Happy Europe Day to all Europeans, Friends of Europe and all my fellow Indians who love the Continent! Yesterday, 9th May, marked the 70th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration and the start of the greatest peace and integration project in the world – the European Union!
From a continent divided by war, an idea was born – dependence rather than slaughtering each other is the way forward. Starting with 6 countries to include 27 today, the EU stands together in peace, solidarity, cooperation and integration.
Europe is special to me for so many reasons on a personal level. I moved at the tender age of 18 and lived 10 crucial years of my life there – in the UK, Spain and Belgium, where I went through many of life’s ups and downs and had some of my greatest opportunities and challenges.
Remnants of my life are scattered in all these places over all these years – friends I’ve left behind, countless apartments with lamps and other belongings left behind, the ways and routines that I was accustomed to left behind. I’ve travelled all across the continent to remote nooks and corners taking full advantage of the EU’s open borders.
I’ve backpacked and stayed in hostels to wake up with bug bites and welts all over my arms, I had my first job when I was 19 in a shoe store in Hertfordshire UK – an experience that I would recommend to all Indian students abroad irrespective of whether you need the money or not, I’ve called the British police to drop me home when I felt unsafe and even after my friend threw my phone in the bin after a fight.
Hell I even loved the not-very-loveable London and Brussels weather! I’ve experienced the whole gamut of emotions there from intense loneliness to immense happiness. My countless close friendships with people from so many cultures and nationalities are an ode to Europe’s multiculturalism.
I’m still “unsettled” – “being settled” in Indian terminology usually meaning “married with a husband to support oneself and a kid or two”. But I did LIVE – in a full and wholesome manner. I didn’t consciously choose the path of adventure, risk and unconventionality but here I am – a deviation from the conventional that is expected of girls like me in India – but complete, secure, independent, and proud.
As I lived away so long, I grew even closer to India – my homeland where my heart always stayed no matter how far I ventured. There were times when I battled with a mild identity crisis of who I was and where I belonged – too foreign for here and too foreign for there.
Changing yourself a little bit, traversing between cultures, different ways of working, living, talking, adapting to conversations around you – I made peace with these contradictions and differences and came to terms with the oddity that is me and my rather unplanned nomadic life. I realise that I’m super lucky to be able to call multiple places home.
The European project lives on in many of us non-Europeans who have experienced what it means and been shaped by it. For me, this also culminated in the unprecedented and rare opportunity that I, as a non-European, received to work within the EU’s foreign policy arm last year.
I love Europe – for all these reasons and more. For its enchanting beauty, culture, architecture, languages. But mostly, for the values and ideals it represents – of equality, liberty, democracy, human rights, rule of law – values that my beloved Indian Republic is founded upon and those that we Indians must continue to safeguard.
A continent ravaged by war and bloody conflicts consciously decides “never again”, where countries instead of continuing to fight over borders decide to make them irrelevant, where cooperation overrides competition – the European dream shows us that nothing is impossible.
To me, the European project symbolises hope, possibility, togetherness, and diversity. Sadly, with Brexit, Euro-skepticism and xenophobic nationalism on the rise, the project is under strain now, but that doesn’t negate the impossible its made possible and all that it has achieved.
Yes, Europe has a shameful colonial past. My countrymen have suffered its brutality most. But acknowledging, accepting, and coming to terms with that past to envisage and create a better future are lessons that Europe offers to the world.