GT in the EU

An extraordinary education

Author: Jasper Narvil

Trains, cheese, and a warlord, oh my!

This morning was simultaneously both somber and hectic for most of us as we said our final goodbyes to oIMG_7978ur host families and rushed to store our luggage in our hotel in time to catch our train to The Hague. It was sad to leave our home-away-from-home after having been so immersed in Brussels with such amazing host families for almost two months, but still invigorating to think about what all we have in store for us the next three weeks in The Hague, Amsterdam, Berlin, and Kraków. The train ride through the beautiful countryside of Flanders and the rural southern Netherlands lasted a little over two hours, and I think it is definitely safe to say that none of us were disappointed upon arrival. The Hague’s architecture stuck out to me above all else, as it was very original and contemporary, but still easily comparable to cities like Antwerp, Bruges, and Ghent in Flanders.

After dropping off our luggage at our hotel, we journeyed to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. We started off by observing a hearing of evidence in the trial of Ratko Mladać (facing two counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity, and four counts of violations of laws/customs of war). It was a surreal experience to see a person who initially seems so friendly and amiable, only to later have the revelation that he has more than likely murdered thousands of innocent people. The judges wore bright red, intimidating suits and held an essence IMG_7983of regality. You almost could feel the power and prestige of the ICC. After the trial viewing, we went to a lecture describing the structure of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the overall causes/judicial outcomes of the Balkan Wars.

Our speaker began by contrasting the prominent Nuremberg and Tokyo trials and the more contemporary ICTY trials, with the latter requiring a larger emphasis on cooperation with local authority to apprehend human rights violators. I found this particular aspect interesting as it showed the constraints on an international court having to work within the confines of an anarchic, sovereignty-based system. After WWII, the winners were allowed to operate with complete authority within their respective territories (where the majority of criminals were located). In the case of the Balkan Wars though, there were no real “winners” and the burden of justly prosecuting the perpetrators fell largely on the international community. Thus, international cooperation with local authority through the ICTY was the most efficient, effective way to apprehend and place war criminals on trial in the International Criminal Court.

After leaving the ICTY, we took a short tram ride to Statenkwartier, a busy, quaint neighborhood near the coast. We tried Dutch Stroopwaffles and a variety of amazing, exotic cheeses at the Kalkman cheese shop. It was well worth the walk to get to sample so many delicious, Dutch spIMG_7987ecialties. After eating our fair share of Stroopwaffles and cheese, we headed back to the hotel to eat dinner and rest up for our visit to the Dutch parliament tomorrow. It was definitely a great introduction to The Hague and our stay in the Netherlands!

Out With The Old and In With The EU

Living in a foreign country for the first time in my life has, within less than a month, destroyed my conceptualization of what exactly a “home” country is and my fundamental understanding of what qualities definitively qualify someone as an immigrant. I have always thought that I was “better” than mainstream conservatives (who frequently denounce the idea of immigration into the US) by believing, at first, that a mastery of the English language and an American accent was what determined how “American” any given immigrant was. Obviously, the older I became, the more I came to realize that this was a completely arbitrary aspect of any given person in terms of quantifying their right to “American-ness”. Soon after, I came to accept the (retrospectively) equally arbitrary denotative nature of a common set of values being the glue that holds states together, and sets outsiders apart. It was not until now, after having spent three weeks in a foreign city spending copious amounts of time learning about supranational, international, and transnational institutionalism and having to survive in a new, non-contorting culture, have I come to accept that that notion was misguided as well.

The ability of any given population to hold a wide-ranging variety of often fundamentally contradictory beliefs and still function as a relatively stable society is a unique characteristic of states. Being ideologically congruous to the fellow citizen next to you makes you no more or less entitled to your shared state’s protections and identity, as is explicitly denoted by the concept of state citizenship (which guarantees rights or protections to humans, not ideas). Thus, after having been exposed to so many European perspectives on identity and values (many of which I find myself identifying with in place of widely-held American beliefs concerning conceptualizations of identity and sovereignty), I have come to realize that ideological parallelism is not the arbiter of collective identity either. That assertion, however, questions the very “stickiness” of societies themselves. What truly mobilizes populations into distinctive, proud societies if neither commonly held accents nor a widely recognized set of pseudo-static beliefs offers an explanation?

I now believe this question itself to simply be a remnant of a one-day by-gone era. The question should no longer be, “What arbitrary characteristics can we utilize to continue segregating ourselves from other nations?” but rather, “Why are we using increasingly inane state borders to define our identities in the first place?” I think the European Union’s creation in and of itself is helping to guide the world from asking the first question to asking the latter. It challenges the seemingly principle belief that states define people, and seeks to encourage citizens to embrace the realization that they are in fact the ones defining the states. To continue recognizing the borders of states as the ultimate arbiters of identity in light of the knowledge that these historically harmful, nationalistic lines crisscrossing the Earth would only prove to grant these arbitrary divides more legitimacy. This recognition would be a travesty when the EU’s very existence is actively proving to mankind that there is another way to preserve identity without having to preserve the classical, nonsensical notion of sovereignty. Sovereignty of the people is not synonymous to sovereignty of the state, and it never was.

The EU is frequently criticized for being “undemocratic” (claims made in a fashion blatantly disregarding any acknowledgment of how exactly the “undemocratically-elected” leaders of the EU are given positions of power in the first place…). However, I do not believe that any institution has made strides as far as the EU has in providing an alternative power structure more favorable to the people, and less so to the ruling elites of states. The EU’s collective nature allows it to better handle non-traditional security threats and economic irrationalities in a globalized world, thereby giving even more strength to an otherwise increasingly vulnerable public. The EU also serves to synthesize mass popular, consensus-based opinion and transform it into continent-wide policy (a power that small, unilaterally-acting states could never hope to possess). Critics may claim that this feature of the EU in and of itself infringes on the rights of the people, but do states not operate in the same fashion on a smaller scale?

Identity is a fundamental aspect of human nature and will not be erased from our society anytime soon. I believe that, because of the efforts of the EU project, humanity is slowly being presented a choice between notions of how that identity is defined. The first choice would be a continuation of the notion that the progressively irrational power of territorial borders should dictate who we view as the ‘Self’ and the ‘Other’. The second choice, however, would be a new way of conceptualizing the ‘Self’ and ‘Other.’ It would be a choice that would intuitively lead to a more peaceful, rational future for humanity. These last three weeks have led me to the realization that the EU’s clever, subtle circumvention over the last 60 years of the state monopoly on identity is giving mankind a choice between the two paths, and I believe humanity will choose the right one.

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