Thursday, August 24, 2006

More on anti-Romanian bigotry

Just as an addendum to yesterday's news, after I wrote it I went out and saw the headline on the Daily Express which was something along the lines of "Romanian Scum Plan Invasion". They weren't the exact words, but given the readership of the Express and the people who work for it, it's clear that this was the meaning. (I think it actually said "Romanians Set to Flood Britain"). So now Romanians are the new bete noire of Europe - first Spain and now the UK. I don't doubt that the right wing press in Austria and Germany and elsewhere is saying the same shit too.

I should point out to Romanian readers of this blog that the Express is a noted extreme right wing rag read by (1) sad deluded elderly people who hanker after a day when food was rationed, German bombs were raining down on our cities, and there were no black people in the UK; (2) rural in-breds who have never actually been beyond a 5-mile radius from home and who have never even seen an immigrant in the flesh; or (3) members of the British National Party (our answer to Vadim Tudor's Party of the Great Romanian Nightmare). It shouldn't be assumed, though, that it is on the margins of British society, as I imagine it (and it's fellow bigoted muckspreader the Daily Mail) probably speaks to about 25% of the population. So while it doesn't mean that the nation has suddenly turned into a hardline fascist state full of anti-Romanian hatred, neither does it mean that the depth of bigotry among the small minded few should be underestimated.

(Some other choice headlines are quoted in this Independent article)

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Poles Apart

Quite interesting being in the UK at the moment. Yesterday the government announced figures for the number of Eastern Europeans who have come to the country since the 10 new members acceded to the EU in 2004. Apparently the predicted figure of something like 15,000 a year has turned out to be more like 500,000 in the first two years plus, the vast majority of whom have come from Poland. Predictably this has led to calls from the Conservative Party (Motto: "Still the party of casual racism, whatever image makeover we may have tried to bamboozle you with") to make sure Romanians and Bulgarians are not given the same rights to move here as everybody else was. Equally predictably the Labour Party (Motto: "Taking policy decisions from the editorial pages of the Daily Mail") have started making noises of a similar limitation. Now obviously there's no way they can tell Romanians and Bulgarians to fuck off without it looking terribly discriminatory (since they quite happily let everybody else come), so they're kind of backed into a corner on this one.

Mind you, everybody (well, outside the Daily Mail and its Little Englander readership) are at pains to point out how beneficial all these people have been to the UK economy. And of these 500,000 ish people fewer than 1000 are on the dole and claiming benefits, so it's a bit much to go on about the drain on social services. There is of course a serious downside to this influx of people - not on the UK, which is doing fine, but in Poland and Lithuania and elsewhere whose workforces are being sucked dry of most of the young qualified workers who have opted to become builders and hotel workers in the UK rather than put their qualifications to good use at home.

Today's Guardian editorial points out that there are likely to be fewer Romanians wishing to move to the UK, for a number of reasons - the major one being that there really isn't much of an established Romanian community here, whereas there was a Polish one. [Although to ruin their argument they also say that there are fewer English speakers here, which while true in real terms is probably not true in per capita terms - Romanians young people speak excellent English in my experience, and the number of people passing advanced level exams from the University of Cambridge's suite* of international English language qualifications is very very high in Romania. (*I use the word "suite" because I've done a fair amount of work with them and know that's what they call them, so it's not just me being poncy)]

Anyway, since Germany is apparently now changing its mind again, it sounds like Romania may not get in at the end of this year after all, so it all may be academic for now.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A collection of unconnected trivia

I've been headhunted by the "Gimme your stuff" website who would like a Romanian representative to join their gang of people swapping culturally significant items (As has Paul in Budapest). The object is for me to offer up some item from these parts which can then be exchanged with someone else in another part of the world. However, as I thought about it, I realised I have no idea what that would be. If I went for the Hargita County/Szekely option then the things that are produced round here are Palinka (Hungarian fruit brandy), Ciuc beer, borviz (mineral water) and potatoes. I'm guessing none of these things will be easy to post, and may even be illegal, especially now that liquid is banned on planes (by the way, since people are now - since yesterday- being asked to taste baby's milk in order to check that it's not explosive, what happens to people with colostomy bags?). The other cultural artifact of the Szekely would be a big knife, but once again, there are questions of legality and postage which may cause issues. So, I could market myself as a representative of Romania and send polenta (or, as many menus seem to translate mamaliga, "corn mush"), or an advert for BRD with a picture of Nadia Comaneci on it or something. Any ideas? A lock of Ion Tiriac's moustache? An old shoe which I could pretend was one of the thousands owned by Elena Ceausescu? Gigi Becali's head on a platter (I wish that were possible without committing some crime or other)? Any ideas?

Bit of a bad week here - I brought a major cold* home with me from Barcelona, and have had to spend the week attempting not to spread it to anyone in my family since we are hoping to fly to England on Monday (terror alerts permitting) This is very difficult since obviously having been away for a week, the first thing I want to do is to spread germs around (or at least offer up a kiss or two). Then my hard drive died, with lots of important and un-backed up data on it. Thankfully, my computer expert friend Attila (yes, there are Hungarians called Attila - loads of them in fact) came to my rescue and managed to save all the vital stuff.

[*Interesting fact about colds in Romania - it is almost impossible to convince otherwise intelligent people that a cold is a virus. Colds are caught just through being cold, and there are no viruses involved. It's baffling. Mind you I've just heard a stat on Euronews that 60% of Europeans believe that antibiotics are useful against colds, so it's not just confined to here obviously]

In Milan airport on Sunday evening, I was presented with an impossible dilemma from a British perspective. I needed to go from the Schengen terminal where my plane from Barcelona arrived to the non-Schengen terminal where my plane to Bucharest departed. The problem was that I didn't have a lot of time, and there was a passport check to pass through between the two. And at that checkpoint there was one person working, and a queue that was immense. This created a mental vortex within me, as the competing cultural imperatives of being on time and respecting queues battled for supremacy. In the end the need to catch the plane and be home with the family won out and I pushed in brazenly, while keeping my head down and not cacthing anyone's eye. I felt shitty about it, but ultimately the fact that I was in Italy saved me, as presumably people are used to it. If I'd done the same in the UK, I would have been hung, drawn, and quartered.

Not sure when I will next post here, since we are off on our two weeks holiday to England on Monday (in fact on Monday we fly to Budapest, and thence to England on Tuesday), but I still want to craft my Hungarian/Romanian national psychology post promised some time ago. If I get to it today/tomorrow, you'll see it, otherwise it'll have to wait.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In the Lebanon

One of the biggest problems with being stuck at Milan airport for a while, was being able to take a while reading English newspapers and learning of the ridiculous and sick position taken by my government over the possibility of a ceasefire in the Lebanon war. Something along the lines of “There’s no point having a ceasefire now as it may only last a week and we need to find a comprehensive peace agreement”. Are they really that stupid or just trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes? The whole point of a ceasefire is to stop innocent people being killed, maimed, and left homeless. You do that, and then you start to look for an agreement that is workable. Even if a ceasefire does only last a week, at least that’s a week in which no people are dying. For christ’s sake. But no, they just give everyone a green light to keep on killing as many people as they can (and given the disparity of deaths on both sides of the border it looks once again like Arab lives are basically worthless in Blair’s view.) I am more and more convinced that this bastard needs to be taken to the Hague as soon as possible and be tried for his war crimes.

It’s rare that I get this angry over something, but god almighty. How many people have you killed today Blair? Do you ever sleep? Or do you wake up in a sweat dreaming about swimming in the blood of children? I bet you don’t because you’re a wild eyed ideologue who really believes that killing Arabs is a necessary step toward the new world order.

And now, finally, the UN are debating a ceasefire resolution that will allow Israel to continue attacking people as long as they do it “defensively”. Since they claim that everything they do, from the daily brutality of the occupation to various invasions of Lebanon is “defensive”, this doesn’t sound like it’s much of a solution. And our glorious leader thinks he can now act to get a solution for the Palestinians – since he’s said this from day one, and has come no closer than he was then, I find it hard to imagine. And how he expects to be taken seriously by the Palestinian side, now he’s nailed his colours firmly to the side of Israel-can-do-what-it-likes-whenever-it-wants-and-be-applauded-for-it, is anyone’s guess. I despair. Every week I have to remind myself of how bad Thatcher was in order to have something to compare him with, but I’m reaching the point where I think he’s even worse than her. And that takes some bloody doing.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Romanians in Spain

There are a lot of Romanians in Spain. A recent survey into Spanish immigration found that something close to 400,000 Romanians live here (and given that the population of Romania is only something like 24 million, that’s a fairly big chunk of the Romanian population). In fact Romanians form the third largest immigrant group in Spain after Ecuadorians and Moroccans. (The fourth biggest group are Brits, who eschew the gritty urban poverty of the typical new immigrant and instead buy bars and houses with swimming pools in small sunny replicas of England, where they can all get together watch Sky on TV and read the News of the World while complaining about the Spanish) [Stats]

The image of Romanians here, though, is terrible. “Romanian” has become almost synonymous with “petty criminal” (and in some cases not so petty). People have told me that whenever anything gets stolen, or when homeless people start cluttering up people’s nice neighbourhoods, it is always “Romanians” who are to blame. (Though it seems that Romanian has become shorthand for all Eastern European immigrants). I have heard this stated to me every time I tell people where I live. It’s not all negativity - the other day I was on the metro and there were two Romanians playing the accordion very proficiently to the apparent delight of most of my fellow passengers who accordingly coughed up a fair amount of loose change. But I have heard a lot of stories – of pickpockets, of organised crime gangs, of house robberies, of public drunkenness, etc etc and so on, every time I’ve mentioned my home. Now, it should be pointed out that I haven’t yet heard anyone actually tell me a story of a personal experience – it’s all that kind of rumour, hearsay and TV news sensationalism. It may be based on an element of truth, but it seems likely to me that it is, at the very least, exaggerated.

Whatever the origins, it does not bode well for the Romanian emigrant experience here, and presumably with EU accession round the corner, there will be even more people looking to come here and work.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gabriel Lambescu

Just got this link from my Dad, an obituary of Gabriel Lambescu, conservation architect. Have to admit I'd never heard of him up until now (always a shame when you read of someone who seems like a wonderful person - but it's in an obituary). But I have stayed in the Casa cu Cerb in Sighisoara (and it's bloody gorgeous) and have visited the castle at Cris (which despite it being a Saxon area was one of the many homes of one of the seemingly many Bethlens (Gabor, possibly).

Anyway, just thought I'd recycle it here and tip my hat and pay my respects to Mr Lambescu.