We are all migrants, and we always have been

Nikolaos Stampoulopoulos is the Founder and Creative Director of New Diaspora, a digital storytelling platform focusing on the new generation of Greeks living abroad during the crisis in their homeland. The views expressed in this article are his own.

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Migration is universal throughout human history, the mess Europe is in won’t change that. But to avert disaster we urgently need a new narrative.

According to international scientific consensus, our species first originated in Africa around 150,000 years ago. 60,000 years ago, the first Homo Sapiens set foot in the Middle East, and 20,000 years later they reached Europe. Here they came in contact with the Neanderthals, the only genuine natives of the continent. It didn’t go well. It took about 20,000 years for the Neanderthals to go extinct, even though a tiny percentage of their genes can be still found in some modern humans.

Approximately 8,000 years ago, long before any nations and empires appeared in Western Europe, local hunters-gatherers didn’t even know they were lactose intolerant. They discovered only when they first tasted dairy products, brought to them by a large and slow wave of migrant farmers hailing from the area of today’s war-torn Syria. The mixed descendants of locals and migrants quickly mutated, and cheese became one the most important parts of their diet and culinary culture.

Since then, there has been a continuous movement of people all over the globe, due to floods, droughts, earthquakes, wars, purges, raids, colonisation, slavery, more wars, economic crises and so on. There have been countless migration waves and population admixtures in the last millennium alone. Not a single human being in Europe carries 100% pure ethnic DNA (whatever that’s supposed to mean). All of us are, to a certain extent, from everywhere. And that’s a good thing because the process of evolution doesn’t seem to benefit much from isolated inbreeding, the same goes for culture, technology, commerce and the exchange of ideas. Let’s not forget that Christianity didn’t emerge in Europe either, but that today it remains by far the continent’s most popular religion. Which includes the British Isles too.

It’s utterly insane to think something that has been going on since the first humans walked the earth can be restricted by borders, fences and treaties. It can only be controlled temporarily and incompletely, usually with grave repercussions such as wars and genocides. Which just happen to be quite popular among the lowest form of Homo Sapiens around: racists.

Photograph by Haeferl

Most individuals aren’t really to blame for historical events, large groups of people have a tendency to behave according to prevailing manmade narratives. Whenever a certain narrative is in decline, another one emerges to replace it. Which is how we ended up with all sorts of political systems, religions and social trends. Good or atrocious.

Following the horrors of WWII, devastated Europe needed a strong narrative about unity, peace and common prosperity. That’s why the European Union was created in the first place. Nevertheless, soon after the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, the leaders of the wealthiest EU countries followed an alternate path. Together with their American and Asian counterparts they invested in building and refining a system that exclusively benefited the rich. It created money out of thin air and widened income inequality. When the economic bubble burst in 2008, it punished the weaker states with austerity measures that made them even weaker, and then minimized the immense losses of the too-big-to-fail banks. At the same time, the increasingly ruthless, dogmatic and surprisingly incompetent European leaders allowed nationalism to rise again, in order for them to prevent angry social movements from resurrecting the almost forgotten Left and its rather naive vision for a utopia based on the writings of someone who lived one-and-a-half century ago.

And what a brilliant idea that proved to be. The scare-mongering corporate media downplayed the dangers of neoliberalism and far-right populism. All the while they portrayed poorer European immigrants as lazy job stealers and turned the unprecedented influx of Middle Eastern refugees into an imaginary Jihadist invasion. A shameful colonial past was glorified or ignored, and modern resource-grabbing imperialism was disguised as a “war on terror” for the sake of democracy and progress. As a result, relatively few Europeans ever realised that all those foreigners arriving were the “collateral damage” of the policies that allowed their own nations to prosper.

A few days ago, the whole world was shocked by the results of the UK referendum, but it still hasn’t woken up as to what is to follow. No matter how corrupt and arrogant the unelected Brussels bureaucrats have become, the mainstream rhetoric behind the Leave campaign was xenophobic. It seldom questioned the economic and ideological foundations that led the entire EU project to such a grand failure. The worst part is that even after Brexit, the German leadership hasn’t shown any indication of advocating less austerity or of respecting democracy and sovereignty in the rest of Europe. Treating the UK referendum as an isolated incident, Merkel and Schäuble seem unable to grasp the idea that Germany will never rule the entire continent. No matter how hard it tries.

Unless we take drastic measures to change the prevailing narrative and invent a better vision for the future, I firmly believe it’s only going to take 3 to 4 years (maybe less) until the EU is completely dissolved. By then its economy will be in shambles and the angry nationalist mobs will seek revenge by fighting wars with each other. And that’s such a suicidally stupid course of action that even the long extinct Neanderthals wouldn’t dream of taking it.

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