The efforts by some of the poorest people of Europe (island and country-side people of Greece and Italy), to help the people forming these extraordinary refuge flows should put to shame other parts of Europe where, even back in 2015, the mere transit of refugees was met by rising fences, police cordons, and routine water-cannoning of the march of the desperate along the so-called Balkan corridor. What a fine defence of Europe that was! Bravo to all those ‘brave’ individuals involved!
I am sorry but for me human civilization is more than cities with fine concert halls, museums, great parks, cafe culture and lifestyle choices. These are great ‘ornaments’ but even graves can be adorned with such. The ongoing squabble about how to distribute these people among European nations, the equivalent of 0.5-1% of the total European population, makes the stance of certain parts of Europe even more pathetic. I hope one day, not too late, they realize they are part of Europe and even of the planet. It is unfortunate that, at their present state, many European societies would buckle if they were to be put on stress tests (with apologies to the bankers and the ECB beaurocrats) similar to those that segments of Greek society had been through because of the refugee flows. They would buckle releasing the darkest forces we know all from our collective European history. The likes of Geert Wilders in The Netherlands, Marie Le Pen in France, Frauke Petry of the AfD and the PEGIDA people in Germany, to name a few, would have been in power in short order. False and dangerous prophets of a road back to romantic illusions of nations that never were.
We do have such forces in Greece as well, ranging from Michaloliakos and his Golden Dawn gangbangers, to milder elements in central-right parties. Yet they have been held in check by a starkly different consensus of the Greek society at large, shaping a reaction that is worlds apart from where these extremists would like it to be. The peaceful evacuation of Eidomeni from tens of thousands of desperate people stranded there after the shutting of the Balkan corridor is one such example. The renewed proposal to start incorporating refugee children in the Greek education system is another.
Still I will not pretend here that this overall positive consensus can hold on indefinitely without help from the rest of Europe, the economic realities of Greece remaining stark. Recently local councils in Crete refused the relocation there of a mere 2000 refugees that are currently in Ellinikon in Athens to Crete. Finally, I am not one to deny the huge impact that the multiple terrorist attacks had had in France, Belgium by European-bred Islamist fanatics living in the margins of their respective societies, and similar attacks in Turkey. The climate of fear they induced across Europe is real, is not to be underestimated, and is in a bad resonance with the economic crisis and stagnation that plagues in several places of Europe for many years already. The near periphery of Europe, be it Egypt or Libya remains in trouble and even deteriorates, the next launching pads of boats.
The inexorable change of Earth’s climate and the competition for ever scanter resources are powerful multipliers and even inducers of crises. More worryingly they also act to bring together the strong turbulent eddies of the various isolated crises, merging them in ever larger geopolitical storms. The reaction of political elites around the World? Well, it can be summarized in one word and its derivatives: ‘isolation’, of nations, of political factions, of crises, a banking crisis here, a refugee one there, some wars inconveniently close to our borders, and so on.
Yet the stark truth is that we cannot keep enjoying the benefits of peaceful post-war Europe while the rest of World around us burns (while also it keeps handing us resources at the rock bottom prices of neo-colonial convenience). Sooner or later there will be sparks, and what these sparks will be called every time they flare up is not terribly important. Calling them by some name(s) can even be disorienting towards well… isolationist-type of ‘solutions’ of all kinds.
Conveying this starkest of truths to the citizens of Europe across national borders, honestly and relentlessly exposing the falsehood of national-level solutions (which do not even buy much time these days no matter how illustrious their political peddlers are), is not high-minded idealism, it is cold hard realism to the face of large-scale catastrophes. Still it is not enough, for even if magically the leaders of various European nations acknowledge such truths in front of their national audiences, the tools to act are not there. Resetting the EU on a democratic foundation rather than the one she has now is the other decisive step needed. Only then knowledge can become action, dictated transparently by citizens of a legislating European Parliament rather than unelected Technocratic committees behind closed doors (for the good of all of us I am sure…).
Under such radically new conditions we can then double down and boldly see the current refugee currents as a second chance, a chance to enlarge, and enrich European Civilization. This time doing it with more confidence, and hopefully knowing the heavy price of leaving large sectors of our societies marginalized, and with no stake in them. A price that has nothing to do with religion, the ethnic origin, or any other identifier of the group left behind, for marginalization will do its work regardless, only the ‘valves’ releasing the ‘steam’ will differ. We now have a second chance to make the EU work along the ideals behind its foundation, I hope that we all finally rise to it.
While writing this last note I caught myself asking the question that a non-European citizen of the World could certainly ask (and these days quite a few people from Europe as well), namely: ‘Why do you rant so much about Europe?’ ‘Maybe she is a spent force and maybe she deserves it too.’ It is because in principle she is still the only place in the World where three key elements coexist namely: a) a humanist tradition as deep as it can historically get, b) a large critical mass of people and industrial power, and c) Memory, memory of large scale societal catastrophes. The first provides the axioms, the second gives them a global sway, and the third reminds one, on one’s own soil, what happens when things go fundamentally wrong. Unfortunately, Europe these days is only an aimless b (pun intended).
Finally, it is because I was born and raised in a magical place of Europe called Greece, where the concept of Ηuman (Άνθρωπος) as the measure of all the miracles abound in the known Cosmos was born and celebrated. Now there is a fundamental optimism that goes with that, and this is one ship I will never abandon.