Will Britain and the EU Make it Work?

All relationships are difficult sometimes. One person wants commitment, the other not to be tied down. These divisions can grow over time, and eventually some relationships sadly fall by the wayside. The UK-EU relationship has certainly had its fair share of problems, but after enduring for 40 years the two partners should have reached an amicable plateau—regular bickering, the occasional screaming match, but ultimately with a strong foundation underneath. The reality however is than it its fourtieth year this particular relationship looks as fragile as it ever has before, and with a 2017 membership referendum a very genuine prospect, there will need to be a concerted and genuine effort on both sides to renegotiate, rebalance and prove to a generally sceptical British public that they shouldn’t sign the divorce papers.

As has become standard with British political debate, discussion of the UK and EU’s relationship is largely based on what are euphemistically described as mistruths and misinformation. Important to note is that this comes from both sides—for every UKIP member wailing about how all British law is now dictated by Brussels, there is a Brussels civil servant smoothly spinning that the EU seeks only the bare minimum of powers necessary to run the Union effectively. None of these statements is on their own correct, and if British voters are to be convinced to vote to stay in 2017, a great deal more honesty and openness will be required on both sides. There is a compelling case to be made that the European Union of today—in terms of size, scale and scope—bears little resemblance to the European Economic Community that the British public voted to join in 1975. Many of the changes that have been made have undeniably been for the better—improving efficiency, bringing down trade barriers and helping Eastern European states forge a post-Communist future. But what has been lacking with these changes is an honesty about what the European Union is moving towards, what its ultimate goals are in terms of integration and convergence. And it is this that has led levels of British euroscepticism to increase rather than subside as our membership of the EU reaches its fourtieth anniversary.

The benefits for Britain of membership of the EU are both extensive and difficult to exactly quantify—and as a result will represent the key battleground should a referendum on membership take place in 2017. Business leaders are almost unanimous in their support for continued membership—the nature of the single market makes operating across different European nations, even those with different currencies, immeasurably easier than would otherwise be the case. There is also more in the pipeline designed to increase European efficiency further—as extending the single market to services as well as goods would make it easier for service firms—from plumbers and electricians to lawyers and accountants—to operate on a pan-European basis. The cultural argument is equally strong—Britain should be proud to play its part in a Europe that is hugely strengthened by the interaction and cooperation of its members.

The benefits are obvious, the advantages clear, therefore what exactly is needed to keep this relationship together, to end Britain’s simmering euroscepticism and cement our place within a strong and united Union? The answer is a fundamental renegotiation of the powers that Britain cedes to the EU, a chance to review all that has changed since 1975 and, on an almost line-by-line basis, explore both whether it can be improved upon and—realistically given the political situation—whether it is palatable to the British electorate. The result may well be that the EU agrees to give up control over some areas of British social, justice and welfare policy—in exchange for maintaining the cultural and business benefits that make Britain such a valuable partner. What a 2017 referendum would do is limit the power of UKIP rhetoric, allow the public to understand our relationship with the EU outside of tabloid dramatics, and potentially put the issue of EU membership to bed for a generation. After fourty years of sniping and on occasion even open warfare, those potential benefits seem like a chance to start afresh and reposition Britain within the EU for the long haul. They seem like too good an opportunity to miss.

La Poésie

« La poésie doit être le miroir terrestre de la Divinité, et réfléchir, par les couleurs, les sons et les rythmes, toutes les beautés de l’univers », Madame de Staël a-t-elle philosophé il y a des siècles.

At-elle parlé de pertinence économique ? Des ventes ? Ou de quelque chose de plus important et d’indéniable ?

Pour s’exprimer de façon vraiment sincère, pour raconter une histoire qui vient du cœur, choisissez la poésie.

On a besoin, en tant qu’être humain, de la beauté, de l’écriture dont l’apparence est aussi belle que le son est beau ; on a une capacité innée à apprécier ce qui satisfait l’œil comme l’oreille.

Évidemment, donc, la poésie, avec son rythme, sa forme, n’est pas que des mots, comme les millions de mots parlés partout dans le monde jour après jour ; la prose, des phrases sans structure rythmique délibérée, se laisse décrire ainsi.

Sans la poésie, comment indiquer définitivement qu’on ne veut pas parler à la tête et au raisonnement, mais à l’imagination et au cœur ?

Infiniment complexe, elle dévoile le caractère, les pensées, les émotions de son poète tout en s’infiltrant dans le lecteur : personne ne peut se cacher d’elle.

Elle nous captive, nous parle, nous émeut d’une façon que la prose ne peut que rêver de faire. Choisissez la poésie.

Shunned Exile to Shining Example: Jules Dassin’s Rififi 60 Years on

13th April 2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the initial 1955 French release of Jules Dassin’s Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes) which, now regarded by many as a film noir classic, has continued to serve as an inspiration for filmmakers from François Truffaut and Stanley Kubrick through to contemporary directors such as Quentin Tarantino.

Renowned for its 28-minute heist sequence free from both dialogue and music and its innovative parabolic structure which places the heist at the heart of the film, Rififi is a seminal work in the film noir genre.

However, Jules Dassin remains anything but a household name; blacklisted by the American government in the late 40s and early 50s and with Rififi banned in several countries, Dassin both threatened the Hollywood superpowers and provided a shining example for the Nouvelle Vague, the film noir genre and numerous directors from all over the globe.

Born in the USA in 1911 to a Russian Jewish family, Dassin joined the Communist Party USA in his early 20s, only to leave after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939, a non-aggression pact made between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Following WWII, Dassin began to make a name for himself as one of the principal figures in the film noir genre, yet his career in American cinema was soon to be cut short. His leftist political stance led to his being blacklisted under the McCarthyite policies of the American State Department, his denouncers were fellow filmmakers Ed Dmytryk and Frank Tuttle. Dassin then struggled to find employment as a director, the US distribution companies preventing the distribution of any film associated with blacklisted artists.

But, upon his return to Paris, Dassin was to have a remarkable change in fortune. Already recognised in France as one of the important figures in American film noir, the continuous rejection of Dassin by the figureheads of American cinema helped Dassin to find work; he was supported by the French directors’ guild thanks to French director Jacques Becker.

In 1954, Dassin was offered the chance to direct a film adaptation of Auguste Le Breton’s novel Du rififi chez les hommes. Although disgusted by the cruelty of the novel and its inherent racism, Dassin accepted the job as he was in need of employment. Dassin wrote the screenplay in six days, changing much of the novel’s content, using the plot and its characters more as a starting point from which he could depart and create a film noir classic.

The distinction between the novel and the film could not be starker; a young François Truffaut, the now famous film critic and filmmaker, claimed that ‘out of the worst crime novel I have ever read, Jules Dassin has made the best film noir I have ever seen’.

He changed the nationality of the rival gangsters not to American, as the producers had hoped, but to French, albeit with the German name of Grutter.

Disliking the cruelty of the novel, Dassin placed an emphasis on the humanity of his characters; thus the film does not end with the heist but with its fallout, focussing on the relationships and fates of the gangsters after their betrayal by Cesar ‘le Milanais’ (played by Dassin himself).

Such an emphasis has influenced filmmakers ever since, most evidently the first feature film of Quentin Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs (1992), which neglects to show the heist scene altogether, focussing rather on its aftermath.

Dassin also focussed heavily upon the heist itself, which in fact played a minor role in the novel, splitting the narrative into three main parts: the build-up to and planning of the heist, the heist itself, and its aftermath.

In fact, it is impossible to discuss Rififi without mentioning that sequence: those 28 minutes sans dialogue or music in which Tony’s gang (Tony being the protagonist) carries out a meticulously planned theft from a Parisian jewellers. The tension is extraordinarily palpable. The music stops, not a word is spoken, the spectator desperately craves some form of sound to break the silence. Yet any sound is just as intolerable as the silence which it shatters: a stray note cast on a piano; the infrequent thud of hammer on chisel; the restrained wheezy cough of the sickly Tony; the prolonged outburst of a power-drill; the scratching, screeching and scraping of metal upon metal; the final, solid thump of a mallet.

The film can, to some extent, be read as an allegorical account of Dassin’s own exile: we learn that Tony has served five years in prison for theft, around the same amount of time that Dassin had been out of work; Tony’s betrayal by Cesar ‘le Milanais’ resembles the betrayal of Dassin by Dmytryk and Tuttle; the death of Cesar comes with Tony’s admission that he rather liked the Italian, echoing Dassin’s sentiments towards his fellow filmmakers; and Tony’s final heroic act is perhaps a symbol of Dassin’s accomplishment of having finally directed again, despite the attempts of the US State Department.

The parabolic structure of Rififi and, it must be added, Robert Huston’s Asphalt Jungle, changed the approach not only to film noir but to the art of filmmaking as a whole but it was Rififi‘s focus on the humanity and heroism of its underdog protagonist which served as an inspiration for the Nouvelle Vague and marked a distinction between the traditional film noir of the USA and that of France.

Nouvelle Vague critics such as François Truffaut used Dassin as a shining example of their politique des Auteurs, championing directors who used cinematic apparatus in the same way a novelist was able to use a pen.

Although reportedly banned in a number of countries (such as Finland and Mexico) for fear it provided a detailed and accurate account of how to plan and carry out the perfect heist, Rififi, along with Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 masterpiece Les Diaboliques opened up the American market to European film.

Despite Hollywood’s previous attempts to quash Dassin’s involvement in the world of cinema, Rififi was released in the USA in 1956 and was loved by the critics. The film won Dassin the Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955 and, despite attempts to lure him back to the USA (on the condition that he would renounce his communist past), Dassin stayed in Europe for the majority of his life thereafter, continuing to direct films until his last release, Circle of Two, in 1981.

Dassin died in Greece, where he had lived for over 30 years, at the age of 96 in March 2008.

Translation: Sleep! by Mihai Eminescu

Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) is hailed as Romania’s most important poet, his works are said to have revolutionised Romanian verse. Famous in his day firstly and fore mostly for being a journalist, he spent his life working as a substitute teacher, school inspector and newspaper editor in Iaşi, and later Bucharest. He belonged to Junimea, the literary society that counted many of the celebrated writers of the time as its members. Aside from being the epicentre of cultural life for about a decade, it is considered to have been the most influential intellectual and political association of the 19th century in Romania.

Eminescu’s political and cultural engagement made its way into his poetry, much of it being social commentary, and re-telling of historical events in verse. His years in Vienna were also hugely influential for his work: he attended Philosophy and Law classes at the University of Vienna for three years, and his interest in German philosophy, that of Schopenhauer in particular, can be noted in his verse. As an Orthodox Christian, his religion also proved to be a source of inspiration; nonetheless, much of his poetry plays with Buddhist, agnostic and even atheist themes.

Western Romanticism served as a huge influence in Eminescu’s poetry and the particular impact of his works could be compared to that of Keats, Shelley or Byron in England. Unfortunately, much like these celebrated poets, Eminescu also died young, at 39, due to mercury poisoning, while being treated for what doctors claimed to be syphilis. His death is shrouded by controversy, and various theories circulate about the potential causes for his premature death. He published only one collection of poems in his lifetime, with the rest (some 14,000 pages) being offered as a gift to the Romanian Academy in 1902 by the president of Junimea. The poem Dormi (Sleep) is representative of his poems about a beloved: a sensual mix of observing, longing and desire.

What is it that you fear? Are you not here with me?
Let the rain beat helplessly against the windows
Let the hopeless wind sigh in amongst the trees,
You rest, be still. You are with me here.
Why are you up and staring at the floorboards?
Startled and seemingly awaiting,
Your stare cannot pierce through them.
Or is there something you’re trying to remember?
Lean back against the pillows—I will give you peace.
You sleep- and let me stay awake.
When I am reading, I always like
To cast my eyes straight toward you from time to time,
To see you sleep…
I love to watch you
Breathing… so silent, your mouth scarcely open:
Abandoning my pen, I pull my hand away
And sad thoughts yield to stillness.
Beautiful you are, and all too beautiful.
The paleness of your face is marble.
I want to run straight to you
And as you sleep, contain you in my arms.
But then you’d wake… I do not have the heart.
Sleep peacefully, your head upon your arm.
From time to time I steal a glance toward you,
From time to time the book drops from my hands.
And I am content… Time pulses by
In clocks with rhythmic steps…
What is it that you fear? With me there is no fear.
If you won’t fall, I’ll have to make you… Sleep!

Iran, we Love you: Social protest in Israel

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Social media icon for Israel-Loves-Iran

March 2012. Ronny Edry, an Israeli graphic designer, posts a poster on facebook which features him carrying his daughter, the latter holding an Israeli flag. ‘Iran, we will never bomb you, we love you’ is written as a slogan on the poster. The picture goes viral and receives reactions from Iran, in both personal messages and posters over facebook. Edry opens a facebook page: Israel-loves-Iran. In Iran a new group is created: Iran-loves-Israel. For the first time, swathes of people between the two countries are in contact with each other – through pictures, photos, slogans and messages. Eventually the group members travel from all over the world to meet. Today, more than 90,000 people like Edry’s pages and multiple countries have a dedicated ‘love’-page. What are the implications of this facebook activity?

Edry explains how it is through the social network that individuals can become part of a new peace movement, which hopes to offer the people the power to prevent a war – a constant threat for the past 10 years. As a graphic designer, this Israeli more than anyone else, perhaps, understands that the image of the Middle East is now changing. For a few blissful days, it is love and hearts that dominate the Middle Eastern news reporting, not news of war and bombs. Every so many weeks, a new campaign is started, publicizing different slogans. Posters bear texts reaching from, ‘we will never bomb you’ to the more politically aggressive, ‘Not ready to die in your war’. The group that designs the posters is called ‘The Peace Factory’; its recent commissions include flight commercials for the Israeli airline El Al to Teheran.

For me, the most striking of the messages the group spreads is that of the impossibility to hate. On several occasions, and in their promo-movies, the main reason for this is underscored as follows: ‘I never met an Iranian, I don’t hate you … I don’t even know you’. Such a powerful slogan, surely, puts into perspective the main reason we must not fight. “Not only am I not prepared to die for a war which was not fought in my name, not only are there Israelis and Iranians who simply want to live in peace and continue their lives, they do not even know each other.” The message is clear: how could anyone justify a war with people they do not know? Whether it is effective, however, is another question entirely.

An Israel-loves-Palestine group exists with less than 2,000 likes. Meanwhile tension between Gaza and Israel not only remains, it seems to have increased in its intensity. I cannot help but ask myself: do Israelis and Palestinians know each other well enough to actually hate each other? Is there too much hate already to spread the love through images of smiling people and warming hearts? Or are the prospects of a war between Israel and Iran more threatening and pressing than the current situation between Palestine and Israel?

Edry stresses that his project is meant to prevent a war, to ‘reach the other side before it is too late’ (TEDx Jaffa 2012). Yet clearly the conflict between Palestinians and Israel is not avoidable, and has not been for many years. Opposition movements to the Israel-loves-Palestine campaign – who use similar poster strategies – focus on the violence of the Israeli army above all else. This, if anything, is evidence for the possible failure of this initiative.

On the other hand, the Israel-Iran group has made it as far as the parody show Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country). Such publicity is a visible marker of success, for now the group is both recognized as a trend in Israel, and given all the attention it needs (that and the tens of international and pan-Arabic newspapers writing about the movement). Not only Israel, but other main players in the Middle East have been involved in this new initiative. The Facebook-hype of giving power to the voice of the people is a continuing phenomenon and in Iran, especially, the movement has grown stronger in its lending the individual a voice. If at the start of the initiative posters were posted in which faces were still unrecognizable, people now appear full frontal to the camera, and engage with our gaze. More importantly, their names stand defiantly alongside.

So whilst discussions concerning a nuclear war continue on higher political levels (and might still, for another ten years to come), this does not prevent people from all over the world in making their objections clear, not only to their own government, but also to those who would suffer the implications of a such a war. We can only hope their voices will be heard.