In 2001 I inherited a copy of ‘Rights of the European citizen’ published in 1961. Download a full copy here. The legacy was my grandmother’s. If I was to define her in just one line it would say that more than anything she taught me how to always ‘be aware of the human face behind political abstractions.’
A lesson she learned by experience. As appalled by the treatment of collaborators after the war as she had been by the atrocities and monstrosities of war she wrote a paper. I recall the line ‘..why I was not a Nazi..’ followed by her explaining how through Art and literature she had always been able to connect with people of other cultures and places. More importantly she did what few attempted. She went on to study German. And through the grand names of German literature and philosophy she found humanity behind a culture which at the time appeared exclusively evil. An accomplishment of a kind.
Because of her…my childhood opinions were often less judgmental than those of other children. Nevertheless, I have had my personal experiences. When I was attacked by left-wing bigots as a child she did not condemn me but supported me and suggested to send me to libertarian liberal schools. Because of her…I had the freedom to explore any political conviction. More than anything she felt it to be the responsibility of a new generation to define themselves. Independently from history as well as from heritage. But more than anything she taught me to define myself as an independent individual.
Accompanied by her books and love for Art I entered the 21st century. Not in her footsteps but in her spirit. A spirit which is also beautifully expressed in the words of the former Swedish Foreign Minister Osten Bo Unden in Rights of the European Citizen. ‘The recognition of the dignity of the individual is in keeping with our essential moral needs and this dignity finds its expression in what we know as human rights…Human Rights must be regarded by a people as the basic elements of politics, indissoluble and indestructable unless there be a change in our whole outlook on life.’
And so it is that regardless of the world outside of me I am comfortable with myself as much as I am self-aware. Aware of the past, fully comfortable with every bit of that past, yet never defined by it. No skeletons.