EU Day 2017

Learn about EU Day and the keynote delivered by David O'Sullivan, Ambassador of the EU to the U.S. on the 15th Annual EU Day on March 15.

Master of Arts in European Union Studies

The European Union Center at the University of Illinois offers the only Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program in the Western Hemisphere. Learn more here.

Language Shapes Opinion Towards Gender Equality

Dr. Margit Tavits discussed langauge and gender as a part of the EUC Faculty Lecture Series.

Conversations on Europe

Watch the collection of online roundtable discussions on different EU issues sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh.

Transatlantic Relationships after US Elections

Watch the EUC Sponsored Roundtable on Transatlantic Relations after the 2016 US Election with Moderator Niala Boodhoo

Videos of Previous Lectures

Missed an EUC-hosted lecture? Our blog's video tag has archived previous EUC-sponsored lectures.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Conversations on Europe Videoconference: "May 1968: Legacies of Protest in France"

By Paul Myers

This conversation on Europe focused on the mark left by, but also the influences of, the student, and trade unions protests in the May 1968, remembered for youth clashes with police and other apparatuses of governance in the streets of Paris. While the immediate offshoot was seemingly the solidified power of the De Gaulle regime, as he won office with greater majorities later that summer only to replaced by an acolyte the following year, the protest themselves were and remain emblematic of a social and political shift. The conversation opened with a brief visual introduction by Dr. Jae-Jae Spoon, including some of the poster images displayed in this blog.

A two-tone brown and cream illustration showing the silhouette of a man in a broad-brimmed hat standing behind a young teen boy. The boy is wearing a white collared shirt and suspenders, and the silhouette man has his hand over the boy's mouth. To the left of the two figures is text reading "Sois Jeune et Tais Toi."
Figure 1
The panelists (Dr. Chris Reynolds, The Nottingham Trent University; Dr. Salar Mohandesi, Bowdoin College; Dr. Daniel Gordon, Edge Hill University; Dr. Giuseppina Mecchia, Department of French and Italian, University of Pittsburgh), moderated by Dr. Jae-Jae Spoon, began their discussion considering what May 1968 had meant. Dr. Reynolds noted that the answer to that query was highly dependent upon to whom it was posed. That is, the month and the history which both shaped and came from it, was understood differently, especially upon theoretically uncomplicated binary divisions like left and right, young and old, as well as urbanite Parisian and their rural counterparts. The panelist agreed that positionality and privilege very much shaped the varying lenses by which the protest of the month were viewed. Dr. Mecchia noted that ‘’68 does not start in ‘68’, but arrived on the tides of anti-imperialist and anti-colonial movements that were formed in response to perceptions of de Gaulle’s regime by non-insignificant portions of the French citizenry. Agreeing and augmenting, Dr. Salar offered that not only does ’68 not start in ’68, but it doesn’t end there either. The labor unrest and crises that would occur in the 70s were tinged with characteristics of the protests of ’68. Yet, he also noted that varied views of ’68 also included the resentment of present day protesters that identify ’68 as a space of arrested development in the French popular consciousness, and thus the slogan “F**k May ’68, Fight Now” has appeared not only in France, but across Europe and the world, including the black block protests at the 2009 G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, as a rallying cry for a present revolution that doesn’t nostalgically lionize the past. A part of this disavowal is predicated on generational differences as the “kids” of ’68 came of age and now find themselves comprising the present middle classes and in places of power that bring into question their commitments to change—exposing them to being impugned by younger generations as selfish. In the eyes of today’s youth, those “kids” are now sellouts.

Black and white image of a cartoon hand writing a declension of the French verb participer, ending in the phrase "ils profitent", which is underlined.
Figure 2
Dr. Gordon contested the emphasis on generational differences in scholarship and the popular imagination, explaining, that ‘Not all youth [in ‘68] were radical, and not all radicals were young’. That is, today’s youth critique operates in oversimplifications and mischaracterizations of yesteryears’ youth. That to impugn the present lack of a cohesive radical spirit of the now-adult kids of ’68 implies that there was one previously. Gordon went on to explain that factory workers were on strike for significant periods of time before the protests of 1968 became a part of the zeitgeist. He closed with the consideration that maybe the protest that were so remembered had now become a cliché to today’s youth protestors, only offering them the frustration of an ill-conceived analogy.

Drs. Salar and Spoon closed this portion of the discussion noting that the comparisons of protest, especially made by the older generation, depersonalizes why people protest. Underscoring this point, Dr. Spoon noted how often the protestors of the time, now speak of being “there”, and how they were deeply impacted by space, place, and each other. She then moved to point out that the events of the year were transnational and multifaceted. Interestingly, Dr. Gordon noted that former French President Nicholas Sarkozy got his political start attempting to be a part of the counter-protest. He also explained that the faces of French labor at the time were indeed multinational and in desire of some semblance of protection. Over time, even though the protests are still remembered, they’ve been whitewashed and nationalized towards a less complex fabrication of French identity. Dr. Salar similarly expressed that though many of the protestors were French and male, that it would be an incomplete recollecting of the protests to not include women, queer rights activists, prisoners, and migrants who were attempting to invert or reconfigure presumably fixed social assemblages.

Black and white illustration of a woman in a full coat and narrow-legged pants tossing a boxy shape (that might be a brick) toward the viewer. Text above and below the figure reads "La Beauté Est Dans La Rue."
Figure 3
The conversation, drawing to a close moved out from France, with the scholars speaking on how the French saw themselves on the periphery of movements occurring in the United States and global South held in response to desires for worker, civil, and equal rights, as well the end of war. However, the protests also were influenced by the lack of closure from World War II. Those unhealed wounds and imagery were reflected and reconstituted in protests (note the SS symbol in the image below).

The panel also considered if the ’68 protests could be thought of in any way as a harkening back to French Revolution or a harbinger of today’s populist movements. The panel was largely in agreement that comparisons to 1789 were out of line, but that other revolutions had been influential. Regarding present, ongoing movements, Dr. Reynolds offered the idea that populism, unlike the progressive protest of ’68, is inwardly driven with yearnings for a contrived past. Countering, Dr. Salar explained that the protest of ’68 fostered the neoliberal 1970s. Thus, today’s populism is a second order effect, as the agreements and solutions of neoliberalism are being challenged by empirical experiences and ideology. Closing the conversation, Dr. Gordon stated that the populism of today is anachronistic by some measure. There seemed to be some agreement that though populism may be a part of the contingent history that includes the protest of ’68, that there are a multitude of issues that must be thoughtfully considered by scholars when placing the two eras in conversation—either in comparison or contrast.


A blue and white illustration of a policeman in a helmet. He is brandishing a long, thin club in his right hand, and holding a large, round shield in front of him with two white zig-zags that could be stylized S's.
Figure 4
Figure 1: https://www.flickr.com/photos/plashingvole/5786785112

Figure 2:
 http://journals.openedition.org/aad/docannexe/image/1897/img-17-small580.jpg

Source : Gasquet, Vasco. 2007. 500 affiches de mai 68(Bruxelles : Aden), p. 55

Figure 3:
 https://www.flickr.com/photos/12533165@N05/1346565036

Figure 4: http://sylvainrenard.info/public/crs.jpg


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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Speak Truth to Power: Civil Disobedience Past and Present

By Cassia Smith

A few decades apart, two men sat in jail and wrote letters to their colleagues, describing their visions for effective and ethical protest under unjust rule. On March 14, 2018, one of these men joined other activists and teachers to discuss nonviolent protest past and present.

A black and white photo of Martin Luther King, Jr gripping a lectern with both hands and leaning toward them and toward the viewer. His gaze is up and to the left, and his lips are slightly pursed as though he is about to speak.
Martin Luther King, Jr in 1964
(Source: Library of Congress via Wikimedia)
In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in response to a letter he had received from a group of white pastors who objected to some of his actions and rhetoric. This letter has become one of the classics of the American Civil Rights movement, as it briefly but clearly describes both King's point of view and the moment in which he was working. Decades later, in 1985, King's writing would also inspire a democratic activist imprisoned under communist rule in Poland: Adam Michnik. Michnik wrote a letter that was smuggled to his fellow underground activists and eventually made its way to the editor of the New York Review of Books, who published it under the title "Letter from the Gdansk Prison." Building off King's legacy of nonviolent protest and love for his fellow man, Michnik advocated against a continuation of violent protest against the communist regime and for a program of civil disobedience similar to King's strategy.

On March 14 of this year, Michnik spoke by videoconference to students at the College of Lake County on the influence King had on his idea, on the legacy of his own letter, and on protest in the current political climate. Professor Cathy Colton spoke on the history and ideas of King's original letter, and young activists working in the area of nonviolence today rounded out the program. This event was organized by the Center for Nonviolence at the College of Lake County and co-sponsored by the European Union Center, the Jan Karski Educational Foundation, the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, the Peace Exchange, and the Addie Wyatt Center for Nonviolence Training.

A black and white photo of a thin white man in a plaid shirt and jeans. He is standing slightly above the photographer in a stairwell, and leaning slightly back and to the side to grip the railing. He is smiling slightly while squinting against a bright light.
Adam Michnik in 1991
(photo©ErlingMandelmann)
In his main remarks, Michnik states that one of the things he found most useful in King's writing was that King faced two opponents to his work: The government-sanctioned oppression of Jim Crow segregation and other systematized racism; and the widespread acceptance of these practices by the public. Michnik felt he also faced two similar opponents: The oppressive, anti-democratic communist government on the one hand, but also the "stupidity" and populism that he saw feeding into widespread consent to Soviet rule. At the time he was imprisoned, violent protest against the Communist Party was common. However, he felt this was leading to an ineffective vicious cycle of violence on both sides. He made the analogy that they knew how to turn an aquarium into fish soup, but now he and his colleagues needed to understand how to make fish soup back into an aquarium. They needed to learn how to make dead things alive again. Michnik felt that King's policy of nonviolence and love toward his oppressors was the answer to this conundrum.

Towards the end of his talk, Michnik spoke of disappointing turns in the politics of both Poland and the United States. Though he did not have a positive opinion of recent political developments in either country, Michnik said that he was an optimist. Speaking through an interpreter, he said, "I know one thing: if we decide to follow in the steps of Martin Luther King, we are sure not to be defeated. Maybe we will not have political success, but we will win as people. And is there anything more important than to live one's life in accord with oneself?" He referenced Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech and urged those present not to give up on their dreams.

You can listen to the entire program by downloading the wav file. (Mac users may need to use the free media software VLC Player in order to view the video.) The video quality is poor due to the limitations of the web conference software used to facilitate the live event, but aside from some crosstalk when Michnik joins the video conference the audio is fairly good. In addition to the remarks from the scheduled speakers, there is also a question and answer period where audience members ask for Michnik's perspective on recent Polish legislation denying Nazi collaboration, advice for young protesters, and Catholicism under communist rule. The entire recording is about an hour and forty-five minutes long, and provides a range of perspectives on and experiences in nonviolent political activism.


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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Conversations on Europe: European Cities in the 21st Century

By Jessica Mrase

This month’s Conversations on Europe conference focused on issues faced by city developers, city leaders, and residents of European cities. The discussion, titled “European Cities in the 21st Century,” probed hot topics such as how European cities are employing strategies for resilience against climate change, how technology is used to create “smart” cities in regards to transportation and energy grids (see last month’s post on Energy Policy), as well as sharing best practices learned from urban development within the networks of the European Union. Moderating the discussion was Director of European Studies Center at the University of Pittsburgh, Jae-Jae Spoon. Participating panelists included Katrina Kelly (University of Pittsburgh), Alistair Cole (Po Lyon), Marco Bontje (University of Amsterdam), and Ali Madanipour (Newcastle University).

The conference began with Spoon acknowledging that although European cities are becoming greener and more sustainable, the EU must do more to combat the challenges of climate change and unemployment. The floor opened to the panelists to provide their insight on the topic. Madanipour commented that there is no “single” European city. More often than not, larger, iconic cities are considered being “European.” They have identifiable trends such as cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, high sustainability, and great public transport. The medium-sized cities are stable, but smaller cities are losing population. So what can cities do to counteract these problems and progress?

Kelly offered her expertise in energy as being the greatest case. On the city level, the European ideal for cities to aim for is alternative energies and focus on the advancement of the electrical grid. There is also contest in as European and reaching for a unified “continental” goal is similar to admitting that you are not a nationalist. Moreover, in the current political climates, there has been an inward pull to reclaim national roots and pride in the country. On the flipside of this, cities tend to be locations that are more liberal. The balance between politics and urban advancement is difficult to achieve since they currently contradict one another.

In light of recent events, Spoon wanted to redirect the conversation into a more positive mindset. Bontje allowed for recognition towards cities’ progress in mobility, for instance improved facilities and infrastructure. Madanipour mentioned that a key theme for this topic is a very strong and positive feeling towards urbanity. European city dwellers are presently pushing for aesthetic improvement of the city as a way to improve their quality of life across the EU. Cole agreed with these points, but he did pull the conversation back to the other side of city development. In larger cities, some neighborhoods are worse off than others are, and conscientious developers must ensure that vulnerable populations are not displaced via gentrification. Though this practice seems counterintuitive to overall city growth, it seeks to balance the city as both a space of justice and economic progress.
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Monday, February 19, 2018

Consent and Refusal of Consent: The Century of the Body

By Caitlin Brooks

The reprint of Geneviève Fraisse’s book “Du consentement” was supposed to be a quiet event. Fraisse assumed that no one would notice, she would stay at home and work quietly and the book, first published in 1989, would appear in updated form in academic circles and on the shelves of book sellers in France. Then in October 2017, the same month as the book’s reprint, the #metoo social media hashtag took off and, according to Fraisse, the conversation changed. “I have no choice, I have to follow the story…. Suddenly there really was a lot of demand about my work, so I stopped to write what I was writing and took up the question of consent.”

Originally used in 2006 by social activitist Tarana Burke to help survivors of sexual assault realize they are no alone, it was popularized last year by actress Alyssa Milano who encouraged women to tweet it to “give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The #MeToo hashtag spread virally across social media platforms (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) during October 2017 on social media posts in which women self-identified as experiencing sexual assault and harassment in the workplace. Thousands of specific stories were told along with the hashtag and millions more women simply posted “#MeToo” in solidarity with the movement.

In the United States, the movement became so wide sweeping that Time magazine named the “Silence Breakers” the Person of the Year for 2017. “The hashtag #MeToo (swiftly adapted into #BalanceTonPorc, #YoTambien, #Ana_kaman and many others), which to date has provided an umbrella of solidarity for millions of people to come forward with their stories, is part of the picture, but not all of it.”

Fraisse, the Director of Research at the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS, France), had been writing about consent and sexual violence for decades before the #MeToo campaign took off. According to Fraisse, “Our [French] political geography is a little moved by this story. It had unexpected geopolitical consequences.”

Talking in the Foreign Languages Building on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus, Fraisse explored the history of feminism in France is one of the individual body. “It's the bodies and the many bodies of women just came up in the public space and said ‘it's enough,’” Fraisse said. “It's interesting for me because it means that these bodies are at the disposal of men, and that's not safe. The bodies after all this gain of rights and also for the bodies when divorce, contraception, abortion. But it's just rights for individual people, it's not the change of society.”

But with the #metoo campaign and the recent public outcry over sexual assault in Hollywood and Olympic gymnastics, “This time it is a collective with the body who said that it’s enough, it's enough and we go outside and we took the floor.”

“What was happening was that there was a sexual contract and no one was talking about it. The notion that female bodies are not for themselves but are also at the disposal of men,” she said.

“Is consent a political question? It’s very important for me: the definition of individual consent is not the political question. The question is: how do you intervene in society? If it's a political argument, then it means that you propose your consent as argument for the world of tomorrow. But consent, as a word, is problematic. It is not possible because it’s too ambiguous a word and it's too complicated.”

Instead, she proposes, what we are talking about is not refusal of consent on an individual basis, as the stories in the #metoo campaign illustrate, but a collective refusal, as the campaign as a whole represents. “It's saying ‘No.’ facing this social contract where women are not exactly members as men,” Fraisse said.

The end of Fraisse’s talk and book explore the real discussion on consent that began two centuries ago. “Behind this screen, you have the real discussion [about freedom, equality and relationship to the state] and it began two centuries ago. I think that what is going on today is, even if you don't know the foreign story, it's really very interesting. It’s at the core of the evolution of this question. The 21st century will be the century of the body, sexual identities, reproduction, and violence against women's bodies. Probably the century of ‘what is a body in a society’.”

Fraisse’s visit to campus was co-sponsored by the European Union Center and the Department of French and Italian.
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