Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

Harry Potter and the Magic of Globalization

19 Jul

Even in Prague and Bratislava (where I was visiting a friend this weekend), children were awake at the stroke of midnight on Saturday night awaiting the arrival of Harry Potter: book 6. I was a little amused to see the signs all over town proclaiming (in English) that “Harry Potter is here!” although I was happy not to have to wait to read the book until I got back to the States.

But the whole incident really led me to ponder the much discussed, often written about, issue of globalization. In the US, we tend to take globalization in our stride. Sure, there are more Thai restaurants that there used to be, but for most people, we’re so remarkably accustomed to the changes brought about by globalization that we don’t even think twice about it. However, as I was standing in the middle of Bratislava, on a gold seal stating the distance from that point to many other cities around the world, the extent of globalization really hit me. The world really is growing smaller by the day.

Living in Prague, you tend to forget that it was ever part of the communist system. It certainly looks like a Western European capital, with amazing architecture and a wealth of tourists filling designer shops. It’s common here to hear a plethora of foreign languages as you walk down the main streets, and you can speak English with almost anyone. In Bratislava, however, the evidence of communism is everywhere: from the Soviet-style ‘panelak’ apartment buildings that dominate the skyline, to the freeway that was carelessly built through the middle of the old city, dividing the castle from the ancient church where Hungarian monarchs were crowned for hundreds of years. There are few tourists, and not so many people speak English, or even German.

Beyond these superficial signs of global commercialism, however, are major changes. Slovak travel agencies post signs for vacations to Turkey and Croatia. The city is ringed by giant wind turbines providing clean energy instead of the dirty old communist system. Huge ships floating down the Danube in the middle of the city once again connect the country to Western Europe. International communication systems provide access to the rest of the world. And EU membership opens the doors of Slovakia to the wealth and resources of all of Europe.

Both the Czech Republic and Slovakia are now profoundly plugged in to the global marketplace. And despite all criticisms, I can’t help thinking that this is a good thing. National idiosyncrasies will probably never change: Czechs will always like beer, and Slovaks might always disappear to go hiking on the weekend; but the changes brought about by access to a global system seem on the whole to have broadened the opportunities and possibilities of both nations.

These profound changes must also affect Roma. Even though they started out vastly behind the rest of Europe’s populations, Roma, like many other minorities, now have the potential to use this new globalized world to draw attention to their cause. Dzeno is a perfect example of this. One of our major projects is gathering news about Roma from around the world using the Internet, and reposting it so that its easier to find and use. The internet allows us to spread knowledge about Roma around the world, and to access knowledge about how to better advocate for our cause. Roma organizations can work together more effectively with modern communications systems, and can work to truly develop a common message.

Globalization opens up possibilities: both for small countries, and for minorities. More jobs are available, more information, and more opportunities. International organizations like Dzeno can work to advocate for Roma children half the world away. International bus companies like Eurolines connect Roma families throughout the continent. Access to the Internet can empower anyone with a mouse to change the policies of governments. No offense to Harry Potter, but to me, that’s real magic.

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Jul 19th, 2005

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