It's time to be proud of being Eastern European

As the horrifying images and stories from Bucha are published, the West is grasping to process what has been done there by the Russian army. Some even try to question if it’s real. After WW2 the entire world said “Never again”. But here we are. Again.

I wish it were all fake. I wish those images were staged and photoshopped. Unfortunately, for Eastern Europeans they come as no surprise. All of this has happened before in our countries by the same army that claim to “liberate” those who never asked for it. Again. We’ve called the Russian army “orcs” in this war, but after seeing Bucha, this puts orcs to undeserved shame.

There is nothing new I can say about this. I have no hot take. This war and anybody who supports it make me physically sick. But during this time I’ve been reminded of another danger and sad truth - the ignorance of Western Europe and the useful idiots who love to promote the idea that we in Eastern Europe have some special connection with Russia, it has some mystical historic “claim” to our countries, some special relations that justify the constant bullying, aggressive rhetoric and meddling in our internal affairs or that we’re “basically Russia”.

A geography book from Italian schools recently made rounds in social media where the Baltics and Poland are marked as a part of the “Russian world”. I hope it’s fake, and yet again it wouldn’t surprise me if it wasn’t because a big part of the West still sees us as some whatever blob on the map, that’s filled with whatever stereotype they can remember. Their “former Soviet buffer zone”. They can’t tell us apart, they don’t know we have our own languages, cultures, that the Baltic States share the same economic and military unions that they do - NATO, EU, OECD and many others.

And we’re not there just for the sake of being there - we contribute, consult and actively participate in the decisions of Europe. Two of NATO’s excellence centres (strategic communication and cybersecurity) are in Riga and Tallinn. We contribute to the EU budget and policies. We’re not poor anymore. We’re not uneducated anymore. And especially in the light of recent events I look back at the Latvia I grew up in in the 90s and see how far we’ve come in such a short period of time.

I know that people from other places who are my friends and with whom I’ve shared stories about where I’m from are not a part of this ignorance. I’ve been lucky to show people around Latvia and hear how much they love it. Because all it takes is one person, a friend, who will show the beauty, culture and history of our countries to slash those stupid stereotypes. But there are just not enough of us to do it. And for many in the West it’s easier to live in the world where aggression against Eastern Europe is none of your business and where we are painted to be different and unworthy of an intervention or taking some hits to your economies and your good life.

Not too long ago I was the person that always corrected anyone who said Latvia is in Eastern Europe, because it brought all the shame of the post-Soviet world on us. But those days are over. Being Eastern European today means taking in 4 million refugees with 0 refugee camps. Being Eastern European today means going BACK to your country when war breaks out.

There is absolutely no reason to be ashamed to be Eastern European. There never was. The shame lies on the ones complicit in this war and enabling a terrorist state to carry it out. You know who you are.

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