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.'


#8 Bart 2013-11-29 01:17
Well, geographers care. Geographically all Poland is in western Europe. The geographical midpoint of Europe is in eastern Lithuania.

People of Poland also care. The country which European part only occupies already 40% of all Europe's landmass is mostly in eastern Europe, has been a particularly vile bully for a few centuries, so basically what it represents.

Young people care. Western/Eastern Europe is a direct reference to the Cold War shortcuts for Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc. The Cold War ended about 21-24 years ago, so...

Cultural studies people get really annoyed. Culturally Poland is either in the Western World as a major region, or Central Europe as a sub-region.

And finally I care. To me there is one Europe and we should ever ever define it by "geographical" regions that have actually nothing to do with geography at slightest.
#7 Nate 2013-11-28 02:58
Funny how nationalism still runs after major catastrophic wars. Don't worry, the young generation will have opportunity for more war, death, and destruction. Think about climate change, overpopulation, and depletion of natural resources. Eastern Europe or Central...who cares?
#6 Bart 2013-02-18 19:28
Rory, I would like to agree with you but you are talking bullshit. Europe's problems are not because the doors opened up, but because politicians are shit, and they try to distract our attention from their limited skills in economics by blaming anyone.

If you are not for the central Europeans to arrive, I suppose we could equally say that the Poles who fought for the Netherlands could just go home. Poles rebuilt London as well as many cities, so jut open your mind. Don't let the black shirts to lie to you.
#5 Rory 2013-02-18 12:14
Sorry im with the Blond Dutch politician- Europe was a great place before the gates opened up, Now its full of problems,
Only last week at half dark did i have a romanian family with hazard lights on try to block my path and stop me in the middle of the road, for what i dont know, but there filth,
You talk about full circles happening, i cant wait til the passport control and the barriers are back,
I dont want my tax money supporting the eastern arrivals, not a cent of it,
I dont hate you but stay where you are, your not welcome in France Ireland or Holland as far as im concerned, You didnt design it - you didnt build it - you couldnt dream it up - you only want to find ways to profit from it and us and even if its true that you want to do our so called low life jobs, thats not important we dont need you for that, most are working for cash and drawing beneifts for many children, so the little thats paid in tax is easilly wasted
#4 Lars Jørgensen2 2012-11-15 23:03
As I said - we better do unite. Otherwise we have no future, as compared to such societies like China. We can't leave it until tomorrow, the next generation. IT HAS TO BE DONE NOW! I am surprised our lazy parents didn't think of it. If you like to join me and stop pretending we live in Cold War times! I live in modern Europe!

If you do as well - "like" my post! Cheers!
#3 Lars Jørgensen 2012-11-15 23:01
Dear Bart and Stephan,

it is not the fault of our generation but our parents. We not only learn to give these tags but also live the consequences of their actions - the wars their generations brought and divides.

We better do unite as soon as possible - otherwise Europe has no future any more. I, personally, remain very often. I travelled and lived in a lot of European countries, not only EU, but also Switzerland and Russia.

I do think that at the bottom of it, all Europeans, from Portugal to Russia and from Svalbard to Malta have a lot in common: cuisine, vast majority of them speaks Indo-european languages, customs, ways of behaving, even religion (Abrahamic) is common.

However, if people want to be horrible, they would always find a reason - even racist, or irrational (the Wall came down in 1989, and the geographical centre of Europe is actually in Lithuania/Belar us) ones.
#2 Stephan 2012-11-15 13:01
Hi, a very nice article that I came across by chance. I'm German but live in the Czech Republic. My German relatives are quick to use the word "Ostgesindel" (I don't think I need to translate that) to describe anyone from "the East". Sadly, a sense of solidarity and unity is something we don't yet have in Europe. Maybe in another generation?
#1 Bart 2012-10-25 19:29
I wonder why you use the faux pas and loaded term Eastern Europe, when actually relating to central Europe. Please do not confuse the Eastern Bloc with Eastern Europe

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