I Lift My Lamp
As Hungary closes a second border, this one with Croatia, and even Germany begins to seem overwhelmed by the thousands of refugees still walking across Europe, I am reading Balkan Ghosts, Robert Kaplan’s reflections on his travels through this burned-over region of Europe. It’s a story of peoples who for centuries have nursed hatreds based on every conceivable way of dividing human beings – religion, ethnicity, nationality, class, ideology, “race.”
In Kaplan’s dark tale, the few constants have been dismal poverty, the Christian-Muslim divide, and pogroms to annihilate the Jews. At times communist, fascist or nationalist regimes imposed a oppressive and suffocating peace. But the horrors of such dictatorships – particularly the 45 years of Soviet domination – intensified the misery of the people, while suppressing, rather then eradicating, the old hatreds. Those simmered below the surface, waiting for release into an orgy of torture, bloodshed and genocide.
It’s a region evocative of the places from which the refugees are fleeing, where arbitrarily drawn borders abolished neither ancient ties nor age-old hatreds – a region, in short, economically, culturally and philosophically incapable of coping with Europe’s crisis.
There is, however, a model for absorbing large numbers of strangers, and while America is not going to solve the crisis, it remains the beacon of almost everyone I talked to in Eastern Europe. Despite all the rumors of its demise, America is still “a city upon a hill,” which, at least until recently, proudly called itself a nation of immigrants.
I hope we can keep the faith.