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German or Romanian neighbour – which would you choose?

May 20, 2014
The Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco (1912 - 1994).

The Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco (1912 – 1994)

At some point I have to break my silence and say something about the ongoing debate currently raging in Britain about the Euro elections, The UK Independence Party (UKIP), Euro federalism, and of course …. Romanians.

By Tom Sawford

It may not take the brains of an archbishop to work out where I personally stand with regard to the bloated, unaudited bureaucracy that is the European Union (answers on a postcard please), and the unelected people who run it; people who have been failures in their own national politics.

There is no real place on this blog to discuss politics. It is all about Paddy, his friends and their collective achievements, but the debate in the UK is getting nasty, and frankly quite unhinged, particularly with regard to Romanians. The Bulgarians appear to be keeping their heads down and good for them. Last week UKIP’s Nigel Farage added fuel to the fire. He was apparently reported as saying that British people should be concerned if a “group” of Romanians came to live next door to them. All sorts of unfounded statements are being bandied about, and Rod Liddle, no stranger to controversy, has now jumped in with this Spectator blog piece (fairly tame and probably written just to provoke debate).

Many of us living in the UK would probably be very concerned if a “group” of our fellow Britons moved in next door. It is the concept of “the group” that is the issue; by some definitions it is threatening. Another tribe moving onto or close to our patch. Can we defend ourselves? What might they do? Will they steal our daughters?

These statements address very base instincts and fears within us all, and quite naturally so, as we want to defend our families, our group, and our property. But using such terminology about one particular nationality is deeply offensive and ill judged. I am not sure it is racist as some claim; is it possible to be racist about people from essentially the same ethnic grouping? I don’t know and I digress.

I think Romania – and Romanians – has been singled out because it truly is a far away land of which we know little. I am quite sure without checking the facts that more British have been to Bulgaria to have cheap holidays on Sunny Beach and to lose their shirts on off-plan apartments in the property boom than would know how to find Romania on a map. The current debate stirs up our fears of the unknown and that is why it is so powerful and ultimately disturbing.

Patrick Leigh Fermor was very well travelled, and a man of sophistication and taste. Why did he say that after Greece that it was Romania that he loved most? In his lovely book, Walking the Woods and the Water, Nick Hunt retraces Paddy’s journey and concludes, despite being attacked by sheep dogs, that it was Romania and the Romanian people that he liked most. Add Prince Charles to the list of fans.

Romania has a very long and proud history. Under warrior kings and princes they fought off the Ottomans. They have produced great artists, poets and writers such as Eugene Ionesco, Mihai Eminescu and the composer George Enescu. It has some of the most beautiful countryside in Europe with a wide variety of rare mammals. It remains a relatively poor country (with great resources of land and an educated people); its politics may be tainted by corruption, but its people are friendly, even gentle, and always looking to party. Apart from the criminals who we find everywhere, Romanians pose no threat to us and will make a positive contribution if they move here.

Personally I really like Germany and the Germans. But if I had Romanians living next door I think that the parties would be livelier.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2014 12:32 pm

    Well said.

  2. May 20, 2014 3:24 pm

    Your last sentence is rhetorically neat, Tom, but the Germans are already copping quite a lot of the ‘blame’ from the euro-xenophobes. It’s the British tendency to label all their ‘others’ which is the problem, so don’t encourage them. And watch the Germans party at their ‘public viewing’ during the World Cup in a few weeks.

    • proverbs6to10 permalink*
      May 20, 2014 3:48 pm

      I party with Germans regularly Paul and love it; in Munich just 3 weeks ago. But the Romanians have the best music :-) Maybe one “group” either side of me would be fine!! Our tendency to label everyone is probably pretty natural. I see Romanians do it every day and I am very sure the Germans do so.

      • May 21, 2014 8:21 pm

        OK, let me tell you what my thread is, and then I’ll leave you alone. Populists like UKIP want to generate popular support, by definition, but the populace is not homogenous, so they need external threats to make their heterogeneous target group feel like the good guys. You can see this with Romanians, which is where this posting started. It just so happens that because of my personal life history, I find the throw-away, “I’d even rather have a German than a Romanian” particularly repugnant. And I’m going to protest whenever anyone says it. Basta?

      • proverbs6to10 permalink*
        May 21, 2014 10:04 pm

        Well I still don’t understand Paul. Not sure if I am villain or fool in all this but my purpose was to try to express my feelings of anger at Farage and his ilk and to defend my many Romanian friends with whom I work every day.

        But also, I do defend his right to say what he did, and to others who do similar.

      • May 22, 2014 8:19 am

        There’s nothing to understand, Tom. Germans are routinely used in British discourse as caricature baddies. That’s what is happening here (in Rod Liddles’s article, not your post): Romanians are so bad that I would even prefer a German as a neighbour. It’s not you saying it, and I am not accusing you of anything. I just made a promise to myself that when I come across this I would object. So I did. That’s all.

        Defending your Romanian friends is admirable. I’m defending my German friends (against British discourse, not against Romanians))

    • proverbs6to10 permalink*
      May 20, 2014 8:26 pm

      And Paul, the question is not mine. It is Rod Liddle’s from his blog – see link. I just borrowed it as it was nicely controversial.

      • May 20, 2014 10:23 pm

        I had a look at the link, and while we might find it ‘nicely controversial’, and it was certainly ‘tame’ of itself, it provoked not debate, but the usual outpouring of aggression against ‘them’ (which in this case includes multi-culti lefties like you and I). I am sure that that was the intention of the tame blog.

        Labelling is, of course, natural, and necessary to understanding, and everyone does it. It becomes problematic when negative characteristics are associated with the ‘other’, and the unreflected ‘we’ is implicitly, or sometimes explicitly, the repository of all virtues.

      • proverbs6to10 permalink*
        May 20, 2014 11:06 pm

        Uh Oh! Something has gone wrong Paul if I come over as a ‘multi-culti leftie’ which I am not at all. However, if that means fair then I will go with that.

      • May 21, 2014 9:21 am

        I think something has gone wrong, Tom. If you speak positively of Romanians, you don’t get to choose your own label in the current anti-immigration hysteria. Ron Liddle was kind enough to clarify that when he said a German, he didn’t necessarily mean SS Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich. So that’s all right, then.

      • proverbs6to10 permalink*
        May 21, 2014 10:11 am

        Well Heydrich is dead so it is purely hypothetical for Mr Liddle.

      • May 21, 2014 5:54 pm

        So it is all right, then?

      • proverbs6to10 permalink*
        May 21, 2014 6:17 pm

        I have no idea Paul – I have lost the thread here. What I do know is that Farage was wrong. I can choose whatever label I like as I am me. I am myself. I do not seek labels.

  3. Margaret permalink
    May 20, 2014 3:57 pm

    Thank you. When I tell people that my (intelligent, hard-working, witty and wonderful) husband is Romanian, I am too often aware that they immediately jump to unwarranted and unflattering conclusions. There are huge problems in Romania, and many of its people are choosing to build their lives elsewhere, but Farage’s comments were unacceptable.

  4. JulianA permalink
    May 20, 2014 9:30 pm

    Again, well said Tom.

    There are many people from Britain next to whom I should not care to live – Farrage among them.

    My in-laws have Poles living next door to them and they keep themselves very much to themselves.

    We find that stereotypes are to be taken with a very large pinch of salt – I’m writing this in Sicily and have found none of the guide books’ descriptions of the driving to be close to the truth, for example.

    I think that having Germans next door one side and Romanians the other would make for an extremely interesting time.

    All our travels have shown us that all that most people want is to have their Maslow hierarchy reasonably well sorted and all will be fine. UKIP and their ilk will not contribute to harmony in our country, and I hope that reason will prevail.

    • proverbs6to10 permalink*
      May 20, 2014 11:09 pm

      You are right Julian. They will not contribute to harmony. For Sicilian roads read Romanian roads and drivers. There are nutcases everywhere but I felt quite safe driving my family around Romania in my Dacia.

  5. JulianA permalink
    May 21, 2014 11:59 pm

    You are neither villain nor fool in this, Tom, you were just stating your (perfectly reasonable) position. I didn’t get that part of the thread, either…

    Hard though it is to defend such statements as have been made in the press, democracy demands that we do… Pastor Neimoller springs to mind. All we can do is hope that the reasonable majority will prevail.

    I think that PLF would be sad at the state of debate in Britain at the moment, but I’m sure he witnessed similar things – for example, the post-war government in Britain was not something that some people would wish to return to, from my reading of Nevil Shute and from listening to my (almost 90) father-in-law, and I doubt that PLF liked the Colonels’ Junta in Greece either, publicly apolitical though he was.

    He’d probably be thinking ‘Here we go again’…

    It’s sad that things don’t change very much – some of the current rhetoric doesn’t sound to me very much different from some of the pre WWI propaganda of 100 years ago – just before he was born.

  6. May 29, 2014 5:38 pm

    The more things change, the more, of course, they stay the same. I only know that I would be extremely happy for any number of people with a different culture and a different background to move in next door. If Farage or Cameron or Clegg or their ilk were to move in, I’d be selling up immediately. Great to find your PLF blog via your Byzantine blog.

  7. Christos Paganakis permalink
    June 1, 2014 7:00 pm

    Farage was not speaking about Romanians per se .
    What HE was actually speaking about was Romanian Roma = Balkan/Levantine Gypsies .
    I’d have no problem living next door to Germans or Bulgarians or Romanian Romanians , but I would have a bloody big problem with a clan of Roma moved in next door , and frankly so would most of you .
    A recent documentary on Sky TV showed clearly that very many of these people , on their own admissions , have come to the UK for purely selfish motives and to milk the welfare system here for all they can extract from it .
    This is done in an organised way with Clan ” chiefs ” filling in the claims paperwork , and arranging McJobs so the adults can get national insurance numbers , and promptly start claiming income support payment for children back home , often fictitious , plus anything else that can be obtained from the U K Welfare system .

    Free movement of people is another one of the naive and idealistic measures set down by the creators of the E U , with the horrors of WW2 still wet in their memories .
    Fine in theory , but far from fine when it actually involves mass migrations of whole peoples , like something out of Ceasar’s ” Gallic Wars ” .
    Make no mistake , what we are seeing now is exactly what happened when the Romans quit Britain ; – Not boatloads of horned-helmeted axe-waving savages arriving to rape and pillage , but the steady quiet arrival , day after day , of further boatloads of settlers , steadily flooding in , until a decade down the line you suddenly wake up and find yourself in a foreign country . Over 50% of the population of Greater London are now foreign-born .
    It isn’t England any more .

    This mass importation of immigrants since WW2 was and is supported by the corporate capitalist elite because it provides cheap and biddable servile labour which keeps the indigene workers in-line ; and by the Socialistic Left because these new immigrants are far more likely to vote for them .
    But nobody has asked the English People whether this should happen ; and many people are now very angry and very fearful for the future .
    It is perfectly true that the English are an insular people , probably none on the planet more instinctively Xenophobic than the Japanese ; Pietro de Ubaldino ,( the Florentine historian in London at the time of the Armada ) wrote ” It is easier to find flocks of white crows than an Englishman who loves a foreigner ”
    No change there then , in 400 years .

    It is perfectly true that U K I P numbers in it’s ranks and supporters people who would be very happy in the SturmAbteilung or as one of Mussolini’s Blackshirts , AND outright Racists , Facists , and all sorts of other unpleasant howling Loonies , but this misses the point .
    What people look at is that U K I P are the only party offering a stop to the inflows , and restriction of the outpouring of OUR wealth .
    AND that the three established English Political Parties have shown themselves to be smug , self-serving and awash with corruption , and deserve due punishment via the ballot-box .
    I dont see that recent U K I P success represents a lurch to the right in the attitudes of the English people , anymore than the rise of ” Golden Dawn ” in Greece marked some shift in Greek mores ; both indicate to me an impatience and irritation with the existing establishment .

    As a final note , those of you with access to You-Tube might look at a film on there called ” Gaidjo ” which explores the life of many of the Roma in contemporary rural Romania and shows some of the pressures back home which make the U K appear a promised land .

  8. Christos Paganakis permalink
    June 1, 2014 7:10 pm

    ( sorry ) Film is actually called ” Gadjo Dilo ” , enter that as a search term with the word ” Film ” and it’ll take you to it . Worth an hour and a half of your life to see it !

  9. Edward Ricketts permalink
    June 3, 2014 12:01 pm

    Very good article but, as a big fan of this blog, I’m disappointed to see the recycling of Daily Mail clichés about the EU at the start.

    So my postcard would be: sure, the EU has an unwieldy structure, issues too many regulations and is past its sell-by date in many respects. But every single decision it takes must be approved by national governments – does anyone really think that the UK civil service, whose initiatives affect UK citizens’ lives far more directly than the EU does, is a paragon of transparent, slimmed-down efficiency? To say that the EU is bloated (in terms of actual staff numbers, it’s similar to Reading city council) and unaudited (all aspects of EU expenditure are rigorously audited every year by the European Court of Auditors) is lazy and incorrect.

    The ‘unelected people’ who currently run the European Commission were almost all elected politicians in their home countries before they were appointed to their posts – this is like saying that the UK Foreign Secretary is unelected, because he wasn’t directly elected to his ministerial post. The European Parliament is directly elected, and while a turnout below 50% in last month’s elections is of course not great, the Parliament does have genuinely strong powers to hold the Commission to account and to veto any policy/initiative/legislative proposal which it doesn’t like. The Council of the EU, which must also approve all policy and legislative decisions, is made up representatives from each EU member state.

    Of course the Parliament is now fuller than ever with disagreeable extreme politicians, but to paint all MEPs as ‘failures in their own national politics’ is wide of the mark too. Many MEPs (i.e. Huhne, Clegg) go on to high positions in their own countries after being an MEP, while a fair number who don’t receive any press attention are diligent and respected experts within the EP Committees they sit on (i.e. Malcolm Harbour). And surely the blame for the often lower quality of MEPs should lie with national political parties in not providing better incentives for their best candidates to seek a post in the EP?

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