Despite this being a very busy time in the academic year over 40 students took part in our screening of The Great European Disaster Movie on November 25th.
The discussion which followed the film went on for slightly over an hour. We had invited three special guests to reflect on the main ideas of the movie and then answer students’ questions and engage in a debate with them.
The guests were Jozef Batora, associate professor at the Political Science Department and an expert on European integration and international relations, Zuzana Gabrizova, editor-in-chief of the EurActiv.sk webportal, Slovak branch of the European news portal, and Pavol Szalai from the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, who is also working on preparation of the Slovak presidency of the Council of EU and thus could provide some very high level insight.
Batora highlighted that the fact that there has been peace in Europe (meaning the territory constituting the EU not counting therefore the Yugoslavian Wars) for over 60 years now is exceptional in history. Too many people tend to take this for granted without realising that it might be over very quickly, as the film rightly pointed out.
Szalai remarked on the rather pessimistic view taken by the film, observing however that it might be in line with the smaller member states‘ feeling that they have lost control, or lack real participation in the European community.
Gabrizova appreciated the ability of the filmmakers not only to map the issues the EU faced at the time of shooting but also to anticipate some others.
The topic of illegal immigration and the refugee crisis dominated the general discussion. Several participants pointed at the necessity to follow the rules, mainly in regard to Schengen and the asylum process. On the other side of the argument, as some students highlighted, an extraordinary situation such as the refugee crisis might render current rules unfit, and thus making it justifiable not to follow them.
An interesting question came up when summarising all the challenges facing Europe. In the face of issues such as wars and conflicts (Ukraine, Syria), the refugee and euro crisis and so on, isn't the debate on Brexit or the Catalonian referendum a bit of redundant luxury, perhaps not worth paying so much attention to? The contributor explained that while the former crises might have catastrophic consequences and lead to the EU‘s dissolution or implosion, the latter might not change it a lot, e.g. the UK might exist outside the EU structures and still cooperate in many ways like Norway.
The economic crisis was not much discussed, although the film had potential to provoke some good questions. This is most likely due to the fact that, while Slovakia was not hit as hardly as Italy or Spain by that, the current refugee crisis is monopolising the attention of the media and public opinion generally.
The debate ended with the question of whether we can point to Russia as an contributing factor for the amount of refugees flowing to Europe because of its active engagement in Syria. All three panelists agreed that the problem in Syria is mainly caused by internal factors rather than external ones. Szalai highlighted that despite public perceptions the EU is not being inactive in this challenge. However, it is the EU’s tradition to engage much more in diplomacy than military actions, even if the former is far less visible than the latter.
By the end of the discussion the audience seemed to agree on one thing at least, that Europe should really try to do its best to avoid the nightmare scenario presented by The Great European Disaster Movie.
Pavol Babos is an academic in the Dept. of Political Science, Faculty of Arts at Comenius University.
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