Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Why is the BBC afraid to call UKIP a nationalist party?

Populism is other people, according to the British media.

Austria's presidential election on Sunday, in which the country came within a hair's breadth of electing its first far-right head of state since World War II, has generated a new round of media coverage on the rise of extremist parties across Europe.

Today the BBC published an analysis of the 'Widespread revolt against the political centre', tracing the rise of these parties. It is accompanied by a map showing the percentage of votes won by "nationalist parties" in the most recent elections. 

Notice anything strange about this map? According to the BBC, the UK is either not part of Europe, or has no nationalist party. 

Monday, 23 May 2016

What planet are the Brexiters on?

No, Turkey is not about to join the EU. And the only country that wants it to is the UK.

Yesterday, on one of the UK's main Sunday morning politics shows, the UK's defence minister Penny Mordaunt made an astonishing claim. 

The pro-Brexit Tory politician told the BBC's Andrew Marr that Turkey is about to join the European Union, which would open the flood gates to Turkish immigrants coming into the UK. Asked if the UK has veto power over Turkish accession, Mordaunt replied, "No, it doesn't".

Except that it does - quite obviously. Any new EU member state must be approved unanimously by every county in the union, something that UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who is trying to stop the UK from voting to leave the EU, was quick to point out later in the day. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

How a memorial meant to be a symbol of Belgian resilience became a symbol of Belgian dysfunction

For two months after the Brussels attacks, the impromptu memorial at Place de la Bourse was left to decay. It will finally be cleaned up tomorrow.

In the hours immediately after the terrorist attacks in Brussels on 22 March, people were unsure what to do. It seemed safest to stay indoors, but as the afternoon developed without incident people wanted to come outside to show their solidarity.

Unable to reach the locations of the attacks themselves, they came to Brussels' most well-known meeting point to pay their respects: the steps outside the giant Leopold-era stock exchange, The Bourse. They began laying flowers and candles on the street in front of the steps, writing messages in chalk on the building and draping flags over the intimidating lions guarding the entrance.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Will Russia quit Eurovision next year?

A song about Russian-orchestrated genocide in Crimea has won Eurovision. This is more serious than you think.

In 2014, Russia was the unnamed enemy at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Ostensibly, the competition had nothing to do with Moscow. The shock winner was Conchita Wurst, a bearded drag queen from Austria who sang a song about overcoming adversity. All well and good. But the context behind the win was that Russian politicians and media had waged a campaign to discredit her - as a degenerate, and a symbol of a weak, effeminate West.

It backfired.

Austria won in 2014 - largely because of public voting from former Soviet satellite states. The juries of music experts - which count for 50% of the vote - voted overwhelmingly against her in Eastern Europe. But the public in Eastern Europe (the other 50% of the vote) voted for her. Because in the weeks before the concert, she had come to represent an anti-Russian stance (whether she meant to or not).

Monday, 9 May 2016

Ukraine's unabashedly anti-Russian Eurovision song

As tensions between Russia and the West continue, Ukraine fields an entry about the Soviet Union's horrific mass deportations in Crimea. How did it get past the censors?

In 2009, as the war between Georgia and Russia raged on, Georgian public broadcaster GPB tried to pull a fast one on the Eurovision censors.

They fielded a song called "We Don't Wanna Put In", a disco anthem ostensibly about not wanting to stop dancing. The Eurovision organisers weren't having it. Songs with political themes are not allowed in the contest.

The title of the song, and it's main chorus, did not grammatically make sense in English. Though this could be said about a lot of Eurovision entries, this one was clearly meant to be "We don't want a Putin". 

Friday, 6 May 2016

English has taken over Eurovision

Only three out of the 42 entries in this year's Eurovision Song Contest will not be sung in English - a new record. And maybe that's not a bad thing.

When the Eurovision Song Contest began in 1956, organisers had not thought to specify any policy for what language the acts could sing in. It was just assumed that each country would sing in their own language.

That changed in 1965, when Sweden showed up to the contest with an entry in English. France was not amused. They convinced the Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union, which runs the contest, to impose a rule requiring each country's entry to be in an official language of that country. Otherwise, they argued, English would erode the contest's cultural legitimacy.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Gleisdreieck: the new Berlin wall

The old border between East and West may be imperceptible these days, but Berlin still feels like two different cities.

This week, after I had finished moving into my new apartment in the Neukolln neighbourhood of Berlin, I went to the annual re:publica conference nearby. It's an event focused on the politics of the internet - a subject close to German hearts

It is held at The Station, an extraordinary event facility housed in a former postbahnhof - a train station for mail. Today it sits under a dizzying intersection of several different train lines at Gleisdreieck Station - where U2, U1 and DB long-distance tracks converge. It has a beautiful outdoor area that faces Gleisdreieck Park. 

But this spot wasn't always so lovely. For decades this area was a barren weed-filled wasteland under and along the railroad tracks, separating the West Berlin neighbourhoods of Schoneberg and Kreuzberg.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Norway is the Puerto Rico of Europe

Puerto Rico has to obey laws made in Washington, but has no say in shaping them. Sound familiar?

Over the past two years, Puerto Ricans have been reeling from a government debt crisis that is throwing the island into near chaos. But for their fellow American citizens, it has gone largely unnoticed.

The incomparable John Oliver did a segment about the crisis last week, and like a lot of Americans I found myself watching it with a sense of embarrassment. I also hadn't heard anything about the crisis before.

Continental Americans have a disconnected relationship with the American territory to their south. Many do not know that it is part of the United States, and even those that do know often forget.