Europe would not be what it is today had it not taken in millions of refugees in the past.
Idomeni, Gevgelija, Presevo, Rozske, Tovarnik, Brezice, Spielfeld - all small towns of which, before the summer of 2015, I knew little more than the fact that they were on the border to countries in southeastern Europe. Then, hundreds of thousands of people began arriving in these quiet towns from the warring regions of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a reporter, I saw the same scenes over and over: thousands of people, exhausted, hungry, sick and yet full of hope for a peaceful future, sleeping on the ground and packed into overfilled buses and trains. Most took on such hardship because they had to leave their war-torn homes and the enormous refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are underfinanced and overfilled. And also because each year, hope has diminished that peace will return and they will finally be able to go home.
For years we have watched as one of the greatest refugee catastrophes since the end of the Second World War has built up in Syria, just a few hundred kilometers from Europe's external border. And we have acted as if it only affected adjacent neighbor states. When - 26 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall - a crack opened in the European fortress, fences were quickly erected: in the heart of Europe and even between EU member states. That was the first step towards getting rid of Europe. Had Angela Merkel listened to her critics and closed Germany's borders, it would have seriously threatened the existence of the EU in its current form. Luckily, she didn't.
Lost European values
Today "Fortress Europe" once again stands tall. The small towns on the Western Balkan route have been forgotten. The thousands of people currently stuck in southeast Europe, without a roof over their heads and freezing in subzero temperatures, are rarely worth more than a mention to the public in Berlin, Vienna or Stockholm.
The EU has two important allies helping it duck its responsibility to take in refugees: the Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Mediterranean Sea. At least 5,022 refugees drowned in the Mediterranean in 2016. The EU calls its policy "border security," but in truth it is a war that we are conducting against those people desperately trying to reach Europe.
The EU claims it wants to fight human traffickers, yet those criminals are asking higher prices than ever for their services. The EU itself is creating demand for traffickers because there are hardly any legal ways to travel to the EU or apply for asylum from abroad. One gets the impression that authorities are concentrating on illegal traffickers in order to have a bad guy, and to keep from having to look in the mirror when the question arises as to who is responsible for all of those dead refugees.
That all has very little to do with oft-touted European values. Europe isn't in crisis because Syria is burning. Europe is in crisis because right-wing populists are trying to resuscitate the ghosts of the 1930s.
Europe and the refugees
After the end of the Second World War, Hannah Arendt found that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations, had no real value when states were confronted with millions of refugees. This was because those people were unable to demand their individual rights. It makes sense to reread Arendt today, if only to remind ourselves that abstract human rights are worth nothing whatsoever to the thousands of people who drown in the Mediterranean each year.
Ironically, Europe would not be what it is today had member states not taken in millions of refugees after the end of the Second World War. It also would not be what it is today had the free half of Europe not opened its borders to people trying to escape real Socialist regimes, or refugees fleeing the ethnic-nationalist insanity of the Yugoslav Wars.
There is no ocean to drown in between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Germany. When my family fled the Bosnian War we did not have to risk our lives. In the early 1990s, Germany alone took in hundreds of thousands of people from former Yugoslavia, Warsaw Pact states and the post-Soviet states. That did not make Germany worse; it made it better.
And now Europe is in danger of falling apart because member states with 510 million citizens cannot come to an agreement on how to deal with 2 million refugees? Even though there are more than 65 million refugees in the world? If we allow that to happen, then much of what was achieved after the Second World War and the fall of the Berlin Wall will be lost. Then it will no longer be my Europe.
Krsto Lazarevic (27) was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and fled to Germany with his family as a child. Today he lives in Berlin and writes for various German-language media outlets.
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