*We’re in Europe!
I went to bed in Lithuania, and I woke up in Europe.
After work, I walked down Gedimino g. towards the Cathedral where dozens of tents were selling traditional food from Belgium, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and of course, Lithuania. Polish national costumes were on display in the window of one fashionable clothing store and Benetton was offering 10 euros off any purchase. Flags of all 25 member countries flew amidst the blue EU flags. Children carried blue balloons decorated with 12 yellow stars and street performers dressed in Estonian costumes entertained passersby.
Last night in Cathedral Square, 100,000 people were gathered to celebrate Lithuania’s entry into the EU. A concert was prepared, which included popular music from across “old” Europe to congratulate members of “new” Europe. People waved Lithuanian and EU flags. The mood was joyous as people sang and danced. The concert concluded with the Lithuanian Symphony Orchestra and what I presume to be the national choir performing the EU anthem, Ode to Joy. A huge screen, which acted as a backdrop for the stage, showed a collage of images from this last century, including shots from Lithuania’s first independence, the growth of the European Union, and live shots from capitals across Eastern Europe. The sky was completely clear and the whole show culminated with fireworks set off from Gedimino Pilis (castle) just behind the Cathedral.
I’ve heard about people in other places stockpiling salt for fear of sharply increasing prices, but I haven’t seen that here at all. As I walked out of Cathedral Square, I was surprised to see it left fairly clean, rather than the piles of trash and broken glass I was fearing. As I walked home, I passed celebrating youths, loitering punks, and a mother, father and small child carrying plastic sacks of empty bottles they had gathered. Inevitably, the educated are celebrating this turn in history and anticipating great things for themselves and Lithuania including better jobs and prosperous futures for their children. Those less educated probably expect much less and may even fear for their own futures and abilities to survive, or simply don’t care and don’t expect anything in their daily lives to change, which, honestly, probably won’t in the near future.
Europe is now 455 million people strong, 1.5 times the United States. It has 20 official languages; 24% of the total population speaks German as their native language. On the EU’s homepage, the headline declares, “May 1st, 2004, United in Diversity.”
There is a flag raising today in front of the Seimas and tonight there will be a concert in front of the Prezidentura (Presidential Palace). To all my friends living in the “new” Europe, welcome and congratulations. Today we are all truly European!