By Katrin Kremmel
Today I took a train from Vienna to Salzburg at 5.30 in the morning. I was running late and rushed through the entrance hall of Wien Westbahnhof, quickly moving past people without paying too much attention. Nevertheless I noticed that there was hardly anybody around – compared to my last visits at this train station, where most trains from the Austrian capital to Germany leave from. I got on the right train on time and searched for a seat. I finally found one about four seat-rows away from a group of people who looked like they had travelled far with little baggage.
When the train entered into the station in Salzburg, I found myself standing next to them and I asked, whether one of them spoke English and if they were on their way to Germany. One of them replied, that yes – he spoke English, and yes – they were heading toward Germany. So I asked again, whether they knew where they had to go and if they had tickets to Germany. No, he replied, they neither had tickets, nor did they know where to get them. So I offered my company and to use my German to make the continuation of their journey a bit easier at this stop. They accepted with traces of relief on their faces, I joined their group and we moved towards the escalators that were to take us away from the rail tracks and into the station hall.
I was the first one to reach the police standing in front of the escalators. They let me pass. But when they stopped the rest of us, I moved back and stood watch, while one of the police controlled the first passport. All I could see was that the passport was green, with Arabic letters and a beautiful drawing on its cover. When the policeman did not ask for a second passport but let us pass, I knew that the four I had just met were from Syria. I was relieved that we made it to the ticket counter, where we were told that there were no trains to Germany today, but that they could try to catch a bus to the German border fifteen minutes away, where they could apply for asylum. I was relieved, because I knew that they had a very good chance of getting to where they wanted to go – although the staff at the counter warned me: there would be passport controls on the busses too.
But what if. What if the green passport had not had words in Arabic on it, but words I’d be able to read – like Nigeria, Afghanistan or Pakistan?
As I write, I find myself sitting next to two Austrian women, both of them probably more than thirty years older than I am. I overhear their conversation the moment they agree, that – war refugees from Syria, yes ok, welcome any time. But economic refugees from Africa, that’s where they start to get angry. And, when they talk to their very own children, who refuse to share this anger, they tell them: ‘You don’t know what it was like for us, to grow-up as children of a generation of parents, who did not have proper jobs, you have no idea! You have jobs.’
The potential for solidarity
Well, they are right, I think… Their kids might not know what it’s like not to have a job. If these two women want to talk to somebody who knows what it means to be jobless, they’d be well advised in talking to ‘economic migrants’ from Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’d probably encounter a higher level of understanding on this matter with them than with their children. I wonder what it would take to make the potential for solidarity politically effective, that lies within this shared experience of fearing for one’s own existence and for the people we love.
Joblessness and the existential problems that come with it: history saw people going about these issues in many ways. The generation of parents the two women next to me refer to, lived through and had to join a war over their joblessness (many did so voluntarily). The choice that those Nigerians, Afghanis and Pakistanis made, who give up their own homes to make a living and use their potentials somewhere else, seems rational and legitimate to me. What rather makes me ‘angry’ are the deaths they die on the borders of Europe, where all their dreams and hopes vanish with them. That’s for my personal understanding (which I think, the two women next to me would probably share, when looking at it through the frame I draw up here).
But beyond that, we know that social injustice puts our well-being at risk within the borders of our nation-states. We have to be out of our minds to believe, that the social injustice at the borders of our European Union will leave us unaffected.