Interviews “What are your fears?”

“European Angst” conference
“European Angst” conference | Photo: © Goethe-Institut Brüssel / Caroline Lessire

These six interviews were conducted during the European Angst conference in December 2016. The students were involved in the discussions and, together with other students, drew up the manifesto that was presented to MEPs and Jo Leinen, the chair of European Movement International. They were responding to the question “What do you personally fear?”.

Ermelinda Xheza, Greece

Ermelinda Xheza Photo: © private Most people are frightened of what cannot be foreseen. Yes, I’m also frightened when I think of Brexit, Trump, Le Pen and developments in Austria. I think that it all points to a very unstable world. I did not foresee that. Brexit caught me completely by surprise and is something I find extremely depressing. It has shaken me to the core. I don’t know what the future holds. I’m very young and have lots of opportunities but feel powerless as other people are making decisions for me. This sense of powerlessness is horrendous. I saw Brexit as an event of similar magnitude to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I have since paid much more attention and become more critical. I am now looking in greater depth into why so many people are turning towards populists. I don’t condemn them but I want to understand them. I think it will be difficult to turn back the tide, but we now need to act very conscientiously in the present to ensure we shape a bright future.

Klemen Habat, Slovenia

Klemen Habat Photo: © private I’m not frightened of the future – it is full of opportunities. Some things will change but we have to take them as they come. I see the nascent extremism as a response to the threat of economic instability, particularly in countries that take in lots of immigrants. I think we should increase minimum income which would boost the economy as people would then spend more. A stable economic situation would temper fears over immigration. I am studying economics and hope to be able to influence economic policy in my country one day. I don’t like how foreign firms treat employees, for example, simply dismissing them when they are no longer needed. I am a tutor for foreign students at my university. This gives me the opportunity to gain an insight into their lifestyles and to see how other countries resolve their problems. I believe you develop when you understand how other people feel.

Annabelle Joynson, England

Annabelle Joynson Photo: © private In my opinion there is no such thing as a bad guy. Everyone thinks they are a good guy, Putin believes he is the best guy ever to run Russia and it is exactly the same thing with Merkel. I lived in several countries and I did a lot of volunteering. I always try to understand where people are coming from and what their perspectives are. That really motivated me to actually do something with my life and change something. I think the West, the industrialised world, is going in the right direction. But the only way we can go on like this is by educating the people and understanding different countries’ position and cultures. When you talk to people you sympathise, you make friends with them and you understand what they are doing a lot better. I myself enjoy this very much. But I am terrified, about what is happening with the government in Poland and what they are doing for example with the right to abortion. I live in Poland and I am really angry.

My problem with the EU is that we do not listen to people because we are too scared that we might legitimise them. But when we are actually engaged in conservations with those people that do not have the same views as us, we identify them, they represent a lot of people. My proposal is: we should investigate what people really think. We should mix with the people by sending volunteers and anthropologists to different local groups – to church groups or mother’s meetings and so on – and find out what they think about the EU. In this setting there will be honest answers.

Diana Khomeriki, Georgia

Diana Khomeriki Photo: © private I am fearful about Europe’s future. Previous generations have achieved so much and there have been no major conflicts in Europe for so long. In my view, one of the biggest mistakes in recent times was getting involved in the affairs of countries in the Middle East. We are now feeling the effects with all the refugees who want to cross borders to come to Europe. Lots of them are obviously good people but you cannot control who is arriving – it’s a huge problem. In response, nationalism has grown in many countries and with it the danger of radicalism. There are of course other reasons for this too, such as more and more people feeling that the governing elites do not represent them. Unemployment and financial problems are on the increase in many countries. In all honesty, I cannot imagine how all the refugees can be integrated into the European community. That is the biggest challenge facing Europe. On one hand, you can understand that people want to escape their situation in Syria or Afghanistan, but, on the other, I hear from talking to friends that they no longer let their daughters go out alone on the streets at night because they are concerned about their safety. The best solution is investing in education so that we learn to understand one another. Talking to people and involving them in different ways is also important. Isolation inevitably leads to aggression.

Antonio Kursar, Croatia

Antonio Kursar Photo: © private I see Europe as a huge country but one where there are lots of differences and not all people are equally important. Instead of contemplating the end of the EU, we should be trying to unite Europe in a better way. Unfortunately, I feel like the citizen of a second-class country. The quality of food produce is not equally good across Europe. We always receive products, for example, that are contaminated with salmonella. I find this very disconcerting. It is vitally important that education is provided to the same standard and that our qualifications are recognised in other countries. I believe the emergent nationalism, such as in Poland, comes from this feeling of not being equal. Urgent action has to be taken.

Anna-Lena Sender, Germany

Anna-Lena Sender Photo: © private I believe you have to accept that fears will always be there as a lifelong companion, which plays out at all levels. Fear is a feeling like love or pride that is evoked by something in exactly the same way as courage. You should start with yourself and look at how you personally deal with it. I was anxious as a child and in my youth and later had fears over my degree. Challenges are always related to fears.

I am currently anxious about the idea of Marine Le Pen becoming the French President and deciding to leave the EU. I’ve grown up with the EU and although I’m critical of certain issues I would be frightened if the EU were to break up. But being fearful does not achieve anything. The first step is to adopt a proactive approach. I keep myself informed, discuss things and make my voice heard. There was talk of enraged citizens at the conference. Being courageous does not mean going onto the streets and shouting and yelling. I see courage as not allowing your fears to take hold of you in this way but instead reflecting and being optimistic.

I don’t believe being fearful is a typically German trait even if people talk about “German angst”. I’ve spent a lot of time in France where I discovered that my fellow students were anxious about going to Germany because of the language or they were concerned about being alone. Such fears prevent people for doing certain things. People often fill fears with substance, making them legitimate. But you can take a different approach by seeing fear as an empty space and trying to fill it with courage instead of with reasons that simply confirm the fear. Courage only ever comes from within yourself. You can encourage people to take steps to overcome their fears and persuade them that being courageous is worthwhile. In relation to the EU, I find it extremely positive that there are symbols and institutions that show the way – that is at least something and I can relate to that.