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 Rasmus, a Dane in South Africa.
Two years ago, Denmark’s Rasmus Bitsch (29) moved to Cape Town, South Africa. Currently he co-runs a production company for audio-visual media and works as a freelance journalist for Scandinavian media. When we speak over Skype to discuss what it means to be European abroad, he voices his trepidations: “I am still very much for Europe. But for this EU? Not so much.” His relocation has had an influence on his sense of identity. “The further you go from Denmark, the more European you will feel. Denmark doesn’t mean much here. It’s the fate of those who come from small European countries. Here in Cape Town, European is a ‘demographic’”.
The further you go from Denmark, the more European you will feel
Rasmus has mixed feelings towards this European identity: “For me, the term Europe has become increasingly complicated as I got older. When I grew up, it was in a time of Eastern Europe opening up. We would go on holidays with the family, driving the car around the former socialist countries. It was exciting, also for my parents, who grew up during the cold war and saw these places for the first time.” His early travels and Erasmus abroad gave him a European mindset. “In the Scandinavian context, I come from a middle class background. My father was a farmer; my mother is a nurse. I’m the first generation to have this access to Europe’s mobility and opportunity.”
Rasmus makes clear that he’s one of a few who pick the fruits. “These European advantages and its mindset are not universally distributed. They’re not for the working class, or the older generation. They worry about their autonomy and feel that Brussels is too far away to understand or care about us.” Rasmus remarks on another sore spot of the Union. “At times, there may have been considerable support, but Europe has also always been an elite project. It has been developed by politicians, but they have never made it a Europe ‘of the people.’” Rasmus feels that this explains the current crisis. “People have always been wary of a Europe that was decided for them. National politicians have arranged the integration, but never secured the electorate. For this reason, every small issue has the potential to plunge Europe into crisis.” It also explains the success of the Danish right wing parties’ anti-EU agenda. “They didn’t start the sentiment, but they drove it. As a result, no governing party can be too European now. Realpolitik is keeping Europe hostage.”
In South Africa it is obvious that Europe has played a destructive role in the history of the country
Living in South Africa has given Rasmus another perspective on Europe from afar. “Here in Cape Town, there is a strong anti-colonial sentiment. In this light, answering what it means to be European equals entering a battle of identities. Europe means many things. It’s all about what idea is being pushed. The same goes for its values. There’s a dark side there; fascism and racism are European values too”. In South Africa it is obvious that Europe has played a destructive role in the history of the country. Experiencing that up close has made an impact: “It has made me reconsider my heritage. The main lesson here is that we're not the good guys. Coming from Denmark, that is the normal perspective. But it is much more complex than that.”
Rasmus feels it will be hard to save the EU as long as people are disappointed. “I’ve been sceptical of the union’s future since the Greek crisis. But I’m all for Europe.” Being European in Cape Town also has its perks. “As European you're received well, almost anywhere you go. In South Africa I use it to my advantage. You’re on the fence, you’re a different category. And people always like European soccer.” Which can lead to strange situations. “In SA there’s this undercurrent of xenophobia around. So there was this guy in the street who was yelling that ‘all foreigners should go’. When I asked him he said that it didn’t include me, since I was European. Within ten seconds he changed from rousing hate to asking me about the Danish national football team. I tell you, that makes for quite an awkward conversation…”
Rasmus is a producer at Sound Africa. Listen here to their African non-fiction audio projects.
This interview is part 4 of the series #ThisIsMyEurope. Join the conversation on Twitter and read the other interviews on the special #ThisIsMyEurope Oneworld page.