Category Archives: Staff

MCM London Comic Con — The view from the inside

This past weekend, I had a unique opportunity for my life and my career: to cover the MCM London Comic Con — the largest event in comics, games, and entertainment in the United Kingdom. What follows is a short account of my experience with this imposing event, so crowded with people, so full of life and so full of novelties.

Getting there
Let’s start with the basics: I had a long ride ahead to reach the ExCel Convention Center — as I live in Swansea, a five-hour bus ride away from London. However, arriving in London presents another challenge: the journey from Victoria Coach Station to the ExCeL Centre – one hour and three tube journeys in a city I know very little about. The trick? As any convention goer knows — follow the cosplayers.

Despite having read much about it, I was still unprepared: the MCM London Comic Con is simply immense. Occupying more than half of the giant ExCel Convention Centre near the Thames, about 120 000 people visited the convention during the three days of the event – I was around for the first two..

The event itself
In simple terms, the reactions on arrival on Friday – a day of less activity, partly due to working hours – was of jaws dropping. A diverse crowd that ranged from families with small children — some hoping to meet Daniel Radcliffe, there to promote his new movie, Horns — to bearded fellows wearing fantasy gaming T-shirts. Passing by amateur and “professional” cosplayers, nerds of all kinds and even some old ladies (one I saw again on Saturday with a bag overflowing with memorabilia from Marvel – whether for herself or as a gift, one can only wonder+.

Here I have to separate between two things: Comic Con as a convention and in terms of its feel. As a convention, it’s a dream: a cluster of nerds and fans of all kinds, celebrities from the A to the C lists (those actors and illustrators who are only known by fans of * insert thing here * – people like Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge, from the excellent Red Dwarf series, colorist John Paul Bove – Judge Dredd and Tranformers ReGeneration One, and the eternal Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Amber Benson). An insane amount of sellers of all kinds of geeky junk, autograph sessions, panels with staff and crew from series and movies…it’s a dream, in a nutshell. Even despite all the practical problems.

This is even before you get to the chance to play games before they come out on the market and equally amazing, the chance to find products that have long been off the market, as in “too cheap to be on ebay”. Conventions, as we know, are the nerd paradise – and this is not any different.

However, the practical problems are many and at some points are really troublesome. As I said, there are about 120 000 people in just three days; overcrowding is a guarantee, either within the convention, or around it. Some of the booth shops were almost impossible to see, given the throng of people around you – and if you managed to stop  to take a look, you were guaranteed to be bumped into. At the end of the second day, all the ATMs inside the ExCel Convention Center and several around it were penniless. I only managed to follow one whole panel – that of Daniel Radcliffe – as all the others I tried to go to were either crowded or with huge queues.

Stranded in London
At the end of the first day, not to run the risk of missing my bus back to Swansea, I missed the panel of the original cast of Mighty Morphin ‘Power Rangers – despite having a guaranteed seat as part of the press. A big mistake it turns out – as despite leaving early, thanks to the delayed ExCeL DLR I arrived at Victoria Coach Station ten minutes after my bus – the last bus.

This then provoked another memorable experience: getting lost in London without having anywhere to go (until a colleague of mine offered me a place) – I found it an immense city, always busy. Crowded streets and tube stations, especially on a Friday night. I encountered the strangeness of a full bar on a Friday closing at 10pm but eagerly grabbed the chance to cover the second day.

Day 2

If the first day was an amazing experience, the second was twice as good. The popularity of the saturday – even in the early morning at 9am – made ​​Friday seem monotonous. Passing through four lines of public transportation to get there, the last two – two DLR lines – were fully packed with people going to the convention. Imagine sitting in a crowded train full of cosplayers – to the point of being difficult to move without bumping into someone – and this is a vague picture of the experience; however to know the feeling you needed to be there.

I had the chance to meet some actors and artists in person. The afore mentioned Robert Llewellyn and Hattie Hayridge (Holly and Kryten from Red Dwarf) were flattered with “the first Brazilian fan” they’ve met. Jack O’Halloran (Non from the Superman II) decided not to grant an interview. Ian McNiece (who played Winston Churchill in Doctor Who and the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen in Dune miniseries) gave me a brief interview about his many roles. I faced some huge queues to try to talk with some top celebrities (like Japanese director Shinichiro Watanabe, actress Amber Benson, the staff from the gaming site Rooster Teeth and the original cast of Mighty Morphin ‘Power Rangers) – without much success. Maybe I should have “pushed my luck” with the press pass.

I saw bits of panels, tested a few games before launch (three of which I will speak about in another article – one that I found great, one “average but fun”, and one that made me angry). I saw the beautiful Square Enix Play Arts Kai line stand with brand new figures (some exclusive to the Con). All the while Professional cosplayers from Star Wars (including one perfect Chewbacca, and a Tusken Raider who roamed the con halls “threatening people”) circulated throughout the convention centre.

Offers, statements and releases
However, the best of a con is never what is being offered by the event itself – but what businesses and shops have to offer. Gaming companies demonstrating new titles, raffling DLCs, games and even gaming consoles. Toy companies showing old and new products. Specialty shops selling from Star Trek Tribbles to giant Gundam model kits that led me to ask how they even got the boxes in. All types of comics. Shirts, caps, gloves and thematic hoodies. Oriental food (because it is inevitable that a nerd event be overtaken by otaku). Antiques and rarities of all kinds – and at extremely friendly prices. Among others, I saw two copies of the set of Trench Bluster & Mech Ideas – a set that only 500 copies were produced. Whatever it is you’re after, this kind of event is a great place to get it – especially if it is large.


Pedro will be bringing us more from the event throughout the week…

 

Words by Pedro Leal

Image Credit: The london vandal

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Just how seriously should we take #Gamergate?

 

 

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It started with a jilted lover and a vengeful post. It then spun off into what is arguably a rabid hate group against what they perceive as ideological corruption. Since its inception in August, #Gamergate has led to at least three women leaving their homes in face of death threats over Twitter, Intel pulling their ads from gaming website Gamasutra, and a shooting threat at Utah State University. Gamergaters claim to be ethical crusaders; their opponents say they are at best trolls, at worse digital terrorists.

I’ve stared into the abyss – the endless feed of #Gamergate and #StopGamerGate2014 tagged posts, online imageboard 8chan and gaming forums, in an attempt to find what is the common thread in this movement. And what, in fact, is #Gamergate.

A confused and angry bunch

If it can be said that #Gamergate has a “base”, it is internet message board 8chan (a.k.a. “hatechan,” as 8chan users themselves call it), which came to be after the far better known imageboard 4chan started curtailing doxxing (the public release of personal documents to facilitate harassment) attempts – mostly focused on female game producers, critics and journalists. In itself, 8chan is contradictory: they claim to be a free-speech site, yet use their speech in attempts to censor so-called “Social Justice Warriors” – feminists, LGBT activists, anti racism activists, etc; its users claim they are not misogynists, yet the site contain numerous boards dedicated to harassing women, and to “destroy feminism”.

8chan is central to much of the #Gamergate movement; users are referred to as “Leaders of gamergate”, its largest board is “/gg/” – dedicated solely to #Gamergate – and may users see it as their safe haven against “political correctness”. Their worst fear is the end of gaming as they know it due to pandering to “feminazis” and the creation of a Comics Code Authority-style censorship board. Some of them seem sincere enough in their claims against “corruption in gaming journalism” – the problem is what they perceive as corruption.

A recent example of thier incongruity came after the release of Bayonetta 2. In response to the website Polygon’s less-than-stellar review of the Wii U title, which noted issues regarding objectification and over sexualization of women as problematic, #Gamergate started a campaign to get the gaming website blacklisted by Nintendo. In a way, their notion of corruption is “discourse I don’t agree with” – while ethics mean cronyism, as Polygon ought to be punished for the “crime” of not giving a perfect score to an AAA game (a large budget, mainstream title). Meanwhile, older and well known cases of actual corruption in gaming media – such as the firing of Jeffrey Gertsmann over his negative review of “Kane&Lynch” in 2007, which suggested a cosy relationship between news outlets and gaming companies – are ignored in the name of those perceived cases of ideological corruption. In fact, one of their main gripes is with the criteria set for game reviews. In short terms, they want “objective, unopinionated and impartial reviews” – a complete oxymoron. Another point of major contention is the alleged collusion of journalists with feminists and minorities to “fix the system” and “force their political agenda” onto the game market. . 

“A hate group”

The targets of gamergaters harassment are well known by now: Game developer Zoe Quinn, feminist critic Anita Sarkeesian, who’s been on their radar for the past two years, and game developer Brianna Wu. The movement started with the harassment of Zoe Quinn over her alleged sexual misconduct.

Quinn had already faced harassment earlier this year, when her award-winning game Depression Quest became the target of a harassment campaign led by “wizardchan” – an online imageboard frequented by male virgins who blame “society” and “feminism” for their inability to have a relationships, who claimed Zoe was exploiting depression and mocking their pain. Then, in August, her ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni came out with “thezoepost”. In this 9000 words blogpost, Gjoni claims Quinn cheated on him with five people connected to the gaming industry and the gaming press, to “ascend in her career”. One such partner supposedly was gaming journalist Nathan Grayson – whom according to Gjoni, she slept with to get favorable reviews of Depression Quest. The fact that Grayson never reviewed Depression Quest nor ever wrote about the game was seen by most gamergaters as irrelevant.

While maintaining their main concern was about ethics, gamergaters have discussed, judged, and condemned Quinn’s sex life, genitalia and behaviour. All three were forced to leave their homes over concerns for their own safety.

As a whole, the movement alternates between denying responsibility for the threats and harassment, denying the latters’ existence, or even claiming the victims themselves created the threats. While recently condeming doxxing on twitter, 8chan has at the same time being used to expose the id and home address of those women who #Gamergate perceive as enemies.

Other women have been caught in this debacle, too. Social researcher Jennifer Allaway was targeted by what she calls a “hate group” in late September. While conducting a study on the importance of diversity in game content, she was targeted by gamergaters with attacks and insults. “If members of gamergate took my study seriously, I would have welcomed them. The fact that they used my own study to mock the purpose of it and harass me shows that, to them, anything or anyone asking questions about diversity deserves mockery,” she said.

The whole environment has become “exhausting”, Allaway noted: “I have multiple friends in the game industry who have faced far worse harassment than I, and seeing what they go through makes me want to speak out more. The worst is seeing your friends leave. Women have worked so hard to make the industry a safe space for themselves, and now that feels threatened.” Among those who have quit due to the harassment, is award winning journalist Jenn Frank, who abandoned gaming journalism after being repeatedly threatened, insulted, and having her personal info posted online following an article she wrote for The Guardian regarding the harassment faced by Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian.

More than a vocal minority

The persistence of threats and harassment brings into question whether the angry and hateful side of the movement is simply a minority. Game developer Molly Carroll has doubts on how “minor” is the hatred in #Gamergate. While she notes that the official cause of #Gamergate is indeed worthy, as gaming journalism is in need of refinement, she is skeptical of whether people are truly in it for that cause. As she notes, the hatemongers have gained prevalence over whatever rational segment there ever was: “Sadly, one cannot deny that the actions of the anti-women portion of Gamergate have outnumbered and gained attention over that of any other,” she says.

Due to the way things progressed and escalated, as the focus increasingly shifted from claims about “ethics” to the position of women in gaming, #Gamergate was joined by women-haters and neo-nazis, who used it as an outlet for their hatred: “It isn’t even about games any more, its just an outlet for these kinds of people [to act] without consequence,” Carroll claimed.

#Gamergate in itself, in her perception, has accomplished nothing. At least, not anything the movement aimed for. “I suppose the situation has offered food for thought, but an actual tangible effect? No. At least not yet, and I highly doubt anything will come from it,” she said. If anything came out of this, is that the treatment of women is gaining more attention and sympathy than ever before. However, as Allaway noted, one must not keep silent over #Gamergate: “Silence is acceptance. If we are silent against the actions of #gamergate, then we are saying that we consent to the threats and harassment to our community. They have the ability to impact our culture if we do not put a stop to them.”

A “Culture War”

Some gamergaters themselves are no longer defining their “war” as one against corruption in gaming journalism, but as a “culture war” to keep gaming culture unaltered, to curtail any attempts at moving it towards a more inclusive environment, and to end critique of it – all the while maintaining they are the ones being oppressed. A recent post on 8chan read:

“Gamergate is about drawing a line in the sand and stating that ‘We will give up X freedoms to make you comfortable, but that is all we will ever give you.’ Freminists [sic] are demanding games be more inclusive for women. Black action groups are demanding games have more black protagonists. Gays are demanding more gay characters, and Trans are demanding trans characters.

The point of gamer gate is us stating that we have a culture independant [sic] of other cultures. That we will maintain our culture despite newcomers asking for more and more stipulations and changes to it. They have taken our right to speak freely in public. They have taken our right to debate freely in acadamia [sic]. They have taken our right to pubic [sic] expression and art. We are drawing the line at the edge of the internet and any one who tries to further force us to concede our freedom of expression will face us there.”

This kind of claim is nothing new: it harkens back to moral outrages over minority rights, and the reversal of blame so common in them. To Allaway, this indicated a “knee-jerk reaction” by people that until now were the only ones being catered to. “This is of course ridiculous, because there will always be games that cater to them more than women and other minorities” she addsed, “but they fear what this dialogue will do to games as a whole, and are willing to silence anyone who is a part of changing that.”

According to Carroll, another leading factor are misconceptions as to what is causing changes in gaming. “Currently some of the bigger figureheads spearheading these efforts and getting the most media attention are women. So naturally people assume that its women who are changing games in what they see as a bad way”, she noted, adding that those changes are still very slow. “For every step they [gaming companies] take forward, such as the removal of booth babes – skimpy clad women used to promote products in events and conventions –  from gaming events, there is a step back,” she said.

The “War” narrative has been used before, in an interview conceed by Zoe Quinn’s ex-boyfriend Eron Gjoni (the author of the “zoepost” and arguably, the catalyst to #Gamergate) to Buzzfeed, Gjoni claimed he “quit his dayjob” as waging “internet warfare” took too much of his dedication. Nowadays he focuses mainly on coordinating #Gamergate – and says he would do it again – although in the same interview he said he regrets the harassment. According to him, the threats against his ex girlfriend are not his faullt: she should’ve done more to prevent that. Sadly, is another feature of some gamergaters: shifting the blame unto the victim, while portraying themselves as the ones being persecuted.

An online “war” over games might seem like a silly thing – and in many ways, it is – yet since its inception #Gamergate, either intentionally or by irresponsibility, has led to fear, harassment and aggression online. Whatever they think their intentions might be in theory, in practice their behaviour is little more than that of an angry mob – and should be treated as such.

 

Written by Pedro Leal

Image credit: gamergate365

‘Smukfest’: Did the Danes find a way to have it all in one festival?

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Have the free-spirited Danes done it? To hold a festival where children run around collecting bottles with a smile during the daytime, and a Danish a rapper lights up a joint on stage without no one doing so much as raising an eyebrow – despite it being illegal in Denmark. And by night the festival is taken over by techno music, luring the crowd into mosh pit madness.

Pandeia presents to you Skanderborg Festival, or Smukefest, held in the middle of Skanderborg’s most beautiful woods; a festival where people can charge their phones, forget them overnight, and still find them laying there the morning after.

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Smukfest is Denmark’s next biggest festival, run completely non-profit by 12,633 volunteers who all work for “fighting against loneliness”, as they state on their website

55 % of the guests are locals from Jylland, but despite being mainly for Danes, Pandeia took a look at this unique event that is undoubtedly the most beautiful festival in Denmark – living up to its name.

Being very well-organized with limited ticket sale, the biggest perk of Smukfest is that you don’t end up spending all your time queuing.

The scenes are arranged in the midst of trees with lights hanging in between, creating a cozy and relaxed atmosphere. ‘Hygge’ is a Danish word that translates very badly to English – the best attempt is to translate it to ‘cozy’ and Skanderborg festival is the definition of cozy.

Despite all the coziness, there are plenty of attractive and exchiting concerts to attend. A vast number of musicians play every year well known names as 50 Cent, Bastille, Skrillex, and Go Go Berlin filled the scenes of Smukfest.

Some guests don’t book their tickets just for the music, but rather for the purpose of enjoying the atmosphere and having a great time with other guests. Plenty of guests come year after year, and even whole families attend together.

banner?Politeness and comfort dominated the ambiance; I was never pushed aside by the crowd, kid you not. Only that one time I thought it would be a good idea to stand upfront for Skrillex performance, an electronic dance DJ, in the middle of a mosh pit, that I was pushed back and forth. Needless to say it was a bad idea; I am not even 160 cm tall. The sweat and jumping didn’t seem to bother the teenagers who enjoyed it to the fullest, well along with my grown up friend who dived in too.

If the mosh pit wasn’t for you,during the daytime you could listen to more relaxed music from various Nordic countries, some of Denmark’s biggest rappers and pop bands, as well as some international ones too.

Nevertheless, Smukfest was not perfect. 50 cent, the biggest name performing at the festival, was a complete disappointment for many of the guests. “He just wasn’t good” was a common reply when asked about his concerts.

He entered the big stage with a golden chain and cab, looking ready to entertain, but ended up disappointing the crowd with a dull and powerless performance.

20140806_201647It seemed for a while like the concerts would turn out alright when he sang the lyrics “I am a V.I.P.,” sprayed water over the audience, and the performance slowly picked up the pace. When he finally sang “Candy Shop”, the crowd leaped in excitement.

It did the trick and worked up the crowd for a while.

The end was a mystery to all, as 50 Cent left the stage his band kept on playing well-known songs from different bands, like “We will rock you” with Queen, and as the crowd was left to party on its own (which was not a problem to it), it was left to wonder if 50 Cent had gone to bed.

Considering a bad choice of one artist, or perhaps just a bad night for 50 Cent, was the only downside of the festival that offered this variety of music, you should not miss out on this festival if you plan to visit Denmark in 2015.

Do we recommend this for non-Danes? Yes for sure, but be prepared to listen to a lot of Danish music – don’t worry you will be glanced away by the magic of the festival, kindness of people and well, let’s face it, the amount of consumed beer; the Danes know how to drink their beer – and become very friendly when with a drink in hand.

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If you have an unfulfilled craving to experience a Danish festival – that has it all – without exhausting yourself with queues or impoliteness, Smukfest is the one to go to. Families, young people, children, teenagers, too drunk and yet friendly people – it has it all. The Danes certainly managed to host a festival that has it all.

Take look here at the website for music for next year.

 

 

State of Queer: being gay in Latin America

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IGUALES: an organisation promoting a wider inclusion of minorities into the society

Many countries in Latin America have been quick to adopt legislation towards the greater inclusion of LGBT individuals in society, but the struggle is far from over. México, Chile and Guatemala illustrate some of the differences, and the challenges looking forward. For a bigger picture, have a look at this map.

Edgar Sosa Meyemberg was an openly gay man and an active member of Ave de México, an organization that promotes awareness of HIV – a problem that is even greater among the homosexual community in México. He was last seen 24 February 2014, only to be found dead a month later. Ave de México, where Sosa served as director of development, demanded a prompt investigation of the case, but it ran into institutional and societal indifference. Though the authorities are not exclusively negligent in cases that involve members of the LGBT community, impunity being the norm for most Latin American countries, but they are quick to dismiss crimes like these on the grounds that they are usually crimes of passion. Both the attorney of the Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl municipalities declared the crime to be so, after a photograph of Edgar with a rainbow flag surfaced in the investigation.

This sort of stereotype, says Carlos García de León, a fellow activist and friend of Sosa, is not rare in Mexican society. “Cases like these bring to light the sheer ignorance of the reality and dynamics of homosexual individuals by the authorities, as it is guided by stereotypes and indifference”, he claims. He also cites the death of another Ave de Mexico team member that was never investigated, Francisco Estrada Valle, who died in 1992, and the more recent killing of a 24 year old gay activist, Christian Iván Sánchez, in July 2011. Sánchez was involved with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who is friendlier among Mexican political parties when it comes to LGBT issues. General violence and hate crimes, based on the victims’ sexual orientation, is a grave issue in Latin America. Between 1995 and 2005, around 400 victims lost their lives to violence due to their sexual orientation in México, whereas 312 were killed in Brazil during 2013. There is hope, however, as a wave of legislative changes have mobilised the region towards greater acceptance of LGBT individuals as part of society and will continue to do so in the following years.

A silver lining

A crime, in fact, can be a trigger for change, as the case of Daniel Zamudio in Chile illustrates. Zamudio was a 24 year old man who was attacked and tortured in 2012 when his attackers learned about his homosexuality. He was severely injured and died three weeks later, but the media attention and the prompt response by local activist organisations sped up public discussion and legislation against discrimination. Then President Sebastián Piñera urged the Chilean parliament to speed up the adoption of a law against discrimination, which banned discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, appearance and disability. Also under Piñera, a project to regulate civil unions for non-married couples, heterosexual and same-sex alike, was introduced for discussion partly through the pressure of civil society and activist organizations. It is now known as the AVP, as the Spanish acronym for life partnership accord. Political momentum was not enough, as the discussion of the project has been delayed for about 4 years and is only now in the final stages of approval.

Luis Larraín, knows that the project is only a step in the direction of greater acceptance for the rights of LGBT individuals, which is the long-term goal of the organisation he presides over; Fundación Iguales. In fact, the AVP has been disputed both by hard-line activists, who don’t want civil unions to overcrowd the diversity agenda thereby pushing other topics off the table, as by conservatives, who perceive it as a threat to the institution of family. But Larraín and his co-founder, writer Pablo Simonetti, and the team at Iguales all agree on the necessity for gradual change. Civil unions are just one more milestone in a longer path: “Though the discussion has amplified from the AVP to equal marriage, the legal project has been pending approval for 4 years, and is coming close to finally being sanctioned. Introducing a new project right now would take at least a few months to get approval”, stated Larraín. “The time that passes translates into lives of people whose relationships and rights are not duly recognised”, he clarifies.

In fact, the delay has been put to good use, as public debates have engaged Chilean citizens in an honest discussion about the inclusion of all citizens to democratic processes – a wave that also encompasses changes in education and tax reform, as well as better treatment of women, migrants and indigenous peoples. “Next steps include the gender identity law, which would allow trans individuals to adjust their identity documents, which we hope will be approved next year. We’re also proposing adoption by same-sex couples, though not yet at the legislative level, and are socialising a proposal for equal marriage. Hopefully, it will be granted its proper importance and will be voted as part of [current President Michelle] Bachelet’s term”, Larraín explains.

The main success for the cause of LGBT peoples in Latin America, however, has come from sharing a message that appeals even to non-LGBT peoples. Andrés Zúñiga, programmes manager at Iguales, sums it up: “Besides being gay, you’re also a student, a brother, a son, a poor or rich, right-wing or left-wing person. People are recognising that increasingly”. Both also noticed that the issue is closely related to the prevalence of homosexuality having a more prominent spot on the public agenda, but other gender identities have started to gain track in recent years. “It’s more than just about homosexuality; it’s about diversity”, adds Zúñiga, who is also a psychology student.

 An Unequal Transition

Chile has had a steady, though slow, progress toward greater inclusion. So has Argentina, the first country in the region where gay marriage was legal since 2010, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. The middle to high-level income in those countries may be a one reason why social movements towards greater inclusion have been successful. In fact, inequality is a problem even domestically, as Zúñiga points out that “Lower-income constituencies are more at risk than their middle and high income counterparts. The underlying reason is their lack of access to education, and the corresponding influence conservative or religious leaders may have with them”.

But as Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst University points out, social movements are also strong in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru, and their struggle to institutionalise change cannot be explained with recourse to education and income alone. “What seems to make a difference is … whether they forge strong ties with national-level political parties”, he writes  in the New York Times.

Worryingly, there are a few countries where the voices for LGBT activism are not nearly as organised. Such is the case in Guatemala. As the host country for the 43rd General Assembly for the Association of American States (OAS), held in early June 2013, the president Otto Pérez Molina was forced to take a stance on abortion and gay marriage, topics that were intensely discussed as part of the summit’s agenda. He promptly and almost candidly affirmed that “Guatemala is a conservative country, and is therefore against abortion and marriage between homosexuals”. A few dozen people had been protesting outside the meeting, calling for the defense of “life, family and marriage”. They later sent him a letter thanking him for his “resistance to pressures”, signed by 150 people. Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa, president of OASIS Guatemala, presented a public denunciation against the President and other government officials at the Office of the Human Rights Procurator. “That type of comments incite discrimination, and violates the universal human rights. You cannot recognise them in one place and not in other”, López explained , but the demand went mostly under the radar.

Sadly, people in most countries of Latin America still face enormous social pressure to conform to expectations about masculinity and femininity that are based in culture or religion, some of them live in countries without the institutions that might help provide a better council, or support. Then, most gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, queer and bisexual individuals are bound to negotiate their rights at a great disadvantage, even if it doesn’t translate into actual violence. Luckily, a high level of engagement and the work of courageous individuals point to higher grounds.

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto

Picture: Paola Ossandón

The pitfalls of Italy’s abortion law

ON PAPER, Italy’s law on abortion seems flawless – but reality is much different due to the existence the loophole known as conscientious objection.

Abortion was illegal in Italy until May 1978, when Law 194 was passed and introduced the right to terminate a pregnancy safely and with the minimal risk for women’s health. By law, any woman is allowed to terminate a pregnancy on request during the first 90 days for whatever reason they see fit. Once obtained proof as to the state of the pregnancy, all that it takes is making an appointment with a structure authorized to terminate the pregnancy. This may be either a public hospital, where the whole procedure is free of charge, or in a structure authorized by the regional health authorities. Should carrying the pregnancy to term endanger the woman’s life or health, or should the foetus’ health turn out to be seriously compromised – thus putting strain on the mother’s emotional and psychological state – the termination can be carried out up to 20 weeks after conception.

All in all Law 194 seems flawless, allowing women to terminate an undesired pregnancy with minimal risk for their health. Reality, however, is quite different. The most obvious loophole is that of conscientious objection: the possibility for any doctor to refuse performing an abortion on ethical or religious grounds. As a result, while Law 194 grants women the right to a safe abortion, doctors are also allowed to refuse performing it.

The volume of objection

What raises an issue is the sheer amount of conscientious objectors. While the percentage varies depending on the region, it only goes below fifty percent in one region. In several regions conscientious objectors are 80 – 85% of the medical personnel qualified to perform abortions. These numbers are at odds with people’s general attitude toward the issue: in 2012 a Censis report found that only 26% of individuals interviewed were against the right to abortion, with 60% being pro-choice.

As a result of the high percentage of objectors, booking an appointment can be far more difficult than it should be – with the risk of getting past the time limit of 90 days after which a pregnancy can only be terminated under special circumstances. While any attempt at changing the situation has been rejected by Catholics and pro-life movements as an attack to the medical personnel’s conscientious freedom, Claudio Crescini – of the Italian Association of Hospital Obstetricians and Gynecologists – says that it often isn’t a matter of personal belief.

“Abortion is overused in electoral and political debates, and there’s a lot of pressure on us,” he says.“While it’s not explicitly stated, someone who’s not an objector doesn’t have the easy career an objector makes – and they’re often forced to perform nothing but abortions.” In short, conscientious objectors have less of a work load than non-objectors with no risk of damaging their career by avoiding a loaded issue. It’s no wonder that many choose not to perform abortions for convenience rather than because of a religious or ethical issues.

An even bigger obstacle comes from those who take their right to conscientious objection well past what the law allows. Objectors have the right not to personally perform an abortion – but that’s all. Emergency contraception, like the morning-after pill or RU-486, isn’t covered by the right to objection; there is no right for the doctor to refuse prescribing it, or for any medical professional to refuse giving it to a woman who asks for it.

At what cost ? 

And yet that’s precisely what happens and women’s right to safely terminate or avoid a pregnancy is constantly under attack. Despite it being against the law, many doctors downright refuse to prescribe emergency contraception. Last week in Voghera, a town in Lombardy, a nurse kept two young women from accessing to the hospital when they said they wished to get a prescription for the morning-after pill. It’s not uncommon for objectors to try guilting women into not terminating the pregnancy, adding strain to what’s already a stressful situation. Some were even left alone through part of the procedure because the doctors and nurses who started their shift were objectors. As a result, women have to leap through fire hoops for a chance to terminate a pregnancy – a right granted by Law 194. Some doctor go as far as refusing to certify their state, knowing that without a certificate they cannot terminate a pregnancy without medical proof that there is indeed a pregnancy. The practice is so widespread that Nicola Zingaretti, President of Lazio, had to introduce new rules in his region stating that medical personnel in public structures could not refuse to certify a state of pregnancy or to prescribe emergency contraception.

This raises the question of what pro-life movements precisely hope to accomplish by trying to force women into carrying undesired pregnancies to term. If they think it would make abortions stop, they’re sorely mistaken: history and common sense tell us it wouldn’t be the case.

A 2000 survey by Istat – the Italian National Institute of Statistics – estimates that at least 20,000 illegal abortions were carried on every year prior to 1978, when Law 194 was passed and abortion became legal. The fact most illegal abortions were obvious carried on in secret makes it difficult to give exact figures; Istat doesn’t rule out the possibility their estimate may be lower than the truth.Before Law 194 abortions had been happening under wraps in the entire country as illegal, unsafe procedures that could easily result with the woman’s death due to haemorrhage and infections. Fear of social stigma would lead many unmarried women to risk their lives to terminate the pregnancy; fear of punishment would keep them from seeking medical help afterwards. Even for those who sought help, it was often too late.

This is what comes out of taking away women’s right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term: not only it fails to keep abortions from happening, but it also puts women in the position to risk their own health and lives to terminate a pregnancy.

So much for pro-life.

Written by Allessandra Pacelli 

Image Credit: Paolo Margari 

 

 

 

New Hamburg: Life of the Veddel

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Ever since I decided to go abroad, I have been often reminded by how little everyone knows about the world, myself included. We are bound by an obnoxious bubble of self-proclaimed self-righteousness and assumption of knowledge of worldly events; however, this bubble gets popped upon collision with communities we might know very little about.

Yesterday marked my initial contact with Veddel: a fascinating blend of people from 67 different nations, all of whom had left their homelands in pursuit of better life standards. For many immigrants, Germany has been a rather popular destination, despite the fact that the conditions of arrival and integration are not exactly ideal. Nevertheless, between racial discrimination in their home nations, along with religious segregation and prosecution for political activism, Hamburg in particular seemed a safe place to be.

Veddel: A harmonious entanglement

Veddel is a snapshot of a truly multicultural city within a city. Though it is commonly misrepresented in traditional media as being dangerous and high on crime rates, as immigrant communities often perfectly fit the illustrative material for that particular purpose, the island has taken the definition of “parallel societies” to a whole new level. Its residents, with the variety of their backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, education levels, ages and experiences, live together in a harmony most big cities with all the proper infrastructure have been unable to achieve.

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A live example of this polyphony is the Immanuel Church [Deutsche: Immanuelkirche], formerly an Evangelical center of Veddel’s mostly Christian society. Today, the church is a melting point of cultural dialogue, music, film, sports and other activities for the multitude of spiritual beliefs that inhabit Veddel, creating a network of diversity where parents, teachers, members of different religious communities, artists and activists had the space to develop New Hamburg, an initiative that celebrates the cultural richness and diversity of the island.

Along with the fascinating theatre shows, the music and the inspiring performances, New Hamburg Festival, held from the 3rd to the 25th of October, offered a platform for the residents of Veddel to tell their stories.

A larger portion of the population stems from Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, and other Southern-Eastern European countries, but were born there as part of the Romani communities [also known as Gypsy, despite my distaste for the term] in those nations. Prior to coming to Europe, I had only heard of the word “Gypsy”, yet had never associated it with any specific connotation. Coming from Egypt, the only time I’d ever heard the word was in Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, referring to Esmeralda’s character. Whatever I came across yesterday is how I’ll always perceive the Romani community, for as long as I have a memory.

Mapping life across Europe

One of the most intriguing events that took place was a series of presentations given by a few members of the Veddel community, where each one stood in front of a large-scaled map of Europe to illustrate their life stories by placing a pin in each country they lived in, even briefly, then tying a thread, each person with his preferable colour, that connects the dots in a way that ends with them settling in Hamburg. The map ended up being a canvas of intertwined tangles of threads, each thread representing a tale.

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Among the stories was a Romani man who was born and raised in Serbia. Being a journalist and a political activist, he was among the founders of the first political party that represented the Roma community in Serbia, for which he was prosecuted, chased by the police forces in former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and forced to flee.

“I had to leave; I couldn’t risk taking my family along to face the hardships I knew were about to come.” Waving his hand across different countries in former Yugoslavia, he said, “I had no passport, and I travelled through Hungary and other countries on foot.”

Briefly narrating the story of his continuous abscond and suffering, he told his audience how he ended up in Germany with severe health complications, for which the authorities decided to give him a disability card to legalize his status in Germany.

Centuries-long discrimination

“With no mother nation to stand up for our cause, we are denied citizenship almost everywhere. Veddel has been good to us, but there is such a high unemployment rate, and we are increasingly misunderstood and maligned due to our ethnicity as a minority group.”

Originally migrating from India, to Mid-West Asia, and finally arriving in Europe around 1,000 years ago, the Roma have suffered economic, cultural and political discrimination at the hands of both communist and capitalist, and both democratic and totalitarian societies.20141019_202815

Upon doing more research on their history, some of what I stumbled upon was inhumane, illogical, and rather shocking. Not only are they culturally excluded from their prospective communities, but more-so politically. For example, in 1993, Jozsef Pacai, the mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev said, “I’m no racist, but some Gypsies you would have to shoot.”

Several far-right political groups in Eastern Europe consistently used the idea of ridding of “gypsies” as propaganda for their campaigns. In 2009, the Czech National Party ran advertisements for the European Parliament election calling for a “final solution to the Gypsy problem”. Another far-right party in Slovakia, in 2010, has used the term “Gypsy criminality” in reference to the danger they allegedly form towards the nation state.

Even in Germany, since they are not German nationals, they do not get the right to vote, which makes Veddel untouched by the hands of the authorities, and lacking in infrastructure in many ways.

“It’s a vicious cycle. Europe complains about us; they dislike that we are nomads, but what makes us nomadic is that we are never accepted into our host countries. We don’t know where to go”, a Montenegrin told me.

Celebrating diversity

Despite their rather traumatic stories, the Veddel community was rather welcoming. Some of the women grilled food in the church’s backyard, offering food at minimal prices for the festival’s guests. Some of them also joined to attend the consequent events of the evening. Children huddled around the fire for warmth, and by the evening, many people, mostly Germans and Veddel locals, gathered inside the church’s café for a welcome from the organizers of New Hamburg, ending with a warm “Our house is your house” [Deutsche: Unser Haus ist dein Haus].

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The crowd slowly moved into the second part of the evening celebrations: a tour around a big hallway where several people told the stories of people who had immigrated to Veddel many decades ago, in German. I was lucky enough to h
ave a German-speaking friend, translating the stories word by word. Some of them would make us chuckle, others would give us goosebumps, and others would leave the ending open, bringing about some hope for a better future for the people.

A beautiful interruption of the stories tour were a short couple of performances by Rosemary Hardy, an English lady who had volunteered for the New Hamburg initiative as part of the theatre group. Dressed in a colourful Hungarian dress and seated in a chair while knitting, the spotlights would bring the audience’s attention to her strong Soprano voice, as she sang two songs, one of which was Hungarian, and the other was German, titled “Waldeinsamkeit“, which translates to “the feeling of loneliness you get while being in the woods”, reminding me of how many surprises the German language can carry.

Veddel 5What ended the night was an inspiring performance of a girl in her mid-twenties who sang in Albanian to the earthly tunes of her Eastern instrument, leaving her audience astounded after singing around 5 melodies that ranged from melancholic notes to upbeat tunes.

For our readers in Hamburg, I highly encourage you to visit Veddel on Saturday the 25th of the current month to enjoy more performances, especially a Turkish music concert. For more information on the New Hamburg initiave, please visit http://new-hamburg.de.

 

 

Written by Shorouk El Hariry, an Egyptian journalist who studies and lives in Hamburg, Germany. She could be found on Twitter at @shoroukelhariry

How one of Iceland’s most prominent singers went from singing alone to singing worldwide in only a couple of weeks

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Pandeia got a moment of Ásgeir’s Trausti busy schedule after he finished playing at Skanderborg Festival (Smukfest) in Denmark, and right before he flew off to his home in Iceland.

Despite Ásgeir Trausti’s young age of 21 and his relatively short career, he is one of Iceland’s biggest stars at the moment and is a long way into his international career. This summer he made a quick stop at Skanderborg’s lively music festival located in Denmark to play his music.

What is unusual about this young singer is that his father writes some of his lyrics and he did not really sing in public before he became famous.

His sudden and unexpected popularity came about when Ásgeir met a record producer in Iceland and for fun they decided to record a few of his songs. Ásgeir said: “One day I simply met Kiddi, our soundman, and gave him some songs I had recorded and we started playing around with the recording. And a few weeks later we sent a couple of them to the radio, and that is how the ball started rolling”.

“It just exploded in 2012 and I decided to dedicate myself to it for some time.”

Ásgeir never planned to play to more than for himself. “I never really planned to play music in front of other people or become a musician at all, I only wrote for myself. I have been playing since I was 6-year old but I never thought I would take my music further, publish it or play it in front of other people.”

Before Ásgeir knew it, he was well-known in Iceland, held an international record deal in his hand and was starting to prepare himself to leave Iceland to tour around the world. He describes his doubts and feelings on how he was not (in any way) ready for this journey:

“I had never actually sung in front of people before, and therefore I had absolutely no experience. So I jumped into the deep end with this without being ready for it at all. I knew it would be very difficult for the first few months, the first years – it still is difficult.”

Today his band has become well-known in the Nordic countries, Europe, Japan and Australia, and is making a break into the American market. “It is at the starting stage in the U.S.,” said Ásgeir modestly, despite having had two successful tours and a newly published record there.

He emphasises this is still all very new to him, “it takes time to learn and get into the whole thing and it is still all very new to me: even though we have now played more than 300 concerts I am still getting used to the whole idea.”

Ásgeir mentions that he is very self-critical on his performance on stage and he has a hard time feeling satisfied with his performance; he describes feeling nervous before entering stage every time. “I used to think that having a glass of red wine before going on stage would fix my nerves, but somehow it did not do the trick so now I result in having a cup of tea before going on stage with my buddies and having a chat with them.”

Despite Ásgeir’s stage fright his focus is still on his music and the crowds experience for every concert. It is important to stay focused he said: “it is important for you to find your place before going to stage, it is a mindset you need to get into.”

He smiled and added: “I have seen such progress since we first started: it is all going better now, I knew it would happen at some point.”

Previously their music was only written in Icelandic, but the band started translating their lyrics into English 2 years ago. “The main reason was that I was going abroad and wanted to reach to as many people as possible. It made more sense that it would be on a language that everybody understood,” said Ásgeir.

His band was not at all sure of how the feedback for translating into English would be at the start:

“There are a lot of people who like the songs in Icelandic. I was not sure myself when we started. I honestly had no idea how this worked: if it mattered if we sang in Icelandic or English at all. So we had to take a chance with this and simply try it in English”.

“But it has definitely been beneficial to do so, there are certain countries who only know our music today in English.” he adds.

Most of the Nordic countries still play his music in Icelandic, apparently making Trausti a little happy as he smiled and added “I think it is great that they play it in Icelandic.”

“It felt very weird for the first weeks to sing my songs in English, but today I’m used to it,” Ásgeir describes.

Recently Ásgeir started writing his songs in English, saying he is tired of translating. It should not concern the audience who prefer the Icelandic lyrics as he has not stopped writing in his own language.

Regarding making new music there is not a set plan to make it  at the moment said Ásgeir. “It is rather hard to write music while we are touring, the only free time we have  is spent sitting in a bus, so whenever I get home I try to have time to go to the studio and record some new music.”

About the start in Iceland, Ásgeir mentions the band had to go through a bit of transition cutting down members before touring abroad: “we had a whole brass band on stage with us along with seven band members. In Iceland it is not expensive to tour in so we could do whatever we wanted there.”

They changed the band’s structure without having any problems in only a couple of weeks before leaving, almost everybody in the band are guitar players who can play almost any other instrument, which made it easier.

Obviously the band has become very close touring together: “it is like family, it is an annoyingly tight group we have here,” said Trausti. With all his focus placed on the music he says that it only makes their music better to spend so much time together.

Despite Ásgeir’s short time in the spotlight, he has caught well-deserved attention worldwide.  Still, with his feet on the ground, modesty and determination to get even further,  it will certainly be exciting to follow up on him work in the future.

With  all the variety of music Skanderborg festival has to offer, Trausti certainly fit in  the goal of making it “Smukfestival” – the prettiest festival in Denmark.

Written by Svanlaug Árnadóttir