“All I’m asking is for a little respect… just a little bit!”

By Zlatka Koleva, Our Future Europe 2014 participant from the Netherlands

A man who travels, is a man with an open heart. At least that used to be the idea. Travelling the world leads to new experiences, innovation and personal progress. Globalization, however, seems to have the opposite effect. That man who used to love to travel, the one with his heart left open, started to hate the globalised world. That man thinks his country is crowded and that ‘different’ people are not welcome: do not disturb, please!

The truth is, people nowadays are afraid of sharing (remember what Joey used to say in the famous TV series ‘Friends’: Joey DOESN’T SHARE FOOD!). We are now scared of sharing our living environment, afraid that immigrants could steal our jobs. An ‘us’ versus ‘them’ discourse is currently on the rise. They steal our jobs, they are invading our education system. Some people even argue that, because of cultural diversity, the national identity of a country will fade away in time.

So far, so good, my dear cross-border critics. But, as Billy Joel sang in a song:

when you’re so smart, tell me, why are you still so afraid?’

Fear has put its poisonous spell on us, all of us: it’s contagious. We are afraid to learn about different cultures, this is why we close our eyes, we close off our hearts. Why we don’t let newcomers in our society. Why we don’t applaud others for their achievements.

sitWhen I first met fellow students from Kosovo and Serbia as part of the youth exchange program ‘Our Future Europe’, I was afraid to see the fear of acceptance, the fear of sharing. Politicians and media have done quite a good job to keep people in Western Europe isolated from the East; as well as Serbs and Kosovars from each other. We met in the Netherlands, on neutral grounds for Serbs and Kosovars (as if they are at war). I learnt a life lesson throughout this exchange (now listen closely): crossing borders does not necessarily mean to destroy them. What we actually need is to respect these borders and enjoy our freedom within them.

Thus, our differences do not by rule hamper our identities – they only add another layer, another nuance to our individual or collective personality. They can strike us to our very core, they can take us by surprise, they can give us a flavour of the unknown behind the curtain, but cultural habits can never do anything less than enhance our cultural sensitivity and cross-border intelligence.

If one always approaches another with a knife, one should not expect anything less than a fight as a reaction. There is just one thing that can cure us all, homophobes in the 21st century, from this almost ‘natural’ state of aversion.

Show respect.

Just a little bit… (Amen, Aretha!)

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