Back in March 2014, just as Russian troops were invading Crimea, my friend Mauro came up with an idea. That idea is now the Facebook page My Country? Europe. Mauro (better known by our fans for his page handle, Rausten) has been interviewed by an Italian online news site, Cosmopolismedia. As we head towards our goal of 40,000 likes and bring the year to a close, I am happy to translate the interview into English, for the benefit of our international readership.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for My Country? Europe?
A: It was the product of many conversations among friends, like many such ideas. It was the period of great turmoil in Ukraine; those protests proved to me, perhaps for the first time, what the EU meant for those who were still not in it, and kindled the same enthusiasm that must have motivated our founding fathers. During the long conversations about the crisis, we thought we could perhaps put our views into some sort of blog – and the page was born. It was always meant as a place where to discuss the dream of a united Europe, foster a sense of kinship, and finally be able to say, “I am European”.
Q: You live in a rather periphereal area of our continent. How has it impacted you, coming face to face with completely different European realities, some of them not in the EU, on a daily basis?
A: It’s the single most impactful element. When I started this project I found myself talking to people from every corner of the continent – and some of them outside of it! Every day I feel privileged: by getting to know these distant places I have grown with the project, and I have seen how diverse and yet united we really are. A person I will never forget is the Serbian girl that has helped us at a critical time for the page. Being pro-Europe in a country that is largely pro-Putin is something that requires pride and bravery, which she has in abundance.
Q: How is the page administered? Do you belong to different nationalities?
A: We don’t have a rigid structure in place. We’re all volunteers who contribute to the project in their spare time. Having said that everyone has a predefined role, or a topic they cover, although they are free to explore and experiment if they wish. As far as the group itself, the core of our founders is Italian, but contributors come from many nationalities: we have Swedes, Swiss people, Italian expats in Scotland, we’ve had the Serbian girl, British guys in the wake of Brexit, Finnish guys. We have never lacked for variety and we hope we never will.
Q: Lately, blaming the EU for pretty much everything under the sun has become a strong trend. What are your aims, considering this environment?
A: Europe is just an easy target, a scapegoat so big and complex that anyone can point the finger and name it the root of all evil, confident that people won’t bother to fact-check. The Brits are a case in point – they’ve been fed easily debunkable lies and myths, and after voting for Leave, the veil has fallen and the lies have been revealed for what they were – Farage’s statement regarding the NHS the morning after the referendum speaks for itself. Our hope is for people to realize what Europe does for them on a daily basis – and maybe ask themselves what they can do for Europe in return.
Q: Your page has also provided detailed coverage of the Brexit referendum, as well as the Turkish golpe, etc. Do you want to provide news as well as cultural information?
A: Yes. I think being informed of what’s happening in several European countries is one of the ways to create a sense of kinship and the idea that Europe is one country. The shooting in Nice killed European citizens. Brexit negates the dream of being part of a united Europe to millions of current European citizens. There is also another element in it: there is a gap between the people and European institutions, and the latter are not really good at marketing themselves and their achievements.
Q: What does Europe mean for your city, Taranto, and for Apulia in general?
A: Taranto and Apulia have interacted with Europe far more than people would think, or than nationalist politicians would like to tell you. The Ilva-gate has seen the keen participation of the EU in defense of our community, oftimes against the express wishes of the Italian government. We don’t realize it but we’re immersed in Europe. You just need to look up: every school, public building, monument, urban re-development project bears a plaque that reminds us the European funds that were invested there, re-developing regions the central government had never really cared about. Europe can be an opportunity for every community if we have the courage to change.
Q: What are your projects for the future?
A: We’re trying our damnedest to make this project something more than just a Facebook page, but it will take time. It also influenced my personal projects. I have written a book, a political and military thriller, and the same ideas that motivated me to open the page are at its core. It will take time to see whether this book will ever see the light of day, but it might, one day, be my small contribution to Europe.