Many are the ways in which well-intentioned social engineers have tried to knit together the similar-but-yet-different peoples of Europe.
Some misbegotten schemes try to make different nations more like eachother. The best allow and encourage people to enjoy and appreciate their neighbours. The German poet and author Hans Magnus Enzensberger once said that cheap tickets which allow young people to travel across the continent’s rail network had done more for European integration than anything ever decided by the European Union.
If you want to see a working, evolving example of eyes and minds being opened, take a look at these blogs written from Poland by British students who are on summer assignment for Gazeta Wyborca, checking out whether Poland is ready for the next year’s football championship, Euro 2012. (Declaration of interest: these are some of my students).
The Misja21 scheme, the brainchild of the inspired Greg Piechota of Gazeta, wasn’t designed as a “cultural exchange” or anything as eat-your-greens boring as that. Greg wanted to generate raw material which his paper could use to tell Poles how their policemen, railway officials and ticket sellers look and sound to the rest of the world. And football is a language spoken by almost everyone.
And the project is generating words at a lick. No sooner does one of the 21 students post on a stadium, a “city guard” or express disgust about the conditions for the animals at Bialystok zoo, than Poles pile into Facebook with corrections, advice and opinions.
It’s fragmentary, off-the-cuff, personal, occasionally naive, raw and unedited. I like it all.