"Dispatches from Europe" Blog Contest

Are you planning on traveleling to the European Union this summer? Submit a post to be featured on our Across the Pond blog and win prizes!

Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic Blogs

The third Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class traveled to the Arctic Circle in summer 2014. Check out their blog entries from this summer!

Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

Landscape Architecture Doctoral candidate Caroline Wisler reflects on her travels to Bulgaria.

Zach Grotovsky's Summer 2013: 14 Cities, 15 Weeks, One Long Adventure

University of Illinois graduate student in Germanic Literatures and Languages Zach Grotovsky documents his travels throughout Eastern Europe in the summer of 2013.

Polar Bears

The Environment and Society in a Changing Arctic class spotted polar bears in Norway!

Peaceful Opposition in Izmir

MAEUS student Levi Armlovich describes his experiences with the protests in Izmir, Turkey.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Caroline Wisler on Ringing the Bells at the Banner of Peace

by Caroline Wisler

The central belfry of the Banner of Peace Monument
in Mladost
Early in the fall semester, Stefan, another American Research Center Sofia (ARCS) fellow and doctoral student from the History Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and I spoke about visiting the Banner of Peace Monument, a socialist monument located in Mladost, southeast of the Sofia city center. Not until late November, when I had only a couple days remaining on my visa and on what may have been one of the most uninviting days of soggy grey weather since our arrival in September, did we start in the general direction of the monument. We were unsure of precisely how to get there. At the end of the city bus-line, where we were the only two left on the initially overcrowded bus,
we headed out on foot. We carefully avoided the waves of water surging off the tires of passing vehicles as they sped through ankle-deep puddles when they came and went from the massive shopping centers huddled next to the highway.

Signs in English (above) and in French (below) dedicating
 the monument to children everywhere
The monument was situated centrally in the International Park of Peace, on the top of a small rise just next to the noise and bustle of the highway and commercial center. They both dwarfed the monument’s oddly unassuming 37-meter high central belfry. In 1979, when the monument was first inaugurated, it would have likely appeared more impressive, having greater visibility in the landscape. Now, it appeared defeated and quite forgotten in comparison to the activity of the shopping center nearby. On this day, the only other visitors to the monument were a dog searching for his lunch and a sleeping guard, reclining comfortably in his kiosk. The stairs leading up to the monument looked less like a processional route and more like a staggered foundation struggling to hold the neglected monument upright. Thin, gangly trees obscured the space leading to the belfry and circular enclosure of nearly 100 bells, each representing a country or international organization which contributed to the monument’s creation. As Stefan and I moved counterclockwise around the monument, it became clear that many of the bells had been removed, damaged or defaced in the years since the original Banner of Peace program was discontinued in 1990, perhaps even earlier.

The inauguration of the Banner of Peace Monument marked the occasion of the first International Children’s Assembly “Banner of Peace” in Sofia, which was held in accord with the International Year of the Child designated by UNESCO in 1979. The program was created by Lyudmila Zhivkova and continued after her death, in 1981, until 1990. The motto of the Children’s Assembly program, still visible on the monument, was “unity, creativity and beauty.” It encouraged the peaceful interaction of children from all over the world, but also suggested that all individuals can contribute to peace, upon which the future relies, through the embodiment of this motto.
The circular enclosure of nearly 100 bells, each representing
 a country or international organization
 which contributed to the monument’s creation

The title “Banner of Peace” has further significance, however, and references the Roerich Pact of 1935, signed into law by the United States and the majority of member states of the Pan-American Union. The Pact was intended to protect artistic and scientific institutions as well as cultural monuments, during times of both war and peace.  The Banner of Peace, a white flag with a red circle within which are three red spheres, designated these sites as neutral. Furthermore, for Nicholas Roerich, who attributed the ideas of the Pact, a nation’s cultural heritage was of global significance and had the potential to facilitate unity and peace: cultural heritage has the unique ability to unite despite the differences it may embody. These principles were and continue to be repeated within subsequent international agreements such as The Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954) and in the development of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972).

Sign saying that only children may ring the bells,
 but not too loudly
Despite the principles that the Banner of Peace Monument in Sofia embraces, the bells composing the monument and representing so many of the participating countries and international organizations, are decaying. Some have been stolen and others defaced. Some bells convey sharp hypocrisy: those from the countries of Syria, Cyprus, Colombia, Israel and Yugoslavia, among others, made me consider the events that have occurred in the years intervening the dedication of this monument. A sign at the base of the monument instructs visitors that only children may ring the bells and then, not too loudly. Perhaps this sign is as revealing as the condition of the overlooked monument.

The state of the monument indicates how the process of peace has fluctuated over time. Additionally, it illustrates how the cultural landscape can communicate that which is typically written and spoken of elsewhere. It is this understanding that encourages me to continue looking at cultural landscape as a source of both information and inspiration, in particular for its potential in peace-building efforts. It also suggests the importance of a trans-disciplinary approach, one which was found during my experience at ARCS, where I could consider the landscape from the perspective of my colleagues: a historian, anthropologist, archaeologist, sociologist and classicist, in turn.

Image Credit: Caroline Wisler

This blog was originally posted on the REEEC Center E-News page on September 26, 2013.

Caroline Wisler is a doctoral student in the Department of Landscape Architecture and a FLAS Fellow for Academic Year 2012 – 2013. With the joint support of a Research Fellowship from the American Research Center Sofia (ARCS), Caroline spent the fall semester conducting research on cultural heritage and studying the Serbo-Croatian language in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Zach Grotovsky’s Summer ‘13: 14 Weeks, 15 Cities, One Long Adventure

by Zach Grotovsky

The old and the new: new skyscrapers behind Soviet buildings
After a very long and difficult academic year, summer 2013 could not have started any better. I finished my papers, drove to my dad’s that same night, and was on my flight from Chicago to Warsaw the next morning. From there, I had a long train ride to Kiev waiting for me. With a fair amount of hand movements and confusion, I was able to buy my ticket right on the platform and was soon on my way for a summer in Eastern Europe.

I spent my first month in Ukraine with frequent trips to the grocery store and lots of time at home because of the rain. Since I was staying with somebody, this ended up to be the best way to see what Ukrainians live like on a daily basis. My first meal was homemade meat dumplings called pelmeni. Delicious! My second meal was luckily also homemade pelmeni, but this time it was from a new batch that I
helped make. Although the first batch was decidedly better, I know now that all I need is a little practice with shaping the dumplings and adding the right amount of butter and sour cream. Then, I can almost pass for a real Ukrainian. Since this wasn’t my first time in Kiev, I enjoyed the small things that make it so special even more: the old men and women selling their strawberries on the street corners and the various markets with everything from slippers to fake Chinese iPhones to big 3 liter jars for pickles. Now I can truly say that I feel at home in the city.

From Kiev, I traveled around Ukraine a bit. By far the biggest event for me, however, was my first trip to Russia. Having met some Russian friends in Champaign, it was a perfect opportunity to visit them in the summer, especially since they had plenty of time for visitors during the white nights. We took advantage of the increase in daylight by walking around as tourists and visiting churches, museums, and palaces. Once the sun went down around 2 a.m., we were finally able to watch the bridge opening ceremonies and get some sleep. Of course, the sun was up again at 4 a.m., making sure we wouldn’t miss anything.  After taking a night bus to Moscow, we finally arrived to Liza’s family. The sheer size of Moscow, of the different monuments and buildings, put me in shock. Having read The Master and Margarita, a lifetime dream of mine was to see Red Square. It was very exciting to stroll around Patriarch’s Pond and to come across the sign saying “Never talk to strangers!” We did it regardless. But luckily, there was no giant talking cat anywhere near.

From Moscow, we returned to Kiev, and the next day, I was on my way to Lublin (Poland) for my FLAS Polish classes. I spent seven weeks there traveling to a few cities nearby. Although this second half of summer was less adventurous because I spent the majority of my time studying, my ability to speak Polish greatly increased. The ten to twelve hou
r days at the university exhausted me. So, returning to the US, even if only a day before the new semester started, was a welcome change. Of course, now I miss Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. But these three places are definitely not gone forever.

Photo credit: Zachary Grotovsky

This blog was originally posted on the REEEC Center E-News page on September 17, 2013.

Zachary Grotovsky is a graduate student in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures. He is pursuing an MA in German linguistics and a graduate minor in either European Union Studies or Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies. He caught the “Eastern Europe fever” four years ago when he met some Polish friends, and he has since acquired a profound interest in Ukraine as well. He plans to graduate in May and work somewhere in Eastern Europe, hopefully for the FLEX program as a recruiter in Ukraine.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Brussels: Go for the Study, Stay for the Waffles

by Justin Ostrowski

Brussels was filled with breathtaking architecture
As I checked into the Euroflat Hotel I was still in disbelief of just how close I was to such a powerful entity. I excitedly rode the elevator to my room and, after meeting my roommate for the week, looked out of our (not-so-child friendly) hotel room window to admire the Commission building. 

This was the beginning of my European Union adventure in Brussels, which was much more exciting and stimulating than one would expect. I was inside the belly of the beast hearing of the inner workings of the EU from the people who work there every day, something that a classroom setting can’t quite emulate. Seeing the sights that EU diplomats see, walking the streets that they walk, experiencing the atmosphere that they experience! It’s all quite exciting and eye opening for a first time EU visitor, but it seems mundane and monotonous to the people walking around me, hustling and bustling to their next meeting to solidify trade negotiations with the United States, prepare the bureaucracy for Croatia (their newly added member), or discuss pressing political matters with visiting world leaders.
A view of the European Commission building
from our hotel room window

Although many of the visits we made were intriguing, my favorite was the visit to the European Parliament where we attended a Committee on Foreign Relations meeting with the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament. This meeting clearly demonstrated the day to day interactions of European politicians and showcased some partisan politicking that I didn’t really expect to see in the EU. After the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament finished his speech and the floor was open to EU Parliamentarian questioning, the room was clearly polarized while simultaneously maintaining and air of professionalism. Some members even took the time to criticize the existence of the EU and the significantly underutilized (and mostly unnecessary) location in Strasbourg, France. For someone who has never even been to Washington D.C. or an Illinois State Legislative meeting, this was an invaluable eye opening experience that helped me to solidify my idea of just what happens in these settings.

The Speaker of the Georgian Parliament (far right) addressing members of the EU
And then, of course, there’s Brussels. Cobblestone streets, quaint brick buildings crowded between grandiose neoclassical marvels, and waffles! Waffles big and small with infinite candy, syrup, ice cream, and fruit toppings that will turn your blood into pure sugar. The center of Brussels is dotted with little waffle stands between the tourist shops and seemingly ubiquitous construction, so naturally I visited three of them. After sampling this Belgian tastebud wonderland, I have to say that they were the best waffles I have ever had! Although there are so many things to do and see in Brussels, grabbing a waffle would be on the top of my list of recommendations for anyone visiting the capital of Europe. 

Delicious waffle covered in whipped cream
and chocolate sauce
Unfortunately, I could not stay in Brussels for long. After the study tour, I had to take off for my summer of playing the saxophone in Vienna. I bid farewell to this quaint yet magnificent city, but I will always remember the time I spent there. Whether I was learning about the EU, wandering the streets of Brussels, enjoying the Belgian beer, or just admiring the atmosphere, my EU adventure in Brussels was an amazing experience that will stick with me for the rest of my life.  

Photo credit: Justin Ostrowski

Justin Ostrowski is a senior in Political Science and Economics with a minor in LGBT/Queer Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is a member of the Illinois Student Senate and can frequently be found playing saxophone around Champaign-Urbana. After graduating, he plans to attend graduate school and law school.