Category Archives: culture

Balkan Killers and British Paedophiles?

Can we allow ourselves to see the man behind the stereotypes?

Can we allow ourselves to see the man behind the stereotypes?

It has been a long gap since my last blog post – which has more to do with relevance than lack of commitment. I have decided only to write when I feel there is something important to say. And today, I’d like to get something off my chest which has been bothering me for a few days….

Last Sunday, in his review of Tim Butcher’s fascinating new book – ‘The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin who Brought the World to War‘, John Lewis-Stempel (author of The War Behind the Wire: The Life, Death and Glory of British PoWs 1914-18) summed up this in depth and sympathetic account of Gavrilo Princip’s life, politics and motivations thus:

”Ultimately, Princip was just one killer among many Balkan killers. Butcher’s first travel book, about the Congo, was called Blood River. He could easily have called this one Blood Land.”

Like many uninformed and lazy observers of the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s, Lewis-Stempel obviously feels that a little research into the politics and history of the region would be too much trouble, given his obviously low opinion of that part of Europe. In a wonderful piece of imperialist condescension, he classifies the conflicts of that time as ”that decade when Bosnia descended into a whirligig of violence inexplicable to the outsider and maybe not much better understood by the participants.”

Belittling what happened in Bosnia as ‘inexplicable’ and thereby inferring that the people and the place are inherently violent and that blood-thirsty conflict is therefore likely to explode anytime without sufficient reason was a line that many politicians took in the 90s in order to justify their lack of military intervention and inability to take a stand against fascist aggression and thereby stop humanitarian disasters like the Srebrenica Massacre (see veteran war reporter Ed Vulliamy‘s many articles on this phenomena). This attitude no-doubt instills in them a self-satisfied sense of the unavoidable tragedy, which comes ‘guilt-free’ to all those who subscribe to it.

But apart from the ignorance and arrogance intrinsic to such attitudes, there is the even nastier withholding of sympathy and empathy towards the thousands of victims killed in these conflicts. Is there no glory allowed the soldiers of this conflict, of the kind which is obviously endowed to the soldiers on ‘our’ side in Mr. Lewis-Stempel’s above-mentioned book?

Last but not least, I would like to ask Mr. Lewis-Stempel – and any others who agree with his analysis – if by the same token, and in light of the recent uncovering of decades of perversion and criminal activity in such great ‘British’ institutions as the BBC and the Public school – can we assume that men such as Jimmy Savile are simply part of a nation-wide, cultural predisposition towards child abuse? Can he therefore be summed-up (and therefore dismissed) as simply ‘just one paedophile among many British paedophiles’?

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Filed under Balkan Literature, Balkans, Contemporary European literature, culture, europe, UK publishing

The Romanians Are Coming!

In response to the small-minded, xenophobic scare-mongering of some politicians and quite a few journalists – all of whom should know better – I am starting a Twitter campaign called #TheRomaniansAreComing. I’d like everyone who does know better to join in and start spreading the word about the contributions people of all nations –  from the East as well as the West – make to our joint cultural heritage; from literature, art, drama, music, poetry to cuisine and science.

Romanian FlagAfter a week in which the UK was branded the ‘nasty country’, it’s time to start reminding people on this island that nations are more than a sum of their population; they are the ideas and creativity that they produce and offer out into the wider world for the enrichment of our common humanity. Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia…these are all new/newish members of the EU but they do not come into the club as beggars with nothing more to show than an open hand (for begging of course) and a foreign tongue. These countries all have histories and cultural traditions, have spent time and money educating their population through primary education, music education, sports education, and specialised training schemes. As a consequence, they offer a whole range of skills, experience and knowledge.

Yesterday I spoke about this phenomena to George Stanica, a Romanian writer and translator who has been living in London for more than twenty years and supplements his income working as an interpreter in the law courts and police stations. When I asked him if he expected as huge influx of Romanians after the restrictions have been lifted at the end of the year, he gave a completely different perspective. Rather than an influx of manual labourers, he thought it far more likely that Britain would attract graduates and skilled workers like doctors and nurses, whose wages are pitiably low in their home country and are likely to be attracted by better conditions. This is of course, can only be of benefit to us, while is a sad loss for the people of Romania – those very same people who we are accusing of wanting to drain us of our resources.

Over the next few weeks – as we lead up to the 31Dec deadline on the end to the ban on certain people from the Eastern EU – I will be highlighting the Romanians who have contributed to European culture over the decades. In this way, I hope to counterbalance the negative stereotypes that the press think normal people want to hear about. Please join in with your own positive examples. Myself, I prefer to see the world through exceptions rather than stereotypes: it’s a much brighter place, full of interesting individuals….

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Filed under Balkans, culture, europe, immigrants, romania