“The face of European civilization… will never again be what it is now. There is no way back from a multicultural Europe. Neither to a Christian Europe, nor to the world of national cultures.” — Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary.
This is going to be a rather contentious article, not by intention rather by subject matter. The above quote is seemingly true. There will never be “Europe” again, or ever. Slowly, the culture of European nations is going to sift away no longer to be what defined European nations due to the influx of immigrants both from inside of Europe (European Union travel and work rules) and outside of Europe due to the willingness of those nations to accept without hesitation immigrants from all over the poorer, war torn world. Looking at this phenomenon through the prism of history, one is hard pressed to find similar mass migrations to one location save the horrors of World War II or the “over time” immigration to the United States. If we are to take the United States as the “control” for this article, immigration came to the U.S. in three waves. The first was during the colonial period and just before the Revolutionary War (1776-1783). This wave of people were primarily from England and France, with small groups coming from the Netherlands. After American independence from England, a second wave began, lasting approximately fifty years and was primarily made up of German and Irish settlers. This wave ended sometime in the middle of the nineteenth century. The third wave began in the latter part of the nineteenth century until the first quarter of the twentieth century and was made up of Asian, Southern European/Greek, as well as Jewish and Eastern Europeans. There were eventually quotas that were instituted to limit this immigration for a number of reasons both political, ethnic and assimilation reasons. This lasted until 1965, when Congress lifted those restrictions, thus creating a fourth wave of immigrants consisting of people largely from Latin American nations and Mexico, which continue to this day. When one takes into account the birth rates of the latter group, it does not surprise that those of Latin American/Mexican origin are currently the largest minority in the United States, overtaking black Americans and some studies suggest that by 2046, the Latin American/Mexican population will overtake the European majority.
Each wave of people have significantly changed the culture that existed in the United States over the course of time. This does not mean to suggest that change is a bad thing or a good thing, but simply that it exists. Each culture has left an imprint whether it be as simple as food, or as complex as cultural integration. Arguments can be made that failure to assimilate into a culture creates a gap in the existing culture or a separation of cultures resulting in animosity and even hatred, leading to exclusion by the host nation or self exclusion. Others argue that it is a moral imperative to retain the culture of the people migrating to a nation so as to preserve who they are as a people. Immigration should not mean, some argue, that a culture is absorped and eventually lost just because of migration, therefore the migrating group has a right and almost a duty to preserve who they are, retaining their native language, customs, and even laws in order to bring their culture with them. While both arguments have their merits, one has to ask themselves the question of the purpose of the initial immigration to begin with. If the purpose was to “better their life” does it not make sense that there would be an attempt to assimilate into the nation that becomes the new home? Certainly this does not mean becoming German or Greek or Italian in totality, but does it not make sense to adapt to the laws and customs of the nation that the immigrant group chose to become members? If not, the divide that is created soon becomes a chasm that engenders resentment, which turns to dislike, which eventually turns to hatred and exclusion. On some level we do see this in the current United States although that is not the best case to examine as the United States has a history of immigration and is much better adapted to accepting and integrating other cultures over time into its existing fabric. The problem lies in nations that have been for the most part homogeneous such as many of the European nations. Influxes of immigrants that either do not, will not, or cannot assimiliate into the exising European cultures create a problem that only once before Europe had to deal with, and that was the time period after World War II when millions of people were displaced nationally, had to be redirected to their homelands and reintegrated into their societies. In many cases, the displaced persons or “DPs” (a once derogatory term) remained in their host nations rather than attempt to return from whence they came. The fact was that on some level they had already begun integrating into their new lives in their new host nations and were not keen to begin again. Cities were bombed out, entire nations uprooted and the thought of beginning again was simply too much for many of the displaced persons to bear. The result was that they remained where they were placed. Others decided to begin again and rebuild their homeland. Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) among others were members of this group. In addition, nations like Germany, France, Italy also faced the same issues, but their entire populations were not displaced so the process was a bit easier, although Germany was divided and the lives of those in the East were forever impacted, and some insist that even today there are remnants of that life alive and well and the assimilation process with the former West Germany is still “in process”.
Should we choose to fast forward to today, the influx of immigrants due to the laws of the European Union as well as the fleeing of people from Syria, the Middle East in general, and Africa remind us that the world is in constant flux. There are many reasons as to why these people are fleeing, reasons ranging from looking for economic opportunity, removing their families from the constant barrage of gunfire due to political, civil or religious unrest, to simply wishing for a better life. Many of the European nations that are accepting of these migrants do so for humanitarian reasons, allowing them free access to health care, free housing, even a cash allowance each month in order to integrate and remain viable in the host nation. While all of these intentions are good, the fact remains that without jobs or the willingness to integrate into the society of choice, not only will there be a divide amongst the new arrivals and their hosts, resentment will build as well, leading to a backlash which we are already seeing in many parts of Europe. The problem is that all of this assimilation takes time. The United States understands this first hand as it takes nearly three generations before the people that immigrated become “American”. During that time, new immigrants live in immigrant communities (See Little Italy in New York, or Chinatown in Chicago to name just two) adjusting together into their new life. There is a certain amount of sacrifice by the new arrivals as they’ve left their nations in totality, journeying across a vast ocean to get to the shores of the United States. In short, they are fully vested in the new nation as for most, it is a one time trip. Assimilation is necessity rather than a convenience.
For many in Europe, this is not the case. moving across the continent, rather small by U.S. measures, is not an easy task, but one that can be reversed for many from eastern Europe should they choose. The result is that there is not a lot of investment in assimilating into their culture of choice (say an Armenian moving to France) as there is always a way back…much easier than coming to the U.S. and returning. There are other factors as well, one being that transportation is much easier than the early twentieth century. Airplanes and a rather extensive road and rail system make for the movement of people much easier so that, again, the investment is more an investment of time, not a lifetime. For those coming from far away lands like the Middle East, the journey is much more harrowing. Walking the distance, as we’ve seen most do is an arduous undertaking, and the investment is great. The problem is that the mass of people arriving are too many, not allowing for slow assimiliation into the host nation, not allowing for management of those coming by the host nation in order to assure a transition into the new culture that is a bit easier than what going on now. Shantytowns erected to house these new arrivals are fine at first, but over time lead to frustration and eventually resentment and anger that the new arrivals are not living the life that they saw on the television in Europe. The analogy that comes to mind is if fifty people simply showed up at one’s door, demanding entry, and the host has to find sleeping arrangements, food, toiletries and the like to accomodate everyone at once, not to mention the expectations of food, clothing, and a chore in the house in order to feel as though they belong. Granted, this is a rather simplistic example, but one that works nonetheless.
I would submit that the western European leadership’s willingness to shelter anyone and everyone in the spirit of compassion is fueld by the still lingering memory of World War II. The devestation in both human and material left a scar that will simply not heal, much like the wound on the leg of Henry VIII. It would disappear for a time and then come back to haunt the king, affecting his judgement in all matters. The same can be seen with the European leadership. Many of them are of the age to remember with vivid memory the horrors of the war and the Cold War aftermath. They do not wish to see others in pain due to war, devestation or any other malady. They are willing to open their hearts and their nations, like Angela Merkel, as they cannot help themselves for they see in the refugees returning Germans, Poles, Czechs, Jews, all devestated by the destruction that was World War II. They may have even been part of it themselves as young children. They’ve grown up in a Europe acutely aware of the war, Hitler, and do not wish to see anyone else face those same terrors. Therefore, they open themselves up, sharing their bounty born of hard work, effort, and recovery after the war. They do not wish to see conflict, abrogate their responsiblity to stem war anywhere else as they’ve seen and been a part of the most devastating war in human history. They’ve checked out of the conflict business almost in total. As a result, they are merciful, willing to open themselves to anyone, extend their good fortune to all, while willingly or unknowingly sacrificing their culture, their values and their selfs (word intended) to the newcomers who have dreams that are bigger than Europe can accomodate, and then become frustrated when those dreams are not realized. See the riots in East Paris a few years ago as only one illustration of this point.
There is no blame here, as this mulitculturalism, while part of European history dating back to the rather inclusive Roman Empire (as long as the conquered nations stayed in mass in their territories – although some did integrate and achieve during the Empire due to conformity) is part of the history of Europe. No, the problem is that now, as this varied mass of humanity is penetrating European nations on such a large scale, the culture of many of these nations will not ever truly be what they once were. They will not be “pure” any longer, but infused with the eventual assimilation of those that are part of this new mass migration not seen since the end of World War II. Again, this is not intended to be an indictment at all, but rather an observation of what is and what will be. We are witnessing a new matrix, a new direction both phyically and culturally for Europe, and the cost will be seen in the future, not in the present. The migrants, their way of life and their ways of religion are in Europe to stay. How these host nations integrate and accomodate them all will determine the direction of Europe in the future. I hope they are ready.