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Smolny Campus. (Credit: Smolny Student Conference Organizing Committee)

Two weeks ago, I attended the annual Smolny student conference. Five days I frolicked about and ate lots and lots of pierogies. Not a single dull moment was lived. This article is a reflection on my experience of the city:

I boarded at midnight. The experience was positively surreal. I had run across Riga airport to catch my connection — a process significantly slowed down by the immigration police’s diligence in checking my passport and visa. When I ultimately reached the gate, steadying my heart rate, I saw my flight there was a tiny jetplane. The plane was crowded with a peculiar mix of people: businesswomen and football fans sat side by side. Its odor was a combination of garlic and sweaty old person. Everywhere I looked I saw  babies with the potential to spark total mayhem. The plane shook and puffed and finally got us there in one piece. All the while in front of me, a girl calmly edited her selfie for the duration of the 40 min flight, nudging the brightness back and forth to reach perfection — which of course took a while, because of the shaking and all. But there’s no questioning her determination. I had to remind myself I wasn’t on a bus to a rural town; I was flying to St.Petersburg, the country’s former capital. She greeted me with snow. Welcome to Russia!

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In 1948 Mr Westhoff was asked if his farm located in Marle could be transformed into a voting station during elections. His son and daughter-in-law continue the tradition up to this day by transforming their living room into the smallest voting station in the Netherlands. (Credit: Rene Lunshof)

In 1948 Mr Westhoff was asked if his farm located in Marle could be transformed into a voting station during elections. His son and daughter-in-law continue the tradition up to this day by transforming their living room into the smallest voting station in the Netherlands. (Credit: Rene Lunshof)

A question on the exit polls during the US presidential election was which “presidential quality” mattered most. Interestingly enough, it was not experience, nor good judgment that people deemed the most necessary quality for a president: it was their ability to “bring needed change” (39%). That was also the only quality where Trump, lagging behind Hillary on all others, scored highest, at 82%. Among those who Clinton (in the biggest error of her campaign) described as a “basket of deplorables,” there seemed to be a lot of people who just really wanted change.

After the Dutch election, Europe let out a sigh of relief, with headlines exalting that the tide of populism had turned because far-right politician Geert Wilders hadn’t won. This shouldn’t have been big news, as the polls running up to the election had already indicated that Wilders, leader of the right-wing extremist Freedom Party (PVV), was not going to. Most narratives concluded that populism in the Netherlands was subsiding due to this modest gain of the PVV: an easy conclusion but a questionable causal relation. Equating the electoral result of rightist-extremist parties with the degree of populism in a country is not only faulty: it is dangerous. Still this happens on a regular basis and has been prominent in the reporting done on the Dutch election as well as the upcoming elections in Germany and France.

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This article originally appeared on Public Seminar and has been republished here with their kind permission. David Kretz is a German-born Austrian and a BA 2016 alumnus. 

Heldenplatz, Vienna, Austria (Credit: Shawn Harquail | Flickr)

Heldenplatz, Vienna, Austria (Credit: Shawn Harquail | Flickr)

December 4, 2016, was a fateful day for Europe, and the world. The Italians held a referendum about constitutional amendments and their No vote brought down the government. Though any longer-term effects remain unknown, the financial and political chain reaction that some said had the potential to unravel the European Union did not manifest.

On the same day, Austrians also voted in the final round of their presidential election. There, center-left candidate Alexander Van der Bellen (Green Party) defeated far-right candidate Norbert Hofer (Austrian Freedom Party, FPÖ) 53.8% to 46.2%. Austria is a small country, but the outcome of this election has international significance for at least two reasons.

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► Monday: Medieval Christmas Market

med

Imagine a gate opening in the art, culture and clubs hub of Friedrichshain to transport you to the medieval ages. In this historical Christmas market, you won’t find the usual kitsch; you’ll find everything from live medieval performances in music, acrobatics, and a fire-show, to unique handicrafts, and a tavern serving hot mead. Everyone will be dressed in costume and all the masterfully crafted decorations make the experience truly memorable.

  • When: 14:00-22:00
  • Where:  RAW Gelände – Revaler Straße 99, 10245 Berlin
  • Admission: 2€
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An Aquatic Warbler perches on a reed (photo by Paul Gale)

An Aquatic Warbler perches on a reed (photo by Paul Gale)

While its name sounds like a creature Luna Lovegood might have made up, this small bird is in fact real, and in need of our help. To date, the Aquatic Warbler is the rarest migratory songbird in Europe and may be the first species to become extinct since the 1900s in Germany. Throughout Europe, the Aquatic Warbler occupies only forty sites in six countries and only four of those sites contain eighty percent of the entire population, with only 10-14,000 males in the entire world.[1] With breeding territory in Germany and Poland, the Aquatic Warbler, a habitat dependent species, has disappeared mainly due to habitat loss and degradation. Being “habitat dependent” means that the species is a specialist and can only survive in particular conditions, unlike a generalist species which can thrive in many different environments. Because of this particularity, the change in environments for the Aquatic Warblers has made them human dependent as well as classified as endangered. Having previously thrived in Germany/”Pomerania” (the border between Germany and Poland), the Aquatic Warbler male population dropped to 55 by 2011. The “Aquatic Warbler LIFE Project”, a project dedicated to “conserving Aquatic Warblers in Poland and Germany” has begun to inform people about the importance of conserving the species and to implement the necessary changes to save the species.[2]

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