I grew up thinking that a politically united Europe would provide the optimal background for the life that stretched before me. The comfortable feeling of being a true European has stayed with me. Until recently.
By the time I was forming my own political ideas, my parents had become fervid Liberals – real Liberals, not the Lib dems of today. As such they were keen for Britain to join the Common Market. At the age of plus/minus 16 I flirted briefly with the idea of Communism, as you do. (I innocently but seriously considered Communism to be the most Christian form of government you were ever likely to achieve.) But I never lost that yearning to be a part of a political Europe (and the Communist thing dropped off me before I went off to do a year’s au-pairing in France at the age of 18).
So it is that I as a hardcore European am shocked, hurt and frightened by what is happening in the Greece crisis today. Not particularly about the facts, which are disturbing enough, but by the attitudes. By the sharpening of the political fronts, by the malicious tones, the slurs and insults, and by the lies. The lies?
I live in Germany. Our chancellor and her financial advisors, economically successful as they have been in dealing with the credit crunch of 2008, clearly set the tone in Brussels. We enjoy complete freedom of the press here as far as I an aware and the press tell us that Alexis Tsipras has been lying to his own electorate and still is. Is this the true story? The whole story would have to be a series of truths. Angela Merkel’s truth, Jean-Claude Juncker’s truth, Alexis Tsipras’ truth. Half-truths and perceived truths. And what about the Greek claims that we are also being lied to? And what’s the difference, in the end, between propaganda and “truth”?
So in the quest for something that might resemble “the truth”, you google around and try to put the pieces together for yourself. And stumble upon articles written in Europe and also across the Atlantic that make the hair on your arms stand up in revolt. Articles that completely reverse the claims that you have spent a lifetime believing. Calumnying and defamatory articles with brutal attacks on those who are, im my opinion, doing very good jobs trying to sort out the European mess we have manoeuvered into.
Even worse have been the comments I have met on the social media. Verbal Facebook attacks. Shares and retweets of the most disparaging and offensive messages and posts. Have our peoples been whiplashed into blank hatred? Are we at war? Are we?
I belong to the generation of Europeans who still have access to personal accounts of WW2 through our parents. My father never really talked about the war. My mother did sometimes. Her memories were heart-wrenching and featured the agony of being seperated from her mother, the shame of bed-wetting, the never-ending fear experienced quivering under bedclothes in icy, blacked-out bedrooms and sleepless nights of sobbing. Even today, my mother is terrified of electric storms, when particularly aggressive claps of thunder bring back the horror of air raids. My mother spoke about her war experiences, but she never uttered a word about the German people. Except to sympathise with “those poor, poor families” that were being wrenched apart when the Iron Curtain arrived in Berlin.
War. I am so thankful that I have no personal experience of it. Not all EU citizens of my age can claim this. But it is true that since their inclusion into the European family at various times, the member states of the EU have lived in peace. What an achievement! What joy! What a reason to be thankful and celebrate! Despite all the criticism and the despondency, we all have a whopping great reason to be happy and friendly to one another. It’s true and regrettable that a few billion Euros have gone down the drain and certainly the economic reality is not something that every statesman can be proud of. But our European politicians are not gods. And still they have been successful in protecting us against the folly of war amongst ourselves. So far.
My husband has an answer for conflict in the family. His magic word is “Deeskalation” – de-escalation. It mainly works at home. I believe that if we all – politicians and the press included – try to take the heat out of the discussions currently taking place and replace harshness and polarisation with gentle criticism and tolerance, then we might manage to overcome the hatred that is poisoning European debate and preventing the creation of valid solutions.
Europeans, wherever you are and however you might be able to contribute to a social and political climate in which we all feel comfortable! Be a little kinder to one another!