Idomeni, Fyrom border, June 5, 2015. Ayoub (18) from Afghanistan: “My whole family was killed when I was very young, so I grew up with my uncle. When I was eleven, he was killed too. I then fled to Iran, where I knew some friends. I have walked thousands of kilometres to get here and have used up three pairs of shoes. I only carry a sleeping bag, a few small belongings, something to drink, and something to eat. I must go to Europe, they must help us. In Afghanistan there is no security. Every day people die there.”
From Idomeni migrants continue north into Macedonia. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called 'Balkans route' has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering the EU.
 The number of people leaving their homes in war torn countries such as Syria, marks the largest migration of people since World War II.

Documentary Photography as a Powerful Form of Social Activism

In 2015 alone more than one million refugees and migrants fleeing conflicts and poverty across the Middle East and Africa entered into Europe. This has provoked an immigration crisis as European countries attempt to cope with the influx of people. For many of us, this may be just an abstract concept discussed by news outlets, but the aim of the upcoming dialogue series, entitled The Migration Crisis in Europe Through Images, hosted by La Pietra Dialogues, is to present the crisis through the lens of documentary photography and to put human faces on the issue. Three visiting photographers have traced the long, and often dangerous, journey of the people who brave many miles and obstacles to actualize their GOAL OF of reaching safe sanctuary. They will talk about their work and share their experiences with students and other guests.

The first speaker, Rocco Rorandelli, began with documentary photography after his doctoral studies in biology, which helped to influence his interest in global, social, and environmental issues. His work has been presented in awareness campaigns run by both intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, as well as certain international magazines such as Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Rorandelli wanted to try a new approach to documenting the migrants’ journey, so he turned to aerial photography in an attempt to portray the crisis as a phenomenon rather than to tell the stories of individuals. This dialogue, The Refugee Trail, is taking place in Villa Sassetti on February 11th at 6:00 pm.

The next speaker in the series is Alessandro Penso who has spent his photography career deeply committed to social issues. His portfolio includes work on the conditions of detention centers in Malta, migrant workers in the agricultural sector of the Italian South, and, most recently, the immigration issue in the Mediterranean. Penso is acutely aware that complicated economic and social conditions in the Mediterranean region provide an environment where for cultural closure, xenophobia and violence can exist. He has won several awards for his photos, including TIME Magazine’s Pick for Photo Story of the Year. Penso’s dialogue, Lost Generation, will be on April 18th at 6:00 pm in Villa Sassetti.

The last speaker of the series is Henk Wildschut, a Dutch photographer whose work is often distant and contemplative in nature. This is meant to create an image of monumentality and balance and to provoke further contemplation upon the part of the viewer. His work has been displayed all over the world, as well as in Dutch and international magazines. In 2005, Wildschut began a project focused on European immigration. This resulted in both a film and an award-winning book. After taking on various other projects, Wildschut has returned to the subject of immigration by focusing on a refugee camp in Calais. This work will result in an exhibit at the museum Foam in Amsterdam in 2016. His dialogue, entitled Shelter, will take place on April 27th at 6:00 pm in Villa Sassetti.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Visits NYU Florence

By Ismail Ibrahim, NYU Florence Liberal Studies Freshman

“Like minded people should work together to do what they think is right” 
-Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Villa La Pietra, NYU Florence, February 1, 2016

Supreme Court Justice, and equal rights pioneer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg answered the questions of a captivated group of New York University students on Monday February 1st, many of whom prefaced their questions with confessions of veneration and deep respect for her work. The Justice discussed a broad range of topics from recent cases heard by the court, to the nature of justice and what it means to be a civil servant in the naturally lit Salone of Villa La Pietra, where she spoke without a microphone. The magnitude of the subject matter, as well as the Justice’s presence and wisdom, commanded the attention of the room.

The discussion opened with Justice Ginsburg’s musings on the famous Martin Luther King quote, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. Ginsburg commented that while she agreed with Dr. King, there are certain moments in history when we take steps away from justice, citing the decision by the Supreme Court to abolish certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Following that, Ginsburg shared her critical opinion on the Citizens United ruling. Ginsburg disagreed with the idea that certain individuals, because they are wealthy, should have more political power than the average citizen. In her answers to many questions a certain theme kept emerging, that justice and democracy are products of engaged and active citizens, joining together to do what they think is right. She came back to this again when asked about Black Lives Matter, and Donald Trump. When asked what she thought of the latter, she simply answered that she hoped voters, which, she emphasized, included all of the students in the room, wouldn’t vote for a candidate who held positions that went against America’s founding principles of accepting immigrants. It is up to the average citizen, as well as courts and Congress, to engage in discourse and contribute to the healthy functioning of democracy. The struggle to grant equality and justice are the responsibility of all citizens, rather than a few elected officials.

Covered nude sculptures

NYU Florence Professor Mahnaz Yousefzadeh reacts to the decision of the Italian government to cover up nude sculptures during the Iranian President’s recent visit

Last week Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran, began a historic visit to Europe following the conclusion of the Iranian Nuclear deal and the lifting of international sanctions. The first stop of Rouhani’s visit was Rome, where he met Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Pope Francis. Italy is hoping to strengthen its economic relationship with Iran. Before sanctions were instituted, Italy was Iran’s largest trading partner in the EU and, since 2013, has been its second largest partner behind Germany. In Rome, Iran and Italy signed an economic agreement worth 17 billion dollars, discussed the fight against international terrorism, and Rouhani also asked the Pope  ‘to pray for him’.

The visit was not without controversy. During a visit to the Campidoglio Museum, several nude statues had been covered with wooden screens, setting off an international media firestorm. Prime Minister Renzi and the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini denied knowing about the decision to cover up the statues. The Iranian authorities denied having made the request. Renzi called for an internal inquiry to clarify who made the controversial decision.

Politicians, political scientists and art historians criticized the decision, calling it an act of  ‘cultural submission’. Former Undersecretary of Cultural Heritage and art historian Vittorio Sgarbi said that the decision to cover up the statues to not offend Rouhani was ridiculous, and humiliates the glorious and ancient history of Rome.

Mahnaz Yousefzadeh, New York University Professor of Italian Studies, currently teaching at NYU Florence,  shared her reaction:

‘There is so much wrong with this… I would only ask those who made this decision on protocol, if they were going to cover up statues each time an Iranian official came to town. Or is it a one-time symbolic gesture, which would then trivialize the question of cultural difference. Today I have been writing about a Florentine who was sent to Iran as envoy by Gregory XIII and Sixtus V in 1580s. He stayed there for years to learn Persian (form Iranian Jews no less) to be able to read and translate from Persian the oldest copy of the Psalms, (as well as the Gospels, book of Ester and Ruth) who the Persian Jews had first translated from the original Hebrew. He writes to Sixtus V that he is staying in Persia, because he is learning so much that is beautiful and useful for the intellectual and spiritual mission of Rome. He calls himself “an upside down tree that gives the best fruit when transplanted in a different land.” That was the politics of diversity and ambassadorial protocol in 1580s’.

Rouhani tried to lower the tone, accusing the media of inventing the controversy and adding: ‘I know that Italians are a very hospitable people, a people who try to do the most to put their guests at ease, and I thank you for this’.

Giorno della Memoria: International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

Today, January 27, the day that the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany was liberated in 1945, is the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust. Every year, on this occasion, the government of the Region of Tuscany organizes a series of events. This morning in Florence, the European, Italian and City flags in front of Florence’s City Hall were lowered to half mast. City officials laid wreaths at the main city monuments, including at track 16 of the Santa Maria Novella train station, from which the trains carrying Florentine Jews deported to Nazi concentration camps departed.

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In the afternoon, the Florence City Council gathered for a special session in Palazzo Vecchio’s Salone dei Cinquecento where Holocaust survivors Andra Bucci and Tatiana Bucci were made honorary citizens of the city.

Students from Florentine schools gathered for the all day meeting ‘You, Who Live in Safety: Welcoming and Rejecting, Yesterday and Today‘, where students heard from 8 guests, including Holocaust survivors and members of the Tuscan Resistance, and were invited to reflect on “the value of a welcoming culture, and personal and collective human dignity”.

At the Palazzo Medici Riccardi Museum, accounts of deportees were read in an event organized with the Historical Institute of the Tuscan Resistance, the National Association of Ex-Deportees and the Jewish Community of Florence. The readings concluded with a ceremony in front of a plaque that lists the names of the 1,821 Tuscans deported to Nazi concentration camps between 1943 and 1945.

The Biblioteca delle Oblate is currently hosting the photography exhibition La persecuzione ebraica a Firenze e in Italia 1938-1945 (The Persecution of Jews in Florence and Italy, 1938-1945) which draws on documents and photographs from the City of Florence’s archives, and, on January 28, the Caffe Letterario delle Murate will host a performance of ‘Persone Libro’ (Human Books), where the written memories of survivors will be performed orally and the public is invited to circulate among the collection of ‘Human Books’ to hear their experiences, underlining the importance of the oral transmission of memory. This is part of the Le Murate’s initiative Vecchie e nuove discriminazioni (Old and New Discriminations).

For a full program of events in Florence and Tuscany, click here.

On Tragedy

I could easily write a vitriolic think piece on why we mourn Paris and not Syria, Egypt, Beirut, Japan, or Mexico. It would take no effort for me to point out that we have a moment of silence every year on nine eleven for all the individuals who died in, and fighting for, the United States, but not for the 146,596 Iraqi non-combatants that died in the war on terror. Being a member of western civilization seems to be a prerequisite for death to be tragic. Writing that article would just add more anger to the world however, and these attacks have taught me that there is enough of that in the world. Read more

ISIS and the Refugee Crisis: A Reflection by Michelle Deme

In light of the recent Paris attacks, countless politicians have expressed their opinions about the current refugee crisis. It’s interesting to see the different ways that the United States government and the European Union are handling the aftermath of the attacks. Several American governors have openly stated that they will refuse entry to any refugees, because in their opinion there are bound to be ISIS militants in the incoming groups. They say that America should mainly worry about its own safety, because the influx of refugees could pose a future threat. While members of the European Union have a similar opinion on the matter, stating that Europe needs to increase security for fear that ISIS militants may infiltrate the group of incoming refugees. Both the U.S. and the EU have allowed fear and generalization to cloud their judgement about an innocent and desperate group of people. By definition, a refugee is a verified asylum seeker meaning the person is fleeing from persecution and immediate conflict. Innocent Syrian civilians have had their country and homes destroyed. They need the world’s help, and America needs to begin helping Europe by sheltering these refugees. In 2015 alone more than 750,000 migrants arrived solely by sea. This doesn’t include the thousands of migrants that filtered through landlocked countries in the EU. It’s not only a crisis that affects Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa anymore: it’s the world’s crisis. Read more

ISIS and the Refugee Crisis: A Reflection by Eilish Anderson

One weekend in the wake of the tragic Paris attacks, I was in Vienna and I happened to walk past the French embassy where the front gates had been carefully decorated with flowers, fallen leaves, posters, and candles meant to express support for the country of France, while all over the world, social media has become inundated with people sharing their opinions on militant extremism and the flood of migrants searching for asylum from the violence and devastation in their home countries. Despite there being a number of other bombings and violent attacks in multiple other countries near the same date as the Paris strike, the major outpouring of support from the United States and the majority of the western world has been focused on Paris. This is strikingly illustrated in Facebook’s controversial decision to only supply the option to temporarily change one’s profile picture to France’s flag, rather than Syria’s or Lebanon’s or any other country that has suffered a devastating extremist attack. Read more

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The West and Global Muslim Communities

Shahidul Alam and Salima Hashmi came to Villa Sassetti as part of “The West and Global Muslim Communities” dialogue. Shahidul Alam a Bangladeshi photographer, writer, and curator spoke about his photography project, which focused on Hajera’s work in Bangladesh. Salima Hashmi shared two feminists poems and shared her thoughts on the role of the artist in society. Read more

Florence Mayor Dario Nardella welcomes students to Florence City Hall's Salone dei Cinquecento for Florence's Global Mayors Conference

‘The Benefits of a Global Education’: NYU Florence students address City of Florence’s Global Mayors Conference ‘Unity in Diversity’

On Sunday, November 8, a group of NYU Florence students, which included Liberal Studies freshmen Helen You, Eilish Anderson, Michelle Deme, Lucy Lyons and Ibrahim Ismail; NYU Shanghai Junior Emily Flippen; and Duke University Senior Nicole Mwaura, were invited to address assembled mayors, municipal representatives, and distinguished guests at the City of Florence’s global mayor’s conference ‘Unity in Diversity’ in Florence City Hall’s historic Salone dei Cinquecento. Speakers included Nobel prize winners and distinguished special guests like U.N. Messenger of Peace H.R.H. Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, actors Forest Whitaker and Tim Robbins; Nobel Prize Laureats Tawakkol Karman, Shirin Ebadi, and Betty Williams; and NYU’s own Awam Amkpa. See our full report on the conference here.