Migration – Emigration – Fleeing So who did Europe betray?

Correspondence
Correspondence | Photo: © Colourbox.de/Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi

Dear Aman,

I actually wanted to tell you about Idomeni, but sometimes I get the feeling that I don’t know how to do that anymore.

Maybe too much has happened. One thing is definitely clear: Europe is threatened with a breakup – the united, auspicious, post-war Europe. And a fundamental reason for this is the hatred of refugees.

Everything that we’ve discussed, the reality of misery and of migration, is now becoming a political reality with historiography to come. Politics will be overrun by its own failures; the historic fissure, the Brexit, is the result of waning solidarity, which has accelerated so much over the past year.

But should I even talk about that?

About the cynical gambler, Boris Johnson, the assassin, Michael Gove, the shameless liar, Nigel Farage – should I talk about the shock of everyone whose present has been taken away and with it their future, as if their future was a plaything. It all happened that easily?

Or should I talk about people like Bachir, who is leaning on a fence?

He’s in his mid-twenties, but his life has halted. Full stop. He’s at the end of a journey, which led him from Aleppo to here, to this camp on the edge of Thessaloniki, where he will wait for one year, where he will sleep in a tent that’s next to other tents inside a concrete hall, surrounded by a concrete yard, surrounded by a fence, beyond that fields and a highway.

“Fuck Europe,” he says. The cellphone he’s holding in his hand is broken. It was his only connection to the world. It was his hope.

So who did Europe betray? And who betrayed Europe? And how do both of those things correlate?

I saw people in Idomeni, to whom Europe has revoked aid; the aid that people owe one another. This aid, in my opinion, is what Europe is based on: Humanism.

It was a beautiful, sunny day. The green of the Macedonian plain was overwhelming; the mountains in the distance were further away than they seemed, because there was a face made of barbed wire, which gleamed silver in the sunlight, between the people camping here on the train tracks and the Europe they were seeking.

I went there with my friend, Igor, a pianist who is just at angry and frustrated as I am at how hard and heartless so many people around us have become, how afraid, nationalistic, loyal to the state in the sense of a state that protects its citizens from the woes of the world.

I myself never saw things that way. And if that’s the foundation of this order, this democracy, then I don’t want it, this order, this form of democratic isolation. I believe the state has its function in humanity and this belief rules out that humanity only applies to a few fortunate people.

The camp seemed peaceful when we were there. The children that were playing there looked forlorn; the adults’ eyes were fixed off in the distance. A few mongers were selling tomatoes and cigarettes; some aid workers were distributing tea. There were showers and toilets. This scenery’s peacefulness was built off of lies and distress. But the people, this seemed to be their hope, were still on their way at least.

That changed the next day. The camp was cleared the next day. We tried to get to the camp on backstreets and got lost up in the hills. Then the police stopped us at an intersection outside of Idomeni. Barricaded, also for the press, in the middle of Europe. Is freedom of the press, one of the principles of our idea of a liberal democracy, indispensable?

And what happens if it just gets abandoned? We parked the car on a bridge and descended a slope to four men who were crouching here on the train tracks. They said they were from Libya; they had been hiding in the woods and wanted to go back to the camp that didn’t exist anymore.

They just wanted to sleep, they said.

Then we followed the busses that were supposed to bring the refugees to new locations: old warehouses, brownfields and industrial ruins. A few soldiers, some aid workers, without which nothing would work. It’s being said that they’ll have to wait one or two years here before their applications can be processed, before anything happens at all.

Time too becomes an enemy in this kind of situation. He would go back to Turkey, Bachir says, if he could. But this way is blocked to him too now.

When I think back to our meeting here in Berlin, we sat together in the canteen of the Gorki Theater, then this meeting seems very far away. I see us drifting in the wake of time.

There was recently a performance in this theater, which is named after Maxim Gorki, that was about labelling Europe’s isolationist insanity. There’s a German legal directive, from 2001,  that states that airlines that transport people without visas will be penalized.

This forces these companies to take on responsibilities that belong with the government. The result of this directive is that refugees can’t fly to Germany or any other European country for 80 euros, the way Igor and I did, but rather have to spend several thousand euros to get into precarious rubber dinghies.

The dead in the Mediterranean are Europe’s dead, the bureaucrat’s dead, the parliaments’ dead.

The action was criticized, said to be cynical, because it was about whether refugees would let themselves be eaten alive by tigers in an arena in front of the theater so that a plane full of refugees would be allowed to come to Berlin by circumventing the aforementioned directive.

The obvious question: What is more cynical, art or real life?

The fact is: Europe has gotten used to the refugees, to the dead. There are fewer stories, calm is returning, the brutal calm. And the citizens’ fear, the fear on a massive scale is apparently more important than the refugees’ very real and very concrete fear.

That is my story from Idomeni. The people were supposed to disappear because the images had to disappear. The images had to go, so the people had to too. You can’t lock up images, but you can lock up people.

We’re living in dark times, Aman. Or am I being pessimistic?

I’m asking,
from my heart as always,
Georg

Berlin, 6th of July 2016