«Being European means taking responsibility»

The “Be European” campaign, initiated jointly by the EU Delegation to Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and online news source Europeyska Pravda, is on-going over the month of May. The campaign aims to provoke broad discussions on the essence of Europeanness, European values, and other important issues related to Ukraine’s EU integration. Olena Rozskazova, head of the International Renaissance Foundation’s regional office in Eastern Ukraine, and a member of Team Europe in Kharkiv, shared her thoughts.

d185d0b0d180d0bad196d0b2-d180d0bed0b7d181d0bad0b0d0b7d0bed0b2d0b0For me, to be European means above all taking responsibility for one’s family, community, and country. You are responsible for everything that is happening around you. With this responsibility comes a certain freedom, especially freedom of choice. This is what we call ‘European Awareness’.

Although Sartre says that humans are condemned to be free, I think freedom of choice really does make us free. We are free to choose our future, respect human rights, and follow spiritual ideals. On the one hand, it sounds pathos truth. But, in fact, we make a choice every day whether to take responsibility or not. This goes beyond something like demonstrating in support of human rights on the street. It can also be about having conversations with people of different nationalities or religions, and listening to other opinions, even if they differ from your own. It’s about taking steps to get informed, and expressing your opinions on immigrants or displaced persons. It’s noticing hate speech in a local newspaper (“Turkmen student again committed a crime”) and identifying it as such, or considering such statements normal.

Some people may think that “Europeanness and European values are just hypothetical and don’t concern me.” But we are all impacted by respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, human rights, pluralism, tolerance, justice, and non-discrimination. These values influence our life. They define our attitude toward the world around us. They determine whether we protect our rights, whether we defend the dignity of another person even when it might not affect us personally, and how we raise our children.

Many Ukrainians think that “being Europeans” just means no visas, and they forget about democratic values. I think our European future is shaped through education, instilling these values in children and youth. This can’t just happen with boring lectures; we need to set an example and demonstrate the idea that our choices shape not only our tomorrow, but also our today.

I also think it is very important to instil European values through the arts. As an example, together with the Kharkiv municipal art gallery, Team Europe is planning to hold a Europe Day event. Young people will be invited to create an image of a European Kharkiv through art, music, and literature. They might produce a performance, collage, placard, musical improvisation, poems, etc. When these values are brought to a personal level, they stop being just abstract ideology and begin flowing through people.

Regarding my city… Kharkiv is becoming more and more European. It’s noticeable in people’s attitudes toward the city, and in the events initiated by citizens, including festivals like “One street day”, civil initiatives like “Social vitamin”, art exhibits like “Hundertwasser, you’re beautiful”, international art, theatre and literary festivals, tours, bike rides, environmental activism. Kharkiv’s citizens are increasingly intolerant of corruption (not only the facts of its disclosure, but personal attitude). Local citizens have initiated amazing things, such as an open-air library, open-air art, festival of civic activity in the old circus, renovation of yards, and events at the Kids-yard (ploschART).

This is what “Europeanness” means for me: taking responsibility for what is happening in society instead of waiting for someone else to fix everything.