Pandaemonium

IS EASTERN EUROPE MORE RACIST THAN THE WEST?

eu fence

An extract from my latest column for the International New York Times on the migrant crisis and the supposed ‘cultural gap’ between Eastern and Western Europe:

Judging by the newspapers lately, one might be forgiven for thinking that until Hungary started putting up fences, the European Union had open borders and welcomed migrants with kindness and gentleness. In fact, over the past 25 years, the union has constructed what many justly call ‘Fortress Europe’, keeping out migrants not with fences but with warships, helicopters and surveillance drones. One of the reasons that migrants are now coming through the Balkans is because patrols have blocked off other southern routes, particularly from Libya into Italy.

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Hungary’s treatment of migrants has been brutal, but are its policies that different from those adopted by Britain or France?

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Some 3,000 migrants currently live in what is, in effect, Europe’s largest shantytown, on the outskirts of Calais, in northern France. A report this month by the University of Birmingham and Doctors of the World described conditions as “diabolical” in what is known as the Jungle, with tents overrun by rats, water contaminated by feces and inhabitants suffering from tuberculosis. ‘I lived like this in Darfur’, one resident told a journalist. ‘I could not believe a place like this existed in Europe.’

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The migrants are confined to the Jungle because Britain refuses to let what Prime Minister David Cameron called ‘a swarm’ cross the English Channel. Were the Jungle in Hungary or Poland, there would no doubt be an outcry. Yet few historians or journalists have bothered to write furious condemnations of the xenophobia exposed by this abomination on Britain’s doorstep.

Read the full article in the International New York Times.

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The top photo is by Sara Prestianni and comes from the Noborder Network Flickr group. The cover image is by Charles Roffey.

10 comments

  1. damon

    It would really be hard to do a decent analysis of this article here.
    There’s a lot wrong with it though in my opinion.
    The description of what’s going on in Calais for a start.
    The alternative would be to allow anyone in Calais to come to Britain.
    Without the rule of law, procedures and regulation, Europe would become as lawless as many of the places people are fleeing from.
    Everyone who is in the Calais jungle right now has the option of claiming asylum in France.
    And then if successful, of coming to the UK in a legal way at a later stage.

    • To oppose a particular law or procedure or regulation is not to argue against ‘the rule of law, procedures and regulation’. Liberalization of immigration controls does not mean getting rid of the rule of law or of borders; nor will it mean ‘the whole world walking in’. I’ve had this debate many times on Pandaemonium (including, damon, with you).

      The New York Times article is about the claim that actions and attitudes of Eastern European nations showed them to be more xenophobic than those of Western Europe (it might be worth reading the whole piece). What I’m pointing out is that were Hungary or Poland to deal with migrants the way that Britain and France do, there would be an international outcry. Because the Jungle exists outside Calais, barely a word is said about it. Britain insists that it is a French problem. France insists that it is a British problem. And all the while migrants are forced to live in execrable conditions.

      • damon

        I did read the whole piece of course. I think there is just a disagreement between myself and what you have written. So what happens then? Do people who disagree just walk off in opposite directions? Britain has a net immigration figure of hundreds of thousands every year. It’s been an immigration country for decades – like countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia are.
        And how eastern European countries most definitely have not. English cities have been transformed by immigration and have almost made it a new country in many respects.
        In ways that most eastern European countries have not yet and are only just at the very beginning of. So in that regard, it’s fair enough to make a distinction between west and eastern Europe. As for this modern mass migration, this is something new and huge in scale.
        I just heard something on the radio about projections for next year’s numbers.
        Personally I can’t see what the solution is. Europe can not take unlimited numbers of new people without being destabilised in some areas. Even if you are only talking about specific areas and parts of cities.
        I just flew into south Florida the other day, and think I spotted signs of a kind of apartheid society within hours. And most definitely yesterday when I saw poor black workers getting off a bus in the mid Keys in the early morning. Bussing in for their shifts in the fast food restaurants etc, in a part of the state where poor workers can’t afford to live. So they travel fifty miles down from their cheaper housing area to the north.
        This kind of open borders migration is going to exacerbate these inequalities.
        And what I find slightly annoying is that people on the left often don’t bother looking at things like that too closely.

        • Chris

          Damon,

          I largely agree with you and think that Kenan is being overly critical of the immigration policies of west European countries. In his favour though, he is usually generous in publishing the comments of those who disagree with him.

          Are western Europeans racist? Of course they are, as are humans everywhere. It’s part of our nature to favour those who are similar to us and to be less generous to the rest. It’s my impression, though, that people of western countries (Europe, North America, Australia/New Zealand) are actually less racist than most others, so I don’t think there’s any reason for us to beat up on ourselves.

          Kenan seems to imply that European countries should be open to unlimited numbers of migrants. I disagree. There is no country in the world that does that – and for good reason. Were they to do so, they wouldn’t survive.

        • I think there is just a disagreement between myself and what you have written. So what happens then? Do people who disagree just walk off in opposite directions?

          Er, no. We can discuss and debate, as we are doing here. You’ve implied in several of your comments that I don’t welcome disagreements, and refuse to discuss issues with those who disagree. As someone who probably spends more time than I should in such discussions, I find that argument baffling.

          English cities have been transformed by immigration and have almost made it a new country in many respects.

          As I’ve already pointed out (in response to your comment below), had not a single immigrant come to Britain, Britons today would still be living in a vastly different nation from that of half a century ago. Everything from feminism to free market economic policies, from the atomization of society to the growth of youth culture, from consumerism to the decline of traditional institutions such as the Church, and many, many other developments, have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it is immigrants, and only immigrants, who have appear to have become scapegoats for change, and for change for the worse.

          In ways that most eastern European countries have not yet and are only just at the very beginning of. So in that regard, it’s fair enough to make a distinction between west and eastern Europe.

          You seem to misunderstand my article. I observed about the countries of Eastern Europe that ‘Ethnically homogenous, they are unused to immigration’. So, the distinction you think that I should accept, I already have. The point about the article was to challenge the idea that the response of East European nations to immigration reveals them to be more racist or xenophobic than West European nations.

          Europe can not take unlimited numbers of new people without being destabilised in some areas.

          This is an argument made whatever the numbers. Today, UKIP, for instance, argue that current levels of immigration are too great, and that we need to return to the levels of immigration of the 1960s and 70s. But, of course, in the 1960s and 1970s, commentators were as panicked by the levels then (now seen as sustainable) as today’s commentators are by current levels. This was, after all, the period of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ speech and of Margaret Thatcher claiming that Britain was being ‘swamped’ by immigrants. Even earlier, an even smaller number of Jewish refugees led to an equal panic. It was to prevent a few thousand Jews from entering Britain that this country introduced its first immigration controls. As I wrote in my essay In Defence of Diversity:

          ‘Throughout the twentieth century, virtually every wave of immigration, whether of Irish and Jews to Britain, Italians and North Africans to France, Catholics and Chinese to America, was met with the claim that the influx was too large, too culturally distinct, too corrosive of stability and continuity. Come the next, larger wave of immigration, and the previous wave now came to be seen as acceptable in terms of what the nation could absorb but the new wave was not.’

          I just flew into south Florida the other day, and think I spotted signs of a kind of apartheid society within hours. And most definitely yesterday when I saw poor black workers getting off a bus in the mid Keys in the early morning. Bussing in for their shifts in the fast food restaurants etc, in a part of the state where poor workers can’t afford to live. So they travel fifty miles down from their cheaper housing area to the north.This kind of open borders migration is going to exacerbate these inequalities.

          Segregation has long existed in America, and has nothing to do with immigration, but everything to do with racism. Similarly, the fact that poor workers cannot live in city centres has nothing to do with immigration. Both these claims illustrate a key problem with the immigration debate. Any social problem gets hitched to the ‘problem’ of immigration, and immigration becomes the catch-all explanation for all and any social ill. It’s not an approach that helps either resolve the social problems or allows us to talk sensibly about immigration.

          And what I find slightly annoying is that people on the left often don’t bother looking at things like that too closely.

          What I don’t bother doing is making superficial and false links between social problems and immigration. I would rather tackle the real causes of harms such as segregation, inequality, etc, and, at the same time, challenge myths and prejudices about immigration.

  2. damon

    I’d like to know if this website is one where readers who take a very different view to a written piece are welcome. As many sites don’t like people to disagree with the ‘above the line’ main posts too much. This story is one which is written in a highly partisan way, which is perfectly fair enough – as that’s what having an opinion is about. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett wrote something similar on the Left Foot Forward website also recently.
    http://leftfootforward.org/2015/11/in-calais-the-consequences-of-camerons-immigration-policy-are-painfully-clear/

    As can be seen from the comments underneath it, several people strongly disagreed with her.
    What do you do when you have such disagreement? Engage with the others or just not bother?
    Personally, I thought Natalie Bennett’s argument was facile.
    Also, some of Kenan’s article is unfair IMO.
    In the UK the society is ”jumping through hoops” to accommodate our new diverse reality.
    In a way that hasn’t even been started yet in Eastern Europe. So there is a clear difference I think.
    Britain has taken millions of immigrants from all over the world.

    I happened to see this Daily Mirror story about the EastEnders actor Danny Dyer the other day, and in his short story about growing up in East London he actually said more perhaps than he even meant to.
    About how immigration had changed the area of where he came from so much, that he eventually felt he had to leave. (Because his daughters had picked up on the new gang culture way of attitude and speaking).
    http://www.mirror.co.uk/tv/tv-news/danny-dyer-bullied-school-because-6748949

    • I’d like to know if this website is one where readers who take a very different view to a written piece are welcome. As many sites don’t like people to disagree with the ‘above the line’ main posts too much….What do you do when you have such disagreement? Engage with the others or just not bother?

      I am puzzled by the questions and your tone. You’ve published in the space of a few weeks several dozen comments on Pandaemonium, invariably critical of my views, and to many of which I have responded. Doesn’t that suggest an answer to the question as to whether ‘this website is one where readers who take a very different view to a written piece are welcome’? Most of the comments on Pandaemonium are, in fact, critical of my views. I would hardly open up Pandaemonium to such criticism unless I was relaxed about it. It is true that I don’t respond to every comment. If I did, that would take up all my time, and I’d be unable to write new posts for you to criticize ☺. If that seems to you an unwillingness on my part to engage, my apologies. But unless you can arrange for a 48hr day, that unfortunately cannot change.

      Personally, I thought Natalie Bennett’s argument was facile.

      Perhaps, though what relevance that has to my article, I’m not sure.

      In the UK the society is ”jumping through hoops” to accommodate our new diverse reality… Britain has taken millions of immigrants from all over the world.

      You seem to imagine that Britain is simply doing immigrants a favour and that it is sacrificing itself to accommodate them. The majority of immigrants came to Britain because Britain needed their labour. They have filled Treasury coffers, set up new enterprises, created new jobs, helped maintain public services and opened up British culture.

      I happened to see this Daily Mirror story about the EastEnders actor Danny Dyer the other day, and in his short story about growing up in East London he actually said more perhaps than he even meant to. About how immigration had changed the area of where he came from so much, that he eventually felt he had to leave. (Because his daughters had picked up on the new gang culture way of attitude and speaking).

      Did gang culture not exist before mass immigration, then? And are there no gangs in, say, rural towns with no immigrants?

      As for ‘changing the area’, had not a single immigrant come to Britain, Britons today would still be living in a vastly different nation from that of half a century ago. Feminism, consumerism, increased social mobility, the growth of youth culture, the explosion of mass culture, the acceptance of free market economic policies, the destruction of trade unions, the decimation of manufacturing industries, the rise of the finance and service sectors, greater individual freedom, the atomisation of society, the decline of traditional institutions such as the Church – all have helped transform Britain, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But it is immigrants who have become scapegoats for change, and for change for the worse.

  3. damon

    I do apologise if my tone seems off. I don’t mean it to be. Maybe the failure is just my inability to reply on this type of forum succinctly. But even a short column by yourself like you did in the NYT opens up potential discussion that could become tens of times bigger and wider encompassing.
    Even something as seemly small and defined as the Calais situation is actually really complex.
    Like what do you do with the body of opinion that flatly disagrees with you? And which says that immigrants and asylum seekers can come to Britain and Europe, but only through the proper channels?
    You must hear this argument all the time. If one disagrees do you just dismiss it? The people in the Calais jungle have put themselves in that situation. They are in France. They are safe and just want to circumvent the rules. I understand their wishes are to come to the UK. But you can’t often get what you want. I’m visiting the USA right now and I’d love to be able to live and work here for a while.
    But I’m just not allowed to – end of story.

    So you could have a big argument just on that issue alone. And people like Natalie Bennett and those kinds of leftist, just argue from one side of it. They are also quite dishonest I think, as they too refuse to engage with people who would see the Calais camp as a kind of blackmailing situation against Britain.

    As to whether Britain does immigrants a favour or not, or just exploits their labour, again it’s a very mixed and complex situation. Some of the poorest and most welfare dependent areas of England are the ones with the highest immigrant background profile. And I’m not thinking of South Kensington with all its wealthy French expats. But the places that become very transient areas which new immigrants first move into. The very places that most of the Calais would-be migrants have noted down in their phones and Facebook pages where they have friends waiting to put them up. West Croydon is the place for that I know best. You can see the young Afghani boys hanging about in that corner of Croydon that they’ve made home. Integration is key, and for the next few years they may struggle to make any meaningful inroads with integration. Because of their youth and such life changing circumstances. They are in a new society away from the control of parents and village etc.
    One could just shrug and say that that’s always been the case. As it was with my Irish father’s generation when they came to London in the 1950s. And maybe so. But it’s not simple and clearcut.
    It’s also very complex. Just listen to the tortured conversations we have any time the police and racism issue is aired in public. Just the other day in London they were talking about stop and search on the radio, and it’s just impossible. You have some spokesman for some Haringey police monitoring group who is adament that the police are a bunch of racists.
    And then you have someone from the police sounding like a complete apologetic wimp explaining why they still need to stop and search certain kinds of young people. The ones that look like they follow the code of the street culture, where knife and street crime is quite ingrained. That’s why the police stop youths who look like that – not because they are out and out racists. But England doesn’t seem to do these conversations very well. It just goes around and around.
    As for the thing about the gang culture. Just because there has always be some of it doesn’t mean that you should be OK with new variants of it. We used to have football hooligans and skinheads in parts of London that are now home to the ethnically based post code gangs. Danny Dyer explained what happened quite accurately actually. Black kids stuck together because they otherwise would have been victims of white racists, and then the white racists moved away and they became the ones who were being the most antisocial and criminal. You can’t really separate this from immigration, as they are linked. In a particular inner city location, the new street culture is too strong for a lot of young people to resist. It seduces them, and does so disproportionately to non white people like the children of African immigrants. It becomes more about psychology I think. And about being a visible minority in a still racist country.

    Finally, I think it’s rather unfair to flag up Cameron’s use of the word swarm. It was a word he used without much thought I think. And is nowhere in the same league as some of the comments made by other prime ministers in eastern and central Europe about racial purity and the desirability of taking in large numbers of Muslims.

  4. Eastern Europe isn’t more “racist” (i.e. territorial) than Western Europe, merely more European. Or rather, European, whereas (except geographically) Western “Europe” no longer is.

    Western Europe is a terrible object-lesson in what happens when people decide to be liberal and cosmopolitan; they cease to be anything at all. No wonder Orban has put up the fences.

    BTW with regard to Calais, the suffering will cease the moment the migrants there reconcile themselves to staying in France and settling there.

  5. Kenan, how are you going to house and feed 80 million people in Britain ?

    You can’t, nor can anyone else, especially as 1/6 of Britain will be under the waves by 2070.

    As the song says: “There may be trouble ahead.”

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