It has been a hot summer so far in Europe. Everywhere you go, people endlessly talk of air conditioning , heat, holidays and Grexit. It is indeed the season during which Europeans travel most, fulfilling the middle classes’ need for getaways. I often find myself sitting with friends at some fancy looking cafe in downtown Bucharest complaining about the city, as if we were infested with some kind of local boredom.
‘I wish I’d just leave for another country. Right now, right away. Leave every unattended issue in my life and fly away’ – it’s not unusual to hear these words should you pass by our table. And it’s not the fact that we don’t travel- we actually do: some for business, some for adventure and others just for the pleasure of it. It’s actually the lack of challenges or conflicts in the surrounding environment that allows such narcissistic features to take upon our lives. It’s characteristic of the new European lifestyle, established after WWII with the creation of the EU. I might call it middle class now, but its roots could be found in the ‘bourgeois’ lifestyle.
But do either of us young Europeans understand the enormous privileges of living on the Old Continent? We might at a frivolous level, but deep inside it is impossible to acknowledge that we are truly living in a bubble.
Because all that insecurity, war, human tragedy, shelling and decapitations occur ‘in another world’, one that is briefly presented on the 7 o’clock news; or as we browse throw Facebook and Twitter. Never on Instagram, where we are all touched by a sense of bohemian vibe.
In my world, we have no refugees. We don’t see them wandering through the streets. City life in Bucharest has been blooming for the past years – there’s a feeling of that ‘mittleEuropa’ concept for those of you familiar with the idea. Surely, it’s a world of contrast, where Central Europe meets the Balkans reminiscence of the old Ottoman Empire, and the new generation has more in common with it’s German or Belgian counterpart than with its parents communistic experiences.
Even among intellectuals there is little interest in the ‘refugee issue’. Yet, I find it of utter most importance to differentiate refugees from economic migrants and to understand why they are indeed society’s most vulnerable category of persons.
Only by empathizing with the personal tragedies of refugees could we create the necessary conditions to make a difference in helping them find stability and roots. Only understanding that there is no choice for them, we will be able to combat those xenophobic ideas spread by Europe’s far right movements.
Refugees could only choose between sure death – possibly after horrific torture- and running to a safe heaven. By running I mean months of walking under the hot sun or extreme weather phenomenons, being shoved in the truck of an old car with other humans or on a boat with thousands just as desperate as you. Imagine caring your child or your old mother three months from the deserts of the Levant, only to reach the thistly fence separating the promised land of Europe from Turkey, or the shores of Italy, Greece, maybe Malta or France; sometimes former Yugoslavia.
They endure all that and much more (abuses, fear for life, exhaustion etc) only to reach beautiful and rich Europe’s cold shoulder and reluctant look:
“They are pests”, say the ultra-nationalists of the European Union, regardless of their place of birth. Europe’s wannabe ubermensches pride themselves in belonging to this land of prosperity and peace. They don’t understand history, they rely solely on their ego to conduct most of their attitudes towards life.
“They are lazy and impossible to educate”, argue business owners whose most worrying news is a possible increase in tax, one that would make them unable to change their cars once every 5 years.
“They are dirty and narrow minded” – yes, these is the justification of intellectuals and upper-middle class European citizens. You see, they discuss such matters since they must act involved in pressing matters of the world. None of the however would lift a finger to actually make a change.
“They are A PROBLEM”, complain politicians all over the Continent, bothered by the fact that they must actually work in delivering a solution to welcome and help refugees. After all, they must keep in place the great romantic idea of the tolerant civilization of Europe.
No one understands the drama and the danger…the danger that awaits us: not outside fortress Europe, but inside. Because it is inside Europe that our grandparents – not so long ago- witnessed some of history’s most atrocious facts. No fence, no matter how high, thick or electrified, can protect us from the horrors unleashed by the monsters that lie inside each one of us. It is only those that have experienced the terror of living under threat that could make us understand how privileged we are and could help us grow more Europe. And yet, we choose to ignore and bury their existences in the explanatory papers issued by the European Commission…
FOTO source AP; Explanation: Belgian refugees fleeing their home, World War II. “Not so long ago in Europe”