Ignore Xenophobic Hysteria and Welcome Our EU Neighbours
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent.
Britain is in the Orwellian middle not of a Two-Minute Hate, but a Two-Year Hate
This may surprise alarmed observers in Sofia and Bucharest – or even in Westminster. But one of the best-loved British books of 2013 takes the form of a fervent and heartfelt tribute to the peoples of Bulgaria and Romania.
War hero, writer and traveller Patrick Leigh Fermor died in 2011 before he could publish the third volume of memoirs about his “Great Trudge” though Europe in the mid-1930s.
The Broken Road, which appeared posthumously in the autumn, takes the young literary vagabond from the “Iron Gates” on the Danube across both countries to the Black Sea coast.
Everywhere he walks, Leigh Fermor relishes the landscapes and the languages. He admires the culture and the customs. Above all, he comes to love the people of the Balkan peaks and plains: always hospitable and welcoming, forever willing even in the poorest backwater to greet this penniless young Englishman with unstinting generosity, feed him, shelter him and send him on his way with blessings – and with lunch.
Now, what would happen to a late-teenage Bulgarian or Romanian, without lodging, employment or any ready cash, who started to walk, say, from Dover to Glasgow in the spring of 2014? On the evidence of British public life just now, the result would not be a glorious trek across a land of smiles, fondly remembered from a ripe old age.
The Economist magazine has already issued its number-crunched fiat in their favour. Still, this column may count as an early squeak in the almost inaudible chorus of welcome for visitors or migrants to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania. More than a few of us belong to the open-hearted country of Paddy Leigh Fermor rather than the tight little island of Godfrey Bloom. If you wish to, fellow EU citizens, I hope that you will come. Should you choose, quite legitimately, to seek work here, then I hope that you prosper for as long as you stay. And most of all, I hope against hope that our morally bankrupt political class and ruthlessly cynical media will one day start to address the underlying reasons for home-grown fears: the living-standards crisis, deep-seated job insecurity, yawning chasms in wealth and opportunity, the greed and arrogance of a pampered “super-class”, and a chronic lack of decent homes for non-millionaires. Instead, they have set out on yet another sordid scapegoat hunt.
The grievances are genuine. But the actual culprits have got clean away. A useful watchword for 2014 might run: lay the blame where it belongs. August Bebel, a wise German social democrat at the turn of the 20th century, popularised the idea that “anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools”. A century on, the quarry may have changed, but not the toxic rhetoric, nor the squalid logic of victimisation. As all the 28 million people in the so-called “A2” accession countries of the EU must understand, this lather of dread has been whipped into a perfect storm by the confluence of cannily inflammatory media and the blind funk of a shaky governing party. As a result, if you’re looking for fraudulent crystal-ball predictions, outrageously deceitful hucksterism and a brisk trade in ideological scrap and junk, there’s no need to visit some mythical gypsy encampment. You can find all that and more via any visit to Westminster, TV studios and newsrooms – plus a detour, of course, to the Ukip HQ.
Crashing rollers of anti-immigrant vitriol break day after day, loud as an end-of-year storm surge, and just as implacable. Anyone who resists this tide – who says without any niggling proviso that all legal incomers from European Union member states, as from -everywhere else, presumptively deserve trust, goodwill, courtesy and fair dealing – may feel just now like the enemy within. The tone of paranoia, suspicion and targeted hatred has made British political discourse through 2013 resemble propaganda-fuelled dictatorships such as – well, let’s start with Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania and Todor Zhivkov’s Bulgaria. As regards the citizens of those states, Britain is in the Orwellian middle not of a Two-Minute Hate, but a Two-Year Hate.
Plenty of the worried who fear this as-yet-phantom army of immigrants will have spent Christmas paying lip service at least to the festival’s religious roots. Presumably – and this, I’m afraid, is a rhetorical device shamelessly nicked from the works of Charles Dickens – their edition of the Bible fails to include the exhortation from Deuteronomy that insists “Love ye therefore the stranger, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt”, the lines from Matthew’s gospel that run “For I was hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in”, still less the advice of the Letter to the Hebrews: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”. A few weeks ago, Nigel Farage commented: “We need a much more muscular defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage.” To which one might reply: precisely.
Sentimental? Impractical? Airy-fairy? No more so that than the speculative pseudo-statistics that bedevil this “debate”. As to the likely numbers involved, absolute confusion reigns. An even-handed House of Commons briefing paper recently noted that the Foreign Office’s own inquiry into probable figures (commissioned from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research) had concluded that “it is not possible to predict the scale of future migration from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK numerically”. The Commons paper, by the way, also shows why the often-quoted Migration Watch prediction of circa 50,000 net arrivals per annum from Bulgaria and Romania is skewed. The numbers rest on an untested forward projection from events after the 2004 EU entry of Poland and its neighbours (the so-called “A8” countries) on to a wholly different set of circumstances.
Among the factors that suggest “low levels of migration”, the Commons researchers cite the obvious fact that “all remaining transitional controls will expire in all EU countries at the same time”. Among factors that may pull the numbers upwards are “high unemployment rates … in those EU countries that have so far been the preferred destinations for A2 nationals”, mainly Italy and Spain. In short, we don’t yet know. Maybe the invading wave will be crested by some of the estimated 14,000 doctors and 50,000 nurses who have left Romania since it joined the EU in 2007. If so, then our steam-driven pundits should on principle refuse treatment when their apoplectic xenophobia lands them in A&E.
Even if the feared influx of low-skill job-seekers does occur, and does put pressure on underfunded services in certain areas, then public figures still have a choice to make. Some of the windier press invective that craven politicians have done nothing to deflate – especially against Roma people – pretty much amounts to incitement to racial violence.
Whoever wins the dismal numbers game in 2014, a failure to condemn that sort of hate speech opens the door to further barbarism in political life.
We have been here, many times, before. Back in 1517, Londoners rioted on “Evil May Day” against foreign workers. According to legend, the mob was calmed by the then under-sheriff of London, Sir Thomas More. About 75 years later, the event was dramatised in a multi-authored play about the life of More – the kind of stage “biopic” common in the Elizabethan theatre. In the second act, when he faces down the racist rioters of London, the play’s language suddenly leaps into life. More’s great speech makes the case against anti-immigrant agitation with a moral force that still sings out today.
“Grant them removed,” says More about the detested foreigners. “Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,/ Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,/ Plodding to the ports and costs for transportation.” “What had you got?” he asks the mob. “I’ll tell you. You had taught/ How insolence and strong hand should prevail.” In other words, mob rule – of the kind that, these days, tries to smash international treaties and tear up EU agreements. And what if the lawless migrant-bashers had to move abroad themselves, “to anywhere that not adheres to England”? In exile, “Would you be pleased/ To find a nation of such barbarous temper,/ That, breaking out in hideous violence,/ Would not afford you an abode on earth?” Just put yourselves in the foreigner’s shoes, More counsels: “What would you think/ To be thus used? This is the strangers’ case;/ And this your mountainish inhumanity.”
There used to be almost as much heated argument around the authorship of this passage (in a script known as “Hand D”) as about the imminent levels of migration from “A2” states. Now, a kind of scholarly consensus prevails. That scene was most probably written by William Shakespeare. Across the political mountains of inhumanity, let’s hope that the latest torrent, or quite possibly, trickle of “strangers” can locate and enjoy Shakespeare’s country.
Culture aside, a well-sourced report released this week by the Centre for Economic and Business Research argues that Britain will over the coming years overtake Germany as the strongest economy in Europe. And which ace do we hold up our sleeve as the Old Continent grows even older, less productive and more state-dependent? Why, “positive demographics with continuing immigration”. On which note, we should wish even the frostiest of Europhobes Chestita Nova Godina and Un An Nou Fericit!
joppy - 2 Jan 2014 // 14:23:22
@grzx10 Nobody needs your money, the only reason why your money is worth anything is because you force other to accept it as a trading currency, otherwise people would trade stock with stock, i.e. Iraq gives us oil, we give them food no fiat currency transaction. Why would anyone need the money of a nation with 300% of its GDP being debt, you need more than we do
The more you talk the more I understand how young you are
@Tania Oz, Capitalism is a system which inspires greed, the notion of profit over all, and in the context of globalization it is a system which is naturally designed to benefit a few (the Westerners) and exploit the others. Of course when people are motivated by money they don't care about the people or the country.
Of course most of the blame falls on the Bulgarian Mafia politicians, that cannot be denied. However the Westerners themselves are partially guilty, for giving support for these politicians (and similar politicians such as Boris Yeltsin) and congratulating them on their "liberation reforms" which were "to bring progress and move Bulgaria away from its Soviet Communist past", more so they even justified their policies "as absolutely necessary for the economy", claiming "there is no other alternative". Partially they were right that there would be no other alternative, if we didn't sell all our assets to them they would isolate us, cast our leaders (lets say they weren't sellouts like the current Mafia or like Boris Yeltsin) as tyrannical dictators like they did with Belarus, North Korean, Cuba, compare to those countries we could possibly say we are relatively well off, or we could have even ended up worse, just apply the Kosovo-scenario to Bulgaria and replace Albanians with Turks and you get the idea. Now of course this may sound a tad-bit like a conspiracy but all you need to do is look at the reality, leaders which refuse to sell out their nation to the West, leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Alexander Lukashenko, Victor Yanukovich, Serzh Sargsyan, etc. are constantly criticized and get wild accusations of totalitarianism and dictatorship and even bully tactics (as the case with Putin) thrown at them, whereas sell out leaders such as the Bulgarian and Romania Mafia bosses, Yulia Tymoshenko, Mikhail Sakaashvilli are congratulated on their reform policies which bring their respective countries "closer to the democratic European family, moving away from Russian dictatorship", yet when they enter this family they become victims of negative PR war against them, trying to extend restrictions even though they forget that they are the ones who "rushed to take us in before Russia takes us back".
joppy, "The reality of Bulgaria today is the reality of a failed Capitalist system." Yes that's right to a point, but only because the Commie Elites that ruled, are the same people that became the Capitalists after the "transition" and rewarded themselves through the privatisation of Bulgarian State assets. How else do you explain that so many became instant millionaires in Bulgaria? It is not that Capitalism has ruined Bulgaria, it is because a pack of ruling and superior hyenas picked off and devoured anything they wanted in their privilleged positions and left all the "serfs" for dead. It was not an even ballpark by any means. Don't blame Capitalism instead a greedy bunch of self-serving unscrupulous villains. You should look at the type of people that have "served" the nation and those that have been in charge after 89/90. That's the real problem in how the "transition" transpired.
@grzx10 Nobody needs your money, the only reason why your money is worth anything is because you force other to accept it as a trading currency, otherwise people would trade stock with stock, i.e. Iraq gives us oil, we give them food no fiat currency transaction. Why would anyone need the money of a nation with 300% of its GDP being debt, you need more than we do.
@bogomil The reality of Bulgaria today is the reality of a failed Capitalist system. Capitalism on the global stage equates to Imperialism, it benefits a few which can exploit other countries resources without paying a dime, but it doesn't benefit everyone else, the exact opposite actually. Of course those living at the top of the Empire will be opposed to Communism because it takes away the resources from the empire and gives them to the people.
*literary editor of the Independent labeling people as The Peoples*...
The (mostly English) EU tirade against The Peoples of Ro & bg continues, but many of us know that the real concern is the Roma; the Rum, the tsigani.
Prior to 1990's entry into cut-throat Capitalism, Bulgaria's Roma enjoyed an 85% employment rate, as did Romania's.
The EU ( England ) might be puzzled by the modern Theory of Roma Capitalism, which doesn't recognize an individual's ownership of private property. For example, any one of England's very expensive privatised rail lines might be surprised to learn that their system was shut down not because of a technical glitch, but because a group of Roma free-marketeers had 'liberated' the networks' cables to sell as scrap metal.
As for the non-Roma Peoples of Ro & Bg, many of us are aware that they are all slimmer & smarter than their northern European (England) counterparts. The women are strong; the men are good-looking !
YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND .
I am BULGARIAN , NOBODY SUFFER LIKE A BULGARIAN , NOBODY FEEL LIKE LIKE A BULGARIAN .
YOU ARE RICH , YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND .
YOU SHOULD GIVE ME MONEY BECOUSE I AM BULGARIAN .
EVERYTHING IS EASY FOR YOU .
BECOUSE YOU ARE FORIGNER.
FOR US EVERYTHING IS HARD .
FOR YOU EVERTHING IS EASY BECOUSE YOU ARE NOT BULGARIAN not AND SUFFER LIKE A BULGARIAN .
JUST GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY TODAY AND WHEN I SPEND IT ..
I WILL BLAME YOU TOMMOROW WHY I DO NOT HAVE ANY !!!!
Two VERY big "IFs" there, John! The Roma don't want to integrate: in their view, and that of the PC Brigade, it is WE who should change to accommodate their flouting of laws and normal social rules. Don't worry, you'll soon get the hang of more muggers, pickpockets, burglars, beggars, prostitutes and scoundrels of every other variety on your streets while the NIMBY Champagne Socialists in the UK and Brussels will explain that their crimes are actually YOUR fault for "oppressing" them.
As for the huge number of "unemployed" in the UK, maybe it's time to get the Too Fat/Lazy To Work battalions off their backsides and back into employment. A few months of "No Work, No Dole" will soon get them slimmer, fitter and more motivated. The UK has way too many spurious "disabled" and downright indolent people just riding on the backs of those who are working while explaining that stealing from the taxpayer is okay because it's only a "few" thousand pounds a head per year.....
I'm not defending UK politicians but if Bulgaria had a higher standard of living and the Roma were integrated into society then who would want to leave.
The fact that the UK has 2.5million unemployed and a housing shortage maybe due to the morally bankrupt politicians but it is still a fact. Talk about xenophobia and Nazi Germany when it's more about trying to buy a house and get a job is the reason there is never a serious discussion about immigration.
But we're all so stupid that we put all the blame on immigrants we don't have a wider view of the world or any other issues.