Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What is Left Unsaid

We don't want other countries to get nuclear weapons, but, specificially, we don't want irrational countries led by irrational men - Kim Jong-Il, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - to get them. So what goes unsaid when other nations complain that the West says little about Israel's nukes is that Israel is, potentially at least, rational and the complainants are not. Something similar also goes unsaid about the British decision to restrict immigration from Romania and Bulgaria when they join the EU. After all, we let in hundreds of thousands of Poles when their nation joined. What is unsaid is that we prefer Poles to Hungarians and Romanians. It is not said because people will say it is racist. The truth is, however, some countries are worse than others. We would be crazy, for example, currently to allow mass immigration from Algeria or any number of other warring, violent or chaotic states. Bulgaria and Romania have problems that Poland does not, politicians are, therefore, being cautious. This is to say nothing against individuals - and cannot, therefore, be said to be racist - it is merely a practical observation about the state of other cultures. Since I am half Romanian myself, I am sad about this, but not angry.


  1. I'm not sure this is true.

    It is true that Britain remembers Poland fondly as an ally during WWII but that is now far in the past and, I would suggest, has little relevance in the current immigration debate. The door was opened to the Poles first and so many crammed through it that it has become a political necessity to half-close it to later applicants.

    They were lucky to get in first, but it was the EU that gave them that stroke if luck, not the preference of us Brits.

  2. I don't see Israel, US or UK being rational. I am horrified by all three countries abilities to hide, bend and lie about things to their own anvantages and think it is perfect ok, but come down hard on anyone else using the same tactics. All that is seen by the rest of the world is our hypocrisy.

  3. Strangely, though I live in the East, I've never met a Romanian or Bulgarian. What are they like? Why are Poles better? The Americans don't think they're so hot.

  4. On the immigration question, we Irish have no restrictions in place. Which would be fine, were it not for the fact that once they get here we do everything in our power to break their spirits and force them out again. At times, our present Minister for Justice is so right wing in the views he expresses he would give Jean-Marie Le Pen a run for his money.

  5. I have just read The Irish Times and discovered that we are also going to impose restrictions on people from Bulgaria and Romania. It's hard to know what this is all about. It has been suggested that we need about 50,000 foreign workers a year to keep our economy going. So why we have chosen to continue with the current arrangements for everyone else but stop Bulgarians and Romanians coming in the future? It is a vexed question.

    As for the other question, I don't think rationality comes into it. Those who have the biggest stick call the shots. That has always been the way of the world. The problem now for the US and its satellites, is that others now have the means to hit back. It's not like the Cold War years - at least then both sides knew each other so well that the futility of attack was accepted. Only some of its enemies are visible today, but many are not. We should all be worried about this, even those of us who would like to see the US brought down a peg or two.

  6. Um, is the issue something to do with gypsies? I first encountered the English fear of gypsies when I was researching an article on John Clare (wonderful "lost" Romantic poet of the early 1800s), and then in a recent novel, D. Mitchell's _Black Swan Green_, gypsy-phobia came up again. It's also in lots of Irish novels, incl. a beautifully written one I reviewed a few years ago: _The Fall of Light_, by Niall Williams.

    What's it all about?

  7. Nothing lost about John Clare in my neck of the woods, Susan. Nor in yours. The greatest living poet in English, John Ashbery, is a conscious disciple, very close in spirit.

  8. Lost in his own time because he spent most of his life in an insane asylum. His reputation's recovery begun by a WWI poet (E. Blunden). So, "Lost" in the sense that readers wouldn't have known much about him for the last thirty years of his life, when he was immured, nor for the fifty after, until he was finally rediscovered. Then it took another 80 years to get him on the syllabus. Indeed, when I studied the Romantics in grad. school in the 1980s, we read exactly one poem by Clare, and it was just to emphasize WW's comment that "poets begin in gladness and end in madness." That Clare poem was "Lines: I Am."

    Having finally discovered the rest of the corpus, though, I *love* Clare's poetry. Better, by far, than Wordsworth. Clare actually spent most of his time in nature (by necessity and by choice). His poems about birds' nests are magnificent.
    You know, I think it's time for me to ditch this computer and take a walk with my dog -- in the pingle where the ferns are ramp and the shadows grizzle. The suthering among the leaves may stirtle the starnel, but it won't make us trepid. Not after the scary face my kids carved in the jinny-burnt-arse. Know what I mean, Bry?
    "O thus while musing I'm doubly blessed,/
    My woes unheeding and my heart at rest."

  9. But, Susan, read Houseboat Days by Ashbery. Clare resurrected, Actually better.

  10. I will do (read HD, I mean), but at the moment, what is left unsaid in this thread is the Gypsy Question.

    If I am correct that the ban on Bulgarians and Romanians has something to do with gypsies, could somebody please tell me why that kind of racism exists in GB and Ireland? I keep seeing it in books and I don't get it.

    Black/white racism in America is easy to understand -- we can trace it back to slavery. Other kinds of racism (for example, the Irish used to be really low on the totem pole here) disappeared because, being white, once the Irish immigrant moved up a class, you could not tell by looking at him what his origins were.

    Do the British fear the gypsies because they're poor? Is it possible that racism is really all about poverty? Our fear that those poor people -- the ones we can identify by class -- will take away what we have because they don't have it?

    Or is it something else? You said you're a warlock, Bryan (jokingly, bien sur), and it makes me think maybe people are also afraid of gypsies because of their supposedly psychic/witchcraft powers.

    Bring on some answers, ye citizens of the British Isles!

  11. a common impression of gypsies, not only in the uk but across Europe, is that they do not work, crime is their chosen way of life. in the uk there are not a great number of them, whilst in certain Eastern European nations they are thought of as a scourge, a plague.

  12. Ah, a common impression you say. But is it true? Is it borne out by experience? Racism is always based on such "common impressions" (look at "common impressions" of blacks in America right up until the Civil Rights Movement when they became less common because people were either enlightened by reality or swayed by the general shift in sentiment); it takes a concerted effort to dislodge those impressions and replace them with reality.

    David Mitchell is certainly trying to do it in his last book, ditto Niall Williams in _The Fall of Light_. The main vibe I got from these two sources was that people fear gypsies because gypsies don't want to settle down and put down roots in the community. They are always wanderers, hence always "others," and it is very common to fear and despise "The other."

    What's odd to me is that most Americans don't know anything about this gypsy-phobia of our European counterparts. We know about anti-Semiticism and anti-Arab/Muslim sentiments, but we never hear about the gypsy issue unless it is raised obliquely -- just as Bryan does in this post, aptly named "What Is Left Unsaid."

    Why are you guys keeping this on the down low? And why is the only person who dares a comment on the gypsies named "Anonymous"? It's downright weird for outspoken Brits to be so quiet.

  13. Susan,
    The reason this outspoken Brit is so quiet is that my original post had nothing to do with gypsies. I was simply observing that Romania and Bulgaria were more wrecked by communism than Poland. Such wreckage involved a collapse of ethos. It is not racist, merely prudent, to say we should be cautious about the people who arrive from such countries, just as both we - and you - are now very cautious about incoming Algerians. One day it will be different and the Bulgarians will be wise to keep out the Brits.
    The gypsy issue here is definitely not what you think it is. It's nothing to do with racism or despising the other, it is purely legal. In a few cases, local authorities have allowed large and semi-permament gypsy camps to form against all local planning law. Invariably when this is challenged European human rights law is used to trump British common law. Understandably, local people, who have to obey both, are annoyed when one group is allowed to obey neither. This is administrative stupidity that discriminates in favour of gypsies. But, as I said, gypsies had nothing to do with it.

  14. Well....Are those not the nations traditionally associated with gypsies? That's why I thought it. Also, you do mention racism in the original post:

    "After all, we let in hundreds of thousands of Poles when their nation joined. What is unsaid is that we prefer Poles to Hungarians and Romanians. It is not said because people will say it is racist. The truth is, however, some countries are worse than others."

    I guess I'm not sure what you mean by "worse than others." Or lack of "ethos." Sounds sorta racist to me, somehow.

    In the U.S., I don't think we have any strict ban on Algerians, or if we do, it's probably only since 9/11 caused a general worry about Muslim countries. (My time in France showed me hatred of Algerians; in Germany it was hatred of Turks, in England it's....? Used to be Irish). But if you hope to emigrate to the U.S. and you're a Haitian, forget it. Cuban -- you're fine, if you can just get yourself to these shores without being caught by immigration officials first. Mexican? That's a tough one, currently being worked out with a big fence along the Rio Grande.

    It's true that the days of open arms here are over. For better and for worse. If I am truly the only reader of this thread who thought the ban related to Gypsies, then I can only take my cue from Gilda Radner and say "Never mind...." And feel very stupid indeed!

  15. Susan, races and nations are not co-extensive and synonymous. But just to say: 1) I didn't even know Bulgaria had a significant gypsy population 2) Burma is worse than Italy, North Korea is worse than Spain, Congo is worse than the US and 3)Albanians are unusually prone to violence, Russians to drunkeness,the French to insufferable haughtiness and the Japanese to the 'fear of the other'. If such judgments cannot be made without attracting charges of racism, then global politics cannot usefully be discussed at all, indeed cannot even exist since politics is about difference. Sorry to be sensitive about this but public discourse in Britain - and in the US I think - is only just emerging from a stifling fear of the charge of racism. I don't have a racist bone in my body and I don't like people trying to shut me up by claiming I have. Not that you did, but it happens.

  16. I tried to respond before and Blogger wigged on me. Let's hope this goes through.

    Never, ever ever would I want you to shut up, Bryan. Nor do I think you are racist -- not at all! I just like to prod you to see what you'll say, because you are an oppositional thinker; you thrive on dissent.

    I still think there's more to the gypsy thing, but to hell with it in this thread....

    Keep rockin' in the free world, Bryan.

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