This was a very different sight from last week. The friendly looking people with free food and drink that had been milling around the large, white Red Cross tent that stood prominently outside the train station, had now changed to an army truck and a rodent/pest control/cleaning truck with dozens of armed police as oppose to just one or two helping refugees onto the high speed trains to Munich. Many of those that have been fleeing, now waited tired and confused on the once shiny Salzburg main train station concourse, having spent the night in the large tent. One thing you noticed as you walked past the tent is the strong smell. This could have been the mix of the chemicals for the cleaning truck with the fact that people had been traveling for weeks and weeks without proper improved sanitation facilities or place to sleep. The next thing you notice is the crowd, crowds of people packed together trying to get onto the platform, but blocked by police, but why are there crowds trying to get on when there aren`t any trains leaving the platform. People are gradually let through to take trains to other parts of Austria. There is a young man translating German to Arabic from the police. An older couple pulls out their papers to show to the police to pass the human blockade. Many men with large cameras are taking shots of women, children and men sat on the floor, exhausted and frustrated, as I walk through the crowd. A mother sits on the floor holding toddler who is crying, her eyes have a blank stare that seems to be numb to the constant shouting, tension and confusion going on around her.
When I first came to Austria some 10 years ago, it was a cosy backwater. Salzburg had just two wooden ticket holes in the wall that were only sometimes open, with a small kiosk that sold the Financial Times, Salzburger Nachrichten as well as chocolate and sweets. When I had my first exhibition of Leonard Lehrer whose parents had left Ukraine for a better life in America, I became aware of the Jewish influences in his art that became even more prominent by exhibiting in a Kloster that had been built on land that had a dark history from the second-world war. This motivated me to create art education projects in Austria that would facilitate integration through with the collective language of art. It was far from easy. Bringing communities in contact with each other who are used to living separate throws all sorts of issues and conflict out into the open. However, it is necessary, otherwise segregation between us and them will widen.
In Salzburg, came into contact with second generation children whose parents had arrived from the Balkan's war, who were determined to integrate on so many different levels, whist keeping their traditions alive. This dynamic was a tricky but important one that their expression through art, painting, songwriting, dancing, helped to give this complexity of issues a balance.
So these are the next steps. What can we do to facilitate integration? I know first hand that integration on all levels is difficult, living as an economic migrant of sorts, still in the EU, but feeling the effects to a lesser degree of the difficulties that come about trying to become part of a foreign land. This is perhaps why I find an affinity with people traveling far and wide, trying to find their way in a strange country.
The cosy middle class life has been disturbed and now people are facing something that till recently seemed so distant. Out of sight, out of mind, perhaps, but now this has been disturbed and there is a feeling of disquiet all around as people are having to face the effects of war upon their doorstep.
The danger is that even when people see what is happening now upon their doorstep, it is pushed away again. Indifference is the root of all evil. Hannah Arendt discussed it at length. Elie Wiesel who survived the concentration camps talked candidly about his experience of indifference that he saw first hand. What can we do to not turn the other cheek, to face see ourselves as part of the same humanity, a mirror to each, rather than separate and alone?