Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Viva Sophia!

Old and "new" Europe: I'm on the Tallink ferry, floating Wisconsin Dells/Vegas/cruise ship hotel, from Stockholm, Sweden to Tallinn, Estonia. In the casino/showroom there is a variety show that has the Swedish Henny Youngman without the laughs and a Bulgarian, new Europe, cover band that plays American rock and hopped up Latin numbers both in impeccable English and Spanish. The band is dressed in white and black, lead singer with no underwear, crooning to the hits like Vegas pros of old. They are enthusiastic, sincere and horribly entertaining. The Swedes, Estonians, sole American and Finns love them and dance all night with loads of gusto. At the "English" pub on the ship, the world is also littered with "Irish" ones run by multi-nationals, the Swedes, a sullen race who I have been told only open up under the influence of a 12-pack, are singing Karaoke to Swedish and American tunes with cynicism, irony and drunken debauchery. Both worlds celebrated the current dilemma of Europe, one defiant the other optimistically hoping that the new neo-liberal regime will lift all boats. The problem is, as Thomas Frank has tragically pointed out, we're not in Kansas anymore.

The Swedes are now experiencing something of a social crisis that has been compared to the alienation of US society in the 1970's, of which I was a participant. Middle class, there is no other-I exaggerate, Swedish youth now sport greasy shortish hair, t-shirts and jeans, ride skate boards and are now consumed by the "rebel" culture of glue, grass, graffiti, grunge and hip-hop. Their faith in and vision of Social Democracy seem to be shaken as the Yankee speed up, east and south Asian export boom and European integration challenge their very successful society. This became harshly apparent to me as the Swedes savagely parodied US pop music while with tongue in cheek sang Swedish oldies and newies as the Bulgarians blissfully rocked around the clock. Imagine the Bulgarians or the new North African Scandanavian immigrants at the pub, horrified at the decadence and vulgarity? The Swedes and other elders of Europe were surely the cultural predators, particularly of the underless one.

Europe is at a crossroads. The EU commission has dedicated itself to a contradictory mission of social and capital "harmonization." Meaning that at the same time that they advocate societies of a Social Democratic nature-long vacations, health, workers safety, education and training benefits guaranteed by the state, it also encourages the idea of competition between private and public enterprises that want to maximize profit and "efficiency." This project has run into a major snag as the main proponents of European integration, Germany and France, are now confronting opposition internally and elsewhere in Europe, particularly from trade unions, which has forced them to put the brakes on the service protocol put forward by the EU Commission. The so-called Social Democrat's Schroeder and Blair as well as "conservative" Jacques Chirac are running into a wall of opposition as the EU Commission puts out directives and goals that now say that the service sector of all EU members should now be in one market. Imagine what this means in a project supposedly dedicated to a Social Democratic Europe? This "free" market idea puts workers in countries like Latvia, where I am writing this from, where there is a relatively low wage and benefit package in competition with Swedish workers who enjoy a wage and benefit package rivaled by few. This exact issue has now come to a point with the Swedish workers now fighting the good fight over integration and globalization on the issue of a fellow EU member, Latvia, sending lower endowed (look for reference below) workers to Sweden for a construction contract. This has brought the contraction union with the toughest, roughest, baddest ass class struggle name of all time, BYGGNADS, into a general strike like fever to stop the lowering of their wages in the short term over this contract and the long term vision of a labor market whereby workers from countries with a lower wage and benefit package can work in any country in the Euro zone.

The choices are now very clear for workers of Europe and the rest of the world and they have to have to decide whether they are going to resist the lowering of their social wage or if they want to live the peasantist existence of the Baltic. Where do you want to live workers of Northern Italy, Germany, and Sweden? In the post-industrial slum of Milwaukee and Detroit where capital left without a peep from the working class and where now wages have fallen to Eastern European levels with little safety net or in Norway and Finland where you drink Vodka on break and when you knock up your old lady you both get time off to raise your child as a human being?

4 comments:

Geekbird said...

huh?

anton said...

I'm still working on it geek fucker!

Rafael said...

Putamadre, Sweden? As the social democracy aficiando that I am, i caught myslef reading the Swedish constitution and its 05 budget... On paper Sweden, a non-colonial power seems such an attractive, nonfuckedup place to live. This EU mission worries me too. Its ambitious and the platform for an effecient compromise of class desires and labor rights, wages, benefits, and such, seems at least a decade away--if of course this paradox is attainable. Ill take an aching Pope over Burlosconi's white ass collar any day...Oh the density of the Iberian, Baltic and Scandinavian political scenes...could be a beautiful thing..

Im going through this massive Chavist phase right now. It appears that his social reforms emulate those of say Sweden's but the oil-based initiatives end when the holes go dry...

Cornell, said to be the hardest Ivy to get out of, is slowly kicking my ass, but not really, cuz in the end it isnt a factory at 6 in the morning!!!! I bet you felt really frickin short there in Sweden...

you should read Dave Eggers' _A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius_(the evocative pretentious title should not scare you away, it thrives through its post-modern lines of penetration, fo real) and _You Shall Know Our Velocity_...In the latter a couple guys find there way in Estonia and now that you are there, you can relate with these random middle class gringos (meant in the best way possible of course). Ok, so im a closet comparative government major who is in Lit now hence my normative language when it comes to fiction. Well off to write an essay on Desire...have fun in the ole' soviet union...

Random Black Guy said...

lost me there... but dont forget... swedish white chocolate!
you should write a book about this.