After a festive break in the Netherlands, it is time for me to get back to work in Ukraine. And work is to be done. Being back home made me reflect on Dutch-Ukrainian relations in particular, and ‘Europe’-Ukrainian relations in general. I put Europe in parenthesis with a reason, because it is often unclear where Europe begins, and where it ends. The Dutch historian Geert Mak wrote about this ambiguity in an interesting way: he proposed that the boundary of ‘Europe’ is defined not by geography, but by the people that live in it. When people start saying that they are ‘going to Europe’ or that they are buying something ‘from Europe’, it is a sign that they do not feel that they are (completely) part of Europe. You cannot go somewhere you already are. For example, someone from Thessaloniki in Greece would not say that they are going to Europe when they fly to Paris, but someone from Odessa might. Here in Kharkov you can also find people thinking about Europe as a place they are not part of. Of course it is not all that simple: different people think different things about Europe, and moreover, differences occur in how people identify themselves. Additionally in Ukraine there is a large difference between different regions of the country. The western part tends to lean more towards a European identity while the East does not. In this complicated world of identities, how can an NGO make a difference?
MultiKultiUA is all about connecting people and providing an exchange of cultures. By involving Ukrainian students in European projects, we are helping to create a larger Europe. I know that we cannot change the geographical boundaries of the continent, but we can try to change the social boundaries. This should be a voluntary and organic process, that all Europeans can participate in if they want to.
By increasing mobility for Ukrainian students and EU students alike, MultiKultiUA is opening up ‘Europe’ for Ukrainians and Ukraine for ‘Europeans’. Today I am still writing with parentheses, let us hope that in 2018 they will not be necessary anymore.
Bart Alting, and the MultiKultiUA team