Archive for People
At the EESC Public Hearing 7th of February, Croatian MEP Tonino Picula mentioned that the islands of Europe, if grouped together, would rank as Europe’s ninth nation. I double-checked him, making a table based on Wikipedia, from which I excluded islands that are nations (Great Britain, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta) but included all the remaining 2.136 ones, summing up their areas and their populations.
The result is a complex, widespread, divided, illusive island nation with an area of 454,753 km2 and with 18,889,077 inhabitants. Were it a nation, it would population-wise place itself after Romania but before Kazakstan. Counting by area, it would rank as the 4th nation of Europe, just after Norway. Assuming humans are more important than land, the islands of Europe grouped together would rank as the number 11 among the 50 sovereign states of Europe. Were it a nation, it might be called ISLANDIA.
Is this 11th nation of Europe different from the other 28 nations of Europe? Yes: it has some very valuable assets: (1) shores, that attract hundreds of millions of tourists every year; (2) seas, that contain tides, waves, oil, gas, fish, motorways of the seas as well as more ordinary waterways; (3) unrivalled natural and cultural heritages.
This 11th imaginary nation also has an invisible obstacle surrounding it: remoteness – a permanent handicap causing extra costs for its small-scale societies, enterprises and inhabitants. There are 671 ro-pax ferries connecting the islands with the mainland. On the one thousand smaller islands, 38% of the total energy spent is used for sea transports, larger islands somewhat less. To reengineer these sea transport systems would be an economical, ecological and social revolution.
On January 30, island Mayors Spyridon Galinos (Lesbos) and Giusi Nicolini (Lampedusa and Linosa) received the Olof Palme prize 2016.
Both are in Stockholm to receive the prize, hailed for their inspiring leadership, for having saved thousands of refugees and for showing it is more important to protect people than the protect borders.
Nicolini and Galinos tells of the often overcrowded inflatables with terrified, frozen passengers who started coming to their islands. In Lampedusa it culminated in connection with the Arab Spring, in 2011 when over 25,000 people arrived in two months. In Lesbos, the first boats came in winter 2014-2015.
The lack of timely support from their own governments and the EU forced the two mayors to organise care for thousands of refugees – and at the same time calm their local communities. Spyridon Galinos did not sleep many hours a night during the first ten months of 2015, when approximately 400,000 fugitives came ashore on Lesbos. slept.
– We had to stay calm. I spoke a lot with my islanders about wars and conflicts leading to situations which are not the refugees’ fault, says Galinos. Much of what we saw was shocking: mothers with small children and people cried and kissed the ground. But knowing that we saved lives gave us power.
The situation is different today. EU agreement with Turkey has resulted in fewer boats coming to Lesbos. 5500 migrants on the island is manageable and Galinos is proud of the accommodation which local forces operate. Nicolini has gone a round with her own government to get the neighboring islands of Lampedusa and Linosa recognized as the first reception centers, where no refugees should stay longer than a week. Both warn that the number of unaccompanied children is high.
Both are critical of the restrictive refugee policies in the EU and the “moral dark time” that prevails. At present they rely on working locally and through a network of European mayors who seems to have their hearts in the right place.
Camille Dressler, chairperson of ESIN, lives on the small island of Eigg (30 km2, 80 residents). “I was living in France studying English, and my boyfriend’s mother found us this place on Eigg for a winter let so we came to spend the winter here to study, write and paint!”
The islanders took ownership of Eigg in 1997. Looking back on her time as a director of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, she said “Before the buyout we were just surviving. After the buyout, we could look ahead and build a solid future. Ten years later, we have put together the first renewable energy system that integrated sun, wind and water and our young people are coming back. This just shows what can be done if you give power to the community.”
Camille is devoted to community empowerment and community energy, as well as heritage and the arts. She is studying energy arts such as qi gong and dao yin yoga, also writing and making arty crafty things. A Gaelic learner, she has established a small croft museum modelled on the Spinster House she visited in the island of Huksara, on one of the ESIN inter island trips to Finland. She has also created a bilingual crofting trail to go with it. Her first project was a shoe-string presentation of the island’s history, geology and wildlife in the the island’s former shop, involving the island children in creating the artwork as part of the Eigg Primary school Green flags. Having spent much time recording the older inhabitants of Eigg, she became the island historian, writing the tale of her island: “Eigg. The Story of an island” published in 1998, from which I quote: …”a new sort of Gall has come to the land of the Gaidheal. I am one of them”…
As a Director she helped build the organisation that owns and runs the Isle of Eigg, experiencing at first hand the benefits of working in a co-operative way. She has seen the role that creative thinking and learning as a group can have in improving community dynamics.
Now, she is the chair of the Scottish Islands Federation, representing the Small Isles Community Council (the islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna) on its board. She was also elected as Chair of the European Small Islands Federation in September 2016 for which we are very happy.
You must be brave to live on such a small, remote island as Eigg, you must be brave to go all the way to Brussels with your propositions, and you need to be witty to overcome the people who disregard such propositions with the ever-prevalent buzzkill phrase, “it can’t be done.”
It can be done. We can do it. Camille and her fellow islanders proved it. On Saturday 21 January, they were marching in solidarity with the US women, the Eigg march being the second smallest in the world wide event!
On the French islands Ouessant (Ushant), the new year begins well as little Leane was born on 3rd of January. She shook up her parents, the medical services and the island statistics to become the first baby to be born on the island of Ouessant for a good thirty years.
The future mom ouessantine was about to take the Monday 16:30 boat to Brest, in anticipation of her imminent delivery, not wanting to quit her job at the local supermarket too early. The unborn baby decided otherwise while her mother was still on the Stiff landing stage.
The firefighters and the island doctor were called, the future mother was placed in the fire truck and taken to the airfield, waiting for the arrival of the airborne mainland medical services. It was there that Leane was born, around 5.45 pm. “It was in the open air and everyone brought blankets,” says an islander.
The last birth on the island dates back to June 18, 1986. A little girl, too. And, wink of fate, the brother of the young mother, born on October 6, 1985, was the penultimate birth to Ouessant. He was born at the motherhood of the island, which has since been transformed into a youth hostel.2017 is starting off well on Ouessant which just got its 879th inhabitant. Happy New Year!
Which books, songs or poems have had the strongest influence on our common image of what an island is?
Is it Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” or Ernest Hemingway’s “Islands in the Stream”? Is it Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” or Enid Blyton’s “Five on a Treasure Island”? Is it Paul Simon’s “I am a rock, I am an island” or is it John Donne’s “No man is an island”? Is it Jules Verne’s “l’Ile Mysterieuse”, Walt Disney/Carl Barks’ “Floating Island” or Hergé’s “L’Ile Noir”?
Which literary contribution has had most influence on the human concept of an “island”?
I disembark a ferry in the port of Hydra in early spring 2005 and take the street to the right of the clock tower. The street bends to the left then to the right past a supermarket. I keep going till I come to an open area with a taverna on the right and tables across the street on the left. Right after the taverna I turn right and go up the steps, turn left onto a street which is mainly steps going up, keep going till I come to a street named A.KRIEZI (unusually there is a street name sign), turn right and walk till I come to the Four Corners yellow-painted supermarket. Turning down the narrow lane on my right at the side of the supermarket, I take the lane to the left and then quickly right and end up in front of Leonard Cohen’s house, with a double grey door and a large hand knocker.
2005 is the year when it becomes known that Cohen’s manager has stolen all his assets, which makes him tour the world again and sing his old songs some of which are written here, on this small island in the Saronic Gulf 2 ferry hours from Athens.
He comes to Hydra in from London in 1960 and buys this house half a year later, living here with Marianne Ihlsen who is typing at a table on Cohen’s battered Olivetti on the back cover of the album Songs from a Room (1967), smiling in half-embarrassment at the camera. Cohen writes his novels The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966), and the songs for his first albums which include the classic anthem So Long, Marianne, about their parting.
In a letter to his sister, Cohen describes how gangs of carousing locals stumble drunkenly up the steps of his street, “their arms about each other’s shoulders, singing magnificent close harmony”. This inspires the line “like a drunk in a midnight choir” in the Bird on the Wire song, written on Hydra and finished in a motel on Sunset Boulevard in 1969. It’s origin is disarmingly literal: when he first arrives on Hydra there are no wires on the island. In the mid-1960s, the arrival of telephone poles and electricity means that wires appeares for the first time on the landscape, slung loosely across alleyways, including outside his house. At first Cohen is despondent but then he notices birds come to the wires. And the song is born.
Having got much criticism from his friends for the musical setting of his first album which included strings and horns, his second album Songs from a Room is much more sparse. The songs are immensely beautiful in their minimalistic settings, they have a singular integrity and are prior to none. I never zap or skip any of the tracks, always listening to the album in the way it was conceived. They are songs from a man called Leonard, from an island called Hydra.
Leonard Cohen passed away on November 7, 2016, 82 years old.