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Moral compass: In praise of openness

29 March 2020

On this blog, I usually write about technology. For once, allow me to make an exception and write about something different. In these days of isolation and anxiety, I find myself thinking about the moral compass that guided me in my life.

I believe it's important to talk about it. Many people I encountered in my life lacked a moral framework, lacked guiding stars that showed them what is good and what is not. For them Northern Macedonia joining NATO is just another news headline, not different from any other. UEFA Euro 2012 was just another football championship.

I don't feel that way. These were very important and very optimistic events.

I was born in communist Poland in the 1980's. I don't remember much from childhood, apart from street and financial crime stories. I also remember a trip to a nearby country. I was privileged enough to visit 'The West' - we went on a school trip to Vienna. I vividly recall the 8 hour wait at the border. I remember the terror when border agents entered the bus and questioned everyone. I remember the sniffing dog, the luggage search.

As a kid struck at a border, I imagined a better world. I thought how awesome it would be to board a train in Warsaw and ride without a border stop and passport terror to Berlin. But why stop at Berlin? The trains should go all the way to Amsterdam, Paris or maybe even London. My dream train journey was a direct route from London to Kiev, via Warsaw of course, without any interchange, and without any bureaucratic hassle.

Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the Shengen passport-less area in April 2003, then the EU in 2004. Since then I can travel smoothly within the EU and even get a job in any of the member states. It's hard to express how big a deal this is.

Couple of years ago the prospect of a London-Kiev railway connection was within reach - Ukraine was on its way to join the EU. The Euro 2012 games brought Ukraine ever closer to Poland and to the EU. Then the Crimea war began, the UK left the EU and it all started to fall apart. My dream began to crumble.

In recent weeks major parts of our planet have been locked down. Myself and everyone I know are locked away in our houses. We can't even wander around a neighbourhood without fear. As it happened I'm spending the lockdown far away from my home. I don't complain, but the fact remains - I'm unable to go back. Many countries cancelled all inbound passenger flights, road borders within the EU are mostly closed for non-residents.

But even in such grim times I'm not losing hope. My childhood dream has not been shattered yet.

You see, it's not about actually boarding the train. It's about building a better world. It's about building foundations that will eventually allow us to improve the livelihoods of others. The borders will eventually re-open, flights will resume. It may take longer, but I hope Ukraine will eventually join the Schengen area, then maybe even the EU.

In the meantime, before we can leave our house, town, country, let's focus the efforts on preparing for this future. There is plenty to be done. We need to figure out how to fix our countries - for example teach society to identify and prevent extreme nationalism. How to help others - how to target aid at struggling nations. Then we need to find ways in which we could actually open to other countries, nations, people: how to integrate without fear and suspicion. If that's trains - we should work on train track standards. If that's financial - we should make the Euro work. If it's political - we should find alliances across oceans and other ways to politically integrate.

It seems my dream train journey through open Eastern Europe may not be possible any time soon, maybe even not in my lifetime. But I'm not losing my hope. Perhaps instead of Kiev, I will be able to board a train to Skopie.

Open borders create tremendous opportunities, like they did for me. They have power to improve the lives of many people. In these dark days let's not forget that.

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