Posts Tagged ‘European capital’

Strasbourg English Speaking Union


It is hardly hot news but last Tuesday there was the inaugural meeting of the Strasbourg English Speaking Union. By the kind invite of the Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg it took place at the 18th century town hall.

The first presentation was from our host, Nawel Rafik-Elmrini whose official title is 2ème Adjointe – Relations internationales et européennes, coopération décentralisée for the municipal council, who talked about the building, Strasbourg and relations between the UK and the city. The room was the place where the Council of Europe had its inaugural meeting. After her speech Ms Rafik-Elmrini stayed on whilst we listened to the next speech.

Next up was John Darcy, Advisor to the President of the European Court of Human Rights. He started off by talking about the history of the European Convention on Human Rights which was then followed by the creation of the Court and then over time it was set up and started before the accession of various countries to the court. We hard about the way the Court had developed and the way the understanding and interpretation of the convention had developed, as a living breathing document.

He then talked about the almost 150,000 cases before the court which are added to with about another 50 to 60,000 every year. A lot of these are not cases which are relevant to the Court or have not completed all stages in the judicial process in their own country and are deemed inadmissible.

Mr Darcy, there was the inevitable reference to the name, then went on to talk about reform of the Court. Following judgements by the Court on votes for people in UK prisons and recently on Abu Qatada there has been pressure in the UK for reform of the Court or for the UK to withdraw from it all together. Following the visit of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I reported on here, as part of the UK Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. He then spoke about what was then the upcoming Brighton Conference on reform of the Court. My understanding is it was outlined that as a result of the views of the other members of the Court it was unlikely there would be much of anything that would change as a result of the conference. Measures to streamline the judgement process to speed up decisions, and make sure that the Court does not make decisions that should properly be taken in countries, had been put in place anyway and were working.

So, it seems to me, that Dave’s attempt to attack the Court to satisfy his barking anti-European backbenchers resulted in him making a fool of himself in front of the Parliamentary Assembly followed by a lot of hot air with little, if any, achievement of change to the Court and the way it works.

After a short outline on the way the Strasbourg ESU would work we were given an apero courtesy of the people of Strasbourg and then we headed off, it being the birthday of JTO and I was taking her out for something to eat.

Strasbourg Calling (Sooo British)


Between November 2011 and May 2012 the UK is the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe. Not the European Union, which is also run by a committee of ministers confusingly called the Council of the European Union, but the Council of Europe (CoE) the body promoting and protecting Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law throughout its 47 countries. The CoE is probably best known for overseeing the work of the European Court of Human Rights(EHCR). The Minister for Europe, David Lidington, announced the UK government’s priorities for its chairmanship of the CoE’s Committee of Ministers in a written statement:

“The overarching theme of our Chairmanship will be the protection and promotion of human rights. The Government has repeatedly made it clear that human rights are central to its foreign policy. We aim to be an example of a society that upholds human rights and democracy, and we are committed to strengthening the rules based international system.”

Here is a list of the items which have happened during the Chairmanship and, as you can see here the UK Foreign Office even has a logo for the period. (above)

There is also a programme of 30 cultural activities has organised by the Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg (The council for the municipality of Strasbourg) in the period under the heading ‘Sooo British‘ with a brochure highlighting them all, available by clicking on this link [PDF, 971 KB, new window] A friend who was at the offices of the council this week to renew his parking permit said that the building was plastered with posters promoting it. I have to declare an interest at this point as the theatre group, TAGORA, of which I am a member are putting onOh What A Lovely War” in April which has ben included as part of the programme. (It was actually at a rehearsal last night I was told about the posters at the local council offices.)

The political oversight of the CoE is provided by the Parliamentary Assembly, where members of parliament, representing their home parliament, from the 47 countries meet four times a year in Strasbourg to elect judges to the court, receive reports on the activity of the CoE and to receive reports on matters affecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law in member countries. The first meeting for 2012 takes place next week and it is going to be addressed by both the UK Minister for Europe and the Prime Minister.(here is the agenda for the meeting.)

Václav Havel II


After my post about Václav Havel here yesterday I got the following message this morning from a friend who was formerly a member of the Riga chapter but is now working in Prague:

He was the single best person I’ve ever met. Walked behind the funeral cortege earlier. Extraordinary. A very peculiar mix of emotions. And some very funny anecdotes.

As you can see in the picture (hat-tip AFP, Robert Michael), here in a commentless piece for the BBC and here in the Daily Telegraph thousands of people joined Stephen to walk behind the coffin and pay their respects.

On Monday I contacted the Czech Representation to the Council of Europe here in Strasbourg to see if they were going to have a book of condolence in memory of the former President. They emailed me back the next day with details of the place and times it was available for signing. This morning I went to the Representation which is at the top of a building on a crossroad, pictured. As I made my way up to the top I passed a number of SAMU staff who I discovered were going into a flat below the Representation.

When I got to the representation the door was opened by a woman and I was shown by a man into a darkened room with the curtains drawn. Near the middle of the room, set at a 45 degrees angle, was a table with a book on it and a pen on an open page, the book of condolence. There was another table more in the corner, closer to the closed curtain windows, which had on it a photo of Václav Havel, some candles and a vase containing some white flowers. I sat down and composed my self then picked up my fountain pen. I read the previous entry from the Representation of Azerbaijan before turning to the next blank page and started to write something based upon Anthem by Leonard Cohen, particularly the lines;

There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Whilst writing my piece the bell went. I finished, got up and walked over to the table with the candles on it for a moment of pause before turning and waiting at the door to let the next person in. I was then seen out by the two members of staff and went down the stairs again. At the bottom the SAMU were getting two people out of the lift, one on a wheeled stretcher and the other in a wheelchair heading towards two ambulances on the pavement with their lights flashing. I got on the bus and went home still thinking about the gloomy room and the man I had gone there to commemorate.

Fist up II


Continuing from yesterdays post about the first time I went to Albania, the second time was for my birthday in March 2007. The work to finish the ambition to visit every European capital before the end of 2010 was well underway and this was the first time JTO and I were to visit the Balkans. So this time it was the capital Tirana we visited. I didn’t know it at the time but it is quite typical for a Balkan capital in being on a piece of flat land with mountains circling it. The main square of the city is Skanderberg Square, named after the national hero who features on a large equestrian statue in it. Skanderberg fought to keep the country free from the Ottoman empire and had an impressive record winning 24 of the 25 battles he took part in. He took the double headed eagle, which forms the basis of the current Albanian flag, as his flag. Next to it is the Et’hem Bey Mosque on which construction started in 1794 and was finished in 1821 by Et’hem Bey with frescoes outside and in the portico which depict trees, waterfalls and bridges – motifs rarely seen in Islamic art. The city is very human in scale, easily walkable and very green from the tree-lined streets to the many parks. In an initiative, which I am surprised has not been copied elsewhere, the concrete Soviet-style apartment blocks have been painted a number of colours which makes them much more attractive and the cityscape more appealing. In one of the two main parks, Rinia Park is a complex which has been described as having the look of the lair of a James Bond villan, called Taiwan, possibly for being an island in the park. In the building there are restaurants, a terrace cafe, bowling alleys and a casino. The main attraction however is the fountain in front of Taiwan which in the evening fascinates hundreds of young and old onlookers with its light show. The park is now the proud focus of the evening xhiro, when thousands of people dress up and stroll around to meet up and chat with friends. Nearby is the Clock Tower from 1822. Started off by Et`hem Bey, completed by the locals and extended to 35m in 1928, when a German-made clock was also installed, it was for long the highest building in town, and with views of the city centre from the top. The shadow of the tower strikes the mosque at sunset, an event long used to mark the closing time of the formerly adjacent market place. One other building which you can’t miss is the National History Museum with massive mosaic on the facade which represents the development of Albania’s history with everyone from Illyrians to partisans represented.

It was surprisingly inexpensive place for food with the restaurant at the hotel on the square being affordable for an evening meal. All together it was an enjoyable Spring visit to an especially pleasant city, although one for a week-long visit and not for longer. To close a video of Enver Hoxha celebrating 1st May – plenty fist up. See if any of the buildings pictured here can be seen in it:

Caption competition II (Luvvie edition)


After the great response to yesterdays caption competition here’s another one from the recent stay in London.  Get thinking and commenting. The picture was taken in a churchyard in Covent Garden that JTO and I discovered on our last full day in London.  I had seen the front of the building, it is generally the place where the street entertainers perform in front of, the columns and roof extending in front of the building providing a very good stage or backdrop.  We were on our way back to our hotel when JTO saw what looked like a little garden.  We walked into it and there was a fountain facing you and this wonderful head was on the rear side of the chute the water came out of.  Walking around the side of the building we came to a wonderful garden, an oasis of green and calm which we saw was the garden of the actors’ church, St Paul’s, one of the entrances can be seen in the photo above.  Built by Inigo Jones in 1633 the inside of the church is quite plain and spartan in comparison with the Orthodox or Catholic churches which were the last ones I visited on my trip to Cyprus. I also liked the large unstained windows which let in a lot of natural light which was a pleasant contrast with the darker insides I had seen on other churches.  At the back of church were a number of plaques commemorating the lives of a number of actors, writers, songwriters etc including a number I recognised; Margaret Rutherford, Boris Karloff, Ivor Novello, Richard Beckinsale, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Harvey and Hattie Jacques.

There weren’t many plaques along the side wall of the church but I took the photo on the right of three there were, including a reflection of one of the wonderfully simple windows.  As you can see these three plaques commemorating Sir Terrence Rattigan, a number of whose plays I saw advertised whilst in London no doubt as a result of it being the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sir Noël Coward and Sir Charles Chaplin. No doubt getting a special place because they were all  knighted by the Queen.

Caption competition


I have been in the UK for a while with very poor access to the internet. Whilst there I took a number of photos and will be posting them here.  The first one was seen in Trafalgar Square on the way to see a play.

Apart from someone being there with a proper camera filming the whole event there was no indication of what it was about or for.  There is only one rule for the caption competition, there must be no mention of Lady Gaga and her appearance at the 2011 Grammy awards, see the example photo on the left and the video of her arrival on the red carpet below,

The Social Network


Anyone know who Malcolm Harbour is?  No?  Well before today me neither.  I now know he is the Chairman of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee of the European Parliament.*  Today he did a live Q & A on the Facebook page of the European Parliament.  You can see a screenshot of the page on the left.

I took the opportunity to ask him a question about book sellers refusing to sell me a digital eBook when they will send me a physical book.  (See here,here, here and here)  You can see the question below.

He was quite quick to reply to me and his answer can be seen below.

It is pleasing to read that the committee is keen to make progress on these issues and that they will be producing proposals to try and deal with some of the problems inhibiting a true single market.  The European Parliament will be in town next week and I have a lighter week and I hoped to see my MEP whilst they were here.(One of the developments I talked of cryptically at the end of the last piece)  I will now write to Mr Harbour, copying the previous posts from here to him and see if I can get a meeting whilst he is in town.  I will post here details of what happens.

*I now also know he is the Conservative MEP for the West Midlands in the UK.

Weekend World part 3 – welcome to Paris


Yesterdays post finished with our taking our leave of Bristol via a bus to the airport.  Thanks to the time difference it was early evening when we arrived at Roissy airport (better known to most of us as Charles De Gaulle or CDG) but there should still have been time for us to get to our central hotel and our intended destination that night _ I have a particular reason to visit that premises which will become clearer over time.  I still thought there was no problem with the time when we found that there were replacement buses for the RER to Paris.  After having queued for ages that optimism was staring to evaporate when a couple of buses came and we ended up near the front of the queue.  Whilst waiting for the next bus someone nearby asked why there seemed such trouble with the bus service and the SNCF official said that it was because there were too many “Anglais” wanting to use it.  He backtracked on this slightly when I questioned him but I was rather stunned by this example of casual French discrimination.  We spent the rest of the journey railing against the casual French discrimination which we had plenty of time to do as the bus journey, eventual RER journey, getting to our hotel an getting something to eat meant we would have missed most of the show at the Lapin Agile so It will have to wait for a future visit.

The next morning we got up at a leisurely pace and thought we’d walk from the Gare du Nord where our hotel was to the Gare de l’Est where we would catch our train in the early evening, drop off our bags and then explore Paris.  We got there to have a haughty and rude brush off with another example of French customer service from SNCF.  The left luggage was closed and if we wanted to use one we’ have to go to, you’ve guessed it Gare du Nord.  So we battled our way onto the Metro and went back to the Gare du Nord where a Eurostar had just arrived so the queue for the left luggage, when we found it. had been swelled as well as getting the now all too familiar Parisian service.

We left the station and walked up the wonderfully named Boulevard Magenta in wonderful sunshine to the junction with the Boulevard De Rochechouart where there is the fantastically coloured clothes shop, TATI, in the second picture above.  On the walk up to the junction and when we turned left into Boulevard De Rochechouart there were loads of shops selling smart shirts, suits and wedding dresses then we passed the wonderful Magenta Mariage (pictured) who seem to provide the full service.  So in one street you get the clothes and have the whole ceremony.  Further on we passed loads of shops selling material and I was later told that the area has a high Jewish population, particularly North African Jewish population who have amongst their midst a lot of people in what I would call the ‘Rag trade’.

When we came to the Square L. Michel the weather was wonderful – a gorgeous cloud-free sky showing off the Sacré–Cœur at its best.  I climbed up and enjoyed the view out over a sunny but hazy Paris pretty much made the hassle over the past 24 hours from the SNCF staff worthwhile.  I walked around a bit at the top and then we had something to eat at a restaurant at the bottom of the hill which allowed for some great people watching of the different nationalities visiting the site, tour parties an their interaction with each other and one of those people who make their face up, put a sheet on and ‘make like a statue’.  Afterwards we walked back to Gare Du Nord collected our bags and walked to Gare de l’Est where there was still some time left before the return train to Strasbourg so there was only one place to while away the remaining hour, where we of course managed to get a bottle of Cremant d’Alsace which helped make the time before the trip go much more pleasantly.

Who remembers the Armenians?


On last Friday in the middle of the day at Place Homme De Fer, the main tram interchange, in the centre of Strasbourg two men stabbed a Jewish man twice.  The stabbed man was taken to hospital where he later died.  The Police said that one of the assailants was the main aggressor and that he  had psychological problems and that he claimed that everything that had gone wrong with his life was “the fault of the Jews”.

The picture (courtesy of Direct Strasbourg) shows around 300 people who gathered at the new Synagogue in solidarity against anti-Semitic aggression.  As well as the ‘Grand Rabbin de Strasbourg’, there was the Mayor of Strasbourg and a representative of the Prefect of the region and the President of the organisation representing Jewish institutions in France.  I was sorry I did not know about the gathering as I would have liked to be there to show my solidarity.

The ‘Peace Synagogue’ was built in 1958 to replace the previous one which was razed to the ground in 1940s by the Nazis.  A monument in front of the shopping centre ‘Place des Halles’ indicates the site of the previous Synagogue and the tram stop for the centre is also called Ancienne Synagogue.  There are details of the Jewish history of Strasbourg here.

The title for this piece comes from a quote attributed to Hitler when he was planning the final solution against the Jewish people.  His argument was that if no-one remembered what happened to the Armenians, who would remember the Jews?

I do.  April 25 is the memorial day for the genocide that was committed by the Ottoman Turks against the Armenian people in 1915 when up to 2 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks.  I was present at the Strasbourg memorial this year.  The event coincided with the start of one of the four sessions a year of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe so the leader of the Armenian delegation was able to be present with us.  The Armenian representative in Strasbourg spoke and said that he hoped he would be joined by the Turkish representative at the celebration next year – I’m not holding my breath.

France has one of the largest populations of Armenian diaspora as a consequence of the genocide, most famously represented by Charles Aznavor, so there was a good turn out on the day as can be seen from the photo, which also includes many Armenian flags.

The Depute for Strasbourg, Armand Jung, was represented as were many parts of Strasbourg civil society including the different religions.  Poems by Armenian poets were read out in Armenian, French and Alsatian.  Armenian songs were also sung before people headed off to an Armenian Orthodox Church service Armenia being the first Christian state and that being one reason why the Ottomans wanted to see the people wiped out.  Two sets of flowers were laid at the foot of the ‘Monument to the Fallen’ (as seen in the photo), inaugurated  by French President Albert Lebrun symbolising the painful experiences of Alsace with a distraught mother bearing on her knees her two sons, who fought on different sides, and are now on the point of death.  One faces towards France and the other towards Germany and join their hands as ‘an ultimate expression of rediscovered fraternity.’

the Jerusalem of Europe


Was the title of a map of the old town of Sarajevo by the lift in my hotel.  I don’t think it referred to Jerusalem being important to many religions (Slightly off topic but here are photos of many religious sites in Jerusalem.) as I do not believe there was a claim that Sarajevo was religiously significant to any religion.  More I believe the point was being made that the three Abrahamic faiths had played a large part in the history of the city and in shaping it.  The picture above is of my hotel shown sandwiched between two mosques.  It was not just these two which were noticeable for the call to prayer.  The city is largely Muslim with more mosques than you can shake a stick at, as is evidenced above.  The picture above is of the madrassa opposite the Gazi Husrev-Beg mosque in down town Sarajevo.  There was a lot of building on the site and it is clearly expanding.  The map mentioned above talked not only about the religious sites but also their landholdings and the areas held by each religion were greater than just the sites of their places of worship.  In the Ottoman times the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain were welcomed into Sarajevo and they built a number of synagogues.  The one above on the left was built in 1581 and is now a museum.  The bare stone walls and timber
floors provide an aesthetically pleasing space for a
small but well designed and laid out museum dedicated to
the city’s long Jewish history.  A bit further on in the old town is the Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart, the country’s Catholic Cathedral. Well restored after being heavily damaged in the war, it was built in 1889 by Josip Vancas and outside the steps provide a popular meeting and resting place.  Just across the road is the large Orthodox Cathedral, Church of the Most Holy Mother of God.   B-4, Zelenih Beretki bb. Inside are large iconostases holding icons made in Russia, installed here by Russian masons sent by Tsar Alexander II. As a proof of religious tolerance, Sultan Abdul Aziz, and the Prince of Serbia donated 500 gold ducats towards the construction of the building. Serb forces shot up their own church during the war and the Greek government is now involved in helping restore the damage.

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