Tag Archives: Immigration

A Belarus Backdrop

Tensions are brewing on Poland’s border with Belarus: Lukaschenko is accused of “weaponising migrants”, Russian troops are amassing in the area, and even a group of UK soldiers have been sent to advise a fellow NATO member. 

Belarus knows that people fleeing their home countries want to end up in the European Union. It also knows that it has had a soft border with Poland. Helping people to cross through this border, with discount flights, temporary hotel reservations and guidance, could therefore gain the dictator leverage. It could also go terribly wrong for everyone involved. 

However, when I was reading up about the tensions, including the strip of land where NGOs and journalists are not allowed and all sorts of bad things might be happening, what struck me is that this is the same story of immigration, but played out on a different backdrop.

I have grown up with the media showing images of people, mainly from war-torn, famine-ridden, ecologically-stricken countries crossing the Mediterranean to find a better life. The European Union, until recently including the UK, are safe havens from political persecution and civil unrest. Furthermore, the smuggling industry has mushroomed around the problem because where there is demand, there is supply, and where supply, demand. It is not surprising why people want to do this, and conversely when bombarded with images and dystopian sound bites like ‘the weaponisation of migrants’ I can understand why the host citizens may be intimidated. 

What has struck me, though, about the recent events in the East is the change of scenery. Migrants, as portrayed by the media, come from sandy places, move on the sea, and die on beaches. They are shown with or without life jackets. They are on boats or dinghies, or they are cramped together in refugee camps baking under the hot sun. They are on Moria in crowded makeshift camps, or suffering in Calais’ jungle. There is a certain media aesthetic to the presentation of ‘migrants’ that we have grown accustomed to seeing.

But now they are in Belarus, where the backdrop looks like Birnam Wood. They have flown in on airplanes from airports and are staying in hotels. They are dressed in down jackets or parker coats. They are standing at the border, so close to the Polish guards that the barbed wire sometimes blocks our view of them. And unless something is done, the Belarusian winter can be deathly cold. 

This is one of the most significant mediatic shifts I have seen: this old crisis of immigration has reached new ground. Before the European stronghold was guarded by a sea; now it is the land border that is under threat.

Rest Adrien

Adrien embodied the spirit and aspirations of our readers and this newspaper at their best – cheeky passionate, funny, fearless, engaged, possessed of a lovely conscience and a swaggering style.  (The Sunday Times, Goodnight, cheeky prince – what a silence you leave us, 11th December 2016)

I sit down at my laptop to write about the world in which we live.  For a long, I have seemingly kept a silence on matters cultural and social, political and economic notwithstanding.  And this while living in the city of Paris, a place pregnant with literary activity and consequential transnational vibe.  I have spoken of the intimate loves of Catullus, not the public activity of Cicero.  Until I read about the death of AA Gill from cancer, “the full English”, in the Sunday Times.

Though this could turn into a recounting of his life and work, where he schooled, or how alcoholism nearly killed him at 30, when we read that “We are all today in mourning – for him but also for ourselves, because we know there will never be another quite like him”, we might wonder whether that actually is the case.

By (un)fortunate providence, I am not dyslexic – even though I have just spelt that word incorrectly – and so I must resign myself to the tedious task of hammering out the lines on a contemporary typewriter. Instead of through the pleasure vivae vocis.  (i.e. dictating it to a copyist).

But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.

An (un)fortunate distinction between me and this journalist, is that I prefer to tell the truth through fiction, and he through press releases and reviews.  He also takes the stance of writing to a known public, whereas I do not write for a real public, but for one that might never exist.  Yet, you still read my lines and hear my thoughts on the page, and I respect that.  Maybe, an important lesson to be learned as a writer is to accept that some public somewhere will want to read what you are writing, even if these people are close friends reading on a Facebook stream message or retro blog sites.

It is true that social media websites represent one of the most obvious sources of control in our (un)fortunate world today.  The power that these sites have is silent, but considerable.  How?  To understand this, we must look to the three rules of convincing per the Greeks; for a speech to convince, it must possess ethos, logos, pathos.  Education, the family and the church teach morals, but when I read the newspaper, I see cold liberal news, or the factual side of things; and when I see social media websites, I see pure passion.  And not the kind I want to bring home with me.

“The divers went down to the deep wreck and the boat revealed its last speechless, shocking gasp of despair.  The body of a young African woman with her baby, born to the deep, still joined to her by its umbilical cord.  In labour, she drowned.  Its first breath the great salt tears of the sea.”  (Quoted from The Savile Row suited flaneur who beguiled, engraged and entertained millions of readers, Mark Edmonds).

This could be considered dogmatic approach, but let us not forget that we are constantly being told that the system is collapsing, and so filling in the cracks with a bit of plaster surely is not a wrong thing?

“Quandiu stabit coliseus, stabit et Roma; quando cadit coliseus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus.”

A frequent comparison heard nowadays is that of the fall of Rome, but no one, with a few exceptions bien entendu, has cared to explain what this could mean.  It seems to be a popular liberal expression, perhaps a reminder that members of this ideology hang on to their existence like the string which hangs on to the Damocles’ sword.  But I might go back further in the history of civilisation and take another example of an ancient empire destroyed: arma virumque cano Troiae qui primus ab oris.

If AA Gill wrote with experienced first-hand accounts of what he writes, I write through the lens of my own experience – for better or for worse.