Sunday, January 06, 2008

Epiphany in Europe : The Star Singers (Sternsinger) in Germany, Austria and Switzerland

The Sternsinger (star singers) dressed as the three Biblical Magi (kings, wise men) were just at our door this afternoon on a bright sunny Sunday here in Germany and we thus thought that we would tell you something about them, because they represent a seldom seen side of the low-key but still fundamentally deep strength of Christian tradition in Europe.

More than 500000 children are underway as "star singers" (Sternsinger) at this time of year (predominantly today, January 6, Epiphany) in the German-speaking nations of Europe, i.e. not only (but predominantly) in Germany, as also in Austria and Switzerland.

Epiphany as a Christian religious feast most certainly first marked the nativity or baptism of Christ, although the tradition may go back to even more ancient astronomical celebrations.

The star singers are sponsored by the local Catholic churches and this year in Germany are underway under the motto "Sternsinger für die Eine Welt" (star singers for one world).

The star singers ring doorbells at households all across the land (primarily in Catholic areas), and when those doors are opened - it is considered bad luck to send the star singers away without opening doors for them - the star singers then sing songs of faith at those doorsteps in order by collection to raise money for needy children around the world. Below are some photos of the star singers:

A 2004 AP photo from Deutsche Welle

A photo of star singers in 2007 at the doorstep of the Parliament
of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous State

A blessing is written in chalk by the star singers on the front door of the household, marking the current year, together with the initials of the three Biblical kings (or wise men):


See the blessing to the left, wirtten in chalk on a door this year 2008.

It is also possible in the course of development of this custom that the initials CMB - always in that order - either initially or subsequently meant Christus mansionem benedicat, which translates generally as "may Christ bless this house".

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Europe's Shared Values are the Values of the West : Heinrich August Winkler in Die Welt : European Union Urgently Needs to Develop a "We-Feeling"

Surely one of the most perspicacious analysts of the European Union is Heinrich August Winkler (German bio, English bio), until March 2007 Professor of Contemporary History at the Humboldt University of Berlin, who has a superb article in the December 27, 2007 issue of Die Welt (online in German).

As written about Professor Winkler by the German Historical Institute:

"Prof. Winkler has been a Kennedy Memorial Fellow at Harvard University; a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., and a fellow of Berlin’s Institute for Advanced Study (Wissenschaftskolleg)."

Winkler is also the author of:

Auf ewig in Hitlers Schatten? Über die Deutschen und ihre Geschichte (Forever In Hitler’s Shadow? Concerning the Germans and Their History, a seminal work unfortunately available only in German);
Germany: The Long Road West (in English by Oxford University Press, 2006) in which author Winkler:

"follows the West’s long path to the division of power, the inalienable rights of humankind, and pluralistic democracy. At the end is a plea to the listener to understand the political culture of the West as “Streitkultur,” as a culture of conflict. Transatlantic controversies about political conclusions, a result of western values, are necessary again and again. It’s really a matter of the interpretation of values that both sides understand as obligatory."

In his "Die Welt" article, which we translate as The Values of Europe are the Values of the West: Why the European Union Urgently Needs to Develop a "We-Feeling", Winkler identifies some of the cardinal problems facing the EU and of Europe generally.
  • Among these problems, and above all is the current lack of a feeling of togetherness in Europe, the lack of a "we-feeling", which is fundamentally necessary for what Winkler calls "Project Europe" to succeed in the long term.
  • Moreover, this lack of a "we-feeling" is being exacerbated by a - too hasty - territorial expansion of the European Union which is proceeding at a faster pace than a corresponding - and absolutely essential - understanding of that expansion by European citizens, not only from a historical perspective, but also in terms of contemporary events and foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future developments. Winkler urges further necessary consolidation of the EU already formed, before any further expansion takes place, since this would only counteract such a consolidation at the present time (see in this regard euro|topics).
  • Winkler also points to the power of the executive in the Europe Union as "taking on a life of its own" as institutions such as the European Commission and the Council of the European Union increasingly dominate EU affairs, to the detriment of the European Parliament and the EU's judicial organs, a phenomenon which Winkler compares to Karl Marx's characterization of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III), under whose rule, as written in the Wikipedia:

    "New constitutional statutes were passed which officially maintained an elected Parliament and reestablished universal male suffrage. However, the Parliament now became irrelevant as real power was completely concentrated in the hands of Louis-Napoléon and his bureaucracy."
It is a direction which the European Union, following the French tradition, also appears in part to be taking under the currently dominant EU executive-based bureaucracy.

Winkler's primary thesis in his Die Welt article is that Europe alone is not "the West", as used in common parlance, but that "the West" transcends Europe and includes not only and especially the transatlantic connection to the United States of America and its modern-era concepts of "representative government", "checks and balances" and "the rule of law", but also extends to lands of the Occident which historically share the West European legal tradition, but who must battle the burden of their periods of previous Byzantine and Osmanic oppression.

Winkler says that the job of "Project Europe" can not be built by the "political class" alone, but that European consolidation can only be achieved if the civil population, the intellectuals, the scientists and the writers/commentators all understand Europe to be their project as well. Indeed, this posting at LawPundit is one small contribution to this effort.

Winkler asks all of those named groups to work to create "a commonly shared European public sphere," which has been identified as follows by publisher Routledge in describing a book edited by John Erik Fossum and Philip R Schlesinger, The European Union and the Public Sphere:

"The European Union is often attacked for its ‘democratic deficit’, namely its deficiencies in representation, transparency and accountability, as well as its lack of popular support. Can these shortcomings be counteracted by the development of a viable European public sphere?

This book assesses the possible formation of a communicative space that might enable and engender the creation of a transnational or a supranational public. The contributors consider the EU’s democratic credentials and how well it communicates, and they also evaluate the major institutions and their links to general publics.

The European Union and the Public Sphere emphasizes a ‘deliberative democratic’ perspective on the public sphere, addressing some key questions:

• What are the prospects for a European public sphere?
• Should we think in terms of the EU having a single public sphere, or are overlapping public spheres a more viable option?
• What do this book’s findings on the question of the public sphere tell us about the EU as a political entity?

Students and scholars of European democracy, political communication, and the politics of institutions will all be greatly interested by this book."

Put into straight language, what Winkler is arguing in his Die Welt article is that it is going to take a massive effort far beyond the EU institutions to get the people of Europe to adopt a "we-feeling" as Europeans, rather than seeing themselves as "nationals" belonging to a loose confederation of largely sovereign States with whom their own State shares some superficial commonalities.

Winkler sees the "shared value system" of "the West" as the primary common ground for the Member States of the European Union. In the last analysis, that is most certainly the glue required to establish a more unified Europe in the long-term. Shared values -- and their effective communication in the European public sphere -- are the key to the future consolidation of Europe. Those shared values also mark the limits of European Union expansion.

Cross-posted to LawPundit.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A Europe of Open Borders as Schengen Zone Expands

Edis Bevan writes at his blog MKNE political information:

"Back in 1945 my mother swam the Elbe to escape the oncoming Soviet army and find refuge in British held territory. Europe was a place of fear.

At midnight today (20 December 2007) the Schengen agreement that allows for free passage –without need of passports- across national frontiers within most of the European Union is extended to include her native Lithuania (and eight other countries including Latvia and Estonia). What an extraordinary contrast in 60-odd years."

As Deutsche Welle and other news sources reported in the second half of December, expanded open borders in Europe in the Schengen Zone have become a reality as nine EU countries became Schengen Zone members on December 21, 2007: Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, joining previous Schengen Zone members Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden, so that there are now 24 Schengen Zone members. In addition, Monaco honors the Schengen Agreement but is not a signatory to it.

This expansion moves the controlled Eastern border of Europe to non-Schengen Zonecountries further East, as shown below in a map linked from (see there for more info), where visas will now become more expensive at the border for the non-EU countries:

When Bulgaria and Romania join the EU and the Schengen Zone, the natural axis of power between East and West will be re-esatablished as the line running at the land bottleneck between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. This natural axis of power was recognized as one of the world's most important borders historically by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., editor, The Dynamics of World Power: A Documentary History of United States Foreign Policy 1945-1973, a five-volume compendium later reprinted in paperback in 10 volumes and available through AbeBooks.

The United Kingdom and Ireland, although they are EU members, are not members of the Schengen Zone, whereas Norway and Iceland are members of the Schengen Zone, but are not members of the EU. The Schengen countries are shown at the following map linked from BBC News Europe:

That results in an interlinked Schengen Zone which looks like the following map, linked from Wikipedia, which has an extensive article on the Schengen Agreement (in the map below, the green areas are Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Bulgaria and Romania, who are not Schengen Zone members yet, but who are scheduled to join in the near future:

Not only EU citizens or travelers from Norway or Iceland but also non-EU travelers can travel freely within the Schengen countries if they obtain a Schengen Visa.

Such a Schengen Visa (issued in various categories) among other thinigs are not required for visitors from North America, Japan, most of South America, Australia, New Zealand. See the European Union visa lists at Wikipedia.

The map below linked from Wikipedia shows the Schengen Visa requirement worldwide:

Dark Blue - EU member states
Light Blue - Special visa-free provisions (Schengen Agreement, OCT or other)
Red - Visa required to enter the EU - annex I countries (negative list)
Green - Visa-free access to the EU for 90 days - annex II countries (positive list)
Grey - Visa-status unknown

Interesting is the unflattering comparison (for North America) of the European Schengen Zone with US-Canada relations (see the comments to that posting).

For some comments about the Schengen expansion, see the blogosphere at:
- Jon Worth's Euroblog - Schengen: it's bad both ways according to the UK media and
Schengen enlargement - let’s start the debate in the UK too and take his EU test at Know the EU the Facebook way
- Colin Ross - Schengen Zone gets bigger (greetinigs to the Midlands)
- Edis Bevan - MKNE political information
- Blog - Richard Corbett MEP - The Tories and Schengen (greetings to Yorkshire)
- Slugger O'Toole - So sign up to Schengen...
- Ordovicius - Schengen Expands (with map)
- Forum Flyer Talk - Issues regarding Issuance of Visas
- CIPE Development Blog - Border-free Europe expands
- No More Passport - Just Pass the Port

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

HAPPY New Year 2008 from EU Pundit : But What is Happiness Around the Globe? Money, Culture, Social Relationships and the Science of Well-Being

We have posted previously about happiness at our blog LawPundit, including Happiness Is ... Living in the Right Country and it has been the subject of other bloggers, such as The Countess, who writes:

"... the Dalai Lama said, "I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness. That is clear. Whether one believes in religion or not, whether one believes in this religion or that religion, we are all seeking something better in life. So, I think, the very motion of our life is toward happiness...""

If we are to believe Daniel Kahneman, via Marginal Revolution, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2002, writing at Edge, then there is a very strong correlation between happiness and wealth (material prosperity), quite contrary to the old saw that money will not make you happy:

"Humans everywhere, from Norway to Sierra Leone, apparently evaluate their life by a common standard of material prosperity, which changes as GDP increases. The implied conclusion, that citizens of different countries do not adapt to their level of prosperity, flies against everything we thought we knew ten years ago. We have been wrong and now we know it. I suppose this means that there is a science of well-being, even if we are not doing it very well."

Seen on a very broad scale, material prosperity is of course important to happiness. People on the brink of starvation or suffering from serious health problems are not going to be as happy as if they were healthy. This is shown by Adrian White's Satisfaction with Life Index (shown at Wikipedia):

"The concept of happiness, or satisfaction with life, is currently a major area of research in economics and psychology, most closely associated with new developments in positive psychology. It has also become a feature in the current political discourse in the UK."

International Ranking (2006)

Rank Country SWL Rank Country SWL
1 Denmark 273.33 90 Japan 206.67
1 Switzerland 273.33 90 Yemen 206.67
3 Austria 260 92 Portugal 203.33
3 Iceland 260 93 Sri Lanka 203.33
5 The Bahamas 256.67 94 Tajikistan 203.33
6 Finland 256.67 95 Vietnam 203.33
7 Sweden 256.67 96 Iran 200
8 Bhutan 253.33 97 Comoros 196.67
9 Brunei 253.33 98 Croatia 196.67
10 Canada 253.33 99 Poland 196.67
11 Ireland 253.33 100 Cape Verde 193.33
12 Luxembourg 253.33 101 Kazakhstan 193.33
13 Costa Rica 250 102 South Korea 193.33
14 Malta 250 103 Madagascar 193.33
15 Netherlands 250 104 Bangladesh 190
16 Antigua and Barbuda 246.67 105 Republic of the Congo 190
17 Malaysia 246.67 106 The Gambia 190
18 New Zealand 246.67 107 Hungary 190
19 Norway 246.67 108 Libya 190
20 Seychelles 246.67 109 South Africa 190
21 Saint Kitts and Nevis 246.67 110 Cambodia 186.67
22 United Arab Emirates 246.67 111 Ecuador 186.67
23 United States 246.67 112 Kenya 186.67
24 Vanuatu 246.67 113 Lebanon 186.67
25 Venezuela 246.67 114 Morocco 186.67
26 Australia 243.33 115 Peru 186.67
27 Barbados 243.33 116 Senegal 186.67
28 Belgium 243.33 117 Bolivia 183.33
29 Dominica 243.33 118 Haiti 183.33
30 Oman 243.33 119 Nepal 183.33
31 Saudi Arabia 243.33 120 Nigeria 183.33
32 Suriname 243.33 121 Tanzania 183.33
33 Bahrain 240 122 Benin 180
34 Colombia 240 123 Botswana 180
35 Germany 240 124 Guinea-Bissau 180
36 Guyana 240 125 India 180
37 Honduras 240 126 Laos 180
38 Kuwait 240 127 Mozambique 180
39 Panama 240 128 Palestinian Authority 180
40 Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 240 129 Slovakia 180
41 United Kingdom 236.67 130 Myanmar 176.67
42 Dominican Republic 233.33 131 Mali 176.67
43 Guatemala 233.33 132 Mauritania 176.67
44 Jamaica 233.33 133 Turkey 176.67
45 Qatar 233.33 134 Algeria 173.33
46 Spain 233.33 135 Equatorial Guinea 173.33
47 Saint Lucia 233.33 136 Romania 173.33
48 Belize 230 137 Bosnia and Herzegovina 170
49 Cyprus 230 138 Cameroon 170
50 Italy 230 139 Estonia 170
51 Mexico 230 140 Guinea 170
52 Samoa 230 141 Jordan 170
53 Singapore 230 142 Syria 170
54 Solomon Islands 230 143 Sierra Leone 166.67
55 Trinidad and Tobago 230 144 Azerbaijan 163.33
56 Argentina 226.67 145 Central African Republic 163.33
57 Fiji 223.33 146 Macedonia 163.33
58 Israel 223.33 147 Togo 163.33
59 Mongolia 223.33 148 Zambia 163.33
60 São Tomé and Príncipe 223.33 149 Angola 160
61 El Salvador 220 150 Djibouti 160
62 France 220 151 Egypt 160
63 Hong Kong 220 152 Burkina Faso 156.67
64 Indonesia 220 153 Ethiopia 156.67
65 Kyrgyzstan 220 154 Latvia 156.67
66 Maldives 220 155 Lithuania 156.67
67 Slovenia 220 156 Uganda 156.67
68 Taiwan 220 157 Albania 153.33
69 East Timor 220 158 Malawi 153.33
70 Tonga 220 159 Chad 150
71 Chile 216.67 160 Côte d'Ivoire 150
72 Grenada 216.67 161 Niger 150
73 Mauritius 216.67 162 Eritrea 146.67
74 Namibia 216.67 163 Rwanda 146.67
75 Paraguay 216.67 164 Bulgaria 143.33
76 Thailand 216.67 165 Lesotho 143.33
77 Czech Republic 213.33 166 Pakistan 143.33
78 Philippines 213.33 167 Russia 143.33
79 Tunisia 213.33 168 Swaziland 140
80 Uzbekistan 213.33 169 Georgia 136.67
81 Brazil 210 170 Belarus 133.33
82 China 210 171 Turkmenistan 133.33
83 Cuba 210 172 Armenia 123.33
84 Greece 210 173 Sudan 120
85 Nicaragua 210 174 Ukraine 120
86 Papua New Guinea 210 175 Moldova 116.67
87 Uruguay 210 176 Democratic Republic of the Congo 110
88 Gabon 206.67 177 Zimbabwe 110
89 Ghana 206.67 178 Burundi 100

Nevertheless, Kahneman's remarks surely oversimplify the issue in thinking that happiness can all be narrowed down to facts and figures, or that happiness would be the same everywhere if everyone had the same material prosperity, which flies in the face of the experience of all of us, that there are many happy people of modest means and many unhappy people of great means.

As Ed Diener and Shigehiro Oishi write in The Nonobvious Social Psychology of Happiness:

"Bradburn (1969), in his classic seminal work on well-being, found that social relationships were one of the strongest correlates of positive emotions.... Newer evidence now suggests that close social relationships are not simply correlates of well-being, but may have causal force.... Many people focus on wealth when they pursue happiness, but research on social relationships suggests that they can be more important than material prosperity to subjective well-being. The word needs to be spread – it is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties, and social support in order to be happy. It is a mistake to value money over social relationships. For instance, we found that students who value money more than love are dissatisfied with their lives...."

Take a look at the happiness quotes found at many pages on the Internet, e.g. Wisdom Quotes.

Our own favorite quotation in this regard is from Abraham Lincoln, because we think that expectations determine happiness on a day to day basis. Abe said (quoted here from Quote World):

"People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be."

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