In his front yard in Poland, Jaroslaw Kurski disappears the blue flag of the European Union with a circle of yellow stars, and carries one in the face of street protests against the governments of nationals who abolished his country's young democracy.
“The European flag is a symbol of resistance,” said Mr Kurski, deputy editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, a liberal newspaper based in Warsaw.
In northern France, Guy Fünfrock and Yellow Vest colleagues also talk about a rainwater roundabout on resistance. To this end, Europe encompasses everything they hate: harmonized factories, slaughter pay and a young-turned president who fosters deeper integration.
“This Europe serves a big business, not the small people,” said Mr Fünfrock, a retired carpenter.
I met Mr Kurski and Mr Fünfrock on a 10 day journey through the European Union before the Continent voted from Thursday to Sunday to the European Parliament. I wanted to find out: What does Europe mean for Europeans today?
The European Union grew in successive waves for various reasons – democratizing and developing new members, always with the idea that shared prosperity and values would contribute to security for all.
In today's world the Union has expanded by working under the weight of its own ideals and ambitions.
I reiterated its origin story, starting at the French-German border, where it all started after the Second World War. Then to Italy, the country where six members signed the contract. I finished in the former Communist east, where the newest members of Europe, and many of the poorest people, entered the Cold War, and eventually brought the group to 28.
Finally, I felt disappointed, and I realized there was a lot of Europeans too. “Freedom,” said a German professor, when asked what the European Union meant to him. “Slavery,” said an Italian grandmother. “Nothing at all,” said a French electrician.
But almost anyone wanted to leave their country from the European Union, even if almost no one was satisfied with how it worked.
Hope was hopeful, I found it. The balance was almost always dependent on opportunities – whether the idea Europe opened doors to prosperity, or whether there were unwanted threats in the form of a new state, new values or new people.
In the town of Tuscan sleeping Cascina, Italy, I met a Catholic priest who pointed out that Europe lost its way.
“We have a big crisis,” said Professor Elvis Ragusa, 36, sitting in an office near his small church.
As a child he looked at an Italian TV series called “Europe Is Us.” There was also a game show that offered up to 1 million lira to the first caller and spoke “Europa, Europa!” Live on the air .
It was the 1990s and Europe flourished. “I grew up with that idea that Europe was our future,” Father Ragusa remembered.
But for a new generation, Europe is emerging with the severity and dangers of open borders.
Father Ragusa's town voted on the left for seven years. But three years ago, it was the first Tuscan town to change loyalty to the immigrant Senior Cycle party. Matteo Salvini, Europe's most famous populist leader.
The priest built a small plastic globe from his book shelf and walked it to show the Italian shoe from Europe. This is how Italians would like to think of Italy today, he said.
Nationalism is winning. “It could be very dangerous,” he said.
His words came back to me in Arezzo, Italy, when an engineer recalled when his 16-year-old daughter brought the thumb up after hearing the story of a hundred migrants.
“Well,” she said, “that is a hundred less coming to Italy.” Then, when she saw her father, she said, “Look, Dad, don't be as surprised as you think. to everyone this. ”
A French teacher from Normandy told me how his students began to describe immigrants as “rats” during the 2015 migrant crisis.
Subsequently, he began signing up for an Erasmus European exchange program. I met him and his students on the plane to Gdansk, Poland.
“I thought: What can we do at our level to open up these children to humanitarian ideas, to the idea of Europe?” Teacher Mathieu Le Parquois, told me. His grandmother was expelled during the Second World War, but his students had an ancient history.
“His grandparents didn't see him,” he said.
Strasbourg, France, was the place where I still found abundant ideology on the border with Germany, where people remembered that history.
Afterwards, I met Rita Lemmel, daughter of a German prisoner of war, who married a French factory worker. Their daughter has passports, she speaks both languages, lives in France and works in Germany. All three dreams of United States of America, American style.
“We should have a president, and governors in every country,” said French husband Bruno Lemmel.
But more often, I discovered that the European Union was a proxy for big abstract things that people feel about their way of life: Migration in Italy. Capitalism in France. Liberal lay values in Poland.
Some were thinking of liberal democracy itself.
“Is it the best system? And to whom? “Wit Nirski asked, 36-year-old advertisement strategies that I met on the train from Warsaw back to Berlin. “Is it the best growth system, the best system for people?”
“If people were happy,” he said, “why would the poor get?” T
There has been no singing singing in Poland, where freedom is late and fragile.
Gdansk – the city where World War II began; where the Solidarity Union was born which brought Communism down; Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, was also released – this year he was still free of fatal death for his fingers, Pawel Adamowicz.
His widow, Magdalena Adamowicz, has been running the European elections after the murder of her husband as, as she put it, Europe means "tolerance."
Both of her grandmother Auschwitz survived, she told me. “If you decide people against each other, then you can have the same story before,” she said. The week before she was with her, Polish state TV showed images of Mr Tusk near images of Hitler and Stalin.
Mr Kurski, the editor, told me that there are about 30 lawsuit in front of his papers, some of them from the national government.
The European Union and the European Court of Justice are important allies, said Mr Kurski. “Without the European Union,” he said, “Poland was an authoritative state.”
But in the small town of Poland Swiebodzin, which is renowned as a great statue of Jesus, some people told me that Europe stands for diktat and secularization.
“The E.U. Poland is discussing conditions with Poland, ”said local resident Borzena, 59, when she went out of the evening Mass. Gay marriage and gay adoption were not welcome here, she said.
In front of the church, a slogan national election poster showed the ruling party's Justice campaigns: “Poland is the heart of Europe.” T
Polish nationals do not want to take Poland out of the European Union. They are trying to get the European Union out of Poland.
“We are Polish and we want to stay in Polish,” said Danuta Bialooka-Kostenecka, a local politician in the north, with me.
Everywhere people wanted their own nation “first.” Especially in Italy.
I spent a day on the campaign track with Susanna Ceccardi, a rising star of 32 years of age in the Treaty, which says Europe is in danger of being Islamic.
As fingers of Cascina, she ordered the police to remove immigrant bankers, employ private security guards outside schools and give pepper sprouts to Italian women in their home. Recently she was distributing flights, promising to fight “bureaucrats in Brussels”.
Like this Tuscan square, where the League was the only party campaign, in Kehl's German western German town where the streets are clean, these cars are big and unemployment is low. party, Alternative for Germany.
Because of her motto – “Secure the Borders!” – I thought of all the times I was crossing the borders on this journey, and I noticed little.
I walked across the Rhine, once as a front line between France and Germany.
I took the train from Poland back to Germany, crossing the Oder, another river name associated with a front line.
However, where physical boundaries are melted, other boundaries have emerged. Limits between cities and countryside, boundaries between young and old and, above all, between the rich and the poor.
These limits grew higher, said Jeremy Klein, one of Yellow Vest protesters on Thillois roundabout, outside of Reims, France.
Mr Klein is an electrician and works 60 hours and is still struggling. It blames Europe. It was after the former Soviet countries that joined the European Union that things were tough in France, he said.
“We've sold our know-how to Europe and now we're in competition with less paid workers,” he said. “We're just competing with Europe. It is not a balanced Europe. I don't feel Europe at all. I am French, only French. ”
Kuman never voted and do not intend to vote in the European elections. “What's the point?” Mr Klein said.
After 10 days on the road, this was my main food: Europe cannot be accepted voluntarily. But the decline can not be.
As Father Ragusa put it in Tuscany, Europe is an option that the Europeans have to do again and again.
He spoke about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German priest who killed the Nazis and wrote about the role of a toxic combination of economic hardship and ethnic hatred in raising fascism. The things that he wrote about Germany could be written today, said Father Ragusa.
The question facing Europe remains the same as always, he said: “What values do you want to follow? You have a responsibility to make a decision. ”
Christopher F. Schuetze reported from Berlin and Joanna Berendt reported on Warsaw.