All Austria is consumed by the election for a new government. Even FaceBook is reminding me to vote. Yes, I live in Austria. However I have no voting rights in Austria, or Australia or anywhere else in the world. I forfeited my Australian voting rights when I moved away from home in Australia, more than 30 years ago. Since I refuse to take on the Austrian citizenship at the cost of my Australian, I do not have any voting rights in my chosen country of residence, Austria.
Don’t worry. I still have powers of influence. Yet, I am not really so interested in national issues and themes particularly Austrian or Australian. It is so easy to generalize and compare and say I am an easy-going Aussie living in Austria.
The last two weeks, holiday with the family in Krk and Peace Road tour through former Yugoslavia have me contemplating national borders, tolls and political responsibility.
As an International Civil Servant I still maintain my diplomatic approach and can’t help but comment on all the border crossings and toll stations we crossed during the last two weeks. I mentioned it briefly after the Peace Road Trip here: (https://lilly.fam-gundacker.eu/blog/friedensreise-peace-trip-through-former-yugoslavia/)
This morning we attended an interreligious service for the United Nations International Day of Peace. It was attended by participants of the Peace Road trip we made together to former Yugoslavia. One friend thought there should have been more educational input explaining the background and motivation behind the trip.
I remember I was in Linz representing the Women’s Federation for World Peace when we began weekly prayer meetings for Bosnian women during the early 1990’s. Many of the Peace Road trip participants were refugees who came to Austria after the war broke out in Yugoslavia. Many were returning to their former hometown, some for the first time. We saw many broken houses and some new ones being built.
I was grateful to see the beautiful countryside and most surprised at the number of religious buildings through Bosnia and Herzegovia. I also came to appreciate a little the historical development in this part of Europe.
Since my parents left Europe in 1951 and I grew up in a part of Melbourne full of European immigrants, it was fascinating for me to be travelling in the parts of Europe that my Melbourne neighbours and school colleagues came from.
How do we comprehend the development of history, the changes, the borders, the nationalism, the European Union? My parents left Czechoslovakia which is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I went to school with friends from Yugoslavia which is now Slovenia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Republic of North Macedonia.
I can’t help thinking that we need to promote historical education campaigns perhaps paralleling a post World War Two effort addressing recent developments. Of course our parents left their war-torn past behind and wanted to make a new beginning. In Austria the Nazi past still appears to have dark and deep shadows. My own parents, both Czech, but my mother’s father a German national…
I still struggle to understand the difference between nationality and citizenship. I proudly call myself an Australian. Many years ago my father too insisted that he will never give up his Australian citizenship because Australia was the only country that provided him with refuge when he left communist Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile Czechoslovakia has overturned communism and split into two different countries.
Who could have known? My father later then even applied for and received a Czech passport and did not have to forfeit his Australian passport. There was a time both my parents were stateless in the 1950s. However, since they never formally rejected their Czech citizenship, after the velvet revolution in 1989 they were welcomed back as Czech citizens.
There was a time when I first came to live in Austria in 1988 that I too wanted to apply for a Czech passport. I spoke the language and had relatives in Prague and Brno. However in order to visit my relatives I needed to apply for a visa whereas my Austria husband and children could freely cross the border. My official application got as far as obtaining a certified, registered copy of my marriage certificate and sending it to the embassy in Washington DC. I could not forsee that the Czechoslovak embassy would soon be divided into a Czech and Slovak embassy. I received no response to my request for confirmation of my American Marriage certificate and I desisted from reapplying for all the documents which I had already paid for and sent off to the now non-existent embassy of Czechoslovakia in the US Capital.
So, my visits to the Czech Republic became less frequent, despite the proximity to my parents’ places of birth. Of course language was also a barrier, but people still tell me today that my Czech is good. I speak like a three year old child.
So, rambling on. Language. Borders. Passports. Citizenship. Nationality. I am still confused about nationality in Bosnia/Herzegovia. They told me there is a Kanton called Republika Srbska. They said it is not Serbia. Take a look at some of the maps. Note especially the ones that show nationalities and ethnic groups. Why was Tito so successful in keeping Yugoslavia together? Why do so many ethnic groups sense a need to break away to become a separate nation?
Years ago I typed up a speech about the United States of Europe. I had not picked up any dreams or visions of a European Union in the 1980s and 1990s. When I see how easy it is to travel through Europe now I am just grateful for what I consider progress and development.
Is that why I joined the Unification Church? I want to see peace and cooperation. I loved working for the United Nations. I appreciate friends, colleagues and family from different countries and cultures. I still don’t speak French and try my luck with English, German and my baby Czech.
I really believe we can cooperate and learn from each other. This is my contribution.