Archivi categoria: footsteps


From the first degree in Gorizia to the doctorate from Klagenfurt, passing through Ljubiana and Triest, a snapshot of Serena Fedel, at home in more than one univeristy of Alpe-Adria. Projects fors the future? That her children will speack the languages of the area: Slovene and Italian, not forgetting English and German obviously…

Theatre  Verdi, Trieste
Theatre Verdi, Trieste

“My children will go to the bilingual nursery at Vermegliano, near Ronchi. At home we’ll speak Italian but it’s right that they should learn the languages spoken in the area from an early age, as much as it is that they learn German or English”. This sums up the project for a future euroregional experience of Serena Fedel, a citizen of Alpe Adria, who although a die-hard bisiaca (a speaker of the local Italian dialect), as she herself is at pains to point out, has lived for two years between Klagenfurt (in Austria), the Slovene capital Ljubljana, and Trieste

After being awarded a degree in Public Relations with top marks from the University of Udine 2002, Serena Fedel won a scholarship for a doctorate in Transboundary Politics in Daily Life: a creature born form the cooperation between the Institute of International Sociology of Gorizia and the Universities of Trieste, Udine, Klagenfurt, Maribor, Krakow, Budapest, Cluj Napoca, Bratislava and Catania.

“It seemed interesting to me to develop a project linked to the area of Alpe Adria. The theme came to me almost by chance through some publications I came across on a series of initiatives linked to the field of equal opportunities – she explains. I thought that a comparison between the conditions of women in Friuli Venezia Giulia, in Slovenia and in Carinthia could represent a new and still largely unexplored theme”. The results of the project were, on one hand, a doctoral thesis “Gender inequalities and social conditions of employed women in the Alps-Adriatic region. A comparison between Carinthia, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia, and, on the other an intense life and work experience, gained at first hand in the three areas; and, confirming the conclusions reached in her thesis – that Slovenia offers the best living and work conditions for women and recounts how it was in Ljubljana that, were she able, she would have stayed and lived.

“At the University of Klagenfurt there is a department dedicated to the promotion of Gender Studies, with a well-stocked library and, not of minor importance, my supervisor Professor Josef Langer. I did my first term of the doctorate there and, finding good working conditions, decided to stay on”. But the life of Serena Fedel at that time wasn’t only that of a student. Looking for alternate employment , more or less temporary, she worked as a barmaid and as a hostess at trade exhibitions – opportunities that on one hand allowed her to pay her way and on the other, “live” the city and practice the language, getting to know people. In the meantime there was a thesis to carry forward, in particular an analysis of the professional conditions of women, using a series of interviews with female employees of a bank with branches in all three areas.

If fieldwork in the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia and in Austrian Carinthia could be completed fairly easily, the barrier of language  was an issue in Slovenia. “I didn’t speak Slovene” she explains, “ and from my arrival in Klagenfurt I’d done courses, but obviously being behind a desk is not the same as learning directly in the real world. I thought it would be much more useful, obviously also with the research in mind, to go to Ljubljana”. The publication of a competition for a scholarship from the (Italian) Foreign Ministry proved crucial; and so Dr. Fedel moved, lock stock and barrel, to the Slovene capital to start a new adventure whilst keeping to the theme of an analysis of the condition of women. So it was that in Ljubljana a new thread in her Euroregional experience was woven, leading her back to Italy, not in her own San Canzian on the River Isonzo but to Trieste.

“At first I got by using English but I soon realised that the courses I was following were insufficient. I was irritated that I was unable to understand everything, and it especially disturbed me that I had to have help to carry out the interviews necessary to complete the thesis. I carried on studying and after a few months I was finally able to speak and understand Slovene” she says. In the meantime however, her experience on a Ministry scholarship had come to an end, meaning she had to find paid work.

First came the experience as an assistant to  Professor Langer at the University of Klagenfurt, but the distance Ljubljana and the Carinthian capital was too great to commute, even just for a few days a week. With too little money for a car, she began a search for a job in the place that would become her new home. Having to work within job quotas, given that at that time Slovenia had not yet entered the Schengen area, she decided to work to her strengths in order to carve for herself a place in the job market.

“In fact I was a student living in a foreign country – she explains – and my advantage was being able to speak Italian, whilst in the meantime, having picked up a good working knowledge of Slovene. It wasn’t particularly difficult to find part time job in an import-export firm, one in fact managed by an Italian, that also allowed me to teach in some private schools”.  The experience gained allowed Serena to do a bit of “insider trading” at a management software company, where she was able to pass herself off, so to speak, (given that she was one) as a student needing to collect information to finish a doctoral thesis.

Serena Fedel in klagenfurt
Serena Fedel in Klagenfurt

Even though Slovenia comes across, as it also does in her thesis, as a country where women enjoy the best working conditions, this does not mean that it is easy to find permanent work. Serena – who in the meantime was looking for a more secure position – came across an agency which seeks to place Slovene students in temporary jobs, positions reserved for those attending the University of Ljubljana. Serena decided therefore to follow two degrees at the same time, enrolling in a course for a degree in Political Science. Moving from job to job, in the meantime she finished the research and wrote up the thesis and finished the three year research doctorate, but wanted to stay in Ljubljana. “I didn’t want to return to Klagenfurt even if there would probably have been good opportunities to carry out new research work at the University, paid for with EU Interreg funds. “I liked (and continue to like) Ljubljana, it has that touch of Balkan spirit that makes it a warmer place than Klagenfurt. In addition it is also welcoming, on a human scale but you breathe a cosmopolitan air of a European capital. Obviously I also made a lot of friends in my months there. The only thing I missed was being close to the sea”.

Graffiti in Klagenfurt
Graffiti in Klagenfurt

The next step was to move on and look for a permanent job, this time not as a student, possibly in the area of Communication and Marketing. But the response is always the same: “At the moment we are not looking for staff but we’ll keep your file on our books” A series of C.V’s  returned to sender – it wasn’t looking good.

Amongst the companies contacted however was a one in Trieste, the only one on the list and it was this one that replied, offering an eight month Apprenticeship in the Area di Ricerca. “By coincidence the company was involved in connectivity and security policies for company networks and was looking to expand into Slovenia and this was why my curriculum made its way to the top of the pile. There I worked as an apprentice before finding a job in a company that works in electronic commerce, but the most important thing to me is that I’ve moved to Trieste. I’ve been living here for a year and I like it a lot, the people are more open and I’ve had a chance to catch up with old friends”. But another move is on the cards, this time it would seem for good. Destination Cervignano (in the province of Udine) to work for a agricultural company.

“I would have happily stayed in Ljubljana. If I could– she reveals – I would choose to move there for good but my life has brought me back here and I’m happy about that. I’d do the whole thing again, making the same choices to end up exactly where I am today. And then there is balancing family and work time – returning to the theme of my doctoral thesis, which represents a problem here in the Region: and that’s why having as my boss the father of my children will prove a real advantage”.

Author: Annalisa Turel

Annalisa Turel
Annalisa Turel

Journalist with a degree in Public Relations she has worked for four years with the Italian daily Il Piccolo and other newspapers. Since January 2007 she has run GoriziaOggi, a daily blog supplying information on the Isontino, the territory on either side of the River Isonzo, running from Italy’s border with Slovenia to the Adriatic.

Border identities

In the Basque area on the borders between France and Spain: an anthropological fresco of the socio-cultural changes post-Schengen and the stiff resistance to communication brought about by cultural and linguistic barriers


“We no longer have the frontier blocking us. Now we can move around as freely as we want. But still, I don’t feel we have stronger relations with people on the other side.” Woman of Spanish nationality shopping on the French side.
“The frontier was once an obstacle; this is no longer the case. But now this is another challenge”. Man of Spanish nationality, ex-customs officer and now employee of a gas station on the Spanish side.
“I feel we used to have much more in common with people on the other side. Young people for instance used to hang out with each other, go to the fiestas across the border, however difficult it was. But now… It’s more each to one’s own.” Man of French nationality, mayor of the French Basque village of Arnéguy, and employee in a butcher’s shop on the Spanish side.
“Even though we all live in the Basque Country, there is a lot that separates us from our neighbours in Spain. We have different tastes and ambitions. I feel this gap has got larger.” Woman of French nationality, farmer in a neighbourhood of Arnéguy which, according to an old tradition, shares its parish with Valcarlos, the neighbouring village on the Spanish side.
These quotations come from conversations held in January 2007 with four inhabitants of the border between France and Spain in the Basque Country. These four inhabitants have lived a significant part of their life in the area, and all of them have in some way been affected by the opening up of the frontier.
As a result of the removal of border controls within the EU due to the Schengen agreement, many communities located in border zones have had to reassess their relationship with their neighbours across state frontiers. The Franco-Spanish border in the Basque Country is one of these cases, where numerous cross-frontier initiatives have been launched over the last decade. An increasing number of inhabitants now cross the frontier on a regular basis. In parallel, numerous economic changes have taken place, of which the steady urbanisation of the border is a consequence. All this means that traditional identities are altered with new emerging symbolic references.
We now ask ourselves whether we can find a corresponding opening up of local mentalities. The comments made by our four inhabitants indicate the contrary. While all of them are familiar with Basque, the language spoken on either side of the frontier, and with Spanish or French, the language spoken across the frontier, and most of them have family and friends on both sides of the border, they do not confirm a further rapprochement with each other. The opening of the frontier in effect only means the dismantling of border controls. Free mobility across the frontier, and EU-funded projects designed to foster cross-frontier cooperation have, so far, had limited influence on encouraging further mutual identification between border inhabitants who place increasing emphasis on their own identity The frontier remains an undeniable presence in ways of thinking and behaving.
Since 1999, the municipalities of Hendaye, Irun and neighbouring Hondarribia have joined forces to create the Bidasoa-Txingudi consorcio, named after the river and bay around which they are located and which here serves as the demarcation line between France and Spain. This consorcio enables the three municipalities to work together on social, cultural and economic projects to reflect the new realities of life of border inhabitants. Many of these projects have so far been mainly of a symbolic sort, organizing cultural fairs, sports competitions, and publishing a new map featuring all three towns together. Even the name Bidasoa-Txingudi is now a commonly used term.

Nive Arneguy Valcarlos
Nive Arneguy Valcarlos

Further along the frontier to the east, in the mountainous region of the Basque country, the villages of Arnéguy and Valcarlos have more of a history of cooperation. Located only a hundred metres from each other and separated by a small river tucked in a narrow valley, farmers of the two villages have a centuries old tradition of sharing pastures for their animal herds. Valcarlos also traditionally shares its church with a neighbourhood of Arnéguy. Today, joint ventures are scarce, and no cooperation has been formalised. Currently, they are troubled by a project principally advocated by the region of Navarre, in which Valcarlos is located, to construct a motorway that would run through the valley. While most of the inhabitants of Arnéguy are against this, those of Valcarlos tend to favour it, disregarding its negative environmental impact, seeing in it an opportunity for easier access to Pamplona, the capital city of their region. Arnéguy, on the other hand, which continues to see its administrative relations in the French Basque Country looks the other way, and thus does not see the advantages of such a motorway. We see then that despite sharing a common space, inhabitants of either side use and perceive it quite differently.
In Bidasoa-Txingudi, meanwhile, while we notice the increased flourishing of businesses designed to attract the customer from across the frontier, it is not clear whether relations go any further than this. A television director in Irun for instance remains disillusioned; after his failed attempt to set up cross-frontier broadcasting with a partnership in Hendaye, he concluded, ‘cross-frontier cooperation just doesn’t exist really’. In local schools, cross-frontier exchanges are encouraged by the consorcio, but remain limited. This is due not only to institutional complexities but also because many parents remain unconvinced about the importance of further links with the language and culture of their neighbours.
It is revealing to note that on the border in the Basque Country, the occasions when a strong feeling of togetherness could be sensed was in moments of contestation. For instance, the Spanish governmental project to increase the size of the airport of Hondarribia was hotly opposed by a majority of the local population. We witnessed the inhabitants of the three towns demonstrating together, collaborating around this common cause, irrespective of their cultural and national differences. Another ‘other’ had emerged in the form of the threat of an airport enlargement.
In the period since 1993 many people have lost jobs that were directly linked to the existence of the frontier, such as customs officers, employees in state administrations and businesses that catered to frontier traffic. Most of the border controls have been pulled down, and the main roads linking either side of the frontier have been widened, adorned with new road signs indicating the name of the town and the European flag replacing any mention of state territory.
Today, new job opportunities are to be found in the services, tourist and property industry; new economies that have emerged but still in relation to the frontier. While border controls have disappeared, the frontier remains the demarcation of state control, and so with free trade and mobility new opportunities emerge. Many thought for instance that the ventas, so-called shops located by the demarcation line offering passers-by the last opportunity to buy national products, would disappear. Rather, ventas have become a great success, converted from modest shops into big commercial centres to which tourists flock, attracted by this last vestige of the frontier. Many local inhabitants now find employment in this highly lucrative business.
In Irun, the main town on the Spanish side, a large edifice has also been constructed over what until only recently was the train freight park where merchandise was inspected before crossing the frontier. This edifice is now an exhibition centre designed to host international commercial events. Another great change is in housing. In France, the relatively lower housing prices have encouraged the rapid construction of apartments which have for the most part been bought by people on the Spanish side. This has had the consequence of changing the demographics of the town of Hendaye, just a kilometre from Irun: Hendaye is now inhabited by a population of which just over 35% are of Spanish nationality (compared to 20% en 1999). Recently, another housing construction, managed by a Spanish business which only advertised its sales in Spain, provoked protest amongst Hendayans. They feel they are being overwhelmed by these new residents who still essentially live their social and cultural life on the Spanish side, where they also continue to have their jobs.
While border controls have disappeared, the beginning and end of a state territory remains visible in advertising panels, architecture and organisation of space. Modes of behaviour are different, as is even the way people perceive themselves as Basque. Although globalisation increasingly brings people to share more symbolic references and face similar concerns, their experiences remain translated by the particular institutional, political and cultural context in which they live. So the frontier remains in the mind. Identity exists in relation to an ‘other’. In order to have a notion of self, it is necessary to identify something that is different from oneself. Today with globalisation we find ourselves increasingly in a world where people have various origins and life experiences, and speak more than one language, and therefore have more complex identities. However, with the human tendency to want to order things, the clear categories of ‘us’ and ‘them’ remain tempting.

River Peio
River Peio

Globalisation is the new context in which cooperation and openness are a challenge. It is also paradoxical that it is the offer of financial support, for instance from the European Union, which spurs local actors to co-operate. For example, it is only since early 2007 that other border towns in the Basque Country have finally launched into cross-frontier collaboration. The president of the syndicate of the valley of Baigorri, next to Arnéguy and Valcarlos, declared then that, “we have the tools for cooperation, we now have to learn how to use them”, and recognised that “we will lose these funds if we do not organise ourselves in order to take advantage of them.” In this case, collaboration does not seem to come as spontaneously as it does in situations of contestation and urgency.
Today, cross-frontier cooperation projects are increasingly tackling the urgent problem of the environment and social needs. Such a more inclusive and long-term cooperation is positive. But for any real entente to take place it is necessary for inhabitants not only to learn to solve problems together but to get to know each other. It is noteworthy that all the informants for this article were aged over forty, and spoke at least two languages well. Amongst the younger generation this local multi-lingual fluency is rarer. With this reduced means of communication, the risk of alienation vis-à-vis one’s neighbour increases. It remains therefore to be seen how the younger generation of border inhabitants with their different linguistic capacities will construct their identity in this new context of so-called openness. x

Author of this story: Zoe Bray

Zoe Bray
Zoe Bray

Zoe BRAY is a social anthropologist currently specialized in the Basque Country and issues of nationalism and European integration. She has conducted research on identity politics in minority communities in European borders in affiliation with the European University Institute, Florence. Zoe is also a professional painter and illustrator.

Writer, translator and publicist with a degree in Pharmacy, he was a manager in the pharmaceuticals industry in Germany and Italy. Julius Franzot is bilingual (German and Italian) and was born in Triest, from where he works in support of Mitteleuropa through culture and politics.


Living in France, working in Switzerland and shopping in Germany: when Europe
is a routine


At Strasbourg the hotel is a long way off: two trams and then the bus. I exchange a few words with the people waiting alongside me.
“What do you think of the Euroregion
“Qu’est ça? Euro, euri… quoi?”
I show a distinguished-looking woman with a laptop bag in her hand the map printed off the website. “Nothing new – it’s us and the surrounding countries. Is it a project?”

“It’s been in existence since 1975 you know, it’s when one lives in one country and works another, the airport of Basel-Mulhouse, and the 1975 Bonn Accords.”
“Yes, yes, now I understand, here we’ve always cooperated with each other, there’s no need for anything new, we’re the same people speaking the same dialect, similar systems.”
“The same dialects, dann darf ich auf Deutsch weiter reden?”
“Non, non, monsieur, c’est le Français que nous apprendons à l’école, aussitôt l’Anglais, un petit peu.”
Here I am in a stronghold of the European Union, and the lady doesn’t seem very enthusiastic, just six kilometres from the German border, and she doesn’t speak the neighbours’ language. Here I am full of enthusiasm for ‘her’ Euroregion, and she doesn’t even know what it is.
Now I’m waiting next to a policeman.
“I’m here to do a story on the oldest of the Euroregions …”
“And what’s that? Let me guess… the Basque Countries!”
“Je régrette, we’re actually in it, Haut-Rhin.”

“In practice we always have been, we’re a peaceful people, one of the richest areas in Europe with similar cultural roots. Do you know, my brother works in Basle for a chemical company, Novartis, do you know it? He earns the same as the Swiss, lives in France, pays taxes like a Frenchman and on Saturday does the supermarket run in Germany. This is the European reality, not the Euroregions!”

I’ll sleep on it.

On the opposite bank: Kehl

After three stops on the tram I get on a bus that leaves every 15 minutes for Kehl, across the Rhine in Germany. At the border there’s an enormous French Pharmacie where many medicines cost less and the pharmacists are less strict in their prescription requirements. A few yards away is the Ponte d’Europa, the railway station and the centre of Kehl. Five tobacconists’ shops with their signs in French just across the border show me one of the attractions of the open borders. So far the Euroregion consists of pharmacies and cigarettes. Before my appointment in the headquarters of the Euro-offices I find I have some time to get a feel for the place.
Touristenpavillon: I go in and find tourist brochures covering both banks, the Museumspass, that for a modest fee allows the visitor into 140 museums in France, Switzerland and Germany, a quarterly magazine (€3.90) with the calendar of the main events in the three areas, the posters for the Rheinfest, a joint festival between Baden and Alsace in the Park of Two Countries, separated by the Rhine and linked by a footbridge.
“What do you think of the Euroregion?” “Euregio, haben wir so was?” “Yes, yes! You’ve had it since 1975.” “Komisch, I never knew! Do you know, here we’re used to having French colleagues, a French pension and a German one, a relative that works in Switzerland, shops that prosper with the transborder trade, festivals sponsored by the local councils since way back, town-twinning – what do we need a Euroregion for? The Euro, Schengen, these are the things we need!”
The town centre fills with French housewives of various races, studying what’s on offer and coming out the shops carrying large parcels.

Cathedral of Strasbourg
Cathedral of Strasbourg

The next stop is the AOK, Germany’s biggest health insurance company. An employee invites me to sit down and we start. “What effect has the Euroregion had on your work?” “Was meinen Sie bitte, Euro… was? Wie war das noch mal?” She calls her boss: “Yes, you could say that it helps us in our dealings with the French: it’s only a new name. For decades we’ve been dealing with requests for services in Strasbourg or in Switzerland. Certainly, once upon a time compensation was a problem when dealing with the Swiss, but not any more. A German ambulance could not enter France with its sirens blaring, now we can. Every transboundary worker has the right to seek treatment, even by a family doctor, wherever he or she sees fit and for a few years now Switzerland has evened up the assistance for acute cases. We work with an automatic search for available hospital beds in all three regions. Is this what you mean by a Euroregion?”
The Press Office in the local council headquarters. The lady I speak to is polite but balks at the term ‘Euroregio’ saying that the press and politicians talk about it but one should really say ‘Eurodistricts’ adding that these consist of adjoining regions, similar in function to the Italian provinces or British and Irish counties that each have an employment office or Jobcentre, a local parliament and are made up of a number of constituent municipalities. The main role of these Eurodistricts, which are also well known in France, is to match up the supply of, and demand for, workers on either bank of the Rhine and smooth the paperwork involved in unemployment, health and other social services.
Still with an hour to kill before my appointment in the headquarters of the ever-less obvious Euroregion. I spot an Estate Agent. “After an explosion in the prices around Strasbourg our French clientele with the means came here to look for a house. The prices in the areas along the border have increased but are now undergoing a consolidation. Most people were looking for detached family homes for their own use. We haven’t been approached by any big investors”.
The prices are in line with those in other German cities on the Rhine: a small detached house costs about €300.000, semi-detached ones will set you back a quarter of million while an apartment of 100m2 can be yours for €180.000. The day after, I compared the prices with those in Alsace and the differences I found were minimal.
It’s 1 pm and I sit at a table outside a cafè and smell the unmistakable odour of sewage. A cry from one of the workmen makes me jump: “Merde, les Fritz ont construí des égouts incroyables! Et ils disent que nous les Français ne savons pas travailler bien! ”. Two French repairmen hard at work amid the unappetising pong, the sighs of Germans on their lunch break and French housewives hunting for bargains.

At the Upper Rhine Conference

The H.Q of the Euroregion is in a small nineteenth century building in the middle of town. Occupying three rooms on the ground floor is INFOBEST, an office with the task of advising the citizens in their dealings with the Authorities, taxes, social issues and transboundary projects.
On the first floor, again in three rooms, is the secretariat of the German-French-Swiss Conference for the Upper Rhine, consisting of the only four paid employees of the Euroregion: a commissioner for each of the three countries and a secretary. I’m met by the German commissioner, Michael Frey.
“Before long the Euroregion will no longer have this name, which, in any case, was never official. It’ll be called a ‘Metropolitan Region’. We began cooperating at a local level in 1950 and in 1991 the ‘Eurodistricts’ were officially recognised and were made up of two coordinating bodies: the Commission (the regional, cantonal, provincial councillors and mayors) and the Conference, made up of four public appointees. The President is the Prefect of Karlsruhe (an administrator nominated by the President of the Land). The Secretariat is the executive body.”
“You don’t have a directly-elected Parliament: are you a judicial entity, as we call it, this Euroregion?”
“We have neither a directly-elected Parliament nor are we a judicial entity and neither do we have powers to pass legislation. We’re a body that deals with the problems that neighbours have, including the economy, science and civil society. We work on strategies to resolve these problems and if this includes legislative matters we propose them for the approval by the competent body: in Germany it’s the Länder, in France, the Parliament, and in Switzerland the various Cantons. Sometimes local proposals lead to changes in national laws, We’re a bottom up Euroregion: we act first, resolving problems by drawing up local agreements and then we look to the States for approval. First the concrete projects and then the structures. I don’t believe we’ll gain any further powers such as the ability to legislate as no one feels the need for it and we don’t have any influence over national legislation in States other than our own.”
“How do you finance your initiatives?”
“In the first instance using the INTERREG funds of the EU. We also help the local councils, businesses and associations when they are putting together the necessary documentation. Moreover we act as mediators between the Authorities in the different States.
“Which are the main projects you are involved in?”
Sylvia Müller-Wolf, coordinator of the Karlsruhe Employment Bureau joins us and all three of us discuss the question.

Frey, Müeller-Wolf, Franzot
Frey, Müeller-Wolf, Franzot

“In 1986, when the stockpiles of the chemical company Sandoz in Basle caught fire, we realised that we needed to coordinate civil protection in the area. We organised an information and mutual aid network doing exercises together during which we saw the need to unify the procedures and understand each others’ languages – problems that we are resolving with a bilingual manual dealing with the issue. In 2007 a joint-owned fire-fighting ship was put in position, at anchor between Strasbourg and Kehl and equidistant from the two boats already available.”
“The ‘Health’ working group, founded in 1996, aims to rationalise structures to improve the services available and lower costs.
Our main role is the coordination of the emergency health services, ensuring that we have information on all the available hospital beds in the three areas, arranged by specialisation and centres of excellence, which all the citizens have access to, regardless of where they come from. For programmed (rather than emergency) treatment we’re creating a telematic database that will show us the hospital beds and operating theatres available at that moment. In addition we are working to harmonise the health systems and anti-drug abuse policies.”
“In the case of programmed hospital treatment is it automatically referred to structures in one of the neighbouring States?”
“Not yet. For programmed hospital treatment you need to ask for the O.K from your local Health Trust , authorisation which you receive almost immediately”.
“Environmental protection includes a joint system to detect air pollution (financed with EU INTERREG III funds), and there’s an agreement on the maximum permitted levels of pollutants in drinking water, whilst an incinerator on French territory was closed down to safeguard a Natural Park. A commission is studying the key factors governing climate.”
There then follows a vociferous exchange on the fact that there are few opportunities to influence the nuclear programmes of the neighbours and reflections on the meagre budgets available for culture. The total annual funds for the exchange of theatrical works and shows is a mere € 33,000 which is split between the three States and distributed by a joint commission.
“But how do the citizens understand each other?”
“That’s a sore point. In all three countries the main obligatory foreign language is English. In Alsace there is still a good 40%  of the population who speak a dialect of German, mostly the elderly: the youngsters speak their national tongue and, at least in France, at school, they choose what for them is the easiest option as a second language: Spanish. In another ten years the German-speaking minority in Alsace will be further reduced. There are bilateral projects to promote the learning of languages: a bilingual school manual, town-twinning (supported by the local councils), events, student exchanges and financial support for youngsters who do a work placement in another country as well as cross-border meetings (financed to the tune of €20,000 a year by the EU). But today’s youth is too lazy to study another foreign language and there is still a long way to go.”
“We’ve got good results in the cooperation between businesses in key sectors in the area: research, high technology and tourism. With joint marketing we publicise the advantages of our area and in this way we promote the arrival of new businesses.”
“Cooperation on infrastructure is the oldest strand, beginning in 1949 with the Basle-Mulhouse airport. The entire region is served by the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) that connects the main European cities (I saw an excellent line running north-south but the east-west one is rudimental and tied to that of the individual State concerned). Workers’ mobility is dependent on the local railway lines such as those that link Karlsruhe to Wissembourg and from southern Alsace, through Basle to Baden. We are also working on joint season-tickets. One problem is that the railway bridge on the Rhine (linking Paris and Stuttgart) has only one line. Doubling-up this line would cost money and so we’ve looked for solutions: in the Peace Treaty there is a list of works that Germany must do by way of war reparations. The second railway bridge on the Rhine at Strasbourg is one of the few works that remain to be done…”
I leave with the impression of having understood the reason why the ‘Euregio’ remains so little known amongst the citizenry: it is an obvious thing and takes place in the background, especially at a local level, without a real staff, it doesn’t legislate or publicise itself. We are dealing with regions that are economically and culturally rather homogenous, that have been working together ‘privately’ for centuries, to which the ‘Metropolitan Region’, has brought, above all, an all-pervading coordination and has opened up important labour markets.
I find myself at dinner in the garden of a Strasbourg restaurant together with some regular customers and take a place at their table.
Almost every one of them can tell me about a relative who has found work in Germany or Switzerland, of health insurance problems sorted out by INFOBEST in Kehl, but none of them links these small but decisive events with a supranational body, saying simply: “Monsieur, l’Europe c’est ça!” x

Author of this story: Julius Franzot

Julius Franzot
Julius Franzot

Writer, translator and publicist with a degree in Pharmacy, he was a manager in the pharmaceuticals industry in Germany and Italy. Julius Franzot is bilingual (German and Italian) and was born in Triest, from where he works in support of Mitteleuropa through culture and politics.

Housing from foundations up

The success of Servatius — a cooperative project of social housing in the Meuse-Rhine triangle


Servatius Apartments
Servatius Apartments

If you watch television, you may have encountered a British comedy series called ‘Allo, Allo’. Although it takes place in WWII, with a motley crew of French, Germans and English, actually all of the actors are English and the effect and the laughs come from a focus on national stereotypes.

These clichés include: sexy French girls with their lecherous boss; Germans who march around stiffly and click their heels all the time; and Englishmen who always seem to have lost their way. Of course, it’s all just good clean fun; but there is a grain of truth in the series, in the sense that one tends to view neighbours whom one doesn’t know very well in terms of such clichés and stereotypes.

They highlight those characteristics that stick out and seem different and, in some way, laughable.
It is probably fairly general in Europe to view other nations in this way, but there is an exception. This is formed by communities, belonging to different nations, whose long contact has made them familiar with one another, and has, perhaps, inclined people to take on characteristics that may belong to the area as a whole.

In general, people do not regard The Netherlands as the culinary center of the universe. However, in Maastricht, there are five Michelin-starred restaurants, four within walking distance of one another, and you’d have to look hard in France to find a comparable situation in a town with a population of just 120,000. Our contention here would be that the French/Belgian gastronomic tradition is at home in Maastricht too.

The historical context

One thousand years ago, actually on April 10, 1008, the first Prince-Bishop of the Principality of Liège ¬Notger ¬ died. He left a heritage that would last for 800 years, or perhaps a thousand, as, in spirit at least, it survived the French Revolution. This heritage was the Principality itself, which took in what we now call the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion, with the Aachen Region of Germany as a close relation.
Although these areas are today distinct political units, their proximity and shared history seems to have led to an identity, which, although it draws on several cultures, encompasses a sense of fellow feeling. For example, although the Liégeois may be a little sniffy about the Dutch, he will see the Maastrichtois essentially as close neighbors and, although in Hasselt and Maastricht, in Aachen and Eupen, there are differences in language, all these areas benefit from the use of the mutually-intelligible cross-border dialect (Lower Franconian).
In many respects, the Euroregions – with a shared heritage and permeable borders – offer the best opportunity of developing a tolerant European identity.

The issue is: ‘How can one put these Euroregions at the centre of European development and not at the periphery, which is where they are always to be found?’ The path to this objective would lead to shared benefits, in an economic sense. Recently, there was a good example of this type of project in a housing project developed in Liège by the Maastricht Housing Association, Servatius.

The case in point

In 2004, Servatius started building 39 rental and 49 private housing units in the Sainte Marguerite area, that could be rented or bought by people from Maastricht or Liège. The city was also building a further nine homes as part of a public housing project. Completion was scheduled for 2005.
The City of Liège also played an important role in this development by upgrading the infrastructure, providing parking and landscaping the park, making the work a Liège project too. Following the refurbishment and upgrading of an important part of the city, Servatius received a watching brief to monitor the project after sale and rental. The initiative came from a request on the part of Liège.


At that time, Liège was emerging from the economic doldrums, thanks to the logistical assets of the region, and there was a great need for new housing, a field in which the city did not have a great deal of experience. Public housing had a bad name in the area. The Netherlands, on the other hand, has a different tradition in public housing and builds for a range of income groups, including the middle-income range.
Social Housing Associations, like Servatius, manage 40 percent of the Dutch housing stock of 2.4 million units, making them obvious partners. In Maastricht, there was little movement from rental to purchase and projects took too long. Prices were high too, in a market on which increasing demands were being made by the elderly and by students. At the same time, an urgent need was growing within the expatriate employee community. It was a difficult situation. One solution was to view the entire Meuse-Rhine as the area of operations. The housing market in Liège is relatively stable and only 20 minutes from Maastricht. This provides the option for people, working in Maastricht, of remaining in Liège or moving back there.
Servatius wants to play a role within Meuse-Rhine as a whole. It had, at that time, a stock of 12,000 apartment units in Maastricht and Eijsden and was working with the Municipality of Visé and the villages of Basse-Meuse on new ideas. This area of cooperation with Liège is an interesting market with a population of 400,000.


There have, however, been obstacles to this cross-border development and in 2005 the Dutch Ministry of Transport, Planning and the Environment (VROM) demanded that the Servatius Housing Association give up its housing project in the Rue d’ Hesbaye in Liège by the end of the year, or be subject to a penalty of € 2.6m. Servatius decided that the case should go to court and Leks Verzijlbergh, its President, pointed out that its activities in Liège were carried out by a Liège-based subsidiary, in keeping with the demand for transparent capital costs, based on current market conditions. The Ministry had contended that Servatius’ activities in Liège were a form of Dutch state support.
In 2006, Servatius won the case against the Dutch Ministry (VROM). The issue was whether Servatius could build housing projects in nearby Belgium where the building costs were significantly lower. This was good news for Servatius, enabling it to complete its € 15m housing project in Liège.

What this story reveals is that there are cross-border economic needs and there are parties able to meet them in Meuse-Rhine. There are needs, in terms of employment, housing, education and shopping; but we have chosen to focus on the main issue – housing. What sometimes gets in the way is national governmental policy.


There are various cross-border cooperative agreements designed to promote cross-border cooperation, particularly in cultural and educational areas and there are EU structures intended to facilitate this type of activity. One important structure is formed by the European Groupings of Territorial Cooperation (EGTCs), which provides a legal framework for cross-border activity, provided that the National Government parties have signed the agreement.
(Recently (2007), at a meeting in Brussels, it was noted that the Dutch Government had not signed enabling legislation and this leads to a final point on cross-border cooperation.)
Clearly, there has to be an administrative infrastructure, to monitor cross-border activities in the same way that one has a parliament to monitor and approve, or disapprove, of legislation. However, monitoring at a national level, involves popular participation, where public interest reinforces the monitoring role.
In the case of Meuse-Rhine, the monitoring agency for the Euroregion is cast in the form of a Dutch ‘Trust’ or ‘Foundation’ [Stichting]. This is because of the administrative differences between the five sub-regions, all of which have differing legislative competencies. 
This Trust, which, in a sense, is the Meuse-Rhine’s ‘government’, is made up largely of appointees, put there by public and other administrative bodies, without any democratic supervision. This means that there is no popular pressure to encourage members to take their participation seriously and this, in turn, leads to very low attendance at meetings and to a lack of public involvement or interest in the bodies concerned.
Surely, the next step in Euroregional development must be to add an element of popular participation and transparency to what is, after all, another level of government. This new level has the potential of providing great benefits to its cross-border constituents and also of introducing cross-border solidarity. This is the way to building a true European Union: not ‘top-down’ but ‘bottom-up’. x

Author of this story: Stafford Wadsworth

Stafford Wadsworth
Stafford Wadsworth

Stafford Wadsworth is an English Journalist who has been active in Meuse-Rhine, for more than 25 years. He has written for media in the French and German speaking parts of Meuse-Rhine and was editor-in-chief of Dutch Limburg’s International Magazine for 10 years. His Meuse-Rhine Journal (, an online, biweekly, business newsletter is now in its eighth year of publication.

First in the Euroregion in quality of life in the workplace

Lubiana: Rail Station
Lubiana: Rail Station

Female Slovenian workers enjoy the best conditions and are much better represented at a managerial level. Social research carried out at the International Institute of Sociology in Gorizia compares the female populations in Austria, Slovenia and Friuli Venezia Giulia (NE Italy) in the fields of economics and employment

Greater ease in finding work, less discrimination, a network of services that supports mothers. The women of Slovenia can count on the best working conditions and quality of life. This is what emerges from a doctoral thesis on the conditions enjoyed by women in the Euroregion.

‘Gender inequalities and social conditions of employed women in the Alps-Adriatic region. A comparison between Carinthia, Friuli – Venezia Giulia and Slovenia’ is the title of the work of Serena Fedel, carried out between Friuli Venezia Giulia, Slovenia and Carinthia, during a doctorate in transboundary policies in daily life, through the Institute of International Sociology in Gorizia together with a consortium of ten universities from Central and Eastern Europe.

The aim of the research and fieldwork was to analyse the approach towards gender differences in the three areas. Jumping to the work’s conclusions one discovers that Slovenia is without doubt the country where women find fewer obstacles in achieving their aims, especially economically and in the workplace. This, of course, without forgetting how these two aspects have a positive effect in the social and family spheres. But behind these conclusions there is a long piece of research that begins with the reasons that, today, produce the different outcomes, in Austria, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia. Amongst these, without doubt, is the socialist heritage of ex-Yugoslavia.

“The comparison between the three different realities – explains Serena Fedel – shows how Slovenia is more progressive in this sector, as a result of the country’s socialist past. Even in the Constitution women are called upon to work like men. As a result an entire system has been created to help women to reconcile family and professional obligations through nursery schools to the provision of canteens.

Without doubt therefore, over time, a greater sensitivity (to women’s issues) has developed”.
The Italian situation is very different. Even if there are differences, borne out in the thesis, between what takes place in Italy as a whole and in Friuli Venezia Giulia in particular. If, at a Italian level, the number of women in work is far lower than in Slovenia, in Friuli Venezia Giulia the figures are much improved, even though a larger gap between the sexes still remains.

The data, provided by Eurostat and this Italian Region’s Statistical Almanac show a level of male unemployment at 2.6% whilst that for women stands at 5.8%, set against 10.1% at a national level. In Slovenia 6.1% of men are unemployed and 7% of women. In Austria the respective figures are 4.9% and 5.5%. The reasons lie in the strong influence of the Catholic Church in the separation of the roles within the family and the laws that continue to reflect the patriarchal tradition of the Italian family. The model according to which the woman takes care of the children has brought about a more limited provision of services.

This affects the hours of the nurseries and schools which are largely incompatible with parents where both work full time. All this without looking at the terms of parental leave that guarantee only 30% of the salary.
The dissatisfaction of women regarding their position, both professionally and within the family, is also seen in the interviews carried out by Serena Fedel.

The analysis of the various pieces of legislation and the practices in the various areas have been placed alongside fieldwork through a series of interviews with Austrian, Italian and Slovene women employed by the same banking group. “The results – says Fedel – confirmed my hypothesis and the first group of women interviewed stressed the absolute incompatibility of the care services with full-time work. The Slovene situation once again proved completely different, where the system of parental leave was much more generous and, because of this, women were much better represented at a managerial level“.

Even though some change in the old family model, based on the working man and the housewife, was recorded, especially in the Region Friuli Venezia Giulia, the changes were limited to the field of work, whilst less change was seen in the division of housework: the time dedicated to housework was decidedly imbalanced (between the sexes) as were the requests for parental leave which were rather only occasionally amongst the men.

The Austrian reality, and that of Carinthia in particular, presents yet another, different set of characteristics. Here part-time work represents a widespread option for women and mothers in particular, so as to reconcile the time needed for one’s profession with that required for maternity. The possibility to go part-time, together with the generous parental leave given by employers allows women to risk leaving their careers or at least carry almost exclusively on their shoulders the responsibility for childcare and housework, but tends to increase the disparity in terms of pay (between the sexes). Female Austrian workers, in fact, can stay at home with the child until it is 30 months old and get a part-time post until the child reaches the age of seven.
Serena Fedel’s analysis goes into the details. The questionnaire given to 30 female workers in Austria, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Slovenia aims to analyse the family and working conditions and their opinions on sex equality policies.

The questions therefore range from the level of satisfaction felt towards parental leave to that on the role given to women in their respective families, through to the level of satisfaction with the services provided by their employers. If the Austrian and Slovene women show that flexible working hours and the opportunities for leave represent the positive side of the equation, the female Italian workers’ responses illustrate a series of difficulties. “Being a woman penalises you, inasmuch as you can be as good as the men, but the men are preferred. Compared to a men you have more things to worry about: there’s not only the work but also the children, the house… even if you put in the same effort, you risk coming out worse…”, one reads in the interviews. Going on: “The differences in treatment are there for all to see”, summing up with those who believe that “the thing is all quite open and above board… because it’s women who have children and that’s why they are discriminated against in the world of work.

There are women who have children and manage to make a career for themselves but it’s difficult and they have to fight harder to get where they are and then hold their position…”. x

From the mouths of babes

“My daughter will learn Czech, right from the start, because we live a few metres from the border, because it is natural and logical, because to grow up bilingual represents a richness”. The experience of a life on the border between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic: adopting bilingualism as an education policy and an antidote to prejudice and non-communication

To reach Ostriz from the north, a few hundred metres from both Poland and the Czech Republic, you pass through Kunnerwitz, Hagenwerded, Schönau-Berzdorf an der Eigen and other anonymous and apparently uninhabited villages, where the pretty houses in a rural German style, are mixed with a touch of more functional Socialist post-war aesthetics.


Here you find huge council housing ‘barracks’ in the open countryside. But not only that. You can come upon a disused nuclear power plant flanked by the ordered blades of a wind farm – a sign of changing times.

Further on, miles from anywhere, stands an inert monster as high as a ten-storey house, an industrial digger – that seems to belong in Fritz Lang’s film ‘Metropolis’ – that, during the happy days of the DDR, excavated coal from underground. Or perhaps encounter an old Volkswagen van passing slowly through the village. Equipped with loudspeakers, to a melancholy musical accompaniment, blares out propaganda for the German National Party (NPD) – none other than the neo-Nazi party.

This corner of Germany is surreal for one who has not grown up here. It is a poor corner, one of the poorest of the poor former East Germany, a victim of the end of the coal era, like other regions in Europe such as the regions of Charleroi and Mons-Borinage in Belgium. As sometimes happens, the decay in the economic and socio-cultural fabric, along with its proximity to the border have encouraged the development of nationalistic, often extremist and sometimes racist sentiments. With 40% unemployment and two borders, the party of extreme right, the German heir to the concentration camps, this is not a hard area to make converts. “Germany for the Germans!” caws the old-timer in the van to the apparently empty houses and Soviet-style blocks.

Landscapes change and borders do too, but the situation which one meets puts forward themes that are already familiar. Borders and national identity, a history of national and regional conflicts, World War II and cultural stereotypes; a history of misunderstandings and an ignorance of one another, together with a history of barriers such as language, the main agent in the construction and maintenance of identity, diversity and prejudice.

I went to speak about this with Dr. Gellrich, in the heart of Ostriz, in a graceful Samaritan nunnery, less than ten metres from the river that separates Germany and Poland. Her name is Regina and she grew up, studied and worked in this border region of eastern Saxony behind the Iron Curtain, when in school she learned Russian and only Russian. She was not taught Czech or Polish. Regina tells me she loves the Czech Republic. “Why?” I ask. Her answer is simple and spontaneous: “Because I went there on holiday with my parents there – it being the only one, or one of the few states where you could go abroad without a third degree grilling by an officer of STASI!” This insight comes from personal experience, it’s direct.

We are back in the ‘80s and Regina attends the school in Zittau, her town. In interactions with the Czechoslovakian neighbours, even just going to buy meat or get petrol, Regina feels uncomfortable, unable to speak a word of Czech. Yet everyone on the other side speaks German, at least a little, for business you understand. But that’s not the point, she says. Language is not just communication: “a kilo of meat, a tankful of petrol.” Language mediates and reflects stereotypes and prejudices that underlie an asymmetrical relationship: “It’s you (either Polish or Czechoslovakian) the poor neighbours (or worse)”, “you that you must learn German.” Hence the decision to attend an evening course in the Czech language learning with difficulty, but enough to allow, even knowing only a little, to “open a new world: people have begun to interact with me in a different way, to open doors, to be more friendly”, she says. One discovers the value of language as an instrument for interaction and cooperation.

Shortly before the fall of the Wall in 1988, Regina gave birth to Susanna and thinks: “my daughter will learn

Nuclear Plant
Nuclear Plant

Czech, right from the start, because we live a few metres from the border, because it is natural and logical, because to grow up bilingual represents a richness”. It introduces a second important element: diversity and bilingualism as richness. At this time Czech is not taught in the schools or kindergartens, and it is a problem to learn it. But the solution can be found nearby, a few kilometres away. This is Regina’s idea, to put Susanna in a Czechoslovakian kindergarten. She makes contacts, takes on the bureaucracy, clashes with the prejudices of those who blurt out a shocked “But WHY?” or those who tell her “you don’t want to send your little one to THEM, do you?”. Even the teachers are against it.
But obviously the twenty years of holidays that have gone before are stronger than the nay-sayers. Susanna ends up attending the nursery school across the borders at Hradek nad Nisou in Czechoslovakia where all three borders meet and close to her home in Zittau in Germany. The experience proves positive, and the little girl adapts quickly and is happy at the nursery. Thus was born the idea of a formal cooperation between the border regions, so that other children can repeat Susanna’s experience.

At that time Regina has just finished a doctorate in mathematics with a thesis on ‘Mathematical models of fluids dynamics’ at Kennewitz and returns to Zittau, where they had promised her a permanent position. The Berlin Wall falls, however and Germany reunites, and many things change. Amongst the changes is the structure of the University of Zittau: there is now no place for Dr. Gellrich. Regina finds herself with a temporary job and her child at a nursery school that they want to close. She successfully leads the Parents’ Association in the fight to keep it open. Enriched with this experience, she manages to get a job as administrator in a German non-governmental organisation called Children Care, which among its many projects, promotes cross-border cooperation. She is the contact with the authorities. Her daughter at that time is already attending the nursery across the border and Regina then decides to proceed with a model of cooperation based on her personal experience.

She moves from Children Care to Pontes, an agency that works to develop cross-border cooperation between the Czech Republic, Saxony and Poland in the field of education. It is interesting to note that the association – and the ideas – have arisen in a spontaneous, bottom-up fashion from the needs of individuals or small groups of individuals, a model that has subsequently found support and form in institutions and the Euroregion Neisse-Nisa-Nysa.

Regina’s idea is to develop a transnational network of education in the triangle between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, starting from a model based on her own experience. It was decided to start with the kindergartens. “On the one hand we want to offer people the opportunity to enroll their children in kindergartens across the border and on the other to ensure that in the German kindergartens in the region there are two teachers present, one a German native speaker, the other speaking Czech (or Polish)” she says. They are also producing books and games for bilingual kindergartens, helping to organise meetings and language courses for parents, children’s parties, holidays, and various other activities, where parents can get to meet ‘the other half’. The project has developed so rapidly that Regina’s second daughter, Juliane born in 1994, has been able to take advantage of new educational system.

Susanna is growing and about to start primary school, but there are no schools that can offer bilingual education. Thus was born then the idea of creating a more structured cooperation, not only limited to kindergartens but that would cover a child’s entire education. They therefore organise schools where Czech and German (or Polish and German) children can attend together, and where the teaching and the lessons take place in both languages and the educational programmes are developed through mutual agreement. Some schools are equipped with dormitories, where the children stay during the week, returning home to their families at the weekend. Juliane now attends one of these schools and I wanted to talk to her and to hear about her experience. Juliane is now a young girl and is full of enthusiasm for her magnificent school, her magnificent classmates, the magnificent Czech Republic and the wonderful language she is learning. Speaking with her you begin to realise that she is not simply learning a language other than her own, but is growing up in a multicultural environment, where she is learning to confront the differences. “Some of my friends who do not attend the ‘mixed’ school think that the Czechs are dangerous, bad, and a bunch of thieves; and the Czechs think that the Germans are closed and unable to come into contact with them. I don’t like prejudice and I know that it’s not like that.” Juliane is now almost perfectly bilingual and it seems quite natural to her to live or work in the Czech Republic, if life should ever offer her the chance. This is not just some little thing in a region where unemployment is among the highest in Germany and she and her schoolmates will enjoy better job opportunities as a result of their training, born of this long-lasting transnational cooperation of which Regina is one of the architects.

This highlights the last aspect of cooperation in the field of language and education, the socio-economic one. I ask Regina what she would like to achieve in the future, and of her dreams. “That this cultural cooperation project can sweep away cultural stereotypes that still imprison much of the population divided by the three borders”. For example there is a very interesting project involving the Universities of Zittau, Liberec and Wrozlaw. It seeks to allow young Germans in the region to choose to live and work in the Czech Republic – “So close and so similar in spirit to the former East Germany”, rather than in faraway – and foreign – West Germany. Dreams of an administrator of the NGO Pontes, but also those of a mother who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain and who spent her holidays in Czechoslovakia. x

Fabrizio Pizzioli is a researcher at the Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique (FNRS) at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium. He has spent 8 years working on language and cognition. He is currently studying the neural basis of language in adults, the learning of language in children and diseases of language.

He is also concerned with cross-linguistic differences and learning in bilingual children.

We Are Cosmopolitan!

The myth of a united Europe a century ago: the rise of Ludwig Von Bruck, founder of the Austrian Lloyd navigation company and lynchpin in the economic, cultural and social growth of the regions around the Upper Adriatic

The sea throws back shimmering golden reflections, millions of rustling ears in a field on fire.

This is the second afternoon in a row that Ludwig spends, one minute sitting, the next lying on a pier down in the port, next to a red-hot iron mooring bollard. His forehead and shirtless chest are pearled with sweat, his Nordic skin reddened but not satisfied by its exposure to the full, unequivocally Mediterranean sun.
He’s trying to read an edition of Herder that his father, a bookbinder from the Rhineland, has made for him as a good luck token for his adventure. The prose is inherently knotty, and the reading made all the more tricky by the glaring whiteness of pages in the sunlight. But with his eyelids reduced to the narrowest slit, Ludwig stubbornly reads on.

Herder’s history of philosophy is like an electric shock; and Ludwig realises this even though he’s very young. Or perhaps precisely because he is so young he can feel the irresistible, dark charm of the pages. The fascination that comes with the words of prophets announcing an impending storm; when they are announcing the truth.

Ludwig reads about the Roman Empire, destroyed by its inability to hold together the different nations that made it up; punished for having repressed them, for having underestimated the strength of their development and not having understood that their cause was invincible. Superior, even holy, because it coincided with the idea of freedom.

Freedom and nationhood, merged together in a single myth, in a single poem. Herder, thinks Ludwig sarcastically, is perhaps the only contemporary thinker of our time. The only one to have developed a convincing idea on the direction taken by history here and now, in Europe at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and who understands what is driving it’s engine of progress.
Stretching, he rises to his feet. The stopover in Triest will last until the flow of volunteers into his band of freedom fighters dries up. Ten days, perhaps a few more, split between the pier and ‘This too a Philosophy of History’, hand-stitched for him by his father. Then, God willing, he would have given his help to Greek rebellion. After centuries of anxious barbarism, Greece is calling to arms her spiritual children, scattered around the world. A nation to liberate, far away across a glittering sea in his mind’s eye.
Hiding behind a load of carob beans, Ludwig gets rid of his trousers and dives into the water.
But the Greek project was not to God’s liking, it would seem. The political refugees returning from there (some as stowaways, some, the lucky ones on rafts, that, nine times out of ten, get smashed on some Dalmatian reef) tell of indiscriminate massacres, cynical agreements between the powers and idealists sent to the slaughterhouse.

The last batch of volunteers fails to materialise and so Ludwig does not leave but decides to stay on in Triest and thus becomes ‘von Bruck’.

Since then there’s been no nation to free – but a lot of prose and poetry. He is immediately employed by an insurance agency, a sector then undergoing very strong expansion. The boy is up to the job, alert and self-confident. Ten years later and he is already the director of that agency. Ten years later still and he’s the main organizer and founder of the Austrian insurance company Lloyd, as well as the chairman of its board of directors. Another ten years pass and Lloyd has turned into one of the most powerful trade and navigation companies in Europe, going from three ships initially to twenty and each day transporting tons of people, goods and mail throughout the Mediterranean, from Greece to Egypt and Turkey, expanding to open agencies in Calcutta, Bombay, Ceylon, Singapore and Canton.
Now, Lloyd is the most significant economic hub of the Hapsburg monarchy. From within, its managers develop the idea of a ‘natural’ link between the Middle East and the area of central Europe through the agency of Lloyd, via Triest.

On May 12th 1847, in what had now become his city, von Bruck delivers a speech at the tenth anniversary of the company’s foundation before the annual general meeting of the shareholders. The central concepts are ‘pragmatism’, ‘confidence’ and ‘progress’.

It has not always gone so smoothly. During the first two years of commercial activity debts are about to destroy his plaything and the company only saved thanks to the generous help of the state.
A reluctant intervention, which indicates an overall relationship between the government of Vienna and Lloyd which is more than a little stormy and radically contradictory.
The whole of the Hapsburg monarchy’s foreign economic and trade policy is frozen in the framework developed by Metternich in the 1820s to restore an order which had been shocked by the meteor Napoleon. It is a policy which states that it is based on the principle of balance within Europe, but in reality pursues nothing more than the existing status quo.
Vienna, the pivot of this Continental iceberg, stays on its feet thanks to the Austrian props in place in the West: in northern Italy – Lombardy and the Veneto. Liberalism and nationalism are genuine threats and ‘blasphemies’ that the palace of ice looks on as potentially fatal.

Perhaps because he had read Herder, perhaps because as a romantic boy he believed passionately in his message, von Bruck realizes that his ‘child’, his company of the restoration has no future; that beneath the surface of the continent huge forces are about to be unleashed, spurred on by liberal and nationalist ‘blasphemies.’ And those who are orchestrating these forces in Italy and Germany are merely dust-devils, flashpoints for a potentially far more destructive hurricane directed at European peace and the survival of the monarchy.
Von Bruck knows that wheels as large as these, once in motion, crush everything in their path. Of course, one should not go along with these ideas. What you must do is run ahead of them and channel them into a vision that is equally, if not more, grandiose and ambitious. How clever.
Vienna must understand that, for her, the West is now a lost cause, that Lombardy and the Veneto are lost, and that it is imperative that she look to the East, ridding herself of her Metternich straitjacket and riding the wave of capitalism and free trade. To do this she already has a branch that knows how to take up the weapon of trade as well being able to look eastward. Lloyd.

And if in Vienna immobility reigns, then one must go there and shake things up. If the centre does not respond, the periphery will occupy it and become the centre in its turn. If the State reacts confusedly, with projects at odds with your own, take the State in hand and bend it to your will.
In 1849 von Bruck was appointed Minister for Trade.
Early in July 1847, Richard Cobden, leader of the British liberals, is visiting Triest. An official banquet is organised in his honour. And of course, the master of ceremonies can only be von Bruck himself.
With a phlegmatic calm, but conscious of having the eyes of the government fixed upon him, von Bruck delivers a speech in favor of free trade and prudent only in its form.

Immediately after he finishes speaking he gives the floor to Francesco Dall’Ongaro, a young and fairly successful playwright in Venice and along the coast who harbours nationalist ideas and sympathies. He hopes that Italy will join a commercial league, a prelude to policy of aggregation that would include Triest. Von Bruck stops him halfway through his speech. He rises to his feet and thunders: “We are cosmopolitan, we have nothing to do with Italian nationality or German for that matter! Our nation is Triest.”
Total confusion breaks out and the diners are is now split into two parties. A punch-up is only narrowly avoided. A shocked Richard Cobden acts as peacemaker.
Speaking out that day in a nervous atmosphere that encourages open challenges is von Bruck. But also Ludwig.

To von Bruck one must not touch Triest. In the architecture of his plan, breaking the territorial continuity between the city and Central Europe is like removing the card, without which the whole castle will tumble down.
But within him he remains Ludwig, the boy who wanted to leave for Greece in the name of the freedom of nations. Why ‘Yes!’ to Greece, why ‘Yes!’ to Germany but ‘Yes, but only in part, without Triest’? Is Triest not predominantly an Italian city ethnically? Is it not that powerhouse of Italians that has pushed him to learn the local dialect and sign himself “Carlo Lodovico” in his private papers?
The inconsistency is obvious. Thence comes the perfect twist, the intellectual kidney-punch that makes him cry out: “Triest is a nation”. To preserve in its autonomy, like all the others.
A city-nation itself, with, in addition, a very special role.
The point is that the European markets are expanding, fuelled by a solid and demanding middle class. There are increasingly wide mouths needing to be filled with raw materials from the East, and the channel between these two worlds is the sea that, by its very name, lies in the middle: the Mediterranean. With a port that works as an exchange valve: Triest.

For von Bruck the middle class, divided vertically by nationality, resting in fact on a shared horizontal plane, which is that of its consumption and daily requirements.
He looks beyond this, he looks ahead.

In addition to any national peculiarities, he sees a society of producers and consumers united in the same needs, but not only this – even sharing the same values and lifestyle, in the fundamentals of a material and spiritual civilization. He looks forward, because it seems clear that the physical and cultural environment in which this civilization expresses itself is in power, and, God willing, right across the continent.
The vision of von Bruck, in a word, a united Europe.
And the only hope that the Viennese Empire has to escape the fate of Rome is to drive civil and economic growth in its component nations to its maximum. Certainly not by ignoring them or setting one against the other, but by harmonising them in a pragmatic goal – associating them with a future of shared development.
Only in this way, will Austria remain the centre of a peaceful and confederate Europe, that Ludwig von Bruck has always called: Mitteleuropa.
But the project was only to God’s liking a century later. Perhaps… x

Patrick KarlsenAuthor of this story: Patrick Karlsen
He is a PhD student of contemporary history at the University of Triest researching on the relationship between the Italian Communist Party and the border of the northern Adriatic. An essayist and poet, he writes for many regional and national titles in Italy.

Identity’s Archipelago

Life on the islands of Åland: a special place for autonomy, pacifism and cooperation. A territorial entity lying between Finland and Sweden and taken as model for the resolution of ethnic conflicts in Europe

Some years ago I visited the Åland Islands (pronounced: Oland; Ahvenanmaa is the name in Finnish), a small archipelago located in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland.

Aland Archipelago
Aland Archipelago

The summer was very bright, as often happens so far north. Magnificent views of the islands of Kökar, or the smaller Källskär, across whose peaceful horizons the Swedish-speaking Finnish author Tove Jannson wrote some of her books.
But in addition to the landscapes, I was impressed to discover that the identity of Åland’s inhabitants also comes through the realities on the islands, its autonomy, peace and disarmament.
The name of Åland had appeared as an example for a political solution in the negotiations (but then blocked) on the status of Kosovo, but also for the separatist republics within both Georgia (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) and Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh). This is not the first time that the archipelago has been proposed as a model for solving inter-ethnic conflicts, or those between a majority and a minority within the same territory.

It is obvious that the conflicts that have broken out in recent years in Europe, especially those related to ethnicity, are extremely difficult to solve and present very complex issues. It is also true that the population of Åland is small: just 26,000 people, virtually all Swedish-speaking. Of these, 11,000 live in Mariehamn, the capital, with another 13,000 in the countryside and a further 2,000 on the islands. A mere 80 out of the 6,429 islands and islets that make up the archipelago are inhabited.

The example of Åland has, however, become a reference point for the provision of conditions that safeguard the cultural and linguistic rights of a homogeneous minority within the sovereignty of a state with a different majority.

The islands lie at the centre of a small Euroregion which also includes other coastal archipelagos belonging to Sweden and Finland.

A bit of history

Belonging to the Kingdom of Sweden until the Napoleonic Wars of 1808-1809 when it passed to Russia, the Åland islands were integrated into the Grand Duchy of Finland, which at the time enjoyed a semi-autonomous status within the Czarist Empire. For the Russians they represented an important strategic bulwark in the Baltic and were manned as a outpost during the Crimean War. Following the Treaty of Paris (1856) the islands were subject to demilitarisation.
In December 1917, after the October Revolution, Finland became independent. For obvious political, linguistic and cultural reasons the islanders wished to opt for reunification with Sweden. Instead, they only wrested the status of autonomy from the Finnish Parliament in 1920, a status they considered inadeguate.
The issue was settled in 1921 by the newly-formed League of Nations (the forerunner of the United Nations, the UN), whose Council decided in favour of a Finnish Åland. The islands, however, were granted very broad autonomy which guaranteed language rights and confirmed the area’s demilitarisation and neutrality. As a result of the Autonomy Act (1922), revised twice (in 1951 and 1993), Åland enjoys one of the highest degrees of self-governance in Europe.



The Parliament, opened in 1978, is actually a small three-storey building in the capital Mariehamn. There sit the 40 members and visiting it you appreciate the almost family atmosphere that surrounds it. Stripped of any formalities and wearing a simple blue shirt, Roger Nordlund, now President of the Parliament and, at the time of my visit, Vice-President of the Government of Islands (the Landskapsstyrelse), said: “Finland handles foreign policy, criminal law, the courts, currency and a part of taxation, while we administer the share that goes to local communities. The Lagting, the Åland Parliament has jurisdiction over everything else. The archipelago also has a fixed representative in the Finnish Parliament and the name ‘Åland’ also appears on the (Finnish) passports of its inhabitants. The Act stipulates that the only official language is Swedish, although in the courts citizens can also submit their applications in Finnish.

The economy of the islands, which in 1954 got its own flag and has been issuing its own stamps since 1984, is based on the shipbuilding industry, trade and tourism. “Forestry is more important for Finland” adds Nordlund.

On 1st July 1999 a directive of the European Union (EU) came into force which saw the disappearance of duty-free areas, where it had been possible to buy all sorts of goods without paying VAT. One of the few exceptions to the ruling is Åland”.

The giant ferries of the ‘Vikingâ’ and ‘Silja’ shipping companies connecting Finland and Sweden, as well as the smallest company, ‘Eckerö’, are registered in Mariehamn. Traffic through Åland involving the enormous ships has greatly increased in recent years, from Stockholm to Turku, but also connecting the Swedish capital and Helsinki. Tallinn in Estonia is also now on the routes.
Ticket prices are low because most of the revenue, about 75%, comes from duty-free purchases on the ships. The focus is on alcohol which is expensive on the mainland. An overnight journey on one of these ferries, which in fact are genuine cruise ships with bars, clubs, discos, and saunas, only confirms the Nordic reputation as hardened drinkers, especially weekends which witness scenes that hardly bear description.

“To preserve this condition a special protocol was signed with the EU, which cannot be modified by Brussels directives, so that the duty-free status remains in force even after 1999. It was too important to our economy. The Åland islands have thus acquired the status of a ‘special territory’ which remains excluded from the harmonisation of taxation rules. They have been able to maintain the duty-free, creating a de facto customs barrier to union with the rest of the EU that puts producers in the archipelago at a disadvantage. Clearly, however, the move seems worth it, a fact confirmed by referendum in which 74% of the islanders were in favour of entry into the EU.

In the future I think we will depend increasingly on tourism, focusing mainly on quality“, continues Nordlund. “As in other Nordic countries, the flagship of Åland is the natural environment, especially for cycling, fishing or camping, but the tourist season is very short and confined to the summer months. For the rest of the year the ferries are still needed, with a ‘short stop-off’ in the islands allowing them to retain their duty-free status.”

On Åland, if the truth be told, ties with Finland are not so strong. Knowing only Finnish it would be impossible to get by, although in Helsinki there is bilingualism and although elsewhere in the country Swedish is the second official language, only 6% of the 5 million Finns have Swedish as their mother tongue. “We know we are Finnish citizens, but we are very close to Sweden, as far as linguistic and cultural issues are concerned. People here watch Swedish TV and read Swedish newspapers. In general relations with Finland are good, although on some occasions we have differing opinions, but this is a perfectly normal struggle between the centre and the periphery. With regard to monetary union, there is no advantage for us as long as Sweden remain outside the Euro-zone as an important slice of our trade is done with them.” The inhabitants of Åland therefore look more towards Stockholm, although there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the current state of affairs represents the best option for them.

A substantial part of the taxes levied is spent on education, and to ensure that schools and shops survive even on the smaller islands which are at risk of total depopulation. In addition, one third of the islands students continue their education in Finland, the rest go to Sweden. Most return home after completing their studies, but many stay away. “In the 1950’s everyone who left emigrated to Sweden. Some of their children, who came here on vacation in the summer, have decided to return.” stresses Nordlund.
Given all the peculiarities of the archipelago, the law on residence is very strict. “I have lost my rights to live on Åland, although I was born there and still own my father’s house there.” confesses Erland Eklund, professor at the Swedish University of Social Sciences in Helsinki, “This happens if you live away from the islands for more than five years, as was the case with me.


In 1921 the demilitarization of Åland took place. No installations, activities or military personnel may be stationed on its territory, even exercises are not permitted, and the Finnish navy cannot enter the territorial waters around the islands. In addition, for many years young islanders have been exempt from military service if they have been resident on the islands since the age of 12.

After ten years of discussions on how to tackle the study of peace from both a theoretical and practical perspective, the ‘Ålands Fredsinstitut’ – the Åland Islands Peace Institute – was created in 1992.
The identity of the inhabitants of the archipelago, stimulated by the various peculiarities and helped by their own symbols, has strengthened over time. Today almost all the islanders consider themselves as simply inhabitants of Åland rather than Finnish or Swedish. “The local identity passes ever more frequently through aspects such as autonomy and neutrality” explains Sia Spiliopoulou Åkermark, Director of the Institute, speaking on the phone to me. With a Greek father and Swedish mother, she is an expert in international law.
“There is a certain pride in belonging to a demilitarised region” she continues. “You can see this from the way tourist attractions such as the fortress of Bomarsund, the Russian base built in 1852 and destroyed by the British and the French in the Crimean War, are presented, emphasising that this was the last conflict fought on the islands.”

The example of Åland for the resolution of conflicts should be set against the context in which its current status arose. “At the time of the Crimean War it was not easy, but all parties involved were open to compromise. Even in modern conflicts, an agreement can only be reached with this precondition.”
The Institute is working on EU projects that promote Baltic cooperation, carrying out studies. These are often comparative and related to the archipelago’s peculiarities such as demilitarisation, cooperation on security at European level, the rights and participation of minorities, autonomy – studies that it then publishes. It has also created a network of non-governmental organisations in the Baltic region, mostly in Lithuania, Belarus and the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, especially catering for young people and women in difficulty.
One of the current internal challenges involves immigration. “Until now the islands have remained ethnically homogeneous, but new inputs to the system are required. The average age of the population is rising and there is a need for young people, including foreigners, to come and live here, but decisions involving immigration are not in the hands of the local autonomous Parliament but are made by the Finnish state. Here as well there is a need for mediation.”

The population does not know the legal details and conditions of the islands autonomy but realises their uniqueness. “The system foresees “motors” that will always keep open the possibility of negotiations and discussions. The Governor is a representative of the Finnish state, but appointed on the advice of the President of the Parliament of Åland and there is also a joint delegation consisting of representatives of the two parties. The third level comes through the adherence to EU legislation.” concludes the director. “The limits of autonomy are therefore continually re-negotiated, and this is one of the keys to the success of Åland.” x

Author of this story: Alessandro Gori

Alessandro Gori
Alessandro Gori

Alessandro Gori (born in Udine, Italy in 1970) as an independent journalist has published photos and articles in ten different languages in daily newspapers and magazines in 15 countries on a wide range of themes. He specialises in the Balkans, the former Soviet Union, Northern Europe and Latin America.