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THE BATTLE OF THESSALONIKI (A FICTION DRAFT)

We drove around the squalid periphery, passing by the village of Kalochori, home of many construction sites left unfinished from pre-war times when the housing bubble burst and the financial crisis hit the city. The interstitial spaces between the abandoned buildings were full of slums-like houses. Electricity and sewage never arrived here.

The idea was to build a new district to rival the waterfront of Miami. Russians had major plans to invest money in casinos. But then the money never arrived. The financial crisis of 2007–2008, also known as the Global Financial Crisis and 2008 financial crisis, was considered by many economists to have been the worst ever. It threatened the total collapse of large financial institutions, which was prevented by the bailout of banks by national governments. Stock markets still crashed worldwide.

In many areas, the housing market suffered, resulting in evictions, foreclosures and prolonged unemployment. All the empty skyscrapers now looked like skeletons of monsters and giants. It must have been a nightmare to drive here during the fights, as the upper floors were ideal shelters for snipers. I was quite shocked by this landscape. I spent three days locked in a conference hotel and a night in the Rover Bar without realising the hotel was located exactly a few hundreds metres away from the battle site and how it really looked.

The 15th battle of Thessaloniki was probably not the most pompous but definitely came with heavy consequences. In the same place, the Goths defeated the Roman Army in the year 380. In 995 the Bulgarians were victorious over the Byzantines. In 1014 the Byzantines in turn defeated the Bulgarians. Then again the Bulgarians succeed to overrun the Byzantines in 1040, but eventually lost again later that same year. Funny destiny of a city of battles, sacks and sieges.

At 11h35 am of the 9 November 2009 a group of young activists took Alexi Papastratis – the owner of Remax, the largest real estate company in then Greece – hostage following accusations of raping a teenage boy found in the industrial harbour close by. Papastratis built 80% of the new construction in Thessaloniki and in the rest of Former Greece; his legacy is still visible throughout the region. The ugliest, tasteless post-modern pastiches were built by his corporation, who turned out to have a deal with the national government and with the Russian mafia.

The youth activist group brought him to the 25th floor of one of these unfinished hotels in Kalochori and forced him to fly out of it.

The protest against Papastratis suddenly became a symbol of the revolt of young people against the system and against the bursting of the housing bubble that contributed to the big economic crisis. It soon spread all over Europe. First as a series of riots, it quickly became a large-scale civil war when real estate companies were permitted under national laws to use snipers to defend new construction sites. The situation escalated when they gave employees of building sites guns with which to defend themselves. The worst transpired when similar legislation was passed in all European countries. It was not uncommon to have people on both sides in the same family, real estate workers and people revolting against companies. It was a horrible war and it lasted one long year.

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THE INTERNATIONAL LAW OF YOUTH RIGHTS: PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION


Two decades have passed since the first edition of this book. Back in 1995 Willliam Angel made a huge effort to put together in one book data that were never collected before and to evaluate them on a global and cross-sectorial scale. The greatest contribution, which is still unchanged today, was to finally elevate the debate on Youth Rights from a theoretical and political discussion into a legal frame and, ultimately, to provide a solid basis from which to call for a binding international law instrument to better ensure that young people can access their rights.

The world in which the book was released was not the same of the one today. Few years after the cold war ended, the mid-90s was a moment in which an optimistic faith in the greater progress of International Laws was growing, alongside a series of World Conferences under the aegis of the United Nations promising advancement in the realms of many sectors that did not have global instruments beforehand. This period was symbolically marked by the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995. Also, at the time, the Youth field was preparing its first World Ministerial Conference in Lisbon in 1998. Read through the lens of that historical period, the contribution of this book should have led by now to the existence of an International Convention on Youth Rights.

From today’s viewpoint we can say that after this season of international gatherings, during the 2000s the ambition of a common and strong global agenda in the social field, in general, was greatly diminished. This, however, does not mean that the previous decade has not been important to build up on the work done previously and in addition some Regional Instruments on Youth Rights have seen the light, such as the African Youth Charter and the Ibero-American Convention on Youth Rights.

The need to address the issue, however, was not diminished, and ,as outlined in this new edition in the chapter written by Professor Cardona, the situation is rather to the contrary. In the context of one of the worst global financial and economic crises ever, young people are even more marginalised and at risk than before. The crisis has also affected those areas of the world which would have been previously considered as the most advanced, both in terms of economic and social development.

For the European Youth Forum, the task to update and rethink this book should be contextualized in this historical and political frame. Even if the global scope of the book is respected it is particularly important to advocate for better instruments for the rights of young people, not only on a global scale but also at a European level. The continent, even if it does not have a formal convention on Youth Rights yet, does have a series of instruments both at the level of the European Union and the Council of Europe, which can be strengthened and can constitute the backbone for solid protection of young people in Europe.

A second, but not secondary, reason for the efforts made by the Forum in this new edition is the progressive attention that it has made in recent years to build evidence and studies on the conceptualization of Youth Rights and the overall push it has made to adopt a rights-based approach to Youth Policy.

The rights-based approach starts from the philosophical position that all people are entitled to a certain standard in terms of physical, mental and social well-being. It takes the side of people who suffer injustice by acknowledging their equal worth and dignity; it removes the charity dimension of protecting and promoting their rights by emphasising them. It recognises people not as beneficiaries, but as active rights-holders and establishes corresponding duties for states and other actors against whom claims can be made. The concept of rights-holders and duty-bearers introduces an important element of accountability into working with youth rights and moves the focus where it should be: on empowering young people to claim their own rights. As a concept, the rights-based approach ensures the meaningful and systematic inclusion and empowerment of the most vulnerable.

Currently, young people very much rely on States to promote and protect their rights. However, most States are reluctant to take a progressive stance towards youth rights and therefore the challenges that young people face accessing their rights are almost never remedied. A recognised and strong legal basis focusing on youth would ensure that the focus of youth policy would lie in empowering young people to effectively access their own rights. As is the case in other fields, such as the women’s rights movement, this would empower young people to fight for their rights, while also making them active citizens ready and able to act as full and equal members of society.

The European Youth Forum thinks that different challenges young people face in Europe should be properly reflected in a binding instrument, a code of legal norms containing a set of youth rights, responding to the huge need to improve young people’s access to their rights, especially in times of financial and political crisis.

We see these challenges in perfect harmony and continuity with the aims exposed in the first edition by William Angel 20 years ago. For this reason this new edition represents both an update and, hopefully, an upgrade for the way that this book will be used, both to spark further legal, political and sociological research in the academic field, as well as support to even stronger advocacy actions to further the rights of young people.

In memoriam of William D. Angel

The Book is available on Amazon

For Youth Rights

Claiming the right to the city

This article was published in the YO!Mag //

Paris 1968, Madrid 2011, Los Angeles 1992, Cairo 2012, Istanbul 2013. Different times, different places, but still with a common image: youth protests against the established system in symbolic urban spaces. Cities are icons of power struggles over space, politics and economy.

In his book “Rebel Cities” (2013), the urban geographer David Harvey explores these processes and analyses how to claim a right to the city is to claim some kind of power over shaping the processes of urbanisation and the ways in which our cities are made and remade. The issue of the right to the city is key to understand the current financial and economic system, especially in the light of the current economic crisis.

In the current global landscape, the important and expanding labour of making and sustaining urban life is increasingly carried out by insecure, often part-time and disorganised low-paid labour, mostly composed of young people. The so-called “precariat” has displaced the traditional “proletariat”. The mass of humanity is concentrated in cities with an ever-increasing process of urbanization. It is not the case however, that youth unemployment is mostly concentrated in the city in the same way.

Who can therefore, claim the right to the city? According to Harvey, Financiers and developers can claim it and have every right to do so. By this logic, so can the homeless, the sans-papiers and young people. This has been the case in several confrontations that have happened so far, as evoked earlier in the still-images opening the article.

In the realm of ideas, a key resource and touchstone is “Le droit à la ville” (Right to the City) a book published in 1968 by French intellectual and philosopher Henri Lefebvre. In the sphere of human rights, this powerful idea was adopted by the World Urban Forum and elaborated into the World Charter of the Right to the City in 2004.

The right to the city therefore, becomes not only a theoretical speculation but also a committed movement. Out of desire to have a stronger movement for urban justice, civil society mobilise on the issue. Young activists and youth organisations are often at the forefront.

In the USA, for example, the right to the City alliance (www.rightstothecity.org) emerged in 2007 as a unified response to gentrification and a call to halt the displacement of low-income people, marginalised LGBTQ communities, and young people of colour from their historic urban neighborhoods. They seek to create regional and national impacts in the fields of housing, human rights, urban land, community development, civic engagement, criminal justice, environmental justice and more.

In the realm of political action therefore, the right to the city claims a new kind of urban politics that asserts that everyone, particularly the disenfranchised, not only has a right to the city but as inhabitants, have a right to shape it, design it, and operationalise an urban human rights agenda.

The right to the city has to therefore be a claim by all citizens, without distinction. In particular, young people have to claim it. Cities must be built for them and they are the key to adapt cities for future generations. Today, young people have to mobilise for their future, as it is currently happening for example in Spain.

Spain is one of the places where the real-estate bubble has sat at the roots of the current economic crisis. The impact on young people has been dramatic with more than 50% of Spain’s youth unemployed. A report published by the Spanish Youth Council showed that a young person needs more than the 80% of his/her salary to opt to live autonomously, without parental support. In a country where the unemployment rate for people aged less than 25 years was in July 2013 more than 56%, the role of youth organisations’ is more important than ever. Bearing in mind that Spanish Constitution includes the ´right to adequate housing´ and the only way to enjoy it is to be able to be fully autonomous, young people are in danger in Spain.

According to Fernando Encinar, chief of the studies department at the real estate company idealista.com, “the housing market has been displacing the demand from ownership to rent in the last period with a high rise in rent costs. Many young people are finding the only resort in shared apartments. This option is traditionally linked to the student period but now the average age in shared apartments in Spain is 29 years old, a figure that has been slowly growing in the past 5 years”.

In this situation there is also a general threat to the democratic institutions that allowed youth movements to take part to urban policies. Spain used to be a flagship of youth participation through strong and well-established local youth councils. Nowadays, the current government is systematically shutting down the local youth councils. A policy culminated with a fatal threat to the National Youth Council with the announcement of its winding up in recent months. The Spanish Youth Movements are facing a huge challenge to claim back the right to the city though, as well as, more widely, the right to participate.

Children of the revolution

Valencia Street, San Francisco, August 2012 //

I sit on the terrace of a hipster bar. Bianchi’s bikes parked on the sidewalk, organic food served, the latest artwork from occuprint.org displayed. A typical combination of sustainable awareness, healthy lifestyle, the art scene and political engagement.

While sipping my coffee I read a blog entry of 82-year-old professor Immanuel Wallerstein: ‘We are living in a chaotic world situation. When the world-economy stagnates and real unemployment expands considerably, it means that the overall pie is shrinking. The fluctuations in everything are large and rapid. This applies as well to social protest. The geography of youth-led protests constantly shifts. Tahrir Square in Cairo and Wall Street yesterday, unauthorized massive marches with pots and pans in Montreal today, somewhere else (probably somewhere surprising) tomorrow. The groups in power can repress popular unrest harshly, and many do. Or, if the unrest is too strong for their repressive mechanisms, they can try to co-opt the protestors by seeming to join them and limiting real change’.

In the moment in which we try to create a change in the mainstreamed policy mindset that investing in youth should actually be part of the solution and not a burden for the actual crisis, the words of the professor are particularly interesting. What makes them even more relevant is the fact that Wallerstein was a prominent youth activist himself, a world federalist and Vice President of the World Assembly of Youth (WAY) from 1954 – 1958. He was part of the generation of youth leaders in the decade following World War II. For many months I tried to speak with him but he declined any requests for interviews on the topic. I suspect because of the reputation of WAY, being one of the C.I.A. funded organisations during the cold war.

To dig more in that past, in April I met with David Wirmark, an 86 years old former Secretary General of WAY from 1958 – 1964. Sitting in his apartment in Jakobsberg, Sweden, we had a long chat surrounded by old documents and pictures. The first memory brought me back to his first international meeting in 1951, when he did not only meet a young Wallerstein but also the inspiring Eleanor Roosevelt.

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1951: Eleanor Roosevelt discusses with the delegates of the WAY

The story got more and more passionate when he recalled the General Assembly of WAY in New Delhi, India, August 1958. David was elected as Secretary General there, and the organisation positioned itself officially against colonialism in the context of the Algerian war. The WAY president of the time, Antoine Lawrence from Guinea Conakry, loyal to the French Youth Council, protested by leaving the room theatrically hoping to stop the debate, but immediately Wallerstein took over the debate as Vice President, and the Assembly decided to support and encourage youth organisations in the ‘non-self-governing’ countries in their struggle to attain independence.

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1958: Immanuel Wallerstein (left) with David Wirmark (right)

 

Following this episode, a few years later, David built very good relations with the African liberation movements. His first meeting with Oliver Tambo is a good example of how things worked at the time. ‘It was April 1960 in connection with our first Pan-African seminar in Tunis’ – David recalled – ‘Tambo was then the Vice President of the ANC in South Africa and the Sharpeville massacre had just taken place. The situation was very tense. In the Guardian I read Oliver Tambo escaped by car to Bechuanaland (Botswana). I telegraphed immediately Chief Seretse Khama who governed this British protectorate as I knew he was a friend of the ANC. I requested him to ask Oliver whether he would be willing to come to Tunis. At the same time we sent him an air ticket. After a couple of days Khama replied that he gave the ticket to Tambo. The speech he made at the seminar was unforgettable. In the middle of a grim description of the South African repression he underlined that there was only one possible way out: equal rights and opportunities for everybody!’

The actions of those young leaders however, was not limited to Africa. It was truly global and impressive for the time. For example, in January 1964, David met the military junta in Ecuador. He asked for the release of the student activists who were arrested because they demanded an agrarian reform. When David argued that they had only expressed their opinion and said that it was their democratic right to do so, the president of the junta replied: ‘It is the Ecuadorians that govern in Ecuador, not the Swedes! Agrarian reform is not my field, I am an admiral!’

1964: WAY delegation in Quito
1964: WAY delegation in Quito

Just a few months after the mission in Quito, David’s mandate ended. Probably the best way to end his term was for him to listen to the words of Robert Kennedy on 7th August 1964 at the WAY General Assembly in Armherst, Massachusetts: ‘Do we have the capacity to make that wealth meaningful to the poor of the world? these problems are not for the individuals to solve. They are not even for individual Nations to solve unaided. As our problems grow more complex our world grows smaller and our need for solutions becomes common’.

While I finish my coffee, I turn again my eyes at the hipster posters and at the current state of youth movements in the world and what can we learn from the past. Memories from this generation show me clearly how international youth work had a crucial impact in the geopolitical arena back then, particularly on three levels. Firstly, in training political leaders. Especially in the case of liberation struggles, international youth movements were essential in their political development. Secondly, in their intellectual development. For Wallerstein, it was fundamental to later develop the world systems analysis – a multidisciplinary, macro scale approach to world history and social change. World systems analysis stresses that the world system (and not nation states) should be the primary (but not exclusive) unit of social analysis. Thirdly, young people were at the forefront of human rights and emancipatory movements already in the end of the 1950s.

A youth policy that is not sectorial but works for a wider societal, political, intellectual, and economic change: 60 years later we still need it!

 

The City of the Future, Sustainable and Poetic

This article was published in YO!Mag ad co-written with Richie Bernardo //

Luc Schuiten is a visionary architect who received his training from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels. Passionately concerned with the future of the planet, he is most known for his conceptual illustrations of an imagined vegetal city where invention harmonises with nature. In his studio in Brussels, we met to ask him about his vision of the city’s future and the role young people can play in realising his urban utopia.

What is your vision for the future of the city?

When I imagine the future, it’s a fiction in which I try to make sense that we are not in a dream, but a possible world that has not yet been realised. I only try to show things that are scientifically possible though, and thus are in a near or faraway future.

The world I imagine could be more than the one the political discourse preconises, based on the hypothesis of an exponential and never-ending growth on a planet with limited resources.

The hypothetical city on which I work with others is [one] that could endure through time without destroying the environment. I work primarily with living organic raw materials because they have the faculty of reproducing without stressing the system. On the contrary, they enrich it. The future city should be formed by multiple ecosystems that coexist to create an enjoyable, poetic, aesthetic and generous environment that is capable of offering to everyone what they need.

Is your hypothesis therefore against development?

On the contrary, it is a concept of development of a new practice that calls on new competences, knowledge and technologies. My vision of the future city requires specific technology projected at the future. We need to reflect on all those materials that are indefinitely renewable.

For example, living trees or bamboo — structures that grow quite fast — are solid, absorb COs and develop with water and sun. If we close those structures with some sort of bio-glass that resembles the same material in the wings of a dragonfly or the cocoon of insects, it’s something totally biological and made with resources available in nature.

A spider web is three times more resistant than our steels. Why do we have to search our subsoil relentlessly for raw materials whose exploitation would also have a detrimental impact to us?

So do you think there is a right to the city?

At the moment, citizens have a very reduced right to the city, and such right is much more in the hands of those who have the financial powers [and] the developers, politicians who have stronger decision-making power. Those current systems constitute a spiral, which is to make money with money. This is totally immoral, unsustainable and risks making the system implode. The rich become richer, the poor poorer. We are in a vicious circle. Wouldn’t it be time that virtuous circles were put in place?

The city is an entity that is difficult to imagine being managed by the entire population in a simple manner. It’s easier to start with the neighbourhood where everyone could take over some responsibility and be in charge of some need. This is a very interesting decision-making level that could be part of a nested system that can form a unity of values by getting the various neighbours cooperating together. Each of those different entities should delegate a person who would manage all the different neighbourhoods, i.e. the city.

What is the role of young people in building this future city?

Of course everyone has a role to play, but young people are key players. The fact that nowadays they have so little decision-making power shows clearly the failure of the current system. Young people are more prone to avoid bitter compromises and are more solution-oriented, which could help to advance more quickly towards a more interesting system.

An example of the creativity of young people is witnessed in political movements that are shaking or changing behaviours around the world. The concept of biomimicry has been more rapidly understood by young people because with less prejudice and more open to new ideas such as the biomimicry movement that is behind my concept of the future of the city.

The summer of Ulisse

This is the Summer of Ulisse.

Ulisse is a guy with an italian accent who wanders around the neighbourhood of Marolles in Brussels. At first sight he seems to be an intellectual hipster, but in reality he is a homeless that claims to look for Penelope, his wife that is lost in the neighbourhood.

Someone says Penelope does not exist and that Ulisse has recently been abandoned by his Love and does not accept it.

 

TRACKLIST // Johnny & Mary (Todd Terje & Brian Ferry) / Enjoy the Silence (Depeche Mode – Timo Maas mix) vs Ulysses // El House (Alejandro Paz) // Land Down Under (Chuck Norris Dub) // A me me Piace O’ Blues (Pino Daniele – Jolly Mare mix) // Jump ‘N Run (Arnaud Aqua) // I can Change (LCD Sound System) // Afterlife (Arcade Fire) // Ulysses (Tennyson)


Ulisse is one of the characters of the experimental movie Hamster directed by Martine Doyen played by Giuseppe Porcaro

more info on: http://hamsterproject1000bxl.wordpress.com


(from Tennyson’s Ulysses)

Come, my friends, 

’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.


(from Barthes’ a lover’s discourse: fragments)

s’abimer / tbe engulfed

Outburst of annihilation which affects the amorous subject idespaior fulfillment.

 

Therefore, othose occasionwheaengulfed, iis because theris no longer anyplace fome anywhere, not even ideath.The imagof the other twhich was  gluedon which lived no longer exists; sometimes this is (futile) catastrophe whicseems to remove the image foreversometimes it ian excessive happiness which en- ables me to unite with the image; in ancase, severed or united, dissolved or discrete, am now hergathered together; opposite, neither you nor me, nor death, nor anythinelse ttalk to.

(Strangely, iis in thextremaction of thamorous image-repertoire– an annihilation aconsequence of driving out the image or obeinidentifiewiti that there occurfall of this Image-repertoirefothe brief interval of a vacillation,lose my structure alover: thiis a factitioumourningwithouwork to dosomethinlike a nonsite.)