Opinion: Eastern Europe’s Xenophobia is Understandable

From the foreword of my Christmas present by Almantas Samalavičius:

Lithuania was ruled by a foreign colonial regime that consciously and maliciously ravaged and ruined the country’s cultural and religious institutions, crippled collective historical memory and fiercely suppressed (but fortunately did not extinguish) even the merest manifestations of a desire for freedom.

He continues:

On 16 February 1918, the Council of Lithuania proclaimed the historic Act of Independence of Lithuania and quickly took action to consolidate independence. This event was a natural outcome of the formation of a national consciousness that started at the beginning of the 19th century (…).
The same could also be said about the incredible, phoenix-like reconstruction of the Lithuanian language, which formed the basis of the intellectual programme of the 19th century national liberation movement. It had been pushed out of public life and into the cultural fringes by the Russian colonial regime and its use had been entirely forbidden in public, in print and in schools after the second of two uprisings in the 19th century. But through great and often brave efforts spanning just a few decades, the Lithuanian language had been reborn.

And further:

It is therefore unsurprising that the themes of history and national identity have often been reflected by Lithuanian prose and poetry. It is probably also not difficult to understand why, for a nation deprived of its independence on several occasions, untangling these problems is so important. After nearly two centuries of Russian subjugation that witnessed the erosion of national traditions and identity, the inter-war period of independence only lasted a little over two decades. It was marked by a rapid, even feverish, period of creation of culture and cultural institutions but was followed by the occupation by the Soviet Union in 1940, which resulted in a new fifty-year period of colonisation. All of this left significant marks on the collective memory of Lithuanian society, culture and the body politic. The lasting mentality and institutional legacy, though sometimes bemoaned, are still felt in Lithuanian culture today.

Other societies made similar experiences to the Lithuanian: During times of oppression only solidarity within an ethnic group provided some sort of protection. In many cases, immigrants were at the same time occupants (“colonial masters”). And an authoritarian regime centrally imposed disastrous policies against which  the population could not defend itself.

25 years later these societies are still searching for their national identities. I can understand that a country with such a history is particularly at unease with welcoming Syrian refugees on a large scale. Also quotas decided upon in Brussels might not help to improve sentiment.

The Guardian agrees with me on this topic. Although there is no way around of showing compassion with people fleeing from violence and death and acting in solidarity with the European partners, Western Europeans should be patient with their neighbors who are, for the first time since the accession to the EU, confronted with the problem of mass immigration. There are signs of hope that the debate goes in the right direction.

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