A crisis in the heart — of Europe.
When I came back from India, everything was destroyed: humanity and the system and society that we live in.
I looked toward India and Bangladesh and feared that our situation would become like “theirs” one day.
How? That we would turn into something painful. Unjust, unfair, and inhumane: Yet I experienced incredible humanity — how was that possible?
Many things cannot be explained. One thing is certain: In my experience, most poor people were wonderful towards me: this will have an impact on me, forever.
However, I have come to a bitter conclusion after my most recent trip through the Balkans by bicycle, train, and car, and a long stay in Greece.
Our situation has already become like “theirs”; we have already reached a similar level. Almost. Indians cannot travel easily to Pakistan or Bangladesh, because the borders are closed to them. Not to mention travel abroad, for example, to Europe. The situation is similar here right now with people trying to flee from wars in Afghanistan and Syria, heading to Turkey, Greece, and the border to Macedonia.
Starting my journey from Greece to Paris, I first went by train from Chalkida to Thessaloniki, in the north of the country, to visit my grandparents. There I realized that the TV and mass media has had the desired impact and achieved their goal: People are scared. They close (previously open) doors and windows and there is a buzz in the air and in conversations about the Albanians who are coming to steal everything. Or the Bulgarians who come during the night to rob the fields, and traffic drugs. Drugs, are, of course, a problem caused by foreigners. My ears were filled with such nonsense. Seriously, it is pathetic and makes me extremely sad.
The Greek population who wants to believe in this crime story get their daily dose from the crap sold on TV. Most have overdosed. The impact on the entire country can be felt — if you are able to sense it. While hitchhiking, I had the experience that nobody would pick me up. Nearly 100 cars in 90 minutes and not a single one stopped! So I chose to stand right out in the street — in the middle of the road, not to explain my situation, but to make clear that this is the only road to my grandparents’ village, and I need to get down this road. There was no reason to leave me there standing on the road. People’s faces stared at me in horror; they were petrified, some even rolled up their windows and sped up! They signalized “I am not going to take you with me and I won’t even talk to you.” This made it crystal clear that the good days are over.
The crisis, what are you talking about, that’s a joke, it’s a financial crisis that will never be solved, can never be solved, because it is an inherent and necessary system error. Even Germany, Austria and Switzerland will have to deal with it soon. The system has reached its limits and you don’t have to be an Economics expert to explain it or see the results. Just travel. Go see Europe’s capitals and instead of looking at the church’s and monuments to the past, look at what’s happening. Housing prices have gotten out of control, the middle class is crumbling, and jobs are precarious and underpaid. Germany is still doing well, but for how long can it hold it together? Over the past several years I have traveled through almost all of Europe and in my mind, the image I got has a lot to do with the real situation.
The fact is, I have no problem with the crisis, but rather with the fact that people have become afraid. In Europe, people don’t trust each other anymore. Fear reigns wherever you go! Sometimes less, sometimes more, but in general there fear is there, hanging in the air.
I saw it with my own eyes, because I started my journey by train. The border with Macedonia is not fun anymore. The controls are extremely intense and I can understand that the border countries are completely overwhelmed. My trip from Thessaloniki to Belgrade not only opened my eyes, but also made me realize that the borders are anything but closed. You can’t close a country, even when you try to protect it with borders.
Thousands of refugees stream into Greece everyday. From the mainland, Turkey, by boat, via islands: People from Afghanistan and Syria are escaping the war. They do not come to Europe to make money. They come because bombs are falling from the sky, while we chill under the sun to get a tan… They flee because they do not want to die. And they come in groups, children, women, the elderly. Almost all have been running for days through forests or along borders, have large blisters, are hungry and unwashed.
I don’t want to play it up here and talk about the faces that I saw on the train. I’ll show the video and simply say that I tried all I could to make sure this family from Afghanistan had enough to eat and drink. I wasn’t able to do a lot for them, but their gratitude will stay in my heart forever. Where they are sleeping now, nobody knows. Maybe they have been deported back to Greece — maybe they stayed in Macedonia. The fact is that they have been on the road for six months and their goal is very clear: Germany.
I arrived in Belgrade and met hundreds of refugees who had made it through Macedonia. They have to leave Serbia in three days. They are all on the way to Hungary. Germany is closer and even if you don’t understand Arabic, it is obvious that Germany is not only the number one country in their mind, but in the same breath means protection and peace.
The question is not how many refugees can Germany handle, but how much tolerance do we — each of us — have within us. How large are our hearts, really?
I am not talking about the donations that we make online every four months to help charities and NGOs, who often spend 40 percent on their own administration anyway.
I am talking about our each of our own, individual ways to respect humanity.
It was difficult to see the family from Afghanistan, hungry, tired, and exhausted, their feet covered in blisters. After two minutes in their cabin, I couldn’t breath; the smell was overwhelming. Weeks of walking, no shower — you would smell, too, wouldn’t you? I brought them my food and hugged the children. It would have been easier for me to stand outside and wait; after all, the police will be waiting at the next station.
My long train ride gave me the opportunity to listen to real news, unfiltered, raw, free of some underlying message prepared to control society. I spoke with refugees and with police. This is also a reason why I travel — to face the reality.
My video saved the son from getting a beating. The official says that he cannot beat them anymore because he isn’t paid enough, and anyway, he can’t sleep because of it all. But he is well aware that special border teams get more money and that they will use violence to remove people from the train. He clearly says that governments such as Greece and Turkey, also Macedonia are completely overwhelmed — and rather than face the problem, repress it. More and more refugees are pressing at the fences and countries like Hungary and Germany will have to face this very soon. The stream is not abating, it is getting stronger.
How big is my own heart? When I arrived in Belgrade, it was the same picture: hundreds of refugees out on the streets, gathered and waiting for help. Where will this help come from? No one knows. But the hostels are booked out; on the wall hangs a sign indicating percentages of where the guests are from. We are in Serbia, so you might think that Hungary or Croatia would be take first place, but instead, it’s Turkey and Syria. After finding a hostel for a group of young refugees from Syria I was rewarded with cigarettes — but the real reward were their faces, so thankful they were almost in tears.
I stayed with the boys for almost three hours, we shaved and took showers, one after the other; the train was terribly dirty. We changed our socks and shoes, old and dirty clothes, and ate a meal together. I was in the middle of it again, by choice. A flight from Athens to Paris is no option. I want to experience life, not look at it happening filtered for on screen viewing. The media displaces a large part of the truth that I saw. I gave up watching the news in 2012 and began experiencing it. I have traveled the world for years and the news that I experience is real news — one reason why I keep a blog! I am not afraid of the truth and I hope that you are not, too.
Are we going to make bigger and stronger borders, so we can keep people out, so we can drive our fast car through the countryside, down the highway to enjoy our trouble-free holidays? All that while the children of Hassan and Hüryie are beaten on the train, because they want to escape the war out in their countryside, the bombs flying over their heads? They didn’t come to Europe on holiday. They just want to live in peace — like each and every one of us.
Where are our ministers and presidents, who fly in their private jets to meetings and dinners around the world — funded by us, the tax-payers; it is our money that each of us pays every day that goes into “controlling” this whole situation.
But what is the price of sleepless nights? How can we sleep when we truly see what is happening before our very (closed) gates? I came back from India and thought to myself: “Oh, India and Bangladesh are such a mess — how they will ever get through it?” I had no answer and it was too much to think about… but you don’t have to go very far to face such complex and unsolvable problems.
Today I think that I do not have to ride far or travel abroad from Europe to experience a reality, which is moving ever closer. I went with a 50 euro ticket from Greece through Macedonia to Belgrade. That’s it. And what I faced there is pretty similar with what I faced in India and Bangladesh. A lot of pain!
So I ask all, each one of you: “Do we want to continue to live in our ideal world, pay rent, pay taxes, go shopping at the grocery store and pretend as if everything is fine and wonderful? Not facing the reality in Europe, because we keep thinking: “As long as it does not concern my personal life — who cares?”
I had enough time with myself and I moved these days to Paris and here I see things on the streets things that make it clear to me, we are far from a stable society, and the “Europe” that we were all dreaming about — is a big lie. We live in a bubble. A bubble that is still nice and protected — but no for long. We should face this. And if we in Europe will not be able to solve these challenges — then who will?
Where, if not here?
Please take the time to consider it.