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In troubled times, Europe asks: What does being 'European' really mean?

From islanders on the front lines of the refugee crisis, to those living in Europe’s biggest metropolises, to those tucked into rural communities far removed from the politics of their capitals, many feel that the European Union is at a crossroads.

Who is 'Europe'?

  • Photos by Melanie Stetson Freeman and Sara Miller Llana
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For the past six months, The Christian Science Monitor has been traveling across Europe, talking to citizens about where they think the continent is heading.

No matter age or origin or faith, they say that the road traveled since World War II is no longer linear and that major change seems to be afoot. That’s been expressed in the rise of anti-EU parties, often sitting on the far-right, who are gaining ground amid a sense that economic prospects are declining. As asylum seekers have poured into Europe, altering the make-up of communities, they have tested assumptions about Europe’s obligations to human rights and humanitarianism.

The terrorism that has struck France repeatedly, hit Belgium, and come to Germany for the first time this summer, has further shaken Europeans. It has given the far-right another reason to argue for closing borders and returning to nation states. One country decided to opt out of the EU already. Britain’s momentous choice to leave the bloc could be a geopolitical turning point.

It is regular citizens that are living through it all, asking questions such as: What is my identity? Is that identity under threat? How much is the European Union part of my sense of self? And have the EU's problems shaken my own beliefs? From London to Athens, from Slupsk to Guernica, here are their answers.

By Sara Miller Llana, staff writer. Additional reporting by correspondents Colette Davidson in Mechelen, Brussels; Tom Peter in London; and Rachel Stern in Berlin.

This is part of Who is 'Europe'?, a weekly series on how European natives and residents are responding to pressures from terrorism, migration, nationalism, and the 'European project.' See all of the stories on the series homepage.

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