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Wednesday, 15 February 2012 07:37

No Romani, Poles, Romanians or Bulgarians allowed

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A few days ago I finally finished reading The Native Realm. A great book by Czesław Miłosz that is highly-recommended for anyone who claims to be European. "The native Europe" (which seems to be a more accurate translation) is a fascinating memoir and an intellectual walk along the meandering European paths of the 20th century. But this is not going to be a glorifying review of a brilliant book - although I do encourage you to read it. I'm referring to Miłosz for a rather less optimistic reason.

Last week European public opinion was once again bewildered by Geert Wilders (we all know this flamboyant platinum blond "statesman"). This time his Party for Freedom (PVV) launched a website where Dutch people can file complaints against immigrants from "Middle and Eastern European countries." The complaints are going to be presented to the Minister of Social Affairs and Employment.

Once you've entered the site and recovered your eyesight after being dazzled by Wilders's shining mane, you'll see giant headlines from Dutch newspapers: "Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians – increasingly criminal," "Eastern European gangs in villages" or "Problems with Poles" and a story about some supermarket with  misspelled Polish names (of course). The text underneath is even better. "The massive labour migration leads to many problems, nuisances, pollution [sic!], displacements and housing problems (…) Have you ever lost a job to a Pole, Bulgarian, Romanian or other Eastern European? Do you have problems with Eastern Europeans? We'd like to hear."

"Undoubtedly I would call Europe my home, but it was a home that classified its population into two categories."

So, if any of you decide to make a complaint you can easily tick any of the listed "troubles" that the barbarians from the East are bringing about. Noise, problems with parking places, drunkenness, degeneration and, as the list obviously doesn't cover all of the sins that are a part of the Eastern nature, there's also some free space to type in your own suggestions. As one of those noisy, drunk degenerates who steal parking places I'd better give the floor to Miłosz. Eventually he was given a Nobel prize, so perhaps he's more civilised.

In the book there's a story from his first visit to the "calm and smooth" Western Europe. Miłosz is at the French border and encounters a sign which states "No Romanies, Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians allowed." Miłosz actually crossed the French border about 80 years ago (yes, he ignored the ban, what a disobedient Eastern European!). Is history coming full circle?

There's also another significant sentence in the book's introduction. "Undoubtedly I would call Europe my home, but it was a home that refused to acknowledge itself as a whole; instead, as if on the strength of some self-imposed taboo, it classified its population into two categories: members of the family (quarrelsome but respectable) and poor relations."

That's somewhat symptomatic of even the most liberal and tolerant societies in Europe. Be it the French Troisième République or the current Netherlands, now or on the eve of WWII. Sometimes it really seems that Europeans, even as their continent becomes ever more united, are sticking to some bad European prejudices rather than acknowledging that Europe is a common home. Wilders is just one example of a cynical player who tries to make a electoral gains from long-held stereotypes combined with an easy opportunity to perceive (and stimulate) a dichotomous vision of immigration that may give him a few more seats in the Staten-Generaal. Nevertheless, even in the Netherlands, one of the founding states of the EU and a political system that certainly "upholds the high standards of government and understands the associated obligations," Wilders finds quite a large audience.

Of course, the response from both Wilders' compatriots and the "increasingly criminal" Easterners was quick and critical. Ten "Middle and Eastern European countries" (that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007) even decided to organise a meeting in the Polish Embassy in Hague to issue a common official statement and talk about the current situation that "borders on discrimination."

However, methinks that the cliché of "poor relations from the East" mentioned by Miłosz is still vivid in Western European societies. Wilders is just tapping into a latent prejudice, "some self-imposed taboo." Not to go too deeply into current high-profile politics (isn't the discussion over the formula of the fiscal pact in fact a modern grandchild of the "no Romanies, Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians allowed" sign at the French border?), I can easily name a few examples of the euphemistically "protectionist attitude" of Western Europeans.

After all, it was the founder of European Enlightenment, Voltaire himself, that called the citizens of the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita "the Iroquois of Europe." He suggested that these savages should be civilised at the hands of the Prussian Emperor Friedrich II von Hohenzollern. As we can observe, it seems he failed…

Last modified on Wednesday, 15 February 2012 08:35
Ziemowit Jóźwik

Ziemowit Jóźwik is 23. Coming from Bieliny, a small village in the Holy Cross Mountains (Poland), he is now based in the more well known city of Krakow. Having written for Europe & Me since Issue 5 he will now take on the challenge of expanding our knowledge of the eastern borders of the European landscape. His blog will explore how European issues are understood 'under Eastern eyes.'

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