Happy Easter, Ramadan Mubarak, and Chag Pesach sameach to everyone who is currently celebrating religious festivals. Most of us enjoy the weather and the holidays, or at least the long weekend after the first proper week of period 5. I guess we especially appreciate this weekend because this year we finally do not have to care about Covid regulations anymore. It is still a weird time: the sun is shining, and nature is flourishing in Maastricht giving us an intoxicating feeling of spring fever while we cannot neglect the many alarming events happening these days in Europe and worldwide. In this week’s Sunday summary, I discuss the most important recent happenings and share my thoughts and concerns with you.
This week already started quite eventfully with presidential elections taking place in France last Sunday. Unexpectedly, far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon won over a fifth of the votes while centrist Macron and Le Pen of the French far-right gained 27.8% and 23.2% of the ballots respectively. Since no candidate received more than 50% in the first round of election, the two top candidates will compete in a runoff on April 24. Both now try to take over left-wing Mélenchon-voters, who are known as “politically orphaned” and decisive for the top candidates to win the election. Whether they will succeed in mobilizing this group of voters is questionable, because there is a feeling of anger and frustration towards politics prevalent among French citizens. This sentiment of political antipathy sparked protests at several French universities last week, where students demonstrated that they want “neither Macron nor Le Pen” as a president. I do understand that French people are dissatisfied and tired of politics. Yet, I am concerned about the fact that they feel the same antipathy against “centrist” Macron and Le Pen as a politician from the far-right, who makes use of misanthropic and xenophobic rhetoric and policies thereby seriously threatening European integration. Maybe they must ask themselves: which candidate is the lesser of two evils?
With the Russian offensive in Ukraine for more than 50 days, the notion of European integration and security has experienced a significant shift in the last few weeks. Finland and Sweden undergo a paradigm shift in their neutral and military independent security policies since they now seek to become NATO members. On Monday, the Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer held face-to-face talks with Vladimir Putin as the first Western leader since the beginning of the war in 2022 and confronted him with Ukraine war crimes. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers discussed the Russian military aggression in the Foreign Affairs Council. The EU is not only determined to support Ukraine and its armed forces politically and financially, but it will also support the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor and the Ukrainian prosecutor financially and with staff on-site. Another issue on the agenda was the rising food insecurity in Africa, the Western Balkans, the Middle East, and Latin America caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine. On Saturday, Russia stated that it was giving Ukrainian “militants” and “foreign mercenaries” left in Mariupol a chance to lay down their arms on Sunday, promising that “their lives will be spared”. There were no reports about Ukrainian fighters planning to surrender. By now, the deadline has passed and at the time of writing I receive notifications that Russia destroyed an ammunition factory near Kyiv. After having talked to Putin personally, the Austrian chancellor said, “if you’re asking me whether I am optimistic or pessimistic, I’m rather pessimistic” while describing that Putin has “massively entered into a logic of war”.
Outside of Europe, people also had to deal with several violent events and hatred in the last few days. In Michigan, United States, Patrick Lyoya, a Black man, was shot in the back of his head by a police officer during a routine traffic stop. He sought to detain him, because the license plate of Lyoya’s car did not match the vehicle and they struggled over a stun gun when the officer drew his firearm. After videos of the incident were released, hundreds of demonstrators protested the shooting, called for accountability, and demanded police reform, because #BlackLivesMatter. The officer is on paid leave and under investigation by the Michigan State Police but has not been charged so far. In Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinians clashed at the holy site Aqsa Mosque on Friday, in the morning of the first day of a rare convergence of Ramadan, Easter and Passover. After weeks of escalating tensions in Israel and the occupied West Bank, more than 150 people were injured in clashes between Israeli riot police and Palestinians. I wish people would celebrate their religious festivals in peace together instead of violating and killing each other.
Appearance is deceiving. This week was by no means as happy and holy as I wished it would have been. We are challenged by the events happening around us and we can read about new developments almost every minute. You might think, this Sunday summary was quite pessimistic and frustrating. I think it was realistic and honest. However, we should not discourage ourselves by consuming endlessly news and politics. Take a break, go outside, pick flowers, soak up the sun and charge your batteries this weekend. Surround yourself with people and appreciate company with friends and family after more than two years of pandemic. More than ever, energy, optimism, creativity, and cohesion are needed for facing the challenges ahead of us.