Updated: Jun 17
In the popular culture of the Western world, Eastern Europe is often perceived as all babushkas chopping wood and rascals standing on top of horses. In 2018, it is not some end of the world situation going on over there with wells, candles, and the advanced technology of the 19th century. For anyone who has never visited any of the region’s countries, it might be hard to get a good grasp on the culture.
Where IS Eastern Europe actually?
What countries belong to the region is up for debate. The Baltic states are often considered as North, the Balkans as South, Transcaucasia as Asia. And then there is this strange place in the middle, labeled Central Europe, that seems kind of like the lazy way out from the East. It is as if nobody wants to belong to this area. It is as if from childhood, we were taught to think of Eastern Europe as a cartoon evil place with a pinch of poverty, and a dash of apocalyptic chaos on the side. It is as if it is better to call yourself everything but Eastern European, just to avoid any association with the USSR. That brings up the question: is it a shame to announce yourself as such?
Being Eastern European is not about geography. Eastern Europeans are a unit because they share history, culture and similar mentality. The geographic debate of which part of Europe a certain country belongs to seems so irrelevant when it comes to discussing the common struggle of not being able to shake off the dark and gloomy ghosts from the past. There might be no need to shake anything off. However, there is much need for kindness to be able to heal and to grow into an understanding of how to navigate the regained independence.
The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up the gates to the rest of the world for Eastern Europeans. This resulted in many of its residents trying their luck abroad: some, because they needed to leave in order to provide for their families, and some, simply because they were looking for adventures.
One part of emigration nobody ever really talks about is facing other people's ideas about your country. Eastern Europeans left home knowing well that they were not going to find proper sour cream. That they were going to miss the sauna culture. That they were going to have to watch their tone, not to seem like the ill-adjusted Eastern vandal. Having different definitions of “manners” keeps the world colorful anyway if you can look at it from a perspective of learning. But when you are away, you are a vulnerable target to be taken advantage of, because you would do anything to make it in your new home. You might find yourself having to defend where you are coming from, without possessing the psychological tools to deal with the situation.
Eastern Europe is not often portrayed in popular culture. And when it is, it is always about prison gangs, criminals, ladies of the night, and everybody speaks broken English with a funny accent. While these stereotypes do come from somewhere, they are distorting the whole truth. As one of the favorite Small english writers on this planet, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie once said, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”.
Indeed, there are a lot of Eastern European women who find work in the sex industry. The 90s was not an easy time in Eastern Europe and the gangster style business endeavors were very much a reality. But. It is 2018. Lots have happened. Lots have changed. And we can find love in ourselves for our fellow Eastern Europeans to help each other to recover from the trauma.
This phenomenon is present everywhere in the world, no matter where you are coming from. It is because the negativity is always louder than the positivity, even if it is smaller. While Eastern Europeans try their best not to be rude give everybody a lecture, thus supporting the angry stereotype, some things are hard to be left unsaid. It is important for them to remember that most of the time, these ideas do not come from hatred – they come from unawareness. And it is important for everybody to remember that when it comes to prejudice or discrimination, having good intentions does not excuse you from the responsibility of offending someone. But making an unwelcome joke, for instance, can be absolved by listening and understanding.
Eastern Europeans have seen the darkest of the days. They have the knowledge and the strength to recover from these dark days. And in order for us to live in this united Europe, we will need to learn from each other. As long as we keep our minds curious and hearts open, we can find a way to lift the veils of things and see our souls what they are. All the same.