Refugees Welcome – Some thoughts on the current events in Europe

September 6th, 2015 by Johann Strube

While I enjoy labor day weekend in Upstate New York, the news about refugees arriving in Europe are becoming overwhelming. It is strange to observe these historic events from a country, that tends to see itself as the center of the world and yet couldn’t be more away from the events that currently dominate the global news. Isolated by a huge ocean and the unwillingness to take responsibility for a crisis, that is not completely unrelated to American intervention in the Middle East, the US is merely a supporting actor in this plot, at best. To be fair, the US have their own issues with refugees and immigration. No western country has accepted more refugees than the US. And yet, the American willingness to help people escaping from war and political prosecution is very limited in comparison to the millions of refugees in the middle east.
But this article is not about the US, but an attempt to make sense of what is currently happening in Europe. I used to accuse Europe for a racist immigration policy, that willingly accepts thousands of refugees to die in their attempt to cross the border. And I don’t see much reason, or hope, to change my opinion anytime soon. When Merkel is now credited for her human stance on helping refugees, it is less her politics that have changed than it is the number of people trying to find a refuge in Europa. We read about the thousands of refugees that arrive in Germany or Hungary every day, but people continue to die at the borders.
And yet, the tracks of refugees across Europe points out a few issue I like to address:

  • The hundreds of thousands of refugees are a very powerful reminder, that much is messed up in this world. I do not like the term “refugee crisis”, as it implies that the refugees themselves are the problem. But framed differently, the term becomes useful. It is fair to say that every single refugee experiences a personal and a collective crisis. And refugees are a small, often privileged group that represent much greater crises. The war crises in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia etc. cause misery and often death to millions who cannot or do not want to escape. Other crises, as the food crisis, the climate crisis or the poverty crisis add on top of that. While not officially recognized as reasons to seek asylum, they are experienced in a similar way, as a threat to life.  When refugees from these countries come to Europe to seek asylum, it reminds us, that these crises are our crises. Not in a way, that Europe should intervene wherever it can. But certainly in a way, that we rethink our legacy of colonialism and global economic domination, which impact that has on other parts of the world and how we can help each other to solve those crises that threaten us all as humankind. Because we’re all in it together.
  • Europe remains a popular goal for people in distress. Neither Europe’s politics of deportation and closed borders nor [growing numbers of attacks on refugees]() stop people from trying to get there. The degree of political stability and recognition of human rights in Europe compared to countries such as Syria or Afghanistan can’t be taken for granted. I find a lot to criticize and improve in Europe, but sometimes it’s useful to put things in perspective.
  • It is said that Europe (it’s a gross generalization, I know) is good at a few things. In disciplines such as economic power, individual wealth, education, health, even personal well-being, at least some European countries rank in the top tier. But when we see pictures of refugees walking on rail tracks or sleeping in tents or on the street amid the oh-so-wealthy Europe, we have to conclude, that Europe is terrible in being a good host and helper. Europe can built skyscrapers and high-speed trains, but apparently it is incapable of providing for people, that have lost everything and reach out for help.
  • There is growing divide among Europeans and their government(s). While the latter try to stop as many refugees from entering Europe as possible and try to get rid of those who made it, backed up by a to a great extend xenophobic electorate, more and more people take charity in their own hands and organize help to welcome and support refugees. About a year ago, we organized a small group of students at my university to support refugees, who have moved into a shelter right next to our school. When I now see hundreds of volunteers in Vienna (and elsewhere, like Munich or Hungary), who try to help where they can, it gives me hope, that humanity is not lost. It is great to see, how these idealistic and self-organized groups are so much more efficient in providing for people in distress than the officials.
    In a way, this is telling about the neoliberal course Europe is taking. Charity and humanity is privatized and delegated to a minority who has the time and means to provide social services. While I cannot thank those activists enough (and I almost feel guilty that I cannot be among them right now), their commitment is no justification for the government to reduce services. Rather, it should be a signal, that people in Europe are willing and able to support refugees and that their government should follow suit. So if anyone in Europe deserves credit for humanity and helpfulness, it’s the civil society, the activists and not the government(s) nor Europe as a whole.
  • In some way, this current period of flight reminds me of other historic events, when people tried to escape one country to get into another. Remember, when Europe was like the Middle East today and one crazy group called Germans or Nazis tried to dominate and extinguish other Europeans? Millions fled to countries close (like Jordan or Turkey today) and far (just like Germany today). When Merkel announced that refugees in Hungary could proceed to Germany without being stopped it remind me a lot of 1989 when East German refugees in the German embassy suddenly were allowed to move to Western Germany.  Every event is unique and history only repeats so much, but I think it is time to reciprocate the generosity Europeans have experienced during those times.

This entry is mostly an article about the grand scheme of things, of flight and humanity. And yet, we shouldn’t forget this isn’t only an arena of political struggle. It is the sum of million individual stories and destinies of people who risk their lives for a better future. I wish people in Europe keep that in mind when they consider their personal response to the current events.

borders instead of humanity – Why I accuse Europe for the murder of thousands of refugees

April 24th, 2015 by Johann Strube

This is going to be a rant on a racist Europe that kills thousands of refugees each year. To put all my cards on the table, I disapprove of borders (writing this seems as trivial as saying I disapprove of being run over by a car but as it turns out, it is not as trivial). They exist so people inside the borders don’t have to deal with what is going on outside. The whole argument about people from all over the world coming to some presumably “developed” country and thus ultimately lower its standard of life, boils down to the attitude, that those who enjoy this standard of life don’t want to share it. They enjoy being on the favored side of the inequality. Of course, this inequality exists with or without borders. But with borders, it’s much easier not to look at it, making the people inside the borders feel good.
I am aware, that the world being the way it currently is, makes the vision of a human society without borders look like a leftist, anarchist utopia (to those who lack imagination and especially to those, who in fact appreciate their borders). I’m just writing this as a primer on why borders suck in general so you don’t have to point out my position, when I now continue to write, why they suck in particular.

The dying of more than thousand refugees in the Mediterranean during the last week has in fact very little to do with one’s stance on borders in general. Like them or not, it is apparent that people are willing to cross them at all costs, even risking their own lives. And it is also apparent, that the Mediterranean Sea is the kind of border, you either cross or you die. And the European border policy and police makes it clear, they rather see you die than crossing the Mediterranean. One could argue, this is not true, sure do the various European border guards rescue refugees in distress at sea. Oh these hypocrites. Making sure that refugees can’t just take the safe ferries from Tangier or Tunis – and, instead, have to resort to overloaded, life-threatening boats – and then even getting credit for picking a few back out of the water. So what’s gonna happen, if the coast guard destroys potential border crossing boats as has been proposed in the last days? Besides effectively destroying the fishing fleet of the North African countries…rubber boats! Even more distress at sea. Even more deaths.
So if all the people that expressed their sorrow over the most recent catastrophes would actually mean to save lives, they would allow legal and affordable ways of entering the country. What happens then, is where my leftist anarchist vision would come in. In my world, there would be people waiting for the newcomers with music and hot tea and the newcomers could immediately do and get what everyone else is allowed to do or entitled to get. The point is, even if one disagrees with this vision and everyone would have to apply to remain in the country and the application would be assessed according to the rule of the law (as it is now – at least in theory – the case for everyone who manages to get into Europe alive. The theory-qualification is due to the fact, that more often than not, refugees are not treated according to the rule of the law and instead are being abused or deported without a fair process), people would not have to die in the sea. So all the proposals of increasing the funds for search and rescue missions aren’t changing a thing, that refugees still have to resort to the dangerous sea in the first place. The green proposal to not only increase funds but also widen the area in which theses rescue missions can operate, is not an exception.
Therefore, if politicians wanted to save lives, they would NOW allow everyone to legally enter Europe. History has thought us that the unconditional opening of borders from one moment to the other is possible. Compared to the saving of thousands of lives, all the problems that may arise in consequence are subordinate. Kenia, Ethiopia, Jordan, Turkey and Iran have accepted more than 500.000 refugees each. Lebanon and Pakistan more then a million. Did this cause massive humanitarian problems in the refugees camps? Yes. Still, people choose these camp over residing in countries of war, terror, torture and/or political prosecution. I am not saying that massive, slum-like camps are the best way to treat people. They are actually pretty bad. Still, the rescuing of human lives must come first.

I don’t see this happening, though. And as a result, I accuse those in power in Europe and everyone who supports them of racism, as the life of a foreign refugees seem to weigh less than the quality of life of people from inside the border. Secondly, I accuse the same people of complicity to murder. As had been expressed several times, the death of refugees in the Mediterranean is not only accepted, it is used as a (inefficient) tool to control borders by scaring new people from crossing the sea by boat. Thus, refugees die by purpose of the European border policy. To me, that’s an act of active, fatal violence that I, lacking legal expertise but owning a common sense and some degree of sympathy, call murder. Shame on you, Europe.

Ithaca, NY it is

April 24th, 2015 by Johann Strube

One thing I find with blogging is that things usually start seem worth to be written about a few weeks after they happened. And then it takes me another few weeks to allocate the time for writing. What I am really trying to say, is that I moved from Vienna to Ithaca, New York about 2 months ago.
Professor Philip McMichael invited me to write my Master’s thesis on peasant farming in the United States at the Department of Development Sociology at Cornell University. I don’t want to go into the actual research quite yet, apart from mentioning that I’m extremely happy to work with Rachel Bezner Kerr and Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen back at BOKU as my supervisors. Working with both of them has been encouraging and empowering to the point to realize, what grad school wasn’t for me during most of my master’s as BOKU. Really, most of it were just a continuation of my Bachelor. Which wasn’t a waste of time, at all, but education can be so much more. Generally, grad school here at the department seem to be more about one’s own development and critical thought rather than just ticking some of the skill boxes on your resume. Long story short, the last 4 months (basically when I started working with Veronika) have been very intellectual challenging and exiting.

 


Ithaca itself is almost the most ideal setup of a town for my needs. Small enough so everything is easily walkable, buzzing enough so you don’t get bored but inspired and feel connected to the world (thanks to Cornell and Ithaca college) and has great outdoors within easy reach. A major drawback, however, is the seemingly endless winter. It’s late April now and yes, we had snow this morning. To be fair, it’s been in the 80ies only a week ago, but generally speaking, I’m fed up with the cold and I’m not quite decided yet, if I could stand winters like that for several years, notwithstanding the beautiful summers.
Someone asked me this morning, if I thought Ithaca is like Portland, OR. The Portland of the East so to speak. Apart from that there is Portland, ME, I don’t think this is true. Yes, it is a very liberal and progressive city, but unlike Portland, Ithaca has this slightly weird college bubble feel to it. Portland is just weird in itself. That’s at least what the Oregonians say. Also city planning. Ithaca, come on. There’s like zero bike infrastructure and most sidewalks are pretty horrible. At least they exist. But I definitely enjoy the scale of Ithaca and it’s strong ties with the surrounding farmers, which is great both for my research and, you know, every town and city should have strong ties with its surrounding farmers.

So this is the place I am going to spent my life in until late summer.

Oh, there’s another thing that happened during the last months and it’s only now I feel it’s worth mentioning: Photography. While I have always been a busy picture-taker, my artistic ambitions sort of declined over the years. Or put it another way, moving from one place to another, hitchhiking, wwoofing, exploring places, all that was some sort of artistic project in itself, so point-and-shoot along the way yielded quite a few good pictures I hold deeply to my heart (after all, geysers, waterfalls, deserts, oases…there’s not so much you can do to make pictures that aren’t pleasant to look at). Also, it was a deliberate choice to have a simple camera I could bring to all of my trips. Now that has changed a bit. I sold that most-of-the-time-with-me camera to a friend and got a DSLR instead and picked up photography wherever I left it about 10 years ago when I gave away my old, analog film camera. I’m still mostly playing around but I do find some sort of meaning in the photos I take, a way of expressing myself rather then documenting events and trips.

So here are few pictures I took during my first weeks in Ithaca.

field trip to Kasba Tadla, Morocco

November 30th, 2014 by admin

In May I had the chance to take part in a field study in Kasba Tadla, Morocco which I combined with two weeks of travelling across this beautiful country. Lazy blogger I am, I didn’t quite allocated the time to write about it – apart from diary entries and the research report.
Alas, it was my first stay south of the Mediterranean sea. And while I leave the description of the beautiful landscapes that change dramatically as you cross the country away from the coast, south through a chain of several mountain ranges (being the Rif mountains and the numerous manifestations of the Atlas) right into the Sahara as well as a portrait of the rich cultural heritage to the travel writing trade (as well to my photography and real-life in-your-face story-telling), I’d like to point out that Morocco is probably a good start if you aim to leave the European bubble without feeling completely lost and helpless. Face it, it is some beautiful country and if you’re priviledged enough to be on a vacation and not having to make a living, it’s the most relaxing place I can think of. “Très tranquille” as they say. Actually, I’d like to make the point, that even if you HAVE TO make a living, it can be a very relaxing place. I’m not going to romanticize the life of Moroccan peasants and city dwellers alike. Most people we’ve talked to gave accounts on their hardships, the daunting unemployment and inapt politicians. However, most people in Morocco alloted time for the most basic yet important thing: time spent in community with friends and strangers alike. Being invited by complete strangers for a good “thé à la menthe” made me wonder, what I do with all the time in my life.

Our research was titled “Urban primary production of food.” Originally, we meant to work on urban subsistence production. However, we began to question the viability of the term “subsistence” in this specific context. Unlike in Europe, the distinction of the two domains of labor for subsistence and labor for profit is highly blurred. It is not too say, the term is completely inapplicable. It would “simply” require a new re-definition which we didn’t quite have the time for in this one week field trip. One of the things that screams: “Further Research!”

In three of Kasba Tadla’s quarters, Hay Dakhla, Hay Berraka and Dar Draouech, we surveyed fruit trees, livestock husbandry and kitchen gardens. Thinking about the effort that grassroots movements all across the industrialized countries invest in order to push forward (small-scale) food production in cities, we were amazed to see, it is all in place in Kasba Tadla. So who is the developed country? Another term that lost its suitability. At the same time, we were shocked to realize, how much these practices are frowned upon by the local government. They dismiss subsistence as something backward of semi-wild, rural peasants that doesn’t fit into a modern city. It is cynical: A group of European academics come to Morroco to critize a political position that had been implemented by European academics (and other colonialists) in the first place. How can we know, we’re right this time?

To sum up, we have shown that primary production of food takes place to a significant amount in Kasba Tadla. While it doesn’t allow for self-sufficiency, it contributes to local resilience by reducing the amount of food that needs to be imported, by preserving local knowledge on food production and processing and by strengthening human relationship s1in the community. It is also of outstanding cultural value and, thus, adds to the quality of life of the population of Kasba Tadla.


Choir Corridor

October 27th, 2014 by Johann Strube

Back in November 2013 I had the honor to sing with the BOKU-Choir in Seth Weiner’s performance “Choir Corridor” at the Museum of Applied Arts Vienna (MAK). It’s been a great experience and luckily, the MAK published some footage of the show. While, obviously, it doesn’t quite capture the spatial quality of the performance, it still offers some good impressions what the whole fuzz was about.

Festrede zum BOKU-Ball – Bildung: Befähigung zum kritischen und emanzipatorischen Denken und Handeln statt Wirtschaftshörigkeit.

February 2nd, 2014 by Johann Strube

Am Freitag, den 31. Jänner 2014 fand wie jedes Jahr der BOKU-Ball statt. Als GastgeberInnen hatten wir vom Vorsitzteam der ÖH BOKU die Ehre, eine Rede zu halten. Da die fremdenfeindliche Reaktion des Österreichischen Bundesminister für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, Umwelt und Wasserwirtschaft, Andrä Rupprechter noch für Gesprächsstoff sorgen wird, habe ich mir gedacht, dass es sinnvoll wäre, die Rede, auf die sich BM Rupprechter bezogen hat, hier wiederzugeben.

“Von der großen weiten Welt wollen wir jedoch den Blick wieder zu uns nach Österreich schwenken.
Vor der Ökonomisierung der Bildung warnen Studierende schon seit Jahren. Doch spätestens mit der Eingliederung des Wissenschaftsressort in das Wirtschaftsministerium dürfte allen klar sein: Die Wissenschaftspolitik in Österreich hat vor den Interessen der Wirtschaft kapituliert. Nicht, dass dem in den letzten Jahren anders gewesen wäre. Es ist nur ein symbolischer Schritt, aber eben auch ein sehr deutlicher.

Wenn wir heute einen Universitätsball feiern, dann jedoch um die wahren akademischen Tugenden zu feiern. Und diese sind eben nicht Wirtschaftshörigkeit – oder gar mensurschlagender Elitarismus – sondern das humanistische Ideal des kritischen und emanzipatorischen Denken und Handelns.

“Donau – Ein Fluss der verbindet” ist das Motto dieses Balls und bietet gleichzeitig ein hervorragendes Beispiel, dass die Fähigkeit zu kritischer Reflektion und das über den Tellerrand hinausschauen auch in den technischen Disziplinen von äußerster Wichtigkeit sind. Ohne diese Fähigkeiten würden AbsolventInnen der BOKU heute immer noch Fließgewässer begradigen und verbauen statt sie zu renaturisieren. Als 1984, also heuer vor 30 Jahren, der geplante Bau eines Wasserkraftwerks die Hainburger Au stromabwärts von Wien bedrohte, waren es zu einem großen Teil kritische Studierende der Bodenkultur, die dies verhinderten und so die Grundlage für den Nationalpark Donau-Auen schufen.

Lasst uns als Universität des Lebens diese Tugenden hochhalten und verteidigen, damit in Zukunft die Wissenschaft in Österreich wieder den Stellenwert einnimmt, den sie verdient.”

the student in the time vortex

December 23rd, 2013 by Johann Strube

2013 is about to close and it’s time to write something clever on my blog. Oh my, half a year has passed again since I wrote my last entry. Guess I’m not much of a blogging person. Or rather, I’m in a stage of my life, where I do make progress in certain areas, namely my studies and students’ association (ÖH) activism, but unlike in music, where you have concerts and releases, there are not so many stunning events that I feel eager to write about. Or when they happen, I’m too tired and torn to be bothered. It feels like in Doctor Who’s time vortex; I chase through time and space with tunnel vision and without contemplation.

When I look back at the first months in office, there are several things I should be proud of: We (my colleagues in the chair team and several other activists of ÖH) established two new units within the students’ association, organized a number of seminars and political/informative events, organized a huge demonstration against the union of the ministry of science and the ministry of economy and, most importantly, seemed to be able to create a general sense of motivation within the student body for ÖH affairs. Also, we created a lot of confusion. Something, I’m not entirely discontent about.

As with my studies, officially I’m still in Bachelor stage but practically halfway through my masters. Which is kind of cool, ’cause it give’s me the choice of being done soon or stretch the end a bit to get some time for my own, artistic, political and/or scientific (I don’t attempt to separate these areas to much) projects. Yeah, my head is still bursting with ideas that needs watering.

tldr: wibbly wobbly timey wimey happy new year

And suddenly they called me chairperson

July 30th, 2013 by Johann Strube

Looks like it took me 6 months to write another entry on my blog.  Not like I’ve been lazy, far from it. I’ve just been caught up with tons of stuff, I didn’t even remember I had a blog. Sort of…

The single most exciting event was the election for the Student Union parliament. The election itself was exciting, but so was the preparation and aftermath. Admittedly, our green student group (bagru*GRAS*boku) was pretty much in a state of coma since the last election in 2011. We didn’t die, the heart was still beating, we were just dozing. That is to say, me and a fellow student were members of that student’s parliament and did get involved there, but other than that, it was pretty much green radio silence. Anyway, something must have struck us, as we decided to run again this year and even do some campaigning. A small group as we are, I confess it was one of the most intense campaigns I took part in. But it was great to see our group become alive again and even better, we managed to maintain our two seats in the student’s parliament. Still better, we were suddenly a much asked for coalition partner for the two bigger student’s group. Therefore, no relaxation after the election but coalition talks! I tell you, that stuff is exciting. Everything went pretty smooth, though, and now, hooray, we’re part of the executive coalition with the so-called Unabhängige Fachschaftsliste, a rather odd collection of campus activists, that came together in deadly terror of joining any party-affiliated group. Nice bunch of people, though. Long story short, I’m now part of the chairteam of our Student Union, which is not far from a full-time occupation. It’s going to be extremely intense, busy and challenging plus awesome. So I assume. It was interesting to realize, how nice and polite suddenly everyone becomes, once you’re get into some sort of exposed office. Wonder how long that will last…
Another year, another challenge.

Apart from all those political activities, I also managed to make some progress on my studies. I’m like on the finishing line of my Bachelor graduation. The most interesting part was the field research for my Bachelors thesis (more on that, once it’s proof-read, handed in and graded), which took my to the Vinschgau in South Tyrol, Italy. It was quite a relief and change to get out of Vienna for 2 weeks.

Deine Meinung zählt (nicht) oder Vom Unterschied zwischen Stadtsbürger und Staatsbürger

February 20th, 2013 by Johann Strube

In Wien findet im März eine Volksbefragung statt, auf deren Inhalt ich jetzt gar nicht eingehen will. Ich darf eh nicht wählen. Gut, ich bin auch nur mit Nebenwohnsitz in Wien gemeldet, verständlich. Aber mehrere hunderttausend andere, die hier teilweise schon seit vielen Jahren leben, dürfen auch nicht wählen. Warum? Weil Sie keine Österreicher_innen sind. Die Plakatkampagne der Wiener Stadtsregierung – Deine Meinung zählt – kommt da wie Hohn daher. Wieso ist jemensch eher Wiener, wenn sie oder er vor einem Jahr aus beispielsweise Vorarlberg zugezogen ist, als jemensch aus Bratislava, schon 15 Jahre in Wien lebend? Das erscheint mir wenig einleuchtend, diskriminierend und undemokratisch. Würde es sich um ein rechtsverbindliches Referendum handeln, könnte ich es aus verfassungsrechtlichen Gründen VIELLEICHT noch nachvollziehen. Aber es geht hier nur um ein unverbindliches Meinungsbild, dass hätte die Wiener Stadtregierung auch individuell, jenseits der verfassungsrechtlich fixierten Instrumente lösen können.

studying in Vienna: in praise of a dying system

December 1st, 2012 by Johann Strube

It’s been almost two years since I moved to Vienna to study landscape planning and architecture at the University of life sciences and Natural Resources. Most likely, I’ll stay here for grad school and there’s a reason, why I think studying in Vienna is great (at least for people like me):First of all, as a EU-citizen, it’s free as long I stay in the regular period of study plus two semesters which shouldn’t be a problem. With my German Abitur, I could just walk up to almost any university (there are nine of them), enroll and start studying. Just like that. Even better, I can study more than just one program at several universities at the same time. So I enrolled for spatial planning at the Vienna University of Technology. I just jump on my bike and commute between classes at two different universities at which I don’t pay a single cent of tuition. I have a great amount of freedom to tailor my studies to my own interests, style and pace of learning. It’s education heaven, right? Well, close but not quite there…

Since until recently (after I enrolled, that is) Austrian universities had no tool to control the amount of their students. More often than not, this would lead to overrun programs with the universities being unable to provide sufficient facilities for all their enrolled students. It’s not too bad at my programs, even though it does get cramped in the lecture halls once in a while. The computer facilities are a joke. I had the opportunity to see some universities in the US and god, they had some shiny facilities, gorgous libraries and what not. But is that worth paying something like 20-30k a year? Not for me. I have my own computer, I don’t need a palace for studying and they have some great professors over here. You might not get invited to their homes, but you can still learn a lot from them if you’re commited. It’s actually not that difficult to get a decent education and set yourself apart from the mass of students as long you’re commited to your studies. So for me, it pans out nicely.

But wait, things have changed. They’re trying hard to reduce the number of students. Introduction of study fees for long-time students and non-EU students and limits of students for some programs (including landscape architecture). And while those restrictions are still very modest by international standarts, experiences from other countries such as the UK have shown, that it will become tougher and tougher to study in Austria if those attempts aren’t tackled now. Kill it before it grows. I want future generations of students to have the same degree of freedom while studying that I have now. As a start, you should join the demonstration for free education organised by the Austrian Student’s Union on the 5th of December.