I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired billions around the world with his ‘I have a dream’ speech. He had a vision about America. Robert Schuman, Helmut Kohl and Willy Brandt had a dream of a united Europe. All of them were thinking 20 years ahead of their time which engraved their names in our history. Austerity measures, refugee crisis, terrorism threats – looking back on the crisis management in all these cases, we have to conclude that our contemporary politicians are mainly focused on short-term issues and solutions. I believe that what Europe needs right now is more leaders who speak from their hearts and can make us dream, make us once again envision a common European future.
Over the past year, the term ‘populism’ which can also refer to a democratic movement became after Brexit, Donald Trump’s election victory and several political leaders across Europe demonising migrants and refugees even more associated with right-wing authoritarianism. Considering all recent events, it became all too natural to connect populism with far-right movements and a xenophobic or nationalistic language. But if we define populism as a political communication style which seeks to be reach ‘common people’, we can understand why populists, regardless if they are right, left, green, good or bad, have followers and win elections. They connect with people through simple words and emotions. Practical political solutions are important but they cannot ignite our imagination as human beings in a way emotional messages can. Visionary leaders succeed because they use a similar simple way of communicating. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream of seeing the sons of former slaves and former slave owners sit together at the ‘table of brotherhood’. Imagine if he had just talked about fighting racism, using only the dry facts.
Right-wing populists use this power of simplicity and emotion for the benefit of promoting nativism with phrases such as ‘Make the Netherlands (….fill in) great again’. They succeed because they are filling a void. What we need are more politicians who are visionary leaders and who can communicate political solutions in a way that makes us envision a better Europe.
Taking down the walls
More and more walls are built or planned in Europe. Britain is building ‘The Great Wall of Calais’ aimed at stopping migrants jumping onto UK-bound lorries. Hungary built a barbed-wire fence on its border with Serbia and is planning to build a second one. Bulgaria built a fence on its border with Turkey and that fence was extended. Austria has announced plans to build a fence on its border with Slovenia which creates a precedent since both countries are in the border-control-free Schengen area. Although these walls are physical, they hold a much stronger symbolic meaning, reminiscent of the Berlin Wall and the ‘Iron Curtain’. These walls should disturb us, rather than lull us into the (false) sense of security that they stop the waves of migrants from entering our haven. In fact, a number of human-rights organisations warned that the existing fences failed to reduce migration. The migrants are diverted to other more dangerous borders and routes, which, unfortunately, already cost some of them their lives. The €500 million that were already spent on fences could have better been used for humanitarian aid.
Building walls is too high a cost especially in terms of sustaining the feeling that we are citizens of one union. The walls that we build in our minds are much more disturbing than the physical ones. We stand united but at the same time we build fences to guard the borders within this union. This just doesn’t make sense, let along solve such a complex crisis.
What do ‘freedom, equality, solidarity’ mean today?
The first time I visited the European Parliament I was impressed by the metal tree installation – when I shook one branch the whole tree was shaking, even the furthest branches. This tree symbolises Europe as one. If we can believe that this is true then why can’t we apply the same thinking to the whole world? We have already seen how what happened in Syria affected us too. Freedom, equality and solidarity need to stretch beyond our national and even European borders. Our economies and technologies already connect us globally and we have accepted that. Are we mature enough to embrace global citizenship?
I have heard politicians from different European countries cite ‘freedom, equality, solidarity’ in their election campaigns but somehow these principles sound empty when they are taken out of context. Yes, we Europeans are free to speak, travel, vote, work. Women and men are equal in their work place or when voting. We help the developing countries. But if our actions remain driven mainly by our own continental interests then our core European principles will lose meaning. When we shake one branch, the whole tree will soon begin to shake. Europe is not the tree; it’s just one bigger branch of it.
I have a dream…
I believe that the European Union should be just another step towards globalisation and having a global government. My dream goes beyond (re)uniting Europe. We hold national and European identities that define us. I have a dream that one day we will look beyond these identities and view the world as one. I have a dream that one day all citizens of all countries will be able to work and travel visa-free. We will all have equal, online access to great education. The conflicts on the other side of the globe will disturb us, rather than make us worry about migration. I have a dream that one day there will be only one union – the global one. And we will all hold passports stating we are citizens of it.
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