During the last few days I have been thinking a lot about whether to write something on this issue or not. I’m not running a primarily politically oriented blog and my main topic for the project still will be the European identity. Many newspapers and magazines as well as many other blog writers – surely being read million times more often than my blog – have published a lot about the current tragedy of several thousands of refugees on their often horrible odyssey to and through Europe in the search of safety and humanity. So, why should I put my oar in furthermore? Maybe because it concerns me and – what if not this? – it will deeply influence the self-image of the Europeans as well as the view on this continent and its societies from the outside.
How to describe the inner conflict of many people concerning the issue of immigration better than with Geriatrix’ (the Asterix figure called Methusalix in Germany) famous quotation which I’ve used for my cover picture? Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not talking about the stupid racism and xenophobia we are experiencing these days in too many cases as well. I’m talking about those undefined feelings and the kind of fear people sometimes have when being confronted with strangers in their real lives and their immediate vicinity. Of course, we cannot close our eyes to the irresistible wisdom of this sentence: ‘… strangers are not from here’. That’s defined by the inner logic and the meaning of the word strangers. But what’s the problem about this? Strangers are, after all, first and foremost one thing: human beings. The same human beings we all are with our hopes, fears, strengths and weaknesses. And, in most cases, they are nowhere near that strange as one might perhaps expect. Some are wearing unusual clothes to our eyes? Hm, I don’t know what to fear more: a woman wearing a headscarf, a man wearing a caftan or a Bavarian in his traditional costume? Strange food? Great, a welcome chance to expand our menu even more. And, finally, we should keep in mind that being strange is not an inner characteristic by itself. The most things in the world are strange to most people in the world. It’s rather a question of perspective and the willingness to engage in becoming familiar with the strange. That’s the only way to turn strangers into fellow citizens and maybe sometimes into friends.
‘But those strangers will change our society’, you can often hear. Definitely. But what have the internet, the automotive and the invention of electricity done in the past decades or even centuries? Life is change and – considering this – life is risk as well! Irrevocable! This does neither mean that all forms of change are welcome or good nor that we have to accept them all. Unwanted political, social or societal trends and developments for sure must become subjects of public debate and controversy. Each and everyone of us is responsible to raise its voice and speak out loudly if social wrongs become visible. This of course must go both ways: to those who are new here and to those who are domestic. Human rights or women’s rights may not have the same weight in all parts of the world as they have e.g. in Europe. Therefore, it’s pretty clear that people coming from those parts of the world will bring their experiences – and maybe sometimes their own and disputatious attitudes – about these topics with them. No need to fear: the constitutions and laws in the European countries are pretty clear in this point and the societies are strong enough to cope with this potential conflict. However, the question is not if our world will change, but how we will deal with this change. Are we willing to shape it with humanity, creative ideas, fresh thinking, hospitality, generosity and with regard to social justice? Or are we trying to wall in our continent and close our minds to the historical change that we are living in? In the latter case, good luck for the future, Europe, you will need it.
Facing the current migration crisis in Europe the former mentioned points are being expanded by the question if this all can overcharge the European countries and their societies. To give a (my) direct answer: no, it can’t, at least not in the strict sense of the word. Europe is a continent with more than 500 million inhabitants just within the member states of the EU and 750 millions altogether. Considering the general richness, the infrastructures and the mostly competent authority systems, Europe can’t be overcharged even by the current admittedly huge run of refugees and asylum-seekers at its borders. If a small and comparatively poor country like Libanon can receive far more than one million refugees – of course not being able to give them the same standards of help and accommodation we should try to give – Europe can’t fail to do so due to its competences and capacities. But it can fail due to a lack of willingness, intra-European co-operation and solidarity. At the moment, we have reached exactly this point. The politicians and governments are highly divided on the question how to deal with the refugee crisis and hand over responsibility to each other. While doing this, people with real and existential problems – particularly the refugees and asylum-seekers – have to suffer from intolerable circumstances even after reaching Europe in Lampedusa, Lesbos, Kos or anywhere else. Thus, the high politics shifts the problem to these small islands and many other municipalities which for their part definitely are overcharged with the situation – becoming together with the refugees the next victims of this now growing problem.
The further developments – as well as the question if the politics still fails – depend quite strongly on the mood and the behaviour of the European population – actively and passively. Actively e.g. shown in the great efforts put in by volunteers helping in the reception camps that we could see in many places all over Europe. Passively e.g. by accepting some of the economic repercussions this help will definitely cause. Regarding these questions we Europeans will have to take a position. Do we want to bare the ugly heads of egoism, intolerance and racism or do we stand for our often praised value system? We repeat at almost every opportunity – sometimes sounding quite narcissistically – our values of dignity, democracy, constitutionality, freedom, humanity and social justice. Now we have the chance to prove our fine words and put them into action.
For me personally as a European inhabitant, as for any other European, and for the idea of my project this for sure will have consequences which I can not overview yet. The problem on forecasts is that they refer to the future. As I still have no crystal ball, I will have to adjust to the forthcoming. In any case it will play a role in the contemplation of the European identity.
By the way, last week’s The Economist titled in one of its articles: ‘Let them in and let them earn’. In this spirit…