Bismarx, the blog Europe probably doesn’t need

Bismarx is now live.

I should probably tell you what the point of this blog is, but first, some background: I am a Dutch electrical engineering student. Although I’m very fond of engineering and the mindset that comes with it, I also have a considerable interest in “softer” topics like politics and history. I have blogged before, but that was always in Dutch; it was mostly about specifically Dutch issues, so it would have been silly – and strongly limiting – to use any other language.

However, there are also some thoughts I’d like to share with a more international audience. Much as I’d like to do so in my native language, I have to admit our neighbours across the North Sea beat us at the colonialism game, and thus I will use English.

And here we get to the point of Bismarx. I have written things in English before, but they’re spread out across several places – mostly, various corners of Reddit and the TV Tropes forums. With this blog, I now have a single place where I can collect and share any thoughts I write down in English.

That’s not to say I guarantee this blog will be 100% English-language. There will almost certainly be Dutch domestic issues I want to comment on in the future, and I will have no qualms about posting about them in Dutch here. I might even post a few things in my third language, German, once I’m able to write longer pieces in German without checking the dictionary twice a sentence. (‘Wait, what was the gender of Ostpolitik again?’)

Now that that’s out of the way, I should give this first post some actual content. Here goes:

The Internet as a discussion forum is heavily US-centric. Articles and blog posts commenting on specifically American issues, or commenting on universal issues from an American perspective, are shared the world over. European bloggers, too, often refer to American debates, American speeches, American studies – even when they’re writing in a language other than English. In most European countries, it’s easy to follow American presidential races or budget negotations in great detail on the websites of national media, and in fact many Europeans do. In short, in serious online discussion as a whole, the American frame of reference is dominant.

The problem is that it’s so one-sided. I often read articles from The Atlantic or Slate about American domestic issues, and I know many more Europeans do, but how often do Americans read about issues that are specific to the Netherlands, or Italy, or Sweden? How detailed is CNN’s or the Washington Post‘s coverage of German domestic politics? Where was the lively discussion on François Hollande’s inaugural speech in America?

Another problem is that the American frame of reference can overwrite your own, if you let it. European bloggers who write about American issues a lot must take care to remember that America is vastly different from any European country: it has a different social model, a different political culture, a different set of controversial issues – which means discussions there do not always map nicely to anything that’s relevant here. I can recall two specific articles in Dutch – one on the gender gap in higher education, another on hiring discrimination based on first names – that examined an issue from a specifically American perspective, citing American studies, without noting this or pausing to wonder if the situation in our own country might be different. (Hint: In the Netherlands, discrimination against people named Achmed is slightly more of a problem than discrimination against people named DeShawn.) We’re all living in Amerika, Amerika ist wunderbar…

I’m not going to kick off this blog with some kind of grand “mission statement”; that would only serve to make me feel guilty for not living up to it. But if Bismarx can contribute to a little more Europe and a little less America in online debate, that would be really nice.

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