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

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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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

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