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No longer seen as second-class

April 20, 2016 - Natalia Sniadanko - Discussion


At present, we are starting to see more and more uniformity in Europe. Old Soviet roads and asbestos-covered houses in Eastern Europe are gradually disappearing and are being replaced with colourful facades, supermarkets and petrol stations. They all look alike, regardless of country or location. At the same time, Europe is becoming increasingly politically radical as the right-wing experiences a resurgence, a fact that is made evident by the results of recent elections in many countries. In Eastern Europe, the process of de-communisation is underway and even in the most remote corners, monuments of Lenin and other Soviet symbols are being removed. On the other hand, Russia is decisively trying to defend its spheres of influence and applies increasingly more radical methods to this end; propaganda alone is seemingly not enough.

Overall, Europe’s western flank is changing at a slower pace than its eastern counterpart. Here, many states still need to develop and shed their communist past. Western Europe has started to slowly eliminate some Cold War stereotypes, which explains why those who come from the East are no longer seen as second-class citizens. Thus, we now have a class of young, educated migrants who go to the EU not to take illegal employment but because they have been invited to take professional jobs. They are not escaping poverty but are instead looking for better career opportunities.

For this generation, Western Europe is no longer seen as a colourful paradise full of bananas and supermarkets. More and more young people from the East have experienced travelling, living and working abroad, which has without a doubt contributed to the regions’ mutual destruction of old stereotypes. Western Europe is slowly opening its labour market to these newcomers. Thus, the phenomenon of migration in the old communist sense of the word is disappearing and is no longer seen as a forced and painful escape without a right of return. Instead, there are new opportunities and free choices when it comes to residence and employment.

I am hopeful that in the next decade, these positive processes will become deeper and faster, while all the negative tendencies slow down. In my view, the most painful problem that we are faced with right now is a lack of tolerance. In a globalised world, there are opportunities for people of different cultures to live together, but there are still not enough functioning mechanisms that enable us to accept our differences. I think that the radicalisation and revanchist attitude of right-wing forces is, to a large degree, related to the fear of others, a fear of somebody unfamiliar and different, somebody who lives nearby but has a different worldview. Accepting this is the most important, and simultaneously most difficult, barrier Europe must overcome in the near future.

The most important lesson for us all of recent years is realising the need for a more active dialogue between European countries. This is especially true of Ukraine. Regions where the presence of European social and cultural initiatives are most keenly felt are mentally very different from those that are under the influence of Russian propaganda. A lack of information fosters stereotypes and fear, which can generate dangerous phenomena.

This text is a part of New Eastern Europe’s special coverage titled “A debate on the future of Europe”.

European values are universal values for the majority of our planet’s inhabitants. They can help people of different ethnic, religious and political backgrounds find common ground. The problem is that in many of the post-Soviet states, people often know too little about European values and have no experience living in a world that does not have double standards. They are used to a system where values are espoused for the benefit of the public while in reality, principles are cynically abused and human rights are violated. As long as these people do not experience a different way of living, these universal values will remain something completely abstract to them.

Translated by Iwona Reichardt 

Natalia Sniadanko is a Ukrainian poet, writer, journalist and translator. 


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