Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Europe House’

Pride in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th June, 2014

gay prideThis week, for the first time ever, the LGBTi Pride Rainbow Flag is flying from the facade of Europe House in London’s Smith Square, headquarters of the European Parliament office and European Commission representation. Yesterday afternoon, there was a seminar there on extending LGBT rights in the EU, learning from the UK experience. For once it was good to celebrate an area in which Britain is actually a leader in the European Union. Things are not nearly so advanced in some formerly Communist states of Europe, but the point was interestingly made at the seminar that labour mobility within the EU had helped to alter attitudes in some central and eastern European states radically. Poland is a good case in point; until recently overwhelmingly conserative an often homophobic it has recently liberalised, partly thanks to migrant workers who came to Britain, for example, and for the first time engaged with LGBTi people and later returned home with a different opinion. Alas, in some eastern European states that are not part of the EU the situation is still dire. It was good (but a little depressing) to hear of work being done to help activists in Belarus who have been prevented from setting up a solidarity group. In Russia, the situation is actually regresing, as Putin has led a red-blooded heterosexual counter-offensive as what he decries as gay EU expansionism. Anyway, when Conchita Wurst will lead the London Pride celebrations in Trafalgar Square this Saturday, so those of us living in London will have much to be joyful about,  which should fortify us to help defend the rights of those living in jurisdictions that are not so inclusive.

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Gerald Howson: A Very Polish Affair

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Gerald Howson PolandGerald HowsonIn 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the British photographer Gerald Howson was sent to Poland to take pictures for Queen magazine, in principle to illustrate an article that would be written by a friend of mine (long since deceased), the writer Frank Tuohy, who was then working for the British Council in Warsaw. What Gerald found was a country trying to recover from being marched over, occupied, divided up for centuries and latterly dominated by Soviet Russia. He took his cameras into the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other towns and cities, photographing ordinary people and everyday scenes, deliberately not artfully constructed, almost surreptitiously, though many people realised he was snapping away and were quite unconcerned about it. Frank never wrote his article, as he worried that identifiable people might suffer because of it, and Gerald did not find it easy to place many of his pictures on his return home, as they did not fit into the then popular genres of fashion or glamour. The Polish authorities weren’t too happy, either, asking him where were the pictures of people dancing and being happy (as Gerald says openly now, “there weren’t any!”). Many years later, a former BBC World Service colleague of mine, Bogdan Frymorgen, who was searching for images for a museum of 20th century Polish history, from the layperson’s point of view, went to see Gerald and discovered the treasure trove of black and white images that he had stored in a chest of drawers. The net result is a fascinating exhibition, which has already been shown in Poland but is now in the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Smith Square, London (the HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices in London) until 13 June. There are some stunning images, several of them drawing their power from their very banality, but often with an unspoken deeper message behind, such as the almost deserted but rubble-strewn streets of the Jewish quarter in Krakow or two little boys with cows in a field, with the menacing fence of Auschwitz in the background. Gerald — now in his 90s, but scintillating in conversation, as well as in the historical writings that have occupied his later years — captivated the people present at the exhibition’s London vernissage this evening when he declared that people in Poland in 1959 were just so bored of the Soviets being there. The same cannot be said of him or his work; one can get a good flavour from the following video clip on YouTube: 

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I Feel Slovenia 2014

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th February, 2014

Lake BledPiranSlovenia is one of the smallest member states of the European Union, but also one of the most enthusiastic. It was impressive how, at the time that former Yugoslavia was falling apart, the Slovenians asserted their Central European identity (as opposed to the Western Balkans) and celebrated, rather than lamented, their historic links with Italy and Austria. As a youngster I’d passed through Slovenia several times when it was part of Tito’s Yugo-Communist realm, without stopping, but I first got to know it not all that long after independence when I was invited to attend a workshop organised by the writers’ organisation PEN, in the idyllic surroundings of Lake Bled. Bled really is as picture-postcard perfect as the tourism brochures show, and one can happily walk round the lake for hours. I particularly enjoyed a dinner reception that was offered by our hosts in the rather severe official residence of the late Marshal Tito not so far away. The fact that I worked with an Anglo-Slovenian at BBC Bush House for several years helped to cement the ties, and I remember some very convivial dinners at the residence of one early Slovenian Ambassador in a mock-Spanish villa in New Malden tat ten served as his official residence. Later the country was understandably chuffed at acquiring Embassy premises in Westminster, a very short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and literally round the corner from the then Liberal Democrat HQ in Cowley Street. So it was good this evening to get a taste of that rather slick “I Feel Slovenia” promotion of culture, food and lifestyle once again at the Slovenia Day event at the European Commission/European Parliament’s London representation at Europe House in Smith Square. I’ve never been back to Slovenia since the Bled visit — which did also include a British Council reception for literary folk in Ljubljana — but I am sure I should: to visit Greenwich’s twin town, Maribor, for example, and in particular the jewel of an Adriatic port, Piran — just along the coast from James Joyce’s Trieste. Yes, I can feel those travel juices starting to flow.

Link: http://www.slovenia.si

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Big Brother IS Watching You!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th January, 2014

Big BrotherGus Hosein 2It’s incredibly easy and cheap to spy on people these days — wherever they are. That was the (depressing) core message of the presentation by Gus Hosein, Executive Director of Privacy International at an Association of Europe Journalists (AEJ) UK briefing at Europe House in Westminster this lunchtime. Technology means that just as George Orwell foresaw, Big Brother can and probably does watch all of us all of the time — only Big Brother could be of a variety of nationalities (or none, in the case of multinational corporations), not just those who, elected or not, in principle have a mandate to rule over us. What is more, a very significant proportion of the equipment used in this new surveillance world is manufactured by companies based in the UK. Gus Hosein identified three main areas of concern: (1) “Upstream collection”: for example the way that Google and others have agreed to allow access to electronic traffic by the NSA (US), GCHQ (UK) et al. By tapping into fibre optic cables underseas, they can literally monitor everything we send electronically, and GCHQ-monitored material captured off the coasts of the UK and Cyprus (sic) play an important role in this. (2) “Tailored Access Operations”: effectively, black ops done from a computer terminal which can compromise networks and computers anywhere in the world, through hacking and related techniques. They can, for example, turn on or off the microphone in your mobile phone without you realising. (3) “Sabotage”: the heavy stuff, which introduces “vulnerabilities” into supposedly secure systems. So can anyone have confidence in the security of any transaction by digital means? Alas, no. So who are the “baddies” in our surveillance world? Line up the usual suspects: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Israel — but also the US and the UK. Moreover, British companies have been selling the relevant surveillance technology to regimes such as Egypt and Bahrain (as I know, having been refused entry to Bahrain last time I landed there). So should we be worried? You bet. Particularly now we are in the age of what is known in the trade as “Big Data”, whereby what might appear seemingly innocuous information about us all is stored to make predictions about us (our likely purchases, as well as our beliefs or potential actions) that even we did not realise ourselves. And did you think it was smart to have a high-tech fridge or washing machine? Think again: it could literally be monitoring you and your movements. I asked Gis Hosein about drones, about which I have been quizzed at length on Iranian TV. Do we really need to fear the sophistication of new technology there as well? By now you won’t be surprised by the answer. “Drones can be flying hacking machines,” he replied, “which is what the police and security services would be interested in, more than mere surveillance.”

Links: https://www.privacyinternational.org and http://www.aej-uk.org

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Rethinking European Treasures

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th January, 2014

Tsiaras ParthenonEurope is blessed with myriad iconic historic sites, from the Parthenon in Athens to the leaning tower of Pisa, all instantly recognisable even to people who have never been there. But perhaps because they are so well known and so frequently photographed we tend to take them for granted. However, the US-born Greek artist Philip Tsiaras has deconstructed these and other landmark images by adding extraneous elements, such as stones or brightly coloured confetti, so that we are forced to review what we see with a fresh eye. His prints and photographs are on display until the end of this month at the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Westminster until the end of the month in an exhibition, “European Treasures”, opened last night in the presence of the artist and the Greek Ambassador. As Greece has just taken over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union it was a fitting way of kicking off the gallery’s year. Philip Tsiaras is prolific and works in a variety of media, exhibiting and travelling widely out of his bases in New York and London. He told me at the vernissage that he loves the buzz of London and surprised me by praising the UK government’s decision to impose a £50,000 annual levy on wealthy foreign residents, on the grounds that then they are left alone, whereas in the US the taxman is always digging around trying to find out how much income and wealth the person really has so as to rake in more.

Link: http://www.europe.org.uk/2014/01/08/european-treasures-by-philip-tsiaras/

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Britten in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th December, 2013

European Opera CentreBenjamin BrittenBy happy coincidence this year is both the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten and the 40th anniversary of the UK joining the European Economic Community, now the European Union. So it was an inspired choice of the European Commission’s London representation to merge their traditional Christmas party with a concert featuring music by that very British composer (as well as some more traditional Schubert and Rossini). “Britten in Europe” was a nice tongue-in-cheek pun, a nod in the direction of the Europhobes in UKIP and the right-wing of the Conservative Party (in whose former Central Office the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices are now housed). Some might have thought Margaret Thatcher would be turning in her grave, but they should remember that she endorsed the launch of the European Single Market (at the urging of the Tory British Commissioner, Lord Cockfield). This evening’s recital showed a side to Benjamin Britten that was maybe unfamiliar to many in the audience, for though he was the quintessential British opera composer of the 20th Century he was also, as noted by Philip Reed in his programme notes, a proud European. Thus we were treated to his French folksong arrangements as well as his Irish melodies, and a nod to his love for his home country in “On This Island”. Four young, talented singers from the European Opera Centre performed the works: Hamida Kristoffersen (Norway), Sophie Rennert (Austria), Martin Piskorski (also Austria) and Romanas Kudriasovas (Lithuania). The unobtrusive but brilliant piano accompianement was Daniela Candillari (Slovenia). It wasa pity some of the Little Englanders were not present. Benjamin Britten appreciated the rich diversity of our continent’s  and this evening so did we.

Link: http://www.operaeurope.eu

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Malcolm Rifkind and the Secret Services

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd November, 2013

Malcolm RifkindMI6Until the 1990s there was no parliamentary scrutiny of Britain’s intelligent services; they reported directly to the Prime Minister and in principle were answerable to him alone. That changed with the Intelligence Agencies Act pf 1994, but as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Chairman of the Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, explained at an AEJ UK Section lunch at Europe House, until 2010 MPs could only request information from MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. However, the Coalition Government changed all that; these days the agencies are required to provide information to his parliamentary committee and indeed on Thursday next week, for the first time ever, evidence presented by agents will be televised. The Committee reports to Parliament and the Chairman is elected, rather than appointed by the Prime Minister. Moreover, the operations of the security agencies, which were previously not part of the scrutiny remit now are. Only the most sensitive information with national security implications is withheld or else shared on a strictly confidential basis. In the Q&A session after Sir Malcolm’s presentation I highlighted the anger felt in Germany by revelations that the NSA in the US has been tapping Angela Merkel’s phone for the past decade and asked for an assurance that the UK’s special relationship with America in the intelligence sphere did not mean that we are in on that sort of activity with regard to our allies too. Sir Malcolm expressed surprise that the Americans would do such a thing, given the obvious likelihood of negative diplomatic fallout if, as happened, the bugging came to light, and he felt it should have been a matter for a political decision at the highest level, not an initiative of the US secret services, as seems to have been the case. He also explained the use of “selectors”, which are key words or other indicators which a computer system tracking phone calls or emails will recognise and then sound an alarm; otherwise the mas of traffic is not even read or listened to, he said. He obviously takes a dim view of the way that the Guardian newspaper has used some of the material that came to light because of the work of Edward Snowden but insisted that the intelligence work done was essential, especially in combatting terrorism. As it costs the British taxpayer £2 billion a year it had better be worthwhile.

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Exploration and Art at Europe House

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013

Enge workHamer DoddsEach person can be an explorer. So says the Clipperton Project (TCP), an Arts endeavour which believes that through multidisciplinary initiatives people can use notions of exploration, journey and discovery in order to face some of the great issues of today in a more positive way. In case that all sounds very theoretical, airy-fairy even, works by two Scottish artists who have collaborated with TCP are currently on show at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, headquarters of the London representation of the European Commission and the European Parliament, in Smith Square, Westminster, until 27 September. Enge (Charles Engebretsen) is a young sculptor, originally from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides; inspired by a trip by small boat to the French overseas possession of Clipperton Island, an uninhabited coral atoll in the eastern Pacific, he produced three dimensional visuals in white, using common building materials to emulate natural processes and patterns, some mirroring the coiled traces of lugworms in the sand; he is very much involved in the new Glasgow Sculpture Studios which I hope to visit when I am up there later this week. His co-exhibitor, Hamer Dodds, is a little older, and maybe more settled, residing in Edinburgh, and works two dimensionally, distinctly complex at times with his geometrical, repetitive, forms, echoing the form and function of elements of bioscience and reaching out to grasp aspects of evolution and unity. The opening night tonight drew an eclectic crowd and it is one of those exhibitions whose works at first might seem slight, even superficial, until one surrenders to them and allows oneself to be drawn in.

Link: http://www.clippertonproject.com

[Photos: left - work by Enge; right - Hamer Dodds]

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British Media and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 7th September, 2013

David AaronovitchCatherine BearderCitizens of other European countries who come to live in England are often perplexed by the hysterically anti-EU tone of much of the tabloid Press. It’s been going on for years and continues unabated, lately supplemented by the propaganda drive for a “Brexit”: leaving the European Union as a result of what proponents hope would be a decisive vote in an In-Out referendum, currently envisaged by Mr Cameron’s Conservatives as taking place in 2017 (on the assumption that they will still be in power). This is not the most helpful atmosphere in which to run up to the 2014 European elections, which will take place in the UK on 22 May, the same day as the London borough council elections and many other local contests. So it was timely of Europe House — headquarters of the European Commission Representation and European Parliament London office — to host an event yesterday on the British Media and the EU. Interestingly, though there is no lack of journalists paid by their newspapers to write negative stories about the EU — not least for the Daily Express and Daily Mail — none of them had been able or willing to take part in the event’s two panels, chaired by David Aaronvitch of The Times. So there was a bias in favour of the shocked and dismayed that was equally evident in the large audience. We heard from members of the French and Dutch Press, as well as the Economist, with more political speeches from Catherine Bearder (LibDem MEP for South East England) and Evan Harris (former LibDem MP, representing Hacked Off). I suggested that some of the anti-EU bile produced by the British tabloids was attributable to xenophobia: the insular Little Englander’s contempt for The Other, “them” rather than “us”, Brussels being the ultimate “them”. A young man from YouGov polling agency made the sensible point that whereas a sizable proportion of the British electorate says it does want a referendum and the Outs currently outpoll the Ins, unless there is some sort of renegotiation/reform, Europe is way down the public’s list of priorities. Jobs, the economy, public services etc are much more of concern, and even if the EU is indeed related to the former, the public does not necessarily make the connection.

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Crystal Clear on Language and Literature

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2013

David CrystalWhen I was a boy there were two types of English: British and American. In England there was an attempt to wipe out regional accents and dialects (as a Lancashire lad, I was given elocution lessons, to speak all BBC. Shudder). And in Wales, where I spent a lot of weekends and holidays, there was an attempt to wipe out Welsh too. How times have changed! Over the past four decades or so a whole family of Englishes has developed round the world, from Jamaican to Singlish, and many more in between, and even the BBC these days celebrates regional and ethnic diversity. This subject was inevitably touched on by Professor David Crystal, when he gave the opening lecture to a week of studies for translators and people involved in the publishing industry at Birkbeck College today. I draw heavily on his English as a Global Language (Cambridge University Press, 2003) in the relevant module of my own Humanities course at SOAS, and I have enjoyed watching videos of some of his lectures. So it was a great pleasure to see him perform in the flesh — and perform he does, seated on a high metal backed chair, rather like the 1960s/1970s Irish comedian Dave Allan, sparkling in his fluency, playful and witty. His lecture was entitled “Language -blank- Literature” and he used well-chosen extracts from the works of William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard to illustrate how writers can bend and break the rules of English (having first grounded themselves fully in the language). He naturally also paid homage to James Joyce. I asked him in the Q&A afterwards how he could reconcile precision with intelligibility, citing the jargon of Brussels Euro-speak — an English laden with foreign borrowings and obscure terminology that is alienating to most ordinary Brits. And I say that as someone who is deeply pro-European. Prof Crystal replied that what was needed is something like the Plain English campaign that has resulted positively in the UK in making HMRC and others phrase forms and letters in ways that make sense to any man or woman in the street, more user-friendly. At the reception after the lecture — kindly sponsored by Europe House — he (and therefore subsequently I) was informed that there is such a group or movement already in existence, called “Clarity”. I shall investigate!

Link: http://www.davidcrystal.com

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