Europe Unified: A Non-EU Resident's Perspective

In the face of the Russian agression in Ukraine, Kevin Loo is reminded of the humanity that can be achieved by the actions of many.

If you’ve ever played the military board game Risk you’d know that the best strategic location to play from is Australia, the land down under. There are no shared borders or unexpected foes or allies to align with on my island continent home. It is an easy position to hold and to play from.

Australia may be spiritually connected to England, but the conflicts and history of the European theatre are literally a world away. Yet now after living almost a decade in Central Eastern Europe, and now raising a mixed culture Slavic-Asian Australian family of my own, the news this week hits closer to home than ever.

Watching the footage of families jammed onto a train, desperate to leave Kyiv, with children crying and a quiet panic in the air…it all struck a chord like never before for me. The station looked like Hlavní Nádraží, and to my surprise I could even recognise words in some of the Ukrainian interviews and exchanges.

In response to these images, the European spirit has been galvanised in a way I have never previously felt.

Kyiv,  Ukraine | Photo: Efrem Lukatsky,  ČTK/AP

Considering the land down under has a physical landmass larger than continental Europe, the myriad of cultures and worldviews across the EU boggles my antipodean mind. Likewise, Australia has a population of almost 26 million, paling in comparison with the EU’s almost half a billion. It's difficult enough to feel united within a few hours' drive in Australia, making the European Union all the more impressive.

To unite such a span of peoples in the geopolitical experiment that is the European Union is a gargantuan task. No doubt it has not always been smooth sailing. However, despite any past disagreements or tensions, this week reminded me of the great unity that can occur when humanity really tries for it.

My social media feed has been flooded with posts of people looking to help or pointing to places of assistance. And it’s not only Czechs either. I’ve seen posts in Russian, Polish, French, Spanish, Ukrainian, German, English, and even Chinese, as people across my EU friend circles share and re-share ways they have been helping or other ways that need more help.

Marches and rallies were held all across the world in solidarity with the displaced. I have written before about the unity felt on Wenceslas Square before. Today, this feeling is magnified a hundredfold. Even in the UK, which voted to leave the EU, crowds gathered to show support.

Czechs protest against Russian invasion of Ukraine,  Wenceslas Square,  Prague | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

This fundamentally human act of reaching out and helping those in need transcends language and culture. This past week proves that it is very possible, even in a land filled with disparate peoples like Europe.

As we (barely) emerge from a global pandemic into this new phase of existential threat and tragedy, let us take heart in the ways we can help, and in the ways that many already are.

As the Dalai Lama quotes a Tibetan proverb:

“'Tragedy should be utilised as a source of strength.' No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful the experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.”

Unlike the board games of my childhood, there is more at risk here than bruised egos. And unlike figurative lands down under, nothing truly happens in isolation any more. We have limitless opportunities to help and connect with each other across any border. In so doing, we can hold out hope that the unified actions of many can somehow outweigh the fatal decisions of a few.

Kevin is an Australian educator and writer who came to Prague for his PhD studies in applied sciences and has lived with 'mother Prague's sharp claws' for the better part of a decade. His passion is in exploring cross-cultural experiences and the emerging global face of the Czech Republic as he encounters it day by day.

Author: Kevin Loo
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