August 31, 2015
The first, with its challenging pronunciation, is the border between Budapest, Hungary and Vienna, Austria, where a truck with the bodies of about seventy suffocated migrants was found over the weekend. The second is the first city in Italy that the traveller on the main highway from Monaco, France comes to, although it is about ten kilometers from the actual border we see on television, where migrants who have crossed the Mediter-ranean heading for France are stopped by French authorities, forcing them onto the huge boulders that line the shore against flooding. Seventy years after World War II, both of these frontiers had become nominal in a Europe that had at least become whole, and now, suddenly, they risk reopening old wounds.
I know both of these borders crossings well, having lived in both Eastern and Wester Europe for several periods of two-plus decades. I travelled the first by car many times when I lived in Budapest, which was behind the Iron Curtain at the time, on my way to Western Europe, where I still had ties. That border in the middle of a wooded area, could seem foreboding, the road barred by what looked like a very thick log, just under a watch tower. I crossed it in 1971, with my Hungarian husband and two small children, on the way to a flight from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, where my mother awaited our visit. At that time, even the most organized of travelers would be slightly apprehensive, wondering whether some paper or other might be missing. In the eighties, when I went to pick up some things in Budapest, it had already become a major highway as part of a UNDP plan to link Europe to Asia and Africa.
As for St Louis, or San Luigi, just a building alongside the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean, I passed it many times during vacations from Paris in villages with spacious aristocratic summer retreats where those large boulders served as beaches for those who knew not to take the superhighway to Ventimiglia but rather the poorly maintained narrow road that hugged the coast between hothouses where roses for the entire world were grown.
I’m wondering what my friends along that coast are thinking these days, seeing their seemingly inviolable space overrun by swarthy, dusty escapees from wars their government failed to oppose on the other side of ‘Mare Nostrum’, the sea which Europe shares with Africa and the Middle East, but continues to think of as its own.
The mindlessness of Europe’s situation is mind-boggling: for decades it has ‘cooperated’ with former African colonies, but then allowed the United States to commit a vicious bombing campaign against Muammar Ghaddafi’s Libya, after befriending him for decades. Resolutely secular Europe thought nothing of turning Libya, one of the better run countries in Northern Africa, from a secular land to one divided into two warring religious camps, wedged between Egypt and Algeria, with southern borders touching Sudan, Niger and Chad, like a basket waiting to be filled with the desperate fleeing these areas to which Boko Haram/ISIS has spread from its base in Nigeria.
European governments have devised elaborate plans to combat Islamic terrorism, with no thought to the millions fleeing war, hunger, and terrorism on the opposite shore of ‘their’ sea. Comfortable in their role of obedient subordinates (strange that we don’t hear the homey tag Uncle Sam anymore…) the brilliant men and women who pulled together to create a union of twenty-eight countries where war would no longer be a periodic scourge, accepted their status of American vassals without a second thought: after all, the powerful USSR could, conceivably decide to no longer be content with Eastern Europe and proceed to swallow Western Europe as well…….
As for the governments in Eastern Europe who chafed under Soviet control - though much freer than their cousins in the West imagined - they never imagined that twenty-five years after the celebratory hacking of the Berlin Wall, they would find themselves building walls to keep brown people out. (The separation of Eastern Europeans from the West was experienced as an unfair situation by populations who saw themselves as similar white Christians, and now barely 25 years after they have been accepted as equals, the European Union expects them to welcome brown people?! Clearly, Eastern Europe has not yet had time to develop the one-world ethos that constitutes the bedrock of the European Union.)
In a situation that has not been seen since the end of World War II, thousands of brown men, women and children fleeing white aggression storm trains and demonstrate in holding areas, as seemingly helpless governments looks on. Twice in the twentieth century, the US came ‘gallantly’ to the rescue of Europe’s three dozen countries unable to make diplomacy work. But today’s monumental challenge results from a combination of American-led aggressions against Europe’s neighbors and its own lingering racism.