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Because we forget
by Thanos Kalamidas
2015-09-12 12:24:12
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First was the Greek crisis, now it is the refugee crisis. Common field for both crisis, Europe. In both cases the crisis brought out the worst of the continent that for decades was the champion of solitude, freedom and democracy. The continent that gave settler to everybody in need, from Chile to Persia and from Algeria to Hungary. Yes to Hungary and the thousands of Hungarians running away from the Russian tanks in 1956.

Obviously the Hungarians have forgotten but in 1956 their country lived something that started as a rebellion against the USSR friendly regime and ended in a slaughter. During that rebellion that lasted not more than a week, 20,000 Hungarians were killed and it didn’t end there. More than 22,000 Hungarians were immediately after arrested and more than 60,000 run to their neighbours looking for settler and help. Their immediate neighbours who did give settler included Austria and the then Yugoslavia and soon Germany, France Britain, Sweden, Canada and USA among many others, came to help.

They called themselves - and some still do – resistance against the communists Russians. I’m sorry but I have news for them. In the eyes of the Austrians, the Brits or the French, they were refugees. It is just that feeling empathy to fellow humans that suffered they didn’t mention it to them.

syr01_400_02In 1989 The Wall fell and the Warsaw Pact ended overnight. From one day to the other Hungarians felt free to travel and reach for their material dreams. Since these materials dreams could not be fulfilled in the economically destroyed Hungary so they turned to Germany, France, Britain, USA, Sweden looking for the promising land and the riches. And they moved. In most cases – even though this is the period xenophobia rises in the west – these countries welcomed them and gave them a chance to their dream. It was also the period Europe realized that the aging population needed some kind of boost otherwise the welfare was collapsing. The Hungarians saw themselves as an additional and hardworking workforce, the locals saw them as immigrants and some as immigrants who came to enjoy the goods of an organized society with perfect welfare system.

In both cases the Hungarians refugees or the Hungarians immigrants didn’t apply for jobs before leaving Hungary or even apply for permission to the countries they targeted. Most of the time they arrived there at first trying to blend with the population or using gaps of the laws, like a family member who already lived there and could give them some kind of support in the beginning. Actually the majority of them were …illegals.

But they did become legal, in 2004. In 2004 Hungary became full member of the European Union which meant free movement within the union. That caused another outbreak for the older members especially in UK and Germany where most Hungarians were hoping to find the promise land …again and this time legally. The same year there was already a talk in Hungary about all the “brains” of the country escaping to the west for the better salaries and lifestyle. This time their hosts were talking about those “criminals from East Europe” that flood our country to live on our welfare. And occasionally this could be very specific, it was the Pols, it has been the Czechs, the Bulgarians and it has been the Hungarians. How do Hungarians think that euro-sceptics like Le Pen or Farage think of them today? As the friendly allies or as the comrades in the fight against multiculturalism? If they think that, I’m sorry I have news for them. They think of them as lazy and corrupted east Europeans who dream to steal their houses and all the women as candidates for brothels. "East European" for them is not a nice reference.

I’m sorry if I hurt their feelings but they are the ones who talk about “refugees who bring crime and they are going to change our land”. Well there are Europeans who thought and still think the same about them. However these Hungarians today want to rise a wall, just like the Berlin Wall that stopped them from settler and freedom fifty years ago, to stop others from settler and freedom. And here I’m not talking about the fascist Nazi regime that rules the country in violation to everything EU was founded on, but about a population which has been in exactly the same position not long ago. The population that kicks and threaten people who are clones to what they have been not long ago.

And is not only about Hungary, Hungary was just the obvious example. Finns have been both, refugees and immigrants (even illegal immigrants) as very correctly the Swedish Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, reminded them last week. Greeks have been both, refugee and immigrants (even illegal immigrants) for centuries, Pols, Germans, Austrians, Italians have been both. US, Canada and Australia are made by refugees and immigrants against to local populations that sometimes led to near extinction as the Australians often like to forget.

Europe actually lived one of the biggest population movements in the mid of the last century and after WWII. Germany became for the first part the land of immigrants and refugees and for the second the land that hosted immigrants and refugees.  Thousands of Germans moved to all places searching for better chances in life with a lot of them moving to the other side of the Atlantic. The same time the end of colonialism for Britain and France marked waves of immigrants and refugees coming from Africa and Asia.

Actually and despite to what Le Pen and Farage say, the biggest part of the immigrants in France and UK are not from East Europe but from their former colonies and in a very twisted way their situation is responsibility of Britain and France. The same applies for other European countries.

For nearly two generations the British trained the people of Hong Kong to see China as the living devil who will come and kill them if they are lucky and they would have already done if they weren’t protected by the mighty empire and then one day you just say goodbye leaving them to their destiny and the death that is coming to them according to all the things you said for so long? It is natural for these people to try to escape, to find ways – legal or illegal – to protect themselves and their families.

Why is different now with the Syrians from all the cases above? What makes us so scared of giving back what so open-handed we took only years ago? How can we not see one of our ancestors in every Syrian refugee face?

I have heard all kind of excuses but the Hungarians - again – gave me the best by far. The first one was that our European culture and purity is in danger with all these people from Arab countries. Despite that the argument if it has something pure that is racism and be racist in the 21st century shows only stupidity but please correct me if I’m wrong. Hungarians, Finns and Turks share the same heritage and it is anything but the same with the rest of the Europeans and in this I include even the despised by the Hungarians, Russians. Actually Russians are far more Europeans than the Hungarians will ever be. So in respect to their argument we better rise a wall in the borders with Hungary and forbid them entering Europe. And talking about purity in the 21st century after centuries of population movements in Europe is at least an idiotic joke.

But let’s get to their second argument. Islam will overtake Christianity. I’m an atheist and European by birth but I suppose I’m not a threat to them, at least not yet. But please, how much faith you have to your believes, to be scared that some tens of thousands of helpless refugees will overtake you? Faith is about numbers? If it is so, then you have already lost.

For last I kept the best argument ever and it is coming from a man who hopes to become the president of the most powerful nation on earth and the country that champions supposedly democracy. Donald Trump tweeted a few days ago: “My grandparents didn’t come all the way from Germany just to see it get taken over by immigrants. Not on my watch.” Please tell me if this man is sane, if he has any kind of intellect and if he has the slightest idea of what he wrote.The same time this is the sum of all arguments I hear, Trump is represetning all those xenophobes and their arguments all around the world. So much stupidity.

But returning to Europe, the Europeans have been both, refugees and immigrants and has had both, refugees and immigrants in waves even intercontinental and that allows no excuse for the recent behaviour with the Syrian refugees. Furthermore it obliges them to help if they mean to honour their history and their heritage.

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Emanuel Paparella2015-09-12 16:01:34
Thanks Thanos for reminding us all, and especially the Hungarian members of the EU, of some inconvenient historical truths. The most salient of those truths is that a great many Europeans have been both emigrants and refugees but somehow they seem to have forgotten it, and because they have forgotten it they are unable to sympathize and commiserate with those who are now in the same condition they were once. That failure in turn makes a mockery of the word “solidarity” which is still being banded about hypocritically.

You put the finger on the crux of the issue at the end of your piece when you mention phenomena such as heritage, honor and historical memory. Indeed, when people feel no more shame for losing those values, the game is basically over and a whole society may be journeying toward its doom without even being minimally aware that the journey is not only physical but spiritual. Life is then reduced to banal capitalistic transactions, a la Trump, and then we can even proceed to deny global warming as acknowledged by 97% or our environmental scientists. That is to say, they will have put the cart before the horse and will have prioritized purely economic values above spiritual ideals; in effect they will have gone back to the days of xenophobia and rabid nationalism and what they portent. We now have right-wing fascist leaning parties all over the EU, some have become Trojan horses inside the citadel of democracy, in the very parliaments of Europe, biding their time for the final onslaught.

At that disastrous point, when the center no longer holds and the very foundations on which the founding fathers of the EU built the polity called EU (the likes of Adenauer, Schuman, De Gasperi, Monet), will start to crack. The only hope left at that point is that perhaps it is not too late to review and reflect upon the heritage and the wisdom left us by the EU founding fathers and begin to realize that one’s cultural identity is essential and more important than mere political and economic power; that is to say, the notion that Europe, before being a geo-political reality, is first and foremost an idea and will live or die as an idea.

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