By Hanna Polishchuk
Three countries are behind and we move on to the Balkans. Now, our route challenges us with three countries in four days. None of us expected that it will be an easy trip because it included long-distance trains, but everything was easier thanks to Interrail first-class Global Pass. Besides, the result we got interviewing people and what we saw with our own eyes were worthwhile. In the three countries we asked very similar questions, but the answers differed depending on the nationality.
We would like to compare three answers from Croatian, Serbian and Bulgarian citizens:
Zvonimir Canjuga, 24, Croatian, student.
Miljana Vulevic, 26, Serbian, student and employee.
Tanya Jassim, 32, Bulgarian, sound operator in national television
When you say Europe, what do you mean? How would you geographically determine it? Are there any limits, borders?
Zvonimir: In most cases, for me Europe is “unity”. We are all together here, and all these European identity which nobody knows is actually something that makes us special. We created a Europe without the borders, which is good. That idea is now pretty much threatened, but I see Europe without borders: both physical and mental. In my opinion, we have more mental borders among ourselves, than physical ones.
Miljana: Definitely yes, there are. We all have seen the recent events with refugees, so this whole fortress-Europe thing is more evident now than ever before. I would not call it borders; there are certain disparities which will act as borders, disparities that come from differences between Europeans and differences in their needs and attitudes.
Tanya: Yes, there are borders: the geographical ones and the ones among people. They have always existed and they keep existing nowadays. It does not matter whether it is Europe or just a continent, or the countries between continents. Borders always have existed.
European Union’s motto is “United in Diversity”. Do you believe in it?
Zvonimir: Yes, I believe in this idea but not as much as one year ago. It was threatened and it collapsed while this migration crisis started, and we can see that walls are increasing in many senses for everybody, but they don’t want to deal with anything. I think this “united in diversity” it’s not working right now, but we, young people, we need to work on it to get it back.
If we talk about the refugee crisis, do you see any problems that your country is facing right now?
Zvonimir: Personally, I don’t see it as a problem. The politicians do. See the problem? Because especially for the Balkan region, and I’m mainly talking about my country, Croatia, refugees don’t want to stay in here; their goal is Scandinavic countries, Germany or France, they are in transit here. Our politicians were saying: “They will stay, they will change the structure of society…” It was pretty annoying. We as a country are not threatened by refugees, we have been through this in the 90’s, and I think we should be more compassionate about that. But as I said, for me, it is not a problem.
Miljana: Well, my country is… maybe this is too strong of a word but I would say “irrelevant” in the whole issue because nobody wants to stay in Serbia. Really small amount of these people are actually considering to stay here. We are just a transit country, at least we used to be, because this route was kinda shut down. The point is that there is certain duplicity when we talk about refugees because Europe is trying to ‘sell’ this “we are welcoming you with open arms” story, and the reality is not like that. I am not super informed about this issue, I do follow it, I do follow the news, but there is really this duplicity which is really unfair to those people who are trying to hold on to their dear lives and who are trying to escape the war and destruction, which is horrible. My country was bombarded for a couple of months, and that was one of the worst times of my life. I can’t even imagine what these people are going through when this is their reality year after year… It is unthinkable. And if you are not open to help this people in a real way, it is shitty (pardon my French). In Serbia they are really welcome here, we offer them support, medical support, there are little tents with doctors and everything, and we offer them some supplies, there were a lot of volunteers. I am really proud of how my country embraced those people, and how civil and compassionate everybody was to them when they were here. But I am really disappointed by the fact that the European Union just stands and watches.
Tanya: The problem according to me is too much speaking and exaggerating the problem. Actually during the previous wave that took place last year, there were many people who entered the country, who were somewhere on the streets. There is a specific area where they are concentrated. There were few incidents, really a few, that were caused between them, it is like nothing. It is more exaggerated than it is. From the financial point of view, the thing is that they have to be hosted in one way or another, to face their needs. All the rest is just to make them go through or go back, we are just the crossing point.
Related to the amount of refugees and safety of the citizens, I have to say that you cannot feel this atmosphere. There is certain small part of the city where they are living. Anyway, this part of the city was never a safe zone. When you cross this part of the city, you know that there are refugees, and they do their best not to cause any troubles. If something ever happens, it is among themselves.
Things are controlled in one way or another, but since human rights exist, people have been migrating from one point to another where life is better: whether there is more water, whether the land is better for growing. So, from those early ages till nowadays these things are happening, just in a bit different way. People have been migrating for a better life, but in a modern world it is not that easy to migrate from one point to another. It is understandable why people want to move: it does not matter whether there is a war or economic crisis. Still, there is always a reason. The way things are happening at the moment does not look natural. It is natural to move, because you are feeling in your place in a certain place, but it does not look natural to be that massive. Some immigrants take advantage of the war, and go with the big flow. If they wanted to save themselves, they would go to any other place where the lifestyle is more or less better than in the country they come from; they don’t want to stay here in those camps, they are just heading straight to Germany. But I think that Germany for them is the final point because its politicians said “you are all are welcome”. And since then, they just head to Germany, and they don’t want to stay anywhere else.
If we talk about the borders in Balkans, in general, what can you say about it? What problems do you see?
Zvonimir: This is something that is a hot topic right now, and it is really complicated to talk about. I think we can divide this in young and old people. We, young people, have smaller borders or less borders between ourselves. I don’t see any problem among young people, because we are not affected by it: we don’t care about what happened in 90’s or during the time of Yugoslavia. The problem is still between older generations of Balkan people; they are still very sensitive about the things that happened but we, young people, we are considering ourselves Europeans in most cases, and this is something that we are trying to focus on. That is why we are in AEGEE or another European association trying to overcome this problem, and live in better conditions for us. In relation to the borders between us, Croatia and Serbia, for instance, I don’t see any problem. We cooperate with them, we work with them, we organize summer university without any problems. We go there, they come here, – it is not a problem.
Do you think there are more borders between Balkan countries than between the Schengen area and the rest of the Europe?
Miljana: it’s a tricky one because the past was quite different, and I think the past events kind of set out the ground for future events. It is really logical if you think about it. What happened in the Balkans sort of predestined the way things are today. So, yes, I would say that there are more borders between us now, sadly, but with new generations and this is what my involvement in youth organization taught me and showed me: young generations and young people are really reaching out to each other and really are trying to tear down these borders and uniting you in a better way.
What would you wish for the future of Europe?
Zvonimir: I would wish that we stopped pretending that we are united in diversity, and we actually mean it. We were proven by the politicians that this idea is very weak. I would really like to live in such beliefs that we do not pretend ourselves that we are somebody else.
Miljana: I would like to see some restructuring and I would really like to see some actual changes happening, because the way things are right now is obviously not working quite as well as it should be. And if it is not working, then fix it.
Tanya: I would not wish something for the people but for the governments because they are a few people pulling the strings, few people who think that everything depends on them. I wish those few people to feel satisfied enough, so they don’t make any harm to the little ones like us.
From Team Blue of Europe on Track we are really grateful to the three of them for such interesting conversations. It’s time to move to Turkey, stay tuned!