Third prize - Daša Bahor, 14 years old (Slovenia)

 

Dear Daša,

How is life in 2047? Maybe you remember the reason for this letter, or perhaps I need to jog your memory. I am writing to remind you what the world used to be like. Back in those far-off days of the early 21st century, when every day at least one news story about the war would travel round our country – a war that to all of us seemed very far away at first, but which soon began sending us a daily wake-up call in the form of victims and forced us to realise that even our idyllic little corner of the world was not immune to the terrible things happening around us.

At this moment I cannot imagine where I'm going to be in 31 and a half years' time, when I read this letter. Perhaps it is easier to look at the future in terms of something that doesn't have so many aspects and possibilities. Like war, for example. A war can continue, or it can stop. There are no other options. I know that everyone will fight to the last – everyone, so that it will end. The question is, though: for whose benefit?

Sometimes victory may cause more harm than good. Often in our zeal for victory we keep fighting right up to the moment in which our passionate defence of our country and our loved ones degenerates into pure hatred for the enemy; the moment in which our main purpose is no longer protecting our own, but destroying others.

What remains to us if this is the case? The little circle of people we have managed to save, and destruction all around us. The hatred we opposed so strongly and wanted to destroy has merely abated, ready to reawaken at any moment and attack again.

Only when it is all over do we realise that we cannot destroy hate with hate, just as we cannot overcome darkness with darkness. We delude ourselves and convince ourselves that we are making the right decision.

But of course we will never be able to get rid of all the bad things; even when the sun is shining, shadows remain. Yet a pale shadow is better than pushing ourselves (and often, unwittingly, everyone around us) into solid darkness, everyone to their own side.

This harms not only our future but the future of those dear to us. Whether on an individual scale or as a country. Very often misfortune, instead of uniting us, only drives us further apart, so that in the end our original purpose, focused on a specific enemy, fades and blurs the lines between friendship and betrayal.

The person who woke me up to what was going on around me was just one of the far too many people who have suffered as a result of the hostility between different peoples.

Do you remember?

It was a beautiful sunny day and I was taking some old clothes to a nearby charity organisation that was involved in distributing them to war refugees.

The place was very crowded and busy, so a harried volunteer simply pointed me in the direction of the clothes sorting area and told me to put everything in its right place. When I got to the sorting area I looked round in bewilderment until I noticed a figure bending over a box and putting something in it.

I hurried over. As I got nearer I saw that it was a boy about the same age as me, dressed in dirty jeans and a jumper that was too big for him. I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him where I should put the clothes. He gave me a startled look and then asked me: "Can I help you?" I slowly nodded my head and explained in English what I was looking for. He beckoned with his hand and started walking.

There was an awkward silence as we walked along, so I started talking and asked him why he had spoken in English. He explained that he had come here with one of the buses laid on for migrants and that he and his mother and sister had managed to get a permit for a temporary stay in our country.

I stared at him again in amazement. His skin was a lot darker than was normal here, and he spoke with an accent that sounded vaguely eastern. To my next question – how he had got here – he answered that it was a long story and that it probably wouldn't interest me. I deposited the clothes I had brought and asked him if he'd like to come with me to get something to drink. I was really interested in what he had to say.

In a quiet corner of a nearby café, he began to tell me his story. Everything, from how his house was consumed by flames in a bombing raid, to how they had set off on their journey to Europe with just the clothes on their backs and how they had had to bribe the police not to split up the family.

But, he told me, the real hostility did not come from those who were attacking them. The people who were supposed to help them when they reached their destination – our country – were full of stereotyped ideas about his face, his religion and his nationality.

Even now, when he was on the way to becoming a fully entitled citizen, just like me, he encountered nasty looks and abuse wherever he went. Every time he turned on the television in his rented flat, he would witness the same scene. Irrational fear of people like him, simply because they came from the same direction as the enemy.

He had come here hoping for a better life but instead had found himself excluded, with the result that his ideas about a fairer world had vanished like soap bubbles.

I had never thought that someone could suffer so much while the rest of us delude ourselves and close our eyes to reality, refusing help to those who need it.

And I thought about what kind of world you are living in now.

I hope that it is a new, more beautiful world that will permit differences, that will not try to condense people into a kind of ideal version of the human being. An environment where everyone will feel safe – not excluded, not persecuted. Somewhere where there is no room for stereotypes and prejudices that make it impossible for us to live alongside each other in peace and instead force us apart, each of us among our own, until all the malice comes out into the open.

A world where I will be able to say to my children that when I was thirteen years old I lived among people who were willing to help the needy and unite to form a solid whole that no evil could separate.

As I write this letter I am full of conflicting feelings, since reason tells me that my hopes for the future are too beautiful to be realistic. Deep inside me I feel that all my wishes for peace in the world cannot be fulfilled.

Perhaps that's true. But perhaps these are just the pessimistic beliefs of my teenage years, placing gloomy thoughts in my hopeful head. I sincerely hope that the second of these possibilities is the correct one. Am I right?

Yours hopefully,

Daša