Eastern or Central Europe?

When I talk about my country of origin – Slovakia I always have to think twice how exactly I should describe it geographically, or even politically. I used to emphasize Slovakia was located in Central Europe, rather than Eastern Europe. There was this special connotation the word “Eastern” meant to me due to our communistic past. I have always felt I have to defend my country against the view of being Eastern, as the less developed, as “the other”.

Edward Said's book, Orientalism
Edward Said’s book, Orientalism

After reading Edward Said’s book “Orientalism” I came to understand how exactly the perception of East was formed throughout the history. Orient was seen as less developed politically and economically, people were perceived as being more passionate and thus incapable of rational decision-making and the Western Imperialists thought they have the right and duty to take over them. This perception is still alive in my opinion because some still regard Eastern countries as being less developed, or not capable of their own decision-making model. However, I noticed something has changed.

When I describe Slovakia nowadays, I say Slovakia is in Eastern Europe and I feel proud about it. I feel proud that we have our own cultural heritage that the character of people is unique, and I do not feel like I have to defend it anymore. Many of my friends feel the same way. What has changed?

There is a shift of mood in Europe. Nationalism is on rise. People are not afraid to speak up for their national interests. It is not about patriotism anymore because feeling proud of your country does not hurt anyone, but when your feelings transform into actions, it becomes dangerous. It is becoming even more dangerous when you are trying to exclude other people from your society because they do not share the same opinion, color of hair, history or religion. You are out-grouping “the other” because you are inside a certain group.

The public opinion on immigrants in Slovakia is divided. There are few very nice initiatives, as “A Plea for Humanity” which is trying to raise public awareness on this matter, and force the Slovak government to share the burden of accepting migrants from the other states. However, there are also opinions that immigrants are invaders, who will come to Slovakia to destroy our heritage and take advantage of the system. Even death of innocent people does not make the public response any more human. We are watching people die without a blink of an eye. This strongly reminds me of Europe’s bloody history. The Holocaust.

Historian Raul Hilberg in his book “The Destruction of European Jews” came up with six stages that lead to a genocide, (1) Definition, (2) Expropriation, (3) Concentration, (4) Mobile Killing Units, (5) Deportation, and (6) Extermination. First you identify your enemy, second you strip your enemy of rights, and then you separate them from the others, concentrate them in one place. The next stages are fatal, you start killing your enemies. Most of the people did not realize what was happening because the whole process consisted of “small steps” and it gradually came to the final stage. These stages remind me of what is happening today. People identified their “enemy”, the immigrants or refugees. They do not believe they should share the same rights as us and they do not want to accept them in their societies, rather they concentrate them in camps. We maybe do not realize it but what is happening in front of us is yet another genocide. I only hope this time, we will not let it come to the final stage and that people will finally learn of solidarity and humanity.

I say Slovakia is in Eastern Europe because I do not think it matters anymore where exactly do we come from. It does not matter when it comes to defending human life. People in Slovakia emigrated during Communism, and even before. Did we already forget that part of our history? All of us have the right to live and to want better life for ourselves and our families. Human life is above everything, above geography and above politics. We are all just human beings at the end and silence in this case is not an option. I consider silence or opposition from the political elites as crime against humanity.

Veronika Vargová

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