Middle Israel: Good morning East Europe

‘During my lifetime,” Margaret Thatcher once said, “most of the problems the world has faced have come, in one form or another, from mainland Europe, and the solutions from outside it.”

European Union flags (photo credit: REUTERS)
European Union flags
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘During my lifetime,” Margaret Thatcher once said, “most of the problems the world has faced have come, in one form or another, from mainland Europe, and the solutions from outside it.”
One of those problems – besides imperialism, colonialism, communism, fascism and two world wars – is the very mapping of this small but explosive continent. Is Britain part of it? Russia? Malta? Turkey? Equally frustrating is the search for the mysterious fault line that somehow keeps moving between Europe’s east and west.
During the Cold War many assumed East Europe began where democracy ended. That assumption was as convenient as it was ignorant, lumping together Slavs with Germans, Hungarians and Romanians as well as a hodgepodge of Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians.
Others noted that the fault line splitting postwar Europe roughly overlapped the one cracked by the early Christians who pulled the continent between its Roman and Byzantine ends.
Still others divided Europe between those once ruled by the Ottomans – Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians – and the rest.
And finally, after the downfall of Communism, the old distinction between Central and Eastern Europe returned to the fore.
With wars raging in the Balkans while EU membership and capitalist prosperity approached some and evaded others, non-Europeans realized that Hungary, Poland and the former Czechoslovakia are one kettle of fish while the Baltics are another, as are the Balkans, not to mention the Romanians who are altogether impossible to categorize, as they are linguistically Latin but Orthodox in their faith.
That is how in recent years the term East Europe came to denote Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, while Central Europe referred to the former communist lands immediately to their west and West Europe constituted the continent’s veteran democracies.
Twenty-five years on Europe is redividing itself again; between those who welcome refugees and those who shun them, and – by extension – between those with Muslim populations, and those without.
Fortunately, this is one European Big Bang in which we Jews are bystanders.
Unfortunately, we do have several insights to share with its main protagonists – the ones welcoming the refugees; the refugees themselves; and the East Europeans rejecting them.
WAT CHING GERMAN TO WNS this week welcome war refugees with food, toys, language courses and job fairs, a Jew had to be heartened. If anyone needed proof that man, unlike beast, can change – this was it.
Let the cynics say what they want, these gestures have to be taken at face value, what’s more that they often involve the direct descendants of racism’s most notorious practitioners.
And this is only on the popular level. On the political level, this Jew is reminded these days of the biblical king of Nineveh who showed the narrow-minded prophet Jonah that the Jews have no monopoly on repentance.
Yet by the same token, Middle Israelis must also furnish the refugees themselves with some of their wandering forebears’ less enchanting European recollections.
We therefore tell Europe’s latest newcomers this: Before being expelled, libeled, hounded and massacred in Europe, our ancestors were welcomed by many of its rulers. Europe was as inconsistent with them as it now is with you.
If you ever get to visit Israel, you can go to the Jewish People’s Archives in Jerusalem and see medieval royal bills that genuinely welcomed Jewish immigrants to cities in the Holy Roman Empire, where those immigrants’ descendants eventually met calamity. Bu that was later. Back when they were welcomed, they were seen as economically useful, religiously tolerable and socially digestible. Sound familiar? It was the same moral opportunism that is now represented by Jean- Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, who just unveiled a program to pluck out of you those able and willing to take up low-demanded jobs and send them to the lands where society is aging and the economy is thirsting for unskilled labor. This is what happened to our ancestors, even if what Europe wanted back then was not menial workers, but money lenders.
All civilizations can be inconsistent, but Europe is in a class of its own, so get ready to be treated one way here and another way there, and one way in the morning and another in the evening.
The Germany that last week opened its hearts to you is the same Germany that this week closed its borders to those who came on your heels.
These warnings to the immigrants and salutations to their admitters are offered from a distance of generations and centuries. Not so what Middle Israelis must tell the East Europeans who are shutting their doors in the faces of the displaced.
OPPOSITION IN Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and neighboring countries to the gathering immigration influx seemed led by Hungary, which gave this reflex some very bad public relations.
President Viktor Orban’s statement about the need to preserve Europe’s Christian character violated political correctness and was met with universal condemnation; a siege on refugees in Budapest’s main train station brought to mind memories of what happened there during World War II; and a Hungarian journalist caught on video tripping a refugee on the run with his child echoed a barbarity with which Jews are all too familiar.
Even so, the East Europeans have a case.
As put in typical economy and clarity by Polish freedom fighter, Nobel laureate and former president Lech Walesa: “Our houses and salaries are smaller.”
Setting aside their lack of enthusiasm for multiculturalism – as seen in a Slovak official’s statement that his country has no mosques and will therefore accept only Christian refugees – East Europe’s fragile economies are indeed in no position to absorb millions of aliens.
Still, a holier-than-thou collection of hypocrites is having a field day moralizing the East Europeans. So grotesque has this trend become that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had the gall to tell the Hungarian ambassador he hoped “others step up their efforts” to follow the example of the West Europeans who are admitting the refugees en masse.
As that ayatollah’s neighbors, Middle Israelis feel an urge to tell East Europe: The five-cent pontiff who has just rebuked you is the one feeding, training and advising the army whose artillery barrels, fighter jets and gas canisters have sent millions to your doors.
We also advise East Europe not to be impressed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s expression of “shock” in the face of Hungarian border police’s clashes with refugees who were pelting them with rocks, nor with his ruling that this response was “unacceptable.”
Having earned some experience over the years with the moral aspirations of the organization he heads, we advise East Europeans to tell Ban Ki-moon this: “You care about the Syrian refugees’ dignity? Where, then, were you when their leaders tortured dissidents, robbed businesses, displaced farmers, blocked the Sunni majority’s access to power and denied the Kurdish minority’s right to citizenship? Did you do anything, or at least say something, about these crimes against humanity while they fed the wrath that produced the war whose damage you demand that we sustain? Having kept silent, in violation of your duty, when Syria’s leaders treated their population with whiplashes and scorpions, do you really think you are in a position to say something when we spray trespassers with a little water?” Surely, the preachers from the UN and Iran are anecdotal, since the main moral offensive comes from West Europeans who are trying to shove refugee quotas down East Europe’s throat.
Fortunately, we also have some experience with this quarter’s admonitions, so we can advise East Europe this: Don’t let West Europe patronize you.
Unlike you, their self-appointed pontiffs never personally fought for freedom, nor did they ever see a battlefield from within. Moreover, having previously stormed and subjugated much of the outer world, they have a well-earned post-colonial complex.
You don’t. You did not milk Africa, bilk Asia, bleed Algeria, massacre the Aztecs or plunder El Dorado.
You did, however, fight for freedom, and that you did while West Europeans cheered you from their armchairs, never lifting a finger or even just severing diplomatic ties with your enemies when you braved their goons in Budapest, Prague and Gdansk, and when you populated history’s largest network of gulags, dungeons and interrogation cells.
Your concern about a Middle Eastern immigration’s impact on your hardearned freedom may or may not be just, but let no one be the judge of that other than yourselves; least of all West Europe.