The EU must show up as the advocate for human rights, preserver of peace, and protector of the marginalised and the most vulnerable that we trust it to be, urged Finnish young people with disabilities in 2020. These sentiments ring more true than ever during current times, notes Pauliina Lampinen, the Executive Director of Vamlas Foundation.
In these restless times I came to think of an international EU project that Vamlas Foundation was involved in during 2020-2021. In the project we collected stories and thoughts on the significance of the EU from young people with disabilities in Finland*.
We received 20 stories all together, and in most of them the writers described EU as an operator with a crucial role in protecting human rights and free movement within and between the member states. However, many writers also saw risks in the current political atmosphere. According to several writers, the EU failed to take an active enough role in preventing segregation, discrimination, and global unrest. Many writers also saw the EU as an operator with an obligation to preserve peace in Europe.
Let me share some quotes from young people in the stories we received in the summer of 2020, as they seem very relevant today.
“The EU’s aim is e.g. to further peace, citizen well-being and European values.”
“Peace with the EU and in Finland is a good thing. There have not been too many wars within the EU between the member countries in recent times, so I think that the EU has at least succeeded in terms of the peace project. In the countries that are at war, the fates of people with disabilities often do not end up well.”
“The heightened right-wing populism within the EU countries is a bit scary and it also influences the Finnish majority’s attitudes towards people with disabilities, for example. In addition, the popularity of populism brings about a lot of unpredictability, in my opinion. I do not think that xenophobia is part of the western or the EU values, although you can think critically about immigration and its effects in an appropriate manner.”
“… the role that the EU plays in preserving peace and political stability has a fundamental significance for all the inhabitants in the EU-zone, and even for the people outside of it. Also, economical continuity and increasing security are part of the EU endeavours, which also enables the actualisation of human rights. Moreover, I do not think that we should forget about the benefits regarding EU cooperation and the power of [international] influence. Where individual countries can bring about relatively little changes on their own, as a union we are able to have effective developments better together.”
“My thoughts about the EU are mainly positive. I appreciate what it represents and advocates for (peace, unity, human rights, free trade and movement etc.). I do, however, see also some failings in the EU operation, especially at the moment, with situations like Poland, Hungary and Belarus going on, and the EU (seemingly?) doing nothing about it.”
“I am also extremely worried about the rise in the popularity of far-right ideologies (xenophobia, antisemitism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, minority hate in general, police brutality) that create restlessness and violence all around. It’s all very frightening. Add the climate crisis and now the global pandemic. I feel like even a strong institution such as the EU is losing control and we’re just spiralling down. I want to stay hopeful and I would like to trust the EU to hold onto the values it claims to represent.”
How right these thoughts feel today. Let us hope that the EU can stand as united as we have seen in the recent weeks, against tyranny, and keep promoting human rights, democracy and freedom of thought and movement.
Pauliina Lampinen, Executive Director, Vamlas Foundation
*The people writing to us for the project were mainly between the ages of 20 and 30, and the stories were handled anonymously.