Monday, April 25, 2016

April 6, 2016: the day when Europe died

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, an appropriate day to think of Ukraine and of unintended consequences of rush human actions. However, I am now thinking of another, more recent sad date for Ukraine and Europe: April 6, only twenty days ago. This was the date when a referendum on the proposed Ukraine - EU Association Agreement was held in the Netherlands. The referendum was valid because over 30% of voters (to be precise, 32%) turned out. Of them, only 38% supported the agreement while an overwhelming majority of 61% were against it.

I have had a soft spot for the Netherlands since childhood, when I first read Anne Frank's diary and was moved by the quiet heroism of the unremarkable people hiding Anne's family, and of other Dutch. "All college students are being asked to sign an official statement to the effect that they 'sympathize with the Germans and approve of the New Order." Eighty percent have decided to obey the dictates of their conscience, but the penalty will be severe. Any student refusing to sign will be sent to a German labor camp." Once I discussed this excerpt with a teacher at school, admitting that I do not think I would behave like the eighty percent under the circumstances. (I had actually just been accepted to the Young Communist League, for which I had applied despite my hate of communism in order to be allowed to study and live without political problems.) The teacher replied, "The Dutch are different from us. Their country had been free for centuries, and this affects how people think and act."

Through the years, the Netherlands retained for me this image of a free, enlightened, civilized and now prosperous place - a golden aura that of course required some distance and idealization, but nevertheless was based on reality, or at least I thought so. My husband briefly visited the country several years ago and liked it so much that named the project of his life after a Dutch town.

The Apr. 6 referendum was a reality check for me. The proposed association agreement with Ukraine did not bring any risk for EU - it just allowed easier trade, something the Dutch have always valued, and opportunity for Ukrainians to travel to Europe proper. Nevertheless, the proportion of ordinary Dutch supporting it was nowhere near 80%. It was only 12%, that is, 38% of the 32% who participated in the vote. I guess, you can find a similar if not higher proportion of enlightened, compassionate and freedom-loving people in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. So what was the centuries-long history of freedom about? At the end of the day, it amounted to nothing.

While trying to be optimistic, I fear that the Old Continent is exhausted and is making periodic suicide attempts since 1914 that will at some point be successful. When an important transition is brought about by a long process, people facilitate their perception of it by setting a focal point for the transition, a particular event that may not be of high objective importance. So while I know that the decline of the ancient Graeco-Roman civilization took many centuries, I take the lynching of Hypatia in 415 AD as official beginning of the Dark Ages. The same way, I take April 6, 2016 as the date printed on Europe's death certificate. Because Europe is not a collection of people, a creation of material culture or a set of institutions. It is a complex of values, an idea; and on this day a core European nation by popular vote renounced the idea of Europe.


Anonymous said...

do you dislike muslims?

Charles N. Steele said...

I don't know about Maya, but I dislike islam, because I prefer freedom and rationality. Disliking islam is quite different from disliking muslims, but that important distinction seems to be lost on some.

Maya M said...

Thank you, Charles! You are right: I dislike Islam!