Nations becoming something more: European perspective

Sitting in Lähetyskirkko in Helsinki, an old church with a very contemporary and welcoming feel, I was  drawn to the stained-glass window with the map of the world. Enframed within the ornate design, it looked beautiful but small and somehow fragile. Just like those amazing images from the outer space which make me think about “the whole world in His hands”.

The world and the continents may seem monolithic but not so once we zoom in and the borders of the nations come into our focus. As I was looking at Europe, my mind was playing one of those interactive maps which show how the borders of the European nations have shifted through the millennia, centuries, decades and years. With so much… too much blood spilled fighting over these lands and the borders. And Latvia, this small corner on the Baltic Sea, has suffered under many powerful and shifting winds of history.

Here I was in Helsinki, participating in a State of Europe Forum (SOEF) which focused on the current European challenges and also opportunities for creative solutions. Christian leaders from many different backgrounds – arts, church, government, politics, science, academia, business, education, environmental work, etc. – came together with an agenda to explore difficult and important issues. The SOEF framed these topics within the premise of “the largely Christian origins of the European movement, and of ongoing Christian responsibility towards the shaping of Europe’s future”. The underlying question – “why do such roots matter for the future?”

One of the sessions focused on the current trends of rising nationalism and populism in democratic nations. What concerns me the most, though, is when religion, specifically, Christianity gets weaponized to legitimize obviously authoritarian, undemocratic and simply unjust ideas and actions. For example, the infamous Crimean speech in 2014 which the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, gave on the occasion of annexation and “unification” of Crimea with Russia. “Everything in Crimea speaks of our shared history and pride. This is the location of ancient Khersones, where Prince Vladimir was baptised. His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.”

Russia is an obvious and easy target to highlight these trends but unfortunately it is not the only example. It comes much closer. I could name various similar ideas in the West  – in Brexit debates, elections in the U.S.A., memory and identity politics, migration policies and foreign policies in other Western countries. Therefore in any public discussion that focuses on Christianity’s influence in the history of European nations, we, Christians, have to take a very hard and long look into the mirror and examine our own reflection. Why do we allow for our faith to be weaponized in such ugly ways?

Recently I heard some statements which I really liked. These were stated during Riga Conference 2019 panel discussion on ” New powers – shaping regions or shaping history?” by Simon Serfaty, a professor of political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. He was discussing the weaknesses in authoritarian systems and how the “new” and “renewed” influential nations, for example, China, Russia and Turkey “live their future in the past tense” with revisionist approach. S. Serfaty described the project of European Union as “a matter of necessity, not a matter of choice” and asked the audience “how, when and whether this necessity is gone?”

S. Serfaty concluded: “The liberal hegemonic order did not force its participants to become somebody or something else; it forced its participants to become somebody or something more.” This statement immediately reminded of my personal experience growing up in the Soviet Union and now living in the European Union. I thought to myself: “Exactly! Soviet Union tried to shape us into something else against our own will but European Union gives so many nations a chance to try to become something more.”

More than simply nations focused on their own nationalistic interests with attitude ” God bless us (and no place else)!”  In the current global situation it would be extremely difficult to defend the so-called fundamental EU values – respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, rule of law, equality and peace –  outside such an unprecedented platform of “Unity in Diversity”.

Why the right to vote is my privilege

Election day in Latvia is coming to an end… the important part is behind us but the interesting part is still ahead. The polling booths have closed. Now all is left is to wait for the results.

I have bittersweet feelings. While voting today at the nearby polling station, I was thinking about my 95 year old grandmother who stayed at home and was not able to cast her vote. Not able because of the advanced dementia. I knew that I probably could find her passport, dress her, walk down the stairs, stand in line and help her to do the talking, registering and voting. Yet somehow it did not feel right (and probably not even legal) since the person is so confused that they cannot make their own decisions anymore. I did not want to “use” my grandmother to get her to vote for the party I chose to support.

So, I voted for both of us. I mean, I felt double responsibility. My grandmother has lived a long life and she has given a lot for me and others to have the best life we can. She has risked her life in the years when it was not allowed to have your own political views not matching the Communist party. She aided the Latvian underground resistance groups after WWII which meant to live in hiding for few years when she was found out. Later she became a devout Christian and joined a Baptist church at a time when religious people were persecuted. My grandmother was not perfect and we have disagreed on many issues but I  always knew that she is courageous and passionate. She was not one to just stand by.

And I don’t want to stand by either. Latvia is a free and democratic country with its own challenges and faults and there is plenty to improve. Nevertheless, the life here has never been so peaceful, stable and secure. And the right and the responsibility to vote and participate in the present and future of this nation is not something to take lightly. I know that it sounds very cliche but there are many countries around the world where ordinary citizens don’t get to decide. For them my life and freedom is a dream.

For many years I lived in Thailand where for the first time in my life I experienced a military coup in 2014. And the country still has not had free elections and there is no sign of a change. People with military background now have 143 seats of 250 member parliament in Thailand. So, it is very easy for me to compare and to know what kind of “democracy” I don’t want. It is “peace and order” by might.

Yes, we have the ugly side of our democracy and every election year highlights the usual problems – the examples of corruption, the lack of transparency, mutual respect, wise compromise, norms of civility, problems with lobbies and shady money, etc. And we get the expected response from voters  – from protest votes for populists to apathy and those who don’t even bother. But I believe that many of our negative responses and attitudes come from not counting our blessings.

Today I voted. My grandmother will be proud of me. Just as I am proud of her. The Latvia she dreamed off is mine to nurture, to protect and to cherish.

No hiding from horror

My eyes see it and my mind and heart chokes. How many more dead, injured, crippled, orphaned, traumatized and scared children are we going to see in our news? A report after a report, a story after a story. I know this is not new or isolated tragedy and many atrocities are happening in other parts of the world. But Syria alone is enough to shock and shake the global community. What happened to our “Never Again”?

I am just going to vent my frustration, anger, grief and sense of helplessness here. I don’t have any brilliant advice for the United Nations or European Union or USA or Middle Eastern leaders. (I do have a few things to say to Vladimir Putin of Russia but he is not asking for my opinion.) I am no expert on diplomatic, political, military or even humanitarian solutions. I have lots of experience from working as a volunteer in places around the world, including helping people from war zones  but at the moment I feel so distant and powerless. Still I feel deep inside that the little children in Syria would ask me the same question they would ask any adult: “Why is this happening to me? Did you know that this was happening to me? Did you try to help me? Did you try to stop this?”

Chemical attack??? Growing up in Latvia and learning our history, the only time people in Latvia experienced this kind of terror was during WWI when the German army used poisonous gases in the trenches. We are still shocked and horrified and it took place in 2016. That was 100 years ago! Think about it… 100 years!!! And I thought that humanity had learned something.

Yes, of course, the chemical attacks is not the only form of violence that shocks us to core. So is beheading people and torturing them and burning them alive or any other form of attack on human life and dignity. Tragically we have become so desensitized that we accept much of it as normal or inevitable.

I know many people who are doing their best to help children affected by war and suffering. I support these kinds of projects and initiatives as much as possible because there is always something practical we can do. If we want to be the hands and the feet that deliver the aid, there are always possibilities and ways to do it.

Also I don’t underestimate the power of our prayers. I almost hesitated to mention prayer because it can stir strong emotions. “Don’t even mention God. If there is a just and good God, why is he allowing this?” For others, they believe that God cares but they don’t believe that our interceding matters.

I believe that it does matter but I also believe that we need to be ready to be the answer to our own prayers. If we pray for the children to be protected and healed and restored, we can support those who are on the ground in Syria giving this kind of help. Or those who are helping Syrian refugees in neighboring countries. Or helping the Syrian refugees in our own countries.

If we pray for our governments and leaders to do something about it and for people who can make the difference to have the political will, wisdom and courage to make decisions and implement them, then we need to be ready to support those decisions. Or to keep the pressure where the will, strategy and vision is lacking. Which embassy or government building we need to protest in front of?

The headlines say “The Syrian war is the deadliest conflict the 21st century has witnessed so far.” You have to agree that not just this century but this millennium has not started very well. But these children don’t need to hear about historical mistakes, geopolitics, ideologies, ambitions and the rest of our junk. They need real love and justice in action.

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(photos from internet)

 

Genie out of the bottle…

The summer in Latvia is beautiful but it is difficult to take my mind off the UK news. On June 23 Latvians celebrated the most popular holiday called Ligo when people enjoy the shortest nights of the year. Being in the nature with lots of good food, singing, dancing but mostly good time with friends and family.

Then comes the morning after. This year it meant another sunny day and time to enjoy nice breakfast. (For many who had too much to drink, not so enjoyable though.) And then people checked the news and found out that while Latvians were partying and dancing and eating, the British people voted to ‘Leave’ the European Union. The breakfast conversations turned serious as people were trying to digest – What Just Happened?

One of the most controversial politicians in the UK, Nigel Farage from UKIP (UK Independence Party) was celebrating and pronounced that “Let June 23 go down in history as our Independence Day…. ” He also said that “The Euroskeptic genie is out of the bottle”.

I have no need to write about the reactions of people in the UK, other nations, governments, media and so on. There are so many well written articles online for those who are interested. What I want to talk about are these “genies out of the bottle”. First of all racism, bigotry and xenophobia!

One British friend of mine who is a peace builder in Luton, a very diverse English town, wrote on his FB page a few days before the vote: ” We’re in a referendum campaign which can only leave a legacy of anger and hatred, whichever way it goes. It goes way further than a choice to remain or leave, but has the potential to redefine what it means to be British. … A monster has been unleashed among us, and many are still not recognising it.”

After a series of racist incidents, I asked another friend of mine who lives and works in the UK whether this is just the media picking and choosing or does this really mean an increase. He believes that there is an increase because some people got the feeling that their feelings and views were “given a green light.”

After the recent racist graffiti incident at the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith, London, Joanna Ciechanowska, director of POSK’s gallery said: “All of a sudden a small group of extremists feel empowered… they think they have the support of half of the nation. It’s sad because living here for so many years and being married to an Englishman, I have never actually encountered any racism in this country, and this is the first time it happened straight in my face. Whoever did this was an ugly person who saw a window of opportunity.”

Have we created a window of opportunity for this ‘genie’ of racism and bigotry? Was it let out of the bottle or was it always out of the bottle? And only feels more empowered now.

This is exactly the kind of thing that worries and upsets me. We, the people, who know the terrible consequences of these kind of spiritual powers on the loose… we can still be so apathetic. It is obvious that one of the big jobs on the “morning after” is to put this genie back in the bottle. It will not go back there willingly and politely. It will kick and scream.

“Keep Calm and Carry On” will not do. We will have to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Resist the evil”. (Read the rest of the story from the Polish Cultural Centre.)

I have more thoughts on this subject but will save them for the next blog.

Dear Poles

One of the many cards sent to the Polish Centre after the incident in Hammersmith (photo from the Internet)

Latvian:

Vienkārši gribas baudīt jauko vasaru Latvijā, bet prāts aizņemts ar ziņām no Britu salām. Jo izrādījās, kamēr mēs līgojām, dziedājām, dejojām un ēdām, briti nobalsoja par izstāšanos no Eiropas Savienības. Brokastis Jāņu rītā daudziem pārvērtās par nopietnām politiskām sarunām, kurās cilvēki centās sagremot jaunumus – Kas Tur Tikko Notika?

Viens no vispretrunīgākajiem britu politiķiem Naidžels Faražs, kurš pārstāv Apvienotās Karalistes Neatkarības partiju, priecīgi paziņoja, ka “23. jūnijs ieies vēsturē kā neatkarības diena”. Un, ka “no pudeles ir izlaists džins vārdā Eiroskepse”.

Es nevēlos rakstīt par cilvēku reakciju Apvienotajā Karalistē vai pie mums vai citur, un ko saka politiķi un mediji. Tie, kuri interesējas, var internetā atrast neskaitāmi daudzus labus rakstus. Es gribu parunāt par citiem “džiniem”, kas arī izlaisti no pudeles. Pirmkārt jau rasisms, aizspriedumi un ksenofobija jeb bailes no svešiniekiem!

Viens no maniem angļu draugiem strādā miera celšanas jomā Lutonā – pilsētā, kura ir piedzīvojusi dažādus konfliktus. Dažas dienas pirms referenduma viņš rakstīja savā Facebook lapā: “Mēs redzam referenduma kampaņu, kas atstās mantojumā dusmas un naidu jebkura balsojuma rezultātā. Runa iet par kaut ko vairāk nekā tikai izvēle starp palikšanu vai aiziešanu. Runa iet par mums kā britiem… Mūsu vidū ir palaists vaļā kaut kas briesmīgs, un daudzi joprojām to neaptver.”

Pēc nesenajām rasisma izpausmēm Apvienotajā Karalistē pajautāju draugam latvietim, kurš dzīvo un strādā Anglijā, vai tiešām šī naidīgā attieksme ir pieaugusi, vai arī tā ir kārtējā ziņu dienestu izvēle kaut ko ‘izmakšķerēt’. Pēc viņa domām incidentu skaits tiešām ir pieaudzis, jo dažiem “lika sajusties, ka nu tik būs zaļā gaisma.”

Pēc incidenta Poļu Biedrības un Kultūras Asociācijas namā Londonā, kur uz sienas bija parādījies naidīgs graffiti, biedrības pārstāve Joanna Cehanovska teica, ka “pēkšņi daļa ekstrēmistu sajutās varenāki… Viņi domā, ka viņus atbalsta puse tautas. Skumji, jo dzīvoju šeit jau daudzus gadus, turklāt mans vīrs ir anglis, un nekad neesmu saskārusies ar rasismu šajā valstī. Tā ir pirmā reize, kad to piedzīvoju. Tas, kurš to izdarīja, ir nejauks cilvēks, kurš gaidīja iespēju izpausties.”

Vai mēs esam radījuši iespēju izpausties šim rasisma un aizspriedumu ‘džinam’ jeb garam? Vai tas tika izlaists laukā no pudeles, vai arī tas vienmēr ir bijis brīvībā? Un tagad vienkārši jūtas varenāks.

Tieši tas mani arī visvairāk sadusmo un uztrauc. Mēs, cilvēki, kuri labi zinām, kādas briesmīgas sekas var atstāt šādi gari palaisti brīvībā… mēs joprojām varam būt tik apātiski. Viens ir skaidrs, ka tagad tas ‘džins’ ir jādabū atpakaļ pudelē. Tas neies tur atpakaļ labprātīgi un mierīgi. Tas pretosies, spārdīsies un kliegs.

Ar slaveno britu lozungu “Paliekat mierā un uz priekšu!” te nepietiks. Te būs vajadzīgs “Mīliet savu tuvāko kā sevi pašu” un “Stājieties pretī ļaunumam”. Ko arī darīja Poļu Biedrības kaimiņi.

Man vēl ir ko teikt par šo tēmu, bet tas lai paliek nākamajam blogam.

 

Should They Stay or Should They Go now?

I was watching two guys, very good friends to each other, having an intense argument about the British referendum on whether to Remain in the EU or Leave. Neither one of them was born British and only one of them lives and works in the UK. Still, they both care deeply about the current affairs in Europe and the world. Also, both of them are devoted Christians but obviously have different opinions when discussing politics, economics, nations and such.

Any other time they would probably agree more than disagree but this is not any other time. The British vote is a very big deal. Will the EU survive if the UK leaves? I don’t know but I think it will. (Some say it will be even better.) Still, “Leave” vote would definitely have a very large impact on Europe. It already has and the Brits have not even voted yet. Am I worried? Better question is – do I care? Yes, I do!

Honestly, I have no idea what the outcome of the British vote will be. The polls show that it is too close to call. Of course, I meet people who predict it one way or another but usually they have a very strong opinion on what is “actually” going on. They can explain to me why “the Brits will vote to stay” and why “all this is just a show” and “much ado about nothing”. Or the opposite and why “the Brits are tired of pulling too much of European weight”. Others are simply saying that they don’t care anymore and “if the Brits feel so non-European and special and different, they should just leave”.

Why should I even think about this? Like I said, I do care and I believe that this decision will affect me as a citizen of European Union. I am not British and completely agree with a friend of mine who wrote on his FB page “I will say one thing about Brexit vote: if you are half as intelligent as you think you are – beware of people giving simple answers to complicated questions”

The decision has so many facets because the EU and the world is deeply integrated in many ways. Good and bad (I could write tons of thoughts about all the bad ‘integration’ I see). One of the big questions in this whole debate is this – do we improve, even correct, something we worked so hard to build or do we just blow it up?

I feel like there are lots of similarities between the current election year in the USA and the current debate in the UK. There is such a distrust of political and business elites and smart people are much better than me at explaining the reasons for this distrust and dislike. Also, it seems like so many people look at the vote and their ‘two’ choices from a negative  – which one is the lesser evil?

Like the catchy line by The Clash “Should I stay or should I go now… If I go there will be trouble… And if I stay it will be double”

The way I see it, it does not make for a good decision when we are choosing not between “good” or “better” but between “bad” or “worse”.

This may put me in the ‘over-simplified’ category but I want to say to my British friends – Please, stay! (as for my list of reasons, ask and I will tell you) Yes, the EU house is on fire (meaning there are many serious problems) but let’s cool it. Not blow it up!

P.S. Here are links to two articles written by people much smarter than me. They are both British academics and professionals, Michael Schluter and Julian Chapman, who have similar but also opposing views on the whole debate. They write from their Christian point of view and respectfully disagree with each other.

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London calling…

Latvian:

Skatījos, kā divi labi draugi strīdās. Par to, vai britiem palikt vai nepalikt Eiropas Savienībā. Neviens no viņiem nav brits, lai gan viens dzīvo un strādā Londonā. Abiem diviem ļoti rūp, kas notiek Eiropā un pasaulē. Abi divi ir kristieši, bet ar dažādiem uzskatiem politikā, ekonomikā, nācijas nozīmē, utt.

Par citām tēmām viņiem drošvien ir daudz vairāk kopīgu uzskatu nekā atšķirīgo. Bet šī nav vienkārša tēma. Vai ES izdzīvos, ja Apvienotā Karaliste izstāsies? Nezinu, bet domāju, ka izdzīvos (daži pat saka, ka tā būs labāk). Tomēr izstāšanās atstātu milzīgu iespaidu uz Eiropu. Šis referendums jau ir daudz ko ietekmējis, un briti vēl pat nav nobalsojuši. Vai es uztraucos? Labāk būtu pajautāt, vai man tas rūp? Jā, un pat ļoti!

Ja godīgi, man nav ne jausmas, kā briti nobalsos. Aptaujas liecina par lielu sašķeltību, un eksperti izvairās kaut ko prognozēt. Protams, es satieku cilvēkus, kuri jau “zin” iznākumu, jo viņiem ir “skaidrs”, ap ko lieta grozās. Viņi man paskaidro, ka briti obligāti nobalsos par palikšanu, jo “viss šis referendums ir tikai politiska izrāde”, un “liela brēka maza vilna”. Otra puse atkal apgalvo, ka briti obligāti izstāsies, jo “viņiem ir apnicis dot tik naudu ES, bet neko nesaņemt pretī”. Savukārt citiem jau ir vienalga. Ja tie briti jūtas tik ļoti īpaši un izredzēti un atšķirīgi no pārējās Eiropas, tad lai iet savu ceļu.

Kāpēc man vispār par to lauzīt galvu? Kā Eiropas Savienības pilsonei man ir svarīgs šis gaidāmais lēmums, kaut arī neesmu Apvienotās Karalistes vēlētāja. Uzreiz gan piebildīšu, ka piekrītu vienam draugam, kurš savā Facebook profilā raksta “Es teikšu vienu lietu par gaidāmo Brexit referendumu: ja jūs esat uz pusi tik gudri, kā domājat – uzmanāties no cilvēkiem, kuri dod vienkāršas atbildes uz sarežģītiem jautājumiem”.

Lēmumam ir daudz šķautnes, jo Eiropas Savienība un vispār visa pasaule ir cieši saistītas visādā ziņā. Gan labā, gan sliktā (par sliktajām saistībām es varētu pierakstīt palagus). Viens no lielajiem jautājumiem šajā visā diskusijā ir tāds – vai uzlabot, pat izlabot, kaut ko, ko tik grūti un smagi esam cēluši, vai labāk to visu uzspridzināt?

Es redzu daudzas līdzības starp patreizējo ASV prezidenta vēlēšanu kampaņu un Brexit referendumu. Tik liela neuzticēšanās vadošajai elitei – politiķiem, ierēdņiem un ekonomikas vadītājiem. Gudrākie ir devuši labus skaidrojumus, kāpēc tik slikts noskaņojums, un kāpēc tāda neuzticēšanās, pat nepatika un naids. Vēl man liekas, ka abās valstīs daudzi skatās uz dotajām ‘divām’ izvēlēm no negatīvās puses – kas būs mazākais ļaunums no diviem?

Kā labi zināmajā britu pankroka grupas “The Clash” dziesmā. “Vai man palikt, vai man iet?… Ja iešu prom, būs slikti… Ja palikšu, vēl sliktāk”

Manuprāt, tādā veidā nevar pieņemt labus lēmumus. Ja skatāmies nevis uz labu vai vēl labāku izvēli, bet uz sliktu vai vēl sliktāku.

Drošvien tas būs pārāk ‘vienkāršoti’, bet es gribu teikt saviem britu draugiem – lūdzu, palieciet Eiropas Savienībā! (Ja jums interesē mani iemesli, jautājiet, un es paskaidrošu.) Jā, ES māja ir šur tur aizdegusies, bet es aicinu tās liesmas kopīgiem spēkiem dzēst. Nevis to māju vienkārši uzspridzināt!

P.S. Tiem, kas lasa angļu val., pievienoju divas saites uz interesantiem rakstiem, kurus rakstījuši cilvēki daudz gudrāki par mani. Abi autori, Maikls Šļūters un Džūliāns Čepmens, ir britu akadēmiķi un profesionāļi, kuru viedokļi gan sakrīt, gan stipri dalās. Viņi raksta no savas kristīgās izpratnes pozīcijām, un oponē viens otram ar cieņu.

Shared European identity? Being proud and embarrassed together

Recently in Amsterdam I was invited to join a small group at a local pub. I am not a fan of beer, so my choice was a glass of red wine. But the rest of my new acquaintances knew their local beers – Dutch, Belgian, German… You gather a few Europeans and they can have a whole long discussion of the flavors and origins and colors. We can get very patriotic when talking about our national exports. I guess there is no such thing as European beer.

Our group of six people was diverse – Latvian, Dutch, Greek, Belgian and Indian. Enjoying some free time after a very inspiring session and discussion on the state of Europe at a Christian forum, we were getting to know each other and asking questions about current issues in each of our countries. There were many things I learned about Greece and Belgium and the Netherlands.

One big question of the night was asked by the only non-European in our group (even though he has lived and worked in England for many years). What is a shared European identity? Is it even possible to have one? He pointed out that we were so good at describing the complicated histories and issues in our nations or even in regions within the countries. We like to defend and explain ‘our group’ to ‘others’ in case they seem ‘misinformed’ or ‘ignorant’. This is one of my favorite topics, too. Our identities!

Yes, we can be very clear on which is ‘our group’ and ‘our beer’ and ‘our borders’ but somehow we are also able to identify ourselves under this common name of “Europeans” and talk about shared values. I totally understand our friend’s question because it is difficult to explain. If we are struggling with our national identities (just ask people living in Latvia) and, in some cases, identity crisis, how can we even dream of saying that we have a common European identity?

Especially in the current political and social atmosphere in Europe where there is such a polarization to the right (those who say that every country is on its own and let’s go back to our forts and fortify them even more)  and to the left (those who say that we should have no national borders and internationalism is the future).

I realize I feel very European. When my American friends tell me, “You dress European”, I take it as a compliment. When I am in Asia, they say that I am from Europe (and not just because most people don’t know where Latvia is). I even write to my friends in Latvia and tell them when I am coming to Europe! I talk about European movies, European cities, European issues… Yes, this is my identity also!

What do I identify with? Obviously Europe has showed its best but also its worst through the history and even today. Why is it that I am not ashamed to say that I am from Europe? I think one of the big reasons is that we work hard to keep peace with each other. We have fought and hated and destroyed and we are tired of it. We have desired what others have and taken it by force and demoralized ourselves in the process and we are tired of it.

Guess what? I am not even shamed of our European Song Contest called Eurovision. Even though I get embarrassed by many of the songs and costumes and some participants. And the funny thing is that we take turns producing these ’embarrassing’ performances, so we are in the same boat. During the last contest, the event hosts reminded us that Eurovision was created in 1956 to unify continent torn apart by war and now once again Europe is facing darker times. (Again, let’s ask Ukrainians about peace and unity within the country and with their neighbor Russia)

Maybe one way we create our shared European identity is by sharing our embarrassing moments like dumb, brainless songs and by showing that we care about each others pain like supporting the story of Crimean Tatars, represented by this year’s winning song from Ukraine.

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Eurovision Song Contest – being proud and embarrassed together (photo from the web)

Latvian:

Nesen Amsterdamā neliela draugu kompānija uzaicināja mani uz vietējo krogu. Neesmu alus cienītāja, tāpēc izvēlējos glāzi vīna. Toties mani jaunie paziņas pārzināja vietējās alus šķirnes – holandiešu, beļģu, vācu… Tā ir taisnība, ka eiropieši var ilgi un gari apspriest alus šķirņu garšu un krāsu un izcelsmi. Mēs esam lieli patrioti, kad runājam par savu nacionālo eksportu. Šeit nav tādas kategorijas kā vienkārši Eiropas alus.

Mūsu mazā kompānija bija ļoti multikulturāla – latviete, holandieši, grieķis, beļģiete un indietis. Atpūtāmies pēc garas un labi pavadītas dienas, kurā piedalījāmies kristīgā forumā, veltītam svarīgiem jautājumiem Eiropā. Varējām labāk iepazīties un pajautāt par aktualitātēm citās valstīs. Es uzzināju daudz ko interesantu par Grieķiju, Beļģiju un Nīderlandi.

Vienīgais ne-eiropietis mūsu kompānijā (kaut gan viņš jau daudzus gadus dzīvo un strādā Anglijā) uzdeva vakara lielo jautājumu – kas ir Eiropas kopīgā identitāte? Vai tāda vispār ir iespējama? Viņš norādīja uz to, ka mēs tik ļoti turamies pie savām nacionālajām un etniskajām identitātēm. Mēs aizstāvam un izskaidrojam ‘savējos’, lai ‘citi’ mūs zinātu un saprastu, un lai uztvertu mūs ‘pareizi’. Man arī patīk pētīt šo tēmu. Mūsu identitātes!

Jā, mēs labi zinām, kura ir ‘mana tauta’ un ‘mans ēdiens’, un ‘mans alus’ un ‘mana vēsture’, bet tomēr mēs spējam sevi identificēt zem šī vārda ‘eiropieši’, un pat apzināmies kopīgas vērtības. Es saprotu, kāpēc mūsu paziņa no Indijas uzdeva šo jautājumu, jo Eiropas identitāte ir sarežģīta būšana. Ja mēs vēl skaidrojamies un definējam savas nacionālās identitātes (kā, piemēram, Latvijā) vai piedzīvojam identitātes krīzes, kā mēs varam runāt par kopīgu identitāti kā eiropieši?

It sevišķi patreizējā sabiedrības noskaņojumā, kad politiskie spēki velk uz pretējām pusēm. Pa labi, kur saka, ka katrai valstij jādomā tikai par sevi, un jāiet atpakaļ savos cietokšņos, un tos vēl vairāk jāstiprina. Pa kreisi, kur saka, ka valstu robežas un nācij-valstis ir savu laiku nokalpojušas, un internacionālisms ir mūsu nākotne.

Es sapratu, ka jūtos ļoti eiropeiska. Kad mani draugi Amerikā saka, ka es ģērbjos kā eiropiete, man tas ir compliments. Kad esmu Āzijā, draugi uzsver to, ka esmu no Eiropas (un ne tikai tāpēc, ka Latvija ir maza un nepazīstama). Pat draugiem Latvijā reizēm rakstu, kad braukšu uz Eiropu. Jā, Eiropa ir daļa no manas identitātes.

Ar ko tad es īsti identificējos? Skaidrs, ka Eiropā ir ar ko lepoties, bet arī daudz, no kā kaunēties un ko nozēlot – gan pagātnē, gan tagadnē. Kāpēc man nav kauns būt eiropietei? Varbūt viens no iemesliem ir tas, ka mēs tik ļoti cenšamies uzturēt mieru savā starpā. Mēs esam daudz karojuši, ienīduši viens otru un iznīcinājuši, un tas jau ir līdz kaklam. Mēs esam iekārojuši to, kas kaimiņam, un nēmuši to ar varu, un pazaudējuši paši sevi, un tas jau ir līdz kaklam.

Atzīšos, ka man nav pat kauns no Eirovīzijas dziesmu konkursa. Kaut gan varu nosarkt par daudzām dziesmām, tērpiem, šova elementiem un dažiem izpildītājiem. Smieklīgais ir tas, ka šajā ziņā visi esam līdzīgi – katra valsts ir sagādājusi šādus brīžus, ka tautiešiem gribas izslēgt televizoru vai aizbāzt ausis. Šī gada finālā vakara vadītāji atgādināja, ka “Eirovīzija tika radīta 1956. gadā, lai palīdzētu vienot kontinentu, kuru bija sašķēlis karš, un šodien Eiropa atkal skatās acīs tumsai” (cilvēki Ukrainā var pastāstīt, ko šie vārdi ‘miers’ un ‘vienotība’ nozīmē viņiem gan iekšējās, gan ārējās attiecībās)

Tātad viens no veidiem, kā mēs radām savu kopīgo Eiropas identitāti ir kopīgi pasmieties par savām smieklīgajām, dumjajām dziesmām, bet arī kopīgi skumt par citu sapēm, un tāpēc tik augstu novērtēt Ukrainas dziesmu par Krimas tatāru traģisko vēsturi.

Inspired by the World’s Most Liberal City

Arriving at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam can be exciting and also overwhelming for it is three-in-one. Airport, shopping mall and train station. Leaving the customs area, you enter a very busy arrival hall. Straight from the airplane to the shopping plaza and straight to the trains located underneath.

I speak English and have traveled a lot but even I get overwhelmed with all the choices to make. Self-serve kiosks and other conveniences somehow make it more stressful. I always think, “what if I was an old lady from India who does not speak English?” Forget India… even my mom would have felt lost in this high efficiency world.

I spent two days in Amsterdam but did not see much of the city. “Next time”, I comforted myself since I came to attend the State of Europe Forum which is held annually in the  EU presiding country. Last year it was Latvia; this year Netherlands. (The rotating EU presidency goes for 6 months. Yes, my American friends, EU is visionary but complicated with 28 nations.) The forum is held on Europe Day, May 9, and you can see my post from last year talking about the story of Europe Day.

State of Europe Forum promotes a dialogue on Europe today in the light of the vision of Robert Schuman for a community of peoples deeply rooted in Christian values.  Lots of great professional and academic content, lots of great discussions and opportunity to network. I was inspired, challenged and motivated.

The venue of the Forum was so cool. Zuiderkerk was the city’s first church built specifically for Protestant services. Constructed between 1603 and 1611, the church played an important part in the life of Rembrandt and was the subject of a painting by Claude Monet.

This year’s theme was The Paradox of Freedom. Key topics included Refugees in Europe, Security and Terrorism and Reframing the EU.  Yes, this is the age old question how freedom works because it certainly needs boundaries. Your freedom should not hurt my freedom and vice versa. For example, we live in a free market society but how free is this market? One of the devotions reminded us that “freedom to buy and sell without restrictions leads to buying and selling human beings.”

Amsterdam, the so called ‘world’s most liberal city’, has an amazing story of freedom. Especially the 16th and 17th century, the Golden Age. From William of Orange to Modern Devotion Movement to Erasmus (whose translation of the Bible prepared the way for Reformation) to Baruch Spinoza. Amsterdam was a haven and destination for people fleeing religious persecution – Jews from Iberia, Huguenots from France, Flemish, Wallonians, English dissenters… the city attracted many groups searching for economic, political and religious freedom.

Of course, we all know that unrestrained freedom has its evil side. Including slave trade which was also a part of Amsterdam’s economic boom during the Golden Age.

Nothing could capture these reflections better then listening to a local African choir inside Zuiderkerk, singing the famous Gospel tune:

Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last
Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last

 

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Opening celebration at Zuiderkerk (photo by Cedric Placentino)

Latvian:

Ielidošana Amsterdamas lidostā ir gan patīkama, gan uztraucoša, jo te nav tikai lidosta. Te ir gan lidosta, gan iepirkumu centrs, gan vilcienu stacija. Iznākot no muitas, nokļūstu lielā burzmā un troksnī.  Liekas, ka pa taisno no lidmašīnas esmu ienākusi Centrālajā stacijā.

Pat ar angļu valodas prasmēm un ceļotājas pieredzi te var apjukt. Pašapkalpošanās kioski un citas ‘ērtības’ reizēm dzīvi tikai sarežģī, un rada lieku stresu. Iedomājos, ja būtu veca tantiņa no Indijas, kura nerunā angliski. Kāda tur Indija… pat mana mamma apmaldītos šajā ātrajā un ērtajā pasaulē.

Amsterdamā pavadīju divas dienas, bet nesanāca apskatīt pilsētu, jo šoreiz bija cits brauciena mērķis. Mierināju sevi ar domu, ka gan jau šeit vēl atgriezīšos. Biju atbraukusi piedalīties forumā “Stāvoklis Eiropā”, kas katru gadu notiek ES Padomes prezidentūras valstī. Pagājšgad forums bija Latvijā, šogad Nīderlandē. Datums gan katru gadu viens un tas pats. 9. maijs jeb Eiropas diena, par kuru rakstīju agrāk.

Forums “Stāvoklis Eiropā” piedāvā dialogu starp kristīgiem dažādu profesiju pārstāvjiem un vadītājiem. Sarunas galvenā tēma ir patreizējais stāvoklis Eiropā, ņemot vērā Roberta Šūmana redzējumu par ‘tautu kopienu, kas ir dziļi sakņota kristīgās vērtībās’. Daudz profesionāļu un akadēmiķu, daudz labu paneļdiskusiju un daudz iespēju sadarboties. Mani šis forums gan iedvesmoja, gan izaicināja vairākus manus pieņēmumus, gan motivēja tālakai darbībai.

Pati norises vieta arī bija iedvesmojoša. ‘Zuiderkerk’ bija pilsētas pirmais dievnams, celts konkrēti protestantu draudzei. Celtniecība ilga no 1603. līdz 1611. gadam, un dievnams ir ap stūri no Rembranta mājas. Tāpēc Rembrantam šī bija svarīga vieta, un arī Klods Monē to ir iemūžinājis gleznā.

Šogad foruma tēma bija Brīvības Paradoks, un īpaša uzmanība tika veltīta bēgļu krīzei Eiropā, terorisma un drošības jautājumiem and Eiropas Savienības pārvērtēšanai. Kopš cilvēces iesākumiem svarīgais jautājums par brīvību un tās robežām. Jo tava brīvība nedrīkst darīt pāri manai brīvībai un otrādāk. Kaut vai fakts, ka dzīvojot brīvā tirgus sabiedrībā, redzam, ka šis tirgus nav nemaz tik brīvs. Vienā no svētbrīžiem tika atgādināta patiesība, ka “brīvība pirkt un pārdot bez ierobežojumiem noved līdz cilvēku pirkšanai un pārdošanai.”

Amsterdama tiek dēvēta par pasaules visliberālāko pilsētu, taču tai ir apbrīnojama vēsture, kas palīdz saprast daudzus brīvības pamatus. It sevišķi 16. un 17. gadsimts, tā sauktais Zelta Laikmets. Gan Orānijas Vilhelms; gan Jaunā Pielūgsmes Kustība; gan teologs un domātājs Erasms, kura Bībeles tulkojums sagatavoja ceļu Reformācijai; gan filozofs Baruhs Spinoza. Amsterdama bija patvēruma vieta, uz kuru pārcēlās savas pārliecības un reliģijas dēļ vajātie – jūdi no Ibērijas pussalas, hugenoti no Francijas, flāmi, valoņi, angļu protestanti… pilsēta pievilka ar savu toleranci un ekonomisko, politisko un reliģisko brīvību.

Protams, mes zinām, ka šai brīvībai bija ļaunā ēnas puse. Ieskaitot verdzību un cilvēku tirdzniecību, kas veicināja ekonomisko izaugsmi tajā pašā Zelta laikmetā.

Tāpēc mani ļoti iespaidoja atklāšanas vakars un vietējais koris, kurā dziedāja āfrikāņu izcelsmes holandietes. Vecajā un skaistajā Zuiderkerk dievnamā skanēja senais un pazīstamais gospelis:

Beidzot brīvs, beidzot brīvs
Paldies Dievam, beidzot brīvs
Beidzot brīvs, beidzot brīvs
Paldies Dievam, beidzot brīvs