Category Archives: Nordic Nations

Your holiday almost got cancelled yesterday. It still might.

Jón Ragnarsson’s photo. Fimmvörðuháls eruption in Iceland in 2010.

THE ERUPTION OF Iceland’s volcano Eyjafjallajökull (the one world didn’t seem to be able to pronounce) in 2010 stopped half of Europe’s flight traffic. Iceland’s president Ólafur Ragnar Grímson later warned Europe about Katla, one of Iceland’s most powerful volcanoes, with these words: “The time for Katla to erupt is coming close“.

Well he might be right on that. Yesterday, Katla – which is in fact one of the world’s most powerful volcanoes and known locally as being the most dangerous volcano in Iceland – let its residents know it was still there.

A sudden glacial flooding in the Múlakvísl and Jökulsá rivers originating from Katla occurred yesterday. Sulphur pollution that rises from the glacial flood can be dangerous – if exposed to people it can cause them to lose consciousness.

The government declared an “uncertainty level” for the Katla volcano and people were advised to stay away and ‘keep their cellphone very close’.

Glacial floods like this can be caused by various factors, such as eruptions, rising lava, steam vents or newly opened hot springs. All of these can cause glacial ice to quickly melt, accumulate under the glacier and then release – in this case, the effects seemed only to be flooding.

Fortunately, there are currently no signs of an impending eruption at Katla.

However, Katla has been showing signs of unrest since 1999. Geologists predict it will erupt in the near future. It is being closely monitored. An eruption could have ramifications for both the locals and the wider international community.

There’s no smoke on the horizon yet, but there might well be soon. Watch this space, and the skies, for signs of Katla’s might.

Words: Svanlaug Arnadottir

Are the Norwegians using Slaves?

slave by Benkos_Bioho

 

As the summer sun reveals the dust on the floor, social media in Norway is uncovering several incidents of exploiting employees. A felony so serious it has been depicted as being on the verge of slavery.

Workers defined as slaves
This spring, several businesses have revealed bad working conditions after routine control. On the Norwegian web page, Osloby.no, it is written that the police are worried about slavery in the Norwegian carwash industry. They claim to have met people paid 19 Norwegian kroner per hour. The employees are cheap labour for the superior. Also, the hotel, Oslo Plaza, has been threatened to close if they do not improve their work ethics. A 28-year old woman revealed to the Norwegian newspaper, Dagbladet, that she usually worked an average of 11.8 hours per day even though the normal work hours in Norway are 7.5 hours per day. The hotel has until August to find a solution to the problem.

Summer patrol
An improvement of today’s law on work ethics, can improve the work situation of today’s generation. During the weeks before summer break, young and hopeful seek work in order to earn money. This year is no different. The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Union (LO) is planning to conduct a so-called ‘’summer patrol’’. This patrol is supposed to visit different businesses and companies, and further report what conditions are like. LO prioritises these visits in addition to encourage unorganized employees to contact them about their rights.

‘’Take some air’’
Their first visit was at the Norwegian media house, NRK. Many young people working there were unsure about what will happen when their work period runs out. ‘’ To take some air’’, is a definition that temporary employees have had to deal with for a long time. It means that the supervisor makes the employer leave for a period of time in order to escape the rule of permanent employment starting after four years of temporary work. This spring, a temporary employee ran a lawsuit against NRK because the employee was asked ‘’to take some air’’. To the Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen, the representative of ‘’NRK super’’, said that the use of temporary employees is rapid because media houses usually work project based. However, this should not act on the expense of the employee’s rights.

Strengthened supervision
In 2011, while the previous government was still in charge, the supervision on conditions at various workplaces and among workers was strengthened and supported with 10 million Norwegian kroner. The previous Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, underlined how important it was with effective and visible supervision.

A reduce in law
Today, 3 years later, the current Prime Minister Erna Solberg, claims that the previous party in charge did not prioritise employment and work politics. Therefore, she believes it is up to her and the conservative parties in charge, to focus on employment and safe workspace. Although LO believes that the working environment act is functioning. Erna Solberg, on the other hand, believes that there needs to be a change of law. A law that reduces the rules, and might further result in more flexibility and freedom. Because of broad scepticism towards this, Solberg explained that a softening of the rules would not turn into dramatic changes in Norwegian work routines.

Bosses can easily take advantage of employees who are unaware of their rights, and several incidents show that this is the case in various businesses. The summer patrol, among other instances, can help build this awareness. Only the future can tell us if the reduction in the law can also improve the rights of workers in Norway.

By Hanna Skotheim

Picture: Benkos Biohos

Are Norway choosing Quantity over Quality?

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EVERY YEAR IS the same. Only this year it’s more intense. Teachers in Norway are unhappy about new reforms that could affect their work conditions. Increasing office hours, less independence, and higher requirements are some of the claims.

In December 2012, the Norwegian political parties wanted to expand the length of a teacher’s education to a five-year master programme. This happened only two years after a fresh reform had changed the situation for teachers. The argument for making it a five-year programme was that teachers would gain more subject competence and experience from research. In addition, more people would apply in general. Today, the discussion is once again preoccupying the minds of the party members, current teachers, and future teachers.

A change in office hours
First, the Norwegian communal sector organisation (KS) wanted to expand the working year for teachers to 45 weeks, which would mean 37.5 hours weekly throughout the year. Thereby turning the generous summer vacation into regular office hours. The independence of the teachers and schools would also decrease because of the increasing amount of control given to the local authorities. Unsurprisingly the teachers weren’t happy with this and the Norwegian union of education declared the number of days the teachers worked should be equal to the number of days their pupils were in school.

Compromise leading to a final vote
A peaceful demonstration in Skien coupled with several other frustrated reactions towards KS, forced the organisation to finally reverse some of their plans. KS and the Norwegian union of education, made a compromise. The new deal is that teachers must be at school for a minimum of 7.5 hours a day. These hours are meant to be used to do tasks teachers believe are beneficial to their students. The compromise is to be voted on by the teachers themselves later this month. The leader of The Union of Education — Ragnhild Lied — has already claimed that the result of the vote will be binding for its members. However, if a majority does not agree with the deal, it will almost certainly result in a strike. Wisely some might say another leader Terje Skyvulstad, has said that it is difficult to predict what will happen should there be a strike.

Free or forced teachers?
One professor at the University of Oslo, Thorgeir Kolshus, expressed to the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten: ‘’If the teachers are forced to maintain certain office hours, the job will become less attractive. If you give teachers freedom, you will get quality’’. June 18th will be the day of the vote. The question is; will there be quality?

Problems are not just affecting those in Norway, recently in Ireland, Headmasters and University Presidents were ordered by the Government to reduce staff costs by 1%. This was despite a recent report claiming that Ireland was third in Europe for Adult Literacy and Numeracy tests. The chief executive of Irish Universities Ned Costello claimed “A commitment to roll back the recently announced staff cuts, and an injection of funding in the forthcoming Budget and estimates this autumn would be a good place to start.”

Five-year master programme
Similar to the situation in December 2012, once more the current government wants to try to expand the teacher education from a four-year bachelor to a five-year master programme. On the one hand, a masters programme can attract more disciplined students with better grades. The programme can also give higher self-confidence academically. On the other hand, a masters programme can also be risky for those students who are not as strong academically. This can result in a growing apostasy. For a masters programme to be attractive there need to be a rise in wages, fewer ‘’time thieves’’, and the teachers need to be given more trust, autonomy, and status.

By Hanna Skotheim

Pandeia has also offered up its own pan-european report on education cuts which can be read here.

Press free-doomed in Europe?

Nina Haghighi

WITH THE EUROPEAN Parliamentary elections safely in the bag, the people of Europe are quietly returning to their everyday lives as politicians and MEPs are shuttling back and forth in order to create coalitions to drive their desired policies. But as the European media was working full steam ahead in order to find out every suggested policy, angle or dirty little secret of the potential MEPs, it looks as though they overlooked the issue closest to their core — press freedom in Europe.

In the 2014 Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders, several European countries seem to be in decline. As large parts of the world is mapped by dark and gloomy colours, Europe has for a long time stood as a shining bright pillar in the world of declining press freedom. But that freedom seems to be declining — and it’s not just a trend that is sweeping in from the south.

Hungary, the United Kingdom and France are some of the more noticeable drops in the 2014 statistics – with the Eastern European country seeing the largest fall in the rankings. With a highly criticised media law coming in to place late in January 2011, Hungary has seen a steady drop when its press freedom has been evaluated. Clocking in at 66 in 2014, the country falls below some countries that have been previously linked with a poor press freedom.

The Órban led Fidesz government has arguably spent the last few years imposing a series of controversial legislations on a national level – but few of them have raised the same kind of international uproar as the Media Act.

Since its entry in to the European Union in 2004, Hungary has been seen by many as a country at the forefront of adopting ‘western standards’ in terms of democracy and press freedom. In their first membership year, Hungary’s media was deemed to be ‘Free’ by Freedom House — another organization which measures and evaluates press freedom — and clocked in at position number 45.

Hungary is not the only country that has seen this type of roller-coaster ride in the last decade as a member of the European Union.

Ninian Reid Due to recent scandals in the UK there has been growing debate about press regulation. The phone-hacking scandal, which now  sees some of the media’s top figures in court, led to a review of press standards in Leveson and a report was released calling for  greater regulation of the press which was seen to have gotten out of control.

This has opened up a wider debate about press freedom in the UK. Many celebrities who fell victim to the phone-hacking scandal  formed the group ‘Hacked Off’ which campaigned for greater restriction on the media regarding personal privacy. Some of the press in the UK have a reputation for treading a thin line when it comes to an invasion of privacy.

The Leveson report said that the relations between the press and politicians had been too close — most notably with former Prime  Minister Tony Blair and David Cameron’s former head of communications Andy Coulson — the latter was arrested for his role in  phone hacking while at the News of the World. Leveson recommended an independent body, much like the one that governs  broadcasting in the UK, in order to regulate the press.

These recommendations have been criticised by many in the press as encroaching on press freedom which is seen as dangerous for democracy.

This week also saw the announcement of the first terrorism case to be held entirely behind closed doors, with no access to either the press or the public due to reasons of ‘national security’. This has been seen as a further threat to press freedom and the principle of ‘open justice’ which is a key part of the British justice system. Shami Chakrabati of the campaign group ‘Liberty’ said: “Transparency isn’t an optional luxury in the justice system – it’s key to ensuring fairness and protecting the rule of law.

“This case is a worrying high water mark for secrecy in our courts – extensive restrictions set without robust reasons or a time limit. There must be clearer explanations before the door is shut on press and public.”

Khalid AlbaihWhile this is worrying for the UK, events further afield suggest that press freedom is under attack in other countries as well. The recent attempts to ban social media outlets in Turkey raises further concerns about freedom of speech in the country. A ban on Twitter and YouTube was announced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan which led to international condemnation and domestic protests – the ban was overturned by President Abdullah Gul, but with Erdogan expected to become President concerns have arisen that freedom of speech, and with it press freedom, could come under further attack.

While it’s unfair to say that the media is ‘under attack’ from governments’ and citizens, its fair to say its a slippery slope in Europe. What can be done to arrest this is a different matter, the rise of anti-EU parties and the large number of votes for the radical right and left suggest that Europe is increasingly disenfranchised with the press and media. The behaviour of the press might be part of the solution as well as the states themselves recognising the need to protect one of its most important institutions.

By Niklas Jakobsson and Greg Bianchi

Photos by: Nina Haghighi, Ninian Reid, Khalid Albaih

Eating Halal in Denmark

Twenty-two year old Murtaza Ziarak, aka Muddi, studies law at Aarhus University in Denmark. Like most university students, he has little time to cook a big meal between studying, sleeping, and hanging out with friends. Yet, unlike many, Muddi’s diet is complicated by another aspect – eating halal.

Halal is food and drink that Muslims are allowed to consume in accordance with Islamic law. In the case of halal meat, the animals must be slaughtered in a particular manner. The slaughter is done by a Muslim, who first invokes the name of the Islamic God Allah. Then the throat, windpipe and blood vessels in the neck of the animal are cut, causing the animal’s death. The practice has been labelled cruel by animal rights activists around the world because they say this is a slow, painful death, as the animals are not first stunned like in modern slaughter methods.

In February the Danish government angered many Jews and Muslims when it banned the practices of halal and kosher slaughter. Denmark’s Ministry of Agriculture justified the ban saying that animal welfare takes precedence over religion. Still, the new law started a flurry of anti-religious accusations toward the Danish government. A group called Danish Halal called the ban “a clear interference in religious freedom limiting the rights of Muslims and Jews to practice their religion in Denmark”.

Muddi, who was born in Afghanistan and moved to Denmark with his family at the age of three, is a Muslim. He said he does not agree with Denmark’s ban on halal slaughter methods because of rights to religious freedom. “Not mine, but peoples’ [religious freedom]. Because their religion says that they can only eat halal meat.” For Muddi, though, the ban does not have a huge impact. “ I eat halal because of culture, not religion,” he explained.

Though his family moved to Denmark in 1994, Muddi’s mother has continued to prepare Afghan food. “My mom always cooks Afghan food,” Muddi said smiling. “It keeps me tied to the culture because food is an important part of one’s culture.”

Eating Afghan food keeps Muddi tied to Afghan culture, yet there are things that cannot be replaced. “The hospitality is different. In Afghanistan you are more welcoming of guests than in Danish culture.”

Muddi gladly welcomes his mother’s food anytime. “I don’t have these skills that my mom has, so I just cook normal student-style. But my mom always send me packets of food.”

Muddi oftens shops at an Afghan supermarket close to where he lives. “They have a lot of food that is hard to find in Danish supermarkets, like condensed milks, some really good chilli pickles, and some halal meat.”

Even though the Danish government has banned halal and kosher slaughter methods in Denmark, the meat can still be imported from other places. Muddi said he is not worried about being able to continue eating halal.

“I grew up with the food, I’m used to it and I love it,” Muddi said with a mouthful. “It’s a matter of taste.”

 

Story and photos by Christine Wendel

Why does everyone hate the EU?

Rock Cohen

Rock Cohen

THE BEAUTY OF democracy is that for every idea there will be someone opposing it and proposing something different. In the European election this dynamic is obviously at play. Each country can count between its parties at least a nationalist, if not totally Eurosceptic party.

Ironically enough, this is yet another aspect uniting some Europeans across the union: their apparent dislike of the EU. Some commentators think this election will see the largest number of Eurosceptic party members occupying seats in the Parliament, even though the exit polls in the Netherlands, where voting occurred on Thursday, show an unexpected slump of Wilder’s Freedom Party, which is aiming to forge an alliance with Marine Le Pen’s National Front.

Whereas each party colours its agenda with nationalistic tints, the core issues that the parties propose in their programme are similar across countries. They blame the EU for the crisis, they want less immigration, less EU involvement in national affairs, oppose further integration, and in some instances even reject gay rights.

We chose to look at four countries to have a better idea of what kind of Eurosceptic forces.

 

Boyan Yurukov

Boyan Yurukov

 BULGARIA

According to the latest Eurobarometer research, Bulgarian society is fairly optimistic about the future of the European Union, with positive votes of up to 60 per cent. Public opinion in the country has repeatedly  equated the EU with a bright future, low rates of unemployment and general prosperity, yet nationalist and Eurosceptic parties are a presence in the country, and provide Bulgarian media with news stories every day.  Two of the most prominent nationalistic parties are Attack (Aтака) and Bulgaria without Censorship (България без цензура). The two parties were respectively created in 2005 and in 2014, and the leaders of both are  well-known faces. Volen Siderov, the leader of Attack, had his own TV show before launching the party, while Barekov was the morning newsreader for one of the biggest TV stations in Bulgaria.

Being around for a longer time, Attack is a well-known party to anyone who has followed the country’s political life in the past ten years. Hardly a day passes without Siderov making a controversial speech which  reverberates in the media. The party relies on nationalistic rhetoric, often disregarding or even openly attacking ethnic, gender and religious minorities in the country. The party’s European Parliament election  manifesto proclaims Christian values, demands equal pay for Bulgarian and French farmers, and condemns gay-marriages, interracial relations and paedophilia. Another priority is “stopping the flood of Islamic aliens  from entering the EU.”  Social opinion polls from April says Attack will win between 3 and 5 per cent of the votes in the European Parliament elections.

In contrast, Barekov’s party, although only several months-old, has already gathered momentum with an estimated support ranging from around 5 up to 14 per cent. Created at the beginning of this year, BWC started  with an ambitious proposal for an initiative suggestively named “Clean Hands”. Its aim is to create a new institution to trace down the origins of any property belonging to the political elite. The party argues for income-based taxation, decentralisation of local authorities, free tablets for students and free health-care for children up to 7 years old. Bulgaria Without Censorship also demands minimal pay according to EU’s standards, reviving the country’s railway system with EU funds and halving the number of MPs in the Bulgarian parliament. For the elections on May 25th, BWC formed a coalition with three of the oldest, but less-popular parties: the oldest nationalist political party in Bulgaria – IMRO, the National Agrarian Union, and the Movement Gergyovden.

European Parliament

European Parliament

Lesser known Eurosceptic parties include the Communist Union and the National Front for the Salvation of Bulgaria (NFSB), which is a splinter group from Attack. The Communist Union argues for leaving the EU, while NFSB criticises the structure of the agglomeration. Both parties didn’t receive the necessary minimum of votes to enter parliament at the last national elections.

Petya Yankova

UNITED KINGDOM

Nigel Farage and the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) have dominated the run up to the European elections. The party has grown to represent a genuine electoral challenge on the right of UK politics – mostly by advocating strong anti-EU rhetoric. Farage has managed to portray himself as a genuine alternative to the Westminster elite and has taken votes from all major parties, but most notably the Conservative Party.

The Conservatives are expected to suffer in the European and UK local elections as a result of this with some opinion polls even putting UKIP in first position. This has forced a shift to the right in the discourse of British politics, most notably over the issue of immigration and the question of the UK’s membership of the EU. The Conservatives backed stricter immigration rules over the lifting of labour restrictions on migrants from Bulgaria and Romania. Furthermore, they have promised an ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU if they are re-elected and gain a majority in 2015.

This is all the result of UKIP, who have managed to tempt disenfranchised voters from the traditional Conservative Party and as such are expected to perform particularly well in these European elections.

Greg Bianchi

 

 

EU Exposed

EU Exposed

POLAND

The Polish National Movement was born during the independence marches that took part in Warsaw to celebrate Poland’s independence day on 11 November each year since 2010. It’s a broad coalition of nationalist organisations. Their main election slogan is “Radical change”. Nevertheless, EU topics do not dominate the political claims. The National Movement tries to present itself as the only credible eurosceptic political force – contrasting with the old ones of (as they say) “Lisbon right”. They stand-up for Europe of free nations, similar to the French Front National and Austrian Freedom Party.  They have links with the far-right, ultra-nationalist Hungarian Jobbik party. In the past they even exchanged some European Parliamentary candidates – a Hungarian candidate in Poland and a Polish one in Hungary.

They also advocate a firmer defence of Polish national interests, especially in such fields as ecology and energy – mainly the Energy Package that might harm Poland as the biggest coal producer and consumer in the EU. They also campaign on social and ideological issues such as multiculturalism, LGBT, and gender. Finally, they want to renounce the Lisbon Treaty and oppose federalist tendencies in EU integration.

Ziemowit Jóźwik

Matteo

Matteo

ITALY

The eurosceptic voter finds quite a diverse range of choice in Italy. Hit by the crisis, affected by three government changes in a little more than a year, suspicious of being somehow  manipulated by Germany, many Italians look at the EU with disaffection. On the whole, right wing parties have taken up the initiative to denounce what they see as Brussels’ interference  in Italian politics; even Prime Minister Matteo Renzi himself has lent his voice to the choir of people dissatisfied with EU policies. In all these eurosceptic voices, the former comedian-  turned political leader Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement is most distinct, despite rejecting the label of eurosceptic and calling itself “the only truly European force in Italy”.

 

The party is not quite as xenophobic and anti-EU as the Northern League, which is similar to Wilders’ and Marine Le Pen’s parties. However, the Five Star Movement gathers support from  voters of all sides of the political spectrum proposing an Italy with a stronger voice in the EU and less financial control and austerity. The party proposes the adoption of the ‘Eurobond’ and rejects the fiscal compact and even  calls for a referendum over staying in the Eurozone – they have been advocating for going back to the lira. This is a referendum which, according to Italian law, cannot be valid. This is because financial matters are not subjected to popular consultation according the Constitution. It is fair to say that the Five Star Movement is against the Euro more than against the EU, but as the party has not defined a clear position on many issues, like border security and immigration, furthermore it has not forged an alliance with any existing European party. They represent an interesting player in the European parliament, a Jolly that can be used both for and against the EU.

Sofia Lotto Persio

Collation by: Sofia Lotto Persio

 

Immigrants in Denmark: How Misrepresentation Contributes to Bigotry

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Immigrants make up 10 per cent of the Danish population, many of whom are Muslims. This has been a point of contention, as for most of its history Denmark was an almost homogenous society. Why is a country run by Social Democrats still failing the minorities within their nation?

Ever since the first guest workers migrated to Denmark from Turkey in the early 1960’s, the country has encountered numerous integration issues. One of which is the degree to which ‘affirmative action’ might better recent immigrants position in society, as well as decreasing racism. However in Denmark, this idea is equated with tokenism, and not as an integral role in change, as it is in the United States. However it is difficult to examine this position, as there is little data on the situation of immigrants on the whole in Denmark. Due to privacy legislation, it is illegal to register or ask for a person’s ethnicity, health status, political or union affiliation. This means that there is little statistical evidence as to whether or not structural racism exists.

Racial profiling, an aspect of structural racism, is a term not recognised by police enforcement. There is no data quantifying whether racial profiling is and issue, as police do not record the ethnicity/background of whom they stop. In fact, when I asked the Police Commissioner of Gellerup (a suburb mostly populated by immigrants) about the topic of racial profiling, his reply was that it does not happen and that his officers just pull people over based on past experiences and how the car looks. He also explained that the Danish Police, in his opinion, have unbiased intentions and do not exercise racial profiling. This is a belief that was reinforced by many Danes that I interviewed on the subject.

Halal Denmark The freedom to practice religion under fire?

The Danish left’s insensitivity to minorities is reflected in a bill recently enacted by the Social Democrats that all animals had to be  anaesthetised before being killed; this in turn means that there would no longer allow the production of Halal or Kosher meat  within the country. The law and the process through which it was enacted, highlights the institutionalised disregard for Muslims  and Jews in Denmark, a country that prides itself on freedom to practice any religion. Prior to passing the law there was very little  dialogue between the government and religious groups. In fact it was not until a week after the legislation was passed that Dan  Joergensen, Minister of Food, met with the head of the Jewish Society, Finn Schwarz, to discuss the law. The lack of media  coverage and dialogue between the state and the religious minorities on this matter further indicates a lack of understanding and  compassion.

In the summer of 2013, many nursery schools had stopped serving pork, in consideration of Jewish and Muslim children. The Social Democratic Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, spoke out against this and was quoted as saying that parents with children in nursery schools should demand that they stick with the ‘Danish tradition’ of serving pork at lunch time. What this does is emphasise that immigrants and their culture, are not in line with ‘Danish tradition’. This breeds a sense of assimilation rather than integration, which further broadens the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Denmark islam2Too tolerant of Muslims?

Bigotry in Denmark is not only seen in politics and policies, but in the mainstream media. Mustafa Hussain, professor of Intercultural Studies at Roskilde University, headed a study that found that “media organisations have been shown to have been actively involved in ethnic politics through construction of a popular anti-immigrant, and particularly anti-Muslim, consensus”. A Gallup poll released in 2013 showed that only 27 per cent of Danes have a Muslim person in their social network. Hussain concludes that without any personal experience with minorities, ethnic Danes only have the media’s references and its reproduction of prejudiced and stereotypical images to formulate opinions of minorities.

The 2013 Gallup poll had also showed that every third non-Muslim Dane believed that Denmark is too tolerant of the Muslim population. This combined with how immigrants are portrayed in the media as well as the lack of sensitivity the current government has towards their disposition in society, could improve if there was actual data and research conducted to reflect the reality of the state of Denmark.

Picture credits: Danish Days by SolvangUSA, Halal Shop by Mark Jensen, Apology by Jacob Botter

By Rebecca Thorning Wine