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

 

Our renewed attraction to “greatness”

One leader has promised to make “Russia Great Again”, one businessman has vowed to make “America Great Again” and others in Europe and elsewhere are declaring the same. Then there are those of us who have never been so “great” and just want to keep our countries the way they are. Or keep our countries… period.

These days we talk a lot about nationalism, populism and all kinds of other “-isms”. I am not an expert in anthropology, sociology or political science. I write this blog simply as a person who expresses my own views. This time I write as a citizen of European nation and also as a Christian who wants to engage other Christians in a deeper conversation and reflection about these issues.

Honestly, I think we will soon have to nominate Adolf Hitler as the Time Magazine ‘Person of the Year’. It does not matter if in Europe, America, Asia or Africa – someone gets compared to him. I think Hitler would be very proud that he has such a monopoly on the ugly side of nationalism (I say it sarcastically). Calling people the modern day version of ‘Hitler’ or using the words ‘Nazi’ and “fascist” has become the norm.

Sometimes it makes me want to explode. For two main reasons. Firstly, much of the time people don’t even know what they are talking about. Nationalism and racist ‘national socialism’ of Hitler’s Germany is not one and the same. And I don’t like when people get insulted and demonized. Also, you have to understand what ‘fascism’ is as a form of governance and ideology to use the term properly (I don’t even understand it fully).

Secondly, by putting all this emphasis on Hitler we avoid talking about many other historical figures or national and community leaders (including our own) who were excessively nationalistic. It is easy to point all our fingers at Hitler and scratch our heads trying to understand how could Germans follow him. I scratch my head and think how could any of us follow such leaders and such ideas.But we have and we do and we will if we are not careful and self-critical.

I agree with Rosemary Caudwell (UK), a lawyer specialising in EU law, including three years in the European Commission in Brussels, and her definition of unhealthy nationalism. “We live our lives in the context of a particular nation or region, and it is natural to have a sense of belonging to that nation, and a desire that it should flourish. When that attachment is linked with a sense of cultural superiority, with hostility to those outside the particular national group, whether they are minorities within the nation or neighbouring countries, or even a lack of solidarity or compassion, then it is excessive nationalism.”

Let’s highlight the words ‘cultural superiority’, ‘hostility’ and ‘lack of solidarity or compassion’. Most of us have an immediate negative reaction and if we believe in an absolute moral truth, we will agree that these ideas are simply wrong and bad. Still, if we are honest and humble enough, we will admit that often we live it out or are dangerously close to living them out.

Do you want to know what kind of “greatness” bothers me the most? The kind that says “Everything good comes from us and everything bad comes from them.” The kind that says “They will respect us again which means they will be afraid of us again.” The kind that says “We are more special than others. We have a special destiny.” The kind that says “If you don’t agree with us, you are against us.” The kind that says “We don’t care what others think about us. We don’t care if they don’t like us.”

As a Christian, I believe that anything that promotes a sense of superiority, hostility and lack of compassion or solidarity, is not “great”. It is the exact opposite!

There are never ending debates about how these kind of ideas become popular. Is it the leaders who influence the people and tell them what to think? Is it the people who influence the leaders and tell them what to say? Is it the media who get used and manipulated by one or the other or both? To me it is like debating which come first – the chicken or the egg.

I think that these ideas are always around. They are always hovering in the shadows. It is a part of our human brokenness and we are all prone to it. But they will not take root and bear any fruit if there is no fertile ground. These beliefs and attitudes are always looking for a fertile ground and people who will cultivate it.

We need to take a hard look at our communities and nations. Where is the fertile ground for this excessive kind of nationalism. Then ask the difficult questions – why is it so fertile? I hear many explanations – people are so angry; people feel so victimized and powerless; familiar life is changing too fast; this or that nation feels disrespected and humiliated; nations feel threatened… the list of reasons goes on.

I cannot help but think of the time in history when Jesus explained the principles of God’s Kingdom to people who had all these things. If anybody could feel angry, victimized, powerless, humiliated and threatened, it was the nation of Israel. And in the end Jesus was rejected by its leaders because he challenged their sense of “cultural superiority, hostility and lack of compassion.

The book of John records this revealing conversation. “What are we accomplishing?” the religious and civil leaders asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” So, they decided that Jesus was the biggest threat to their national security and also his way was not the way to restoring their “greatness” or the “greatness” of their nation.

So, what are we trying to accomplish? I hope that we don’t become fertile ground for idolatrous ideas which God so strongly opposes. I hope that we want our nations to be more humble and self-critical, more friendly and more compassionate. I hope that we want our communities and nations to flourish but never at the expense of someone else.

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Discussing these questions with a group of students from Myanmar

Viens vadonis sola, ka padarīs Krieviju “atkal varenu”. Viens biznesmenis sola, ka padarīs Ameriku “atkal varenu”. Politiķi un vadītāji Eiropā un cituviet dod līdzīgus solījumus saviem vēlētājiem. Kaut kur pa vidu ir pārējie, kas nekad nav bijuši “vareni”, un grib vienkārši savas valstis tādas, kādas tās ir. Vai arī vienkārši grib savas valstis.

Šodien mēs daudz diskutējam par tādām tēmām kā nacionālisms, populisms un visādi citi “-ismi”. Neesmu eksperte ne antropoloģijā, ne socioloģijā, ne politikas zinātnē. Blogā paužu savas personīgās domas un uzskatus, un šajā reizē rakstu kā vienas Eiropas valsts pilsone, un kā kristiete, kura grib iesaistīt šajā diskusijā un pārdomās arī citus kristiešus Latvijā un ārpus tās.

Teikšu godīgi. Man liekas, ka drīz būs jāpiešķir žurnāla “Time” Gada Cilvēka nosaukums Ādolfam Hitleram. Kur vien griezies, kāds tiek ar viņu salīdzināts gan Eiropā, gan Amerikā, gan Āzijā, gan Āfrikā. Pats Hitlers drošvien ļoti lepotos, ka viņam tāds monopols uz nacionālisma ļaunāko izpausmi (atvainojos par sarkasmu). Kur tik netiek atrasti mūsdienu “Hitleri”, un apzīmēti “nacisti” vai “fašisti”.

Reizēm liekas, es tūlīt zaudēšu savaldību. Divu iemeslu dēļ. Pirmkārt, vairākumā gadījumu cilvēki nesaprot, ko paši runā. Nacionālisms un ‘nacionālais sociālisms’, ko praktizēja Vācija Hitlera vadībā, nav viens un tas pats. Turklāt man nepatīk, ka cilvēki tiek tādā veidā demonizēti. (Neciešu karikatūras ar ūsiņām.) Manuprāt, daudziem nav arī zināšanu un izpratnes, kāda ideoloģija un valsts pārvaldes forma ir ‘fašisms’ (es pati to izprotu diezgan pavirši).

Otrkārt, veltot visu uzmanību Hitleram, mēs izvairāmies no sarunām un pārdomām par daudziem citiem tautu vadītājiem, varoņiem, politiķiem, kustību vadītājiem (arī savējiem), kuri praktizēja pārmērīgu nacionālismu un rasismu. Ir viegli norādīt uz Hitleru kā kaut kādu etalonu, un tad mēģināt saprast, kā izglītotie un civilizētie un kristietībā sakņotie vācieši varēja viņam sekot. Taču es mēģinu saprast, kā jebkurš no mums spēj sekot šādiem vadoņiem un šādām idejām. Bet mēs esam sekojuši, un sekojam, un sekosim, ja nebūsim paškritiski.

Es gribu citēt Rozmariju Kadvelu no Lielbritānijas, ES likumdošanas eksperti ar pieredzi darbā Eiropas Komisijā Briselē. Man patīk viņas definīcija nacionālisma negatīvajām izpausmēm. “Mēs visi dzīvojam kādas konkrētas nācijas vai reģiona kontekstā, un tas ir dabiski, ka jūtamies piederīgi savai nācijai, un vēlamies, lai tā plauktu. Taču, ja šī piederība tiek saistīta ar sajūtu, ka tava kultūra ir pārāka, ar naidīgumu pret tiem, kas nepieder tavai nācijai, vienalga vai tās ir mazākumtautības valsts iekšienē vai kaimiņvalstis, vai arī trūkst solidaritātes un līdzcietības, tad ir izveidojies pārlieku liels nacionālisms.”

Iezīmēšu vārdus “kultūras pārākuma sajūta… naidīgums… līdzcietības trūkums.” Lielākajai daļai ir skaidrs, ka tās ir negatīvas lietas. Turklāt, ja mēs ticam absolūtai morāles patiesībai, tad šīs attieksmes un izpausmes ir vienkārši sliktas. Diemžēl mums jābūt godīgiem un atklātiem un jāatzīst, ka pārāk bieži dzīvojam ar šādu attieksmi, vai arī esam tai bīstami tuvu.

Ziniet, kāda “varenība” man nav pieņemama? Tāda, kas saka “Viss labais nāk no mums, un viss sliktais nāk no viņiem.” Tāda, kas saka “Viņi mūs atkal cienīs, jo atkal no mums baidīsies.” Tāda, kas saka “Mēs esam īpaši. Mums ir savs īpašais liktenis.” Tāda, kas saka “Ja tu mums nepiekrīti, tu esi nostājies pret mums.” Tāda, kas saka “Mums vienalga, ko citi par mums domā.”

Mans kristietes uzskats ir, ka jebkura ideja, kas veicina sava pārākuma sajūtu, naidīgumu un līdzcietības trūkumu, nav “varena”. Tieši pretēji!

Nebeidzas debates par iemesliem, kāpēc šīs idejas kļūst atkal populāras. Vai vainīgi ir vadītāji un politiķi, kuri ietekmē tautu, un saka, kas tai jādomā? Vai vainīga ir tauta, kas ietekmē vadītājus un saka, kas tiem jārunā? Vai vainīgi ir masu mediji, kas cenšas izpatikt gan vieniem, gan otriem? Man tas atgādina prātošanu par to, kas radās pirmais – vista vai ola.

Manuprāt, šīs idejas vienmēr pastāv. Tās var paiet malā, bet kaut kur ēnā un tumsā lidināsies. Tā ir cilvēces salauztības sastāvdaļa, un mums visiem var būt uz to nosliece. Bet šīs negatīvās nacionālisma idejas neiesakņosies un nenesīs augļus, ja nebūs auglīgas augsnes. Šādi uzskati vienmēr meklēs auglīgu zemi, un cilvēkus, kuri to kultivēs.

Mums jābūt ļoti paškritiskiem. Kur ir auglīgā augsne šīm idejām manā tautā, manā valstī? Un jāuzdod vēl viens svarīgs jautājums – kāpēc šī augsne ir auglīga? Kāpēc cilvēku sirdis un prāti to visu tik labprāt pieņem? Ir daudz un dažādi skaidrojumi. Cilvēki ir novesti dusmu stāvoklī; cilvēki jūtas kā bezspēcīgi upuri; viss ierastais un pazīstamais tik strauji mainās; tautām liekas, ka citas tautas tās neciena un pazemo; tautām ir bail… tie ir tikai daži no iemesliem.

Man prātā nāk Jēzus dzīves laiks un viņa laikabiedri. Jēzus skaidroja Dieva Valstības principus cilvēkiem, kuriem bija visi no šiem iemesliem. Ja kāds varēja teikt, ka jūtas dusmīgs, bezspēcīgs, pazemots, apdraudēts, tad tā bija Izraēla tauta. Taču tautas vadītāji noraidīja un ienīda Jēzu, jo viņš izaicināja viņu “pārākuma sajūtu, naidīgumu un līdzcietības trūkumu.”

Jāņa grāmatā ir pierakstīta vienreizēja saruna. “Ko mēs ar to visu panāksim?”, sprieda tautas vadītāji. “Šis cilvēks rāda tik daudz zīmes. Ja mēs ļausim viņam tā turpināt, tad visi sāks viņam ticēt, un tad nāks romieši un atņems gan mūsu templi, gan mūsu nāciju.” Tā viņi nolēma, ka Jēzus ir vislielākais drauds nācijas drošībai, un viņa piedāvātais ceļš galīgi neatbilst viņu priekšstatiem par “varenību”.

Ko mēs ar to visu panāksim? Es ceru, ka mēs nekļūsim par auglīgu augsni idejām, kas Dievam nav pieņemamas. Idejas, kas nāciju vai ko citu dara par elku. Es ceru, ka mūsu tautas kļūs arvien pazemīgākas un paškritiskākas, arvien draudzīgākas un arvien līdzcietīgākas. Es ceru, ka mūsu saviedrība plauks un zels, bet nekad uz kāda cita rēķina.

 

Looking at our compass to guide through the EU crisis

For sure I am no expert on the EU but I do know a thing or two. Firstly, most people, including myself, recognize that we are in a serious crisis. You hear it described as ‘existential’. The question of ‘to be or not to be’.

Also, I know that any crisis and pressure – personal or social – exposes and reveals many things. It exposes our inner thoughts, our character and values. Like a piece of fruit, under pressure we crack and ‘juice’ comes out. Is it a bitter lemon or sweet mango? We learn more about each other when things get hard. While the sun is shining, we can be polite, respectful, unselfish and share smile and hugs. When disaster or tragedy strikes, we often react in unexpected ways.

I have noticed this in my own life. I can be quite satisfied with myself when things are easy but during a major challenge or stress I suddenly start thinking, doing and saying things that later make me ashamed. Some of it is normal and healthy but some of it is very ugly and shocking.

Major crisis will often have different results. Some people (and communities and nations) go though it with dignity and it makes them a better person – wiser, gentler, more compassionate, generous and humble while others become worse – foolish, harsh, bitter, proud and aggressive. Or they simply give up on living. This is the age-old mystery for philosophers and spiritual leaders and all of us. Where does the inner strength come from? Where does the courage and wisdom come from when there seems no ‘way through’ or no ‘way forward’?

There is a saying that “Trouble does not come alone” or “When it rains, it pours”. Well, it is pouring trouble right now in Europe. I am sure that for many of the EU leaders it feels like a hurricane (I should not say this since I am writing this blog but I would not want their job). Grexit, Brexit, refugees, border closures, barbed wire fences, Russia, Ukraine, right-wing, left-wing, new tribalism…

Our official EU motto is “United in diversity.” Nobody doubts the ‘diversity’ part but what about the other? Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, said these words in his State of Union address in 2015. “There is not enough Europe in this Union. And there is not enough Union in this Union.” So, we continue to see reactions and actions and many of those have shocked us. I hear this expression a lot, “We are cutting the branch we are sitting on.” What is this branch?

I think of it as our moral compass. There are major directions it is supposed to point to:

Peace and Reconciliation: In 2012, the EU received the Nobel Peace Prize for having “contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe” We have enjoyed peace among the EU member states for many decades and we start to take it for granted. This peace was very hard to accomplish and the reconciliation is still ongoing. Again and again we forget that if France and Germany did not reconcile, we would not have any European integration. It is also important to know and to remember that the political leaders who made these courageous decisions, were very much inspired by their religious beliefs and values.

Humanity and Human Rights: One of the high expectations of anyone who lives in Europe and those who come here is the emphasis on dignity and worth of every individual human being. Again it has spiritual roots – human beings made in the image of God. European Convention on Human Rights was adopted in 1950. It is a  “living instrument” which means that it incorporates changes in law and society. It is legally binding for 47 European countries, not just the EU. Also, we have the European Court of Human Rights with possibly the highest success rate in the world. It is understandable why in so many interviews, the refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced mistreatment on our soil complain, “We thought that Europe is the place where human rights are respected.”

Common good and Solidarity: This is one of the most challenging principles of our supranational institutions. The idea that we share all the responsibilities and obligations as much as the privileges. The idea that bigger and stronger ones cannot take advantage of smaller and weaker ones. Again and again we see our solidarity tested and often we fail. The critics will say that it is humanly impossible; that nations are too selfish and greedy because we are human. It is true and that is why holding ourselves accountable to the goal of common good is existential.

Freedom and Democracy: There are certain standards that countries need to achieve before they can become members of the EU. Latvia had to do its own homework for the privilege of joining. What was required?  A stable democracy that respects human rights and the rule of law. It was not easy and it still a work in progress but we have come a long way. Freedom has to be learned and lived. Tunne Kelam, MEP from Estonia, says, “True freedom is not arbitrary or aimless. True freedom is to reach truth and common good. “As we can see from so many examples around the world, it takes time and lots of political will.

Time of crisis is time for great opportunity. I agree with the words of Tomáš Halík, the Czech philosopher, priest and theologian. “We need great Europeans with spiritual strength, intellectual vitality and practical thinking. … European democracy needs European ‘demos’.”

 

53d9d93cdcd5888e145a6d35_maphead-center-europe-purnuskes-lithuania

Geographical center of Europe in Lithuania (photo from the Internet)

Latviski:

Katrā ziņā neesmu eksperte Eiropas Savienības jautājumos, tomēr šo to saprotu. Pirmkārt,  ir skaidrs, ka mēs piedzīvojam ļoti smagu krīzi. Daudzi to raksturo kā ‘eksistenciālu’. Tātad tiek uzdots jautājums – būt vai nebūt?

Vēl es zinu to, ka katra krīze un izaicinājums izgaismo un atklāj daudzas lietas. Gan personiskajā, gan sabiedrības dzīvē. Krīzes izgaismo mūsu dziļākās domas, raksturu un vērtības. Kā auglis, kuru saspiežot, iztek sula, arī mēs zem liela spiediena izrādam savu iekšieni. Vai esam skābs citrons vai salds mango? Mēs uzzinām viens par otru vairāk, kad iet grūti. Kad saule spīd, ir viegli būt pieklājīgiem, pazemīgiem, nesavtīgiem, un smaidīt, un apkampties. Kad problēmas vai nelaime, mēs bieži vien reaģējam pilnīgi neparedzētā veidā.

Es neesmu nekāds izņēmums. Kad man iet viegli un labi, esmu diezgan apmierināta ar sevi. Kad nonāku grūtos un sarežģītos apstākļos, pēkšņi sāku domāt, darīt un runāt lietas, ko pēc tam nožēloju vai par kurām kaunos. Daļēji tas ir normāli, veselīgi un cilvēcīgi, bet daļēji tas ir neglīti un šokējoši.

Krīzes noved pie dažādiem rezultātiem. Ir cilvēki (un kopienas un nācijas), kuri iet cauri grūtībām ar cilvēcisku cieņu un drosmi, un kļūst labāki – gudrāki, mierīgāki, žēlsirdīgāki, dāsnāki, pazemīgāki – , bet citi kļūst sliktāki – muļķīgāki, sarūgtināti, mazāk žēlsirdīgi, vēl skopāki, dusmīgi un agresīvi. Vai vienkārši pārstāj dzīvot pilnvērtīgu dzīvi. Tas ir tas lielais un mūžīgais noslēpums, ko cauri gadsimtiem mēģina izprast gudrie un vienkāršie. No kurienes nāk šis iekšējais spēks? No kurienes nāk gudrība un drosme atrast izeju no strupceļa jeb bezizejas?

Ir tāds teiciens, ka nelaime jeb problēma nenāk viena. Vai arī, kad līst, tad gāž. Nu, Eiropā gāžas pamatīgs ‘problēmu’ lietus. Varbūt daudziem ES vadītājiem liekas, ka pat orkāns. Lai gan rakstu, jo neesmu pret šīm lietām vienaldzīga, teikšu godīgi, ka negribētu būt viņu amatos šajā brīdī. Brexit, Grexit, patvēruma meklētāji, aizvērtas robežas, dzeloņdrāšu žogi, Krievija, Ukraina, galēji labējie, galēji kreisie, pašizolēšanās…

Mūsu oficiālā ES devīze ir “Vienoti dažādībā”. Neviens nešaubās par dažādību, bet kā ar to otro? Žans Klods Junkers, Eiropas Komisijas presidents, savā runā par Eiropas Savienības stāvokli 2015. gadā teica šādus vārdus. “Šajā Savienībā ir par maz Eiropas. Un šajā Savienībā ir par maz Savienības.” Mēs turpinam vērot eiropiešu dažādās reakcijas, darbības, vārdus, un daudz kas mūs šokē. Bieži dzirdu frāzi, ka paši zāģējam zaru, uz kura sēžam.

Uz kā tad mēs sēžam? Es to sauktu par mūsu morālo kompasu. Atļaušos atgādināt dažus no virzieniem, uz kuriem šim kompasam jānorāda.

Miers un izlīgums: 2012. gadā Eiropas Savienība saņēma Nobela Miera prēmiju par ieguldījumiem sešu desmitgažu garumā, veicinot mieru, izlīgumu, demokrātiju un cilvēktiesības. Mēs esam baudījuši šo mieru tik ilgi, ka esam jau pie tā pieraduši, un bieži vien pienācīgi nenovērtējam. Šo mieru nebija viegli sasniegt, un izlīguma process vēl daudzviet turpinās. Mēs piemirstam, ka, ja Francija un Vācija nebūtu izlīgušas, nekādas Eiropas integrācijas nebūtu. Vēl ir svarīgi atcerēties, ka tā laika politiķus un viņu drosmīgos lēmumus iedvesmoja viņu reliģiskā pārliecība.

Cilvēcīgums un cilvēktiesības: Viena no lietām, ko mēs sagaidām, dzīvojot vai pat tikai viesojoties Eiropā, ir cieņa pret katru individuālo cilvēku. Arī tam ir garīgs un morāls pamats – uzskats, ka katrs cilvēks ir īpašs un vērtīgs, jo radīts Dieva līdzībā. Eiropas Cilvēktiesību Konvencija tika pieņemta 1950. gadā, un tā seko izmaiņām likumos un sabiedrībā. To ir parakstījušas 47 valstis Eiropā, tātad ne tikai ES dalībvalstis. Vēl mums ir Eiropas Cilvēktiesību Tiesa, kas darbojas ar lieliem panākumiem. Tāpēc ir viegli saprast, kāpēc tik daudzās intervijās ar patvēruma meklētājiem, kuri piedzīvojuši sliktu apiešanos vai cilvēktiesību pārkāpumus, var dzirdēt vārdus – mēs sagaidījām, ka Eiropa ir tā vieta, kur tiek ievērotas cilvēku tiesības.

Kopīgais labums un solidaritāte: Šķiet, ka te ir vislielākais izaicinājums mūsu pārnacionālajām (supranacionālajām) attiecībām un institūcijām. Ideja un ideāls, ka mēs dalām pienākumus un atbildību, ne tikai privilēģijas un labumus. Ideāls, ka lielākie un stiprākie nevar izmantot mazākos un vājākos. Šī kopība tiek nemitīgi pārbaudīta, un mēs bieži atkrītam. Kritiķi un skeptiķi teiks, ka šis ideāls vispār nav sasniedzams, jo nācijas ir pārāk egoistiskas un mantkārīgas, jo tās vada vienkārši cilvēki. Tā ir realitāte, un tāpēc ir tik svarīgi pašiem turēt šo latiņu augstu un negrozāmu, lai domātu par kopīgo, nevis tikai savējo labumu. Savādāk varam iet katrs savā viensētā, un celt savus žogus.

Brīvība un demokrātija: Lai kļūtu par ES dalībvalsti, ir jāparakstās zem šīm politiskajām tradīcijām un brīvības un likuma mantojuma. Latvijai bija jāveic liels mājasdarbs, lai iegūtu šo privilēģiju. Kas tika pieprasīts? Stabila demokrātija, kur tiek ievērotas cilvēktiesības un likums. To sasniegt nebija tik vienkārši, un mums daudz kas vēl jāuzlabo, bet esam nogājuši  lielu ceļa gabalu. Brīvību ir jāmācās un jāpraktizē. Tune Kelams, padomju laika disidents un šobrīd EP deputāts no Igaunijas, atgādina, ka “Brīvība nav nejauša vai bezmērķīga. Patiesa brīvība ved uz patiesību un kopīgo labumu.” Kā mēs varam secināt no daudziem starptautiskiem piemēriem, ir vajadzīgs laiks un stipra politiska griba.

Jebkura krīze ir arī laiks lielām iespējām. Piekrītu Tomašam Halikam, čehu filozofam, katoļu priesterim un teologam, ka “mums vajadzīgi eiropieši ar garīgu spēku, intelektuālu enerģiju un praktisko domāšanu. … Eiropas demokrātijai ir vajadzīgs eiropeisks demos.”

Searching for my Latvian antidote to our EU ignorance

I expect next few months our European headlines will be dominated by ‘Brexit’. On June 23 the British voters will decide whether to stay in or leave the European Union. Even though the Brits are known for their stoicism and reserve, I imagine it will get quite emotive.

Well, it is emotional for everyone else watching and waiting to see what Britain decides. It literary feels like watching a family dispute and the discussions of either divorce or staying together and working through the problems. This is because the EU is a very unique union and I dare say, there is no other international organization or institution like this anywhere in the world.

The British will vote but all the rest of us will be discussing and debating and reflecting on this strange ‘phenomenon’ – the European Union. And you know what?!! I am glad we are debating because maybe… finally… many of us will start to understand what it actually is meant to be, what is it now and where do we go from here. Why our unity matters?

The journey to our current EU started in 1950. Latvia joined in 2004 together with 9 other countries. (So, 54 years after its foundations were laid.) I remember the referendum in Latvia and vaguely recall some of the debates but honestly it was not much of a debate. And not because some politicians had decided it. The people wanted it. We, citizens of Latvia, voted 67% in favor of joining the EU. Here are the votes of others who joined at that time. Estonia 67%, Lithuania 91%, Poland 77%, Czech Republic 77%, Hungary 83%, Slovakia 92%, Slovenia 90%, Malta 54%

As I see, nobody was twisting our arm. Overwhelming majority of us wanted to join and May 1, 2004 was a joyful day. I travel the world with my EU passport and lots of people envy me when they see this little document in my hand. Why do they think I am privileged to have this passport?

The BIG question – why did we want to join the EU so much? Was it the money? For many people, the most obvious answer. Who does not want to join the rich kids club, right? How can we access those big fat EU funds in Brussels, right? I think the same voices are often the loudest in screaming that the refugees or asylum seekers or any migrants only want this same money and they want to move in our rich neighborhood.

Was it the security? For us, Latvians, another obvious reason. We know that we are too small to defend ourselves from any serious global threats and we need alliance with stronger and bigger (but nice and democratic) countries.

This is a very serious question. At this very moment in Europe there is a country suffering war and conflict because of people’s desire to have a closer association with the EU and even possible membership. Ukraine is fighting a war to join the EU and the Brits are deciding whether to stay or leave.

Let me give a disclaimer… I do not think that the EU is the greatest place in the world. I do not think that it has all the answers for humanity and the best governance. I do not think that it is a ‘paradise on earth’ and I do not think – God bless the European Union and no place else!

But I do think that many of the current problems and crisis – social, political, economical – we are experiencing because we don’t know who we are. Our moral compass is not working very well or sometimes not working at all. Where is north, where is south? There are lots of things to discuss such as identity, ethnicity, nationalism and so on but first let us remind ourselves the “roots”. What was the vision behind the political and economic union that started as European Coal and Steel Community with 6 original members? Why is this vision still as relevant today as it was then?

Here is a shortcut to another blog I wrote last May Why should I care about Europe Day. It gives a very brief introduction to the foundations for European project.

This problem of ignorance about the original vision of European unity is not just Latvian. It is also Estonian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian, British, Dutch… I think this is truly a European problem. If only for the sake of our friends in Ukraine who are going through a lot of suffering right now to figure out their future and want our support, let us find answers to these questions. Let us start injecting some antidote to our ignorance… quickly and in heavy doses.

*Obviously in this blog I asked many questions for reflection and discussion. It is because I intend to write more about this topic and our current EU crisis. Hope you will join the conversation and soul-searching…

CROATIA-EU-ENLARGEMENT

Croatians wave an EU flag as they celebrate the accession of Croatia to the European Union on June 30, 2013. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

Latviski:

Paredzu, ka nākamos mēnešus mūsu Eiropas ziņu virsrakstos dominēs ‘Brexit’. 23. jūnijā britu vēlētāji un pilsoņi lems, vai palikt ES vai izstāties. Kaut arī briti slaveni ar savu stoicismu un vēso prātu, gan jau emocijas sitīs augstu vilni.

Arī mums pārējiem radīsies emocijas, vērojot un gaidot, ko briti izlems. Burtiskā nozīmē ir sajūta kā ģimenes strīdā, kur tiek lemts, vai šķirties, vai arī palikt kopā un mēģināt atrisināt visus sarežģītos mezglus. Jo Eiropas Savienība nav vienkārša. Tā ir ļoti unikāla savienība, un otras tādas organizācijas un institūcijas nav nekur citur pasaulē.

Briti lems, bet mēs visi diskutēsim, spriedīsim un pārdomāsim šo mūsdienu ‘fenomenu’ – Eiropas Savienību. Un ziniet, ko?! Tas ir ļoti labi, jo varbūt… beidzot… mēs sāksim saprast, kam šī savienība ir domāta, kāda tā ir tagad, un ko darīt tālāk. Kāpēc vispār mums ir svarīgi būt vienotiem?

Šis Eiropas vienotības projekts iesākās 1950. gadā. Latvija kopā ar vēl 9 valstīm pievienojās 2004. gadā. Tātad daudz vēlāk… 54 gadus pēc ES pamatu likšanas. Es atceros Latvijas referendumu, un pa miglu atceros debates. Ja godīgi, man tās nelikās nekādas karstās. Neatceros, ka mēs virtuvē ar draugiem sēdētu un strīdētos. Un ne tāpēc, ka politiķi jau visu izlēmuši mūsu vietā. Mēs gribējām stāties ES. Latvija nobalsoja 67% ar “JĀ”. Cik ļoti to gribēja pārējās valstis? Igaunija 67%, Lietuva 91%, Polija 77%, Čehija 77%, Ungārija 83%, Slovākija 92%, Slovēnija 90%, Malta 54%

Kā redzams, neviens mūs nespieda un nevilka ar varu. Lielākā daļa Latvijas iedzīvotāju to gaidīja ar prieku, un 2004. gada 1. maijs bija svētki. Es ceļoju pa pasauli ar savu ES pasi, un redzu, cik daudzi skatās ar zināmu skaudību uz šo mazo dokumentu manā rokā. Kāpēc viņiem liekas, ka ES pase ir tāda privilēģija?

Lielais jautājums – kāpēc mēs tik ļoti gribējām stāties šajā savienībā? Naudas dēļ? Daudziem tā liekas visloģiskākā atbilde. Kurš gan negrib iestāties bagāto klubā, vai ne? Kā lai tiek pie tiem treknajiem ES fondiem Briselē? Reizēm man liekas, ka tās pašas balsis, kam nauda pirmā vietā, tagad kliedz visskaļāk, ka bēgļi, patvēruma meklētāji vai citi migranti grib tik to naudu, tos treknos fondus un atbalstus, un turklāt vēlas ievākties mūsu bagāto rajonā. (Ko vēl sagribēs!)

Vai arī tas bija drošības dēļ? Mums, Latvijā, tas arī ir ļoti loģisks iemesls. Mēs esam pārāk mazi, lai aizstāvētos pret dažādiem globāliem satricinājumiem un draudiem, un mums jābūt aliansē ar lielākām un stiprākām (bet arī jaukām un demokrātiskām) valstīm.

Jautājums ir patiešām nopietns. Jo šajā pašā brīdī viena Eiropas valsts piedzīvo karu un ciešanas, jo tauta izrādīja vēlēšanos tuvināties Eiropas Savienībai, un pat sapņo par iestāšanos. (Par ko tad viņi cīnās?) Ukrainā ir karš, jo cilvēki grib būt savienībā un vienotībā ar pārējo Eiropu, un briti lemj, vai palikt kopā vai sķirties.

Neliela atkāpe, lai kāds mani nepārprastu… Es nedomāju, ka Eiropas Savienība ir vislabākā vieta uz pasaules. Es nedomāju, ka mums ir visas atslēgas cilvēces problēmām. Es nedomāju, ka te ir paradīze zemes virsū, un es katrā ziņā neparakstos zem attieksmes – Dievs svētī Eiropas Savienību, un nevienu citu!

Bet es esmu pārliecināta, ka viena no mūsu problēmu un patreizējās krīzes – sociālās, ekonomiskās, politiskās – saknēm ir tas, ka mēs nezinām, kas mēs esam. Mūsu morālais kompass ir krietni bojāts, vai dažreiz vispār nedarbojas. Kur ir ziemeļi, kur ir dienvidi? Daudz ko vajag pārrunāt un pārdomāt, piemēram, identitāti un nacionālismu, bet šoreiz es gribu trāpīt uz naglas, kas ir ES saknes un pamati. Kāds bija tās dibinātāju redzējums, kad pēc Otrā Pasaules kara tika izveidota šī politiskā un ekonomiskā savienība? Iesākumā kā Eiropas Ogļu un tērauda kopiena ar 6 dalībvalstīm. Kāpēc šis redzējums ir joprojām aktuāls šodien?

Pagājšgad maijā es uzrakstīju nelielu ieskatu šajā vēsturē. “Why should I care about Europe Day” (latviskais variants vēl nav pievienots)  Atgādinot par cilvēku, kurš tiek saukts par “Eiropas tēvu”, un viņa drosmīgo redzējumu par iespēju vienot eiropiešus, pat ‘mūžīgos’ ienaidniekus.

Un vēl viens mans secinājums… Šī milzīgā problēma, ka nezinām vai esam aizmirsuši Eiropas vienotības pamatus un mērķus un redzējumu – tā nepiemīt tikai latviešiem. Tā piemīt arī igauņiem, lietuviešiem, poļiem, ungāriem, arī britiem, holandiešiem, utt… Tā ir problēma visā Eiropā. Un mums ar to ir jātiek galā. Kaut vai tikai ukraiņu dēļ, kuri meklē atbildes un virzienu savas nācijas nākotnei, un gaida mūsu atbalstu. Mums vajag izplatīt antivielas pret mūsu ES nezināšanu un apjukumu… ātri un lielās devās.

*Šajā rakstā ir daudz jautājumu pārdomām un pārrunām. Tāpēc, ka es turpināšu rakstīt par ES tēmu un mūsu, eiropiešu, krīzi. Ceru, ka jūs pievienosieties šai sarunai un pašanalīzei…