You may have heard that Columbia failed to win any Rhodes Scholarships this year – and then, suddenly, we had won one. Why this confusion? No US scholarships were won by Columbia students this year, but Luca Springer, a dual degree GS-Sciences Po student with dual Austrian-German citizenship, won one of the two German Rhodes Scholarships.
The first part of his interview, where he mostly discusses his topic of concern – the refugee crisis and the rise of the radical right – is right here on Bwog for your inquiring minds.
Bwog: So you won the German Rhodes Scholarship after being in GS’s Dual-degree program with Sciences Po. Why did you chose GS and Science Po?
Luca: Before going to university, I always wanted to go to college in the US for basketball. But then I had an injury in my senior in high school, and, together with my doctors, we decided that basketball was probably not the best option for a professional career. I had to look for alternatives, and I found a dual BA (between Columbia and Sciences Po). It was just something I had not seen before: the structure is, I think, very forward-looking because it allows students to study in two different cultural environments and two different academic systems. It caught my eye because it’s a very young program…I was so excited about this program that it was the only university program I ever applied to.
B: And so, the GS administration came to you saying they wanted you to apply for the Rhodes?
L: So, at GS, Dean [Glenn] Novarr is in charge of the fellowships, and he’s fantastic. He reaches out to people that have the criteria to qualify for the different fellowships. He invites everyone to an open house in the first semester, and you get to look at the Rhodes, the Clarendon, the Gates, the Schwarzman, everything. I identified Oxford as my next step because it just make sense with my goals in politics. I think the MPP at the Blavatnik School of Government is an extremely good international program. I went to him in my first semester, and he asked me, ‘so, what do you want to do?’
I had so many ideas about what I wanted to do, but could not decide on a specific one. And he said, ‘okay, sit back, focus, and see what you want to do with your life, and come back, and we’ll try to identify what is the best option for you.’
And so, I spent my fall semester here, and took Philosophy of Law with Professor Moody-Adams. We analyzed the Nuremberg Trials from a philosophical perspective, and particularly the idea of complacency. That was, for me, the moment where I realized that–in terms of politics and the rise of the radical right in Europe that is happening right now–if I just criticize and not actually take action, I fall into the category of complacency. I went back to Glenn, and I was like ‘okay, I got it, I know what I want to do, I’ve figured it out.’
I think that it’s one thing to learn from your teachers and your lecturers, but both at Sciences Po and Columbia, I have experienced that you learn at least the equal amount from your peers. The criteria for the Rhodes, particularly, taking action and everyone doing their part in fostering a more inclusive and peaceful future, automatically selects a group of people I would love to have intellectual exchanges with. In such a group you can motivate and inspire each other. Once I identified this combination, it was definitely my dream, and my whole motivation went into this process of trying to get to Oxford with the Rhodes.
B: Are you specifically focusing on the current refugee crisis of Syrians and other people coming into Europe?
L: What really bothered me was the radical right in Europe and the unwillingness to be inclusive and open-minded in all aspects: whether that is in migration, in education, in economics. I think that it’s a general problem, and I think it’s very much manifested right now in the case of the migration crisis. Because it’s a crisis–I think we can call it that, a huge juncture in European history–I’m currently focusing on it. Also, if we look at it from a historical perspective, where it’s the biggest migration to Europe since World War II. Overall the current migration crisis is a symptom of an over-arching problem in Europe: the unwillingness to be open-minded and to collectively aim for a better future.
B: Have you observed the rise of the radical right in Germany or in your home?
L: I grew up in Vienna, so I’ve very closely followed it in Austria, and it’s been troubling me for a long time. Since I’ve been following politics back home, politics went step-by-step further to the right. You see the same thing in Hungary, in Poland, in the Netherlands, even in Sweden, which I always saw as a less right-wing country. We see it also in Germany, with the PEGIDA and with some [other] parties.
B: Specifically, the idea that there’s going to be a very reactionary, radical right-wing movement, it’s been on the minds of a lot of political thinkers in America with the Tea Party and Donald Trump. Do you see that differently in Europe or Austria?
L: It’s different, yes, because I think Trump and the Tea Party are so blatantly open about it, which is less the case in Europe. [The recent rise of the radical right in Europe] has evolved in a subtler way at first, and then intensified. Now, we see countries like Hungary very openly saying they want to build a fence to keep migrants out. In Austria, you see advertisements that, in my opinion, present hate speech. It’s a different development I would say. But it’s interesting to also study the radical right comparatively in the US and Europe.
B: In that vein, do you see how the refugee is portrayed differently in the US than in Austrian or German media?
L: In Austria, it’s interesting because we have very politicized newspapers. I haven’t studied journalism in the US so much, but I guess if I would watch more right-leaning outlets, then I would probably also see more populist speech here.
I would say that we had some phases in Europe. First, it was very focused on Italy, Spain, and France – where migrants first landed in Europe. Then, there was actually a lot of movement towards embracing the migration because a lot of people started activism in that direction, which was interesting to see because that’s not common in Europe in that sense. But then, with Paris, we saw a backlash and people becoming more cautious, and also scared.
In the US, I think it was not a topic at all, but with Paris, and thinking about parallels with 9/11, most of the senators thought they must make a statement against Syrian refugees, which is very unfortunate.
I think Europe being directly impacted by migration right now is shifting, back and forth, the newspapers and the politicians. Of course, the radical right tries to capitalize off events just like Paris. Marine Le Pen and the Austrian right-wing really exploited it to increase the fear amongst the citizenry.
B: You said how just didn’t want to criticize this, you wanted to be active in helping it. I know this is a big question, but do you have any idea how you would do that?
L: I mean, it’s a huge question [how to actually have an impact]. I have a vague idea, its more like a grand scheme of plans. After Oxford, I hope to go back to Austria to work there hopefully in a ministry either in education or inner affairs – immigration. I think if you want to have a direct impact, you need to truly understand the functioning and the mechanisms of the de facto politics in the country.
Then, from there on, I hope to try politics either in existing party politics or, maybe, by pushing for a real centrist party in Austria because we have something called the neoliberal party that is trying to fill that role, but, in my opinion, they are acting with the common tools and within the common political structure. I think that it would be possible to have some disruption in the sense that a centrist party could push the center-left, center-right a bit more out so that they would marginalize the radical right. Once national politics works, I think that supra-national politics are very attractive and very interesting. There’s a lot that can be done.
B: When talking about supra-national politics and Europe as a whole, a lot of these far-right parties, if I’m correct, are pushing for the end of the EU. Do you think the EU is useful? Do you think it needs to be reformed?
L: I think the European Union is important. The way it’s functioning right now is not ideal, and we see that reflected in the economic state of the European Union, but we also see that in the political state of the European Union. What we saw was more and more economical integration because the European Union is historically founded upon economic goals, but continuing this economic integration without following it with political integration is very difficult, so I think that political integration in Europe has to catch up with the economical integration. What we see right now is that everybody is still emphasizing the nation state, and saying ‘okay, we have our authority.’ It’s more against each other than with each other at the moment, which is unfortunate to see. But I think that the idea of the European project is a beautiful one, and it’s important.
B: So what exactly do you want to study at Oxford?
L: I will definitely do a master in public policy, which is a fascinating, 12-month program in the Blavatnik School of Government. It has a large focus on internationality, with people from all over the world, which is exciting. It pretty much translates all the different area of studies that I’ve had here into practice, and that’s exactly what I want to do with this program – I want to put my ideas into practice. That’s why this program is wonderful. There’s also other very interesting programs at Oxford. I can do a second year [at Oxford], and there is a program that is called Diplomacy and Global Governments, and one which is called Refugee and Forced Migration Studies. Both are MScs, and I think that will be interesting just to focus a bit more on these areas. One of the two could be my second area of studies in order to continue into the direction of practical and applied politics.
(to be continued)
Update (12/9): This interview was edited by the editorial board from a previously published version that contained minor factual errors and syntax issues.
Photo via @rhodes_trust on Twitter