Column german angst: europe, only almost tangible

The further I get away from Europe, the closer it gets to me. Europe, that is queues of varying speed at entry.

My EU passport is repeatedly taken out of my hand by acquaintances in Eastern Europe Photo: dpa

When I think about my relationship with Europe, I think about two experiences in particular. Experiences that I have had outside the EU. Beyond the Schengen Wall, but in regions that have long been counted as part of Europe and where many see themselves as Europeans. These are experiences that I have only had as an observer. Because I have a good passport. A premium EU passport. A burgundy one with golden letters.

A passport that acquaintances in Eastern Europe kept taking out of my hand. It’s a bit unkempt, I hardly take care of it, although I travel with it a lot – because I can. A passport that the acquaintances turned and turned with a connoisseur’s eye and said with conviction (often even in German): I’ll have that one, too, one day. Someday.

That hasn’t happened to me for a long time, by the way. Probably since 2015, when I was working in Belgrade. The acquaintances who saw their future in Germany spent a few carefree days in Amsterdam on a tourist visa. Or helped thousands of young Afghans camped out in the Serbian capital: food, clothes and employment. Serbia was a stopover. Already Europe, but not EU.

After a seminar, we saw the participants off on their train to Vienna. The train was divided into two parts – in the front the Afghans, doors and windows firmly locked, in the back the Schengen foreigners. Shortly before Hungary, at the green border, the train slowed down and the first carriage was opened. The seminar participants continued their shocked journey to Vienna. A place that was the destination of some of those who were now risking their lives to cross the Schengen border. That’s how it went every day.

Move without fear

In 2016, I was living in Russia. Europe was always present there. My closer acquaintances were planning their departure: to Europe or Israel. Everyone else had an opinion about Europe, a very bad one. The majority of Russian women never left their country. Quite different from the countless workers from the ex-Soviet empire who work on the Moscow streets, in stores, fast food chains. They keep everything going. I only do journalism.

… although, "only"… At some point I didn’t get a visa anymore. The relevant authorities were alarmed. I didn’t care, I didn’t have to worry. Unlike my Russian-German colleagues, nothing more could happen to me than to be refused entry.

In Moscow, I learned something about myself that I didn’t know before, and which is anything but self-evident. I move between state borders almost without fear. I am one of those who stand in the short queue in the transit area. I am one of those who does not have to be patterned by police and listen to arbitrary insinuations under the ears of hundreds of people standing in line. These scenes, as I have often seen them in these years, were humiliating, there existences were destroyed, while my queue advanced briskly.

The further I move away from Europe, the closer it gets to me.

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