Ah, it’s nice to be home. My spouse and I spent the past five weeks in Europe, visiting our daughter in Munich, and travelling around. The luscious beauty of early spring in Nelson made the return quite easy, even though it’s also a return to meetings and politics!
I find Europe fascinating. Their past, much longer and more complex than ours, is so present, and often painful. And that makes the future both exciting and uncertain.
Germany is prosperous and strong (for the moment, at least!), and in various ways is moving on from its legacy of fascism. Yet, neofascist and racist groups continue to pop up there, and in other countries.
We saw a powerful play (Cherry Docs) in Munich about a liberal Jewish lawyer assigned to defend a young skinhead who admits to killing an immigrant with his steel-toed boots (hence the ‘Docs’). Interestingly, the play is by Canadian David Gow and set in Toronto! The issues, revealed by the intense dialogue, are common ones: poverty, hopelessness and unemployment leading to a sense of being wronged, of being threatened by “the other.” And with the proper rhetoric, violence easily follows.
The lawyer had to confront his own intolerance and hatred, as did we audience members. We also considered our responsibility as a society both to remedy the causes of hate crimes and to help perpetrators find a different path.
Another fascinating aspect of Germany is their environmental initiatives. Solar panels abound on red-tiled buildings and in solar parks. Recycling is comprehensive and easy. Public transit is ubiquitous and well-used. Bicycles rule; pedestrians and cars yield to them!
Public spaces, parks and paths are popular and numerous. The former traffic snarl in front of my daughter’s apartment is being transformed to a plaza with trees, a fountain and places for people to sit and enjoy an ice cream cone (similar to our plans for Baker and Hall streets).
An idyllic day in Munich is a bike ride along the river, with frequent stops at family-friendly beer gardens.
Still, Germans (like most North Americans) love their BMWs and VWs (when they can afford them). Germany still burns coal and uses nuclear power. But, unlike in Canada, there seems to be recognition that climate change is real and the government and citizens must build a different future. And they are.
We also visited Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, former Yugoslav republics. Ever since the wars of the 1990s, I’ve been puzzled about what happened there. Who were the good guys and the bad guys? Who was responsible for the genocides and horrific violence that continue to be revealed in newly-found mass graves? How can a city (Sarajevo) survive a siege of 1,428 days? Why did the rest of the world take so long to react?
We talked to Croatian Catholics, Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Jews, and people of mixed ethnicity (for example, a Serbian Orthodox Christian mother and Croatian Catholic father). Many stories; many truths. The only conclusions can be that victims and victimizers existed on all sides, and that nationalism in such an ethnically and religiously complex region is devastating.
Twenty years on, these countries are recovering and restoring both their buildings and homes, and their relationships. Certainly the younger generation are looking to the future, to peace and prosperity. Ironically, these former enemies may be reunited in time as part of the EU family.
Meanwhile, I can recommend the places we visited: Zagreb and Dubrovnik in Croatia; and Mostar and Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Culturally complex, beautiful, and friendly!
It’s great to be home, and to have the challenges and conflicts of our little city put into some perspective. We live in the midst of such peaceful beauty and abundance. Surely we have the resources to tackle climate change. Surely we can be leaders in cultivating peace, in demonstrating how peaceful relations can be achieved — as neighbours and community members.
Donna Macdonald is a Nelson city councillor who shares this Wednesday space with her colleagues around the table