In last week’s meeting we gathered people from around the world. When we shared how we felt about the war in Ukraine – how horrified, deeply concerned and helpless we felt – we earned quite a level of criticism and maybe even Schadenfreude in the sense – well now it also hits you Europeans. The “Whataboutism” went of: What about Yemen? What about Syria? Where were you when the US invaded Iraq. Yes, this is fair enough, I get it.
But on the other hand: is so easy to complain about European hypocrisy and double standards when you sit at another end of the world, never having experienced war in your immediate environment, never having taken care of refugees flooding in.
Let me tell you something about growing up in Central Europe
I grew up next to the Iron Curtain, Vienna felt like the end of the Western World then. To visit relatives in Bratislava we had to go through painful procedures and intimidating procedures at the border, for me as a young girl unforgettable. We grow up on the constant fear of a nuclear war – in the cold war.
When the Chernobyl disaster happened in 1986 in the Ukraine I was 12 years old, Austria was one of the strongest affected countries by the nuclear cloud. For one year we were not allowed to play outside, or only with a lot of precaution, we were fed iodine tablets. In the back of our garden we still have a pile of soil stemming from contaminated garden waste of these years. This collective trauma sits still deep and is only covered with the thin layer of time passed by.
Later, when I was a teenager, the Yugoslavian war went on for years, in our direct neighborhood. The most horrific war crimes were reported in our Media, not somewhere remote, but just a few hundred kilometers away from us. We had a small apartment in our house and we constantly had war refugees living with us. Almost everyone I knew was involved in supporting refugees, we had huge amounts of donation raised to help our neighbors as good as we got. The level of support from Austrians was huge.
When I traveled to the US in the 90ies and people learned that I was Austrian, they mimicked Adolf Hitler in front of me, reminding me that German speaking people are considered Nazis. The aftermath of WWII was still felt in the 1970ies and 80ies, my grandparents told stories — just a few — about the war, my grandfather was a POW in Australia for 7 years. Part of my family was fighting with the Nazis, another was Jewish and fled. My parents are the first generation after a long time who have not experienced a war personally.
Fast forward 9/11 and the following invasion of Iraq, everyone was aware of this horrible lies of the US and their war propaganda. What could we really do?
The Syrian war brought a wave of refugees into our country, I was standing at the train station helping refugees to get new clothes, something to eat and dring and a warm smile. My husband and I met a family with four children who flew from Afghanistan and we supported them for years, emotionally, financially and culturally. Christian helped one of the daughters to get admission to the school she wanted to go to.
Now we have the Ukraine war next to us, the stable peace we lived in is at stake, we see pictures and movies from people next to us, nuclear plants are being attacked and we are threatened with nukes. Refugees are coming and again, we start to collect goods, friends pack their cars and go to the border only to come back with families they are supporting. I am about to donate about 100Euros everyday to another organization and my sister initiated a neighborhood collection. We also think about to again free up space to take in refugees.
It don’t know about you and your own experience, but if you are sitting somewhere in the world, looking down on us and our hypocrisy, maybe think twice. There is a cynicism to it you might not be aware of and that for sure is in no way intended.
I don’t want compassion or recognition, this is not why I am sharing this story, I am fully aware of the highly privileged situation I am, living in Europe, in prosperity and in freedom. But perhaps I could give you an additional perspective where I am coming from, when I tell you that my heart breaks over the events and everything that is a stake for so many people and as well for us in our personal lives.