More about Europe and the EU.

In a previous blogpost I expressed my frustration about a conversation that I had with a taxi driver in Kansas City. I received many reactions to this blogpost, which truly pleases me; it seems that I hit the right sentiment with many Europeans.

First, I was contacted by Göran Hansson from Sweden, who expressed his enthusiasm for the Union in a direct comment beneath the blogpost. Göran emphasized the tremendous achievements that the EU has made; in the areas of peace and prosperity, but he also expressed frustration at how indifferent fellow Europeans sometimes are towards the EU. In his posts (link above) Göran is also a vocal proponent of the Europe of Regions, which I find a thrilling idea. In my reply to Göran, I expressed my believe that his efforts (as an example) are crucial to drive the discussion about the EU forward:

The EU is not just about voting every four years and, from the sidelines, watch the thing develop. We need more people to talk and exchange ideas about the EU.

And this must be done NOW: in the UK, democrats waited too long to start this conversation and left the playing field to the populists… and now the lower and middle class can feed the bill of the referendum disaster.

You are the EU. The EU is what you make out of it.

In my original blogpost (which I also cross-posted to several EU groups on facebook, e.g. #EUsolidarity Now), I compared the EU to the USA. Several readers pointed out that this is not valid, as the USA was founded by emigrants that could start a brand new state, whereas the EU is a federation of states, each with unique cultural traditions and independent histories. I agree with that view. In fact, I believe that one of the major strengths of the EU is its diversity. However, the original point that I wanted to make is that many people are critical of the EU, because the EU makes decisions that seem to be the result of a malfunctioning EU – but which are not, on closer inspection. I want to illustrate this with a few examples.

During the Corona crisis, many nations within the EU closed their borders (by the way, the Schengen agreement which allows free travel within the EU is just celebrating its 35th birthday). Within 24 hours I received an email from a friend in the US, asking whether this was “The End Of The EU?” Interestingly, the borders between individual states in the USA cannot be closed that easily; I would venture that this may actually have increased the momentum of the pandemic (China, on the other hand, had no issue with closing down the Wuhan region – no questions asked in a dictatorship). But what few people know is that on the other side of the spectrum, the border between Bavaria and Baden-Würrtemberg in Germany was de facto also closed – and although some local residents (or “pandemic deniers”) may have disagreed with that decision, nobody would consider for a second that Germany was falling apart or that Germany was failing as a nation. I truly believe that putting free travel on hold along the national borders partially and temporarily was the right decision to slow the spread of the virus. Note: my two sons and I live in three separate European countries, and visiting each other was thus not possible (by the way, we can easily live in three separate countries as a direct result of the many advantages that the EU provides.There is no need for visas, or other unnecessary bureaucracy bullshit – now who said that the EU was overtly bureaucratic?).

There was also a call that the pandemic response should have been an EU-wide- and not a national-response, e.g. the same social distancing rules in Italy, Spain, Estland or Ireland. But why, I wonder, is this a must-have? The EU has a size of 4,233,255.3 km2 and an estimated total population of 447 million! Regions within this huge area are going to be affected in different ways by a pandemic. Again, even within Germany, individual Bundesländer (~states) had individual pandemic guidelines.

Several commentators on my original blogpost agreed that calling the EU a fascist state (as the Kansas City taxi driver did) was way over the top. Sure, as one person pointed out:

it is crucial that a federal Europe must have a sound balance in power distribution; otherwise the fascism argument will continue, or the EU may be incapable of making decisions.

The role of the parliament must be strengthened (and not just in the Brexit negotiations with the UK). But people should also know how to use phrases such as Fascism, which is a clearly defined term and should not be used in a inflationary manner (as, for that matter, socialism, which many Trump voters do not seem to be able to grasp the meaning of).

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Photos from Egypt – more about my trip to the country of the Pharaos

The top photo shows a new development area with mansions being build for (upper) middle class; a social group that seems to be growing in size. However, as the picture elsewhere in my blog http://www.clemenssuter.com shows, not everybody is benefiting from economic opportunities – which aren’t really marvelous: the Egyptian pound dropped in value by half (!) in 2016. The picture at the bottom shows travelers from many different origins at Kuwait airport. The plane to Cairo suffered terrible delays, I arrived in Cairo at 2am.

Read more here: http://www.clemenssuter.com

A trip to the Middle East. Impressions and Photos from Qatar

Qatar is an emirate on the Arabian Peninsula. Saudi Arabia is the next door neighbor, with Qatar itself sticking out into the Persian Gulf and bordered by the sea on three sides.

First impressions

it was VERY hot and unexpectedly humid. Qatar is a desert country and I thought it would be hot and dry. Not so: the hot and humid air swapped in from the Persian Gulf. Qatar is very tidy and modern. The people who I met were industrious and friendly, yet perhaps a bit aloof.

Some Qatar facts

2.5 million people live in Qatar, of which 10% call themselves Qatari and have the hard-to-get passport. An Emir rules the country. Large natural gas reserves drive the economy. The vast majority of people come from other countries: they want to find work with better pay than in their home country. Taxi drivers and technologists, you meet people from all kinds of countries.

A hot and moist view from the hotel.

Above: An early morning view from the hotel. Persia / Iran is on the opposite side of this body of water.  Kuwait is on the left, and the Emirates are on the right.

Below: The high-rise opposite of the hotel. None of these buildings are older than 10-15 years. Qatar is booming, and constant renewal is underway.

View from the Hilton

Experience the heat

Below: All buildings are air-conditioned. I entered my hotel room, and it was stunningly cold. I put the air-conditioner up to the 27C (it was on 18C originally), and after a few hours the temperature was halfway OK. On the other hand, as I walked out of the hotel lobby, the heat and humidity hit like a hammer, it felt like 50C. That was only on the first day, the following day was much better. Or did I get used to it? In any case, I wondered what the high of summer would be like. Locals said that depending on the time of year, a hot and very dusty wind blows from Africa, the Khamsin, which can cause a sense of nausia.

Leaving the hotel. The heat was excruciating.

Taken  together: an intriguing country. I was glad that I visited for work, as I am not sure what sites a tourist would want to visit. Qatar is a desert country, with not much to see. Doha is a newly built ‘island’ of high rises and businesses. There are very few trees, and anything that is old or broken is replaced.

More travel news here.

Is Doha the Amazingly Deadliest Boring Capital in the World? A Journey to Qatar.

During my stay in the Middle East, I also visited Doha, capital of Qatar. The movie below I made on my way from the airport to the hotel.

Doha has been hailed as one of the most boring towns in the world, and as I could establish there is considerable truth to this rumor.  The town has very little history left, it is new and fully focused on business; it is very car-centric (many, many SUVs) and recreational offers are negligible. The Souk is a small market with stores that sell tortured exotic animals and mini-dogs. The climate is terribly humid and hot; a quick stroll is only possible after sunset. As an Islamic country, there is no (or little) alcohol for sale – but even I as a teetotaler can only say that the town is dull; I can’t blame the absence of alcohol. I was visiting on business with a calendar full of appointments and thus I was preoccupied enough, yet during my quick tours through the city I was quite disappointed. Perhaps some of you readers have a different experiences to share. Perhaps an interesting museum or cinema that I missed? Pole dancing? A gay bar? I guess not.

The boycott by Saudi Arabia was in full swing at the time, but it didn’t seem to have affected the Qatari much. They even imported 4000 Friesian cows from Australia and put them in an air-conditioned hall, to make sure enough milk could be produced, which was imported from Arabia up to that point.

Women stay mostly at home (probably playing with the mini dogs), and the men tend to take their SUVs out for a spin at night; driving endless circles through the town. I got bored out of my skull just watching them occupied with this brain-dead non-activity. No wonder VD is an issue; usually picked up in foreign countries I’ve heard.

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Citizens (men only) giving the four wheels a lackluster spin. At least the weather is in their favor.

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Great movie: “Deutschstunde” – just out.

I didn’t read the original novel by Siegfried Lenz (1968), so the story was completely new to me. A wartime movie, with a village policeman (initially) forced to prohibit his friend from painting; common practice in Nazi Germany. But the story has many levels: it addresses the conflict of a father/son relationship (with the painter competing for that role); the battle between good and evil (how can any painting be bad for society?); the decline into fanaticism and sticking to the party rules; how do we deal with populism in our own age; how can it be that hardened war criminals simply return and continue as before…?
The backdrop of the German coast, with constant rain torturing the characters, complements a very intriguing story that forces the viewer to continue to watch.

You can find the movie here in IMDb.

You can find all my favorite movies here on IMDb.

 

 

A short visit to the land of the pharaohs

I stopped over in Egypt – two days packed with impressions. I have published a couple of articles in my blog http://www.clemenssuter.com.

Above: The sun sets early in Cairo, always a special sight. The light is yellow and exotic – although I guess the air pollution produced by the massive amounts of cars certainly also plays a role. I was on business, so had basically no time for sightseeing. Most of these pictures were taken in transit from A to B.

Above: Many Egyptian citizens move from the country-side to Cairo, and high rises are constructed quickly, in many cases illegally and without utilities, to house these new city dwellers. Economically, Egypt is under a lot of strain, but the people who I met are very engaged and want to improve their country.

Above: the river Nile, beautiful by night. Many people about, as the best Egyptian soccer team was in town. A gentleman approached me, who escorted me to a perfume store; Cairo is always open for business ;-)