughter would not have removed the veil that she was forced to wear.
I do understand the man’s situation and where he is coming from but I can only say that the Syrian people have reached this point because of the culture of tyranny we have lived in from infancy to old age.
In a nation based on a dictatorship, the hierarchy system is as follows: the man is suppressed by the tyrant and his government and in turn the man suppresses the women in his family. Parents suppress their children, the young man has to obey the elder man, students are to obey their teacher and the chain of suppression and abuse extends to every social domain.
Although our religion, Islam, calls for freedom, the culture of listening to the tyrant has been accepted by our culture without objection, and we have become robots. We obey the one who has the power, we obey and explain it away by saying it is God’s will.
Therefore, we never confront power. We do not criticize a doctor who commits a mistake while operating in the hospital and explain his mistake away by saying it is God’s will. We accept the power a police officer holds without any discussion and never mention his injustice. We simply say it is our fate.
We are like Pavlov’s dogs – we are programmed, we do not dare to cross the boundary that is placed around us and we fight anyone who might even think of traversing that line.
Undeniably, women are in the worst situation as they are dictated to by the men in their family and in society. We are brought up to obey the father blindly and to fear him. The father acts like a dictator in his home. He owns his wife – she cannot do anything without his approval – and he owns his children whom he gave life.
Some have taken the beautiful teachings of the Quran and explained them in a twisted way to suit themselves. Although Islam attaches tremendous importance to revering women, they have adopted distorted interpretations and given themselves the right to verbally, emotionally and physically abuse the women in their family.
Somehow it is acceptable to bribe, steal and cheat on your wife, and she has to accept her husband’s orders. The honor of a man is linked to the women in his family; and therefore the women must never bring him shame.
Hence, many young girls from our country are married off at a very young age because the father in their family thinks it is better to protect his honor from suffering the potential shame brought on him by an unmarried girl.
The women, particularly in families with little income, are the property of the man and he has to safeguard his property regardless of the way he treats ‘it’, and of course he feels entitled to treat ‘it’ any way he chooses.
His actions have nothing to do with religion, as in some cases the man does not even believe in God. But his authority over the female members of his family is unquestionable.
Therefore, we continue to witness cases such as the senseless murder of a girl from Homs, who was forced by her father to go out begging for money, and when she failed to reach the target he had specified, he simply killed her.
Everything is upside down. If you read what was written on social media about the child in Germany who was beaten by his father, you will find that people are more concerned about the fact that the boy would be fed pork by the German family than that his father was abusing him. They are more concerned about a woman removing her veil in Europe, than about her getting beaten, sometimes to death, by her husband or brother.
Syrian culture was not always this way. We were once a thriving, cultured and civilized people. The problem arose when dictators were instilled to rule over the people. Tyranny took over every facet of our lives and our culture. So maybe the problems refugees face are not ones of cultural differences, but maybe of overcoming the culture of tyranny we have become so accustomed to after decades of oppression.
A House on a Hill: America
I am from Oklahoma, the US state located smack in the middle of the country, a land of flat plains, dry yellow grass, and clear blue skies. It’s a good place, full of good, solid people, a place where a child can grow up in safety and peace. And yet as a child it was a place I had always hated. I thought it was boring and dull, and I yearned to leave it behind, as far as I could go, seeking travel and adventure in strange lands and foreign cultures.
As soon as I was old enough to leave, I did – and over the years I moved farther and farther away, moving first to Chicago, then to New York City, then to Europe, and ultimately all the way to the Middle East. Along the way I met my wife, had children, started working in offices, started eating healthy and going to bed early. Over the ensuing decade I returned to Oklahoma to visit family, and suddenly it started looking different to me. I started remembering that Oklahoma – stable, boring Oklahoma – had been a good place for a child to grow up, safe and peaceful, surrounded by good, solid people. After all the traveling and excitement, maybe a place like Oklahoma was just what my family needed.
And so, to the surprise of everyone who knew me, I found myself moving back to Oklahoma, living an Oklahoma life, dining in Oklahoma restaurants, sending our kids to Oklahoma schools, meeting good, solid Oklahoma people. We stayed for a year, then five – longer than we’d ever stayed in one place before. Soon Oklahoma was looking less and less like a place I had left, and more and more like a place we would stay. Oklahoma, it seemed, was to become our home.
And settling down in Oklahoma could mean only one thing: it was time to buy a house.
The thought filled me with dread. It wasn’t just the expense, the commitment, the fear of what could go wrong. It was the feeling that by settling down I was giving up the travel, the adventures, the new cultures and experiences, the excitement… and accepting that my future would always only ever be here, in this solid, stable, boring state. Don’t get me wrong: as a father, husband, and provider, boring is good; it suits my current life, age, and needs far better than chaos and danger and excitement ever would. But I still couldn’t help but feel that the dreams of my youth were being put to rest, and the thought saddened me.
That is, until I found the house on the hill.
The house on the hill, I believed, was the perfect compromise, the only way I could imagine myself remaining in Oklahoma for the rest of my life, and loving every minute of it. It wasn’t just that the house was beautiful, exotic, and unique. It wasn’t just that the location was fantastic, that the neighborhood was safe and classy, that the landscape was breathtaking. It was that, somehow, I had finally found a house that didn’t feel like Oklahoma.
The hills that surrounded the house reminded me of Europe (everywhere else, Oklahoma is famously flat). The architecture of the house reminded me of the seaside town where I had spent summers as a child. The very design and aesthetic of the house was like nothing I had seen in Oklahoma, so full of suburban sprawls covered with identical single-story flat-earth ranch-style houses. Indeed, my family teased me, the only thing I liked about the house was that it let me dream I was somewhere else.
And yet it was a dream from which I would be rudely awakened.
No sooner had we made our offer than the final home inspection found that the house was – quite literally – falling apart. Maybe out West you can buy a house on a hill, our inspector said; in California or Colorado they know how to build them. But here in Oklahoma, where hills are hard to come by, developers just don’t have the expertise to handle the challenges of building on one – especially when that hill is full of Oklahoma sandstone and is constantly being shaken by oil company earthquakes. And though the house looked beautiful from the outside, on the inside it was a disaster: the basement wall was crumbling, the kitchen floor was collapsing, the front deck I had loved so deeply was literally sinking into the earth – and taking the front of the house with it.
In the end, I had tried so hard to buck the boring stability of Oklahoma that it had left me with nothing but, well, instability. And though we wisely cancelled our purchase of the house, that instability is with me still, all the more keenly now, as I continue growing older without a home of my own to raise my family in, while the good, solid people around me plant gardens and grow tomatoes in the yards of their stable ranch-style Oklahoma houses.
And yet a strange relief, and even joy, has begun to overtake me in the days that have followed. After all, our thwarted effort to lay down roots in this state has meant that, for better or worse, we are without roots, unfettered, uncommitted, free. Will we stay? Will we go somewhere else? Suddenly, anything seems possible. And that’s the kind of instability I can handle – not the earth shifting under my feet, but the skies open and clear above my head.
Psychological Αστάθεια and inestabilidad during the Economic Crisis:
Greece and Spain
The economic crisis in the Eurozone has been thoroughly discussed since 2008 and its effects have been analyzed by journalists and experts in various studies. A probably less prominent repercussion of the crisis is the psychological instability and mental health issues that have arisen among the population. Journalists usually talk about numbers, debt, GDP and bail-ins and tend to forget about the impact of the crisis on the human psyche.
Greece and Spain are two Southern European countries whose financial struggles have hit the headlines dozens of times over the last few years. Both countries have accumulated billions in public debt and are experiencing extremely high levels of unemployment; over 25% of the general population is unemployed, as are more than half of those aged 18-25. (Montealegre)
Poverty rates have also risen dramatically, and a significant number of households in both countries are living below the poverty line. In Greece, cases of children fainting at school due to malnutrition were reported, whereas Spain is the country with the highest levels of inequality among the 27 countries in the European Union.
Instability or αστάθεια is an important problem in Greece. Financial αστάθεια, the establishment of capital controls and political αστάθεια (two national elections and one referendum in 9 months) have contributed to a major rise in mental health conditions and psychosomatic/psychological symptoms. According to the Hellenic Psychiatric Association, depression has increased significantly since 2010, as have chronic stress and mental health relapses. Unfortunately, depression is linked to suicidal thoughts and suicide itself, although Greece still has one of the lowest suicide rates in Europe. Greek people are innately optimistic and are usually supported by a strong network of family and friends.
However, since the crisis began, suicide and attempted suicide has risen by an impressive 30% and the population group that has been most affected is men aged 25 to 55. (Άρθρου) The link between unemployment and suicide is well-known to psychologists and sociologists and, as men are considered to be the ones who support their home financially, the loss of their jobs has acted like a trigger or stress factor for some of them, ultimately leading to despair and eventually attempted suicide.
As expected, visits to psychologists and psychiatrists have increased, although not commensurate to the rise in mental health problems. Many patients cannot afford a visit to a psychologist’s private practice; in addition, in order to visit a public hospital, a patient has to book an appointment, and the delays are often too long. Psychologists report that the majority of patients suffer from depression, feelings of sadness and hopelessness, panic attacks, moderate and severe anxiety and chronic stress. (Davou, ΤΣΑΚΙΡΗ) Although many patients hesitate to visit a specialist or simply cannot afford counseling, the involuntary (forcible) commitment of patients to psychiatric hospitals has doubled over the last few years, a clear sign of deteriorating mental health in Greece.
Unfortunately, children and adolescents are not immune to anxiety; they have been experiencing very high levels of stress and developing phobias to a much greater extent than before the onset of the financial crisis. This applies to Spain as well. Mental health issues among children and adolescents are on the rise, especially when the minors belong to households with limited financial means. Spain, like Greece, has suffered a great economic and a recent political crisis (and has had trouble forming a government). It is fair to say that despite the fact that several financial indexes are showing improvement, instability (or inestabilidad) has been a part of the Spanish people’s life for a long time.
More than 70% of Spanish citizens feel insecure about their future and the number of patients who report feeling depressed and anxious has increased by 20% since the beginning of the Spanish financial crisis. (Credgo) Substance abuse and dependency have also risen considerably, and more than 1 in 8 people have taken psychiatric medication in the last year; this particular percentage has doubled since the crisis began, as has the number of anti-anxiety drug prescriptions during the 8 years of the economic inestabilidad.
In Spain, contrary to the case in Greece, it is women who have been affected most by depression; many of them used to hold flexible or temporary jobs, which were the first to disappear when the economy started to struggle. However, psychological issues are also common among men aged 30 to 50 – the same age group that has suffered the most in Greece. These men are in their most productive years, but they are not able to enjoy the financial stability and prosperity they expected when they started their careers. They are often laid off due to cut-backs in their companies and are unable to support their families any more. This is the segment of the population that is reported to find solace in alcohol abuse. (Lopez)
Another special characteristic of the Spanish crisis is seen in evictions; almost 100 families were evicted daily in 2014, and the total number of evictions surpassed the 100,000 mark in 2012. (Editorial board of RT) Foreclosures are still a major social issue in the country. The loss of homes and jobs leads to the impoverishment of many citizens and, as a result, several suicides were linked to this phenomenon. In fact, suicide was the first cause of death among young males and the number of suicide victims doubled the number of road deaths in 2014. (ibid)
The picture for Spain and Greece may seem bleak, especially because the financial problems continue to persist and unemployment is still not decreasing. Nevertheless, there is a shimmer of optimism: people remain united and have been helping each other. There have been several new initiatives to help the ones in need materially and spiritually. A hopeful example is the founding of anonymous psychological support hotlines in addition to free mental health care offered by non-profit organizations to unemployed citizens. A strong support network and appropriate medical care can help people with mental and psychological problems get better and back on their feet again.
PRIMARY AND SECONDARY WORKS CITED
Aρθρου, Κατηγορία. “kατά 30% αυξήθηκαν οι αυτοκτονίες στην Ελλάδα τα χρόνια της κρίσης. Retrieved on December 28, 2016.
Barraguer, S. “Aumentan los trastornos psicológicos relacionados con la crisis económica.” El Periodico de Aragon. July 28, 2013. Retrieved on December 28, 2016: http://www.elperiodicodearagon.com/noticias/temadia/aumentan-trastornos-psicologicos-relacionados-crisis-economica_872241.html
Christodoulou, GN et al. “The financial crisis and its impact on mental health” Health and Financial Crisis Monitor. April-June 2013. Retrieved on December 28, 2016: http://www.hfcm.eu/web/catalog/item/148-the-financial-crisis-and-its-impact-on-mental-health
Credgo, Antonio. “El impacto de la crisis economica en la salud mental.” Psy’n’thesis. January 7, 2013. Retrieved on December 28, 2016: https://psynthesis.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/el-impacto-de-la-crisis-economica-en-la-salud-mental/
Davou, Bettina. “Investigating the psychological effects of the Greek financial crisis.” London School of Economics. Oct. 22, 2015. Retrieved on December 27, 2016: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/greeceatlse/2015/10/22/psychological-effects-of-the-greek-financial-crisis/
Diego, Fonseca. “Number of suicides doubles that of road deaths in Spain for first time.” El Pais. April 1, 2016. Retrieved on Dec. 27, 2016: http://elpais.com/elpais/2016/03/31/inenglish/1459424492_066337.html
Editorial board of RT. “Almost 100 families evicted daily in Spain – statistics.” RT. March 6, 2015. Retrieved on December 28, 2016: https://www.rt.com/news/238349-spain-families-lose-homes/
Efthimiou, Konstantinos et al. “Economic crisis & mental health. What do we know about the current situation in Greece. Encephalos 50, 22-30, 2013: Retrieved on December 28, 2016: http://www.encephalos.gr/pdf/50-1-02e.pdf
Fernandez-Rivas, Aranzazu et al. “The economic crisis in Spain and its impact on the mental health of children and adolescents.” ECAP Journal. September 2013. Retrieved on: http://www.escap.eu/policy/care-crisis-in-greece/the-economic-crisis-in-spain-and-its-impact-on-the-mental-health-of-children-and-adolescents
Govan, Fiona. “Spain’s suicide rate jumps to record high in economic crisis.” The Local. March 31, 2016. Retrieved on December 27, 2016: http://www.thelocal.es/20160331/suicide-rate-in-spain-reaches-new-record
Lopez, Alejandro. “Poverty, hunger and inequality grow in Spain.” World Socialist Web Site. October 24, 2012. Retrieved on December 27, 2016: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2012/10/spai-o24.html
Lopez, Garcia. “El alcohol, primera dependencia de los espanoles a causa de la crisis” ABC.es. June 25, 2013. Retrieved on December 28, 2016: http://www.abc.es/sociedad/20130625/abci-dependencia-proyecto-hombre-informe-201306251704.html
Montealegre, Oscar. “Greece and Spain Parallels: Same Paths, Different Outcomes.” Diplomatic Courier. August 12, 2015. Retrieved on December 27, 2016: http://www.diplomaticourier.com/2015/08/12/greece-and-spain-parallels-same-paths-different-outcomes/
ΤΣΑΚΙΡΗ, ΤΟΝΙΑ. Η κρίση βλάπτει σοβαρά την (ψυχική) υγεία. Feb. 25, 2016. Retrieved on December 27, 2016: http://www.tovima.gr/science/psychology-sociology/article/?aid=386448
My Intimate Imbalanced Inclination: Serbia
My intimate imbalanced inclination is to believe that Amy Winehouse actually committed spiritual suicide, an act facilitated by a Belgrade audience’s rich shower of dissatisfaction and disappointment. It happened right at the foot of the tower where the Ottoman Turks had tortured to death great Greek revolutionary poet Rigas Feraios and which was, some two centuries later, adapted to accommodate the arena of entertainment-business-cash-vulturing machinery for Amy’s performance.
We are the Belgrade audience always replying to “How would you respond to seeing a lady in distress?” by saying “I’d do my best to help, of course”; never minding that the vagueness of the lady word might also imply a musician whom I appreciate to such an extent as to buy a ticket and reserve my time to attend her show. Like the late artist Amy Winehouse, for example. Our deputy mayor, the public servant with a duty to role-model for fresher generations of co-citizens, and medic by profession, on that occasion, as one of the attendees, gave a statement for TV in which he solely focused on communicating the turmoil of his own emotions stirred up while watching an entertainer who was, in his view, a type of disposable and ready to be labeled as trash. That is how he decided to employ his visibility, authority and influence. The rest of the booing is in the movie, for those who’d like to see some more of it.
I think that is when Amy’s soul departed. The body just followed. An exceptional artist was devoured by the mechanics of the entertainment business. This tragedy reminded me of all the bands that were performing in small clubs during the days of ex-Yugoslavia, including the one I played with. We always had had the liberty to rely on any event-accommodating contributor being able to improvise a bit to save the day in case something went wrong. We never had to hide our not being flawless. On the contrary, we were free to express our frustration over a mistake or omission knowing that there would always be somebody aware of our personal potential to maintain a good mood both on stage and among the audience; someone aware of personal agency; aware of what Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys meant when he said “Everybody can effect change.”
So when exactly did we lose our sense of agency which was so present in the small clubs of Yugoslavia and is now lacking in contemporary entertainment arenas where the spectator profile resembles that of an audience at a bullfighting arena? Why are we going to a concert in the first place? Because we need fresh background for our next selfie? Is it politically correct to attend a concert organized by men who think their profit comes before the well-being of a lady in distress? Even if that particular lady was crucial to the money-making endeavor? Isn’t that at odds with how business assets are maintained? How low would a star have to go in order to receive a helping hand? How saturated does paparazzi satisfaction have to be in order to allow some privacy for those they tail? Has anybody tried to talk them into their senses, or do I need to explain that we all are clairvoyant about the inescapable certainty of failed effort in that sense? Are we, paparazzi included, aware of our liberty to ape our role models’ emblematic response whenever we like; of our liberty to be a friend in need; of our freedom to experiment with various other forms of personal agency aimed at better outcomes? Are we aware that our choice of a role model is totally free? How do we imagine our subcultural identities, how do we describe them and how do we express them? How do the paparazzi see the effect of their individual agency while doing their intrusive job? What do they really think of themselves when someone asks them to stop doing what they’re doing? Since when has a professional calling become an addiction? How do we kick it?
According to the Blueprint for the Revolution manual, so far I’ve raised awareness to the level that broad masses of my imaginary readers shall not only resolutely determine to be helpful to a lady in distress, even if she’s rich, but also abstain from the belief that people with too much attention on them have no other option than to become disposable flesh in distress. But that is not my point here.
What I’m totally curious about is whether it would be due to the same lacking sense of agency and the same problem with representing subcultural identity that we, all of a sudden, have no capacity to connect the reality of everyday life in Damascus and Aleppo from a decade ago with the people who now share a single communist-type of etiquette imposed by the US/EU standard reporting culture. All the shop owners, teachers, singers, engineers, all the coaches and roadies, all the architects and farmers… – are melted into one flat Wave of Syrian Refugees. If somebody asked whether we heard of the Syrian issue, we’d say we knew exactly what we are talking about each time we mentioned the Wave of Syrian Refugees. We are acting as if we are absolutely positive that in no way would any of the Wave’s particles have any knowledge, skills or talent to contribute to solving any of our structural or infrastructural repair, maintenance or upgrade issues. We’ve heard rumors that some elements of the Wave hold a degree in medicine, but that never made the headlines – the critical mass…
Maybe we’ve never noticed that our political agency (within the politics of culture, healthcare, education, an establishment, or any other politics) effects some kind of change – no matter whether we actively promote it or are totally passive about it. The level of our passivity determines the direction of the change, not its existence. Or maybe we are in denial about that truth. Will we ever regain the capacity to articulate our cultural identity better than just reminding everyone around that we are absolutely opposing something we despise? Has ISIS got so deep under our skin that we never noticed we started aping them
through denying cultural identity and effective agency to those who didn’t want their women being treated like things and who ended up being treated as somewhat identical particles of one big homogenous thing (called the Wave)?
An example from a different context: If I don’t extend a helping hand to people who need to kick the habit of producing plastic rice and selling it as food, and then I drop dead after consuming a bowl of plastic rice – is it a murder committed by a greedy capitalist or is it my suicide by means of abstaining from using the opportunity to extend a helping hand to those who have no other option than to work for the greedy capitalist; the kind of helping hand we’d expect to receive in case something unexpected comes upon us and we can’t cope with it on our own?
What if our sense of continual political agency and our fluency in representing our own subculture were the only two factors in welfare stability and in social/communal resilience which enable a productive culture for coming generations to inherit?
In the part of the world where I’m registered as an ab-original (first nation representative), there was once the Duke. As a public servant, he was to implement the king’s vision of national social progress, congressional recommendations for the county’s infrastructure within a national development strategy, government agencies’ directives regarding issues in their respective fields of applied science, and decisions made by local governance and the county sheriff. One of his instruments to those ends was to use women as things in the sense that they were programmed to make sure each soldier met on the way had a pair of clean and dry socks with him, a bowl of warm meal in his belly and a handful of snacks in his pocket. Maybe women were treated as things but their political agency and cultural identity were well recognized and broadly appreciated.
How hard is it to be programmed in the Duke’s mode and take AN ENTIRE WAVE OF SYRIAN REFUGEES as soldiers of fortune, soldiers of love not excluded? If we shared one meal with one needy individual for each time we laid our eyes on the media representation of a woman holding a camera kicking a man on the ground or a police officer equipped with a body camera infringing on the 8th amendment of the US constitution – wouldn’t it amount to tons of food, thousands of bags of snacks? To share a meal, to offer a pack of snacks, to ask whether there’s some way we could help – how hard is that in this progressive time, advanced society, and developed world of ours?
The emotional stability in expecting emotional instability: Brazil
According to Merriam Webster Dictionary (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/instability), the definition of instability is: “the quality or state of being unstable; especially: lack of emotional or mental stability.”
I was 14 years old when I was first diagnosed with depression. Having struggled with severe insomnia and lack of appetite for a year, depression was not something people talked about in 1995. People who went to therapy were mostly viewed as “crazy.” The world was definitely a very different place and there wasn’t access to as much information as there is today. I had never heard of it, didn’t know what was going on, and my friends and family didn’t understand how unstable my moods were, nor why my personality had changed so much so fast. Clueless as to what was going on inside my mind, I’d listen to the radio on my Walkman to cope with sleepless nights before going to school in the morning, and my favorite shows were radio talk shows, especially one every Wednesday night with a female guest psychologist.
One night the show’s theme was depression, and the psychologist gave out a yes-or-no questionnaire to find out if you might be depressed. I remember I answered yes to around 48 out of 60 questions. There: I had a name for my problem. It was a major breakthrough, which, at first, made me feel less lonely. I found out it happened to other people too, I found out there was treatment, I found out I wasn’t going “crazy”, but I also found out — since it wasn’t something that developed due to a particular fact, but rather was actually an illness that ran in my family, as I learned later — that I’d probably have to cope with the kind of emotional instability resulting from it for the rest of my life.
Since then, depression and mental illnesses have gained major attention in the media and lost some of their stigma, but this kind of emotional instability is always going to cost a lot when you experience it personally. Not knowing in what mental and emotional state you’ll wake up the next morning can be devastating. Actually, the most vivid aspect that always helped me recognize I was having a major bout of depression was 1)the feeling it was always cloudy, and 2) the feeling of dread when waking up. Opening your eyes, remembering who you are and experiencing the overwhelming sensation of pure dread for having to be who you are for the next few hours is so, so sad. It makes you feel like you’re being ungrateful for the life you were given, at the same time it makes you feel frozen. It is not glamorous like rock stars and movie stars and films and music and books and poems may make it look, it’s not a “tormented/lonely/crazy/genius” problem; it’s a disease and pretty ugly at that. This glamorization of depression sometimes angers me. I don’t feel special and more profound because of it, and I occasionally envy people who are able to deal with life in a more practical way than I do.
Having had another 2 major bouts of depression after the first one, which included OCD symptoms, being in abusive or codependent romantic relationships and suicidal thoughts, I have now been in therapy for 8 years straight and on medication, but most important of all, I’ve learned to accept it. The little stability I now feel in knowing to expect emotional instability is a kind of refuge, a way to cope, and a consolation. Instability is an emotional and psychological state that may be viewed as a burden or as a resilience test. Most of the time, I try to view it as a resilience test, or better yet, a resilience exercise. Still, even though I appreciate having emotional instability making me get to know myself and observe myself, making me strong, making me count on myself and making me wiser, there are few things I’d like more than not feeling unstable, not knowing what my reaction to something will be, not trusting myself in a way, and not feeling like I have a saboteur inside of me. If we think instability in the outside world is hard, imagine instability inside yourself. You can have the most stable relationship, job or financial situation in the world and still, emotional instability can cause you to lose everything.
Despite all this, living in a world that’s facing constant political and social instability, making a living as a freelancer and consequently not knowing how much I’ll make the next month, and feeling like so many others from my generation who still don’t know what they really “want to be” at 35 years old, I am glad to have experienced my emotional instability early on — regardless of the difficulties it has brought and the months I’ve lost when it made my life “stop.” The experience made me learn how to cope with the craziness, with the unknown, with uncertainty and insecurity, and, most of all, taught me — despite what it seemed like in the midst of many storms — that it’s all going to be OK.
Instability in Relationships: Russia
We all know what a relationship or family is about. It is about the stability we are all looking for, about finding the right person to live our entire life with, about building something where we can rely on people we trust. So our whole life is about this beautiful feeling called “love.” Of course there are ups and downs in each relationship, as nothing is perfect in this world, but let us look at the picture of relationships in Russia, what they are about and how stable or unstable they appear.
The numbers for 2016 have not yet been calculated, but according to Rosstat there were about 1,161,000 marriages in 2015 in Russia, and 612,000 divorces. So the statistics are not particularly rosy, right? It seems that for every two marriages there is one divorce. This makes everyone wonder whether their marriage is special and their family is safe till the end or whether they are in a risk group. At least I can’t forget this information. For me creating a family is something magical, but the reality is much stronger. An interesting fact is that the number of marriages in Russia has risen 30% from 2000 to 2015, while the number of divorces has fallen 3% during this time. So the statistics in 2000 were more horrifying in terms of matrimony and divorce. This period of 15 years was full of volatility, especially in matter of divorce, where there were periods of rising and falling rates.
However, in regard to marriage, there has been quite stable growth.
Our modern world is changing too fast. Lots of technologies have appeared; everyday life runs at a fast pace and the speed at which we receive information, meet people, etc. is also high. Nowadays, connections between people are tough and maybe because of this influence we want to be in motion as well. We want to change our life, we want to try everything, we are open to new things, and sometimes it may seem that we live not with the right person who wants the same things. We meet so many people every day that I’m sure everyone has asked themselves whether they are with the right person? And here I’m talking not about feelings, doubts and so on, but the way we think when we meet a new person with the same vision as ours. So all this motion and speed is raising doubts about the sacred union of the family.
Everything was very different in the past. During the era of pre-revolutionary Russia, divorces were uncommon as everyone had to farm, and subsistence production was the only way to survive. This was a real obstacle to annulling a marriage as a woman alone just couldn’t make a living by farming. Any help men received didn’t go amiss either. What is more, the church had a strong impact on people’s lives and wouldn’t accept divorce. So for many centuries the family union was quite strong. After the revolution in 1917, Russians adhered to a strict ideological life where everyone was afraid of judgment passed by relatives and colleagues. This prevented even suggesting the idea of divorce. Moreover, there was the possibility of social exclusion leading to loneliness and making life impossible. Consequently, your whole life was open to everyone and was essentially under control, so divorces were rare. For centuries, therefore, the family was a really stable institution not questioned by anyone. Now we have more choices to behave as we wish and it gives us free rein.
While we’re on the topic of freedom, we know relationships are not always about happiness and stability. Lots of partners are unfaithful. Here we can also see unpleasant numbers. About 75% of Russian men are cheating on their wives and 25% of women. I am glad to know that at least Russia is not listed in the top 10 countries with the highest rates of infidelity. It may be nice to hear, but still it is always hard to know you could be cheated on. According to Russian statistics there are almost 10,000,000 more women than men in Russia. So Russian women have a relatively small pool of men to marry anyway. Moreover, there is a fight for men. That is why men feel more powerful, and women sometimes just have to come to terms with their husband’s cheating.
Even now as feminism is gaining momentum in Russia, women’s level of dependence on men is still high. Women are trying to fight for their right to be on the same level as men, but in Russia they are still a long way from achieving it both in the professional sphere and in the family. Men are still the head of the household earning money, while women have to care for the children. In the case of a divorce, it is really hard for a woman to raise children alone as there are no government subsidies. At the same time, men do not pay much money for their ex-wives and children. While the opposite of what I am describing exists, as there are still lots of cases of men supporting their family, the main direction is what I have outlined, and it doesn’t want to change, unfortunately.
In recent years there have been two trends – early marriage between the age of 18 and 23, and marriage between the age of 25 and 30. The statistics show that when someone gets married for the first time, they already know someone who is divorced and has a baby. Late marriage in Russia can be explained by the European influence, but early marriage and divorce is incomprehensible to me.
Unstable relationships are not the only problem in Russia. It is just the main problem that occurs to me when I think about the future. Yet there is one other area I’m thinking of when I reflect on instability in relationships – gay/lesbian couples. There are about 24 countries where such marriages are legalized and there are also some countries that recognize homosexual marriages consummated in another country. But Russia is not represented on any of these lists. Such marriages are forbidden here and, moreover, there is a fine of RUB 100,000 (equals roughly $1,700) for pursuing homosexual relationships in public.
Russia is a quite conservative country in this regard. Furthermore, Russians overall are not very positive about such relationships. When you go by train or bus, it is really very rare to see a homosexual couple. As a result it is impossible for them to express their feelings for each other at any place except for home if they want to avoid being viewed in a rather dim light. There are always supporters and detractors in any question. My thoughts here are not based on statistics of unfaithfulness or breakup, but on legalization. When we talk about the subject of instability, I feel that this group of people definitely falls under such a definition. It is hard to know that there are no documents proving a loving relationship is secure by law.
When talking about relationships in light of instability, the first idea that comes to mind is about cheating and breakup. No one is safe here, and it is always painful to confront this. Everyone is looking for a soulmate; some people are lucky to find one and remain safe throughout life. Instability in such an important area as our relationship has a tremendous bearing on our lives since without stability there we will feel empty and lost.
Whatever happens, it is experience: Czech Republic
We live out our everyday routines, get up early to be in the office before nine, come home late after a busy day; we try not to miss the aerobics or yoga lesson every Wednesday evening and do our best to see a new film or have dinner in a new restaurant on the weekend to be “in the know” when chatting with our friends over a cup of coffee. Our days and even weeks are as alike as two peas in a pod. Sometimes we find it a bit boring and wish for a change. We wish for more excitement, more action, enthusiasm. We wish to change our steady life. And nobody knows what is going to happen in the future and how it is going to change our stable, maybe a bit boring life.
It was a dark, cool and wet mid-December morning. As I did every Wednesday, I was hurrying to catch a bus to meet my customer at nine o’clock. I put some documents into my bag, slipped into my shoes, put on a winter coat and ran out of our house. Two seconds later, I was lying stretched out on the ground; I felt severe pain in my spine and I realized that I must call for help before losing consciousness.
Unfortunately my bag was under my body and it was a struggle to get into it and take out my cell phone. I managed to call the emergency hotline, tell them what happened and where I was and … I woke up when a young man in a red parka was patting my cheek. I only noticed it was drizzling slightly when I was lying on the stretcher, waiting to be placed into the ambulance. Tiny droplets of water were falling on the pavement, changing it into a slippery icy mirror.
At nine sharp, I was lying on a stretcher in a local hospital, waiting to be examined and X-rayed. An hour later I knew I would spend weeks in bed, waiting for T12 to heal up. Quite bad so far, but worse things were to come. The next morning, I was absolutely unable to move my left leg and I felt like I was being screwed to my bed along my spine. I knew it was bad, as a neurologist rushed into the room to examine me and subsequently sent me a CAT scan. Several hours later, I was moved to the Spinal Surgery Center to undergo an operation.
At that time I was a 50+, busy freelancer with stable regular customers, working hard to earn my living. To tell the truth, I worked too hard. It was a rat race to earn enough to pay my lecturers, to pay rent, to pay obligatory insurance, to pay my accountant, to pay … to pay … to pay. Although I loved my work and did it with enthusiasm, I felt it was not exactly what I wanted to do over the next ten years. Work so hard I mean.
Suddenly I had loads of time. I was in a rehabilitation hospital, spent twenty minutes in a bubble bath every morning, followed by half an hour with my physiotherapist and another twenty minutes on a special stationary bicycle in the afternoon. I had time to think about the past… and the future. I knew most of my customers were lost, as they needed my services on a regular basis, could not wait, and I would be unable to hire a qualified person to replace me for several months. My endeavor, my effort, my hard work were lost. The operation was successful, however, and I knew I would walk again, but I knew most customers could not wait and it would be very hard, if not impossible, to find new ones. And I felt it would be extremely difficult to travel all day long to see people in different parts of town. What was I to do? Well… I could do nothing but search the internet and send CVs and applications to agencies. I tried agencies in my country. Mostly without any response. I had a “communist” education, was old, undynamic, inflexible, they thought. But I had 20 + years of experience! Nobody was interested. I extended the range of searches and contacted some global agencies. This step brought the first results, but I did not have enough work to earn a living and I still needed time to recover from it all.
It was a very hard time for me, with lots of pain, instability, worries, my mood was black as night. At that time, I did not find anything positive about the situation. Although I must admit, it might have been even worse. I might have spent the rest of my life in a wheelchair. It was only later that I realized this horrible experience brought lots of positive things.
First of all, I “touched bottom” and discovered hidden strength. I overcame fear and was able to walk on snow and ice again. Now or never! Better now than never.
Our health care system is often said not to be very good, but I found out it was on a high level… of course you need a bit of good luck and a strong will to recover. The doctors did excellent work, supported by the nurses and physiotherapists.
I found out who I could rely on and who was a real friend. It brought satisfaction as well as deep disappointment, but made things clear and pushed me forward.
After surgery, I spent several days in the Department of Anaesthesiology and Resuscitation. I did not find this experience useful until my old father fell seriously ill and needed to be cared for. I not only knew it was possible to hire an electric adjustable nursing bed; I even knew how to take care of a bedridden patient, prevent pressure sores, how to wash the patient and change the bed linen without getting physically exhausted.
And last but not least, I started working again, taking advantage of my previous education, experience, and knowledge. After initial hesitation, I put all my eggs in one basket and tried to work globally. As it was something new, many people discouraged me from doing it. They told me international work was rather risky, they did not believe I would ever get paid for my work. In fact, working globally was the best decision I have ever made. People are interested in my experience and knowledge, not in my age; I do not have to cheat on my CV. I work on complicated projects; I have to be a flexible, hard-working team player; I have to learn new things. It is often quite difficult, but after all these “downs and outs”, I am patient. I am patient with myself as well as with my nearest ones. And I enjoy being where I am.
Angry Folk: Korea
When I was thinking about this text, I got into trouble. Luckily it wasn’t too serious, but it made me think about anger. Here’s what happened: One gray morning I walked over to my local library to borrow some books and print out some documents. There were several public computers connected to a printer in the library. After borrowing the books, I told the librarian that I needed to use a computer and she said I could. Only one computer was unoccupied, so I sat down and used it. As soon as I clicked the print button on the computer screen for my documents, a woman whom I never met before approached me and shouted in anger. “This is my place! I just went to the restroom for a while. Why are you using my computer?” As embarrassing as it was, I tried to explain calmly, told her that I took an empty seat and asked the librarian to use it. But, unfortunately, she refused to listen to me and kept looking at me in anger. She seemed to want me to apologize for my mistake. Disregarding her, I stood up and left the library quickly because I didn’t want to make a mistake I might regret. Frankly, I was also very upset about her rude attitude at that time. But I didn’t want to have a conflict and let it develop into a big argument. Maybe she kept blaming me ever afterwards. I felt bad all day due to an unexpected experience lasting less than three minutes. Why was she angry at me without listening to my words? Would it have been better if I had talked to her more?.. Why was I upset all day due to what happened in the morning? This caused me to think about our emotion anger.
Nowadays, we tend to express our feelings directly to others without any hesitation in everyday life. Anger is a typical emotion. We are sometimes angry with others unexpectedly. But because of the fact that I’m angry, I get more and more angry. It is not uncommon for an arrow of blame directed at your adversary to turn around and hit you.
In general, we think that people who get publicly angry are rude. The upper classes in the West, such as in England and France, have cultivated the opposite, for example, a gentle voice, attitude and etiquette as very important virtues for centuries. In many other cultures as well, we have learned that they emphasize a peaceful settlement of conflicts without getting angry at each other. For example, the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa try to solve their many complicated conflicts and problems with songs and laughter instead of fighting or anger. They know that it is important for the tribe to unite rather than be split by anger in order survive in a harsh environment. In Asia, in places such as Korea and Japan, gentleness and calmness reflect conduct implying the status of nobility. Especially in Confucianism, which admired the virtue of “Sun-Bi” (it is synonymous with “gentleman”). It was considered very wrong behavior to be angry or touchy-feely.
These social expectations have given rise to a side effect in our culture. There is a disease called “Wha-Byung” in Korea. In 1996, the International Psychiatry Association recognized the “Wha-Byung” as the most common Korean symptom of mental disorder as a result of repressed anger or stress. It may be regarded as deformed depression in the repressive culture of Korea.
Despite our tradition of restraint, we often witness Koreans getting angry quite easily these days. For example, we often encounter people with road rage. The number of people who drive their car too aggressively on the road has increased more than before. Some people drive their vehicles dangerously on purpose to threaten their adversary. They think that the other driver is going too slowly or is not thinking.
When we get angry, we can wound others with our harsh words or mean spirit. We can commit extreme acts such as violence or murder. But we rarely see a dynamic and aggressive emotional state such as strong aggression or destruction. This reflects passive and regressive feelings, including symptoms such as depression, anxiety, a victim mentality, sadness, and self-compassion. Whatever we do, the victims who accept our anger are mainly our family or colleagues. This has a huge negative impact on our relationships and makes people around us unhappy.
The question is then: why are we angry? As we live, we continue to have diverse relationships with others who have different thoughts and opinions than us. We usually have a friendly relationship with them, but sometimes, some relationships cause conflicts of interest and hostile feelings toward others. When we feel threatened by someone, we have three responses: 1) negotiation; 2) escape; 3) struggle. At first, we try to attenuate the aggressiveness of our adversaries through negotiations. But if it does not work, we try to get out of the situation. And if that does not work out either, we are ready to attack adversaries.
Anger has a variety of origins, such as jealousy, fear, grudge, but usually results in a tragic end. Yet do we always have to control our temper? Especially if it is not good to suppress anger. Many experts advise attempting to resolve anger and stress appropriately rather than holding it back. At the same time it is very disadvantageous not to be able to properly control anger in everyday life. Those of us who cannot control their anger properly may not be happy at work or at home. In many cases, we cannot control our anger because of ourselves rather than our adversaries. We need to learn how to control our own mind. Even in situations where we are being treated unfairly, it is much more effective to express our emotions calmly and softly rather than through anger directly. We should think about the cause of the anger and focus on how we can solve the problem. When we are angry, it is important to talk with ourselves first. We should not be overwhelmed by feelings of anger, but we should know how to control ourselves. There are many people who take an aggressive attitude such as attacking or engaging in violence when they get angry. However, it is not acceptable to express anger or let it out on others. Instead of this, we should try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, exercise, and so on. Changing habits require not only practice and training, but also constant effort and can be very effective in preventing and controlling anger.
Unstable Air Pollution – Unstable Solutions: Mongolia
We used to enjoy sunny days and a blue sky all year long. We Mongolians have been called a country of eternal blue sky for many centuries and we are very proud of this sky. But in recent years, during the winter, there have been fewer sunny days in Ulaanbaatar because of air pollution. If we go back 10 years, I remember there was much less smog and air pollution during the winter. When we were kids, we used to play with snow that was white. But nowadays, a day or two days after it snows, it is hard to find such snow.
Ulaanbaatar is the capital of Mongolia. It has a population of around 1.4 million (National Statistics Office of Mongolia, 2015). It is one of the 10 most polluted and coldest cities in the world. In the last decade, air pollution has become the biggest problem during the winter. The Ger district and cars are the main sources of this pollution. Ger is a yurt, a traditional Mongolian house. On the outskirts of the city, people live in gers and this area is called the Ger district, which isn’t connected to a central heating system. More than 200,000 families live in the Ger district. Sometimes, it reaches -400C during the winter. So, in order to survive in this cold weather, people burn coal to heat their homes. As a result of burning coal, the air becomes smoggy and polluted. There are also almost 450,000 cars (Traffic Police of Mongolia, 2014) registered in our city. For a small city like Ulaanbaatar, it’s quite a large number, and traffic jams have become one of the main problems. The air pollution problem is exacerbated by cars emission as well.
On very smoggy days, we even can’t see things that are 500 meters away, especially in the morning and evening. The fine particulate matter in the air on smoggy days is far higher than the World Health Organization standards. Usually, it is 6-7 times higher, but on some smoggy days, it reaches levels that are 25 times higher than the standards. Due to the air pollution, people get sick and catch colds easily during the winter. It also increases everyone’s risk of getting respiratory diseases. Especially, young children suffer from acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The government has taken several initiatives to address air pollution such as establishing a Clean Air Foundation in 2011, which runs the air quality organization Agaarin Chanar (www.agaar.mn) and provides air quality information to the people. But the problem still exists and we don’t see any difference when the next winter comes. Government actions are not as effective as we want, and we don’t see any visible results. When winter comes, people start complaining about air pollution and ask the government to resolve it. But when winter ends, we forget the problem for the rest of a year. This winter we had protests against air pollution for the first time at the central square of Ulaanbaatar and urged the government to take immediate action against pollution.
However, air pollution is the biggest problem for us when we heat with coal. This lasts less than three months so it seems like a temporary issue. And on windy days, the effect of the pollution is less, and people stop noticing it. We don’t even think about the day before and we easily forget it. But then the next day comes, people see smog and start complaining again and ask for solutions and action by the government. This process has been repeated over and over for more than ten years, but we still can’t find a solution to it. Repetitive temporary issue, short-term solutions, long-term causes … instability continues …
Inestabilidad in Interpersonal Relationships: Chile
Until you’re happy again.
Until you’re happy again.
Oh hey. This is about Chile because it has happened to me in Chile and to lots of people that I know, of which all are here in Chile. So yeah.
You are in a relationship. You have found somebody and somebody has found you. You look at each other and communicate. Then you separate for the day, and you don’t really know when you will see each other again. Events may pop up; familia and friends make unexpected requests for the presence of either of you that cannot be easily dismissed. One of you feels the need for the company of amigos or amigas. You and the other person make allowances; everything is food for meditation.
Spells of euphoria give way to spans of separation, when your exhaustion and momentary lack of self-realization spawn misgivings, again. And the cycle repeats itself. After consulting with friends, after meditation, you just conclude that you are 2 different ppl, and that elders in your family sometimes give good advice or have good insights, and that insight from close amigas is also very valid; and that not so close amigas will probably be swept away by the restructuring of relationships that have operated in your lives.
Our “loved one” has COMMITMENTS other than us such as children from a previous relationship. Our “loved one” has neuroses of his own. We notice that especially when we drink together. Worse, after drinking we find out that we’ve forgotten the so special piece of information that he gave us concerning his past whereabouts, his ex, his CV, whatever. What a shame, we will have to ask again.
Communicación is not always good. Sometimes boredom sets in. Sometimes suspicion of being not appreciated enough, of being (oh yes) too good for him, of being used, of giving too much of ourselves for too little of him, and so on. And so on…. Oh how much extra effort on the brain. Everything is meditation, yes, but being in a relationship is the ultimate devotional tantric meditation available to us, the common people. How much of a mirror of ourselves is THE OTHER. Our partner-to-be. Our actual partner. Our soon-to-be-ex. Our new partner-to-be. In him we will project and see all of our own shortcomings, immaturity, manias, depression, and weaknesses of character. Just the same as we will receive from him all the encouragement that we need for our real careers, all the affection in an embrace, and all the attention as we speak… Sometimes we will wait to see him for an entire weekend, but he will prefer to work extra hours or to be with his offspring.
We live hanging from our cell phones, waiting for the next whatsapp message to make our next move.
We plan in the caves of our brains hideous revenge, hurtful phrases to hurl at the formerly so much appreciated person, we plan on cheating on them at the very first opportunity (that we may also seek out) with that attractive person who had made advances on us some time before, or else with whoever we may find.
And we change the lock on the door.
And we start scouring the dating websites.
Still, if only he would call again.
But aren’t we losing our (previous) freedom? That freedom that we had to sleep with others, to come and go from home (the meeting place) as we damn pleased?
Aren’t we held captive, in submission, under his tiranía?
Oh and then (this is typical) go out and seek Professional Advice. Heheh. At USD 60 an hour, we’ll see a “professional” Tarot reader or Family Constellations consultant.
And then head out to the bar in search of company in misery, or at least a good chat (depending on whether you have fallen in love or not [yet]).
Cynicism will take us nowhere. You know. Self-pity is despicable and wholly useless. In every circumstance of l-if-e. Oh and consumption. No way.
But other roads will do. Meditation, self-control, are the easy way.
Going out of your door on an adventure, cell phone left at home, talking to ppl at random at used book galleries; to store owners, street musicians, and beggars – that will do you so much good. Drink tons of coffee beforehand, to the point where your hands start trembling. Bring your business cards with you and distribute them liberally.
Also: seek out your old friends, meet up with them. Ask them unexpected stuff. Start businesses together. Stage a play of your own creation, for example about your lives.
Become a painter. You’ve always wanted to paint. That will take you out of your head. My own creations are here. Recently I had my first exhibition at a local gallery.
Become a fiction writer. Do the stuff that’s difficult for you. Creating characters? Fleshing out your plot? Concentrate on that. You’ve always wanted to become a writer, too! 🙂
And if he still is not communicating, well, find someone new. That’s all there is to it. Really.
Recently I bought a nice bedspread, only bc I liked the Celtic drawings on it. A couple of months later I noticed that it also contained big lettered phrases:
LEARN FROM THE PAST
CREATE THE FUTURE
We do change. We do evolve. We really can learn. Memory is key. Honesty with what we are, want, and have previously achieved, is also crucial.
You may be very emotional, have trouble expressing your feelings, and be very prone to tears or something close to tears when you try to do that (and, as feedback, he may express annoyance, as if something were not quite right; he may fall into response traps, preset attitudes such as withdrawal, or non-acceptance of some sort); but no worries, the next time may be different. And if it’s not, at least you will have expressed yourself, which must be done. In person, which is how it should preferably be. In second place is a phone call, and then the last option is the written media: chat first, then email, then… a letter!
Open relationships are for infants; being an adult means commitment. Every relationship is committed, so there’s no need to adjectivize that.
You two are changing. Together, as always. Have Faith. Fe y fuerza, amigos.
Emotional estabilidad: the key to a happy life: Cuba
Marilin Guerrero Casas
Life is nothing but an enigmatic journey, a bicicleta ride through the cold dark woods without knowing what to expect or where to head. What a dangerous, scary but surprising path! A wise persona once said that if we want to have estabilidad (stability) in life, we have to keep pedaling and moving forward. No matter how many obstacles we face along the way, no matter how many times we fall off the bicicleta. We are, in fact, learners and at some point we will find that estabilidad we are looking for. We all experience life in different ways. Work, familia, relationships, ambitions, dreams: every persona is a world apart. Our plans are not always attainable, thus we frequently struggle trying to maintain a balance between what we have and what we want. Fortunately, despite all the hardship we go through, we get to know lovely people willing to accompany us on this unexplainable trip called life.
Since we are all humans, we are designed to commit many kinds of sins, and as we grow up, greed seems to be the most common one. There are times in our lives when we are so self-centered and consumed by the desire to make a lot of money that we forget what is really essential to the heart. Spending time with our amigos, familia, with the people we love and care for, is not suddenly one of our priorities. Can we deprive ourselves of that just because we want power, fame and comfort? I don’t think so. Success is important as long as we have somebody to share it with. Otherwise life would be meaningless, a void we leap into because it’s the only choice we have left, because there’s no one waiting down there to rescue us. When we lack sensitivity, we are nothing but robots in a fantasy world where no emotions are known. The mapa we were given to make this journey, all of a sudden, is so indecifrable that it is necessary to stop pedaling and take a rest to think it through if we don’t want to lose our way. Perhaps we will find that económica estabilidad we have longed for since we were teenagers. And what about emotional estabilidad? What about feelings, amor, friendship, affection, humbleness, forgiveness? Do people no longer care for these things? Unfortunately, that way of thinking and psychological analysis don’t come at an early age. We get wiser as we grow older. And eventually we realize that simple things like a kiss or a smile are, in the end, what really matter in life, what our memories will be about.
I would like to think of myself as a woman willing to thrive both professionally and personally. I have ambitions like any other persona. I want to succeed and live comfortably. I hope to travel around the world and spend my vacations at luxury resorts and incredible spots. I want people to admire me for my work and achievements. There’s nothing wrong in wishing to live better, in being acknowledged and rewarded for something you have worked so hard to achieve. But above all that, I believe in a world of amor: loving your familia, your parents, your children, loving your amigos, your partner, your country, your work. That’s the path I stick to. That’s the mapa I draw for my life. That is the road I aim for, where I will head and, for sure, I cannot think of a better place.
Evidently some people have a hard time understanding and coping with emotional inestabilidad (instability). Not all of us are able to see the light at the end of a tunnel. Not all of us have the strength to continue laughing at life when we feel overwhelmed by our problems or when we have just gone through a horrible time. Inestabilidad is something we all struggle with. Changes are part of who we are. We cannot avoid them, we cannot fight them. Instead we should embrace them. The world is not going to end just because we feel miserable. The key is not to give up, to keep believing that somewhere there’s still hope, amor and people worth knowing. Just because you change your bicicleta doesn’t mean you will not get to the destination. Perhaps the ride is now more enjoyable and fantastic. So, if you happened to break up with your partner recently, don’t be desperate, and try to see things from a positive perspectiva. Maybe there’s another persona just hidden in the woods willing to ride the new bicicleta by your side. Or if you happened to get fired because your boss didn’t like you at all, don’t feel inferior or unappreciated, like you don’t have talent or you weren’t smart enough. Other professional opportunities will materialize, and other positions will suit you.
When we feel emotionally estable, we feel more centered, we become more productive at work, we make better decisions and we are happier. What I do to avoid inestabilidad is to think about the priceless things I already have in my life. If you think of them, you will realize how rich and powerful you are. Your amigos, your familia, health, amor. Think of all the beautiful things that make up your world and stick to these as guidelines for living in happiness and estabilidad. Find beauty in each persona that is close to you; learn to forgive their mistakes because, in the end, we are all imperfect. There’s no such thing as perfection. We are all designed to make mistakes and deal with the consequences of our actions. Leave behind all the drama and negative thoughts you were accustomed to. If we are capable of forgiveness, altruism, and unconditional amor, then we are heading in the right direction. After a long dark road, the sunlight is finally visible. And we feel calm security and estabilidad embracing our lives.
Don’t you see a way to make it happen for you?
ARTISTIC AND LINGUISTIC
The stability of instability
living in the pendulum between Turkey and Syria
A couple of days ago, I dropped in a bank branch to withdraw $20 transferred from the UK. It was the money I had earned from a freelance job taking a few hours. I got a service order number from a machine inside the bank. The bank office was quite crowded. Some people might have escaped from the cold weather outside and were pretending to be bank customers to get warm shelter. Anyway, the machine gave me the number 432 while the notice board with flashing red LEDs was saying that the 398th customer was being served at that moment. That means I am the 34th in line and have to wait for an hour or so to be helped. It was unlucky because the waiting time (starting from when I left home to when I withdrew the money) was likely to be the same as the time it took for the freelancer work.
I sat next to a man my age. The service order print in his hand was partly visible: 4 and 3 were the first two digits, the last digit was under his finger. It had to be 430 or 431. I checked my telephone to do some surfing online during this time. Oh, my God! The battery is dying and I can’t let it drain completely. I wrote the Western Union tracking number on a piece of paper and put my phone back into my coat pocket. Suddenly, I hear the voice of the man sitting next to me:
“Are you also unemployed”, he asked. I was not sure he was speaking to me and didn’t reply for second. Then I looked at him. He was staring at me. Yes, he was asking me.
“No”, I said, “I am working freelance.”
“Good! Same as me. But, do you believe you can have a stable life with a job like that, considering you have to wait an hour for a small payment?”
“Stability may not play any role with the money I earn,” I replied.
“It is not the amount of money you earn, it is the job you are doing which you have no other option to do. You can’t earn money in Turkey, can’t live without fear of government intervention, can’t walk on the streets freely as you would do anywhere else in the world!”
“Anywhere?” I said with an open mouth, “Can’t you see Syrians in Turkey who barely survived from a civil war and immigrated here. 3 million alone in Turkey and millions in other countries.”
“Could you let me relate some of my personal experiences here?” he asked.
“Sure”, I replied, realizing that this may be Forrest Gump on the Bank bench with a beautiful story to follow.
“My grandfather was an officer at the train station in Ankara.” Suddenly in my mind, his grandfather appeared with an image of the same person sitting next to me plus a tiny mustache on his face, a green uniform which railroad officers have and a hat. It was a black and white scene. He was blowing a whistle and making a sign to the driver as people rushed to catch the train; a lady dressed in white with a Victorian style hat and a small wooden suitcase; a soldier hugging his fiancé; two men with suits and some children around. I feel the smoke of the train, hear the sound of the horn. Oh, I should stop here, this should not be a steam engine train and there was no horn like that. There also shouldn’t be a lady dressed in white or the others as you might see at a station in Chicago. I should let the guy keep talking.
“My grandfather was a decent man. He was glad to settle down in the city, receive a continuous monthly wage from the state, an apartment for his family, and stability. He tried to make no mistakes, conformed to the rules and avoided harsh politics. Nevertheless, he had a political opinion, as almost everybody in our country. His only mistake was letting others know his stance. Through the late 1950s when the political situation got tense and polarized, he found himself to be a man in the spotlight of his co-workers as he voted for the rival party. The rival was the main opposition. When you oppose the government, then you are automatically said to be ‘opposing your country’. After some time, he was ostracized and trained for a mission to a border town in Turkey, somewhere close to Syria. This was challenging for my grandfather with his 4 children and home in the center of Anatolia. Although he had sought stability all his life, he had to face instability or istikrarsızlık in the middle of his life. During his training period, something unexpected happened! A military coup toppled the government, and my grandfather’s deployment was changed. While Turkey was sailing into the choppy waters of istikrarsızlık, my grandfather survived a possible forced exodus and was able to protect his small bit of stability.”
“Could a person’s life in stability be free from the stability of the country?” I asked.
“Depending on the level of the country’s istikrarsızlık. At some point, politics becomes a part of ordinary people’s lives. My father remembers my grandfather’s joy after the military coup very well. My father, a mail carrier, also lived on the borders of stability.” I imagined his father was this guy as well. This time the imagery is colored. He was wearing a post office uniform and cycling through the streets. “He was not political. But if society is polarized, there is nowhere to escape. You are either with them or on the other side. If you are apolitical, then you are the enemy of both. In the morning of September 1980, when he left his home, he saw a slogan painted on the wall of the house.”
“What was the slogan?” I asked.
“Kahrolsun Faşizm! (Down with Fascism) The same as the slogan in Elton John’s Nikita music video. You will see the same slogan behind Nikita. My father did not want others to use his house wall as a political notice board and erased it. A few days later, a guy with a beard and black clothes appeared at his gate. This guy was probably the one who wrote the words on my father’s wall. He threatened my father and ordered him to write it again in 24 hours.” This house had passed down from my grandfather, so my father decided not to rewrite it, but he was not sure what would follow?
“A military coup and a curfew! The coup probably saved my father’s life as well as the wall of the house. While Turkey remained unstable, my father manage to protect his small personal bit of stability just as my grandfather had two decades before.”
“The stability of instability”
“Or living in Turkey… The thing is you should somehow protect your own stability if istikrarsızlık is the default mode. So far I have not been as lucky as my father and grandfather. The recent failed coup in July ruined my life even if I had no single involvement in the event. I was guilty of not being on the government’s side. And I lost my job and had to move somewhere cheap and safe to live.”
“Is that why you are now working as a freelancer for foreign companies?”
“Yes. This is the only way to earn money if you are politically punished. Everybody stays away from you. You write to earn money. Every word counts.”
“My friend, you should not be sad about it. Do you know why the Brothers Karamazov is 997 pages? Because Dostoevsky was a bad gambler and he had to write as much as possible to pay his gambling debts. He was sending the chapters to the publisher part by part. Every word counted. This is why we are now able to read a magnificent novel.”
“You are optimistic my friend. My case could be relevant to Dostoevsky in terms his punishment on the charge of plotting a coup. He was sentenced to death which was converted to imprisonment after the Tsar’s clemency. I am now planning to escape from a similar fate.”
“Are you worried about being criminally charged on political grounds?”
“Yes, my friend”.
“So, how do you plan to evade this?”
“Ok, I will tell you something. But you should not share it with anybody else. Promise?”
“Yes, I promise”.
“I will escape to Syria.”
“Syria? My friend, I said, millions of Syrians are now in Turkey. They barely survived the war there.”
“Yes, but they are more credible than I am in Turkey. Because they love the Turkish government, the Turkish government loves them. They are freer than I am. My plan is not to stay in Syria. I will obtain a Syrian passport, pretend to be a Syrian citizen and escape back to Turkey! I will have a new identity.”
“This is crazy man, this is crazy!”
“Do you know why my grandfather was so obsessed with preventing istikrarsızlık? Because his father has escaped to Turkey during the World War I, leaving everything they had behind. From where? From Syria! I have to find the stability in the pendulum of instability between these two adjacent territories around the Eastern Mediterranean. I have a 4 month old baby now, this will be the first lesson I will teach him.”
“You have an amazing story and amazing plan. Sounds like a story.”
“No, my friend. How do I know that you are a freelancer?”
“See my bank service order number.”
Oh, my God! It was 432. The same as mine. He was me. I can then be sure that the story and the plan are true. But I also have to stick to my promise not to tell the plan to others even if it was a promise to myself. While realizing the truth, my turn came in the bank. I saw the red 432 flashing on the screen. I went to the desk. The lady at the desk asked me the name of the sender. I didn’t note it on the paper. It should be on the phone. I checked the phone. But its battery was dead.
Linguistic instabilité and instabilità: France and Italy
France – can’t see the forêt for the trees?
Like each and every self-respecting translator, language is something I highly value and if there is one thing I can’t stand, it is typos and mistakes. But that’s what happens to you when you do a job like this, right? Now, every language is set to evolve over time through the introduction of new words that reflect, for example, the use of new technologies and new activities or concepts. But even though this evolution is ineluctable, every change should be a way to improve a language, not impoverish it.
That is why I was a bit shocked and (hugely) disappointed when I learned that the French orthographic reform would be implemented. It is said that this reform aims to simplify French but I believe the true reason behind that decision is that a lot of people don’t write correctly anymore (thank you, SMS!).
Among other amendments, the reform plans to get rid of the circumflex accent (^), which is widely used in French on the “i” and “u” letters. Why should we do that? The circumflex accent replaces the “s” letter which was removed from some old French words. For example, we now use “forêt” (forest) and “tête” (head) instead of the old terms “forest” and “teste”. Therefore, the circumflex accent can be seen as a cultural heritage we should be proud of. Other words will have their orthography simplified because they were considered too difficult to remember, like “oignon” (onion in English) which will lose its “i” to become “ognon” or “nénuphar” (water lily) which will now be written “nénufar”.
The funny thing is that this reform is not mandatory, but only recommended. The way I see it is that it will create far more doubts about the right spelling because, like every reform, this one comes with a lot of exceptions. For instance, the removal of the circumflex accent won’t affect some verb endings (like “nous suivîmes” and “nous voulûmes” – in the past historic tense – which respectively mean “we followed” and “we wanted”) and homonyms in which the presence of the accent totally changes the meaning of the word (like “sur” which means “on” in English versus “sûr” which means “sure”).
And the fact that it is not mandatory supports the idea that it was only implemented to tackle the increasingly poor writing abilities of French people. Yes, French is known for being a complex language. Nevertheless, according to me, a language shouldn’t be tailored to suit people’s needs. As complex as it may be, we should learn to master and respect it as best we can.
Italy – Itanglese
Having Italian parents, I also had the chance to live in Milan as a student and became more familiar with Italian. Now, before talking about the Italian language, I would like to highlight that, ever since I was a child, I’ve always been madly in love with English. I don’t know why but there is something romantic and poetic about it that has always touched my heart. But that is not the point. We Italians have a wonderful language full of melody. How often have I heard that Italians don’t speak, but sing! Like French – and every single language on this planet, I believe – it is rich enough to express the slightest subtleties and differences of meaning. That being said, how come we increasingly use English words in everyday speech?
Indeed, the introduction of English terms is so widespread that it has given birth to a new language, so-called “Itanglese” (“Itenglish”). For example, we will use the English verb “to check” instead of its Italian equivalent “controllare” or the noun “trend” instead of “tendenza” to name but a few. Very often, too, occupations are written in English (for instance: strategist, analyst, executive or manager).
The result is that, nowadays, translating Italian documents has become extremely tedious because you have to open both your Italian and English dictionaries and the worst part is that sometimes you have to figure out what the writer wanted to convey because it is a very common habit to take an English word and Italianize it (for example, “to set” will convey “settare” in Italian). It is something that, according to me, impoverishes the Italian language because it is not as if it didn’t have a term to express that notion. Sometimes, we do need to integrate foreign words into our language when they express a notion that is missing from our culture (for instance, the “fado” music from Portugal, the Norwegian word “fjord” or the Russian term “tsar”), but what is the point in using a foreign word when we have a term that totally conveys the same meaning in our language?
In conclusion, whilst languages are designed to evolve, some introductions don’t bring any benefit to them and actually do quite the opposite by impoverishing them. We should always try to protect the individuality of every language without damaging it with useless foreign words, while learning foreign languages to make communication easier with people from other countries. Language is part of our cultural heritage and we should cherish it.
The absence of linguistic stabilности and стабільнасць:
Does the Belarusian language have a future?
Usurped by a foreign tongue
A culture and a history, traditions and values, a heritage and certainly a language – all these things form both the nation in general and each individual separately. These are things that make us who we are.
Let’s fix our attention on language – that is our birthright and property! Language follows us throughout life, from birth to death. Everyone must take care of their own language.
There are two official languages in Belarus: Belarusian and Russian. But, unfortunately, the Russian language dominates and most people speak Russian.
Let me take you back in time. In the 20s all paperwork throughout Belarus was written in Belarusian; 90% of schools and universities also used the Belarusian language. Later, the objective of creating a unified socialist nation was adopted, and all the republics of the former Soviet Union were affected by the russification process.
As a result, only a quarter of the country’s population speaks Belarusian, but it is not the literary language. Most of the institutions use Russian and it is a sad reality! In the country called Belarus, Russian is widely spoken.
The Russian language is certainly one of the greatest languages in the world. It is the language of Pushkin and Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev, Chekhov and Gorky, and it is the very ‘great and powerful’ Russian language that has given us internationally acclaimed Russian literature. While Belarussian has been the language of Kupala and Kolos, Bykov and Korotkevich, Bogdanovich and Tank, Bydny and Skoryna, Dunin-Martinkevich and Kostushko – all well-respected writers and poets.
The native tongue seeking its place
Nowadays, the Belarusian language should be promoted by successful, respected and influential people. It is necessary that public administrators like the Council of Ministers and the Executive Office of the President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc. speak Belarusian when they talk at international conferences and when they represent our government on the international stage. If we hear Belarusian regularly from those members of society, then others will speak it too. We can save Belarusian by making it more popular.
Today a lot of young people are interested in the Belarusian language. They try to speak Belarusian, to see Belarusian films and to read Belarusian books. “Human speech is indisputably the greatest law of life, given to man above all living creatures under the sun” as the famous Belarusian poet Jánka Kupála wrote. Whenever people need to disown their native language and homeland, they suffer greatly. For this reason, we must defend our national interests.
The Belarusian language is beautiful and unusual. How many beautiful works are written in this language! You can’t help admiring Belarusian.
Over the centuries, the Belarusian language has changed, developed and perfected itself, but as we say, there is no limit to perfection. So many generations will add to and develop our great language, and won’t let it die.
Belarusian carries the culture and customs of the country where it is spoken. Every self-respecting person should be proud of their language. If your native language is popular and loved, it will also be so with the people who speak it.
The struggle against externally imposed stability
The objective of future generations is to preserve our native language and not to let it disappear, because if a country’s language disappears, the whole nation will cease to exist. A native language is no less valuable than all the mineral deposits, it cannot be bought or sold, you can only be proud and admire it.
Each nation and country has a different native language. Belarusian makes us feel free and allows us to be proud of our country. It is the soul of the nation, the age-old work of many generations, the mirror of our spiritual life, our main and priceless treasure.
The Belarusian language passed down a hard and complicated path on its way to winning unstable freedom. The golden age of Belarusian started in the Skorina period , but at the end of the XVI century, a time of decadence, it lost its status as the state language, and books written in it were destroyed. Despite this, the people still preserved their language: it was spoken in the fields, meadows and under the roofs of farm houses. Many poets during that period of time appealed to their nation in the hope of awakening the desire to fight for Belarusian. Unfortunately, the period of renaissance was short.
Now, we are experiencing another wave of interest in the Belarusian language. The people of Belarus have taken it up with renewed vigor and brought it back to life. We must not be silent, we must fight to keep, develop and promote our lovely and beautiful Belarusian language, especially at such an uncertain time.
Niestabilność in the Arts: Polish and Belarusian Theatre
In Eastern Europe, we are used to thinking that all theatres are public. That’s how it had been for ages in Poland and Belarus… Yet private theatres are more and more common, they complement the image of theatre life in Eastern Europe. The current situation of both Polish and Belarusian private theatres is quite unstable, but due to different reasons. In both cases, the political situation and law restrictions have an impact on artists and their visions, but while in Poland it’s mostly about finances, the instable situation of private theatres in Belarus concerns also the matters of safety.
In Polish private theatres the case of instability or niestabilność is based mostly on financial matters. The subsidies from regional governments are very little, definitely not sufficient. Nevertheless, the directors try their best to find funds for running private theatres, because artistic freedom and independence are what they value the most of all. Gaining the funds is connected with arduous struggle with administrative institutions and it is almost impossible to obtain permanent financial support. Theatres usually look for private sponsors and make guest performances as often as they can. If they are lucky, they win money prize competitions. Of course, some money is earned by selling tickets, but it is an amount that would never be sufficient to cover the costs. Sometimes, the members of the theatre team finance their activity themselves. It’s an expression of truest dedication to independent art, because working in private theatres can’t be the main source of income for artists and staff. They have to look for other jobs to make a living.
Twenty five years ago (before the end of the communist era in Poland) state patronage was the only choice for cultural institutions. Now, there are some other solutions, because foundations and private associations were created to support arts initiatives. In effect, independent theatres have gained more places to look for funds, but on the other hand a serious rivalry occurs between them. They try to implement their artistic vision, but at the same time they need to appeal to potential donors.
Some of the private theatres’ owners criticize the fact that public theatres are financed by State measures. They claim, that taxpayers pay for artists’ vision that does not necessarily meet the tastes of the majority. Recently in Poland there were many cases of public theatre directors’ were dismissed after controversial performances that shocked the visitors with horrific or pornographic images.
The Polish mentality is quite old-fashioned and closed, so modern, experimental theatre forms may be perceived as offensive, indecent or objectionable. It is not surprising that people don’t want their money to be spent on that kind of art. Nevertheless, public theatres are financed by the State and if the patronage is strong, both director, ensemble and plays are safe. Private theatres’ owners claim that this situation is not fair, as often their theatres present artistically better performances, yet their survival is dependent on the audience and sponsor’s tastes or moods. The private theatres pay for their mistakes with their own money. The creators never know if their artistic choices will bring them success or failure and it usually can’t be predicted, as previously mentioned social moods and tastes change quickly. All is very unstable.
The situation of private theatres in Belarus is also very unstable, but rather due to difficult political circumstances, as they often perform against the regime. The most famous Belarus Free Theatre has to work from abroad, preparing their performances in the United Kingdom, because the state censorship exists and the artists live under constant threat of being arrested. But the purpose of the Belarus Free Theatre’s existence is to be active in Belarus, to comment and fight the country’s and people’s situation. Creators of the Belarus Free Theatre travel between Britain, where they meet to work on new plays, which is a
serious financial burden for them, and Belarus, where their lives are under threat, where they do not officially exist and have to perform underground. Their life and activity in both countries are difficult. They need to rely on people’s generosity and be very careful because one mistake can lead to imprisonment or even death.
However, the artists agree that their mission is worth the sacrifice. With their performances, they draw attention to critical problems that nobody talks about in Belarus – the death penalty, abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicides and other effects the regime has. These issues need to be present in global discussions. The Belarus Free Theatre uses in their plays the form of the documentary technique called “verbatim” which adopts real interviews recorded by artists. These interviews are honest, they show the truth about everyday life in Belarus. Because of the anonymity, people dare to speak about their experiences, difficulties, disappointment and anger at the authorities. That’s why the KGB has raided a few performances by the Belarus Free Theatre and arrested actors along with some audience members.
The Belarus Free Theatre’s creators strongly believe that their performances, the truth spoken through art is more efficient than any other traditional source of information provided by the media, as they provoke emotions and difficult, but important discussion. The artists do not consider themselves to be members of political theatre, but rather social activists, who portray the reality and real problems that need to be talked through and changed. Provoking the open conversation – both global and local – is the most important purpose of Belarus Free Theatre’s work, as they claim. The freedom of speech and manifesting the power through speaking the truth about reality – these are life-changing matters.
These days conversations about private theatre’s situation in the world, especially Eastern Europe, tend to focus on economic issues. But we need to remember that some cases also concern matters of freedom, fighting for rights and safety, as in the case of Belarus Free Theatre. In Poland, the artists do not have to risk their lives to create performances, not these days. Their main struggle is gaining funding, but there is something they have in common with Belarusian friends – faith in theatre’s mission, in artistic freedom and total commitment.
Instability in language: Russia
Our language is our heritage, legacy and future. It is not just a way to exchange information between people. Language is like a living organism. It evolves and changes, as all living things.
Russian is one of the richest and most beautiful languages. In terms of popularity, it is ranked sixth in the world and is spoken by more than 260 million people. Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Chekhov, Lermontov and Turgenev have made invaluable contributions to our language.
Russians have interacted with other peoples for centuries so there are many borrowed words from other languages. In modern Russian borrowed words are also appearing faster than before.
With the internet people from multiple countries are capable of communicating, making friends and working with each other. The world has become open. However, close interaction between cultures influences our languages.
Russians’ attitude toward foreign words has always been ambivalent. Some argue that the foreign words enrich our language, others are in favor of the integrity of Russian. There are two extremes – a glut of foreign words or complete denial of them.
Sometimes the attitude toward borrowed words is non-judgmental, sometimes their impact is assumed to be negative. The coining of new words is inevitably linked to changes in public life – new technologies, culture, art, science, etc. Borrowing foreign words is a natural and inevitable process. Academics, writers, people in public and lovers of Russian have always paid special attention to foreign words in our language. Academics have wondered what role foreign words assume in our lexis, which languages the most borrowed words come from, what the reason for borrowing is, how foreign words affect our language, etc.
Back a long time ago, at the beginning of the 18th century, Peter the Great demanded that his contemporaries not abuse borrowed words in correspondence. Lomonosov and Turgenev believed that foreign words only litter Russian with trash, and favored the preservation of the language by using original Russian words. Many writers, poets and public actors have fought for the integrity of our language and suggested creating new Russian words instead of borrowing foreign ones.
However, some people have supported borrowing words. They think foreign words make our language more beautiful and richer. They argue foreign words don’t glut Russian – only the relevant and useful words would stay in our lexis with the passing of time. Indeed, our language has the unique ability to adapt foreign words and make them sound natural to native speakers of Russian. For instance, “парковка” (parking) is a lexicalized word and the verb “парковать” has appeared in our language. The noun “контроль” (control) and the verb “контролировать” entered the lexicon and sound completely natural. These are just a few examples. We cannot imagine our life without the word “okay.” The English word “Yes” as used in Russian has a meaning that essentially states “I did it!” But these words have not become Russian in style.
Sometimes it’s very difficult to distinguish original Russian words and borrowings because the evolution of the language has occurred over thousands years. Every day we use words such as хлеб (bread), фонарь (lamp), свёкла (beet), ангел (angel), тетрадь (exercise book), комедия (comedy), кофе (coffee), жемчуг (pearl), руль (rudder) and we don’t guess that they came from foreign languages. Greek, Italian, French, English, German, Turkish, Arabic and Latin words have been adopted in Russian and sound quite nice.
New words which don’t have equivalents in Russian come from foreign languages every day. Many new words come from English (computer, file, interface, printer, skateboard, image, presentation, video, show, etc.). A great number of new foreign terms appear in the banking sector, IT, trade and marketing. It’s going to be hard for people to read contracts and manuals if they don’t know such terms or don’t speak English.
English equivalents of some Russian words are used in everyday language, business correspondence and even the mainstream media. You can hear “message” instead of «сообщение» or «послание»; “attach” replaces «вложить», “fake” appears in place of «подделка» or «обманка»; instead of «непонимание» someone can say “misunderstanding,” etc. These words sound unnatural and awkward in Russian sentences, and it’s not easy to pronounce them.
Teenagers tend to use foreign words in spoken Russian. Sometimes parents don’t understand what their child is talking about. It’s evident that an unbridgeable gap has opened between grandparents and their grandchildren.
Businessmen demonstrate their English even if it is poor in order to make a good impression. Any Russian who wants to look modern uses English catchwords.
We often encounter foreign words which nobody can understand in newspapers, magazines, on TV. Many foreign words in Russian sound rude or are perceived as academic terms. Our ordinary language looks official. It is teeming with bureaucratese. People speak difficult, almost academic language imbued with foreign terms when talking about movies, books, music, performances, TV shows and events in their own life. It has also become fashionable to use a foreign name for products, companies, restaurants, gym, music albums, works of art, etc.
Sometimes it seems that our great language is losing its beauty and poetry.
Borrowed words, which come to language along with new things, culture, technologies, are useful. And if such words adopt a Russian style and sound Russian, the language is enriched and evolves.
But excessive, inappropriate and unwarranted use of borrowed words leads to ridiculous and awkward phrases. The dominance of foreign words leads to misunderstanding between people and harms language.
Another feature of modern Russian is widespread use of jargon and slang.
Before, jargon was used reasonably in ordinary Russian and in literature, but we witnessed a boom in the 1990s. The blossoming of civic and linguistic freedom were the reason. Dynamic changes in social life transformed the manner of speaking and writing. Our ordinary language became rude.
Now you find jargon everywhere – from print to TV, on the radio and in performances. Adolescent slang has special features. There is not a social reason at the very core of it but rather the desire to make communication bright and intense. Originality is the main thing in slang.
This is a rude, bright and saucy language. It has appeared as a consequence of the desire to remake the world in another manner.
Slang changes at the blink of an eye. Today no one remembers slang that was popular in the mid-to-late 20th century. But new words have appeared. The spread of slang has distorted our language. It’s difficult to say that the adolescents speak ordinary or standard Russian.
Many people argue that our language is in a crisis today. Russian is full of Americanisms and jargon. Grammatical rules often aren’t obeyed. However, on the other hand, the current situation is understandable. In a globalized world and with the widespread use of the internet it is difficult to limit the pervasion of foreign words and control the spread of slang. Instant messaging makes people forget about grammar.
Linguistic borrowing is a natural and unavoidable process for the evolution of a language. New words come with changes in life. The popularity of slang and jargon is explained by the features of our time.
Even so Russian has a unique ability to adapt to the era, absorb the best and abandon the unnecessary.
Certainly, we should care about our language. That’s why Russian language shows appear on TV, enthusiasts of Russian create communities in social networks, and you can find a lot of websites about Russian grammar on the internet.
We live in an age of information where access to mainstream media has a major impact on people’s minds and language. Television, radio, newspapers and magazines, public men and women as well as cultural professionals should be aware of their responsibilities and not allow themselves to speak broken Russian. Only love and respect for the mother tongue will save it from destruction. Let us not clutter up our beautiful language with foreign terms and jargon, rude words and expressions!
Нестабилност/Nestabilnost in Language: Serbia
Нестабилност/Nestabilnost is probably the first thought that comes to mind when the Balkans are mentioned. It has become, over the years, the personal trait of the Serbian people and Serbian language. A fuming political situation, religious conflicts and economic issues are reflected in the linguistic area, mirroring the constant changes that are sometimes difficult to comprehend. The Serbian language has two dialects, it can be written in two scripts (Latin and Cyrillic) and this duality has caused many sorts of нестабилности. Nestabilnost in Serbian linguistics comes from different sources that have their roots in the inability to accept the fact that language is constantly changing and cannot keep one form for a long time because it develops and evolves with its people without any loss of its core and has to be nurtured and cherished as a treasure of the utmost importance.
Since the twelfth century, the Serbian language, Serbian literature and the Serbian people have been adapting to the ever-changing circumstances that life on the crossroads imposes. The oldest document written in the modified Cyrillic Serbian of Church Slavonic is Miroslav’s Gospel (1186). The written language remained more or less the same for the next six centuries until the 18th century when it started moving out of churches and slowly emerged among the Serbian people or, to be more precise, when the language of the people started to dominate over the written language that very few understood and used. It is not a surprising situation if you bear in mind that the Serbian people lived under Turkish rule for more than four hundred years and that monasteries were the only places where language could be preserved and studied. In such a closed environment, it could not prosper and evolve. Only after regaining freedom in the second half of the 19th century did Serbian get its chance to adapt to its people. Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic (Вук Стефановић Караџић) was one of the most important people in the fight for the language of the people and he introduced Adelung’s rule “Write as you speak and read as it is written.” Introducing the language of the people in schools, public institutions and creating literature in such a language was a sacrilege at the time. The language that kept its form under foreign rule for such a long time was being transformed in this age of freedom and many scholars could not accept it. The process was described in Djuro Danicic’s essay War for the Serbian Language and its Orthography, and it was a war indeed. But this very change, the turmoil it caused, the ensuing nestabilnost, was the spark that lit the very heart of literary creation.
Language was no longer the privilege of the few. It became the right of every person, and this new energy gave birth to unique literature manifesting itself as fireworks of essays, poems, novels, literary debates, translations and much more. This liberated variant of the Serbian language became susceptible to changes in all areas, from morphology and syntax to orthography and lexicology. Freedom meant experiencing influences from many different sides.
The influence of foreign languages has been extensive. The Serbian lexicon was expanded tremendously by many words of Turkish origin due to the long period of Turkish rule, but over time, the quantity of words has been reduced to one third of the original volume. Most words from Turkish took Serbian forms and no one can identify them as words from another language today (дуван, торба, кревет, јастук – tobacco, bag, bed, pillow). The plasticity of language did its job and assimilated new expressions. Although the influence of Turkish remains on the lexical level, it has caused much of today’s turbulence connected with the letter “х/h” which is recognized as a foreign element in some places and subject to strong hostility as non-Serbian. Whereas it is a very important part of some grammatical endings (such as some cases and verb forms: genitive plural ‘многих правила/ mnogih pravila’, or conditional forms ‘ја бих то урадио/ ja bih to uradio’…), it is used in some words in which it doesn’t belong by origin and makes them sound artificial (хрђа/ hrđa, хрвати се/ hrvati se- rust, wrestle). It is even used as a very important element for distinguishing Serbian from a related language created after the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The letter “х/h” has engendered much confusion and debate, showing how a letter can trigger very strong feelings that surpass linguistic borders.
Some of the most recent changes are exceptionally interesting because they have outgrown the lexical level. The Serbian language, like many other languages, is importing words from English, especially in the field of computer science and technology. Some of them have been assimilated and they function in their new Serbian gowns perfectly well. For example, the word кликнути/ kliknuti is the adaptation for “to click” and there are no substitutes for it so using computers is impossible without words taken from English. But English words have started entering Serbian vocabulary at such a speed that it has become difficult to embrace them and put them into the molds of their new habitat. So, for the first time nobody knows how to properly apply the rule “write as you speak and read as it is written.”
If the words are transliterated from English and written as they are pronounced, sometimes they don’t fit properly into their new surroundings. Компјутерски вируси и малвер/ Kompjuterski virusi i malver – Computer viruses and malware – this example shows one of the possible solutions (a successful one) but spelling rules are complete chaos. If you would like to use ‘pop-up window’ in a written sentence then there are a few solutions: поп ап, поп-ап, поп-уп, искачући прозор/ pop ap, pop-ap, pop-up, iskačući prozor (in the first three the letter is the translation of the pronounciation). If you are trying to write or translate a text on modern technology, there are no rules you can completely rely on and the only thing that is guaranteed is a headache. You can easily imagine the disputes in the linguistic world that have arisen on account of this issue.
Finally, the most evident nestabilnost is in using Latin script. Cyrillic script is the official script in Serbia and in the Republic of Srpska and all the official documents are in Cyrillic. We prefer it, we see it as a part of our tradition and we think of it as more Serbian because it has been used for more than eight centuries. Even the neighbouring nations see it as exclusively Serbian and they refuse to allow its usage in the regions that were mainly inhabited by Serbian people. Due to the booming expansion of all sorts of gadgets that are used for surfing the internet, it seems that people are using Latin script more often. Most computer programs and mobile phone apps are translated into Serbian and they have both Cyrillic and Latin options but it happens that people choose Latin versions more. Most websites in Serbian are written in Latin script and a lot of effort is made to create more websites in Cyrillic script, and people are encouraged to use it more often on the internet. The Serbian language may have succeeded in surviving four centuries of foreign rule, numerous political systems, wars, structural changes, but it seems that internet entertainment is winning over historical, linguistic and cultural heritage.
It can be easily stated that Serbian has reached the point which shows that it has to take a firm stand and decide which direction it wants to go because indecisiveness might take more away from its identity than choosing the wrong path. Whether it chooses to be more rigid, more stubborn, or more flexible and adjustable, the adopted path will be a way out of this suffocating nestabilnosti.
Stability is not an option: Egypt
Isis Kamal Farid
The first thing that may come to mind when you hear the word “instability” is some important and sensitive topic like political or economic instability. Especially because people in the Middle East have lived in a state of “instability” over the last few years, which began in Tunisia and was also the first to stabilize, relatively speaking, and then continued in Egypt, which experienced turmoil for a long time until it reached a reasonable balance, then Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, which are unable to achieve any sort of stability so far: revolutions have flared and coups occurred, presidents have come and gone. Systems ended and others started, promises were given and dreams grew, and happiness was followed by frustration. But I do not want to talk about such subjects here. I want to talk about the instability of the language in Egypt.
Looking at the history of Egypt, it is too long and too ancient. It is impossible to talk about it or any part of it or even about a specific topic of it in a couple page, but let us try to see the changes in the language of the Egyptians over 7000 years.
7000 years ago we were speaking ancient Egyptian and it was written in hieroglyphic script which was formed by thousands of signs. After the Greek occupation of Egypt, the Egyptians borrowed the Greek alphabet to write the Egyptian language and also borrowed a lot of Greek words. Later, the Persians and the Romans ruled Egypt, and the Egyptians borrowed words from the Persian and Latin, but practically nobody is aware that they are loan words, since they were borrowed long ago. And then the Arabs invaded Egypt and the Arabian invasion caused a big shift in the language of Egypt, as the change was not limited to borrowing words or changing the alphabet, but a replacement of language took place, and the Egyptians spoke Arabic. Yet, the impact of the Egyptian Language still exists in the Arabic language in Egypt, in a lot of words which we use every day and which we use specially for our children, and a large number of words and expressions such as “emboo” which means water and “bekh” which means devil.
After rule by the Arabs and the change of language, the Turks conquered Egypt and the language began to be affected by the new rulers, and we began to use some Turkish words like “khana” which means shop or place and “affandi” which means mister (Mr.) and many other words and expressions that we don’t even recognize are not Arabic.
Later French people came to Egypt in the French Campaign led by Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon wasn’t alone, he brought with him scientists and artists and despite being here for just three years they built schools and taught the French language to some Egyptians, and it was then that we began to use some French words like “kooverta” which is “couverture” in French and means “blanket” and “dosh” which is “douche” in French and means “shower,” or “bantalone” which is “Pantalon” in French and means “trousers.”
Then the British occupation of Egypt took place. They occupied us, but the effect those seventy years had on our culture and language was less than the impact of the few years of the French. But again they left behind some words for Egyptians to use and for which we have no replacement in Arabic like the car’s “Katawet” which means “cut out.” Nowadays using English words has increased so much, not because of the past British occupation of Egypt, but because of the fact that the English Language has become a universal language. We have said “me`avwar” which means “over-reacted” and “Kanz” which means “can of a drink” and “Sattabb” which means “set up” and many other words related to technology like “computer,” “mouse,” “keyboard” which reflect the influence of watching American movies, using technology and communications terms in English, and tourism.
But not only the occupiers have influenced or changed our language. Foreigners who have lived in Egypt such as Greeks, Italians and others have shaped our tongue. For example, in Spanish there is the expression “dar a vuelta” which means take a round, it is the same expression heard in some coastal cities in Egypt where foreigners used to live. There it was changed to “nedrab bonta.”
Every nation occupying our country has had an influence on us beyond just language. It extends to our eating, drinking, dressing, habits and traditions. When you visit Egypt, you visit the entire world in one place. On the table there is an Italian “macaroni, a Sudanese “bamia,” a French “biftec,” and the dessert is a Syrian “konafa.” You drink Egyptian “erk soos” and Egyptian cane juice, the same as the Indian one, but ours is sweeter. You will find in Egypt the veiled woman, influenced by the Arab customs and the modern European dress, but you will never find the Egyptian dress, it disappeared a long time ago. You can only see it in the pictures on the walls of temples and pharaonic tombs, and worn by kings and queens immortalized in the beautiful carved statues.
If we return to language and go to Spain, where we find Spanish and Catalonian, and where the Arabs ruled them for as long as they ruled us, the Arabs may have left behind about 4,000 words but the Arabs didn’t change their language as happened in Egypt. The Spanish are those who change other people’s languages, like the people in Latin America who speak Spanish. It seems that Spanish is strong and can change but not be changed. But there is in Spain a language which is stronger than it, in a small area which speaks a prehistoric language called Vasco. About one million people speak this Vasco language. They could save their own language, something we couldn’t do. In all likelihood there is no one language stronger than others but rather circumstances dictating which language changes and which one does not and which language disappears and which one lasts forever. Finally, a change in language reflects history. When we study the development of our own language, we find ourselves learning about our history.
The Word “stability” is a symbolic word. It lasts for a while as a temporary mode, but it is impossible to keep something the same forever. Change is difficult for many people who love their past and miss it, but the fact is that change will happen whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, and we can say that we may feel like we are living in stability, but the truth is that we always live in instability.
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC
Decades of economic instability in Macedonia
September 8, 1991 is Macedonian Independence Day. On that day, a referendum was held, and the vast majority of the people voted for a new, bold and better Macedonia. We separated from the former federal state, SFR Yugoslavia, and decided to bravely walk alone into the future, which, we assumed was destined to be bright. Much brighter than our socialist past. We didn’t know much about the new economic system that we were going to embrace, but we firmly believed that better and brighter things lay ahead of us.
September 8, 1991 is the day we moved into the house my parents built. Only the ground floor was ready, the first floor and the loft were not finished yet, but we had every intention of finishing them. We were extremely happy and looked forward to our lives in our new house. That night, we sat together in our new living room and watched the first President of independent Macedonia, Kiro Gligorov, on television, congratulating us on our new sovereign country. The man, God bless his soul, had a trembling voice, full of happiness and hope for a brighter future. A hope that we all shared at that very moment and in the weeks and months that followed.
Macedonia didn’t fare too well in the former Yugoslavia. (Yugoslavia, by the way, was a federal state consisting of 6 republics, listed here from north to south: Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.) It was the least developed republic of all six. But, nevertheless, there were lots of factories, a few or more in every town. These are some of the factories that I remember from my town, but the situation was similar in all the other towns: Biljana, Politeks and Solidnost (textiles), Crn Bor (wood processing – furniture), 11 Oktomvri (electrical insulation materials), Partizan (thermal insulation materials), Mikron (electrical equipment), Vitaminka (food processing), etc. They employed thousands of workers. For a town that had around 60,000 people back in those days, that was more than enough. The rest of the population worked in agriculture (let me not forget the tobacco factory “Tutunski Kombinat”). Tobacco is the plant that my town and the surrounding area was (and still is) famous for producing.
All the factories had their own commuter buses. They collected their workers every morning before 7 o’clock at various bus stops around town and returned them after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. There was employment for everybody who wished to work. After high school, only a small percentage of students would continue their education and enroll in the university. The rest were quite happy getting employment in one of the factories. The income was steady and secure. There was a sense of стабилност (stability) in the job and in life in general that we, the “new” generations, have never had a chance to experience, but only heard stories about from our parents. Everybody had a chance at a good life and social differences between people were not as great or noticeable. Of course there were people who did better than others, but the wealth was never on display as it is nowadays. Or the need to display one’s wealth was not present as it is nowadays.
Some would say this is an idealized picture of the past. It is, but not because all was bright in the economy of former Yugoslavia, on the contrary, only because lots of things got much, much worse compared to the economic situation in those days. The bright future was replaced by a gloomy present. The gloominess that followed us for decades in a row and has refused to go away.
In the early days of its independence, Macedonia found itself a bit confused. The overall situation in the region was not bright: war, hatred, destruction, instability (нестабилност)… We were supposed to make a transition from public to private ownership, which was a long and painful process. The big Yugoslav market, where the factories used to sell their products, was lost. Lots of factories were closed or the number of employees was drastically reduced. Hundreds of thousands of people found themselves jobless, without any prospect of getting a new job simply because there was nowhere to work. The big factory buildings loomed empty. The term “bankruptcy workers (стечајни работници)”, which referred to the workers who were laid off and were supposed to live on state benefits, became one of the most commonly used economic terms in Macedonia in the following decades. Some people, again, did well in those confusing times. Some got rich, others hid their newly acquired wealth in foreign bank accounts. All was not black and white, and we even got to learn what a “gray economy” meant for the first time in our life.
The new system promoted small and medium-sized businesses, which required smaller investments and fewer employees. So, we were starting from zero again, which was also difficult to grasp since we had these huge, now empty, factory buildings to remind us of what we used to be and what we used to have. The new reality was hard to swallow. Now, every other house in the neighborhood opened its own private business, mostly shops. Basically, they would convert a room on the ground floor or build a small extension and start a small family business. Most would close after a few years, but new ones would open and that process kept on repeating itself, although it was proven ineffective in most cases. Some smaller factories were opened on the grounds of the old factories and some private companies, successors of the publicly-owned factories, tried to find new markets. Some succeeded in their efforts, but then again, many failed.
In the meantime, we now had the first floor of our house ready. It was bigger and brighter, so we moved up one floor. My father was smart enough to leave his work in the factory before its privatization and subsequent bankruptcy. He found work in a smaller, newly established private company. His salary, compared to what he earned before, was smaller as well and became even smaller in the years that followed. But we managed. Having a job in those times, when so many people didn’t, was a luxury.
So, this new, gloomy reality continued for more than a decade and a half, without any noticeable signs of improvement. It did not help that, besides the economic troubles, the overall situation in Macedonia in all the other areas was not bright either. Finding a light at the end of the tunnel was difficult. From where we stood, the tunnel seemed endless. And then, this last decade things shifted slightly. The government started an aggressive and successful campaign to attract foreign investors to the country. The new economic measures, put in place in order to attract foreign capital to our economy, resulted in the opening of several dozen factories, mostly new or “greenfield” investments. Thousands of people were employed. Some of the commuter buses were put in service again.
The salaries… Well, there are several reasons why foreign investors started to see Macedonia as an attractive place for investment. The first reason is the fact that it is well connected to the rest of Europe; the second reason is that the economic measures put in place by the government made the country one of the best in the world for starting a business; the third reason is the abundance of qualified labor, and the fourth and most important reason is the cheap workforce. Meaning, the salaries are low, but trending slightly upward. On the other hand, with the borders nowadays being more open than ever, some of the highly educated young people still decide to move abroad and work for a much higher income, since what they would get here is incomparable to what they would get abroad. But, at least, we caught a glimpse of some light in that tunnel for the first time in decades.
And as for our house, it is by now, like our country, 26 years old and, understandably, has started to show signs of decay on the ground floor. So, we decided to start fixing the ground floor up a bit and replace what needed improvement. Our attic is not done yet, but we will get there. It is just that things take time here in Macedonia.
On the Road in Search of Stability: Argentina and Turkey
On November 21, 2015, the day before the second round of the general elections in Argentina, I was having dinner with my spouse at a restaurant next to the Evita Peron museum, which was founded as a temporary shelter for women and children in 1948 by Eva Peron. María Eva Duarte de Perón a.k.a. Eva Peron is the iconic figure of Argentina’s Peronist history. After she moved from her village to Buenos Aires in order to pursue a career as an actress, she met Juan Peron, a lieutenant who was to become the president of Argentina after the economically and socially difficult years of World War II. Together, they formed Peronism, which emphasized isolationist national development and solidarity with the working class. Eva Peron became the first lady of Argentina as well as an international icon, being the voice of the ”descamisados” or the “shirtless ones”, the women, the children and the working class of Argentina. She was granted the title of “Spiritual Leader of Argentina” shortly before her untimely death at the age of 33.
We had been living in Buenos Aires for nearly 6 months, long enough to understand the political history, political divisions in Argentinian society and the different expectations for the bourgeoisie and the working class. We had the feeling that the next day would be a turning point for Argentina and its Peronist/Kirchnerist governing model, as we raised our glasses to Eva Peron and her never-ending influential position in the society. On November 22, 2015, Mauricio Macri, a conservative neo-liberal political leader, became the new president following a powerful campaign for liberalization, putting an end to 12 years of Peronist/Kirchnerist rule.
The current political and societal influences in Argentina cannot be fully grasped without understanding its Peronist history. Although the Peronist government was thrown out by the coup of 1955, which was only one of many coups Argentina faced throughout the 20th century, the political and social power of Peronism did not diminish. On the contrary, it reclaimed influence in different periods. In 2003, Nestor Kirchner, a social democrat who ascended to power after the Argentinian recession in 2001, applied his version of Peronism, promoting national economic growth, foreign debt restructuring and support for the precariat and working class. His successor and wife, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, served as president between 2007 and 2015, facing several challenges regarding the repayment of international debt, social protests, poor relations with western neo-liberal institutions, lack of media support and corruption scandals. The result was a transfer of power to the conservative liberals.
Argentinian society’s endless search for economic and social stability, its traumatic past of coups and warm social relationships between Argentinian people were the major reasons why we felt akin to its culture as a Turkish couple. My spouse and I have always loved travelling and learning new cultures. However, when we decided to relocate to Buenos Aires and learn Spanish, we also had strong underlying reasons for wanting to live outside of Turkey and its current political and social climate.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey in the aftermath of a dramatic war of independence shortly after World War I. Atatürk was a talented officer in the Ottoman Army, and became the visionary founder of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. Like Argentina, it was successful in staying neutral during World War II.
The global fear of communism and the self-assigned task of the military to eliminate leftist ideology had given way to coups, just as it had in Argentina during the 60s and 70s. The 1976 coup in Argentina and 1980 coup in Turkey both had a powerful impact on leftists and social democrats. The military held power both in Turkey and Argentina until 1983. In the 80s and 90s, both countries made alliances with western institutions and prioritized liberal economic reforms. However, the 2000s brought major economic recessions to both countries, due to their fragile economic and financial systems. Argentina went through more dire straits in terms of social unrest and violence, whereas Turkey struggled with high unemployment and rapid devaluation. Both societies dealt with their fates differently. As the Turkish people decided to be governed by the AKP, a newly founded party that promised to increase welfare and resolve deeply rooted social problems, the Argentinian people once again turned to the spirit of Eva.
In Argentina, a Kirchnerist brand of Peronism led by Nestor Kirchner immediately introduced isolationist economic policies, while Turkey became a strong ally of neo-liberal institutions. Although they applied different economic methods, both countries demonstrated economic progress until around 2010. In recent years, however, both societies have been shaken by corruption scandals, the failure of leaders to keep their promises and lower investment. Argentinian society decided to bring an end to 12 years of Kirchnerist rule in November 2015, and is currently in a deep recession due to the rapid devaluation of the currency, gigantic increases in tariffs, major cuts to government subsidies and lack of investment. Meanwhile, as Turkey tried to maintain stability after the elections of November 2015, the powerful effects of the war in the neighboring country of Syria, economic difficulties and the precipitous devaluation of its currency are making things more difficult every day. The failed coup attempt in 2016 transformed the political scene dramatically and the critical referendum opening the way to constitutional and political change will determine the path Turkey takes. Since we left Turkey, more than 30 terrorist attacks by ISIS and the Kurdish PKK have caused hundreds of civilian deaths, while the society has been traumatized as it learns to live with fear of death every day. Similar to what we see happening more and more throughout the northern hemisphere, Turkish society is also getting accustomed to living with increased security controls and heightened levels of anxiety.
As Argentinian society suffers the consequences of hasty liberal policies, theft and unemployment have significantly increased. However, it is still relatively easy to enjoy yourself without fear of a terrorist attack, as Argentina’s beautiful nature, strong human relationships, a laid-back attitude, smiling children and playful pets help us forget about suffering for a moment and enjoy life itself.
Economic and social instability in different parts of the world, reflected through major elections during the last two years, signals a complicated period in terms of global economics as well as labor mobility. As economic development is highly correlated to technological investments, both Argentina and Turkey need to apply new, visionary reforms to promote sophisticated production as well as maintain balanced relations with the rest of the world.
The timing of our journey to Buenos Aires became more significant than what we initially thought it would be, as we experienced a deep transformation in Argentina, while closely following the events in Turkey. Every day we wake up to more and more unexpected developments; and getting accustomed to constant change has become the main priority. Meanwhile, witnessing similar experiences in different parts of the world allows us to visualize a global mindset. As earth is our only home – shared by the global human community, animals and nature – the path to improving our quality of life and achieving a balanced state for all creatures to thrive shall require mutual understanding, dialogue and the development of globally advantageous visions for the sake of all.
Instabilitate vs. Stabilität: How important are cultural differences?
Romania and Germany
In June 2017, half a year after its new government took office following the December 2016 general elections, Romania experienced yet another unforeseeable development on its rocky political scene: the PSD (Social Democratic Party), the majority party, was desperately trying to topple its own government.
The PSD withdrew its support for its own team of ministers and forced a no-confidence vote through Parliament. The fact that, only months earlier, the very same cabinet had survived massive street protests to cling to power in a January anti-corruption scandal only adds to the oddity.
And that’s not all. The Romanian PM surprised everybody by refusing to toe the party line and resign. A political crisis ensued. The summer fun did not stop there. A new government was sworn it, and with it, new and controversial tax proposals.
The press and social media exploded. Possible party intrigues were “exposed”, gloomy forecasts printed, endless debates followed.
But that’s all that exploded. The economy continued its steady growth and the population did not seem too phased. Activists responded on Social Media by hijacking the Facebook pages of PSD leaders and posting hilarious updates in the typical Romanian brand of “gallows humor.” And eventually some of the more bizarre tax proposals were dropped after a meeting with EU officials in Brussels.
What makes Romania so resilient to this type of instability that would be deemed insane anywhere else in the world?
The answer might lie in the cultural profile of Romanians themselves. According to Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaars, Lewis and others, Romania is a short-term oriented, polychronic culture with a person-orientation rather than a long-term devotion to quantifiable results. Throughout history, the Romanians have grown accustomed and almost indifferent to political chaos and basically thrive on flexibility. Agile management has been a reality way before the term was even coined, and it means changing plans and objectives as times and circumstances change.
Although one might think, from the descriptions above, that living in Romania is like living in the middle of a perpetual earthquake, there is surprising stability in people’s daily lives, there is very low crime and very low social violence. The Romanians achieve a balance by offsetting their pragmatic flexibility with relative conservatism and a love of tradition in their social and family lives. Also, there is no taboo on expressing emotions, so outbursts are frequent but short-lived. Personal feelings and interests, and quick solutions are important aspects of the Romanian decision-making process. There is an interesting combination of old-fashioned collectivism and acute individualism. The paradox also includes an ability to endure combined with relatively low perseverance in pursuing an objective goal. Romanian sports teams or athletes notoriously perform better when they have their back to the wall than when they’re ahead, and Romanian popular wisdom blames this on “our slacker mindset.”
A lot of what happens in the lives of ordinary Romanians follows a “fast and feast” pattern. Many Romanians are extremely rigorous and conscientious about their diets during the religious fasting periods, only to eat themselves into a frenzy at the ensuing celebratory meal. They will save up an entire year for that one summer-vacation-cum-shopping-spree where they are known as generous tippers. At the confluence of three major cultural vectors – Latin heritage, Orthodoxy and the Balkans – Romanians have long learned to cope with difficult times by not taking them too seriously. Sooner or later, something or other is bound to change anyway.
Nothing can be further from the steadfast, rule-oriented German way of doing things. Compared to Romania, life in Germany is steady, monotonous and highly predictable. It follows a clearly outlined structure. In fact, you’ll hear many Romanians complain that they “don’t feel alive” enough in Germany.
Germans like to go about every aspect of their livelihood thoroughly and with a clear plan for the long haul. A long-term orientation, self-control, discipline and strict regulations, impersonal institutions and the thoroughness of solutions make up the core of the German cultural standard. On almost every level studied by the consecrated models of intercultural communication, Germany is placed at the opposite end of the spectrum from Romania: stability, rigorous procedures, adherence to rules and plans, objectivity and a staunch results orientation are the German “modus operandi.”
The country has been ruled by a stable great coalition (Große Koalition or GroKo) between the center-right CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union) and the center-left SPD (Social Democratic Party) for the past four years with very few signs of tension. The only conflict has been a light skirmish on immigration and security issues (between the CDU and CSU), but even in that case, there was never any imminent danger of disintegration. The debates were usually mature, subdued, and extremely weak (or soft-spoken) by Romanian standards where “ad hominem” attacks are ubiquitous in politics. Germany is characterized by stable coalitions at the local, state and national level, based on the ability to separate people from the problem, discuss interests instead of positions, and, generally, address issues in a much more objective manner (Sachorientierung).
Although it is difficult to identify the exact causal relationship between a short-term orientation and instability (is a short-term orientation a response to chronic instability, or a generator of instability?), the issue of stability vs. instability (or Stabilität vs. instabilitate, in our case) is likely to be connected to issues of self-control and self-discipline. These are very important parts of the German cultural profile, but not so much a part of Latin or Balkan cultures, to which Romania belongs.
While Germany today is a spectacularly stable political and economic heavyweight, where any perceived uncertainties are taken very seriously and where political instability has become almost unthinkable, dealing with instability is almost second nature in Romania. Surprisingly, in a certain context, that can make for pretty good macro-stability too.
From tacit acceptance of fate to languid resignation in the face of endless delays and changes of plan, from adherence to tradition to the deliberate building of informal networks, and from effective improvisation and problem-solving spontaneity to resilient business growth, Romania remains an oasis of stability in South-Eastern Europe – despite its tumultuous neighborhood and its hotly debated political scene.
Political instability: Lebanon
Lebanon is one of a few countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to have an immensely diverse religious population. Our government recognizes 18 sects, 12 of which are Christian; 4 Muslim, and then come the Druze and the Jews (Shelton). Lebanon’s political system is based on a formula that distributes political and administrative functions among the major sects. This system has historical roots but was mainly institutionalized by the National Pact which followed independence (Krayem).
The National Pact was an unwritten agreement between the President and Prime Minister of Lebanon in 1943 and involved two major groupings: the Maronite Christians and the Sunnis (Krayem). Among the issues settled by the pact was the ratio of Muslims to Christians in government positions, like the parliament (5 to 6; later changed to fifty fifty), and the assignment of the offices of President, Prime Minister and Speaker of House to the Maronite, Sunni and Shia sects respectively (Krayem). This method of power distribution aimed to decrease conflict between different parts of the Lebanese population. However, in reality, it only further enhanced sectarianism, was not successful in preventing the eruption of a civil war in 1975, and continues to be the major reason for political instability across Lebanon (Krayem).
Today there are seven main political parties in Lebanon, and it is no secret that all of them are based on a sectarian identity (Ballout & Bradley). These parties are organized into two main groups: the 8 March alliance and the 14 March alliance (named after dates of their formation). Recently some secular parties were gaining momentum – but not enough to be able to actively participate in political life or be a source of change. The sectarian mentality is not the only factor that hinders the growth of new political parties; the sectarian electoral laws also do not encourage unaffiliated or secular figures to be elected to seats in parliament.
Our country is often regarded as being the “oasis of democracy in the Middle East,” a saying that is not quite accurate. As one previous prime minister put it, “the system has always had plenty of freedom but suffered from a lack of democracy” (Krayem). It is true that, compared to other countries in the region, we have much more freedom when it comes to the right to protest and speak up against our own government, but these freedoms never seem to bring any change. This is mainly due to the lack of responsibility and accountability in the system, combined with the method by which political parties deal with their base of followers (Krayem).
One word can characterize politics in Lebanon: corruption. It is often well known how a certain political figure makes illegal profits – yet it seems so hard to fight these politicians. This is a somewhat complicated issue, however it can be summed up as follows: even though many politicians are corrupt, they tend to offer services to their community or sect. What we call the ‘wasta’ ((واسطة – using a connection with people in your political-sectarian party to acquire something – can sometimes be the only option for citizens to fulfill their needs. These needs (or sometimes, privileges) can be a long-term office job, an illegal license for construction on public land, an academic opportunity, or even free medical services in a certain “party’s hospital” if you happen to be a follower (dying at a hospital’s front door because you can’t afford the fees isn’t too rare here either).
Add this to the general support that many political figures enjoy due to followers in their sectarian base, and you get what we call institutionalized corruption. If anyone points fingers at a certain “political leader,” their followers will respond by saying, “why our leader? The other one is ten times worse.” Another sentence we often hear is “they all steal.” Hence, when any serious effort is directed at any corrupt politician, the followers can’t help but feel targeted. Unfortunately, many believe that leaving things as they are is better than fighting corruption – because the second choice might actually lead to another civil war.
This is why Lebanon cannot have an Arabic Spring – there isn’t one single group that leads the nation, and no specific side to get rid of in order to eliminate the injustice. Some protests did erupt during the waste crisis in 2015, but they failed to make the Lebanese unite against corruption. The waste crisis was a result of closing a major waste dump in Naame, an area in which residents have protested for years to close the landfill that endangered public health (and was also supposed to be closed years ago) (Kanso). One day, the protesters could no longer take it and the government was forced to shut down the dump. The waste management contractor, Sukleen, was not to take waste there anymore. The decision came without a single plan for how else to deal with the garbage. The trash literally piled up in the streets of Beirut; and the famous “river of trash” made headlines in the media.
The garbage was eventually dealt with through halfway solutions – the preferred method of politicians in Lebanon – and the civil movement under the name “You Stink” eventually left the streets without being able to cause any significant political change. The crisis was also an ugly opportunity to reveal some of the sectarianism still alive within the population: politicians would discuss dumping the garbage in certain locations, and residents would respond by saying they will not approve of dumping a certain sect’s garbage in their area.
The garbage crisis is only one example of the incompetence of our government. The Lebanese people still lack many services which could have been easily provided by the government if only an effective plan was devised. During the past decade, we received hundreds of promises from successive Ministers of Energy about how close we are to having electric power for 24 hours a day; still, electricity shows up only 12 hours a day for most people, which leaves them at the mercy of expensive local generator owners the rest of the time. Other issues we suffer from include a high rate of unemployment, increasing numbers of citizens living under the poverty line (around 27% of the population was poor in 2011), and a high cost of living (UNDP). It is true that the Syrian refugee crisis placed a heavy burden on our small country’s resources, but it’s not like any serious solutions were being implemented in the first place (Nader).
Political instability is also very evident inside the government walls. After President Michel Suleiman’s term ended in May 2014, the country spent more than two years without a president. The Lebanese President is elected by receiving a majority of the votes in parliament, which has 128 members belonging to different sects (Al Jazeera). The position remained empty for a long period of time because the major parties that make up parliament could not agree on a Maronite Christian to lead the country. On the 46th attempt to elect a president, and after numerous political maneuvers by the different parties, parliament finally elected General Aoun as president in 2016 (Al Jazeera).
One very essential step seems to be necessary to stabilize the way our country is ruled: changing the sectarian mentality that is still strongly present in our society. People want to improve their standard of living, but in order to do so, they must understand that they have to fight against the corruption that is present in every corner of Lebanese political life.
Al Jazeera. Michel Aoun elected president of Lebanon. October 2016.
Ballout, Dana & Bradley, Matt. 5 Things to Know About Lebanon’s Government. August 2015.
BBC. Lebanon: Michel Aoun elected president, ending two-year stalemate. October 2016.
Hume, Tim. Lebanon: ‘River of trash’ chokes Beirut suburb as city’s garbage crisis continues. February 2016.
Kanso, Nour. Lebanon Waste Crisis: how it all started? January 2017.
Krayem, Hassan. The Lebanese Civil War and the Taif Agreement.
Nader, Sami. Will religiously divided landfills solve Lebanon’s trash crisis? November 2015.
Shelton, Tracey. Why Lebanese Politics are so Messed Up. February 2014.
Taylor, Alan. Lebanon’s #YouStink Anti-Government Protests. August 2015.
The New Arab. Lebanon Marks Longest Period Without a President. July 2015.
UNDP. Rapid Poverty Assessment in Lebanon for 2016. 2016.
Economic instability: Poles at home and the polish diaspora
Instability can be defined as a state of being likely to change. From this point of view, it can be said that our world is in a state of instability as it constantly shifts. This may be connected either with natural changes or man-made ones. And we may not be conscious of every one. We may try to find stability in our lives to feel safe and happy, but isn’t stability sometimes mocking our sense of control?
Everyone is engaged in some kind of daily routine and even the smallest variation in it may make a person feel uncomfortable. For example, if we drive the same road to work every day but there was an accident and we were forced to use a different way, this might cause a feeling of instability because we could worry that we will be late for work, as we do not know a different route. There is a very common pattern that we see among male Polish laborers, and it looks like this: get up early, go to work, come home and eat dinner, watch some TV, and go to bed. This seems like a stable weekly plan. But is the fact that it is stable good? Not entirely.
For one, there is no activity that would develop new skills. The worker only repeats things. Furthermore, people, especially in their forties and fifties, are afraid of changing such a pattern, since they are not likely to quit a job – even one they don’t like – and start in some new, possibly better, work environment. Why would that be, we may ask. There are numerous reasons. Firstly, they may be afraid that they will not get a full time contract. The new employer may only propose an umowa zlecenia (“contract of mandate”), or what is called an umowa śmieciowa (“junk contract”), because this way the employer can save money by not paying various employee fees to the government. After that, it can be difficult for the employee to obtain a full-time contract. Secondly, after working in one company for about twenty years and having established a certain position there, even if a worker does not like the job and it is not satisfying to them, they may fear that they would not be able to gain a respected position again. What is more, they would be starting from the same place as their younger colleagues, whom employers may promote faster.
It may be that workers from Poland are slowly becoming a stereotype. It does not make it less true, however, that they still live and may struggle every day, even if they are not fully aware of it. We may see this in the choices they make. For example, their vacation is often used not for travelling somewhere, but for house renovation or enjoying some quality time for themselves, either relaxing or learning something new.
Another way we see this struggle is, in fact, through emigration. It is true that, again, emigrating laborers will be starting a job in a completely new environment, but usually on better terms and with better wages. Economic migration started in Poland after 1989, in a time of big changes in our country. And I believe that it is still happening, as today’s young people, who should be feeling stable, safe and happy in their own country, are seeking employment in foreign countries. This is because they believe some foreign countries have more to offer. Currently, there are about 20 million people of Polish ancestry living abroad, with 38 million still living in Poland. This makes our diaspora one of the largest in the world. It is also one of the most widely spread out. The largest Polish emigrant communities are in the United States, Germany and Brazil. These three examples already show that Polish people can be found in distant places around the world. Other countries that they choose as destinations are: Canada, Latvia, Russia, Norway, Greece, South Africa, Iceland, New Zealand, China, and many more. In total there are around 125 countries worldwide where the Polish diaspora is living. It is interesting to note that these migrants in some ways bring their culture, either consciously or not, to their adopted country. This affects the stability of local lives, especially as members of the Polish diaspora are usually quite active in celebrating their culture and traditions.
Of course the realities in which we live vary and depend on the policies of governments. The most important thing is that the people of a country have the kind of stability that makes them believe and feel that they can lead a steady life full of new opportunities at every age.
Anything can affect our lives in ways that we are simply not able to predict. The process of changing and adapting can be burdensome. We should be cautious and realize that not all changes are good, and we cannot deny the fact that life is full of possibilities. Some are big, while others are small. It is up to us what we make of them. What seems to be the most appealing thing in a world that is unstable, is stability that encourages good changes in our lives.
Political instability: “electoral coups” in America and Bulgaria
In the fall of 2016 Bulgaria and America had their presidential elections on November 6 and November 8 respectively. Both elections were accompanied by heated disputes over the presidential candidates. When speaking about the presidential elections in both America and Bulgaria, some pundits have used the term “electoral coup.” The majority of the angry and discontent American and Bulgarian people voted against the status quo. They simply wanted change, but unfortunately they didn’t have much choice, prompting the question: is contemporary democracy in a crisis?
Presidential election in America
In the 2016 elections the American candidate, president-elect Donald Trump, was the most controversial and provocative figure. His unprecedented statements and populist promises divided the nation. Some scholars even predicted social instability, like racist outbursts. He was also the first president to declare that he would dispute the election results if they were not in his favor, implying that there would be numerous “fraudulent votes.” Every American president or presidential candidate before him had expressed full faith in the integrity and fairness of the election. Donald Trump repulsed millions of voters, including renowned actors and musicians, with his racist and sexist remarks as well as his negative attitude towards immigrants, although he mainly criticized undocumented immigrants.
At the opposite pole were the people who were captivated by his promises to bring industry back to America and create millions of new jobs for the American people.
The election of Donald Trump by a narrow margin caused mass demonstrations in most big American cities, with some people carrying signs that read “Not my president.”
The protests in the aftermath of the election were vast. Fears of bigotry and hate crimes turned into reality. To counter this, the president-elect addressed the nation and stated that he would be the president of all Americans.
The first thing he said he would do in the White House was repeal the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He declared that it didn’t matter which industry was concerned, the products had to be produced in “our great country.” He also planned to have his government fight cybercrime and limit visas issued for foreigners. The latter may possibly affect thousands of Bulgarian students who used to get work visas and go to America during the summer. We will see where the president-elect will lead the country.
Presidential election in Bulgaria
At about the same time across the ocean Bulgaria’s fifth president was democratically elected. The main candidates were from the two major parties, the Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (the successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party). GERB is a center-right political party and it won both the 2009 and 2014 parliamentary elections. Its head, Boiko Borisov, was Bulgaria’s prime minister until November 13 when he resigned after the presidential candidate, backed by the Bulgarian Socialist Party, Major General Rumen Radev, won the election by tricking many people, who would normally vote for conservative politicians, into thinking that he was an independent candidate.
The problems the new Bulgarian president will face are extensive: a judicial system that is not working, pervasive corruption, human rights violations, poverty, exploitation, “the war on the roads.” Another problem is emigration. More than two million people have already left the country. Young people complete their education at Bulgarian universities and colleges and leave for other European countries or America to seek work, which is much better paid than in Bulgaria. There is also a demographic crisis as fewer and fewer children are being born. One problem that even the EU has not been able to help with, although financial aid has been provided, is the situation involving the Bulgarian Romany people. They live in dire poverty and ignorance, which is unacceptable for any people on earth in the XXI century. They can’t even afford to send their children to school. Last year alone, 2300 pupils stopped attending school because of poverty. Yet another problem is the refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, who the authorities do not know how to deal with effectively. On November 24th there was a riot in the Harmanli refugee camp as many sick refugees (most of whom had entered Bulgaria illegally) were under quarantine. The camp was closed, but the refugees were not receiving medical help on time.
The Bulgarian people are protesting less than they used to, however, which may be a sign of quiet desperation. Doctors have demonstrated on occasion; the inhabitants of large residential districts protested against overbuilding in green areas; the residents of Harmanli protested against the refugees. By referendum Bulgarians voted for the introduction of a majoritarian voting system. So a change in the voting rules is pending.
Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel as many talented young people with patriotic feelings graduate from renowned universities and colleges abroad (like Harvard) and come back to live and teach in Bulgaria.
Historical and psychological bizonytalanság within Hungarian culture
Instability or bizonytalanság is a word in Hungary that can only be understood by reflecting on the history and politics that have affected so many Hungarians throughout the years.
In Hungary, we have always had to fight for everything we have. In 1956 we battled Soviet troops for freedom, but did not succeed, and the Soviet-installed government continued to rule the country. Hungary became a communist country and many people suffered as it decayed. People were afraid of the government and afraid that their next-door neighbor might lie to the authorities and cause us to land in prison, at least until the end of this era. Bizonytalanság characterized this entire period, and no one could escape this feeling except those who immigrated to another country. The people who were born during this time were infused with a feeling of uncertainty that permeated their everyday life. Psychologically, they had nothing to wish for and learned to live from one day to the next. Saving money was a privilege of the few and remained only a dream for many of us.
Although bizonytalanság was a common phenomenon, it was also embraced by many people. We can account for this as follows: Bizonytalanság was so common, was shared by so many people, that it became an easier thing to bear as a result. Since no one had anything, there was no gap between the classes and no one felt the need to buy a better car or house than their neighbor. It was not like nowadays where people tend to extend their working hours to make ends meet. Bizonytalanság became an idyllic state of mind that we all became used to. Evidently, people are able to get used to the good and the bad.
However, if bizonytalanság goes too far and one lacks any stability, what remains is a sour taste in your mouth. When private property was taken away from citizens, there was no financial support to fall back on, resulting in uncertainty in every other area of life. During Communist rule, families lost their homes and houses and fields, and these goods were transferred to the government which controlled everything. These historical events still have an effect on people’s lives, even nowadays, as a new generation has grown up and had to cope with the fact they have nothing to inherit and are therefore starting from scratch.
This difficult period only ended in 1989, when the communist system drew to a close. The winds of change started to blow, and we were even allowed to travel west. This changed a lot of things in people’s minds as well. The first free election was held at this time and people started to have hope for the future. Soviet soldiers left the country and people thought that a new era had begun. However, this change was only happening on the surface, while underneath the same people sat in parliament and held important positions. It was only in 1998 that a new party could win the elections and real change could take place. From that year on, the future of the country looked to be brighter and more stable. The working class started to rise and families were given more help than before.
When we compare Hungary and Germany, which was in a similar state after World War 2, except they were given financial aid with the Marshal Plan, which Hungary could not accept due the Soviet regime, we can see how prosperity influences our mindset. West Germany recovered well from the Word War, and this has been reflected in the minds of people as well. We can see that if people have money and do not have to live from one day to the next, they feel safer, better, meaning not unstable. When we talk to Germans from West Germany, they show immense confidence and have what seems to be a better life than us. They are more open to new things and not afraid to help or share what they have, while people who experienced Soviet rule and had so many troubles stick to the little that they have and fought for, and are less willing to share. These things have more value to them than what you are just given or were born with.
Nevertheless, Hungary has evolved over the years and the country has developed a lot. The question still remains whether this change has affected people’s way of thinking as well. All in all, bizonytalanság as we know it, makes people appreciate more what they have and what they have achieved, but this could be positive or negative.
Social and economic instabilidade: Portugal
We have been hearing about instability in Portugal since we were born. It is true! Whether we are 80 or 18 years old, we have heard it or experienced it one or many times during our lives. We, the Portuguese, come into this world within an unstable and faulty health care system; we go into a decaying school system; we grow up knowing there are no real career prospects and that we might have to emigrate to other countries in order to make a decent living. More than 20% of the Portuguese population is living in another country, which represents a staggering 2.3 million people (“Mais de dois milhões de portugueses estão emigrados”).
The world is constantly changing and it appears the only constant in our lives is the instability in every aspect of our society. An idea defended by Pedro Nuno Santos, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Parliamentary Affairs, is that Portugal “is an island of political, economic and social stability” (“Portugal é uma ilha de estabilidade política e social”). The only ones not seeing it are the Portuguese people that are tired of struggling and scarifying with nothing to show for it.
According to the Portuguese National Statistics Institute – Instituto Nacional de Estatística (INE) the unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2016 is 10.5% (Instituto Nacional de Estatística). This number is frightening and people are constantly afraid of losing their jobs. Combined with a minimum wage of 530 € a month with many families having just one income, emotional instability settles and contributes to poor mental health in many households.
The errors of the past have not been assimilated, understood or used to improve
the country. Most politicians and lawmakers are still more interested in creating ways to defend the rich and powerful; the justice system does not work equally for everyone; schools, hospitals and health centers are still being closed for unjustifiable reasons. People are being punished with austerity and sacrifices, being forced to pay for something they do not owe, for something they did not do.
There should be more entrepreneurship opportunities and aids and stronger export incentives, so that people could give their ideas and projects a “test run”. This would definitely give Portuguese economy a well-deserved and long-awaited boost. Programs should be created giving everyone the opportunity to expand their horizons – the existing programs are very limited in terms of funds and the conditions are very hard to fulfil, making them accessible to just a few. It makes the impression that the incentive programs have been created to “serve” interests and limit candidates to just those who are “interesting.” In Portugal, great ideas are kept in a drawer, because people that had them cannot access credit or financing or they just don’t fulfil every single condition required.
The lack of entrepreneurship opportunities is an obstacle to social development, and those that create the opportunity for themselves often face high tax burdens, making many of them fail in their attempts to move forward and “survive.”
In the words of the President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, “… people… are the true origin of power… and they demand political stability which is crucial for economic and social stability… Let common sense prevail over emotions” (Henriques). We all have to work for a common purpose, and that includes all politicians that we have elected. It is counterproductive when politicians fight with each other and all they accomplish is to let people know their goal is to win the next election. I like to say that politicians are “there” for the money – the funding of candidates, campaigns, political parties is sometimes obscure – and for the “extras” (extra car, extra phone, extra meals, extra salary, extra housing, etc.). It would be a good idea to take a good look at the Swedish system of government – Swedish politicians are an integral and active part of the population with no perks, no privileges. There is no reason for taxpayers’ money to be used to give politicians any kind of luxury. If that system was implemented worldwide, the only politicians that would exist would be the ones that want to work for the people and with the people in finding solutions for their internal and external problems. .
The leaders of other countries have also said that the political instability in Portugal is not an example to be followed by anyone in the EU and that the country is suffering as a result of it. “Portugal is paying a ‘horrible’ price for its political instability and Ireland should not follow in its path on the way to economic recovery,” Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny told voters at a campaign event ahead of the February 26 elections (Oliveira).
Let us all take steps into the future and make our country a welcoming, well-structured and socially, economically and politically stable place to give ourselves the opportunity to be an awesome country to live in. We all have what it takes to make this happen!
Henriques, Joao Pedro et al. “Marcelo desafia a direita a encontrar novas soluções.” DN. April 26, 2016. Web: January 8, 2017
“Mais de dois milhões de portugueses estão emigrados.” tvi24. July 19, 2015. Web: January 8, 2017.
Oliveira, Ivo. “Irish PM: We don’t want to be Portugal.” Politico. February 15, 2016. Web: January 8, 2017.
“Portugal é uma ilha de estabilidade política e social.” Economia. November 11, 2016. Web: January 8, 2017
Instituto Nacional de Estatística. Unemployment rate. November 9, 2016. Web: Jan. 8, 2016.
The instability of change: India
The common understanding about the word instability is somewhat negative, but at times some instabilities act as foundation for long term stability. In India, one can find many such examples in the course of its nation building since its independence. We have faced the instability due to partition at the time of independence. At that time one of the biggest man made population migration of modern world history was taking place. Later we fought 5 full scale wars and defended its borders. It has seen three major assassinations (Gandhi, Indira and Rajiv) and had faced the instability out of them. These were the instabilities that really affected us badly and in few cases we are still feeling the jerks.
India has a huge population, we were 1.25 billion in 2013 (almost 17% of the world population). This population is much diversified in terms of languages, cultures, religious beliefs etc. It is a country which is facing a lot of hurdles on its way ahead to progress and happiness. The corruption is very deeply rooted in all sections of the society. For many of us, it has become an integral part of our daily life. To be an economic power it is very necessary to be a nation of people who are fair and straight. India has huge chunk of black money, which is estimated to be 20% of the GDP.
To check this undeclared black money, Indian government on the 8 November 2016 announced demonetization of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 banknotes with effect from the same day’s midnight, making these notes illegal. A new redesigned series of Rs500 banknote, in addition to a new denomination of Rs.2000 banknote is in circulation since 10 November 2016. The new redesigned series is also expected to be introduced to the banknote denominations of Rs.1000, Rs.100 and Rs.50 in the coming months.
These demonetization measures had major and immediate effect on the Indian economic situation. They will also have long term impact on various industries and sectors. As far as common man is concern, this was quite a shocking decision as the modus operandi of the implementation for this decision was not so very clear. The result of the step was a major decrease in liquidity for a short period but with the introduction of new notes of Rs.500 and Rs.2000 the situation gradually became better and better.
As these old notes of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 were almost 80+ percent of the total currency in circulation, people started getting panic. The government had restricted the cash withdrawal per week and exchange per person (or ID). Huge crowd were seen at banks and ATMs to deposit or exchange old notes. Public was not sure about the process to be followed and the availability of cash in coming days and this led to a major instability on the economic front for common man.
There were long lines outside the banks and ATMs. Banks were short of cash and were unable to cater even the restricted amount allowed by the government. They were unable to cater to the needs of people standing at their doors. These dissatisfied people or the people unable to get the money from bank or ATM were going back and crating panic in their localities. And this was working like a chain reaction. More over the live coverage of this situation by 24 hour news channels i.e media was also contributing to the situation.
Government and its agencies were working round the clock to deal with it but things were moving at a very slow pace initially. As I have already stated that both demonetized notes were 80+ percent of the total cash flow. So for the first 2-3 days, with least of proper information people were just chasing banks and ATMs. Government had permitted petrol pumps and medical services (including medicine shops) to take the old notes. But many of these facilities were not following government permission properly. Most of the people were not sure about changing permissions. Just imagine that government had issued around 60+ instructions in 50 days. Though all these instructions were coming due to daily monitoring of the situation by the government agencies, to ease down the situation and serve people in better way.
Let’s try to understand the severity of the situation – For population of 1,250 million i.e roughly 248 million households, 80+ percent of the cash notes are not legal any more. They have to surrender these notes, take new ones, with restricted limits for both withdrawal (Rs.24,000 weekly) and exchange (Rs.2500 per day). Most of the people have to go to work as usual and the banks are having long queues (on an average people were spending 4-5 hours to get cash). One more thing, as the cash was limited, the banks were giving Rs.5,000 to Rs.10,000 maximum per person (to accommodate more and more people). Limited ATM were serving and to make it more worst, due to size difference in Rs.2000 notes the capacity of these ATMs were down to 20% and were dispensing only Rs.100 notes (only after 7-8 days these ATMs were adjusted for new currency notes). So these ATMs were delivering very little. Again, please remember that we only have around 2,00,000 bank branches and ATM together. Only 50 percent of the population is having bank account and hardly 2-3 percent of the total transaction in the country is digital. These figures are sufficient to understand the whole scenario.
Gradually with each day the new notes of Rs.2000 were reaching more and more people. But they were also carrying some trouble. Remember that the balance note denominations were rupee one hundred and below that too only 15+ percent of total notes in circulation. Due to severe shortage of currency notes of small denominations, the necessary daily transaction of common man is getting blocked, he/she has Rs.2000 note but cannot use it to do small purchases like vegetables, milk and grocery.
With all these difficulties, people across the country showed great maturity and patience. Baring very few incidences, things were settling down with new Rs.500 currency became available and people started learning the use of other payment modes. Gradually after around 20-25 days things started settling down. The queues outside the banks and ATMs and the chaos among the people were diminishing.
When the whole nation was busy dealing with the situation and searching ways to make this process swift many good news were also coming from different part of this great nation. We have been facing problems from separatists in Jammu & Kashmir, and Maoists violence in some other parts of the nation. These people were getting funds across the border, especially the J&K separatists. They suddenly lost their nails and became helpless. The Maoists were also affected seriously, as their fund became useless immediately.
It was also expected that the notorious elements will try their best to convert their black money, and will keep no stone unturned to fail the entire exercise. There were also people within the system, who tried to take the befit of their position. But both the sections were dealt properly and were nabbed the agencies during last 50 days. Even after 50 days the process is still on to screen the transactions in the banking system. These screening will ensure that most of the illegal deposits and the depositors are tracked and face the consequences as per law of the land.
Many more such steps would be needed to clean the economy. Common man is very happy and is confident that corrupt practices and people will be have tough time ahead. This step has done many new and good things for Indian economy. People are now more open to digital transactions, in last 50 days these transactions have grown around 300 to 400%. More and more people are using different apps to pay even for a cup of tea.
As I said earlier that certain instabilities act as foundation for stability in medium and long term. For a nation of our size and diversity decision like these create a lot of instability in society and common man’s routine. The aim for this decision was to hit the parallel economy of the black money that was creating a lot of trouble for common man of the nation. Our nation is suffering from many problems and one had to take the hard decision to treat it. This demonetization was one of those steps to warn those people, whose activities were creating trouble for the growth and development of the nation and its people. We as a nation have succeeded in dealing with such instability with courage and determination. We are now ready to clean us further to be a healthy nation with healthy economy and happy people.
Modern instabilité: youth and employment in France and China
The global economic situation is constantly debated in our era. The media play a strong role in the way we perceive economic performance in one country or another. In Europe nowadays, we tend to consider youth employment to be a good indicator of the economic health of a country. But what we want to look into here is the different types of current instabilité in youth employment that we have to deal with in our modern times, as the indicator itself does not mean the same thing and does not reflect uniform phenomena in France and China.
In France, although our government refuses to use the term austerity to define the difficult times the country is going through, and the efforts our population is required to make so that the country can rise again one day, young potential workers have the feeling of being forgotten and totally left out. Aren’t we told all day long that we have no previous significant experience and that another candidate is more qualified for the job? And when we do have this significant experience, aren’t we told that the offered salary is not very high and long-term employment can’t be guaranteed?
With steadily more freedom of speech and liberty to choose, the youth of today has a right to say no to these conditions, which is fully understandable. The issue is that when you get used to saying no to something, you start having the feeling that it becomes okay and normal to say no to everything that does not sound good enough, which creates an abnormal level of instabilité in exactly the same place where common effort is needed to reachieve stability. Modern youth in France, purely and simply, refuses to work the hard jobs that previous generations accepted in order to contribute to the country’s economic growth and stability.
Young people would like to get good, stable and comfy jobs. These jobs being really hard to get – or even just really hard to find – it can often become a source of stress and anxiety since a young person sometimes does not know for sure whether or not they should take a certain job with less than ideal terms. As this Damocles sword hangs over their heads, and in the absence of any long-term employment guarantee, in the end we simply feel very replaceable on the job market.
When we do, though, get to sign a job contract for an indefinite term, French law ensures extremely high protection for employees. This matter is widely discussed in France, as employers and employees stand on a very different level of appreciation. When we get to sign a really good contract, some of us do our best on a daily basis, but some of us sometimes don’t exhibit the full motivation and dedication to the job we’re eventually finally employed for because we feel that getting the job was the hardest part and we finally made it. Which produces even more instabilité on the job market because it tends to make employers very wary about offering new jobs to the younger generation.
What’s on the other side? One has to understand that the very definition of youth in China has been recently modified as the first generations of people born during the 3-decade one-child policy enter the job market. Here, we have to deal with kids who have been a unique prince or a unique princess for their parents and both sets of grandparents for twenty or thirty years.
Today, as the population is aging, a young worker is seen as a rare resource. The little prince and little princess therefore are pure gold on the job market. And they’ve got their word to say, especially when they dislike their job, which is very new in Chinese culture and society (being able to say we want to quit our job).
With China’s demographic development and economic growth, the sector of services has exploded, and lots of small businesses have emerged on the market. When directors need to hire new employees, it has become tougher than ever as offers now outpace demand. Indeed, in some areas, there are too many jobs available and a small population of young active workers to hire. We – kids who have grown up with the idea that we are very unique, special, amazing, strong, clever and irreplaceable – have power. And where there is power, there is constraint. Employers need to hire a fresh and effective workforce, but the population of young workers is not willing to work as hard as previous generations.
I recently travelled to China for business again, and was very surprised to see how the quality of service has decreased in some areas within just a few years. Not in the countryside or remote areas, but in big cities. Ten or fifteen years ago, service was always impeccable, and mistakes were severely brought to the attention of employees. Now, especially in restaurants (as the food industry constitutes a major pillar of economic activity in the country as a whole), the service is sometimes not what it used to be, and I came to understand, by talking with bosses and other directors, that it is hard for them to keep a steady team of employees working on a long-term basis. It is now the case that when we don’t like a job anymore or when we are required to exert too much of an effort that we are not willing to make, we don’t mind quitting and looking for the next opportunity. There are plenty of them. Our boss has got something to say about the quality of our work? No problem, the boss next door should be more flexible, let’s go and check him out. So some directors now opt to keep their mouth shut for a while, just to make sure the employee doesn’t run away.
China is ushering in an era filled by a whole new concept of instability that nobody really expected to see. With the end of the one-child policy, our country is now going to be back on the path to having a larger potential workforce, but the next twenty to thirty years will be critical, because the employees of today may turn into the employers of tomorrow, and they will be in charge as the future generations are being raised and grow up. China’s challenge today, in my opinion, is really to find a way to keep productivity up to speed. The younger generations must be trained to maintain the high level of quality in service that the country has enjoyed for a long time, and might fail to achieve if nothing is done fast.
Economic instability: Guinea And Gambia
The economic instability in Guinea has caused a considerable increase in the price of food. As prices rise for this basic need, it has becoming more difficult for the population to obtain the minimum amount required to support a family. In turn, this causes people to move in search of a better livelihood.
Sometimes described as a “geological scandal,” Guinea has immense hydraulic wealth (also known as the Castle of Water in Africa) as well as plentiful and under-exploited mining potential (one-third of the world’s reserves of bauxite, gold, diamonds, iron, manganese, zinc, cobalt, nickel, uranium). It is a major producer of gold and diamonds. Guinea is a potentially very rich country but its per capita GDP is only $588. The political instability in recent years has greatly handicapped the economic development of Guinea, causing low growth, accelerating inflation and a doubling of the budget deficit.
The Guinean economy was hit hard by the Ebola epidemic, which, after its emergence in Forest Guinea in December 2013, caused 2,544 death (with 3,813 cases identified). Growth was zero in 2015, after more or less stagnation in 2014 (0.4% growth compared to the 4.5% anticipated initially). The decline in mining has resulted in the freezing of investments in the sector, intensifying the shock caused by the health crisis. It will be necessary to wait for 2016-17 to see the rate of growth return to a higher level (between 4 and 5 percent). Many companies that had stopped their flights to Conakry, the capital of Guinea, have resumed service in the meantime. This is the case with the Senegalese company Transair, Emirates and other companies. There are also those who decided to continue despite the health crisis, such as Air France, Royal Air Maroc, etc.
The rate of school enrolment and the immunization of children has certainly increased but the country remains very uneducated. Human development indicators are often lower than on average in the region and electricity is expensive. According to the United Nations, 600,000 people suffer from severe food insecurity; 55% of the population lives below the poverty line; and nearly a third of the children suffer from malnutrition. The Ebola epidemic affected this already vulnerable portion of the population even more harshly. For the purpose of achieving food self-sufficiency, our Guinean Government now encourages the production of local rice through a support policy for the agricultural sector. According to a study on the competitiveness of local rice in Guinea, the rural population represents 80% of the total population and draws 79% of its revenues from agricultural activities.
With heavy rainfall ranging from 43 to 157 inches/year, the country is regarded as the Castle of Water in West Africa. It has 4,000 miles of rivers and bodies of water. Studies show that potential arable land is estimated to be 15 million acres, of which 25% is cultivated annually. In addition, our agriculture is largely dominated by family-owned farms, which account for around 60% of the population and approximately 95% of the agricultural land in the country.
Gambia’s economy is liberal, based on the market and open to trade. Trade accounts for approximately 80% of GDP. Gambia is a member of the WTO and the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). Overall, the country has trade-friendly import rules and regulations. Efficient ports and liberal trade policies also encourage re-exporting, which constitutes an important part of the country’s external trade. However, Gambia is no longer a beneficiary of the AGOA promoted by the United States. This act allows exports from some developing countries to have privileged access to the U.S. market.
In mid-2014 the government of Gambia launched a new strategy to support exports of sesame and especially cashew nuts. In April 2016, trade between Gambia and Senegal was blocked by the Gambian authorities. This blockade has posed a risk to the cashew nut trade, although the country benefited from an increase in international demand for cashew nuts in 2016. Canada is one of Gambia’s top trading partners. We export peanuts (one-third of our exports) and fruit and vegetables (a quarter) to Canada. Gambia also exports fish, fabric made of cotton and palm-related products to Senegal, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, the United Kingdom, France and India.
We had been highly dependent on the importation of rice despite an increase in local production in recent years. Our government prohibited the importation of rice in 2015. However, this measure applied only when the national reserves were sufficient to ensure the supply for the local population. It mainly imports food, industrial products, fuel, machinery and equipment from the Ivory Coast, China, the United Kingdom, Brazil, the Netherlands and Germany.
The political events have caused economic instability in this country, considerably reducing its economic output. As a result, we have been obliged to move so we can find work that will allow us to take care of our family.
Living in Inestabilidad: Argentina.
Silvana Renée Borghi
The economy in Argentina is something critical. When a topic such as instability is considered, the first thing that comes to mind is the economy. In Argentina, especially in Buenos Aires and the big cities all over the country, everyone’s lives revolve around consumer prices, the value of the US dollar, monetary policy, inflation rates, unemployment, energy costs, taxes, the International Monetary Fund, salaries. Our history indicates that the dollar value is the most important thing in order to define our economic policies. Everything is based on US dollars, from prices to the minimum wage. Let me explain how it works.
Living by the dollar
The value of the US dollar is the most important thing after football and Messi, the local championship and the World Cup. Yes, trust me. Despite the fact that this issue always gets on our nerves, many times we have incredibly become the most passionate fans of dollar pricing. I remember the 2001 crisis; people could not withdraw their savings from banks because of the corralito. Savings were in US dollars as were mortgages and some loans. It was because of the Argentine Currency Board where the exchange rate was fixed at one dollar to one Argentine peso by law. But the law could not prevent the country from getting into difficulties. So, at the end of 2001, in order to stop a bank run, the government put the bank accounts in a kind of freezer to avoid the collapse of the banking system. Unfortunately, as I said before, people had their savings in dollars and there were restrictions on withdrawals. Lots of people waited in line at banks to go through the process of recovering their money, and during the protests we were singing the national anthem while demanding our savings in dollars!!! This is one of several contrasts in our country. We are really fanatical about these things and, due to our economic history, we prefer to have our savings in dollars instead of our currency because we think the dollar is more reliable and stable than the peso, which has suffered many devaluations. In order to speak about instability, we must consider devaluation, the Argentine peso, and the price of the dollar. When we hear on TV that there was an increase in the price of dollars, we worry about our future, our jobs, and our savings. We want to withdraw savings, to have supplies in stock at home, and to buy dollars on the black market. This is done through street sellers named arbolitos (small trees on the street are a metaphor for illegal sellers of dollars). Food, fuel and all consumer goods prices increase as the dollar appreciates. It is like a stampede, and the government needs intervention to stop it. The hyperinflation in 1989 is truly remembered by all of us. Fortunately, at the present time, this situation is under control despite our economic difficulties, but memories are memories and the impression of instability surrounding an appreciation of the dollar sticks with us.
Political fluctuations in Argentina
We know about political instability. Our country is, in fact, a really young country in comparison to the United States or Europe. We have only two hundred years of history! The Constitution was approved in 1853 after a few attempts to draft it. There were several internal conflicts before the rise of the Argentine Republic, a real civil war. Our political history has always been between two factions: after the May Revolution, between the two leaders Moreno and Saavedra; then between Federalists and Centralists (Unitarian Party). By the end of the XIX century, the factions were the Conservative Party and the Radical Civic Union. At the beginning of the XX century, the Radical Party saw a struggle between Irigoyen and Alvear, with a period of military coups, as the consequence. After that, the years of “for and against” or anti started: Peronist and antiperonist, Azules and Colorados (1963 Argentine Navy revolt), Military dictatorship against subversive terrorists or the population against the military powers. In the meantime from 1930 to 1976 there were six military coups, the last one, from 1976 to 1983, was called the Dirty War (Guerra sucia) during which military and security forces and right-wing death squads under the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance (Triple A) hunted down and killed left-wing guerrillas with roughly 30,000 citizens disappearing. Thus, there has been political instability throughout our entire history, from the beginning of the nation.
During the twentieth century it was a fact that a democratic government could not end with another democratic period following because the military always intervened. In addition, several times we discovered ourselves calling for military power in the face of the troubles during the “X” government. Besides this, the feeling of instability that everything will end shortly and long-term projects are impossible is something that prevails all the time. The feeling is that there is no continuity from one political period to another. Instead of carrying on with successful policies, new governments from different parties change almost everything as if we can delete a word in a text and write it again, giving it a second try.
Political fluctuations can be reflected in economic matters. There was a time when we could obtain a mortgage loan for a house paid off over more than twenty years of low rates. However, people are nervous about credit now. In Argentina there is a principle: every ten years, the economy blows up and carries the government along with it. Getting into debt is something unthinkable for many of us, although some of our fellow countrymen still take out loans to buy a house or goods if the salary and the employment conditions allow it.
After the Dirty War, during President Alfonsin’s government, there was another type of political instability associated with economic issues. They were inherited from National Reorganization Process in the military dictatorship. The Austral currency was devaluated in 1989 and the economy slipped into hyperinflation. As a result, Alfonsin had to surrender command to the newly elected president Carlos Menem because of the crisis. In the early 2000s, in the middle of the corralito crisis, there were five presidents in a period of two weeks. There were protests over savings and calls for politicians to leave the government. This is the origin of the very famous words que se vayan todos – impossible to fulfil.
The impression of instability in regard to the government or the economy continues. It is considered something idiosyncratic about us. Election campaigns are based on the coming crisis if we vote for another party: an economic collapse with the appreciation of the dollar, unemployment, violence, inflation, high crime rates, and other calamities. We are used to this situation, to being in a crisis, to living in instability, to complaining about everything, with protests and petitions. These feelings are part of us. They are part of who we are and how we are. And the only desire to be better is related to getting the economy right. It doesn’t matter if the government is corrupt, or if we might be involved in a bad outcome as a result of bad policies. When the ruling party gets into difficulties, we all believe that it is likely it will not finish its term. However, none of this bothers us. There is just one thing we consider important: the economy.
Arkonsid, Ricardo: Las causas de la crisis del 2001. UNICEN. Retrieved from http://www.unicen.edu.ar/content/las-causas-de-la-crisis-de-2001
Kiguel, M. A. (1999). The Argentine currency board (No. 152). Universidad del CEMA.
Political Instability: Guatemala
As the home to 17 million people, Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America and the most ethnically diverse. Since the country gained its independence from Spain in 1821, it has experienced many turbulent and abrupt changes. The population can be divided into three groups: i) the Ladino or Hispanic group speaking Spanish and making up some 59% of the population; ii) the indigenous groups – descendants of the pre-Columbian Mayan peoples – accounting for 40% and speaking some 23 different Amerindian languages and frequently Spanish as a second language; iii) last but not least, a small but culturally important Garifuna group on the Atlantic coast (less than 1% of the population) with Afro-Caribbean roots and speaking Garifuna.
1944: a revolution that shaped the country ideologically
In 1944 a multi-sectorial movement toppled the dictatorship of Army General Jorge Ubico, who had ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 14 years. That was the Revolution of 1944. The revolutionary leaders identified themselves as humanist leftists. They prioritized education for all the people and the building of institutions. The first president of the new democracy was an academic, Juan José Arévalo, who held office until 1951. His successor was also an important revolutionary, Jacobo Arbenz, a colonel in the army and the son of a Swiss immigrant.
1951: President Jacobo Arbenz moves ahead with more revolutionary reforms
President Jacobo Arbenz took office in 1951 and pursued more revolutionary reforms. He initiated the construction of a much-needed highway from Guatemala City up north to the Atlantic coast. This highway was intended to compete with the International Railroads of Central America (IRCA), an American company. He also started a controversial Agrarian Reform program that was intended to expropriate idle, large concentrations of cultivable land. This Agrarian Reform program threatened both local and foreign land owners including the United Fruit Company (UFCO), another American company closely connected with the IRCA. Both local and foreign land owners and investors saw President Arbenz’s reforms as a threat.
1954: the counter-revolution
Because of the revolutionary reforms, some prominent right-wing fundamentalists received help from the American CIA and formed a secret paramilitary group made up of Guatemalan exiles opposed to Arbenz. They were led by the Guatemalan Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas. In 1954 they invaded Guatemala from neighboring Honduras and removed Arbenz from the government. The operation was called PBSuccess. Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas became the new ruler and implemented a de facto government; he also reversed the most controversial revolutionary reforms.
1960: a leftist guerrilla movement starts, resulting in a 36 year internal armed conflict
Inspired by the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, a few Guatemalan Army officials headed by Marco Antonio Yon Sosa rebelled against the Guatemalan government. They went off to the mountains and adopted the name “13 November Revolutionary Movement.” This began a guerrilla war that gradually turn into a civil war that would last 36 years. After negotiations with the government, it ended in 1996 when the “Agreement on a Firm and Everlasting Peace” was signed by the guerillas and the government of President Álvaro Arzú.
2006: formation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the video accusing the president and his wife of murder
“The United Nations and the Government of Guatemala signed the Agreement to Establish the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) on December 12, 2006.” It was established as an independent, international body designed to support the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP), the National Civil Police (PNC) and other State institutions in the investigation of crimes committed by members of illegal security forces and clandestine security structures and, in a more general sense, to help to disband such groups. In 2008 Álvaro Colom, a leftist politician, was elected president. He initiated social programs such as food aid for the poor but at the same time imposed obligations on the beneficiary families, such as requiring them to send their children to school. First Lady Sandra Torres (Ms. Colom) oversaw the social program. Right-wing extremists criticized the first lady´s position, and accused President Colom of preparing his wife as successor. One of the members of the opposition was a politician named Rodrigo Rosenberg Marzano. He recorded a video stating that if he were murdered, the president would have ordered it. On May 10, 2009, Rosenberg was indeed shot dead. The post-mortem discovery of the video triggered a wave of indignation throughout society, and a huge public demonstration was organized and called for President Colom’s resignation. The CICIG investigations discovered – and demonstrated – that the lawyer had actually prepared his own death. His accomplices were found and confessed.
2015: the “La Linea” case: the nation’s president and vice-president discovered to be the heads of a large fiscal fraud network
The most recent episode of political instability was code-named “La Linea” (“The Line”). It was discovered by CICIG investigators, and – to the dismay and indignation of the whole country – the heads of this illegal structure were the nation’s president and vice president. Both had to resign and, after a trial, were declared guilty.
This is an international news dispatch about the citizen’s indignation at the corruption in the high levels of government: “Tens of thousands of Guatemalans marched in heavy rain over the weekend calling for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and speaking out against corruption. They blew whistles and banged pots and pans, and later released blue and white balloons – the colors of the Guatemalan flag.
The Нестабилност of Transition – Macedonia
Macedonia, or due to the name dispute with Greece, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (or shortened: FYROM), is located at the center of the Balkan Peninsula, having Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Serbia and Kosovo as its neighbors.
In recent years, there has been quite a bit of political instability in Macedonia, with various possible causes and effects on the country. Macedonia was part of the Yugoslavian Federation, but the country separated from it on September 8, 1991, after the Referendum on Independence and became an independent nation. After its first elections as a sovereign country, everything went fine for a few years, that is, until the reserves the country had from the Federation were completely depleted. Afterwards, the political fights over ruling the country started. The largest parties at that time and still today (VMRO-DPMNE and SDSM) began to govern the country interchangeably as if it was their own property instead of a sum of its citizens. In recent years, the policies of past administrations have led the citizens of Macedonia to the brink of poverty, destabilizing the country and increasing uncertainty, not only within the country but within the Balkan area as well.
In the years after independence, the first few democratic cabinets in Macedonia had the opportunity to make decisions that would have paved the way for their followers, but Macedonian political leadership in this period was not brave enough and lacked experience. The mild efforts regarding privatization led to an unsuccessful reconstruction of the socialistic economy and a decline in the standard of living, while the public administration remained virtually unchanged since the period of communism. Instead of following the examples of other countries in the region, the Macedonian political elite engaged in nationalist politics, thus wasting its political capital on symbolic issues rather than dedicating time and resources toward implementing the necessary reforms to establish better relations with international institutions such as NATO and the EU.
In my opinion, the instability in the country started sometime before and culminated with the conflict in 2001, known as the 2001 Insurgency in Macedonia, which was an armed conflict started by the Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA, or UCK in Albanian). Some believe that the main reasons for this conflict were the Macedonian government’s restrictions on the use of the Albanian language in Macedonia, and the ban on the use of the Albanian flag (in 1997 the Constitutional Court forbid the use of the Albanian flag). Others believe that it was an inevitable consequence of the conflict in Kosovo (with Serbia). The 2001 Insurgency lasted most of the year, and casualties remained limited to several dozen individuals on each side. The cost of ending the conflict was not only monetary, but territorial as well, since most ethnic Macedonian families in western Macedonia were forced to leave their homes while ethnic Albanians settled in. As the OSCE and NATO increased pressure to halt hostilities, the Macedonian government agreed to sign an unconditional ceasefire. The conflict ended with the Ohrid Framework Agreement, which was signed on August 13, 2001. By signing the Agreement, the included parties unconditionally rejected violence as means of accomplishing political goals and all agreed that they must preserve the integrity of the Macedonian state with its multi-ethnic society. In brief, this framework agreement meant increasing the rights of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia, and also included provisions that any language spoken by more than 20% of the population is considered in addition to Macedonian an official language on the municipal level. The agreement also meant changes within the employment system, where the 20% rule was also to be followed for positions in public administration and government institutions. This has led to a peaceful resolution of the conflict, and somewhat calmed the ethnic tensions in the country.
After the conflict and after resolving the ethnic tensions to some extent, the government of Macedonia decided to invest more resources in new reforms that would aid in achieving the strategic goals of the country, which are, to this present day, membership in NATO and the EU. Four years after the conflict, in 2005, Macedonia gained the status of candidate-state for EU membership, and in 2008 received a recommendation from the European Commission for beginning the accession negotiations. However, Greece keeps blocking Macedonian integration in EU due to the name resolution issue. Greece also used its veto right in 2008 at the NATO Summit in Bucharest and blocked an invitation for Macedonia to join NATO.
The events in December 2012 further contributed to the instability and destabilization of the country. Namely, on the December 24, during a session of the Assembly to discuss and adopt the budget, representatives from the opposition as well as all journalists were forcibly removed from the Assembly. This event caused a major political crisis in which the EU and other international bodies had to be involved. An agreement was reached with recommendations to clarify the issue, but so far many of the circumstances that led to this incident as well as the responsibility of individuals and institutions have not been established. This event stopped any political dialogue that was present at that time and became one of the reasons for the political crisis that engulfed the country and lasted five years, until the election of the new Prime Minister and the formation of the latest government. The incident on December 24 and the events that followed produced a series of subsequent protests against the ruling party and the government as a whole. The so-called “бомби” (bombs), which were actually recorded conversations (referred to as the “wiretapping scandal”) of high government officials, exposed to the public that the government was corrupt beyond repair, showing phone conversations about awarding contracts to family and close friends of the ruling party, conversations among ministers about homicide cover-ups, money laundering, real estate fraud, etc. This led to series of protests, starting in April 2016, against the current president of the country and the government led by the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party. The protests were referred to as the “Шарена револуција” (Colorful Revolution), and involved mostly peaceful demonstrations against the corruption in the government and called for it to resign and cancel the forthcoming elections under the premise that the country is not yet ready for free and transparent elections. This, in turn, has led to a movement called “Тврдокорните” (the Hardcore People) which was actually created by the then ruling VMRO-DPNE in order to counterprotest the demonstrations from the “Colorful Revolution.” Both “movements” have only increased the already tense political crises Macedonia was in, and worsened the economic conditions in the business sector, where most foreign and domestic companies had to either suffer the consequences of the political crisis or file for bankruptcy.
The crisis reached its peak with the deterioration in the dialogue between the political parties and the firm decision by the opposing SDSM party not to participate in either of the government’s decisions. The violent incident on April 27, 2017 (known as “Крвав четврток” or “Bloody Thursday”) clearly showed that Macedonia was on the edge of a civil war, as around three hundred people from the Association “За заедничка Македонија” (For Common Macedonia) forcefully entered the Assembly of Macedonia in order to prevent the election of the latest President of the Assembly. This resulted in more involvement by international agencies, the EU, NATO and the like, in order to help solve the long-standing political crisis in Macedonia.
In the last elections on December 11, 2016, and after the severe cutbacks introduced by the current administration, Macedonia is looking towards a promising future with a new government and hopefully the stabilization of the country with help from the EU. Nonetheless, the nation remains unstable and will remain so for some time, mostly because the level of corruption is high (e.g. in the public administration, the healthcare system, the judiciary system, governmental authorities and bodies, etc.). This also increases citizens’ distrust in the government and the political parties, and also reduces the hope for a “better tomorrow.” The past events and incidents have also led to the massive migration of experienced professionals as well as youth to western countries (such as Germany, Switzerland, England and Slovenia), which only worsens the poor condition of the country.
To summarize, instability in Macedonia is at its highest level since its separation from the Yugoslavian Federation. The inexperienced administrations, the lack of proper reforms, as well as the transition from communism, the unsuccessful privatization process, and the many conflicts and incidents (peaceful and violent) have driven the country into a downward spiral, increasing instability and reducing the standard of living.
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