Slovakia Group’s penultimate day

Today we had the pleasure to hear Rebecca Handler, Policy team leader on immigration of the Home Office, talk about immigration and how it links with citizenship. Apparently, all countries over-estimate the percentage of the population that are migrants. There are in fact only 13% immigrants in Britain. This could possibly reflect on the fact that some citizens fear immigrants coming to the UK. It is appropriate to ask oneself where this fear comes from. Is it really because they “take all our jobs away”? Because it seems like there are a lot of jobs that the locals don’t want to do, that get handed to immigrants. So even though this is a point that has been made by citizens against immigration, there must remain a bigger reason for this fear. We asked ourselves if it was the fear of “otherness”. The fear of having someone “unknown” come into our country. But it must also be noted that there were a lot of positive remarks about immigration. Immigrant are often willing to work more hours on lower pay. All in all, as a global citizen, I would say that immigration is important not only for economic reasons, but also for cultural reasons. Mixing of cultures is beautiful, one can learn a lot about different views, traditions and languages. It brings us closer together.

-Caroline Walter

Day 8- The EU, the Danube and the “French Cows”

Day 8, our journey started with an interesting lecture given by Filipa Figueira talking about “The EU and its policy focus on the Danube region”. The lecture began with discussing about the EU in a nutshell; the European Union is a politico-economic union between 28 countries that are primarily located in Europe. One of the fascinating parts of the lecture was the discussion of the concept and functions of the European Union, rather than a trade agreement, a country or an international organization, it was in fact a mixture of all of them. The major policies that the EU have implemented through its members were the EU Budget and the EU Regional policy, these policies originally targeted to help poorer countries and regions. However, gradually, it involved helping all countries within the union due to pressure and several interventions. The EU policy to focus on the Danube region did not initiate until 2010, the policy decided to provide money to the region in exchange for the region to improve their own policies in order to bring closer cooperation altogether. Being part of the European Union also means to submit a certain amount of money into the common EU budget, according to the official European Commission chart, over 75% of the budget should be spent in order to stimulate the growth of the market and enlarge employment. However, in reality, there are over half of the budget has gone to the “French cows”, which, at the same time, triggers critique towards the question that whether the EU Budget is a way of wasting money.

Afterwards, we had a discussion around the lecture within the group, the question of what has the European Union brought to the UK was raised, and the possibility of the UK leaving the EU during the referendum in 2017. It has come to a conclusion that instead of reducing the economic disparity, the European Union increased it. We made an agreement that the EU enlarges the disparity between the rich and the poor.

After the tutorial, we were free to use our time to prepare the presentation tomorrow. Hope everything will be fine!

-Tenghua Huang (Slovakia Group)

Day 7 and a bottle of Hubert later…

Day 7 of our travels along the Danube began with a great lecture by Ádám Nádasdy which focused on the development of the Danubian languages. He began by presenting a quotation from the Old Testament and gave us the translation for these in each of the different languages that our groups have been learning over the past week and a half. It was interesting to see how each of the languages can be separated into different groupings and how this is reflected in the similarities of their words. For example woman was ‘žene’ in the Slovak translation and ‘ženu’ in Croatian as they are both germanic languages. On the other hand the word for woman in Hungarian was ‘felesécgéhez’ which is a Uralic language and the difference was clear to see. This lead on to an interesting discussion on the origin of language and how in the past language was treated almost as if it were genetic. Adam spoke about how the Romantic period brought a desire to uncover our past and many believed that by understanding the origins or our language we could discover some sort of truth about ourselves. This was particularly prevalent in Germany where the discovery that their language was partly derived from Sanskrit and consequently the ‘noble Aryan’ people. This lead to some germans beginning to foster a sense of nationalistic pride that saw the German people keen to establish themselves as Aryans.

After the lecture the members of our group continued working on the poster, film and blog posts. After lunch we reconvened for our last (sob) lesson with the lovely Olga. We came into class accompanied by a Eurovision song which is always a sign that you’re going to have a good time. We spent much of the lesson revising what we had learnt during the short course and it was pretty fun to be able to understand most of the exercises and to be able to converse simply but confidently with Olga. As a treat to mark our final lesson, Olga brought in a bottle of Hubert Slovakian Champagne! It was very nice and washed down well with some crisps and a bit more Eurovision (we got the lyrics this time so an under the breath singalong was compulsory).

After we all said a heartfelt thank you and goodbye to Olga we used the remainder of the day to continue working on our projects and the poster team finished up. It’s not long until our time is almost up but I’m sure there’s lots more in store over the next few days.

Dobrý deň!

-Olivia Marshall

#Beyond the Beyond…

Our sixth day of learning about Slovakia and the Danube started by each of us focusing on our different projects. Thus Jess and I made a lot of progress on the editing stages of the film footage, selecting relevant material and cutting it to fit into the time limits. At the same time, Charlotte and Liv were putting the final touches to the presentation for the ‘UnConference’ that evening. There was still a lot of other work to be done, however, so other members of the group were finalising the poster or their blogs.

We all came together for another Slovak lesson with Olga in the afternoon. Today’s topics were primarily Slovak literature, poetry and music. This included exploring a passage from Peter Krištúfek’s Dom hluchého, which was quite amusing, and Jozef Urban’s Voda, čo ma drží nad vodou.

After this, we were able to join together with the other strands of the global citizenship programme for the UnConferance. This is considered to be a participant-driven meeting, which it certainly was, with insights given by all groups into their various strands. Our group thus commenced the meeting, with a great presentation by Charlotte and Liv on ‘interconnectedness’ and building bridges. It was really interesting to investigate how different bridges along the Danube, as well as more metaphorical bridges, can be so representative of the varying impacts of the Danube. We then heard the other groups’ presentations and it was fascinating to see the other viewpoints of global citizenship. The sustainable cities viewpoint seemed particularly interesting with their more creative stance of having to find global, sustainable solutions to issues in Dar es Salaam, for example. The UnConference therefore gave us a much more rounded view of what a global citizen is.

With this new view in mind, the next few days of the programme will be particularly useful. It will help with developing our projects and preparing for the final exhibition.

-Laura Russell

Getting out and about along the Danube- Slovakia Group

We’ve now made it to the halfway point in our exploration of the Danube, and the fifth day of our expedition was mainly centred around this.

In the morning, Dr Thomas Lorman led us on a journey through the Danube, focusing on the Danube throughout history and how perceptions of this have changed through the years.

He explained that, in various periods of history, the river has both created and eliminated borders and how in recent years the efforts of people living in the region have led to the river becoming the international waterway that it is today.

It was surprising to learn that the Danube was un-navigable and unbridged until the 19th century and that no maps of the Danube existed until 1816-20, and that in the years following this, considerable amounts of effort were expended in order to control and transform the river.

He also touched on how in recent years, with the rising awareness of the impact of global warming, Danubians are attempting to control much of the damage done to the region in order to control the river and the impact this has had on the region.

For the seminar today, we joined with the Yiddish group. It was interesting to hear a different range of perspectives regarding this issue, with most of the discussion focusing on how this affects the whole world, not just the Danubian region and what we, as global citizens, can do in order to prevent the destruction of such areas, and the implications of an increasingly globalised and industrialised world for society as a whole.

For our Slovak language session in the afternoon, Olga had us learning more about getting around in a city – now we can not only ask for directions but also know essential phrases when travelling around, including how to order in a restaurant.

Olga was, as always, incredibly enthusiastic and her descriptions (and pictures) of Slovak food sounded wonderful – a trip to a Slovak restaurant may be in order!

-Charlotte Brett

Time of the Gypsies: Roma Culture and Society along the Danube

The fourth day of learning about the Danube began with Prof. Michael Stewart from UCL Department of Archaeology and his lecture on the Romani people, their culture and history. During the hour several important subjects were raised, encompassing the problems of recognising Romani identity, origin, history and language. The fact that Romani do not exist as a nation, their Indian, Balkan and Eastern European roots, their history after the World War II in the Danube region and the attempts to assimilate Roma into the communist society- all these issues were clearly discussed, so every participant could get the idea of the Romani around the Danube. The lecture was concluded by statement that culture should connect, not divide.

The group discussion that followed the Stewart’s lecture concentrated on the perception of the Romani people not only in the Danube region, but also in other parts of Europe and the way governments and people could help them coexist peacefully within the society.

In the afternoon we participated in another lecture on the Romani people. Amelia Abercrombie, whose research focuses on multilingual Roma, talked about her field work in Prizren, Kosovo. The case of multilingualism and mixing languages in everyday life, the significance and appropriation of each language and of standardisation of the Romani language and its purpose were engrossing topics of her speech.

Today’s language session was aimed at learning how to move around in the Slovak city. Our teacher Olga did not fail to give us numerous examples about linguistic differences and stories about Slovakia.

All things considered, day 4 was certainly beneficial for Slovak group. We cannot wait to explore other stories from the Danube region.

-Marianne Kokoczka (Slovakia Group)

Slovakia group’s journey up, down and along the Danube!!

Day 3 of our Danube journey started with Prof. Wendy Bracewell guiding us through a survey of travellers’ accounts along the Danube River, ranging from extracts of Jonathan Harker’s journal in Dracula to writing of travellers, such as William Beattie and A. W. Kinglake. Two salient points were raised in this engaging session. First, travellers’ self-perception profoundly influences their accounts along the Danube River. For instance, a traveller keen on justifying his sense of superiority is likely to emphasise on the primeval nature of cities east of his homeland in his writing, as he travels down the Danube River. Second, the seemingly uncontroversial geographical classification of Europe into Western and Eastern Europe is, in fact, far more problematic. At which point can we clearly divide Europe into two parts? From the travellers’ accounts, this dividing line is clearly more a cultural construct, rather than a definitive geographical division.

My group’s discussion was largely centered on the second point made in Bracewell’s lecture. Through our sharing of personal experiences and insights, we concluded that beyond the Danube River, terms such as ‘The West’ and ‘The Far East’ are shaped largely by dominant social groups and may be exploited for political purposes.

The skills session after lunch regarding documentary production was useful in laying out the expectations for our short films and providing practical guidance on how we should select the appropriate interviewee. Olga’s Slovak language session is always great fun. Her passion for the language is infectious and we greatly appreciate her patience when teaching us, even when we mangle our pronunciations.

Overall, it was a great day 3! We look forward to working on our presentations and learning more about the Danube region in the days ahead. 

-Bradley Soh

Day 2- Slovakia Group

Today we had the opportunity to listen to Michael Berkowitz talk about Representation and everyday life of Jews in Vienna. We learnt that in the late 19th century inter-war period, there was a higher concentration of Jewish communities along the Danube than any other social group; leading visitors of Vienna to believe that it was a Jewish city. By 1914, there were 200,000 Jews in Vienna. A fascinating insight into Jewish life in Vienna showed that Jews nearly always had jobs involving creative intelligence. Photographers in Vienna were mostly Jewish women, making them a social group that adapted the new-modernist idea. They ran their own businesses, were into sports and music, and made up more than half of the audience in theatre performances. Education was also an important aspect of life. Being categorised as immigrants, the Jews struggled to remain Jewish and keep a Jewish identity, but living in Jewish communities and adopting Zionism made it easier for them to keep this identity. But this was about to change by 1943. There were nearly no Jews left in Vienna, and if there were some, they would keep their Jewish identiJewish 'head' walking sticksty hidden. Hitler’s power and Fascism came to Vienna, building concentration camps to wipe out Jewish communities across Europe. Vienna quickly became an anti-Semitic city, blaming Jews as Christ-killers and job-stealers, even having walking sticks that resemble a Jew’s head with over-dimensionalised noses.

-Caroline Walter

It was a busy first day, but we are all aboard here in team Slovak!

AHOJ (that’s ‘hi!’ to all you non-Slovak students)! Today was our first day as Danewbies – and we’ve already learnt so much. Our introduction at the start of our first language class showed that the majority of us, while speaking a variety of different languages, knew next to nothing about Slovak and Slovakian.

We were ex-stream-ly excited to get started, although our pronunciation (the focus of our first language class) was a little bit fishy. Our lovely teacher, Olga, must have been driven around the bend as we muddled our way through our first conversations in Slovak – it was brilliant to get speaking so soon.

Some of the many interesting points raised were the similarities and differences between Slovak and other languages in the Danubian region. For instance, Slovak uses a Latin script, but closely resembles Czech (which uses a Cyrillic).

-Mary Newman

Danube on Thames – The new EastEnders

Eastenders is a British soap opera and one of the country’s most popular television programmes, attracting a weekly audience of about nine million people.  On the air since 1985, it occupies a significant place in the nation’s media landscape: its diverse cast of East-end characters – market traders and gangsters, British Asian and African-Caribbean families, white working-class café-owners, taxi-drivers and matriarchs, property developers and doctors – are familiar to most people living in Britain.  No less familiar are the heavy drumbeats that introduce the music to the credits of every show and the image behind those final credits: the broad loop of the Thames as it curls through London’s East End and the Docklands.

But Eastenders is more than just a piece of light entertainment.  Over the years, it has been pioneering in addressing a range of social issues that used not to be addressed by soap operas: drug addiction, complicated sexualities and same-sex marriage, race relations and racism, HIV and AIDS, forced marriage, domestic violence, and so on.

It is, in part, with this in mind that we have given the subtitle, The New Eastenders, to our Danube-on-Thames project and have produced this image: Eastenders replaced by Danube-on-Thames and a rough map of the Danube region superimposed onto the familiar landscape of London.  This is the new social issue that we wish to address: the way that thousands of Danubians have made and are making their home in London, adding to its diversity, bringing new pieces to its social and cultural mosaic.  We want to make Danubian London visible and explore the intercultural flows and frictions that result.