A FLAS Fellow's Semester Abroad in Amman

Audrey Dombro, an agricultural and consumer economics student and 2019-20 FLAS fellow, reflects upon her experience studying in Jordan.

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.

Reading Contagion through Boccaccio's Decameron

Dr. Eleonora Stoppino discusses the moments of social and ethical breakdown described by Boccaccio, as well as the potential for reconstruction after the plague.

Conversations on Europe

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

COVID-19 and Liberal Democracy in Hungary

Dr. Zsuzsa Gille responds to the "Enabling Act," passed by the Hungarian Parliament on March 30, 2020.

Videos of Previous Lectures

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

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Higher Education in Germany: Thirteen Years after the Bologna Declaration

On September 25, Edwin Kreuzer, Professor of Mechanics and Head of Research Section Mechanics and Ocean Engineering at Hamburg University of Technology in Hamburg, Germany, delivered a lecture entitled "Higher Education in Germany: Thirteen Years after the Bologna Declaration". Dr. Kreuzer's lecture is co-sponsored by the European Union Center and the Global Studies in Education program. You can watch his full lecture below or by clicking here:

Edwin J. Kreuzer is Professor of Mechanics at Hamburg University of Technology in Hamburg, Germany, where he serves as the Head of Research Section Mechanics and Ocean Engineering. He also served as the President of the Hamburg Univ. of Technology from 2005-2011. He received a M.S. in Studies in Mechanical Engineering from the Technical University of Munich, a Ph.D from the University of Stuttgart, and a “Habilitation” in mechanics from the University of Stuttgart. He has held teaching positions at the Univ. of Stuttgart, Federal University of Rio de Janiero, Hamburg Univ. of Technology, and the Univ. of California, Berkeley. Over the years he has served as a Co-Editor of the book series Advances in Mechanics and a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Zeitschrift für Angewandte Mathematik und Mechanik (ZAMM) - Journal of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics. He has been a member of the Deutsches Komitee für Mechanik Board, the Congress Committee of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, the Hamburg Academy of Sciences (where he is a Founding Member), the European Academy of Science and Arts, and the German Academy of Science and Engineering.

Monday, September 24, 2012

EUC Affiliated Faculty Member selected as Beckman Fellow, Center for Advanced Study

© 2009 Elizabeth M., used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en
Julie L. Cidell, a faculty member of the Department of Geography and affiliated faculty of the European Union Center, was recently selected as a Beckman Fellow, Center for Advanced Study.  Cidell's proposal, “The City That Greens: Creating Chicago's New Urban Environment”, focuses on urban greening projects within Chicago.

During her Center appointment Professor Cidell will make a case study of the city's efforts to "green" its urban environment, from the 1996 beautification of selected downtown streets in preparation for the Democratic National Convention through the end of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s term in 2011.

The project is expected to result in a book proposal that will address the reasons why potentially contradictory programs exist side by side, and how different city departments and individuals within those departments produced these different programs under the umbrella of greening the city.


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Islam in Europe Lecture Series: Religion and Political Participation of Muslims in the West (It is not what you think)


On September 10, Jocelyne Cesari, professor of Islamic studies at Harvard University, delivered a lecture entitled "Religion and Political Participation of Muslims in the West (It is not what you think)". Dr. Cesari's lecture is part of the EUC's Islam in Europe Lecture Series. You can watch her full lecture below or by clicking here:

Jocelyne Cesari is a Research Associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Center for European Studies, and teaches at the Harvard Divinity School and at the Government Department. At Harvard, she is Director of the interfaculty Islam in the West Program (see http://cmes.hmdc.harvard.edu/research/iw). This research program produced a major publication, the Encyclopedia of Islam in the United States, which was published by Greenwood Press in September of 2007. She also coordinates the new web-based initiative on contemporary Islamic thinking called Islamopedia Online (www.islamopediaonline.org), and is the scientific coordinator for http://www.euro-islam.info.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on Amnesty

by Michelle Asbill

I’m a realist.  Therefore, when I watched the movie “Amnesty”1, it took only a few minutes before I was nodding my head in confirmation.  Tall, bland communist blocks enveloped in a soft gray stillness.  However, this is not a desired, peaceful stillness, but a forced silence. There is no joy, no hint of mercy, and no sign of a hero.  Director Bujar Alimani immediately pulls his viewers into the seemingly rampant poverty by introducing his main characters who have an overwhelming number of reasons to despair.
In brief, the film tells the story of two individuals (a man and a woman) who meet via the prison system, as both of their respective spouses are in jail.  Both are trapped in different life circumstances, which ultimately causes them to open up to each other and their relationship begins.  However, just as their relationship starts to bloom, the Albanian government announces that all prisoners will be released earlier than expected.  This unexpected development brings a close to their relationship and the realities of their “pre-relationship” lives return.

Again, Alimani wastes no time in showing off the bleakness and overall emptiness of Albania.  Scenes of joy and happiness are fleeting.  Instead, we watch people wait (at the bus stop, at the prison, at the unemployment office) completely indifferent to anything going on around them.  This societal indifference is also represented by a plot directed tour of the many dysfunctional systems hard at work, particularly the educational, judicial, and economic systems.

As I stated before, I am realist.  As having lived in the Balkans for three and a half years (Bulgaria) and having had the opportunity to visit several Balkan countries (however not Albania), I can testify to these scenes.  I have seen the poverty, I have met the apathy, and I have witnessed the function of the dysfunction.

Yet, half way through the film I found myself resisting Alimani’s message.  Of course, the argument can be made that this story needs to be told.  The world should be aware that people are oppressed in Albania.  That life is often hard and that the goal for most is to survive.  While I appreciate his honesty, I found myself wondering if this would be the only impression of the Balkans, which the viewers would be left with.  For much of my first year in the Balkans, I was also tempted to focus simply on the negative.  It is not difficult to produce something which negatively depicts the Balkans.

Yet, the reality is that the Balkans is not simply a collection of apathetic and pessimistic people.  The Balkans is an area rich in culture, tradition, and history.  There are tales of courage, friendship, and devotion to community, which if turned into a film in the United States would be marketed as a heroic love story.  I agree that some of these more negative qualities are woven into the cultural and societal fabric of the Balkans, but there are many often overlooked brighter materials sewn in alongside them.

While I appreciate Alimani’s creative honesty, I would encourage everyone to pick up a good book2; about the Balkans, visit a Balkan country (or restaurant), and as result develop some positive impressions of the Balkans.  I think you will discover that the Balkans is quite wealthy in some things: a commitment to family, devotion to friends, and generous hospitality.

1The film has been selected as a Global Lens 2012 film by the Global Film Initiative and more information can be found at their website: http://www.globalfilm.org/index.html

2For those interested in a good, fun to read introduction to the Balkans, I would recommend Robert Kaplan’s Balkan Ghosts and then he has written a sequel as well entitled Eastward to Tartary.

Michelle Asbill is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois.  Her previous graduate work has been in the area of social work (MSW—U. of Wisconsin-Madison) and community development (Wheaton College).  Michelle lived in Sofia, Bulgaria for three years (2008-2011), as both an employee of a small Bulgarian non-profit organization and also as a graduate student at New Bulgarian University (degree pending defense of thesis).  Michelle has been awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Bulgarian language study for the 2012-2013 academic year.  Her research interests include EU policies and programs related to combating trafficking and how they impact the effectiveness of non-profits working in this area, as well as Bulgarian agriculture.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Employing the Unemployment Debate

by Whitney Taylor

This past Saturday, Melissa Harris-Perry, host of her show on MSNBC, was involved in a lively on-air debate with one of her guests when the topic of welfare payments arose. The crux of contention erupted when conversation angled towards welfare recipients being viewed as lazy and taking advantage of a social safety net that some have come to believe is an overused and abused government program.

But where has this backlash come from and why?

Prior to the financial crisis of 2008, unemployment numbers and reports were of little concern with the average consumer, but today our perspectives and interests have changed. The economy is no longer growing at the rate it used to, household budgets are squeezed and we are all feeling the pinch at the gas pump. Employment numbers are now an indicator of economic and personal health.

Across the US and the EU, unemployment has become an acute issue. Last Friday, the University of Illinois hosted Professor Irma Mooi-Reci who gave a lecture titled “The Career Disadvantage of Unemployment Across Age and Sex: Germany As A Case Study”; her lecture and research focused on factors that she found to contribute to unemployment trends.

Source: Michael Nagle of Bloomberg News, 8-30-2012
Her findings show that those most affected by unemployment tend to be in the 18-25 and 51-65 age categories. Gender became a significant factor, but as her research focused on Germany, their cultural influences of how men and women’s roles in society are perceived and accepted played a key part in that distinction.

In the United States, women who play an active role in the workforce has become a culturally accepted norm. Nevertheless, there exist biases throughout the United States and across Europe when the subject of unemployment arises. It becomes de rigueur to find a scapegoat to blame; greedy corporations sending jobs overseas or across borders, government austerity measures cutting into personnel budgets, lack of access to retraining programs, and a variety of other arguments. However a problem that Professor Mooi-Reci touched upon that is becoming more noteworthy is how people who have been unemployed for extended periods of time are able to recover and regain employment?
Political Cartoon by Tom Toles for the Washington Post, 6-25-2012

This trend has been termed “structural unemployment” – a lingering mismatch between jobs available and those unemployed who seek work. Potential workers become disenfranchised with the job market, lose traction in their competitive advantage and some drop out of the market altogether. This begs the question that so many of us have today: what are the proper solutions to prolonged unemployment? Do we need to create better training programs? Should social safety nets such as welfare be extended and expanded? Are unemployment benefits hurting the unemployed rather than helping them?

These are complicated and tough questions, but with a lagging economy and unemployment rates flat lining, these questions, however tenuous and combative they may be, create debate and conversation that may yield options and solutions; a question that as we face the upcoming Presidential election in November, suggest we have much to consider.

Whitney Taylor is a Master's Candidate in European Union Studies at Illinois where she is also completing a minor in Corporate Governance and International Business. Currently, she is researching financial regulation and corporate social responsibility within the EU and US. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Not Just the Separation of Church and State? Complexities in Understanding “Laïcité”

by Allyce Husband

Under the French constitution, individuals have a right to practice whichever religion they please. Religious freedom is protected.1  The United States also guarantees the freedom of religion under the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution, which states that the government cannot make a law “respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”2,3  A quick glance shows that these areas of the French and U.S. Constitution seem similar. Exploring the surrounding context, however, reveals that conflict exists between both parties over how these principles are interpreted. So what transpired between France and the United States, whom lately, are each others’ closest allies, to make them butt heads on a rather sensitive domestic policy?

In 2004, France enacted a law which stated, “In the schools, primary and public high schools, it is forbidden to wear signs or symbols of which a student ostensibly manifests a membership.”4  Symbols such as cross necklaces or turbans fall under this category. In 2010, subsequent French legislation declared that “no one can, in a public space, wear an item designed to cover their face.”5  While the context of the law did not explicitly mention the burqa, public and religious groups scrutinized the provision, judging it as an implicit attack upon religious freedom in France.

A burqa is a religious garment worn by Muslim women that reflects Islamic tradition. Not all Muslim women, however, wear a burqa. 6  Since the law forbids the wearing of garments that fully cover the face, tensions manifested, as the burqa fit this category.

In addition to scrutiny from public and religious groups in France, other international actors openly criticized the law. 7  Is the banning of face-covering garments in public places sending a discriminatory message to France’s Muslim community, and doesn’t the ban contradict the French constitution and freedom of religion? members of NGOs thought.8 
France’s law prohibiting individuals from wearing face-covering garments, seen as
the banning of the burqa, is still widely discussed in both the media and public sphere.
Image source: france24.com
Certain groups in France and around the world deemed the policy ‘repressive’, but the French government held a different outlook. The principle of laïcité, that the French state is separate from civil and religious society, and remains neutral on matters of religion, provides the context surrounding the 2004 and 2010 laws. On the subject of religious expression in France, French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius proclaimed:
France is a republic laïque, but laïcité is not hostile to religions. On the contrary, it provides shared framework for the coexistence of different religious expression, or lack thereof, and for the free exercise of groups…I do not ignore that laïcité is from time to time transformed into a principle of exclusion. But it is a misinterpretation.9
According to Mr. Fabius’ statement, the bans are aimed at reinforcing the principle of laïcité10  and ensuring equality in matters of religious freedom. For critics in the international community, including the United States, it is difficult to fully comprehend his reasoning. Instead, the ban can seem like blatant repression, as we grew up learning that individuals in the U.S. can express themselves freely in whichever way that they like, regardless of the limitations of the First Amendment.

In July, 2012, the U.S. Department of State released its annual International Religious Freedom Report for 2011.11  The report, published annually, stems from the United States’ commitment to protecting and advocating for religious freedom around the world. That Washington’s profile on France stated, among positive developments, reports of discrimination, did not travel under the radar. Following its release, French headlines pronounced, “US Slams the Laws Against the Burqa”, and “Religious Liberty: Washington Corners France and Europe”, grabbing the attention of French political figures.

The U.S. and France aim to keep religion and the state in separate arenas in one form or the other; however, it appears that the concept of laïcité in France versus the United States’ understanding of the “separation of church and state” possess inherent differences, despite similarities within the literal constitutional text. While both ideas boast the promotion of religious freedom, the context which surrounds them, namely France’s ban on religious symbols in public places and the notion of religious freedom in the United States, renders them distinguishable.

1 International Religious Freedom Report for 2011: France country profile, U.S Department of State, published July 30, 2012, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?dlid=192809#wrapper .

2United States Constitution, www.archives.gov.

3While individuals in the U.S. can believe as they choose, laws limit believers from acting on or practicing certain types of religious beliefs. An example is the outlawing of polygamy, a belief of certain Mormon sects.

4Code de l’education, article L. 141-5-1.

5Loi du 11 octobre 2010 inderdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace publique, Vie Publique, published October 13, 2010, http://www.vie-publique.fr/actualite/panorama/texte-vote/loi-du-11-octobre-2010-interdisant-dissimulation-du-visage-espace-public.html.

6Less than 2,000 women in France wear a burqa. According to sociologist Dounia Bouzar, “Even if the figures seem likely, it is very difficult to precisely establish their number, notably because certain [wearers] never leave their house.” http://www.elle.fr/Societe/News/Qui-porte-la-burqa-en-France-1104761. The government does not keep statistics on religion, but it is estimated that France has the largest Muslim population in Europe. International Religious Freedom Report for 2011: France country profile, U.S. Department of State, published July 30, 2012, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?dlid=192809#wrapper.

7CNN reports that the U.S. Department of State’s annual report on religious freedom says that countries are witnessing "growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered 'the other’… there are a rising number of European countries, including Belgium and France, whose laws restricting dress adversely affected Muslims and others.” http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/07/30/state-department-warns-of-poor-religious-freedoms-in-egypt-china-europe/.

8 The NGO SOS Racisme stated that the ban “contravened the constitution and European Convention on Human Rights.” Amnesty International believed that the ban would break international law, “violating the rights to freedom of expression.” http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=38621.

9French Minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius, Press Conference, July 31, 2012, http://basedoc.diplomatie.gouv.fr/vues/Kiosque/FranceDiplomatie/kiosque.php?type=ppfr.

10Another example of laicite, or the separation of civil and religious life, occurs in schools. Public schools do not make religion courses a mandatory part of their curriculum. Additionally, students, while allowed to exercise any religion they wish, are not allowed to interrupt classes to pray or ask for a special menu at their school cafeteria.

11International Religious Freedom Report for 2011: France country profile, U.S Department of State, published July 30, 2012, http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/irf/religiousfreedom/index.htm?dlid=192809#wrapper.

Allyce Husband is a second year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) degree program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. This summer, Allyce worked for the U.S. Department of State as an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad in Florence, Italy and will be spending the fall semester abroad at the University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy. Allyce was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for Italian language study for the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 academic years. She was also awarded a summer FLAS Fellowship to study French in Paris prior to her internship. Her research interests have included immigration and the media. In her free time, Allyce loves to cook and travel.


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