In the supposedly "slow" part of Europe, life is changing at terrific speed. On a social level, many people are being left behind. They mustn't be left to fall prey to the populists, says writer Jagoda Marinic.
Writer and playwright Jagoda Marinic on what Merkel may have meant by a 'two-speed Europe': "The northerners spend their money faster than southerners are able to earn it"
I spent this summer in Dalmatia. People there still cultivate a way of life they call "pomalo" – slow, not rushing, not hectic. "Pomalo" is a word that vividly describes the Mediterranean way of life. It gave the Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi the hit of this summer: "Despacito" is the Spanish version of "pomalo." There's no such word in Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel likes to talk about a two-speed Europe. In doing so, she is failing to see how quickly – in spite of their leisurely motto – these regions are transforming. So much has changed along the Mediterranean in just twenty years. How is it possible to talk about another, "slow" Europe in Germany, where things have been at a standstill for the past twelve years; where they haven't even managed to achieve comprehensive coverage for high-speed internet; the region where turbo-capitalism is able to spread virtually unchecked?
True, rich northern Europeans do get to the nicest bays faster in their mega-yachts, and they're faster when it comes to snapping up the nicest holiday homes. Admittedly, German and Austrian companies were quicker off the mark: dm-Markt, Bipa, Kaufland, Lidl, Bauhaus… they're all already there. Employees in these superstores aren't always quite so fast. Must they be, for a minimum wage of around three euros and products priced the same as in western Europe?
Split is one of the most beautiful cities in Croatia. In August, you'd need a magnifying glass to find a local. Six tourist beds to every one resident's, according to the statistics. The marble cities, like Dubrovnik and Split, have served as locations for "Game of Thrones" and will soon become the backdrop for "Mamma Mia II." The country has been conquered by a wandering army of tourists.
What else is there to say about how the fast life is invading supposedly slower Europe? Ah yes: the Western obsession with beauty. Even serious newspapers spend the summer scouring the Adriatic for the most attractive bodies, men's and women's: it's a body cult with L-carnitine and at turbo-speed. There's not an actress who wouldn't show herself on Instagram stretching in the sun and demonstrating her iron determination to work out.
The Western message behind all this: Slavic melancholy has been eliminated. Aren't we all beautiful and lovable, happy and sexy? Professional networking as a friendship model has arrived in southeastern Europe, too. Everyone posts their hashtags in English: We're part of the global community, yeah! Who wants to be part of slow Europe? What we want is to go to the fashion trade show in Düsseldorf – yeah! Like!!
"Don't let your children study any more; they'll be washing the sheets of the northern Europeans," warned a politician
Where have all the locals gone?
A British tourist complains on his travel blog: "What's annoying is that I can only drink my beer with Germans here. Where have all the locals gone?" They're probably washing his sheets, on short-term contracts. My friends down there spend the whole of August working through the tourist boom, while my friends from up here spend the equivalent of a month of my local friends' salary just for their seven nights in the hotel.
Perhaps that's what Merkel meant by a two-speed Europe: The northerners spend their money faster than southerners are able to earn it.
Years ago a Croatian politician made a shocking comment that was widely reported: "Don't let your children study any more; they'll be washing the sheets of the northern Europeans." This wasn't satire; he was serious. The people have always been proud, and still are. They want more. But there's little on offer, and for ordinary citizens the path to honest prosperity is a stony one.
Whenever a tough new law is introduced – the "Fiskalizacija", for example – the government claims that it's the European standard. I've seldom been given a printed receipt for my ice cream by ice-cream sellers in Germany. Perhaps that's why the German middle classes are faster: because the state gives people with small businesses a little leeway here and there. You're not allowed to say that. But still.
Europe – a continent
Here and there in the old town of Split you can find posh plates of pasta for 30 euros. And at the same time we read that this summer, in the heatwave of the century, the pulmonology department of Split's largest hospital has no air conditioning. I visualize the patients with lung diseases struggling to breathe in this heat, lying beneath their white sheets (I don't know who washes these, or how much they are paid).
One evening the trees burn down with such speed behind my friends' housing complex that the firemen can barely keep up. While the tourists are presumably taking selfies against a glowing sunset, the locals are fighting the fire with an under-equipped fire brigade, which constantly has to make decisions about which of the many fires should be extinguished first.
I don't know whether all this is what Merkel means by "two-speed Europe." I only know that in this Europe the community – the living situation, not the travel situation, of the citizens of this continent – has to become the priority. Otherwise this Europe must not be surprised if nationalists use citizens' feelings of being left behind to claim that they could do better. In this respect, too, we are not a Europe of two speeds, but a single continent.
Jagoda Marinic is a Croatian-German author, playwright and journalist. The daughter of Croatian immigrants, she was born in Waiblingen and currently lives in Heidelberg. Her recently published novel, Made in Germany – Was ist deutsch in Deutschland? [Made in Germany – what is German in Germany?], considers Germany's identity as a country of immigration.