Against the backdrop of the Dutch EU Council presidency, OneWorld.nl has sent Reinier Vriend on a mission to identify the everyday European values and concerns. In the interview series #ThisIsMyEurope he speaks with colourful individuals in and of the continent, trying to find out what ‘Europe’ means to us. This week he talks to Pedro, a recent Portuguese arrival to Warsaw.
“Our generation grew up with an idea of Europe that – in the last few years – has somehow been dissolving.” Pedro Castro (32) recently moved to Poland's capital. I speak with Pedro over Skype while he is visiting his family in the surroundings of Porto.
Pedro has noticed a change in his understanding of Europe as continent and union alike. “I know it sounds drastic, but the Europe we know today, might not exist twenty years from now. I think this reality is much closer than we think.” However, his forecast is not necessarily bleak: “I'm an optimist. I think we will find a solution at the 25th hour. It’s pragmatism: if we wouldn't, everyone would lose.”
Pedro appreciates the liberty Europe has created. “As a continent we might have trouble figuring out where we are going after these decades of integration, but on a personal level, Europe offers such freedom. It is amazing to meet so many cultures within our own continent.” Pedro got his first taste as a student. “I went to live abroad ten years ago, and now I have friends all over Europe.” He feels part of his new hometown Warsaw. “Our integration is not only economic, but also social. Despite these crises we're experiencing, individually we still respect each other as people. I love the freedom that is at the centre of being European.”
Only last year, Pedro was running a tennis academy in the small Portuguese town of Santa Maria da Feira. Now he works for a multinational in Poland's capital in a job that only took him one month to find. Anyone who would be surprised to see a sports professional making such a career choice, would be equally surprised to hear that before he took up tennis education, Pedro graduated from the Law faculty. “I found out soon enough that the standard materialist career path wasn't for me. I work out of passion.” Being flexible has worked in his favour: “I personally gain a lot from EU's integration. I can move to a city in another country within the EU and just find a job and start a life. It's amazing. It is so easy you know! There is no organization like this in the world.”
It may be ironic that it has been the economic integration that has allowed Pedro to try and find alternatives for the demanding corporate Western lifestyle. “We all increasingly live in similar Western capitalist societies, and that's bad. But here in the East, I can experience something different. In this place, that is both familiar and strange, I can keep looking for a space I have designed for myself, away from that perfect mould of working hard all the time.”
Freedom has its downsides too. “We can talk a lot about being free, but we have to consider what that means. No-one is completely free.” Western societies have very well defined roles. “That idea of freedom that we are fed, is also a means of control. I really appreciate the level on which I can personally decide what I do, and professionally choose where I work. But on the level of society, I might just be a puppy in someone else’s hands.” Pedro feels that society's structure can be resisted. “If you're lucky enough to find your own identity – who you are, not what is expected of you – our European society allows you to acquire that freedom.”
Despite the loss of direction, Pedro sees a common future for Europe. “Like I said, the baseline of this current Europe is too important for each of the countries involved.” What we can do? “We need to keep respecting differences while growing our solidarity and understanding. That lacked in Greece, and that's lacking now with other countries shunning to stand by Germany's commitment to the refugees. But we will see graver crises than we have had so far, so what's going to happen?” He produces the vocal equivalent of a shrug: “Of course I don't know. I am really just very curious to see where we are going.”
This interview is part 2 of the series #ThisIsMyEurope. Join the conversation on Twitter [@OneWorldNL] and read the other interviews on the special #ThisIsMyEurope Oneworld page.