Education Protests: A Minor Uproar in South Africa


Protests seem to be the only way to compel the corrupt government of South Africa under President Zuma to make progress. These protests, however, are not the peaceful Women’s March protests like we have witnessed in America. When there are not enough toilets in a South African Township, citizens resort to throwing poop at expensive cars on the road. When the education systems are too westernized, students resort to burning down their campus library. (Seems pretty contradictory if you ask me).

This last academic year came with a thrash of protests as the public college education system was forced to raise the school fees to keep up with costs. The tricky part? The poor students are very poor, and the rich students are very rich. To put the inequality in perspective, the Gini coefficient for South Africa is 63.38, one of the highest in the world. The United States stands at 41.06 and Mexico stands at 48.21. Battling for educational rights, students will sacrifice eating for a college education. In a country where the poverty rate is so vast, students who fall into poverty and make it to university are expected to support their whole family, feed them, and pay for college. Such expectations are unrealistic and take away from their studies, forcing many of them to have to protest to keep their education.

Protests In Stellenbosch threaten to close University: October 23rd, 2015. Courtesy of reuters/MIke Hutchens. 

  Figure 1

Tuition is high for those that fall in the middle and lower income range and because of the informality of the country, there are not proper finance structures so South African students don’t have easy access to loans, financial aid and scholarship like students in the United States do. A mother working in domestic services would earn about 1500 rand a month. The cost of University can be anywhere between 20,000 rand, or 60,000 rand for the highest level of University education. The earnings of parents in low to middle paying jobs does not sufficiently help pay for tertiary education. In 2011, roughly 45% of the population lived on less than 650 rand a month, or in other terms, below the poverty line.

The academic school year of 2016 began with university students across South Africa interrupting classes, burning school buses, and demanding lower tuition costs less for those that cannot afford it. All students were unsafe at school and several universities shut down including the University of Cape Town, the highest regarded University on the African Continent. Unable to graduate, the next wave of college-educated employees did not have a diploma in hand.

A student from the University of Cape Town, Kyle Manuel of Cape Town, was frustrated in the government’s lack of caring. He said, “There’s definitely no real leadership, since the Zuma regime, politicians have become so obsessed with smearing each others’ names that they’ve become less concerned with the needs of people, especially elderly people and those under the taxable income range.”

The irony is that Zuma’s estate in Cape Town is just two miles from the University property, yet he manages to keeps himself so protected and uninvolved from his angered population. Thus, students across South Africa started the movement #feesmustfall.

When asked about the economic inequality that fueled the #feesmustfall protests, Professor Joe Warren who used to teach cultural studies at Stellenbosch University claimed, ”Training and education policies have failed them.” He believes the issue stems from the government’s lack of healing the repercussions of the apartheid era. He says, “There were several bad decisions at all the levels from primary education all the way to tertiary that have set us back.”

Additionally, because South Africa was a Dutch colony, the education systems are very westernized both regarding teaching style and the usage of white western text. Students are also protesting because they are recognizing that having westernized education and being taught ideas that stem from european history, doesn’t always have its benefits in an African country. Black and Colored South Africans have become very aware of the role western education takes in an African country and have become sensitive to such issues since they were suppressed in the economic and social system for so long. Whites are a minority in South Africa but hold a majority of the wealth. De-westernizing the education systems would be beneficial for school children, as well as university students. Even today, white professors at UCT are still giving lectures about apartheid and the implications of it even though they never fell victim to it.  However, pulling westernized education practices from the education systems is very contradictory because by de-westernizing universities, South Africa could be set apart from the western world; one they never had control over entering into during imperialism. The concept has a lot of pros to it, like helping South Africa become self sufficient, but it also has a lot of cons to it, like keeping South Africa out of the western economic system, one that people argue is very economically strong.

Protests sign fighting to take colonized education out of University: April 21, 2015 Courtsey of The Daily Vox/Raeesa Pather.

Figure 2

South Africa is not the only country negatively affected by westernized education. In our changing world western nations are also impacted by the out-dated form of teaching. Between capitalism, growth of corporations, and lack of diverse education, inequality gaps are growing all over the world. Unfortunately, because of South Africa’s unstable post apartheid government and economy, the country is having several issues progressing into the developed world. Today, white professors are in the majority at all Universities in South Africa. From a recent study done on race of professors among 13 schools in South Africa, 71.4% are white, 9.8% are black, 6.6% are Indian and 3.1% are coloured. In perspective, whites make up 8.4% of the whole population in South Africa. Since white people controlled South Africa’s political and economic structures for so long, changing the demographics of the nation is a slow process. Additionally, the University structure for most classes revolve around text books and lectures. Universities also have “tuts” or tutorials where they meet with an assistant professor once a week to practice what they learn in the lecture and hand in completed work. This kind of education is not very engaging and creates a very competitive and non-integrative atmosphere which strays from the communal habits or ubuntu philosophy of several South African communities and persons.

Joe Warren said, “We need to rethink education, not only in SA, but the world. It needs to be less about accumulation and competition and more about creating active, engaged, ethical, and critically oriented individuals who can contribute in a variety of ways – while also making other forms of jobs more desirable at the same time.”

Protests outside Parliament in Cape Town emphasizing the inequality gap: October 26th 2016. Courtesy of The South Africa Business News/ Kierran Allen Photography

Figure 3

South Africa may in fact be at the forefront of addressing global education issues. Good schools can no longer continue raising fees in an economically unequal society. Western education is not the future to equality as there are several different kinds of educational interactions that can lead someone to be successful. Diversifying education systems may be the solution to global education systems, and South Africa is addressing these questions head on in the phase of an educational crisis.

For now, what’s the solution to South Africa’s closed Universities and rising tuition fees? Kyle Manuel says, “languages need to be looked at to build the nation up educationally since there are several native tongues in South Africa. This language barrier can improve not only general cohesion but also improve other sectors like business and medicine which are still largely English.”

While South Africa’s education systems are walking on a string to stay open, and protests continue violently, the country needs to come together with global education movements to find a sweet spot that will allow opportunity for citizens who are both rich and poor proceed towards the educational opportunities that are present, but inaccessible.



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Hauser, Christine. “‘Fees Must Fall’: Anatomy of the Student Protests in South Africa.”The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 5 Apr. 2017.

Havergal, Chris. “South Africa fears brain drain as campuses remain on edge.”Times Higher Education (THE). N.p., 16 Feb. 2017. Web. 7 Apr. 2017. <>.

Kamanzi, Brian. “#FeesMustFall: Decolonising education.”Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera, 03 Nov. 2016. Web. 5 Apr. 2017. <>.

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Raeesa. “Rhodes Must Fall: The movement after the statue.”The Daily Vox. N.p., 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2017. <>.

Shuttleworth-Jordan, A. B. “On Not Reinventing the Wheel: A Clinical Perspective on Culturally Relevant Test Usage in South Africa.” South African Journal of Psychology 26.2 (1996): 96-102. Sagepub. Web. 5 Apr. 2017. <>.

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Taylor, N. W., Johan Muller, and Penny Vinjevold. Getting schools working: research and systemic school reform in South Africa. Cape Town: Pearson Education South Africa, 2003. Print.

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This is the average salary in South Africa by race and industry




New Zealand Legislation: Providing for Nature’s Rights

“…all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person”  Photo: Whanganui River, Gregory Nettleton

Recent changes to New Zealand legislation has given a river and former national park on the North Island the same legal rights as people. In July of 2014, the Te Urewera Act was passed changing the land’s status from a national park to a legal entity that “has all the rights, powers, duties, and liabilities of a legal person,” as stated in the Act. On March 14th 2017, the Whanganui River system was also afforded the same status as a legal entity under the Te Awa Tupua Bill. Both lands have separate boards set up to act on their behalf and manage them.

Western culture has created a belief that humans and nature are two separate entities and humans have the right to exploit and dominate over nature because it benefits society. As the earth continues to face increased rates of environmental destruction and degradation some countries are stepping up. New Zealand has taken into consideration the beliefs and the world-view of the country’s indigenous people, the Māori. According to Jim Williams, a professor at the University of Otago and member of Ngāi Tahu, the two objectives of this legislation are “Firstly to return rangatiratanga (authority) to the iwi from whom it had been taken; secondly, to ensure that conservation measures are actively pursued by the iwi.”

A Closer Look at Te Urewera

Photo: Mist over Te Urewera, Joannah Doherty

For Tūhoe, the local iwi (tribe), Te Urewera is “their place of origin and return, their homeland” and is part of their culture, language, customs and identity according to the Te Urewera Act. The Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations Minister Christopher Finlayson said that the Tūhoe have “suffered some of the worst breaches by the Crown [government] in the country’s history, involving large scale confiscation, brutal military campaigns targeting Tūhoe settlements, and unjust land purchases.” This Act provides financial and cultural redress to Tūhoe and is a central part of the settlement between Tūhoe and the government. Dr. Jacinta Ruru, a law professor at the University of Otago, stated, “national park lands encase the lived homes of Indigenous peoples. Today, the law reflects a new societal goal that seeks to reconcile with Indigenous peoples for the past wrongs of taking their lands and denying them the very means to be true to themselves, their ancestors, and their grandchildren. National parks have the potential to play an instrumental role in committing to this reconciliation journey.”

Photo: Whanganui River, Gregory Nettleton

The Te Urewera Act has also been influential on the global conservation movement as lawsuits to protect the land can now be brought to court on behalf of the land with no personal harm needed to be involved. The National Parks Act 1980 is a mono-cultural, western method of preserving lands, whereas the Te Urewara Act demonstrates a bi-cultural method of showing the importance of lands for both scientific and cultural reasons.

Previous to the Act, Te Urewera was a national park managed by the Department of Conservation. Now, the land will have the Te Urewera Board that will act on behalf of, and in the name of, Te Urewera. This is the first time a national park has been revoked in New Zealand. The Board will manage the land in a similar way to how it was managed as a national park and take into consideration Tūhoetanga (culture, traditions, and way of life of Tūhoe) and traditional Tūhoe concepts of management. For the first three years the Board will consist of four members appointed by Tūhoe and four appointed by the Minister and the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations. After three years it will consist of six members appointed by Tūhoe and four appointed by the Ministers.

“This is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world.” – Pita Sharples, Former minister of Māori Affairs

A Closer Look at the Whanganui River

Christopher Finlayson, stated that the Te Awa Tupua Billbrings the longest running litigation in New Zealand’s history to an end,” and that “[t]he Whanganui Iwi has fought for recognition of its relationship with the Whanganui River since the 1870’s.” The Whanganui River is the third longest river in New Zealand and hosts one of New Zealand’s Great Walks: a 145km long canoe trip, the Whanganui Journey. Gregory Nettleton, a Canadian who studied abroad in New Zealand in 2016, paddled the Whanganui Journey and said, “the river itself is a pretty cool place! I think it’s [the Act] a really important step towards us respecting our natural environments.” This new Bill recognizes the Māori world view, “E rere kau mai I te Awa nui mai I te Kahui Maunga ki Tangaroa, Ko au te Awa, Ko te Awa ko au: the great River flows from the mountains to the sea, I am the River and the River is me.” Te Awa Tupuna is viewed as an indivisible and living whole that the Whanganui Iwi are connected to and responsible for.

A board was also formed to manage the Whanganui River under the new legal framework. Te Pou Tupua consists of a board of two people, one nominated by the Whanganui Iwi and one by a government minister and their job is to speak for, and act on behalf of Te Awa Tupua. As part of the Bill and settlement claim the New Zealand government made an initial payment of NZ$30 million to establish a trust fund (Te Korotete) and will also contribute NZ$200,000 each year for 20 years for legal costs and costs associated with the management of Te Awa Tupua by the Board.

“The great River flows from the mountains to the sea, I am the River and the River is me.”        

Photo: Whanganui River, Gregory Nettleton

Marama Fox, the Co-leader of the Māori Party, stated to Parliament in his speech about the Te Awa Tupua Bill on March 15th 2017, “this is our tupuna awa, this is our ancestor” referencing the Māori world-view. In an article in the Guardian, Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi, explains this world-view further as “all Māori tribes regard themselves as part of the universe at one with and equal to the mountains, the rivers and the seas.” The Māori world-view differs significantly from a Western view in that Māori are part of the natural world rather than masters of it. According to Jim Williams, “The only opposition [to the legislation] is from that section of society who oppose reparation to Māori.” Tom Brooking, another professor at the University of Otago, stated the management agreement for the two lands empowers Māori much more than anything in New Zealand’s past.

Photo: Trail, Hannah Fake

The former Minister of Māori Affairs, Pita Sharples, stated the settlement “is a profound alternative to the human presumption of sovereignty over the natural world,” and Jacinta Ruru echoed this statement saying, the Act was “undoubtedly legally revolutionary” in New Zealand “and on a world scale” the New York Times reports. Other organizations, including the Earth Law Center have started advocating for the “rights of nature’”. The Earth Law Center states our current laws recognize inherent and inalienable rights of humans because we exist such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They also state that the natural world has inherent rights because it exists but our human laws ignore them and the environmental laws we do have have been inadequate to protect Earth’s natural systems. The natural world is legally treated as property and it has been acceptable to exploit ecosystems for profit.

New Zealand and a few other countries have taken the first steps forward by giving lands and nature rights. For example, in 2008, change to the Ecuadorian Constitution provided inalienable rights to the environment to “exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution,” and allowed individuals to defend these rights in court on behalf of the environment. On March 20th, 2017, just after the Te Awa Tupua Bill was passed, India passed legislation giving two rivers, the Ganges and Yamuna, the same legal rights as people. According to the Guardian, judges cited the Whanganui River as an example for the new Indian legislation. This new decision means that harming or polluting the river will be legally equivalent to harming a person; both rivers are extremely polluted and some stretches have even been determined as dead by scientists. According to Outside, more than 100 communities in the U.S. have enacted some form of legislation that provides for the rights of nature.

“…globally people are more conscious of indigenous people and their rights to land”                  – Tom Brooking

While a few people oppose this new legislation, overall it has been well received and supported on a global scale. Finlayson points out in a Time article that making nature a legal entity is no different than the legal entities of family trusts, companies, or incorporated societies. Shannon Biggs, director of San Francisco-based Movement Rights, said “All of this work outside the United States makes it so much more possible here,” adding, “The future can look like New Zealand. It’s not scary. We’re not talking about shutting down the American dream, we’re actually talking about how do we rebuild it so it’s a viable one that can be shared with future generations. It’s kind of inevitable,” Outside reports.

Photo: Bears Ears National Monument, Rick Browner /AP

Unfortunately, legislation like the Te Urewera Act and The Te Awa Tupua Bill would not pass at the federal level in the United States currently due to the Trump Administration and as Brooking stated, because “powerful vested interests and large corporations like some of the energy groups… would … be less tolerant … judging by what has happened in North Dakota.” The example of Standing Rock is a step backward for the U.S. in protecting the environment and indigenous rights.” However, there is some hope as Peter Pettengill, a Environmental Studies professor at St. Lawrence University said, “a trend we are seeing, is globally people are more conscious of indigenous people and their rights to land.” It is an incremental process, but Bears Ears National Monument, Devils Tower National Monument along with other parks show progress within the U.S. National Park Service of the recognition of Indigenous peoples spiritual and physical rights to land. New Zealand is paving the way in a global movement of protecting indigenous rights and the environment; hopefully, the US and other countries will follow their lead.

“When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” -Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac


Works Cited

Buchanan, Kelly. “New Zealand: Bill Establishing River as Having Own Legal Personality Passed.” Library of Congress: Global Legal Monitor, 14 Mar. 2017, Accessed 28 Mar 2017.

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Geisinger, Alex. “Sustainable Development and the Domination of Nature: Spreading the Seed of the Western Ideology of Nature.” Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review, vol. 27, issue 1, 1999, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

“International Movement.” Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, 2015, Accessed 24 Mar. 2017.

McCarthy, Julie. “Can India’s Sacred but ‘Dead’ Yamuna River be Saved?”, 11 May 2016, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

O’Neil, Devon. “Parks are People Too”, 3 Aug. 2016, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

Orange, Claudia. “Treaty of Waitaingi” Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, 2012, Accessed 1 Apr. 2017

Rousseau, Bryant. “In New Zealand, Lands and Rivers Can Be People (Legally Speaking).” The New York Times, 13 Jul. 2016, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

Roy, Eleanor Ainge. “New Zealand River Granted Same Legal Rights as Human Being” The Guardian, 16 Mar. 2017, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

Ruru, Jacinta. “Tūhoe-Crown Settlement – Te Urewara Act 2014.” Māori Law Review, Oct. 2014, Accessed 20 Mar. 2017.

Safi, Michael. “Ganges and Yamuna Rivers Granted Same Legal Rights as Human Beings” The Guardian, 21 Mar. 2017, Accessed 28 Mar. 2017.

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“London, I love you, but I changed my status to ‘It’s complicated’ for a reason.”

Understanding the Inequality and Gentrification of London    

The Fantasy of London by Author

In our romantic idealization of London, we may see flashes of bright red buses next to Buckingham Palace and fantasize about taking afternoon tea as an everyday occasion.  However, while these presentations of postcard perfection slideshow through our minds, we, non-Londoners, often ignore how difficult it is to really live in London.
Once one ventures past the touristic charm, the constant juxtaposing realities of wealth and poverty in London highlight the inequality present.  All one needs to do is cross the street to encounter a contradiction to the postcard narrative: one that cannot afford to live in the city.  The fact the Borough of Hackney, once one of the poorest areas in Britain, is close to wealthy areas such as Kensington and Chelsea and the Cities of London and Westminster, is not a coincidence.  Londoners may wake up in million dollar homes and walk down the street while they pass those barely making living wage.

Everyday Inequality by Rebecca Vale

Masking the inequality, an addictive intoxication to the city-lifestyle and commercial movement draws so many into the fantasized reality of London.  A man in his mid 40s and a professor of history at London’s Notre Dame program, Keith Surridge, explains this simple love: “I can’t see myself moving because everything I want and have is here in London, and it can’t be got anywhere else. I’ll only move if I win the lottery and can afford to come back regularly!”  However, for Julia Sanderson, a young graduate student in her twenties, living in London is not fueled by this desire: “There’s no way for me to build a real life here, I can’t afford to get on the property ladder and rent is so expensive it makes it hard to put any of my wages aside as savings.”  Surridge and Sanderson’s responses are common examples of the issues many face while living in London.  We all love the energy and culture of a city, but not how much it costs.  So, one’s expectations are reworked to fit the ‘London’ lifestyle mold or force those who cannot keep up with the economic demand to move away. However, as the young and less wealthy move out, what is left of a city that is proving to be more and more difficult to live in?  

Living in a city is always dynamic, and while many areas are under constant change, the areas near central London that were abandoned due to their heavy price demands, are left to redevelopment and gentrification.  The ultra-elite, 5% of the population at the affluent-end of the inequality bracket, move to gentrify and revive neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods once hailed as hosting mosaics of cultural landscapes have ‘revived’ as developers push for taller buildings and larger commercial brands.  The buildings in the City of London that were once not allowed to obstruct St. Paul’s Cathedral’s view of the city have taken obscure measures in order to ‘renew’ the city as they choose slanted building plans that lie on angles and earn them nicknames like the ‘Cheese Grater’ and the ‘Gherkin.’  Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Pizza Express, and a host of other large commercialized brands litter the corners of these ancient streets.  

The City of London, a subsection of London itself, looks painfully uniform and devoid of people living with few remaining past in the borough past the trading hours on the London Stock Exchange.  Once a neighborhood where people of all different backgrounds would converge to trade goods, the City is no longer an active center of diversity, and the skeletons of old buildings are left to the financial and policy elites.  Geographers Danny Dorling and J. Pritchard suggest in their 2010 publication the ultra-elite only move to expand their urban empires and center of financial success.  Thus, in a competitive global city, London is ‘renewed’ into the idealized fantasy of commercialism and material wealth and losses its character and charm as a city.  Therefore, it could be any city in any part of the world with the same brands and architects as the designers.  As social scientist and geographer, Doreen Massey, points out that gentrification mixed with the ever-present inequality and social stratification contest London’s “success” as “the most cosmopolitan place on earth” and “a command and control center in the global economy.”  
An urban and cultural geographer, Dr. Regan Koch, in his thirties, recounts his experience of this movement of artists and affordability when asked which area of London has changed since his initial move from Kansas to London:

Shoreditch. Fifteen years ago, it was a slightly defunct, edgy warehouse district, animated by avant-garde culture. Over the last decade, it became the epicenter of cool East London. Today, that too has passed and it’s defined mass-tourism at night and on weekends, and creative officework by day. I see it gradually settling into a sort of Covent Garden East over the next decade… Trendiness continues to travel East and South in London. Over the past five or so years, places like Dalston and Peckham exploded with new shopping, food, drink and nightlife experiences. But now, neighbourhoods like New Cross, Deptford, Limehouse and Hackney Wick seem to be where social and cultural entrepreneurs are making interesting things happen—so they’re probably ‘next’ in that regard.

Gentrification Forces Shop Owners Out and Major Companies In Brixton, London by Dan Kitwood

Perhaps one of the most tragic instances of gentrification and commercialisation to a neighborhood is London’s Soho.  In some way, every global city has a Soho: an epicentre of art, food, and cultural stimulation.  Alas, Soho has changed from a place where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels could debate capitalism to a sex-center where drag queens are advertised by name and global brands are too numerous to count.  Soho’s atmosphere, something that is rooted in the feelings and emotions that circulate throughout cities, is a center of defined lines that divide tourists and invading gentrification with its forgotten alleys and hidden character.  Soho, so beloved by those who frequent its streets, is losing its charm as the streets that once stayed open until the early hours of the morning give way to 1 am closing times.  As the cafes, pubs, restaurants, brand stores, and other establishments line the streets of main tourist spots, a gentrified lifestyle is consistently supported through the endless stream of shopping bags and creation of ‘new’ restaurants and buildings.  At the same time, the immigrant populations and generations of families, who frequented the streets, can no longer afford to live or work in the area and move further from the center for cheaper housing.  In Soho, the greatest example of this tourist consumer mindset is on Carnaby Street, which was once ‘the center of Swinging London’ where the mod and hippie groups converged in the 1960s.  Today, Carnaby Street is lost to the endless gentrified crowd with no real contributing artistic value.  Carnaby Street might as well be Times Square in New York.  In Kingly Court off of Carnaby Street, three floors offer hugs, restaurants, and yoga and signs are intricately painted to read, “Snap your Dish #KinglyCourt” or “Smile, Laugh, Drink, Gossip, Eat.”  These signs set the tone of a predetermined atmosphere that was designed for a specific type of middle-class gentrified consumer, who seeks development and material comfort in local Starbucks and Pret-A-Mangers. 

Soho’s Carnaby Street 1960s versus Today by Friends of Soho

Soho’s Carnaby Street 1960s versus Today by Simon and His Camera




While many of us love the convenience and classy lattes that invade London’s streets, it is a haunted convenience.  Old neighbors, once so beloved for their atmospheres change to look like every other world city: a Starbucks on every street corner and large corporate industries with limited artistic value.  With the intense inequality and gentrification, central London looks terrifyingly similar to other gentrified neighborhoods across the globe and being in London hardly matters.  The “London” experience is relegated to just being in a city.  In London, a place with such an amazing history that has crossed centuries, survived wars, and been the center of a global empire, it is a painful to see real Londoners move out and mass global companies move in.  London turns into the postcard fantasy and those of us who know how unique and dynamic London can be must say good-bye to the city we once knew and still love.


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Kerr, Joe. “Wallpaper.” City A-Z. By Steve Pile and N. J. Thrift. London: Routledge, 2000. 281-282. Print.

Koch, R., and A. Latham. “Inhabiting Cities, Domesticating Public Space: Making Sense of the Changing Public Life of Contemporary London.”Public Space and the Challenges of  Transformation in Europe (2014): n. pag. Print.

Koch, Regan, and Alan Latham. Cities & Social Change: Encounters with Contemporary Urbanism. By Ronan Paddison and Eugene McCann. London: Sage Publications, 2014. 15-32. Print.

Latham, Alan, Derek McCormack, Kim McNamara, and Donald McNeill. Key Concepts in Urban Geography. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications, 2012. Print. Latham, Alan, Derek McCormack, Kim McNamara, and Donald McNeill. Key Concepts in Urban Geography. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications, 2012. Print.

Lee, Peter, and Peter Townsend. “A Study of Inequality, Low Income, and Unemployment in London 1985-92.” International Labour Review 5/6 4.133 (1994): 579-95.  Business Source Complete [EBSCO]. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. <>.

Lupton, Ruth, Polly Vizard, Amanda Fitzgerald, Alex Freton, Ludovica Gambaro, and Jack Cunliffe. “Prosperity, Poverty, and Inequality in London 2001/01-2010/11.” Social Policy in a Cold Climate (2013): n. pag.Centre of Analysis of Social Exclusion. The London School of Economics and Political Science, July 2013. Web. 19 Sept. 2016. <>.

Massey, Doreen B. World City. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2007. Print.

Mayhew, Susan. “Tourism.” A Dictionary of Geography. 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. N. pag. Print.

The National Staff. “London Shopkeepers forced out as rail company launches ‘gentrification’ sheme.” The National.  23 Aug 2016.

Noble, Will. “How Did Soho Get Its Name?” Londonist. Londonist, 16 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. <>.

Proud, Alex. Inequality is Ruining Britain- so why aren’t we about it more.  The Telegraph. 04 May. 2015.

Savage, Mike, and Niall Cunningham. “The Secret Garden? Elite Metropolitan Geographies in the Contemporary UK.” The Sociological Review 63.2 (2015): 321-48. Wiley Online Journal. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. <>.

Thornbury, Walter. “Soho Square and its neighbourhood.” Old and New London: Volume 3. London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878. 184-196. British History Online. Web. 24 October 2016.

Urry, John. “The Tourist Gaze.” Introduction. The Tourist Gaze. London: Sage Publications, 2002. 1-15. Print.

Zukin, Sharon, Philip Kasinitz, and Xiangming Chen. “Local Shops, Global Street.” Global  Cities, Local Streets: Everyday Diversity from New York to Shanghai. London: Routledge, 2016. 195-206. Print.

What Does the New Danish Government Mean for Denmark’s Welfare State?

Background Leading Up to the New Government

When I studied abroad in Denmark for the Fall 2016 semester, many Danes, from my host parents to my professors to Danish university students, told me that they might have an election during the semester. According to the Danish Constitution, which establishes Denmark as a parliamentary democracy, no government can remain in office with a majority against it. At the time, the government solely consisted of minority party Venstre, also known as the Liberal Party in English. They relied on support from the larger Dansk Folkeparti, or the Danish People’s Party, the Liberal Alliance, and the Conservative People’s Party in order to form a majority in their favor. However, some of the supporting parties disagreed with Venstre’s proposed budget for 2017-2025, making it seem like they could not hold this majority for long. If the budget did not pass, it would have indicated that they no longer had a majority in their favor, making them call an election. The Danes with whom I spoke thought this could be possible.

The last election had occurred on June 18, 2015, resulting in the “blue bloc,” the right-wing political parties, winning a majority in Folketinget, the Danish parliament, over the left-wing “red bloc.” However, no individual blue bloc party held a majority on their own, requiring that the leaders of all parties submit their recommendations for Prime Minister to Queen Margarethe II the following day. Upon these recommendations, the queen mandated Lars Løcke Rasmussen, leader of Venstre, to form a government. However, policy disagreements amongst the other blue bloc parties proved that forming a majority coalition government would not be possible, forcing Rasmussen to form a government with Venstre alone.

Some of these differences would reappear in the 2017-2025 budget proposal. Dansk Folkeparti are a right-wing populist party, in favor of strict border controls, strict immigration policies, and minimal acceptance of refugees. Yet they also prefer a large welfare state and high taxation in order to provide benefits for less fortunate Danes, not unlike their colleagues in the red bloc. They use their preferences for a large welfare state and high taxation to argue against immigration and asylum, stating that immigrants take too much from the welfare state without paying enough back into it. Dansk Folkeparti are the largest party in the blue bloc and second-largest party in Folketinget at 37 members.

Venstre are a moderate classical liberal party, in favor of free markets and low taxation, yet have also recently become more in favor of strict immigration and asylum policies. They are the second-largest party in the blue bloc and third-largest party in Folketinget at 34 members. The Liberal Alliance are a stricter classical liberal party, favoring large tax cuts for both individuals and corporations, free markets, and open borders. They currently have 13 members in Folketinget. The Conservative People’s Party operate from a socially conservative perspective, showing pride for their Christian heritage and state church while still respecting freedom of religion. Economically, they are center-right, believing the government should provide welfare to those in need, free education for all, and a strong national defense, but still keep taxes as low as possible within those constraints. They have six members in Folketinget.

These economic differences led to tensions for the previous government’s budget proposal. Intent on cutting taxes, the Liberal Alliance petitioned the government to reduce the topskat, the tax on those earning 500,000 or more Danish kroner (70,000 USD) per year, by at least 5% for their 2017 to 2025 budget plan. They threatened to withdraw support from the government if Venstre did not meet this demand. However, the Danish People’s Party made a reverse threat, claiming that they would withdraw support from the Venstre government if they cut taxes on the top earners in Denmark.


The New Government

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (center) with leader of the Conservative People’s Party Søren Pape Poulsen (left) and leader of the Liberal Alliance Anders Samuelsen (right) in an image tweeted by the Prime Minister announcing the new “three-leaf clover” government (Image credit:

The politically savvy Danes with whom I spoke took both of these threats with a grain of salt. Annette Rahbek, a 46 year-old and former city official for Venstre, said that without support from either of these two parties, the blue bloc would likely have lost the resulting election. In order to prevent this from happening, Venstre opted to form a new coalition government on November 28, 2016 with the Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party. By inviting the Liberal Alliance into the government, Venstre was able to talk them out of their proposed 5% tax cut for higher incomes. Venstre was also able to reach a compromise with the Danish People’s Party by proposing tax cuts for lower incomes. This was a much more favorable condition for the Danish People’s Party, since it benefitted lower-earning Danes, a demographic for which they are concerned, while still allowing the fiscally conservative blue bloc parties to lower taxes.

The Danish People’s Party, although not part of the new government, have still pledged to support it. The new government also won their favor by increasing funding for the elderly, another demographic for whom they are concerned, as well as tightening their immigration policy. However, Annette predicts the new government will still have to struggle with them given their major economic differences. She says “there is an ideological big difference” between the Danish People’s Party and the parties in the new government, noting that the Danish People’s Party “is in many ways a workers party. Sometimes it seems closer to the Social Democratic Party (the largest and most powerful party in the red bloc)…The government wants less public support for people and lower taxes. DF [Danish People’s Party] wants the state to take better care of everyone.” Although the Danish People’s Party have a few similarities with the parties in the government on social issues, sharing anti-immigration sentiment with Venstre and patriotism with the Conservative People’s Party, the new government formed on account of economic policy as opposed to social policy, leaving the Danish People’s Party out of the loop.

The Future

So far, the new government seems to have been able to quell the Danish People’s Party’s fears that they would cut welfare benefits too much. Their new budget appeals to DF’s platform by pledging 3.4 billion kronor (476 million USD) for the elderly, a 100 million kronor (14 million USD) welfare pool, tougher restrictions on permanent residence for immigrants, and an “emergency brake” policy to deny all asylum seekers at the Danish border in an emergency situation. However, this alliance could start to show hiccups, as the Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party just announced that they intend to cut social welfare payments in order to better incentivize unemployed people to get jobs. This has not yet translated to policy, but it may act as a preview of future internal conflict within the blue bloc.

Works Cited

Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark. Translated by Folketinget. , 1953,

“Danish Government Releases 2017 Budget.” The Copenhagen Post, Nov 18, 2016,

“Denmark PM Strikes Deal to Form New Government.” Deutsche Welle, Nov 27, 2016,

“Denmark’s Rasmussen Takes Power.” The Local, -06-19T10:20:13+02:00, 2015,

“Denmark’s Rasmussen to Form Minority Govt.” Agence France Presse, Jun 21, 2015,

“Government Unveils New 2025 Economic Strategy.” The Copenhagen Post, Aug 30, 2016,

“Here’s what Denmark’s New Budget Means for Foreigners.” The Local, Nov 21, 2016,

“Members in each Party Group.”,

“The Party Program of the Danish People’s Party.”, Oct, 2002,

“Politiske Oplæg.”,

“Rasmussen Begins Govt Negotiations.” The Local, Jun 20, 2015,

Rasmussen, Lars L. Helhedsplan for Et Stærkere Danmark. Translated by Folketinget. , 2016,

“Social Welfare Cuts for Young Unemployed ‘Creates Incentive’: Danish Parties.” The Local, Apr 4, 2017,

“Vores Partiprogram.”,

“Vores Politik.”,

Mind the Gap


Mind the Gap,

I couldn’t wait to get out of the U.S. To get away from the corruption, the bigotry, the red headed, pussy grabbing, slap-in-the-face America. Four months of tea-sipping and pub-crawling and minding the teeny-tiny gap. However, I quickly learned that London was not what I imaged it to be. I could blame Julia Roberts for giving me such high expectations by making Notting Hill look beautiful with the cover of a night sky (and a shirtless Hugh Grant). I could blame the thousands of pictures of Big Ben, all shiny and pretty and exactly the same. I could blame myself for being naive and expecting too much from a city I’ve only ever dreamed about living in. Men in suits, women in “I could never pull that off.”

Everyone’s in a rush. Where are they going? To catch the end of a football game (you know, the one where you kick a ball around a muddy field) or to catch the last tube to zone 4? To my surprise, I wanted to get on the first flight home, back to the comfort and familiarity of home. I’m glad I was stuck there; let me tell you why.

My idealized and romanticized perspective of London was completely gone by the time the coach bus drove out of the Heathrow airport parking lot. The telephone booths were much shorter than I expected, and the buildings much duller. The left side of the road only made me dizzy and the driver relentlessly tailgating didn’t help. It became very apparent that this trip would be nothing like I imagined (because nothing ever is). As my time in London went on, I learned more and more of the city’s imperfections. They were like acne on a teenager: obvious and recurring, only they couldn’t be cured by some magic face wash or even with time. Inequality, poverty, gentrification.

As I sipped my Starbucks Venti Peach Green Tea Lemonade, it became obvious. It was right there in front of my face, as if someone had typed it out for me in 12 point font, times new roman, “avec serif” because it’s easier on the eyes. Don’t romanticize a place if you don’t want your heart broken. Don’t study abroad if you don’t want to learn. I quickly learned that I wasn’t in love with London, which would allow me to really experience the city for its rawness, not this idealized version I had in my head. I decided that if I were going to be living in London for four months, I’d have to take the bad with the good. I surrendered my tourist badge, signed up for a Waitrose shopping card, and began to give London a chance to be the city it really was.

While the romancing of the London I thought I knew quickly faded, I learned to love London in an entirely new way. I learned to not only recognize London’s flaws, but appreciate them. I saw myself incorporated into them, just by being there.

In writings that I did while spending my first month in London, I expressed how privileged I felt, being able to live in the center of the city. I stated “In only the first week of living in London, I spent four times the amount of money I would at home. While I did splurge on extra drinks and tourist extractions, I quickly discovered the high cost of living in London. Walking down the street, I passed at least three homeless people asking for spare change. Spare change that I will drunkenly waste on an extra shot to keep the night going for another twenty minutes. Spare change that I will spend on an extra oyster card because I forgot my other three at the flat in one of the richest neighborhoods of London.

I take a good hard look at myself in the reflection of the mirror that someone cleans for me weekly, and I see it. I see the gap. Even more, I see that I am contributing to the gap.” The gap of inequality and privilege that I was so desperate to get away from, I find myself lounging in it, basking in it, becoming it.

I continued with my writings “At a club I was asked where I am staying. When I referenced Bloomsbury, the stranger got closer, and called me ‘Mrs. Rich girl.’ At first I was a little confused and even more offended. I thought about it. The British stranger sporting the New York Knicks tee-shirt was right. I took out loans for college and I’m here mostly on scholarship, but I am ‘Mrs. Rich girl.’ I am rich in mobility. I am rich in opportunity, and I am rich in centrality. I live in the center of London.” It wasn’t until then that I realized just how big the wealth gap really was.

According to London’s Poverty Profile, London contains the highest proportion (15%) of people in the poorest tenth nationally and the second highest proportion (15%) of people in the richest tenth. Furthermore, the richest tenth of households account for £260 billion of financial wealth in London, whereas the poorest tenth hold more debt than financial assets, having a negative financial wealth amounting to -£1.3 billion. The wealth gap is very apparent by just walking the streets of London, and a relatively small amount of people actually lived the way I did for those four months. If I were a London Citizen, I would have been paying £1900 in rent alone in Russell Square, the neighborhood I lived in. Even with that being said, the cost of housing is only increasing.

Price Increase of Housing in the UK,

I saw the problem of inequality of wealth after only living in London for a few months, so I could only imagine how much it was affecting those who permanently live in London. I decided to reach out to a few of the individuals I encountered while in London to gain some perspective.

Regan Koch, an American Professor who specializes in Urban Geography who has lived in London for the past ten years noted that “Widening inequality is London’s biggest problem. This is compounded by the housing market, in which not enough new homes are being built and the well-off are rewarded for leveraging their money into rental properties. It’s not uncommon for people to spend half of their income or more on rent each month. As a result, a lot of people are really squeezed by the cost of living, which is about housing but also transport and goods.”

From both Koch’s insight and my own observations, it can be quite clear just how big the widening inequality of London really is. For further insight, I reached out to Julia Sanderson, a graduate student in her late twenties, who noted that “there is an extremely high level of inequality with wealth in London. A simple look at the cost of property shows just how crazy things have become. I know many people who have been forced to move out of the city due to being unable to set up a ‘real life’ there.” Sanderson touched upon some important topics in her interview, such as the housing crisis in London, which is causing people to move further and further out of the city as prices of housing only increase. As it can be seen, the wealth and inequality gap effects many of London’s residents.

I never quite understood gentrification until I was in London. Growing up in Schenectady, New York, a sizable but respectively small city, I’ve never lived in a big enough city to realize how much gentrification actually exists. The idea of gentrification is introduced to bring money and livelihood back into a neighborhood. For example, the Westfield Stratford Shopping Centre is part of a large multi-purpose development project called Stratford City. It was “promoted as contributing significantly to the local economy, with the creation of up to 10,000 permanent jobs, including 2,001 jobs going to people in the local area.

However, there are counter-reports of the centre having a significantly negative impact on local businesses due to the significant increase of chain stores.” Gentrification forces lower income individuals out and brings posh, middle-class residents in. Sanderson continued to express her concern about the wealth gap and gentrification by saying that “long term I think the results of gentrification are terrible. For local residents that don’t own their property, the rising rents often force them out, which leads to communities being split up. Small local businesses also struggle to compete with larger chains who follow the money to move into these neighborhoods. New buildings are also constructed to meet supply and demand which changes the aesthetic of a neighborhood. I worry this will result in London losing its character. I worry gentrification is turning London into a sterilized city, without much personality.”

With all of this being said, however, there seems to be very mixed opinions on gentrification and whether or not it was good for a neighborhood and its residents. Sanderson also added that “The general public are against gentrification, but at the same time they want to be able to buy a green juice in their neighborhood or have the convenience of a chain supermarket open 24 hours. I think there’s also the opinion that putting money into a neighborhood can only ever be a good thing, as it will lead to falling crime rates and more investment in the area.” With both positive and negative effects, it can be understood as to why gentrification is such a controversial and highly debated topic.

As for Koch, he feels that gentrification is “causing London to become a less dynamic and exciting city. For many people, it’s a real challenge to find the time, money and space to do interesting, sociable and community-minded things.” However, he also notes that “Many of London’s poorest people are actually quite secure in their housing because of the legacy of social housing that does remain. Where I live in Hackney for example—an area commonly described ‘gentrified’—there’s still a very large number of people in council homes, a form of public or social housing built by local municipalities in the United Kingdom (near 40%)”. Both through examples shared by Sanderson and Koch, along with my own research and observations, it can be seen that gentrification is both a problem and a solution for the increasing wealth and inequality gap in London.

Because of the issues that gentrification causes, specifically the wealth gap, the future of London’s wealth gap is being strongly considered by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan. Khan plans to make Londond “fairer and more equal. He plans to do so by: refusing foreign investors to receive pick of new apartments, giving tax breaks for firms that pay higher wages, and freezing tube fares.

Looking back on my perspectives of London from before I arrived, when I first got there, and while I was living there, it has become easier to pinpoint exactly when my opinions and love for London changed. I went from romanticizing a city that I had never visited, to hating the place I’d spend four months of my freshman year of college, to appreciating the city for what it was: perfectly imperfect, like a second dysfunctional home. In one of my last diary entries from my time in London, I wrote “It’s the last week in this glowing city, and as the Christmas lights go up, my expectations have finally come down. My own personal expectations and wants of ‘the perfect city’ were the exact contributing factors that lead to areas being gentrified in the first place. Sometimes it’s just better for a building to be missing a little paint.”

Mikayla McLean, World’s Most Visited Telephone Booth

Mikayla McLean, Riding the Tube in London

Works Cited

Fenton, Alex. “Gentrification in London: A Progress Report, 2001–2013.” Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (2016): n. pag. July 2016. Web. Apr. 2017.

“Homes for Londoners.” Sadiq Khan. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.

Masey, Anthea. “House Prices in This Zone 2 Hotspot Have Risen More than in Any Other Borough in the past 20 Years.” Homes and Property. N.p., 20 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.

Owen, Jonathan. “Gentrification Pushing Some of the Poorest Members of Society out of Their Homes, Says Study.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.

“This Tube Map Shows the Average Rent Costs near Every Underground Station.” Time Out London. N.p., 29 Sept. 2015. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.

Trust for London and New Policy Institute. “Inequality.” Inequality | Poverty Indicators | London’s Poverty Report. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 Apr. 2017.

European Refugee Crisis: A Closer Look at Denmark

Introduction to the European Refugee Crisis

Since 2015, the refugee, or migrant crisis in Europe has been a top story worldwide. Due to political unrest, poverty, and conflict in areas of Western Asia, South Asia, and Africa predominantly, individuals have been forced to relocate and seek asylum in neighboring countries, with European countries being the most popular. Although migrants have been applying for asylum for several years, applications increased massively in 2015 following the civil war in Syria. During that time, the top five countries of origin of migrants included Syria, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Albania, and Iraq.

This drastic influx created the European refugee crisis, in which countries have been forced to develop new ways to accommodate, each country responding in its own way.

EU/EFTA countries received a total of 1,393,285 applications in 2015 and 308,915 applications in 2016. Germany, the country with the largest influx of migrants, had 179,780 of those applicants, roughly .22% of their population of 80.6 million. Denmark, on the other hand, had 3,035 applicants, approximately .05% of their relatively small population of 5.7 million.

Photograph of refugees in Denmark from 2015 courtesy of PBS

My Experience in Denmark

As I studied abroad in Denmark during the fall of 2016, the crisis was in full force. Thousands of refugees were applying for asylum in my host country, and many were entering, fleeing their homes and hoping to make a better life for themselves among the Danes. While I was aware of the issue and the many challenges European countries faced at the time, I did not come in contact with refugees, nor I did not wholly understand the degree of the crisis. Therefore, I took matters into my own hands, researching and interviewing Danes on the matter. The following piece addresses the way in which Denmark has responded to the crisis from both a governmental and citizen standpoint, and provides viewpoints from interviews with Danish citizens.

Denmark’s Response to the Refugee Crisis

In the most recent news, Denmark is receiving a lot of negative press regarding their responses to the crisis. Denmark, welfare system and all, may have seemed like an extremely attractive destination for those seeking asylum, but that label has quickly tarnished. Among Denmark’s decisions criticized by the public include two new laws. First, a law enacted in January of 2016, enables Danish authorities to confiscate belongings over $1,450 as a means to help settle the debt Denmark undergoes from taking them into their country. The second law increases the reunification process from one to three years, a process that allows migrants to come together with their families.

This shift in Denmark’s attitude is controversial as well as surprising, due to the fact that Denmark has been a home for refugees for many years. In fact, while refugees accounted for about 10 percent of the entire population in 2016, this number has developed over the past several decades as immigrants came to Denmark in search of education, labor opportunities, family reunification, asylum, and due to the EU and EEA rules of free movement. The graph below displays data regarding the number of refugees received by Denmark as well as their country of origin from 1956 to 2014.

Refugees in Denmark from 1956 to 2014 courtesy of Michala Clante Bendixen

Now, while countries such as Germany and Sweden are two other primary destinations, Denmark’s welfare state, which includes free health care, free education, unemployment benefits, and more, would seem particularly attractive. However, another recent change enacted by the Danish government is a 45 percent cut to migrant welfare benefits. One positive aspect of the change is that those who pass an intermediate Danish exam will receive additional financial support. These changes clearly distinguish Denmark’s, specifically the Danish government’s, viewpoint on the crisis: to limit the number of asylum-seekers and provide incentive to those already settled to integrate into the Danish society. One of the key elements of the welfare system, which I learned upon my stay, is that the system only functions properly if everyone is doing their part and contributing equally. Therefore, it seems fitting that they plan to reward individuals for working to integrate properly.

Countries such as Germany and Sweden initially responded to the crisis in a more positive and welcoming way, with Germany accepting over a million refugees in 2015 and Sweden allowing in a high number as well, taking in the greatest number of refugees per capita in 2015. However, Sweden, a fellow Scandinavian country, has been forced to make changes themselves, some of which mirror those of Denmark. For example, Sweden now allows refugees to receive temporary permits only, has further regulated the reunification process, and has increased the number of officers in border control. Sweden has even deported refugees, as they were not able to handle the influx. It seems as though countries who have attempted to be of aid during these desperate times did not understand the degree to which their help would be needed, and are making these changes as both responsive and preventative measures. Despite the criticism Denmark has received, it is evident that other countries are following their lead.

Danish Viewpoints on the Issue: Frederikke

In an interview with Frederikke, a 20 year-old woman from Denmark, we discussed the crisis and several issues that I previously mentioned, such as Denmark’s new laws. I also asked for her personal opinions of the matter. Frederikke is from a town called Roskilde, a suburb of the capital city of Copenhagen. She currently works full-time in Copenhagen, and commutes each day from home in Roskilde.

To begin, I asked Frederikke how, if at all, the refugee crisis in Denmark has impacted her in her daily life. She responded that refugees have come to Denmark and have spread all over the country, typically living in large groups together. She was very up-to-date regarding the crisis, however, she stated that she did not feel the impact of it at all in her daily life. She informed me that her mother Birgitte, however, who works at an international school in Roskilde, has a refugee working with her for three months. The refugee, a Moroccan woman, is studying Danish in order to be able to eventually work in a Danish workplace; Birgitte will help her integrate. Frederikke seemed very positive about her mother’s situation, adding that it is exemplary of the behavior that Danes look for in those relocating to their country; again, they hope that refugees will work to become a part of their society.

When I asked Frederikke her opinions on both refugees and Denmark’s response, she had many positive ideas to share: “I think it’s great that we can help, honestly. I don’t see a bad thing about it, but of course there will be change. I think that it’s great if they want to be a part of Denmark and want to integrate to be one [a Dane]. Not that they have to be the same religiously, they can believe in whatever they want. I just want them to behave nicely.”

When I asked Frederikke her opinions on the new Danish laws, she explained: “The law about seizing jewelry is awful. I’m really embarrassed about being a Danish person after that. It’s such a small amount of money that they can have on them, it’s crazy. I feel like they take some freedom away from them in some way, which is not okay. It’s kind of sad actually.” This was clearly a topic that Frederikke was familiar with and had strong feelings towards. Denmark is currently being portrayed as an unaccepting country due to the new laws instilled to limit the number of incoming refugees.

“We need to take care of the people that are here now so that they can be integrated in a good way; Denmark needs to function at the same time.”

Finally, I asked Frederikke her thoughts on the difference in responses by Denmark and neighboring countries such as Germany and Sweden. “I know that Germany has been taking a lot of them [refugees] in but at the same time, Denmark is so small in comparison. Proportionately, it could look more similar.” As a follow-up prompt, I asked whether she thinks it is right to increase border control and limit the number of incoming refugees, to which she replied “I don’t think that we can let everybody get in here. We need to take care of the people that are here now so that they can be integrated in a good way; Denmark needs to function at the same time.”

Photograph of Frederikke from December, 2015 courtesy of Facebook

Danish Viewpoints on the Issue: Birgitte and Henrik

In an interview with Frederikke’s parents, Henrik and Birgitte, both in their mid 50’s, we discussed similar issues. First, I started with an open-ended question regarding their attitudes towards the refugee crisis. They responded that at the moment, it is not as big as a problem in Denmark as it is in other regions such as Southern Europe. They accept the way that Denmark has responded to the crisis as a whole, but consider Danes who will not accept refugees nor help to pay to take care of them to be wrong. They also explained that the refugee crisis has sparked much debate in Denmark and discussion in the public and the media between political parties. However, similar to Frederikke’s response, they added that it is not a problem in their daily lives in Roskilde.

Throughout the interview, I sensed a common theme in their views: Denmark does not have any problems due to the crisis regarding issues such as crime rates, quality of governmental services, and threats to the monocultural society, for example. But, that being said, Birgitte and Henrik explained that if there was another large influx of refugees in a short period of time, there would be problems because Denmark is such a small country and would not be able to function properly.

Photograph of Birgitte and Henrik taken by the author on September 4, 2016

In summary, despite the criticism Denmark has received for their actions, it is evident that some changes were essential in order to handle the influx of migrants. Denmark has demonstrated that they are a welcoming country, but their priority as of now is to amalgamate those migrants who are already there, and to limit the number of incoming refugees in order to keep their country functioning harmoniously.


Works Cited

Bendixen, Michala Clante. “How many refugees have Denmark received over the years and where did they come from?” N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Apr. 2017.

Delman, Edward. “How Not to Welcome Refugees.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 27 Jan. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Duxbury, Charles. “Denmark Approves Law to Seize Migrants’ Assets.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 26 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

Duxbury, Charles. “Sweden and Denmark Step Up Border Controls in Bid to Slow Flow of Migrants.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, 04 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

“European migrant crisis.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Apr. 2017. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

“Immigration to Denmark.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2017. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

Kirchick, James. “In Defense of Denmark.” Foreign Policy. N.p., 20 May 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

The Local. “Denmark enacts cuts to refugee benefits.” The Local . N.p., 26 Aug. 2015. Web. 2 Apr. 2017.

“Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts.” BBC News. BBC, 04 Mar. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

Mohdin, Aamna. “The most refugee-friendly country in Europe is growing weary.” Quartz. Quartz, 06 Sept. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

“Moving Europe Beyond Crisis.” N.p., 01 Dec. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

“Welfare.” Welfare -The official website of Denmark. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Witte, Griff, and Anthony Faiola. “Even Europe’s humanitarian superpower is turning its back on refugees.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 30 Dec. 2015. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

Worldometers. “Denmark Population (LIVE).” Denmark Population (2017) – Worldometers. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

Worldometers. “Germany Population (LIVE).” Germany Population (2017) – Worldometers. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2017.

Mixed Media


This image was captured by It reveals the numerous options that citizens in England are exposed to when deciding on a media publication to read.

Mixed Media

Leading up to Thursday June 23rd, 2016, the citizens of the United Kingdom were bombarded with media coverage urging people to vote on the Brexit referendum. On one newsstand, a typical Londoner was presented with around eight different types of publications. The main purpose of the writers and politicians was to try and convince the passing citizen to vote in the Referendum. It was extremely hard for anyone to find a newspaper that did not swing for one side or another, and instead have a neutral opinion.

The arguments that individual publications made greatly impacted the final decisions a citizen made. The areas where people lived tended to promote certain large media conglomerates. The more rural the city or town, the more likely conservative papers will be sold. Consequantially, London would receive more choice in progressive, left-wing publications. The majority of UK citizens were presented with ideas of Brexit instead of the facts. This caused voters to be manipulated to vote a certain way. This stratification of voting can statistically be seen in places like the City of London and in more rural areas like Stoke-on-Trent. The City of London voted 75.3% to remain, while Stoke-on-Trent voted 69.4% in favor of Brexit. What kind of news sources were areas presented, and why did they cause such a difference in results?

First, the question of what “Brexit” is needs to be addressed and defined. Brexit is a referendum that was presented to determine whether or not the UK should stay within the European Union or leave. It was held as a referendum so all the citizens of the UK could freely vote on the decision. The left-leaning parties backed the opposition against Brexit, while some right-wing parties strongly argued for Brexit. At the time, David Cameron was the Prime Minister and actively advocated against Brexit urging the citizens of the UK not to vote in favor of Brexit. Interestingly, Cameron was the main leader of the Conservative party, many people assumed the right-wing party would advocate for Brexit. It was the more extreme right-wing party known as the UK Independence Party, or UKIP. The United Kingdom Independence Party, (UKIP) backed by Nigel Farage, said Brexit would be similar to an “Independence Day” for the UK. On Thursday June 23rd, 2016, Cameron actively stepped down as Prime Minister because the final results of the referendum pointed towards a Brexit. This illuminated how even active government officials voiced their varied opinions to UK citizens, making Brexit even harder for the people to comprehend. This polarizing discussion on how to vote, whether to leave or stay, trickled down into mainstream media and into the commonly bought newspapers.

The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Daily Express all actively

Jack Sommers posted this picture for his Huffington Post article. This picture shows the more aggressive techniques for grabbing citizens attentions. The publication uses the British flag within the text to show a sense of nationalism. It invokes a sense of national pride that citizens enjoy.

supported the decision for Brexit. All four of these newspapers

This picture is of the front page of “The Times”. It was captured by Laura Silver, a writer for the website Buzzfeed. The image uses less aggressive tactics. They use plain black and white font and use simple and straightforward headlines.

were considered “conservative” and during the time of the Brexit debate never once stopped arguing for the referendum. The Telegraph stated that “we are not harking back to a Britannic golden age lost in the mists of time but looking forward to a new beginning for our country.” The newspaper argued that to be a global power once more that the UK needed to break free and be able to be in charge of their own change. The Daily Mail had their own version of Brexit indicating that the UK had already had a “natural” Brexit around 450,000 years ago. They argued that when the UK broke away from the other states of Europe, naturally, it was hinting that they should be their own entity. Furthermore, it is only natural and appropriate that now they need to reinforce what mother nature has already started. Moreover, The Sun tried to use similar “eye-catching” tactics for the consumers by creating a motto that called citizens to “beLEAVE in Britain” and vote to Brexit. The article then goes onto to discuss how Brussels had formed a dictatorship that is strangling the UK from developing into a global superpower. The Daily Express only added further claims that the European Union caused more harm than foul. The paper exclaimed that in order to get their “democracy back” then they would need their borders back. Furthermore, it states that England was in a “disaster zone” by staying with the European Union. Certain aspects of the European Union, like the eurozone crisis, has put England directly in harms way. These four papers are circulated throughout the UK and are free to be purchased by anyone. Based on the polling statistics presented, it is evident that people in places, like Stoke-on-trent, tend to buy more of these publications because of the majority outcome of their vote.

The other four main newspapers are The Financial Times, The Times, The Guardian, and The Daily Mirror. They all write to favor left-leaning opinions and parties. In London with, 75.3 percent of the population voted to remain, it is indisputable that the majority of the population votes for the Liberal Democrats or Socialist party. The City of London’s demographics show that even though there is a population of 45 percent of White British, there is a high percentage of other races. Alone, Indian or Black African population make-up 7 percent of London’s population. The Financial Times directly argues against the other arguments put forward by the right-wing newspapers. They state that the UK now holds no power and Brussels is now in control of Europe and the fate of England. This is because Brussels is now in charge of the process of England exiting the European Union. This means they have the power to strip England of some very important foreign trade regulations and transactions. Similarly, The Times, The Guardian, and the Daily Mirror argue the same message that now the UK is stuck in limbo as the European Union has complete control. Interestingly, there are less articles that are purposely made to try and grab the attention of the common citizen. The Headlines from the right-leaning, Brexit-opposing newspapers, never restrained themselves, eschewing sensitivity. In the face of all these newspapers, where does the common citizen of UK stand? Is this type of media coverage more beneficial or less?

A 50-year-old interior designer who happened to be my host-mother said, “I feel that we were not given correct information from the other side to make an educated judgement.” Even though both sides presented their case she still feels like part of the story was missing because there was no neutral news source. Another Londoner stated that he seems “to live in a London bubble” because everyone he knows voted against Brexit. As I discussed earlier, this makes sense that he feels that way because more people in London would buy the newspapers advocating against Brexit. Lastly, a young graduate student mentioned that she had noticed the shift of attitudes in London versus in the countryside. She agreed that London had played an influential role on the fact that she voted against Brexit by saying that she was probably influenced by “the fact that I live in London.” Citizens understand that they were directly affected by the media that was presented to them. Interestingly, they allowed themselves to be affected and did not try to look at outside sources. Both the interior designer and graduate student understand they were influenced, but brushed it off because they thought it’s was okay since everyone else was.

After researching the different articles and comparing it to the results of Brexit it is clear that news sources target certain areas and demographics. In London, the newspapers are less aggressive and this seems to cause more left-leaning people to purchase the papers. Outside of London, in the countryside, headlines look like they are used to attract the right-wing workers. Both tactics used by the newspapers seemed worked as there was a clear divide in the votes on the Brexit Referendum. It is clear that something needs to be enforced so this kind of media manipulation cannot be recreated for the next referendum.



Baker, Neal, and The Sun. “We Urge Our Readers to BeLEAVE in Britain and Vote to Quit the EU on June 23.” The Sun. N.p., 04 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Bennett, Asa. “Here’s Where Britain’s Newspapers Stand on the EU Referendum.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 21 June 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

“Brexit: David Cameron to Quit after UK Votes to Leave EU.” BBC News. BBC, 24 June 2016. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

“Brussels Takes Back Control of Brexit.” The Financial Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

“EU Referendum Results.” BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

“Guide to the Main British Political Parties.” About Britain. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

Mailonline, Daisy Dunne For. “The Original Brexit! Revealed, the Incredible Megafloods Which Created the White Cliffs of Dover and First Cut Britain off from France.” Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 04 Apr. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

“News Analysis.” E-mail interview. 7 Mar. 2017.

“NIGEL FARAGE: Why We Must Vote LEAVE in the EU Referendum.”, 21 June 2016. Web. 26 Apr. 2017.

“The UK Conservative Party.” N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.

Trust for London and New Policy Institute. “London’s Population by Ethnicity.” London’s Poverty Profile. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

“UK Polling Report.” UK Polling Report. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.
Wheeler, Alex Hunt & Brian. “Brexit: All You Need to Know about the UK Leaving the EU.” BBC News. BBC, 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 04 Apr. 2017.


The Election goes Down Under


Late Wednesday afternoon at about 4pm AEDT on November 9, 2016 I found myself standing in the middle of the James Cook University Gym when I heard Donald Trump was deemed the new Presidential Elect of 2016. With my jaw dropped and eyes glued to the television, no one else in the room around me would require me to speak to hear the sound of my accent to know where I was from. But from then on, I was tempted to say “Canada.”

Now finalized, this election had altered my experience in Australia. Before traveling abroad in the fall of 2016, it felt as if everyone had repeatedly told me to stay away from taboo topics, especially American politics. Not because I normally discuss topics like politics in my day-to-day life, but because everyone in the world would have an opinion due to it’s global media coverage.

Clint Vernieu, a retired US Military Officer now residing in Australia, “prefer[s] to distance [himself] from the circus and absolute embarrassment that the United State’s politics has become.” This was a method I was trying to emulate myself.

While many American students around me chose to follow our home country’s politics closely and vocally, I instead chose to subscribe to the CNN app to receive notifications of headline stories as a way to follow news events throughout the world at my own pace, in private.

However, on Monday morning, November 7, 2016, this changed. I was abruptly aware that I had never received my absentee ballot in the mail, and the Election Day was suddenly “tomorrow” in the United States.

In the next two days, political discussions arose on our campus. Australians began to share their voices, despite the fact that they couldn’t vote themselves.

“I don’t really understand why everyone [was] so against Clinton,” 20 year old extroverted Australian student, Paige, expressed. Willing to admit that she is “maybe” less informed about the situation than others, Paige continued to say, “ The worst things I heard people say about her were related to Benghazi and that she was a liar, but isn’t every politician a liar anyway?”

The Benghazi tragedy, which took place on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, Libya, that Paige was referring to, was a scandal which resulted in the lost of four American citizens. During the time of the attack, Hillary Clinton held office serving as Secretary of State. Disputes and allegations have been made over her knowledge of the situation and means of prevention. Despite these accusations, the rumors appeared to be a “concerted effort by Republicans to hurt her upcoming candidacy,” according to an article published by Mic Network.

Regardless of rumors, Clinton’s Australian supporters never appeared to lose faith. Five supporters even traveled across the globe to volunteer in Clinton’s campaign; these Australian citizens, strong supporters of “Making America Australian again” traveled to the United States for their a second time to help campaign for Hillary Clinton.

Making a pun out of Trump’s campaign, the Australian supporters’ goals were aimed at getting as many Americans involved in the electoral process as they could. They believed their efforts in crossing the ocean to meet American voters face-to-face would help display the importance in participation in the upcoming election and help voters gain a better understanding for the various communities that the election would affect. One of the supporters, Stephen Donnelly, said, “other than a slight accent barrier, people are either intrigued by their presence or simply “too busy to notice.”

Australian Clinton Supporters in the United States

Photo courtesy of Shachar Peled,  CNN:

Maria, a more politically informed friend, did not talk much about Clinton, but instead about Bernie Sanders. Maria is currently living in Australia as a dual citizen of Australia and the United States, and spent about five years in American public schooling systems, which allows her to offer a uniquely global perspective.

“If I were given the chance to vote for anyone, I would have voted for Bernie Sanders.” Her reasoning is that Bernie Sanders cares about people and that he genuinely believes his political ideas reflect such.

Wishing she could change Bernie Sanders to be the new Presidential Elect of 2016, Maria says, “I’ve tried to shift my thoughts away from Donald Trump and focus them more on how I can play a role in ensuring his political views cause the least amount of damage. I would urge everyone to do the same.”

For some voters, making the switch from Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton was not an unreasonable request; if against Trump to begin with, then stay against him. Other voters found this tactic to be one of dishonor to their loyalty to Bernie with comments suggesting no changes in allegiances will take place regardless of the general election results, referred to by The Atlantic as “The ‘Never Clinton’ Campaign.

Although there was some debate for the Democratic candidate, nearly all students in my university had strong emotions against Donald Trump. However, according to South China’s Morning Post, it depends whom and when you ask.

Daily Mail features a story completely opposite to my encounters, stating that “At the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, people were seen posing with life-sized cutouts of the candidates, with one lady even kissing Trump on the cheek.”

This does not, of course, cause much of a surprise taking into account that the Daily Mail newspaper is owned by the one and only, Rupert Murdoch. Two billionaires engaged in friendship (or maybe a mutual alliance), the duo is one considered to be a “relationship with benefits,” with a collaboration in business and politics as described by David Folkenflik in an NPR article.

A woman kisses a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney

Photographed by Freya Noble from Daily Mail Australia:

Not much farther south from Sydney, Melbourne exploded with similar reactions and happy spirits supporting Donald Trump, according to The Guardian.

To my surprise, I quickly learned that I would not be able to escape this election and avoid the political circus. It was everywhere. Falling in the middle of final exams while I was abroad, media about the election commanded every television in every building on campus.

Being in a different country, I fell into the trap that many foreigners experience while abroad. I had distanced myself from my home country for five months and in turn became a foreigner to the United States as I diffused into the Australian lifestyle.

Paige declared, “To me, and many people I know, Donald Trump as a presidential candidate was laughable.” In the same mindset as Paige, I too joked to my parents about this very serious matter. I repeatedly told my parents, “if a certain so and so becomes a president, I don’t believe I will be able to return home and be in a healthy mental state.” Quite simply, if the election results proved to have Trump the winner, then it was another sign from the universe I should not leave Australia. I ultimately started my own personal campaign, ‘Mom… Dad… I’m with Australia.’

I had never comprehended how interested the rest of the world was with America’s actions. While I had been living in Australia, I had a limited understanding of Australian politics and lacked any real understanding of my own country’s politics near the end of my time abroad.

Perhaps the Australians were mimicking their own frustrations when discussing the American election due to the latest Australian election, which was also stressful for many citizens. Australia too had its very own tight election, which resulted in Malcolm Turnbull, a Liberal member of the House of Representatives, as the re-elect Prime Minister.

However, starting from the process of voting, Australian elections vastly differ from any American elections. The Australian voting system allows for the use of the first-past-the-post system, where electors are only allowed to mark the candidates in their order of preference, so their vote will carry on to their next preferred candidate if their first choice is not elected.

In Australia, all eligible voters are required to vote. Voting always takes place on a July Saturday and the polls are open 8am-6pm. Additionally, citizens are allowed to vote early if they unable to make it to the center. In each voting center two ballot papers are given: a green one for local representatives in the House of Representatives and a white one for state representatives in the Senate. Furthermore, the voting system is universal throughout Australia and doesn’t vary from place to place like it does in the United States. In comparison to the U.S., it is said the voting process in Australia is much easier.

As an extra incentive, when one shows up to vote in Australia they are rewarded and served a grilled sausage. On the other hand, if one fails to vote, a fine is given. But, as my university friend Aimie said when she opened her fine of less than a $100, it was surprisingly cheap.

As Paige often said, the American election was more of a “wait and see,” thus leaving me to realize that I was not the only one unaware of the extreme effects the election would ultimately have on the Australian culture.

Maria, on the other hand, was more versed on predicting the direct impacts of the Trump administration headed for Australia. Her fears focused on the resettlement of refugees, with Donald Trump’s proposed policies expected to cause increased pressure on refugee-hosting countries, such as Australia.

Election day quickly turned from a passive “wait and see” to a collection of social media posts, an explosion of messages, and a stomach of butterflies haunting me throughout the day. The time at which the election results would be released crept up quickly, but the day seemed to last forever.

In order to avoid the ‘circus’ I isolated myself to the best of my abilities as I turned off my phone, stayed away from social media, and tried not to watch the polls. Nonetheless, the election was going to happen whether or not I watched the play by play of each minute that ticked by.

On that day, strangers knew where I was from. They knew that I was from the United States by the mere look on my face. It was an unfathomable thought that consumed all other thoughts, for days. It was not just me that this thought consumed, though. It wasn’t even exclusive to just the thoughts of other American students. The election now consumed the thoughts of citizens globally.

This I now knew.


Works Cited

Bernie Sanders. Friends of Bernie Sanders, Accessed 03 April 2017

Bowden, Ebony. “US election 2016: Australia’s TV networks gear up for biggest coverage yet.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 8 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Bump, Phillip. “90 percent of unwavering Sanders supporters plan to vote for Clinton in November.” The Washington Post, 25 July 2016, Accessed 24 April 2017

Burey, Paige. “Here are the questions!” Received by Meghan Oram, 15 February 2017.

“Canada’s immigration website crashes during US vote.” BBC News, 09 November 2016, Accessed 03 April 2017

Clark, Helen. “Australian’s View of President Trump: Depends when you ask.” South China Morning Post, 09 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017 Cable News Network, 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Folkenflik, David. “Murdoch and Trump, An Alliance of Mutual Interest.” NPR, 14 March 2017, Accessed 24 April 2017

Foran, Clare. “The ‘Never Clinton’ Campaign,” The Atlantic, 05 May 2016, Accessed 24 April 2017

“How the U.S. refugee vetting and resettlement process really works,”, 24 March 2017, Accessed 24 April 2017

Keany, Francis. “US election: What Australian politicians have to say about Donald Trump an Hillary Clinton.” ABC News, 08 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Keneally, Kristina. “Australia’s guide to the US election: everything you need to know.” The Guardian, 07 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

King, Georgia Frances. “Lucky! In Australia, voters are served sausages as a reward for waiting in line on election day.” Quartz, 08 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Marsh, Peter. “US election: How does voting in America compare to Australia.” ABC News, 03 November 2016, Accessed 03 April 2017

Martino, Matt. “US election: How the 2016 Australian election would have looked under US voting rules.” ABC News, 06 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

“Meet Malcolm,” Accessed 24 April 2017

Noble, Freya. “Donald Trump fans go wild and Hillary Clinton supporters break down in tears in Australia as thousands follow the US presidential election Down Under.” Daily Mail, 08 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Peled, Shachar. “These Australians crossed the ocean to knock on doors for Hillary Clinton.” CNN, 04 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Ross, Janell, “The Benghazi controversy, explained by 7 numbers.” The Washington Post, 22 October 2015, Accessed 03 April 2017

Salisbury, Lauren. “This is what it’s Like to Be an American Abroad During the Elections.”, 03 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Sankin, Aaron. “Bernie Sanders vs. Hillary Clinton: Where they stand on the big 2016 issues.” The Daily Dot, 01 Mar 2016, Accessed 03 April 2017

Surrey, Miles. “Hillary Clinton’s Role in Benghazi: What you need to know” Mic Network, n.d., Accessed 31 March 2017

Verneiu, Clint. “FW: Here are the questions!” Received by Meghan Oram, 28 March 2017

Verneiu, Maria. “Here are the questions!” Received by Meghan Oram, 15 February 2017

Wahlquist, Calla. “Melbourne pro-Trump rally outnumbered by police and counter-protesters.” The Guardian, 20 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Winsor, Ben. “Trump has won: Here’s what that means for Australia.” SBS News, 10 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017








Italian Referendum: Can it Fix the Country’s Issues?

After an unexpected vote that defeated Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s referendum, he resigned. Renzi had sent a bill to Parliament proposing a change to the lawmaking process. The decision was then left to the citizens of the Republic of Italy.

Photo of Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzi credit to: The Commentator

The Italian government is organized similarly to the United States government. The President is elected by the lawmakers and serves for seven years. The current President is Sergio Mattarella. The executive branch is headed by the Prime Minister and appointed by the President. The legislative branch is run by the two parties of Parliament, the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected every five years by the voters of the country. There are six hundred and thirty deputies and three hundred and fifteen senators. Of those senators, five are appointed by the President to be Senators for life. Finally, the judicial branch is headed by the Minister of Justice as well as the President.

The system works great, but there is one catch; the Members of Parliaments’ (MP)  salary is nearly five times more than the average worker, which is the biggest difference in salary in government in the world.

graph showing the ratio between a Member of Parliament salary versus an average salary by country

Member of Parliament salary vs Average Salary – credit goes to Quartz

The date was set. On December 4th, 2016 the Italian people were going to vote “yes” or they were going to vote “no.” The reform would remove power from the Senate, meaning that the new legislative branch would be left to one house of Parliament. Therefore, fewer people would have an opinion in lawmaking. The reason behind discontinuing the Senate was to help make the lawmaking process faster. It was believed that the process of lawmaking was slower with both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies having to come to a conclusion together. This has been causing problems for many years and for the same reason, Renzi wanted to make a change and promoted his referendum.

However, it only became a referendum after Renzi’s bill did not receive a two-thirds vote from Parliament to change the Italian Constitution which was enacted in 1947. This change would have given more power to the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi.

Mei, the student advisor from the Tuscania campus of the Lorenzo de’ Medici Italian International Institute believed that most of the people voted “no” to the referendum to “get rid of [Renzi].” Mei was one of the many citizens who saw this referendum as a vote on Renzi, whether or not to keep him as the Prime Minister rather than a vote to change the Constitution.

A vote to pass the referendum would cut down on the $58 million that goes into the Member of Parliaments’ salaries. However, if the referendum was passed Parliament would have been full of bureaucrats who were chosen to satisfy the leader’s needs rather than the needs of the people. A vote against the referendum would leave Italy without a Prime Minister; Renzi vowed to resign from his post if he did not win. Currently the Italian banks are having problems with large amounts of debt and bankers predicted that there would be a time of panic and financial instability for the Italian banks after the referendum.

Debt in Euros by country

Debt in Euros – credit goes to European Central Bank

The referendum has been compared to both the Brexit in the United Kingdom and the United States Presidential election of Donald Trump due to the shock it could have caused the country following the vote. While it would not be as severe as the Brexit to the UK, it would still unsettle the country’s banks. However, the country predicted a negative result for Renzi due to the opinion of two German banks: Berenberg and Deutsche Bank as well as J.P. Morgan in the United States. According to Financial Times, up to eight Italian banks could be in trouble if the referendum was voted against. The Foreign Affairs Minister at the time, Paolo Gentiloni believed that even if the referendum was voted against, there would be a small chance that the banking issues in Italy would contribute to more problems in other parts of Europe. As stated by Gentiloni, “In any case we will have a weaker and more unstable country, but not a threat for the European economy.” These banking issues started with a very serious recession which left behind $377 billion in loans. With a vote against Renzi’s referendum these issues would become heightened.

As many predicted, Italy overwhelmingly voted against Renzi and his referendum. He stayed true to his word and resigned and left others to deal with the aftermath. The Euro dropped to a 20-month low against the dollar and the European stocks were in the red Monday the 5th of December after the vote. The Italian banks moved towards having the biggest yearly fall since 2011. In fact, many of the banks were in danger of failing completely. It is possible that the Italian government will now have to spend public money to rescue some of its banks. However, many political leaders are happy about this turn out, including the head of Italy’s far right Northern League party, Matteo Salvini, who believes it means liberation from the Renzi government.

The trend of the Euro to US Dollar ratio before and after the referendum

Trend of Euro to US Dollar Ratio – credit goes to ForexSilverGold

President Mattarella decided to appoint a new Prime Minister after Renzi’s resignation. He chose the former Foreign Affairs Minister, Paolo Gentiloni, to take the office of the new Italian Prime Minister and start fixing the issues that were caused by the referendum. The President tasked Gentiloni with forming a new government that has a new electoral law. In a statement after he accepted the new position, he said, “I am conscious of the urgency to give to Italy a full-power government in order to reassure our citizens and be able to face, with the utmost commitment and determination, priorities that are international, economic and social, starting from the reconstruction of the areas hit by the earthquake.”

Gentiloni plans to help the country with the issues that were created in the last years and from the referendum. The Five Star Movement party called for elections early because the leader of the party, Beppe Grillo wanted to get back into the office. Foreign observers think that having him in office would be a bad decision for the country. Grillo has been known to want reforms that would take Italy off of the Euro as well as exiting the European Union, similar to what happened in the United Kingdom. This is why Gentiloni needs to make a new electoral law before the possible early elections. If the elections happen, they are expected to occur in June of 2017, almost a year earlier than originally intended. This uncertainty in the government is not helpful for the failing banks. However, nothing will be known until President Mattarella makes his decision about the early elections. According to Financial Times, he will take his time making this decision because he is very cautious.

Italy is in limbo waiting for the government to fix itself, and that does not help with the economic issues that the banks have been facing for years. Hopefully, the President and the Prime Minister will make their decisions soon, and the country will be back on track to being one of the most powerful in the Eurozone.

Works Cited

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Cunningham, Tara; Szu Ping Chan; Barney Henderson & Harry Yorke. “Italian banking shared poised for worst year since 2011 after referendum defeat.” The Telegraph, 05 December 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017.

Dewan, Angela; Livia Borghese & Milena Veselinovic. “Italy’s Foreign Minister Gentiloni appointed prime minister-designate.” CNN, 11 December 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017.

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Merelli, Annalisa. “In Italy, members of parliament make five times more than the average worker.” Quartz Media, 04 March 2014, Accessed 31 March 2017.

Politi, James. “What are the consequences of Italy’s constitutional court ruling?”  Financial Times, 26 January 2017, Accessed 31 March 2017.

Sjolin, Sara. “How Italy’s referendum could spark a ‘systemic crisis’ in the Eurozone.” MarketWatch, 04 December 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017.

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Taylor, Adam. Italy’s Brexit moment? The complex constitutional referendum that could rock Europe.” The Washington Post, 30 November 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017.

Walker, Peter. “Italy referendum: How world reacted to shock vote that put EU in crisis mode.” Independent, 05 December 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017

Weaver, Matthew; Claire Phipps & John Henley. “Italy referendum: ‘Period of uncertainty’ predicted after Matteo Renzi’s defeat – as it happened.” The Guardian, 05 December 2016, Accessed 31 March 2017.