Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The truth takes too long to explain. It's time to rectify that.

The problem with human beings is they only live for 60 to 90 years. That is hardly enough time to learn how to make the world a better place. The other problem with many human beings, although fortunately not all, is their laziness: they have a tendency to strive for simplicity and they like complex explanations to everything packaged in neat comprehensible bundles that they can relate to, whether they are correct or not.




Throughout history, humans have tried to better themselves. They have gone from a short, brutal existence in primitive conditions via controlling fire, harnessing electricity and championing human rights, to supersonic flight, connecting everybody through computer screens and curing fatal diseases. Humans have forever been improving others' conditions, but they have not always raised their standards on a personal level.

What do I mean? Well, look at the vast majority of inventions. They have been created to make our lives better, because we are as a species particularly lazy. We will go to great lengths to reduce the need to go to great lengths. What these inventions, discoveries and adaptations do not do, however, is raise standards of intelligence and behaviour in people. They unfortunately go for the lowest common denominator, and if that's not available, the shortest and crudest explanation. This is what we need to correct now.

What has laziness got to do with it?
Well, look around you. People strive for the latest gadgets and machines to make their lives easier. They want them so badly, they'll go out to work for 8 to 12 hours a day to earn the money to pay for them. It's quite a paradox actually, when you think of it. We invest in clothes driers so we don't have to spend twenty minutes hanging up clothes on a line and wait several hours before removing them. Some of us then hire people to iron them for us.

We buy cars to go shopping even if there is a supermarket just down the street so we don't have to cart a couple of bags of acquisitions a few hundred metres, even if a shopping trolley costs a fraction of the price and the exercise would do us good. We buy kitchen appliances so we don't have to whisk, mix, stir or beat food ourselves, and we programme a destination into a map-reading machine so that we don't have to use our brains to read maps ourselves.

We constantly seek to take the effort out of our lives but we run ourselves into the ground getting there. We strive for simplicity in everything, though, including how we consume information, which is why many people are more willing to accept a snazzy slogan from a demagogue than listen to a full-length explanation from an expert.

In fact, people seem to have grown weary of professionals and experts altogether. And this is where the danger lies - politicians, big business people and captains of industry don't get where they are today by being lazy. The cleverest and most ambitious ones use the language of the lazy consumer to persuade, cajole and steamroll their targets into buying their products or supporting their policies. They can make people dance to their tune and wear clothes according to the weather they make. They get out of bed before they've even got into their pyjamas.

I am not saying this is nefarious behaviour; I am saying that they know how to play people's tunes. And there are a lot of people willing to be led. The fashion industry is the most extreme example of this - some rich tycoon with a clothing idea sends a faithful acolyte on TV to say "this is the latest fashion accessory", and before the Y in "accessory", it is sold out and a clamour for more engulfs the shops. If many ordinary people are willing to listen to this useless information about fashion which, let us be frank, has little or no impact in the whole scheme of things, they will of course treat important topics in the same way. And this goes for voting patterns too.

I would go as far as to say that the brutal treatment demonstrated in public voting shows on TV (the hollow commiserations handed out by the hosts, the cruel wait before the announcement, the gossip on the spin-off shows and in the newspapers, etc.) have made many people collectively immune to the feelings of others. People talk about these victims of fame as if they were characters in a soap opera. Added to that, we see evidence of people filming others involved in accidents or being attacked without intervening. Our civilisation is becoming immune to people's suffering.

And this is also reflected in recent political events.

The first that I can bring to mind is the refugee crisis in the Middle East and its spillage into Europe. Leaders of countries are ordering massive fences to keep out people fleeing for their lives and accusing them of carrying diseases into Europe, or worse, of shielding terrorists in their numbers. The problem is the opposite opinion is not an effective counter-argument - that we should allow these people in regardless is not going to win over many neutrals. This whole débâcle has sunk into mud-slinging and blaming each other for either being too hard or too soft. But those in positions of power are too proud to let go of their pet hates and any productive debate is stifled by the constant accusations. Western politics is sinking to lows that will take revolutions to amend.

Furthermore, we can point to the US-Mexico wall that the current incumbent of the White House is so adamant will be an effective antidote to illegal immigration. And this is where human laziness really reaches its nadir - symbolic gestures are seen as effective solutions to people's ills. For that is what the wall on the southern border of the US will be - a symbolic gesture, nothing more. People will go over it, under it, through it and around it. And symbolic gestures are happening everywhere. They stem from human laziness and unwillingness to investigate too far into something in case it turns out to be wrong.

Take the Brexit bus.

Image result for brexit bus

Never was such a succinctly effective untruth so widely used, and accepted, to justify an argument. The other side of the coin, though, cannot be emblazoned on the side of the bus so successfully:

Related image

And herein is the underlying problem - the arguments for and against any subject generally have on one side an attractive soundbite that makes perfect sense to people who like their news in short paragraphs; whilst on the other, a complicated narrative with detailed explanations can confuse or bore the average reader. Guess which story is likely to garner the most supporters...

And that is the disadvantage of those who seek to explain the truth and justify their answers in more detail - they can easily be drowned out by heckling from the opposition, or mocked for their unwieldy explanations. Short, snazzy slogans are the domain of commercial retailers and sports teams, but the political classes are getting in on the act, and taking their ideologies, warped or not, to the wider public. Unfortunately, and I don't think I am going to gain many friends by writing this, but there is a large section of the population that is easily led by simplistic messages that claim to be able to improve their lives, the very basis of commercially successful strategy. Taking this out into the real world is both reckless and unfair. The truth becomes blurred by people wishing it true, no matter how false it is.

The BBC has recently set up a Permanent Reality Check team to look into stories and claims that have been flagged as containing an element of untruth or spin. As you will see from its detailed clarifications, the answers are more complicated than the text they were originally packaged in.

If we are ever going to break the cycle of untruth, we have to simplify the message of truth. how could Brexit have been prevented? Simple, positive messages showing the benefits of the EU would have garnered a lot more support than the Osborne-Cameron fear campaign. Take the Facebook group WhyEurope - they have been developing positive slogans in support of Europe for a while now, and many of them bring the positive side of the story into a far more easily comprehensible light:

"Europe because...
We all have better things to do than waiting at borders."

"Europe because...
You receive the same medical care abroad as at home."

"Europe because...
I don't want to pay custom fees on Amazon"

"Europe because...
it's like being rich - you have 28 different places to live."

"Europe is like a window...
Often invisible, but you're gonna miss it when it's broken."

If only this group could have got this type of message out before the Brexit referendum... But of course, these positive features do not ring with people who aren't as greatly affected by them as they are by more pressing needs, like their health, social security, employment and domestic lives. Which is why their disenfranchisement will lead them to seek scapegoats and form up behind a cheerleader who will promise them sunnier times ahead, even if that may clearly not be true.

Populism does not need to speak the truth; it needs to press the right buttons. Which is why Donald Trump and his team could think up non-events like the Bowling Green massacre that never was, and the much-derided Sweden incident. People want to believe in Area 51 cover-ups and refugee rape stories in Germany. They want to believe it so badly because they are desperate to be right for a change. They have spent decades being told they are at the back end of society, misfits, plebs, rabble, and now the Establishment is teetering on the brink of self-inflicted destruction, those who get out of bed early on the opposing side are seizing their chance.

The only way for the current political class to salvage this is to shine an equally positive light on the future rather than the incessant sad music being they play while forcing through austerity policies on the poorest of society. Governments insist there is no money for schools, public transport, healthcare, welfare and job creation, yet there is ample money for defence and meaningless vanity projects. The current batch of politicians like Schäuble, May, Juncker, Rajoy, Hollande and recently Renzi and Cameron, seem (or seemed) to be doing very little on the surface to quell the fears of the impending downfall of Western civilisation, just carrying on as normal while all around ordinary people are growing tired of hearing about the closure of hospitals here and the reduction in police there, while third countries that are not so friendly to the West are now so obviously trying to infiltrate the system by subterfuge. People are looking for a sign that everything is all right and these dark times will pass.

If the West is serious about keeping up its standards then it needs to find some visionaries and statesmen and women from somewhere. The space is full of politicians acting like glorified civil servants, more worried about their own opinion poll rating than doing what is needed to re-calibrate the situation; any shining lights are extinguished by being marginalised by power-hungry politicians or disillusioned by the rigidity and intransigence of the political system.

It's time someone with a positive vision and two very sharp elbows stepped up before the populists get there first.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Don't bring your religion into politics and count on my respect



I have been utterly astounded by the number of people whom I have come across, on Facebook, in the media, or in person, who vote for political leaders based on one point only, no matter how relevant their other beliefs are for them. This is a very blinkered and self-defeating point of view, and the biggest share of this went to Christian fundamentalists, the vast majority of whom turn out time and time again for one party in many countries that best represents their chance to implement their ideologies, no matter what else the party believes in. We saw this in Poland, which swept the conservatives to power, and now we have seen it in the US, where the Republicans have steamrollered their way to all three houses.

In 2015, the Polish elected the Law and Justice (PiS) party to power, thanks to a growing dissatisfaction in rural areas with the speed of reforms implemented by the previous incumbents, Civic Platform. Although it is understandable for people to vote out a party that has ignored them, there were many who voted for PiS based purely on their sympathies with the Roman Catholic Church in the country. Since PiS was elected, it has taken a sledgehammer to the democratic institutions that were set up to assure constitutional equilibrium in the country, has tried to totally ban in-vitro fertilisation and pregnancy terminations (unsuccessfully) and tried to gag the independent media outlets.

Many fundamentalist Catholics in Poland would never consider voting for another party, and most certainly not for Civic Platform, the party that upheld the right to abortion in a vote not long before the last election. On 3 October 2016, the proposal to ban abortion outright brought Polish women of all kinds out on strike in a huge act of peaceful civil disobedience. Two days later, many politicians had begun to distance themselves from the proposal and an amendment was being considered at the time of writing this.

The irony is, the PiS (standing for Law and Justice) party claims they helped overthrow the Communist regime along with the Catholic Church, so they feel a little like they are owed a debt of gratitude for bringing about democracy, and yet they themselves have the most undemocratic agenda since the fall of Communism in 1989. So much so, a group of intellectuals and moderates established the KOD (Committee for the Safeguarding of Democracy) as a counterweight to the encroaching reduction in freedoms taking place in the country. What they want is closer to a theocracy than a democracy, and the people are finally beginning to realise the consequences of their actions.

The moral (pardon the pun) of the story here is, do not force your ideology on others. If you don't want to be involved in, or even inadvertently condone, something that you fundamentally deplore, that is your right. But it does not mean you should force your view on others by voting for a party based on one point of obsession. This is not how democracy works. Democracy is inclusive, and one size most certainly does not fit all.

Now we turn to the other side of the Atlantic, where the Republican party has won the right to govern the United States for the next four years. There is a great paradox between people with Christian values and the parties they vote for, the vast majority siding with the Republicans.

Let us take a look at Republicans' policies and compare them to Christian values:

So, to start with, they want to keep God in the public sphere. All's well and good if you're a Christian then. But dig a little deeper and the truth is very muddy.

Christian values stipulate that one should do unto others as you would do unto yourself, including:

  • giving shelter to those in need; 
  • providing help to the sick and the poor; 
  • not killing your fellow human. 
And yet the Republicans strongly oppose giving asylum to those who have come to the US for a better life, they wish to foist medical expenses back on the individual and advocate the reversal of the weapons restrictions introduced under Barack Obama. Upon further consultation of policy one can see the Democrats favoured these points. Who is more closely aligned to Christian doctrine in these areas? I know who I would say...

Then there are thorny issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, both favoured by the Democrats and opposed by Republicans. These issues are relevant to far fewer people than those in the preceding paragraph, and yet they are the Republicans' most fertile hunting grounds for opposition supporters. So what this suggests is that, despite the fact that Jesus himself is recorded as hanging around with socially stigmatised groups like prostitutes and ex-criminals, this is irrelevant when it comes to Christians' political behaviour in modern times.

We can ignore the hundreds of thousands of people on the poverty line who are about to have healthcare added to their list of debts; rough up and throw out any under-the-radar immigrants who are doing all the jobs Americans don't want to do rather than give them an amnesty; and risk our lives by going out onto the street hoping not to meet a testosterone-fuelled sicko with a gun licence who can kill at a second's notice. Forget that, because hold your horses, folks... love between two people is only right and proper if they're male and female, and we shouldn't allow anyone to make sexual "mistakes". This is really rather creepy, but yes, fundamentalist (emphasis on the mental, and most definitely not on the fun) Christians would rather vote based on such kneejerk matters such as that rather than on the bigger issues.

The same goes with the environment:
It is entirely feasible that the next energy secretary will be a climate change denier. Despite all the warnings, the evidence and the fact that nearly two hundred countries have signed treaties to deal with it, the US is probably about to assign this job to a sceptic. Christians are split on this issue, although time and time again the Bible tells humans to respect the Earth:
Leviticus 25:1-7 and 23; Psalm 24; Ezekiel 34:18; Matthew 6:26; 1 Timothy 4:4; the list is endless, and they all point to the need to look after our planet. So one would think, that even as a sceptic, one would at least be respectful of our Earth and Her resources. But most Republicans favour withdrawing from environmental treaties and reigniting the fossil fuel industry.

Again, this is considered a side-issue by many fundamentalist Christians, because moral behaviour is a far greater threat to them than this. And to be honest, I find it at best very distasteful, at worst profoundly hypocritical. But most of all it highlights the easily-led, knuckle-headed narrow-mindedness of people (or sheeple, considering they are a flock) that:

  • they would elect a party that condoned the widespread carrying of guns yet called themselves "pro-life"; 
  • would listen to their priest telling them the story of the Good Samaritan and then immediately join a demonstration against Mexicans or Muslims; 
  • would read from 1 Corinthians 13, which even for a non-believer like me is the best definition of love in existence, and then go and heckle an LGBTQ event. 
I remember I once knew a Baptist minister's daughter who, despite the deep unpopularity of John Major's government in 1997 due to the in-fighting, the scandals, the remoteness of the ministers and the institutionalised corruption, declared she would vote for him because he went to church. Did she even pay attention to the news...? I doubt it.

And this is my problem with religion interfering in politics. You cannot blindly let yourself be guided by priests, bishops and cardinals on the very narrow moral issue of sex and love which, by the way, they don't even take part in (if you don't play the game, you can't expect to make up the rules), and at the same time have a clear conscience on other issues of a more urgent nature, like the rising oceans, civilian gun crime, free healthcare, proper education, housing the homeless and welcoming refugees. The Statue of Liberty itself has these words:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
To spread the light of liberty world-wide for every land."

If this is what you believe, then you are most definitely not a Republican, but you have probably been made to believe that you are by more eloquent people, or cajoled into voting for them by peer pressure, pressure from your elders or by your sheer blindness to the real issues.

I think it's only right to see that Bible verse in full. Learn from it, because it sums up not only what one might call "conventional" love, but also that for the Earth, for our neighbours, for our fellow humans, and our country:


"If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."

So on that note, if you vote based on one narrow issue of religious doctrine, don't expect me to regard you as an example of moral fortitude, for you have done nothing more than condoned a sort of "Christian Sharia" - the imposition of your religious doctrine in our law and politics, where people of other religions need to coexist. The content of Sharia law is totally different to Christian teaching in many aspects, but I don't think anyone would agree that Christianity should be applied to our laws. This is why, even in France and ultra-Catholic Italy, religious symbols are banned from state workplaces. Religion has a place inside people as individuals - it is a very personal thing. It has no place in a one-size-fits-all public sphere.

So please, keep your own beliefs to yourself, and don't impose them on others.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Will Brexit bring about greater democracy and prosperity? Simple answer: no. More complicated answer: below



The first things all Brexiteers bang on about are:

1. The money the UK throws at the EU when it could give it to the NHS
2. The democratic deficit at the heart of the EU
3. Immigration issues
4. EU law and human rights
5. Corporate freedom
6. Independence
7. Because the UK is always isolated and never gets its own way

These are smokescreens for the the general consumption of those who like their news delivered in handy little soundbites that they can quote later to Bill down the pub. The real truth is somewhat greyer and a lot less savoury. As someone who lives and works on the inside, I would like to put the record straight on a few of these.

MONEY, FUNDING AND THE NHS
Firstly, let us consider a few things concerning the distribution of funds. The UK puts in a lot of money as it is one of the richest. It works a little like the tax system: the more money you make, the larger your contribution, so of course you are going to pay proportionally more than, say, Spain or Finland, but sizeably more than the Czech Republic or Slovenia. That is normal. Why are Brexiteers complaining about this? It seems they want to be clients, not team players. Where's the solidarity in that? And what the country gets in return is never discussed as it's not in their interests.

Yes, the EU can be a little profligate with the funds, but the fact is: agriculture, science and research, infrastructure, education and many other aspects of life would not receive the funding they need, and I include the NHS here, because I think herein lies the rub: the EU funds these things without subjectivity, based purely on need and the effect it will have on the improvement of people's lives.

Do you really think, deep in your heart of hearts, that the Conservative/Neoliberal alliance at the top of and above the UK government really cares about those things? I don't; I think it is another chance to grab more public money. Why waste it on schools when it could be invested in private enterprises and corporate landgrabs? 
At least, with the EU, those funds get to where they are supposed to. Take it away, and watch the NHS falling and being sold off, schools getting privatised, infrastructure budgets being cut, and farms being sold off to rich landowners who can turn them into supermarket-run agri-factories.
Do you trust the UK politicians to look after the NHS, farms and schools? Honestly???

DEMOCRACY
There is the supposed democratic deficit at the heart of the EU. Well, shall I tell you what a democratic deficit looks like? It looks like people who act in their own interests whether they are elected or not. Democratically-minded people do things in the public interest anyhow, whether elected or not. The expenses in the European Commission are incredibly stringently controlled by the Court of Auditors, and you will not see the civil servants being chauffeured about in black cars. You will, though, see the politicians (yes, those in the European Parliament too) being chauffeured about, because they are politicians and to leave them to public transport would be like asking a Yorkshire terrier to do your accounts.

But the Commission is pretty apolitical and works for the benefit of all, and despite its many foibles, is actually more on the side of the people than the politicians. There is a European Ombudsman that anyone can use to blow the whistle on improprieties; there is a European Consumer Rights and Law commissioner, who makes sure we get value for money, like reducing mobile phone tariffs across the EU; and there is a scheme whereby any EU citizen can go into the embassy of another EU country when abroad and get proper representation. But you don't hear about these things because it's not in the interest of the EU's detractors.
But it's a terrific trick of national governments that they get the Commission to do their dirty work, taking one for the team, time after time after time, so that they don't get blamed. The fact of the matter is, though, the 28 national leaders of each country, known as the Council of Ministers, sit down around the world's most expensive table to discuss what they wish the Commission to implement. So, the Commission is, in essence, just carrying out orders of national politicians. In the words of Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Prime Minister, "Almost all government policy is wrong... but frightfully well carried out."

IMMIGRATION
This is the scare story du jour. And it's a complete fallacy. Let's be honest, shall we? The country is not overcrowded; it is just underdeveloped and badly maintained. The infrastructure was built 150 to 200 years ago after the Industrial Revolution for the society then, and it has been slow to be updated. The roads in the UK are far narrower than in France or Germany, the houses smaller, the hospitals and airports built in far smaller plots. Look at Barajas Airport in Madrid - it is on a plot 5 times bigger than Heathrow. Charles De Gaulle, Frankfurt and such are massive in comparison. But the main issue is housing. It is not that there is no space; it is that the developers have artificially created a bubble by not building on the land they were designated, and so the demand sky-rockets and the prices go up. It is not in their interests to build because the prices will tumble and their profits too.
Furthermore, do you really think the country will sink into the mud because Poles, Lithuanians and Romanians, the large part of whom have a greater work ethic for less pay, are doing all the manual jobs? No. Because, sadly, Brits have become colonialists in their own country. Don't blame the new arrivals - blame mean-minded bosses for not being willing any more to pay full price for a proper day's work. Do you think this will clear up after Brexit? Do you think the gap will return and the market will be filled with British workers in the fields, on building sites and under the kitchen sinks? Rubbish. The market demand is insatiable and even if you started to train up locals now to take over, the full quotient would not be ready for employment for a good few years. And do you think prices and wages will remain the same? No. Because British people still expect a bargain, but workers will not accept the same payment rates as those who come to Britain for work out of necessity. What you will end up with is a skewed law where the cheapest will get all the work and hourly rates will fall everywhere in all sectors of work.

EU LAW AND HUMAN RIGHTS
It is claimed that too many people are abusing the EU's Human Rights legislation. Too many people are taking advantage of the current law to get out of prison or to get more benefit payments for themselves. This is not a falsehood, but it is an exaggeration. The UK government has suggested withdrawing from the ECHR (European Convention on Human Rights), drawn up by British lawyers after WW2, and implementing its own Bill of Rights. They can go ahead if they want, but the fact that all EU citizens are guaranteed the same rights is enshrined in EU law, meaning equal treatment for all.
Do you really think, Dear Reader, that the British government will make the situation better? I can answer that one now: of course not. If anything, it will make it easier to implement other laws that restrict the rights and freedoms of everyone in the land. I cannot imagine a more sinister power-grab than this. Imagine something simple as EU law concerning consumer rights: let us say you buy a kitchen and it is riddled with problems. EU consumer protection law dictates that the company has to either correct it or replace it without cost. The same goes for clothes, furniture, computers, everything. You have the right to return your goods to the shops within 14 days of purchase, all because of EU law. 

The four very elements that the Leave campaign is highlighting are the four very elements that everyone should be worried about. It is a myth that things will improve if the UK leaves - the EU guarantees so many more freedoms to its citizens:

  • The right to work in other EU countries without needing visas, residence permits or the filling of quotas
  • The right to study in another EU country for all or part of your university course (Erasmus)
  • The right to the same mobile phone roaming costs and no nasty bills no matter where you are in the EU
  • The right to the same standard of healthcare as back in your own country
  • The right to vote in local and European elections wherever you are
  • The right to live where you want and be treated by the local councils and national governments the same as locals
  • The right to the same consumer law as everywhere else
  • The right to jump on a train, plane, boat or bus to France, Belgium or wherever and not need to worry about declaring your alcohol or tobacco
  • The right to go from Lisbon to Warsaw without showing your passport
And many other things.

THE SILENT TAKEOVER
Just remember one thing: once the UK frees itself from the EU shackles (in other words from keeping it on the straight-and-narrow), there will be nobody else to keep an eye on the opportunism and impunity with which the corporate elite will act. This is your future. Nobody can tell you this because this is much more inflammatory than the stuff that the In and Out camps have been propagating thus far. The In campaign dare not say these things because some of them would be believed.

But the time is coming for you to make up your mind. Do you want to guarantee your own subjugation to a corporate elite? Do you want to hand over the things you most cherish about social democracy to faceless (and often heartless) drones in glass towers? Would you rather your tax money went to help the landed gentry to buy up the rest of the countryside and pay for their own limousines or would you rather your taxes guaranteed a harvest? Would you rather your money went to help poor people up the social ladder a little? Would you rather your taxes paid for infrastructure and education, whether here or in the EU at large?

I know where my allegiances lie - and leaving the largest trading bloc the world has ever known is not going to bring you prosperity. It will bring more prosperity to those who already have it, while turning the country into a feudal state.

INDEPENDENCE
Independence from what?
The UK is already independent. 
But I'll tell you what they want you to believe:
That outside the EU "we" will be able to make our own laws. What kind of laws? Do you think it will be for the benefit of UK citizens? I don't. It will be for the benefit of the One Per Cent.
Furthermore, we need to remember who we are and not who we were. We are members of a club of 28 nations, some of whom are "more European than others", so to say. It is time the UK started acting more European and stopped sniping from the sidelines. The EU is more heavily supported by smaller countries than larger ones, and the answer is simple: the President of the European Commission is Luxembourgish, the previous one Portuguese. the President of the European Council is Polish, the previous one Belgian. The thing is, it gives the chance for smaller countries to shine on the world stage like they would never be able to if they were independent. 

The larger countries of the south, like Spain and Italy, are also by-and-large pro-EU because they understand the prestige membership brings them. The prosperous and fiscally careful countries of the north and central areas, like Sweden, Denmark, Poland and the Czech Republic, are more sceptical because they also like their freedoms, but none of them would think leaving the EU would solve their problems. The largest countries, like France and Germany, have found it hardest to assimilate to the EU because they have needed to shrink, or at least take on fewer airs of a large country although this is of course very difficult, especially when it seems nobody else is on your side. Just ask Angela Merkel about refugees and the "solidarity" she received. 

Even Greece, the country with the biggest reason to be upset with the EU, does not want to leave. It might want to leave the Eurozone, but most definitely not the EU. So the UK is a little bit like Denmark, and a little bit like Germany. What it needs to do is just relax into its role as a counterbalance to the Eurozone's largest powers and stick up for those countries that wish to remain outside. It needs to engage more, be more understanding and empathetic, and stop thinking everyone should act like them.

Do you really think independence will guarantee self-control? I don't. I can't see how voting to leave a club but having nevertheless to pay membership fees to access it will really make the UK independent. The conditions would remain similar but the UK would not be permitted a say in any matters. Furthermore, it will take years to undo all that constitutional paperwork.

Which brings me on to...

HAVING A SAY IN EU AFFAIRS
The UK is alone and isolated in EU negotiations? Rubbish. The UK has had a great deal to say about the EU and its workings. 

  • For one thing, the UK was central in introducing the call for tender system known as TED to allow for a more simplified and equitable EU-wide system of provision of goods and services so any company anywhere can bid for a supply contract. 
  • The UK, as the largest non-Eurozone member state, is the de facto leader of the outside pack and recently negotiated more rights for those wishing not to join the Euro. 
  • The actual running of some of the EU institutions has in recent years become much more familiar to British civil servants than to French ones. The streamlining of administrative processes, the cutting of costs and bureaucracy, the accountability of every job posting, the justification of every business journey made, the pricing of every cup of coffee poured in an EU building... everything in the EU institutions is accounted for, down to the limitation of photocopies for language trainers. 
  • Furthermore, English is the prevalent language these days, and French is now a more and more distant second. German is waiting in the wings to be promoted if the UK leaves the EU. And English will, in one night, become obsolete as the Lingua Franca of the EU. It will lose its status as the working language of the EU institutions, and French, German and probably Polish or Spanish will get a much bigger role to play in the EU.
  • There are disproportionately more British (and Irish) staff in managerial positions than other nationalities, although due to the geographical position of the EU institutions, French and Belgians make up a large part of the admin staff. In the Court of Auditors, English is the only language and to get a job there it is essential to speak it to a level good enough to work in.
  • In negotiations, the only reason why it seems the UK is isolated is because the UK government really does not get the EU. It acts like a yob in Torremolinos, wanting all the home comforts but without the disadvantages. It was shocking and shameful for me to see my government try to negotiate favourable treatment in the EU and at the same time refuse to play any single part in the Syrian refugee crisis. 

If you really think the UK is hard-done-by it is all smoke and mirrors. The government just needs to stop moaning and get on with teamwork. If you think the EU is a gravy train, try speaking to assistants and administrators in Luxembourg at the bottom of the EU pyramid, where they earn less per month than local bus drivers, gardeners and cleaners. This is because staff in all EU institutions in all cities earn the same, calculated on Brussels salaries.

Finally, the EU is incredibly bad at promoting itself, which is both a good and a bad thing. On one hand, it means it is too busy doing what it is supposed to be doing rather than spending time and money advertising itself - the quiet ones are those who are getting on with the job rather than looking for reward. At the same time, it means people are malinformed and misinformed about the good it does. 

Get informed before you decide.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Think Brexit is a fair vote? Think again...

All of us have an opinion on the current situation regarding the UK's badly-conceived looming referendum on whether they wish to remain part of the EU or not. Sides are being formed and defences are being reinforced ready for the approaching battle. Unfortunately, it seems, even your allies should not be trusted...

David Cameron is a wilier old fox than you would give such a man who, through his parents' riches, never really needed to be talented. Some people say he is a male Margaret Thatcher (but without the balls). I think to view him so favourably to the Iron Lady is to compare suicide by messy drug overdose to a slight fever caused by a dodgy mushroom. He is a very, very cheap imitation of her, and just a sponsored high-ranking civil servant who has obviously been promised a cushy job or two on a few boards of directors once he leaves politics.

Anyhow, he seems to have continued that tradition of saying one thing while doing another. Think I'm being paranoid? Let's see the facts:

1. They'll take anyone's vote
Read this little beauty from the Guardian, which has arrived just in time for the referendum. In essence, it says that anyone not from the EU who wishes to remain in the country needs to earn over £35,000 to do so. It is a perfect vote-grabber. How do we stop so many of our good friends from Australia and Canada being kicked out? We vote for Brexit. Then we'll kick all the Poles and Lithuanians out and keep the Anglophones. See this in the news much? No. After the Tories' conduct in the general election, where every single vote counted, this is another one of those little toppers-up. Commonwealth citizens can vote in the election, so this is sure to help gain a few tens of thousands to the cause.

2. They'll upset a few people
To get the President of the United States to come to your country and tell everyone you are going to the back of the queue (a British word), is to get up the nostrils of hundreds of thousands of people who think it's none of his business. Forget those who are persuaded by him - this is about gaining numbers on the "no" side.

3. They'll make it harder for those likely to vote "in" to do so
The referendum takes place during Glastonbury and the European Football Championships, thus thousands of young people, who are more likely to vote "in" will unfortunately be away. Furthermore, the government recently changed the way people can vote - before the last general election, the PM thought it was a good idea to cancel the previous system of automatic registration, and introduce a process whereby newcomers and those who reach 18 have to consciously register. Out go several thousand more potential voters.

4. They'll put a lot of people off voting so many times in a short period
If my theory is right, there is one way to test it - the Scottish elections are coming up, as are the London elections, the Northern Irish and Welsh Assembly elections, the Police Commissioner elections, and the local government elections in England. They take place on 5th May. Election fatigue will set in when immediately after those, the EU referendum campaign really kicks off and people will be so fed up by 23rd June that there will be very few who will really feel like voting. Except, of course, those who are really passionate about it, which would be almost entirely made up of Brexiteers... there go some more potential voters.

5. They'll play to Pro-independence Scots - without lifting a finger
I can see it now - while they're upsetting a lot of Brits by getting Obama in on the act, they can also recruit hundreds of thousands of Scots by dropping a few verbal bombs on life after Brexit. And they don't need a Tory to do it for them... Nicola Sturgeon said she would think it almost certain that a new push for independence will be sought if there was a vote in favour of leaving the EU. How convenient. It is therefore in the interest of as many as 1.6 million people who voted to leave the UK in 2014 to vote Brexit and then trigger a second Scottish referendum almost immediately. What will be the result? The Scots will declare independence, apply to remain in the EU, as might the Welsh and Northern Irish, and the English will unilaterally leave both the UK and the EU.

6. They don't really care about your country
If those seeking the UK's withdrawal from the EU had patriotism in mind, they would be wise to remember that an awful lot of Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and indeed English, don't think they do. In fact, I personally think it is all to do with money. England would become a test ground for extreme neo-liberal policy experiments. Where better than the home of the world's banks where nearly every commodity has been privatised and the National Health Service and education system are ripe for a sell-off? If you can't see the stitch-up here, then you undoubtedly see the goodness in everyone, even a Tory...

Conclusion:
So before you put your cross on the "Leave" side of the ballot paper, just remember this: what will be the true cost of Brexit? All the propaganda about saving money is phoney. You will not save money, and if you did, it will be minuscule - you won't even notice the difference. You think a Tory government is going to invest the money in the country? Don't make me laugh! They will invest it in their cronies and back-slapping maties in the City of London.

Project Fear, as it has been dubbed, is just that, but it is focusing on the wrong things. The UK is a testing ground for the future of democracy. They are importing Viktor Orban's style of garnering votes and many are being hoodwinked by it. Don't be fooled - if you genuinely are tired of the EU and its decadencies, vote "Remain" and ask for - no, demand - reforms. But fight from the inside!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Inclusiveness in immigration is very important

I have one or two Facebook friends that continually post the most small-minded trash about "foreigners". I should really delete them, but I get a kind of morbid kick from hate-reading their simplistic cartoons, knee-jerk videos and generalist caveman articles saying why anyone with a different skin complexion is either murderously dangerous or just here in Europe for the financial benefits. They are simply wrong, and their thinking is just as dangerous as, if not more than the revoltingly maniacal terrorists they, and indeed all of us, wish to eradicate.

I am the grandson of a Polish immigrant, and empirical witness to the praise he heaped on his adopted country. He loved Great Britain with a passion. He worked on ship maintenance most of his life in dry docks in the East End of London and crucially, he played an important role during the run-up to D-Day and beyond, coming home some weeks after he had left, black from head to foot. My father said he slept for several days afterwards. He held a passion for his adopted country, calling it the greatest nation on Earth (and he had visited many in his career).

Where I am leading to is this: if the people in my country had treated him with scorn, scepticism or segregation, or if they had excluded him from an opportunity to contribute to society, or if they had accused him of profiting from the system, I am sure he would not have stayed long. If my country's newspapers were full of stories about people like him: funny accent, strange gait, shifty eyes... he would never have said anything complimentary about my country at all. But they didn't. And he did.

Why?

Because if you come with a clean conscience, a smile, and a will to be useful, you will go far, provided the people give you a break. If they don't - if they put you in a box, if they don't trust you or "your kind", if they don't try to understand you, or at the very least accept you, then you may as well find a different place to settle. The reason why immigration into the UK has on the whole been successful is due to two factors:

1. Indifference: as long as you're not a bastard, nobody really cares where you're from;
2. The economy: it can absorb newcomers because employers take experience above qualifications.

I am really upset by the country of my grandfather, the land that has been the object of imperialist expansion, whose people have suffered greatly at the hands of oppressors from all points of the compass. I am also upset by the land I call my second home, the Czech Republic, which had a similar history, if not so brutal. The people should know better than to advocate the closing of the doors to people in dire need of help. They may not be Christian, they may not be white, they may not eat pork, they may not speak your language, but they are people. They have heads, hands, hearts, and most of all they have the right to live in peace without fear of persecution or death.

I agree, wholeheartedly, that if you commit a crime, you should be fittingly punished. But to forbid people from entering your country in case they do is a despicable act of heartlessness. Everyone deserves a chance. If you are so scared by people you have never met, if you remain fearful of them and if you don't try to befriend them, how else can they integrate? They will most certainly stick together, because nobody else wants to know them. It is no surprise to me that the recent arrivals do not want to go to Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Hungary: why would they, when they have some idea of how badly they will be treated when they get there?

So next time you are faced with a person from a hotter country who looks at you without smiling, or walks past you without looking, ask yourself why - could it be because he/she has had very little contact or bad experiences with local people? Could it be he/she has been attacked by locals and is afraid? Or could it be that he/she is confused by (especially European) locals' innate behaviour of keeping people at an arm's length and mistakenly takes it personally? I have been subject of two of those cases myself, both in Germany and Belgium, so I know how it feels. And I'm white. I can only imagine how much more compounded the feeling must be if I were not.

I haven't finished yet...

I watched a video posted on a group called "We Are Here At Home", a Facebook page where people from the Czech Republic and Slovakia congratulate themselves on their racial purity and point out the barbarism of other nations, e.g. showing rubbish tips and slums in African cities; men in Keffiyeh headgear beating their wives; memes showing darker skinned people saying what they're really coming to Europe for (not for shopping, that's for sure). This is the type of nonsense propaganda the Communists used to distribute, just delivered for another cause. It casts doubt into people's minds and drives them to a very dark place.

I agree, there are many countries in hotter climates with some serious problems with their systems, and their patriarchal ways. There are men in some countries that treat their women and children the same as their cattle. Or worse. There are also a lot of nefarious individuals that should never be allowed into Europe. We all know this. We also know the way the crisis in the summer of 2015 was shockingly badly handled. But this does not mean every single person coming out of Africa or the Middle East has a dastardly plan. Have you seen the utter devastation in the Middle East? If that happened in Europe (which it did), you wouldn't stay at home to wait to be blown up along with your house and possessions. It also doesn't mean that because some may have grown up in corrupt, disorganised or lawless areas, that they are incapable of being organised themselves; quite the opposite, in fact. How many of us, when we become adults, do exactly the opposite of the things we hated most about our past or our upbringing?

There is something sick about people unwilling to extend an olive branch to those in desperate need. There is something psychologically wrong about people who see the colour, religion or the nation before they see the person. There is something sinister about the person who propagates false information about "outsiders", or who actively looks for the opportunity to shock others, or be shocked by the behaviour of those they know little about.

Below is a list of just some of the many successful British people whose provenances lie partly or wholly elsewhere:

Art Malik (actor)
Rita Ora (singer-songwriter)
Asad Ahmad (BBC newsreader)
Riz Lateef (BBC newsreader)
Naseem Hamed (Boxer)
Sajid Javid (Politician)
David Lammy (Politician)
Baroness Warsi (Politician)
Nadiya Hussain (winner of a TV cooking show voted by the public)
Mo Farah (Olympic Sportsman)
Fatima Whitbread (Olympic Sportswoman)
Mudhsuden Singh "Monty" Panesar (Cricketer for England)
Chuka Umunna (Politician)
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Footballer)
Sadiq Khan (Politician)
Adil Ray (Comedian, Actor)
Omid Djalili (Comedian, Actor)
The Saatchi Brothers (Businessmen)
Anish Kapoor (Architect)
Michael Marks (Founder of Marks & Spencer)
Sir Alec Issigonis (Inventor, designer of the Mini car)
Sir Clement Freud (Broadcaster, Writer, Politican, Chef)
Lord Alf Dubs (Politician)


Nadiya Hussain, winner of the Great British Bake-Off 2015
(c) Love Productions/Press Association

Google them and you will find a very interesting story behind every one of them. Some of course suffered from xenophobic abuse (not every story is faultless), but the benignity of the system, coupled with the fact that the vast majority of people are colour-blind and take people at face value, meant they were able to make it in their chosen areas, many with outstanding results. If you treat people as you would like to be treated, you will find they will reciprocate. Only a small number would do differently.

I'll tell you something for nothing: I would never have even thought of writing such a piece as this if it were not for the necessity of putting my point across to some mindless bigots I have recently had the displeasure of discovering are actually parochial purist thugs. And that is because I have never really considered any of the people on that list above, or any other first, second, third-generation immigrant (I baulk at the word) as anything else except British. In some ways I feel like I'm patronising them by having to use them as an example. I have never seen them as anything else except British.

In fact, quite frankly, on an intellectual or human level, there are no foreigners. And I challenge any one of those propagators of hate (you know who you are) to prove otherwise. Look at the personality, the attitude, the potential, before you look at the nationality, ethnic background or religion. There are bad eggs everywhere, just don't put all their associates in the same category. If we did that, this is what we would see:

Football hooliganism = English problem in the 1980s = all English are therefore violent thugs
Marc Dutroux = paedophile and child murderer = all Belgians are murderous sexual deviants
Westboro Baptist Church = brutally xenophobic and homophobic Christian group = all Americans are religious nutcases
Dutch law = lenient on soft drugs and prostitution = all Dutch are perverted junkies
Hungarian government = illiberal and xenophobic = all Hungarians voted for them

For goodness sake, as a Pagan, I sometimes go to the forest at night and remove my clothes. It doesn't make me a flaming exhibitionist... If we peddle the line that everyone is the same because they do this or that, or come from here or there, or they believe in this or that, it tells more about us than it does about them...

I cannot believe, that in 2016, we are once again heading towards isolationism, segregation, and maybe even war. There are no reasons for it, except for those that get their kicks from the feeling they are superior to others. They generally are not - they are just unaware how ridiculous they look. I will not block these Facebook "friends" who post their nonsense, but I will try never to be in the same room as them ever again.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Polish politician's favourite tool: victimhood

Back in the dark days of the Cold War, people of all nations involved were fearful of "the other side". This fear was generated by the idea that "we" were superior to "them", and "they" were immoral, unscrupulous and treacherous. It worked well - indeed so well, it's been resurrected for a new public, a public that by now will have forgotten that period, and should be more or less open to psychological manipulation once again. Today's Poland is a perfect example of this.

"Us" against "them": this tool is used by so many leaders to motivate their followers, especially in hard times: listen to any post-match interview from football managers like Slaven Bilic or José Mourinho; find a speech by any of the North Korean Kim dynasty; take a look at the recruitment tactics of any wacko religion such as the Jehovah's Witnesses or even the Westboro mob; read the transcripts of any large criminal trial - what you will notice in all of them is this tendency to garner sympathy with their target audience through claiming they are being besieged and thus in need of protection, support or even encouragement.

In some contexts this may indeed be the correct action to take, but in a lot of them, shiploads of salt should be offloaded onto their pretexts before even considering their legitimacy. Take the current constitutional changes taking place in Poland right now: all the pillars of democracy have been tested and are being torn down in favour of a very pious, blinkered and ultimately vindictive government being led by an éminence grise, Jarosław Kaczyński, who is clandestinely pulling all the strings from a safe distance. He himself is slightly toxic to the public, but his party, at least at the time of election, was not. I think it its safe to say that if there were an election in Poland tomorrow, his PiS party would be soundly beaten by safer, more democratic politicians.

One can say that a country deserves the politicians it elects, and sorry to my Polish friends, but I think this also applies here... Poland was gripped by the migration crisis of summer 2015 and voted for the party most likely to protect its national borders from ethnic "impurities". Poland was an up-and-coming country, a progressive nation taking the lead in its region as the motor of European integration and solidarity. But the wheels came off in the summer when its people showed that they have yet to really comprehend the outside world at large. The election of the PiS, with a majority, despite its disastrous record in office, demonstrates the same old fears that Poles continue to believe: Russia and Germany are still trying to subjugate it; the EU is the propagator of multiculturalism and ultimately the dilution of Polish nationality; Putin himself caused the 2010 Smolensk air crash that wiped out many of Poland's leading lights... there are many more, but these are the perfect examples to highlight how to manipulate a country and its people.

Playing on these fears, along with the fact that Poles play victimhood very well (I cannot remember how many times I have had to explain why the British didn't show up the day after the attack on Westerplatte in 1939 and why I am personally not to blame, or listen to how all of us Brits, whether born or not, whether we voted for the leader of the day or not, are responsible for Poland being handed over to the Soviets after the War, even if we ourselves weren't actually at the Yalta or Potsdam conferences...) meant that Kaczynski and his allies could use the perfect storm created by the migration crisis, the eurozone issue and the struggle in Ukraine to play on the fears of the average citizen. Where this has led to is a disaster for European democracy and progressive politics. 

I personally do not think the current Polish government will survive a year from now. But where it has been very shrewd is in very early in its term of office massively changing the country's internal set-up making it likely that, even if it does fall, there will be remnants that can continue to cause a lot of trouble: the constitutional court has over a third of its members linked to the PiS. National television and radio have been infiltrated with the party faithful, causing several high-profile resignations. There are other things that have caused widespread dismay amongst Poland's opposition, leading to the coining of a new term: "Orbanisation", named after Hungary's leader and advocate of illiberal democracy, Viktor Orban. 

To conclude, this is not over; not by a long way. The chances are high that the silent majority will become irritated by this and more public resistance will bring about a friction between the ruling party and everyone else (except, astonishingly, for the Polish Catholic Church, which has so far remained impassive to the current goings-on, perhaps because it too has benefited from the new patriarchal, sexually conservative and anti-abortion regime. For the moment, the European Union is leading the way in criticising the establishment in Poland - unfortunately it is led by Martin Schulz, a German, and thus an obvious sitting duck in the victimhood propaganda war, where he, along with compatriot Angela Merkel, the Luxembourgish head of the European Council Jean-Claude Juncker, and the harmless but outspoken leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt all appeared on the cover of Wprost, the Polish version of Der Spiegel or Time, in Nazi uniforms under the headline "once again they want to police Poland". They chucked in Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy and Society, for good measure, I think, just because he's German. 

And this is where I go full circle. This type of headline appeared in propaganda in the old communist Poland, and is once again rearing its ugly head. It would be refreshing to think that this time people will have learned from the mistakes of the past, but time and time again people seem not to want to; they want to try once again to dream up a reason to legitimise their irrational fears and stir up a feeling of fear and paranoia. We need to encourage the Polish opposition and seek ways to undermine this Orbanisation, before it becomes mainstream everywhere.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Goslitski family centenary of immigration

This week is the anniversary of a momentous occasion, although it will go almost unnoticed. And that is probably the most fitting way to spend it. On 22nd December 1915, my grandfather planted his tree in the British orchard, paving the way for the fledgling Goslitski family to thrive. It is the beginning of a very successful immigration story.




Above is the registration certificate of my grandfather, Eugene Alexander Goslitski, a Russian national of Polish descent, who came on his own looking for a better life. I have done some research into his background and reasons for leaving, and there is not much to go on, but we should look at the facts: Poland had not existed since 1795, and its lands had been divided up by Prussia, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. My grandfather was a Russian simply because of where he was born. Poles in Russia were treated as outsiders and were not full citizens. Many of them were deported to Siberian camps for katorga, that is exile and hard labour in underpopulated areas where nobody else was available. Several people with my family name were registered in those camps, although it is still not easy to identify their connection to us.

Whoever they were, my family name is quite unique and if you have that name you can only be from that family. The internet has become a sort of calling card for me. Many times, when I don't have a business card on me, I just tell people to Google me, because I'm so easy to find. This is both a blessing and a burden. For that reason, anyone with our name mast be related to us. We are like Grimaldi, Habsburg or Rothschild, although much less illustrious. I say this because our family name is aristocratic and my grandfather spoke about it now and again. He would often tell his daughters that back in the home land they were princesses. This was an elaboration - countesses would have been closer to the mark, despite their stark diminution under occupation, where all Polish aristocrats underwent screening for Russian ancestry, and those without were removed from their titles. 

It is quite likely that my grandfather left because he had no life, no opportunities and very little to keep him there. He joined the Merchant Navy and sailed around the world before settling in London, where he arrived in the middle of the First World War. This was quite remarkable, because with the war in full operation, every man was needed on the battlefield or on the sea. But come he did, and he died in the Brook Hospital in Greenwich on 22nd November 1960. 

During his life, he was a marine engineer, and he worked on the other side of the River Thames from his home in Bermondsey, less than a three-iron shot from Tower Bridge and the City of London. For that reason, he made a great deal of effort for the cause during the Second World War, and was involved in the D-Day landings. My father told me he left for several weeks around that time and when he returned he was covered from head to toe in soot. He had been jumping from ship to ship maintaining and repairing the boats to get them to the other side. He slept for a very long time when he returned home.

He is one of many who were never granted full British citizenship, mainly, probably, due to that one word: "Russian". Britain and Russia were never the best of friends once the Tsar fell, despite being the first country in the world to officially recognise the Soviet Union. But without bilateral treaties, even with countries in the direct neighbourhood, every foreigner had to fulfil a certain duty to remain in the UK. My grandfather had to leave the country for 24 hours every year, and reapply for entry upon return. He didn't go to another country - he took the opportunity to go into the Thames Estuary on one of his friends' boats and get slammed for a couple of days.

And here is the main point: my grandfather, along with hundreds of thousands of deracinated people, have found new homes in their destination countries. The vast majority of immigrants and their children have contributed to society in ways that are often under-appreciated by people. Lots of them have become famous names (Sigmund Freud, Sir Alec Issigonis, Zaha Hadid, Anish Kapoor), and some have even risen to lead their country (Nicolas Sarkozy, Benjamin Disraeli). Immigration is good for any country - being a popular destination for immigrants is the best endorsement any country can have. It is a sign that newcomers can fit in, that the local population there is not bothered by change and people are considered people, no matter their origins. My grandfather, a larger-than-life character, was known locally as the Duke of Bermondsey. He made the most of his adopted country, and said it was the greatest nation on Earth. Immodestly, I cannot disagree with him. 

My grandfather left his home to seek new climes. He was an international man in a local setting. He had bigger ambitions for himself and he set off to better himself. If he had stayed there in Poland, he would have experienced two World Wars, numerous invasions and would have been witness to the horrors of the Holocaust and the next Soviet occupation, leading to the People's Republic of Poland. Instead, he took the chance to find a place he and his future family could thrive.

Immigrants have one thing in common: their entrepreneurial spirit. They know how to get on in life wherever they go. They will never be the same again once they do, because once you leave, you can go back, but you can never go back home. You are seen as a foreigner in both places. But in general, there is no reason why being a foreigner should make you a stranger. And the fact of the matter remains, the children of those immigrants will most surely never be seen as foreigners. In a country like the United Kingdom, we don't really talk about foreigners, only when referring to those who have still stubbornly kept up their stereotypical façades. It is very wrong to say that people should speak the local language at home or adopt every local custom. That is too much to ask, and is totally unfair. They should keep their own home fires burning - I do. I mean the ones that refuse to do any integration at all. The ones that have little or no desire to accept local customs, who never take part in local events, who do not learn the language and who keep unswervingly to their own traditions. 

As I said, being popular with immigrants is a good thing for any country, as it means the conditions are right. In the current crisis sweeping Europe, it is no wonder that so many of those refugees want to go to countries known for their tolerant attitudes to newcomers. If I were one of them right now, there are countries in Europe I would really not want to settle in. I wish some of the cynics would stop peddling the "benefits" myth. Of course I'd want good conditions for my family if I were an immigrant or refugee. Why would I say to my family, "lets go to Poldakia or Molvenia because if we can avoid being beaten by the police and rejected by the authorities, we stand a chance of getting our own room above an abattoir"? I would not. I would want to go to a country that made me feel welcome. The fact they provide me with food, money and shelter is another sign that they want me not to have to struggle with poverty upon my arrival. How horrible would it be if people arriving from war-torn countries were made to fend for themselves from day one? It would say more about us than about them, that's for sure.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of spending some time with some of the younger Syrian refugees in Saarburg at an art session at the cultural centre. They were making clay winter- or Christmas-themed figurines. I really liked their imagination. Below are some of their works. All of them, despite their torturous recent experiences, had made it to a place of safety and were adapting quite well to local life. Some were already speaking reasonable German. They all seemed well-adjusted and acted very maturely. I have a deep respect for anyone who undergoes such a harrowing journey to look for calm in their lives. Some of them will one day go back to rebuild their country, but many will stay, and having met some of them, I can safely say they will be a credit to their new society. My grandfather's life was not half as bad as theirs was back in Syria, which is why to deny them the chance of a new life and happiness is to betray everything my grandfather ever did.

Here's to another hundred years of migration!