I have always believed that the European Union is the embodiment of an open society, but today these values are being eroded. The European Union was conceived as an instrument of solidarity and cooperation. Today Europe is held together by grim necessity. That is not conducive to a harmonious partnership, and so I set up the Open Society Initiative for Europe to help recapture the spirit of solidarity and shared values.
Together with the new director, Jordi Vaquer, I decided that Greece, where current policies have created the greatest human suffering, would be the place to start as the country struggles to cope with the economic crisis and hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers are stranded there.
The people who are suffering are not the people who abused the system and caused the crisis. Within Greece the fate of the many migrants and asylum seekers stuck there is particularly heart-rending. But their plight can’t be separated from that of the Greeks themselves.
The problem seemed intractable. I was unsure of how best to approach it until recently when I visited Stockholm to commemorate the centenary of Raoul Wallenberg’s birth. This reawakened my memories of the Second World War—the calamity that eventually gave birth to the European Union.
Wallenberg was a heroic figure who saved the lives of many Jews in Budapest by establishing Swedish protected houses. During the German occupation, my father was also a heroic figure. He helped to save his family and friends and many others. He taught me to confront harsh reality rather than to passively submit to it.
That lesson gave me the idea to set up solidarity houses in Greece that could serve as community centers for the local population and also provide food and shelter to migrants. There are already many soup kitchens and civil society efforts to help the migrants but local emergency efforts cannot cope with the scale of the problem. The solidarity houses would reinforce existing government and civil society efforts.
The asylum policy of the European Union has broken down and the treatment of migrants, refugees, and other vulnerable groups in Europe in the midst of financial and political crisis is an issue of ongoing concern. In Greece, and elsewhere, far-right parties campaigning on anti-migrant policies have grown in popularity.
The plan to create community centers will not be the ultimate solution. We will continue to pursue long-term solutions to the crisis in the European Union but the short-term need of the most vulnerable is too great to ignore. This has to be a European project and eventually it must find its way into the European budget.