Internationales Bildungs- und Begegnungswerk in Dortmund

European Column 8: A Europe of citizens or of business?

European Column 8: A Europe of citizens or of business?

As a person with Asperger‘s syndrome, Jannis Gustke has experienced discrimination and ableism. Only one of the reasons why the student from Dortmund is active against nuisances and exclusion.

An upbeat mood, easy, and relaxed. This is the impression of Jannis Gustke during our first meeting. He was born in 1993, lives in Dortmund and studies Archaelogy and Media Studies at Ruhr-University Bochum. Jannis is politically very active. He campaigns on the communal level, at Stadtjugendring, and he also does remembrance work as one of the „ambassadors of remembrance“. Easter marches, peace movement. After a few minutes it is obvious: Jannis likely spends more time doing political work than the average person.

But not only this. Environmental protection is also an important topic for the Dortmunder. Jannis says: „I believe it is important to protect the environment. Thus I am vice-president of Naturfreundejugend and leader of the court of arbitration of International Young Naturefriends. This is an environmental organisation descended from the worker‘s movement.“ Beyond that Jannis is active in sports – climbing, bouldering, mountaineering, canoeing. Wow. Quite a number of activities besides his full-time studies.

Jannis explains that one of the most important task facing Europe, from his perspective, is deciding whether it wants to be a „Europe of business“ or a „Europe of citizens“. He says: „The Europe of business is not that noticeable in Europe itself. It becomes somewhat noticable  during the banking crisis, the Munich Security Conference, or during the meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos.“

However, so Jannis, this „Europe of business“ is much more noticable on continents like Africa and in the countries of the global south: For example on the topic of plundering ressources. But also on the topic of land grabbing, that it the partiall illegitimate or illegal appropriation of land, especially of agricultural spaces. European companies, through investments and agreements, influence the question of what is being grown, for example feed for the European meat industry. This also connects with the question how and where offal and waste is dealt with.

I ask Jannis for other things, which make him feel Europe. Jannis says: „For me, there are three shared fundamental values connecting the European countries. The first one is the right to live, which i currently see threatened by assisted suicide as practiced in Belgium. The second one is freedom of speech and of opionion. This freedom, for me, ends where people are denying or relativising the Holocaust. And the third one is the ban on discriminating between people due to their background, sexual orientation, color of their skin, and so on.“

Jannis himself is a person with a disability. He lives with Asperger‘s syndrome and in this context has experienced discrimination. Exclusion also takes place in language choice, in words like „spastic“ and „cripple“. The Dortmunder says: „There is a problem in using this words as insults.“

Jannis further reports a racist incident at a bus stop in Budapest, where his two female companions were discriminated against. Passersby asked the trio where they came from and where they were going. They answered: Russia, Germany, and India. Talking to Jannis, coming from Germany, the passersby commented, it is impossible to discuss with subhumans.

Last but not least, Jannis also experiences hard ableism. He talks about assaults at night by Neo-Nazis in the S1 train to Dortmund. He does not want to go into further details. However, Jannis also notices when others are victims of discrimination, wheelchair-users for example. Jannis explains: „Art historians rating buildings as of the highest level for historic preservation is structurally discriminating for wheelchair-users. This means no ramps may be added to the building.“

Chantal Stauder