EU Day 2016

Learn about EU Day and the keynote delivered by His Excellency Henne Schuwer, Ambassador of the Netherlands to the U.S. on the 14th Annual EU Day on February 29th.

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.

EUC Dimensions of New and Heritage Language Education

Dr. Liv Thorstensson Dávila discussed langauge education as a part of the EUC Faculty Lecture Series.

Whose Legacy? Museums and National Heritage Debates

Watch the online roundtable discussion sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh.

2015 recipient of the Larry Neal Prize for Excellence in EU Studies

Read about the 2015 recipient of the Larry Neal Prize for Excellence in EU Studies, Michelle Egan, and her book Single Markets

Videos of Previous Lectures

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Online Guide to EU Law Developed by Jenner Law Library

The Jenner Law Library at the UIUC College of Law has developed an online guide to the Law of the European Union.  The guide is intended to serve as a starting point for research on EU law for both students and faculty members.  The guide provides undergraduates with basic information that succinctly summarizes the EU’s unique institutional structure and decision-making process.  Graduate students and scholars who are already familiar with the EU will appreciate the guide’s convenient links to frequently used legislative, judicial, and statistical databases, as well as links to specialist news coverage of the EU and credible blog commentary on EU law.   The guide may be accessed from the UIUC Library’s Portal to the European Union at Illinois by selecting “European Union Law LibGuide” from the pull-down menu labeled “EU Research Guides.”

Subjects covered by the guide include EU treaties, EU institutions, EU decision-making, EU legislation, the EU court system, and EU case law.  To access content pertaining to a particular subject, simply click on the relevant tab located at the top of the guide.  Each tab includes a brief overview of the subject matter, links to official EU websites and databases, as well as links to relevant print and electronic resources from the UIUC Library’s extensive collection of EU-related materials.  Additional tabs provide links for locating secondary sources on EU Law, subject-specific resources on EU Law, EU publications and statistics, and resources for keeping current on developments in EU law.  Each link opens in a new window, making it easy to navigate back and forth between the guide and the linked webpages.    

The reference librarians and graduate assistants at the Jenner Law Library are available to assist all members of the UIUC community with their research needs.  Individuals with questions related to European Union law may visit the Law Library’s reference desk in person or contact the reference desk by phone (217-244-0614) or by email (law-refdesk@illinois.edu).

PHOTO © European Union 2013

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Downsides of a Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement

by Mike Nelson

For the casual observer, anyone hearing President Obama announce in the State of the Union address that his administration would be working on a free trade agreement with the EU would probably ask themselves two questions: (1) isn’t trade already free between the two and (2) if trade isn’t already free, why not make it so? The resulting media coverage has been positive, and there seems to be a great deal of public support for an EU-US FTA. After hearing additional praise during a video conference with the University of Pittsburgh about this subject, I decided to research and consider the cons of an FTA between the U.S. and the EU.

To paint a more accurate picture, it should be noted that President Obama did not use the phrase “free trade agreement” in his announcement. He called it a “comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.” It struck the panelists at the video conference and myself as curious that Obama was so cautious with his language. Obama’s speechwriters may have simply been concerned that the American audience wouldn’t know what an FTA is (Americans have a bad track record in understanding anything involving other countries, see the confusion between the Czech Republic and Chechnya for an example). I suspect that Obama didn’t want to commit to the word “free” in case there was a dispute in the negotiations between the U.S. and the EU. Finally, several sources indicate that Obama added the announcement to the State of the Union address at the very last minute, which suggests that he has some concerns.

I tried to give this issue some common sense analysis to determine what the downsides of transatlantic free trade could possibly be. Consider a scenario where there is a company that sells Product A in the United States and another country that sells Product A in the EU. Right now, Americans always buy from the American company because there are no tariffs imposed, so the price is cheaper than the European company’s product. However, with a free trade agreement, both companies would be able to compete, which would damage the American company’s sales. The other problem with an FTA could be disagreement over what constitutes a certain product. For example, there have been disputes over whether American companies can slap the word “Château” on bottles of wine and sell them in France, where there are stricter guidelines on what is or is not “Château.”

A specific area of concern with an EU-US FTA is agricultural products. In an interview, former World Bank President Robert Zoellick explained the problem with agriculture. The EU has very strict food regulations in response to the hunger faced by many Europeans during World War II, while the U.S. is not as concerned. American farmers are angry that Europeans sometimes reject American products for not meeting the high EU standards. Take into account the horse meat scandal in Europe, and this issue is all over the place right now.

Overall, none of these problems were very compelling in convincing me to think that a free trade agreement is a bad idea for the EU or the United States. It is important to at least consider these cons though when negotiating the terms of the FTA. Either way, I can rest assured that an EU-US FTA will be good for me as a consumer.

Mike Nelson is a first year MAEUS student. He graduated a year early and received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012. Mike has studied French, German, and Spanish and will be tackling Swedish starting this fall. He has traveled to Germany and hosted a French foreign exchange student. During the summer, he works as a manager at a water park. He is working as a Graduate Assistant and Teaching Assistant for the European Union Center this year. 

Photo: European Parliament
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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Green Shore by Natalie Bakopoulos

by Michelle Asbill
History must be studied and examined, but it should also be enjoyed. This combination is perhaps best represented and accomplished by historical fiction. Writers of historical fiction have the opportunity to challenge their readers to climb into the minds of historical figures and re-live the past. Of course, this is an equal challenge for writers, as “there are limits to the writer’s authority. She cannot know her character completely. She has no power to alter his world or postpone his death. But in other ways it is not humble at all: she presumes to know the secrets of the dead and the mechanics of history.”1

In a recent European Union Center lecture, new and up-coming author Natalie Bakopoulos demonstrated that she not only enjoys history, but that she possesses both the desire and the talent needed to share it.2 Throughout the lecture, Bakopoulos entertained listeners by sharing sections of her recently published historical fiction novel, The Green Shore.3 In brief, her book follows a Greek family during the time of the 1967 military coup in Greece. She is able to explore this tumultuous event by retelling the story through the eyes of different characters, mainly the family members. Each character receives the new dictatorship in a different way, thus allowing the author to introduce different insights and points of view regarding the coup. Her book has been warmly received, primarily because of her courage to make the setting of her book an event which has not received extensive attention (especially in the United States), not to mention the creativity and imagination behind her characters.4

However, in addition to sharing excerpts from her novel, Bakopoulos also revealed the incredible amount of work necessary to produce credible and reliable historical fiction. For example, she shared that in preparation for writing she read several books on a particular type of Greek music, as she wanted to be able to include accurate references, if her plot at some point needed this information. Also, she described long days spent in the archives going through material related to the coup, both in Greek and English. She waded through a seemingly endless amount of material in search of new details, but also in order to be exposed to as much information and different interpretations of the events as possible.

With the necessary historical research done, she was able to create characters that fit perfectly in the Greek military coup context. She shared that while some of her characters were purely fiction, others were “spin offs” of other people, with one character even resembling a relative. In addition, specific details which might seem unnecessary from a historical perspective, but are crucial from the perspective of fiction, were made possible from an aunt. She explained that her aunt actually sent her many letters, which not only provided details related to the coup, but perhaps equally important, shared the experiences of real people. It is this powerful combination of historical fact and creative character development which should make The Green Shore an engaging read for readers of all backgrounds and disciplines.

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.   



1Taken from “The Dead Are Real: Hilary Mantel’s imagination by Larissa MacFarquhar October 15, 2012, retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/10/15/121015fa_fact_macfarquhar

2For more event information, please see: http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/1889?eventId=26388532&calMin=201304&cal=20130402&skinId=6850

3For book information, please see: http://www.amazon.com/Green-Shore-Natalie-Bakopoulos/dp/1451633920/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1365389578&sr=1-1&keywords=Green+Shore

4Family of Strangers ‘The Green Shore,’ by Natalie Bakopoulos, by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, published: October 19, 2012, retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/books/review/the-green-shore-by-natalie-bakopoulos.html?_r=0

Photo source: "Old Book Bindings," Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Old_book_bindings.jpg
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Friday, June 21, 2013

Balkan Migration and Identity

by Michelle Asbill

Dr. Theodora Dragostinova’s recent lecture, hosted by the European Union Center (EUC), offered new insights regarding the movement of citizens in the Balkans during the twentieth century.  More specifically, her lecture entitled, “Between Home and Homeland: Migration and National Dilemmas across the Bulgarian-Greek Border in the Early Twentieth Century”, described the movement of Bulgarian Greeks between Greece and Bulgaria and the subsequent challenges they faced in being torn between these two countries.1 While her research has resulted in a variety of insights (a more detailed version can be found in her book, Between Two Motherlands: Nationality and Emigration among the Greeks of Bulgaria, 1900-1949), perhaps one of the more interesting conclusions is that some Greek Bulgarians chose their country of residence by determining which location would benefit their family the most.  In other words, they did not simply make a decision rooted in nationalistic thought and sentiment.

This very pragmatic method of decision making is somewhat surprising, but even more so when the broader historical context is taken into account.  It is important to remember that the twentieth century (specifically the first half) was a particularly chaotic time, as the Balkans hosted both Balkan Wars and then participated in World War I and II.  For obvious reasons, the Balkan Wars represent a very awkward time diplomatically for Greece and Bulgaria. Yet, despite the fact that from a political perspective the two countries had a very precarious relationship, Dr. Dragostinova’s research indicates that Bulgarian Greeks still chose to either return (to) or remain in Bulgaria.

From this case study, it is clear that the need to survive and do what was best for the family unit (or perhaps even the broader group) took precedence over nationalistic feelings. It shows the determination of people to survive and not simply be led by the dominating opinions and policies of the government. This is incredibly interesting, since much of Balkan history seems to focus in on the strong trends of nationalism and the resulting conflicts. Of course, it would be inaccurate to gloss over or minimize the ethnic violence and hegemony which has taken place. Yet, this case study is unique, in that it shows a group of people choosing to not identify primarily with a specific ethnicity or nation, but to pursue what is best for their own survival and well-being.

Obviously, it is very common to hear of families separating and leaving their country of origin in order to search for work. However, it would be interesting to build on Dr. Dragostinova’s findings with the Bulgarian Greeks and for example, to see if there are groups of migrants who are not as interested in strongly identifying with a specific ethnic group or nation, but instead are thinking “family first” or “survival first”. Some would argue that it would be extremely difficult to find such a group, especially when the Balkan landscape encompasses several political and social conflicts (such as between Kosovo and Serbia), yet Dr. Dragostinova’s research has demonstrated among other things, that you never know what you will find when you start digging in the Balkans.

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.   



1For more information on the lecture, please see: http://illinois.edu/calendar/detail/1889?eventId=26388535&calMin=201305&cal=20130521&skinId=6850and for more information on Dr. Dragostinova, please see: http://mershoncenter.osu.edu/people/faculty/facultybios/DragostinovaT-cv.htm
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The EU: Image in Crisis?

by Whitney Taylor

On Friday, February 15th the European Union Center at the University of Illinois held its 12th Annual EU Day. Similar to previous years, we had the pleasure of hosting dignitaries and engaging with them in dialogues on hot topics such as the financial crisis, immigration issues and EU enlargement. This year we were honored to receive the Ambassador of Ireland to the United States, His Excellency Michael Collins. During his State of the European Union Address, the general feeling in the room felt more at ease this year than it had one-year prior. As some may remember, the very livelihood of the Euro and the European Union was being questioned last year. Markets were panicked, investors were bearish and people were not sure that the great experiment had been completely thought-through in its inception. However, those that had tempered the conversation and reassured us that the EU was still a success story showcasing peace and prosperity turned out to be correct; the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012 and President Barack Obama affirmed his support in the Union through the initiation of an EU-US trade agreement. Eurosceptics beware, the EU is here, it is open for investment and trading, but perhaps more importantly, it may be getting its groove back despite stumbling along in our recent past.

However such positive signs in the economy can be halting and are not guaranteed. Ambassador Collins admitted that the EU had experienced failings and significant browbeating from both the media, but also from Member State economies. As the Ambassador to Ireland, Mr. Collins knows all too well the depth of the crisis and that emerging from it will not occur overnight but over the course of many months if not years. Slow, measured growth is ideal and in fact necessary alongside budget cuts if the EU is to reaffirm its strong position in the global economy. Although it has not been swept aside in the least, we cannot disregard the pain that has been felt by businesses, workers and political campaigns. People in the EU have voiced their dissent and the political ranks have both changed in composition and motivation. Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed opposition to initiating deeper integration into the Union in light have what has transpired amongst the banking sector, reigniting debate over the status of the United Kingdom as a full EU Member State. As the EU is moving towards accepting its 28th Member State into the Union, Croatia, the world is watching the movements of how the United Kingdom will proceed and how the EU will enforce membership.

The EU is determined to emerge from the storm a more safe and sound entity, but as it progresses forward, will it do so by maintaining the status quo, giving Member States an à la carte option in order to tailor rules to national economic challenges or as a deeper and more harmonized Union? Only time will tell.








Whitney Taylor is a Master's Candidate in European Union Studies at Illinois where she is also pursuing a graduate minor in Corporate Governance and International Business. Her research interests include monetary policy, corporate social responsibility and trade. 

Photo: Word cloud of the text of the transcript of President Barroso's State of the Union address, created using Wordle application
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Thursday, June 13, 2013

The "Basin" through the Barzakh Lens: Networks in the Mediterranean

by Natalie Cartwright

It is large enough to separate radically different cultures and political systems, and yet small enough to connect them all. It provides its “citizens” the dazzling array of cultural possibilities from three continents. It is both land and sea and it is the space of many historically significant moments. It is comprised of liquid continents and inland sea. It is the Mediterranean, and just saying that immediately invokes stereotypes, some true some false into one’s mind. miriam cooke, a scholar of Mediterranean Studies, ventures into the depths of the Mediterranean by examining medizens. To be medizen is to understand oneself as a citizen at the crossroads of three continents and the development of their life as it is “both facilitated and constrained by their location as aquacentric beings in a domain of fluidity and movement” (cooke). In lesser terms, it is a classification of the Mediterranean citizen, but being a citizen of a Mediterranean nation does not immediately gain one medizen status.

While it is small enough to connect 21 different countries and their respective cultures, it stays above the incommunicable threshold. There exists a Barzakh – a barrier of separation. It is through this lens of Barzakh that cooke explores the networks that are interwoven across, in, and throughout the Mediterranean. Through this Barzakh lens, the survival of local cultures is witnessed. The Mediterranean is usually divided when studied with scholars focusing on the enlightened north and how it compares or contrasts to the superstitious south. Landing on any of the shores enclosing the Mediterranean leaves one nothing short of a rich experience. This richness has been built up through networks. The Mediterranean is one of the must successful and longstanding networks, used by many within comparative studies. It may be due to the Mediterranean being the combination of both places and spaces as argued by cooke that it has supported strong networks. Or, since the Mediterranean is a space enclosed by land, with its waters putting the concept of boundaries in crisis since clear definitions are more difficult to construct. These boundaries are like the Barzakh – existing barriers but invisible, allowing for local cultures on different, but close in proximity shores, to survive.
Networks can be expansive across the Mediterranean (and furthermore across the globe as cooke highlights Mediterranean connections across the Atlantic to the US). Not being confined by boundaries allows for this expansiveness. Throughout history the Mediterranean was a network for traders, migrants, and businesses. Hundreds of years later and the Mediterranean is still providing these networks with success, they are just studied under a different light and maybe showcasing more differences between the Mediterranean Nations than ever before. The idea of “the Berlin Wall had not fallen, it had merely been moved to the middle of the Mediterranean, putting more strains on the already existing splits (the more modern, rich European North from the southern coast of African, homogenous poor countries) certainly highlights how while networks have been a positive force in the Mediterranean, they have also brought out negativity. Where the Mediterranean and all of its intricacies will lead in the future is history still waiting to happen, but one thing is for certain, Mediterranean Studies will continue to only get richer in scope.

Natalie Cartwright is a second-year MA student in European Union Studies. She received her Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in May 2011. Her interests include migration flows, environmental sustainability, Italian and Turkish. Natalie has spent the summer studying Turkish language at Ankara University TÖMER and will spend the fall 2012 semester studying at Bogazici University in Istanbul, in both cases with support from EU Center Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships.  

Photo credits: 
Photo #1: Wikimedia Commons
Photo #2: Natalie Cartwright
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Monday, June 10, 2013

Religion and EU Identity

by Michelle Asbill

Throughout the academic year, the European Union Center (EUC) has hosted a wide range of lectures presenting different perspectives on the topic of Muslims in the European Union (EU).  The topics of both Islam and Muslims in Europe are both frequently and widely debated. For example, these issues often resurface in debates concerning the membership process of Turkey, the increase in right-wing political parties, and the EU’s struggle to address immigration. These three topics share something else in common, (besides the fact that all three are related to Muslims) mainly that of identity.  The concept of an “EU identity” and what this exactly this means (both in theory and practice) is still and will continue to be subject to debate.

However for many people, religion proves to be a significant identity marker, which can sometimes even be either equal or more important than ethnicity.  In September of 2012, the EUC hosted Dr. Cesari, who presented her lecture entitled “Religion and Political Participation of Muslims in the West.”1 Her lecture summarized her research regarding how Muslims balance their religious beliefs with their responsibilities as citizens.2 Additionally, Dr. Cesari reminded listeners that religion (of all kinds) often provides a strong sense of identity and belonging.

Continuing this conversation on what it means to be Muslim in Europe, the EUC recently sponsored a lecture entitled “Being German, Becoming Muslim: Religious Conversion, Islamophobia, and Belonging in Germany.”3 In her lecture, Dr. Esra Özyürek, presented her research on the topic of Germans converting to Islam and subsequently, how they are being perceived in German society.4 Dr. Özyürek engaged listeners by re-telling specific stories of Germans who have converted, often to the disappointment of family and friends, and then must strive to find their place in German society, and perhaps somewhat expectedly, also within the Islamic community.

Dr. Özyürek’s lecture was quite thought provoking, as this group seems to break so many of the social and cultural norms associated with German society. For example, far-right political parties are known to promote policies which do not seem to favor minorities, such as Muslims and Jews.5 However, what if the Muslims are ethnically German? Perhaps far-right political parties will not distinguish or be dissuaded in their activity, however how will German society respond?  By converting to Islam, will these Germans lose their positions as “insiders” in the community and become ostracized? According to Dr. Özyürek, many of these new converts have found Islam to possess values which, in their perspective, would benefit society, but how will this be welcomed by German communities? Will other Germans be able to appreciate these new German converts who are interested in promoting, from their perspective, what are Islamic values?

Obviously, it is too early to uncover the answers to these questions, however these German converts add yet another page to the EU identity’s “diversity book”.  In addition to the previously posed questions, it will be interesting to see how the concept of an “EU identity” continues to be shaped and molded by the constantly changing EU landscape.

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.    



1For more information on Dr. Cesari, please see:
2To see the event description, please see: For more information on this event, please see:
3For more information on the speaker, please see:
4For more information on the rise of far-right political parties, feel free to read this recent article:
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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Education vs. Discrimination: The Troubles of Roma Communities in Europe

by Brent Rosenstein

It seems that some old spectres just refuse to go away. As much progress as humans may make, and how much better we may claim to be than we once were, some elements of our darker nature persist. Hatred, racism, and discrimination have shown a startling perseverance, and continue to obstruct some groups from receiving basic services, even today. Few groups in contemporary Europe know this better than the Roma. Despite being Europe’s largest minority group, weighing in at around twelve million people, the Roma are looked down upon and discriminated against nearly everywhere they may be found on the continent. Fortunately, there are those who try to help change this, and some can be found closer to home than one might think.
Mary Kalantzis and Bill Cope, Professors of Education at the University of Illinois, are involved in an international program to help improve the access that Greek Roma communities have to sources of quality, reliable education. As Kalantzis pointed out in a talk she gave on April 1st, this is no small order, given that many of these communities have little to no access to even basic utilities like water and electricity. There has also historically been significant resistance from local and national governments in this regard, many of which would prefer the Roma to completely assimilate into the “mainstream” society rather than to try to bring said services to them. Fortunately, many NGOs, and even the European Union, have been bringing more attention to the issue and are trying to support reforms.

However, despite the increasing calls for change, and the considerable resources being brought to bear by the EU, many throughout Europe still cling to old stereotypes, and view the Roma as crime-ridden foreigners that don’t belong. The recent resurgence of extremist right-wing political parties across the continent has exasperated the issue, with groups like Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party holding anti-Roma protests, blaming the ethnic group for everything from crime to dirty streets.1 Similarly, Kalantzis pointed out that Greece’s Golden Dawn party has taken up the practice of “mapping” the Roma camps across Greece so that they may “clean up the problem”. This disturbing rhetoric goes a long way in showing why the Roma have faced so much antagonism in trying to provide for their own basic needs.

Perhaps even more unsettlingly, these old prejudices are not restricted to the far-right opposition parties. This past March, Manuel Valls, the French Interior Minister, came under fire for stating in an interview that the Roma living in France had no interest in trying to integrate into French society.2 With perspectives like these being held by those in positions of authority, maybe it’s really not so surprising that governmental support for things like providing educational access to Roma communities has not been entirely forthcoming. However, there is hope that this may be beginning to change. The efforts of the project Kalantzis and Cope participated in, combined with the support of the EU and other organizations, have shown some promise in helping draw more dedication and aid from the Greek government. If this project succeeds, and can be used as a model in other states, then perhaps some of those old ghosts can start to be laid to rest.
_______________________________________

I would like to note that none of the above was intended as a condemnation of Europe in general, or as an over-generalization of the situation. This was merely an attempt to look at some of the long-standing hardships facing the Roma people today, and some of the international efforts being made to help improve their position in society.

Brent Rosenstein is a first year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies (MAEUS) program at the University of Illinois. His research interests include international security efforts and human rights issues within the EU.
 

1“Hungarian Far-right Stages anti-Roma Show of Strength,” EurActiv.com, http://www.euractiv.com/central-europe/hungarian-far-right-stages-anti-news-515487.

2“French Minister Accused of Racism Following Roma Comment,” EurActiv.com, http://www.euractiv.com/justice/french-minister-accused-racism-f-news-518579.

Photo source: "Romani population average estimate," Wikimedia Commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Romani_population_average_estimate.png
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Monday, June 3, 2013

Istanbul: A Destination for Immigrants

by Jerry Vassalla
A Gecekondu located in Turkey

Istanbul’s unique position as a booming cultural and economic hub has established it as a center for immigration and contributed to its cultural diversity and commercial development. Each of the speakers during session one of the Turkish Studies Symposium at the University of Illinois spoke about the impacts of immigrants on the city and how the city has absorbed the migrants.

The main theme in the talk presented by Derya Özkan’s was the Gecekondu. Gecekondu, banlieue, favela, shanty towns, slums. They all have the same meaning and occur in a wide array of countries.  Although there exist many different versions of slums, they are each formed by different peoples so more information on the Turkish Gecekondus helps to make the situation clearer. The term “Gecekondu” term is made up of two different words.  “Gece” means “night” in English and “kondu” comes from the verb “to settle” because the slums in Istanbul are built at night so that the police do not halt the construction or rip down their soon-to-be homes. The Gecekondus have often been associated with the migration that has come to Istanbul from Turkey’s poorer regions. In Eastern Turkey there is very little industrialization as well as great amounts of impoverished villages. These regions lack access to education and a large proportion of the population in the East belongs to the Kurdish ethnic minority. Often times, Kurds that live in Podunk villages have very limited Turkish language skills, which compounds their problems. Due to the scarcity of jobs in the East, many move to Istanbul but lack sufficient money to build houses or resources to obtain proper employment so they resort to constructing Gecekondus. 

Professor Özkan went on to bring up the anomaly of Turkish fashion that has its roots in the era when they were commonly found in Istanbul. The chic fashion that has arisen from Gecekondu-inspiration is a complete 180 from how migrants were seen during the 1970’s. All the ideas associated with migration from the East come to be symbolized in the Dolmuş fashion. This includes arabesque music and kıro lifestyle. Arabesque music can be compared to country music in the U.S., as it stems from communities that are more based around rural lifestyle and deals with sadder themes, however arabesque music hasn’t found as much widespread acceptance as country music has. The kıro is often viewed negatively and thought go hand in hand with arabesque music. The kıro himself is stereotypically conceived of as a man who gels his hair, grows a big mustache, wears a metal chain as well as a sleeveless t-shirt which shows his hairy chest. The closest equivalent that I can come up with is a “guido”, like from the television show Jersey Shore. So with the positive return of these ideas 40 years later, nostalgia seems to win out over original sentiments. 

Dolmuş, or minibuses, originally only appeared in the poor Gecekondu neighborhoods of Istanbul.  Now they are appearing in middle class neighborhoods while at the same time dolmuş fashion has popped up, gearing itself towards the same middle class neighborhoods. All of these words with formerly negative connotations are now reemerging into Turkish society. Thankfully, farmers’ overalls and phrases like “two shakes of a lamb’s tail” haven’t gained this kind of revitalization in American society.

Jerry Vassalla is a second year MAEUS student. He majored in Spanish and International Studies as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Jerry spent time during the fall of 2010 volunteering at an Urbana based refugee center. During summer 2011, he studied Turkish in Antalya, Turkey on a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowship. Jerry spent the 2011-2012 academic year in Germany on a Fulbright Grant as an English Teaching Assistant. His research interests include EU accession, the factors influencing the identities of minority groups within the EU (especially language), immigration rights in Germany and Turkish foreign policy. As non-academic hobbies, he commishes and plays fantasy football. He enjoys cooking and considers himself something of a BBQ Sauce connoisseur.
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