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My View: Trip to Europe reveals the benefits of change

By Joseph V. Curatolo

Change is a fact of life. But how you react to it impacts its effect.

My friends and I recently took a trip through Germany and the Czech Republic. The countryside in both countries was beautiful. And the majesty of the buildings, many hundreds of years old, was awe-inspiring.

However, the mindset of the people made the greatest impression upon me. During a time of great upheaval throughout Europe, their attitude seemed to be “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Prague in the Czech Republic is a major tourist center and has been a vibrant city for hundreds of years. We stayed in New Town, which was founded in 1348; it comprises about a quarter of the city. Old Town is right across the way and dates back to the ninth century.

The country has endured many transformations, including name changes, throughout the millennia; its original name was Bohemia. It has been invaded and ruled by many different nations, and the remnants of the most recent invasion in 1968, by the Soviets, are still visible.

The Czech Republic has been a trade center for 1,500 years. Millions of people passed through the city to other destinations. Since the country provides no safety net for citizens, the refugees from the Middle East pass through there on their way to settle in other European countries.

The residents we met were proud of their changing history. They’re educated, friendly and expect that their country changes every generation because that’s what has happened throughout its history.

Germany, though, has always been a destination location throughout its history. Change happened here frequently. Many people think only of the transformation Hitler brought in the 1930s and ’40s. However, it transformed again after World War II as the country split into East and West. But the most recent transformation occurred less than a generation ago as the country reunified in 1990. That was just a year after the Berlin Wall came down.

The 1990s were a time of absorption for what was then West Germany, when it assimilated about 16 million East Germans into its economy. Back then, as today, Germany had a very strong socioeconomic safety net. So the “new” citizens could survive while they found work. The reunification was so successful it is still celebrated each year in a different city throughout the country.

Why did the West do this? Many of those former East German residents had varying skill levels that the companies in the former West Germany began to utilize. So the influx of “immigrants” proved beneficial. It’s a lesson they learned over the century.

As we talked with many average citizens in Berlin and Dresden, they almost welcome immigrants to their country. Germany’s population is aging and the country requires an influx of labor to continue its prosperity. The key seemed to be that immigrants with various skill levels were important.

Looking back at U.S. history, we’ve always been able to assimilate people who moved here with the dream of a better life. Whether it was the Irish, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Asians and others, people fought these immigrants saying they would be a danger to our country.

And in each instance, those immigrants adapted to our American way of life.

So before dismissing immigration, as many are doing these days, let’s look back at our history and that of other nations and see that it can be beneficial to both the refugees and our country.

Joseph V. Curatolo lives in Clarence. He is founder and president of Georgetown Capital Group.
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