Sunshine Recorder

Link: Fourth Reich Calling

One of the important tasks of the on-going project of Never Again for Anyone, including our own to take place in Berlin during the Holocaust’s 70th anniversary, is to highlight the danger of a resurgence of violent far-right activity in Europe. As a German resident, I think the most notable example in recent times is undoubtedly the case of the National Socialist Underground (NSU). NSU is a terror cell that has killed ten people, including a police officer, and has also spearheaded bomb attacks and other criminal activity over the past twelve years.

NSU was composed of three core members: Uwe Mundlos, Uwe Böhnhardt and Beate Zschäpe. They were acquainted through the neo-Nazi scene in the town of Jena in the 1990s. NSU also had a network of helpers that has been variously estimated as having between ten and two hundred people. Some observers say that this may have included members of German police and intelligence services. This lacks proof, but it is undeniable that investigative bodies have seemed to make nothing but mistakes since NSU came to light.

NSU remained active throughout the 2000s, until November 2011 when, following their increasingly hopeless attempts to flee from a bank robbery they had just committed in Eisenach, Mundlos and Böhnhardt were found dead. Mundlos had shot Böhnhardt and then himself. Zschäpe responded by blowing up the house she had shared with them, and was arrested four days later by police after a short run. Her trial is currently on-going in Munich.

There are lots of questions here. Probably the most important is how they managed to escape the police for so long, or indeed any serious investigation. Why, for instance, did investigators choose to rule out the possibility for any racial motivation in the nine deaths committed by NSU? Why did they focus on Eastern and South-Eastern European “criminal gangs” instead? Why did it take them so long to even identify the three people behind it all?

Despite the fact that Mundlos, Böhnhardt and Zschäpe had been on the run with an arrest warrant hanging over their heads since 1998, relating to large amounts of explosives and bomb-making material found in a Jena garage, and there were suggestions of a racist motive from individual officers and victims’ families, every attempt to push this line of investigation was thwarted. The threat of far-right violence was played down by the central investigators. The Parliamentary Committee for Enquiry recently concluded that intelligence services had been, “professionally speaking, blind in their right eye.”

The Committee, in their 1400-page report, further outlined some of the massive mistakes and deficiencies relating to the investigation of the NSU, or lack thereof. Although the report itself stopped short of ascribing specifically racist motives to the investigating officers, many of the political factions involved begged to differ. Representatives of the Social Democrat PartyThe Left Party and the Greens variously attributed failures in the investigation to “structurally racist preconceptions,” “investigations carried out with presuppositions, attributions and stereotypes not to be attributed to racism of individual investigators, but rather forms of a structural, institutional racism,” and false or non-investigations “closely bound to racist presuppositions.”

Add to this as yet unexplained details such as the “accidental” shredding of hundreds of pages of documents related to the NSU, seemingly just a few days after the group and their activities became public knowledge, and the mystery surrounding why an intelligence official known locally as “Little Adolf” logged out and left a Kassel internet cafe at almost exactly the same time as the young man working behind the counter was shot dead, and it is easy to see why rumours of official involvement in the group’s activities refuse to go away.

What seems clear is that any analysis of the NSU cannot explain it away as the actions of a few rogue extremists. Rather, it must be seen as a representative of a deeper vein of racism, xenophobia, and far-right policies in German culture and society. The old saying “this is by no means a German problem” applies here, but there is a reason that the far-right has made strong gains in Germany’s eastern “new states.” It is tied to structural factors. Unfortunately, though, neo-Nazis are so strong in the East that many West Germans have begun attacking neo-Nazism as an Eastern problem that came with unification, rather than a social and economic issue.

In that vein, there is a clear atmospheric link between the NSU and the National Democratic Party. One acts violently on what the other instills more subtly, which broadly, can be said of much of conservative politics, even if it intends otherwise. These forms of irrational politics all operate on energy, in the end, and the NPD has not helped matters with its populist policy-making and determination to be a flag-bearer of the far-right.

One of the main differences between far-right supporters in East and West lies in their age and social class. In the West, they tend to be older, more middle class, guided by chauvinism, nationalism and anti-semitism, and in the East it is dominated by young, working class men disaffected by what they see as the broken promises of a system that was supposed to bring guaranteed prosperity. They lash out because they have witnessed the destruction of East Germany’s social and economic structures and dominantly have a perception that they are second class citizens within their own land.

In the small towns of the East, there is little hope of employment, social security or entry into West-dominated social elites, creating a feeling of “relative deprivation” that provides the ideal breeding ground for radicalisation. The movement’s youthful face in the East makes it obvious why that movement is more likely to embrace violence. The protagonists of the NSU are currently the best known exemplars of this tendency, but are by no means the only ones.

The actions of the NSU, then, are the natural conclusion to several different trends within German society. They cannot be classified as “terrorists” and “extremists” before being hidden from view. German politicians, culture, and society should use the NSU as an opportunity to look in the mirror and wonder why racism is such a huge part of the German social fabric. Will they scoff at the idea, or become determined to collapse the hierarchy between white Germans and minorities?

How Germans react to NSU will shape much of future race relations in the country. In the spirit of this, Never Again for Anyone must be articulated as a rallying call, otherwise, it will become a lonely cry in the dark.

Link: Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine

The students were the first to protest against the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych on the Maidan, the central square in Kiev, last November. These were the Ukrainians with the most to lose, the young people who unreflectively thought of themselves as Europeans and who wished for themselves a life, and a Ukrainian homeland, that were European. Many of them were politically on the left, some of them radically so. After years of negotiation and months of promises, their government, under President Yanukovych, had at the last moment failed to sign a major trade agreement with the European Union.

When the riot police came and beat the students in late November, a new group, the Afghan veterans, came to the Maidan. These men of middle age, former soldiers and officers of the Red Army, many of them bearing the scars of battlefield wounds, came to protect “their children,” as they put it. They didn’t mean their own sons and daughters: they meant the best of the youth, the pride and future of the country. After the Afghan veterans came many others, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, now not so much in favor of Europe but in defense of decency.

What does it mean to come to the Maidan? The square is located close to some of the major buildings of government, and is now a traditional site of protest. Interestingly, the word maidan exists in Ukrainian but not in Russian, but even people speaking Russian use it because of its special implications. In origin it is just the Arabic word for “square,” a public place. But a maidan now means in Ukrainian what the Greek wordagora means in English: not just a marketplace where people happen to meet, but a place where they deliberately meet, precisely in order to deliberate, to speak, and to create a political society. During the protests the word maidan has come to mean the act of public politics itself, so that for example people who use their cars to organize public actions and protect other protestors are called the automaidan.

On January 16, the Ukrainian government, headed by President Yanukovych, tried to put an end to Ukrainian civil society. A series of laws passed hastily and without following normal procedure did away with freedom of speech and assembly, and removed the few remaining checks on executive authority. This was intended to turn Ukraine into a dictatorship and to make all participants in the Maidan, by then probably numbering in the low millions, into criminals. The result was that the protests, until then entirely peaceful, became violent. Yanukovych lost support, even in his political base in the southeast, near the Russian border.

After weeks of responding peacefully to arrests and beatings by the riot police, many Ukrainians had had enough. A fraction of the protesters, some but by no means all representatives of the political right and far right, decided to take the fight to the police. Among them were members of the far-right party Svoboda and a new conglomeration of nationalists who call themselves the Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor). Young men, some of them from right-wing groups and others not, tried to take by force the public spaces claimed by the riot police. Young Jewish men formed their own combat group, orsotnia, to take the fight to the authorities.

Although Yanukovych rescinded most of the dictatorship laws, lawless violence by the regime, which started in November, continued into February. Members of the opposition were shot and killed, or hosed down in freezing temperatures to die of hypothermia. Others were tortured and left in the woods to die.

During the first two weeks of February, the Yanukovych regime sought to restore some of the dictatorship laws through decrees, bureaucratic shortcuts, and new legislation. On February 18, an announced parliamentary debate on constitutional reform was abruptly canceled. Instead, the government sent thousands of riot police against the protesters of Kiev. Hundreds of people were wounded by rubber bullets, tear gas, and truncheons. Dozens were killed.

The future of this protest movement will be decided by Ukrainians. And yet it began with the hope that Ukraine could one day join the European Union, an aspiration that for many Ukrainians means something like the rule of law, the absence of fear, the end of corruption, the social welfare state, and free markets without intimidation from syndicates controlled by the president.

The course of the protest has very much been influenced by the presence of a rival project, based in Moscow, called the Eurasian Union. This is an international commercial and political union that does not yet exist but that is to come into being in January 2015. The Eurasian Union, unlike the European Union, is not based on the principles of the equality and democracy of member states, the rule of law, or human rights.

On the contrary, it is a hierarchical organization, which by its nature seems unlikely to admit any members that are democracies with the rule of law and human rights. Any democracy within the Eurasian Union would pose a threat to Putin’s rule in Russia. Putin wants Ukraine in his Eurasian Union, which means that Ukraine must be authoritarian, which means that the Maidan must be crushed.

The dictatorship laws of January 16 were obviously based on Russian models, and were proposed by Ukrainian legislators with close ties to Moscow. They seem to have been Russia’s condition for financial support of the Yanukovych regime. Before they were announced, Putin offered Ukraine a large loan and promised reductions in the price of Russian natural gas. But in January the result was not a capitulation to Russia. The people of the Maidan defended themselves, and the protests continue. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess; only the Kremlin expresses certainty about what it all means.

The protests in the Maidan, we are told again and again by Russian propaganda and by the Kremlin’s friends in Ukraine, mean the return of National Socialism to Europe. The Russian foreign minister, in Munich, lectured the Germans about their support of people who salute Hitler. The Russian media continually make the claim that the Ukrainians who protest are Nazis. Naturally, it is important to be attentive to the far right in Ukrainian politics and history. It is still a serious presence today, although less important than the far right in France, Austria, or the Netherlands. Yet it is the Ukrainian regime rather than its opponents that resorts to anti-Semitism, instructing its riot police that the opposition is led by Jews. In other words, the Ukrainian government is telling itself that its opponents are Jews and us that its opponents are Nazis.

The strange thing about the claim from Moscow is the political ideology of those who make it. The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy.

The Eurasian ideology draws an entirely different lesson from the twentieth century. Founded around 2001 by the Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, it proposes the realization of National Bolshevism. Rather than rejecting totalitarian ideologies, Eurasianism calls upon politicians of the twenty-first century to draw what is useful from both fascism and Stalinism. Dugin’s major work, The Foundations of Geopolitics, published in 1997, follows closely the ideas of Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi political theorist. Eurasianism is not only the ideological source of the Eurasian Union, it is also the creed of a number of people in the Putin administration, and the moving force of a rather active far-right Russian youth movement. For years Dugin has openly supported the division and colonization of Ukraine.

The point man for Eurasian and Ukrainian policy in the Kremlin is Sergei Glazyev, an economist who like Dugin tends to combine radical nationalism with nostalgia for Bolshevism. He was a member of the Communist Party and a Communist deputy in the Russian parliament before cofounding a far-right party called Rodina, or Motherland. In 2005 some of its deputies signed a petition to the Russian prosecutor general asking that all Jewish organizations be banned from Russia.

Later that year Motherland was banned from taking part in further elections after complaints that its advertisements incited racial hatred. The most notorious showed dark-skinned people eating watermelon and throwing the rinds to the ground, then called for Russians to clean up their cities. Glazyev’s book Genocide: Russia and the New World Order claims that the sinister forces of the “new world order” conspired against Russia in the 1990s to bring about economic policies that amounted to “genocide.” This book was published in English by Lyndon LaRouche’s magazineExecutive Intelligence Review with a preface by LaRouche. Today Executive Intelligence Review echoes Kremlin propaganda, spreading the word in English that Ukrainian protesters have carried out a Nazi coup and started a civil war.

The populist media campaign for the Eurasian Union is now in the hands of Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of the most important talk show in Russia, and since December also the director of the state-run Russian media conglomerate designed to form national public opinion. Best known for saying that gays who die in car accidents should have their hearts cut from their bodies and incinerated, Kiselyov has taken Putin’s campaign against gay rights and transformed it into a weapon against European integration. Thus when the then German foreign minister, who is gay, visited Kiev in December and met with Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight champion and opposition politician, Kiselyov dismissed Klitschko as a gay icon. According to the Russian foreign minister, the exploitation of sexual politics is now to be an open weapon in the struggle against the “decadence” of the European Union.

Following the same strategy, Yanukovych’s government claimed, entirely falsely, that the price of closer relations with the European Union was the recognition of gay marriage in Ukraine. Kiselyov is quite open about the Russian media strategy toward the Maidan: to “apply the correct political technology,” then “bring it to the point of overheating” and bring to bear “the magnifying glass of TV and the Internet.”

Why exactly do people with such views think they can call other people fascists? And why does anyone on the Western left take them seriously? One line of reasoning seems to run like this: the Russians won World War II, and therefore can be trusted to spot Nazis. Much is wrong with this. World War II on the eastern front was fought chiefly in what was then Soviet Ukraine and Soviet Belarus, not in Soviet Russia. Five percent of Russia was occupied by the Germans; all of Ukraine was occupied by the Germans. Apart from the Jews, whose suffering was by far the worst, the main victims of Nazi policies were not Russians but Ukrainians and Belarusians. There was no Russian army fighting in World War II, but rather a Soviet Red Army. Its soldiers were disproportionately Ukrainian, since it took so many losses in Ukraine and recruited from the local population. The army group that liberated Auschwitz was called the First Ukrainian Front.

The other source of purported Eurasian moral legitimacy seems to be this: since the representatives of the Putin regime only very selectively distanced themselves from Stalinism, they are therefore reliable inheritors of Soviet history, and should be seen as the automatic opposite of Nazis, and therefore to be trusted to oppose the far right.

Again, much is wrong about this. World War II began with an alliance between Hitler and Stalin in 1939. It ended with the Soviet Union expelling surviving Jews across its own border into Poland. After the founding of the State of Israel, Stalin began associating Soviet Jews with a world capitalist conspiracy, and undertook a campaign of arrests, deportations, and murders of leading Jewish writers. When he died in 1953 he was preparing a larger campaign against Jews.

After Stalin’s death communism took on a more and more ethnic coloration, with people who wished to revive its glories claiming that its problem was that it had been spoiled by Jews. The ethnic purification of the communist legacy is precisely the logic of National Bolshevism, which is the foundational ideology of Eurasianism today. Putin himself is an admirer of the philosopher Ivan Ilin, who wanted Russia to be a nationalist dictatorship.

What does it mean when the wolf cries wolf? Most obviously, propagandists in Moscow and Kiev take us for fools—which by many indications is quite justified.

More subtly, what this campaign does is attempt to reduce the social tensions in a complex country to a battle of symbols about the past. Ukraine is not a theater for the historical propaganda of others or a puzzle from which pieces can be removed. It is a major European country whose citizens have important cultural and economic ties with both the European Union and Russia. To set its own course, Ukraine needs normal public debate, the restoration of parliamentary democracy, and workable relations with all of its neighbors. Ukraine is full of sophisticated and ambitious people. If people in the West become caught up in the question of whether they are largely Nazis or not, then they may miss the central issues in the present crisis.

In fact, Ukrainians are in a struggle against both the concentration of wealth and the concentration of armed force in the hands of Viktor Yanukovych and his close allies. The protesters might be seen as setting an example of courage for Americans of both the left and the right. Ukrainians make real sacrifices for the hope of joining the European Union. Might there be something to be learned from that among Euroskeptics in London or elsewhere? This is a dialogue that is not taking place.

The history of the Holocaust is part of our own public discourse, our agora, or maidan. The current Russian attempt to manipulate the memory of the Holocaust is so blatant and cynical that those who are so foolish to fall for it will one day have to ask themselves just how, and in the service of what, they have been taken in. If fascists take over the mantle of antifascism, the memory of the Holocaust will itself be altered. It will be more difficult in the future to refer to the Holocaust in the service of any good cause, be it the particular one of Jewish history or the general one of human rights.

Link: Why the Swedes Move to Norway And Why I Tagged Along

I moved to Sweden two years ago to go to graduate school. I graduated this past June, and by late July, I’d failed to find a job in either Sweden or the U.S. (I’d acquired Swedish citizenship through my mother, a Swedish immigrant to the U.S.) My girlfriend was working at a bakery on the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway, where she has spent her last two summers with about fifteen of her friends, all Swedish students. By working two-and-a-half months in Lofoten, they could avoid working during the school year and, more importantly, avoid taking student loans.

She offered to find me a cleaning job, telling me if I worked in Norway, I’d become “rich like a troll.” I’d always thought it was the dwarfs and goblins that were rich, but I wasn’t about to quibble. Facing the reality of undergraduate student loans and the nigh-on uselessness of an M.A. in the humanities, I ate my pride, packed my bags, and endured the 30-hour train ride up to Lofoten.

During my month in Lofoten, I cleaned suites at a luxury hotel, a rather garish place whose shag carpet rugs, glass-walled bathrooms, and semi-nude portraits of a former employee gave the rooms a vaguely porn-set feel. The exterior approximated the appearance—and the interior the heat—of a giant greenhouse. I wore a smock, carried toilet-bowl cleaner at all times, and became really good at making beds. Some evenings, I walked across town to work at the shabbier of its two sister hotels, the local Best Western, which the Scandinavians pronounced “Best Veas-tern” in their singsong accents while correcting my American pronunciation. It advertised itself as “an art hotel,” a designation it had conferred upon itself by decorating the halls with napkin-quality Munch prints. I waited on busloads of tourists from Germany, Switzerland, and Norway, serving them whale stew and over-priced fish casserole. (Despite the enormous local fishing industry, the hotel used frozen fish from China.) For my services, I made the equivalent of $25 an hour. After 9 p.m., $27. On Sundays, almost $29.

•••

As an American, it is bizarre to think of modern Sweden, so often lauded as a paragon of social and economic stability, as coughing up migrant workers. Stranger still is that the Swedes migrate to Norway, which has always been regarded as Sweden’s little brother. Often at war, Sweden forced Norway into an uneven union for most of the 19th century. Though politically independent of Sweden for over one hundred years, Norway has remained culturally subordinate to its larger, more-established neighbor. Norwegians watch Swedish television, listen to Swedish music, and read Swedish books. Before the Norwegian translation of Stieg Larsson’sThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was released, the original Swedish version was the best-selling book in Norway. But in the last 25 years, Norway has added workers to the list of things it imports from Sweden.

In the eighties, Norway became rich off of oil. Its sovereign wealth fund is currently valued at about 600 billion dollars. From 1999-2009, average Norwegian family saw an increase of almost 100,000 NOK, or about $17,000. With its population of only five million, Norway needed to import laborers and service workers for its exploding economy. I once hitched a ride from a retired sailor, and after running out of ways to compliment his RV, I asked him how Norway had changed over the years. He thought Norway had it too good now. As a young man, he’d been at sea for over a year at a time, whereas “the young people today don’t want to work at all. It’s good that we have the Swedes.”

•••

Current estimates of the number of Swedes living and working in Norway hover between 80,000 and 100,000. In Oslo alone, it’s thought that there are 50,000 Swedes, which is about 10 percentof the city’s population. Most of these are service workers. Indeed, the Swede-as-service worker has become something of a stereotype in Norway. The 2010 rap hit “Partysvenske” is an extended mockery of male Swedish migrant workers, who are portrayed as effete drunks who invade Oslo’s nightlife. At one point, the rappers—Jaa9 & Onklp—chide, “Make a mojito, do what you do well.” The condescension towards Swedish migrant workers was prevalent enough for Norwegian television to produce a mocumentary series titled Swedes Are People. There’s a weird power dynamic at play, with both groups exhibiting a sort of passive aggressive bitterness towards the other. For their part, Norwegians seem eager to buck Swedish cultural influence and assert their economic dominance. Speaking to the New York Times in 2007, a professor of social anthropology at the University of Oslo put it rather well:

“When I was young, Swedes had whiter teeth, clearer skin, Abba, and Bjorn Borg. We had lots of fish, and not much more. Today, Swedes have been cut down to size. And I would say that many Norwegians enjoy the fact that so many Swedes are here doing menial jobs.”

When the Norwegian cross-country skier Petter Northug beat his Swedish rival across the line at the 2011 World Championships, he used opportunity to taunt Sweden about the low value of the Swedish currency. The Swedish media, on the other hand, laments the fact that Swedes are reduced to literally peeling bananas in Norway—albeit for about $23 an hour.

•••

Over the past ten years, Norway has taken in more foreign labor than any other European country. While Norway takes in plenty of laborers from Eastern Europe, Swedes are easier to employ because of the similarities in language and culture. The near-interchangeability of Swedish and Norwegian makes Swedes an attractive option for jobs at cafes and bars. I’m told that many Norwegian employers actually prefer to hire Swedes to Norwegians, saying Swedes have a stronger work ethic and commitment to customer-service. (If that’s true, it says more about Norwegians than Swedes; I spent the better part of my time in Sweden feeling as though I was inconveniencing bartenders and servers.) Further, because of an arrangement between the Nordic countries, Swedes don’t need a work permit or visa to stay in Norway.

If there are incentives for Norwegians to hire Swedes, the incentives are even greater for the Swedes. Norway has higher wages, shorter workweeks, and Swedes are granted a tax break for their first two years. The Norwegian krone is also worth more than the Swedish krona. As I write this, the exchange rate is 1 Norwegian krone to 1.16 Swedish krona. Earlier this year it was about 1.2, and in 2009 it was at 1.3. Swedes can go to Norway for a few months, or even a few years, live cheaply, and return to Sweden like Vikings returning from a season of pillaging. Indeed, it’s been estimated that 90% of Swedes return to their homeland within five years.

•••

The stereotype of Swedes in Norway is that they live in dirty “collectives,” packing as many people into a house as possible. We did little to mitigate this stereotype. While some of our friends lived in the hotel where they worked, we lived in shabby two-story summer rental, nine of us in total, though when we hosted friends from Sweden, there were as many as 15 in the house. In Lofoten, the service work is connected to tourism. Swedes are in demand as seasonal workers for the summer. We worked as cleaners, hotel reception clerks, baristas, and cooks. One housemate—the German boyfriend of one of the Swedes—worked as a tour-guide for a cruise-ship company. Elsewhere in Norway, Swedes find summer work filling in for vacationing Norwegians. A Swedish medical student I know worked as a sort of CNA at a dementia ward. The work could be difficult, but he often worked nights, where he sat at the nursing station reading books and watching movies while being paid overtime rates of almost 300NOK ($52) an hour.

Every morning, I biked the 30 minutes to work, the mountains pressing on me from the left, the sea from the right. Sometimes I’d work alone, but generally I’d be working with one of my housemates. After stopping by the front desk to pick up a list of rooms to be cleaned, we went down to the basement to don our grey smocks and name tags. (Martin, my housemate, had made himself one which read “Bruce Wayne,” which prompted one earnest Norwegian to ask if he was American.) We restocked one cart with cleaning supplies and then used a chef’s knife—which we stored sheathed in a copy of The Invention of Murder that a guest had left behind—to cut open bags of sheets and towels, which we then piled high on our other cart. Then we started cleaning the vacated rooms in a frenzy to get them ready by the 3 p.m. check-in time.

The suites that had been vacated were often marked by a vague loneliness, that kind that settles like dust in a house the morning after a grand party. The empty bottle of wine and two glasses sitting on the table, the remains of the shrimp bought from the boat docked outside the hotel, a coffee press still warm from breakfast—each room was like a still life waiting to be painted or a crime scene waiting to be investigated. Sometimes the rooms were unused, which meant the guest(s) was totally decadent or had gone home with someone else. Both options were foreign to the Midwestern Evangelical sensibilities I inherited from my childhood, though I was always happy for one less room to clean. More often, though, the rooms were scattered with the debris of Too Much Fun. In hotels, people become like adolescents, both in their brazen self-absorption and excess and in their assurance—in this case, warranted—that someone else would clean up after them. One guest filled a bathtub full of seaweed, which my colleague then had to clean up. Another guest had the decency, before checking out, to warn the same colleague that he’d somehow cut himself; the sheets, and the towels were all splattered in blood. The tourist’s mantra of “I’m on vacation,” combined with some alcohol, does away with most inhibitions; “I paid for it” excuses a plethora of sins. And paid they had. To rent a room at this hotel would cost 1500 NOK ($260). The problem was, you might end up sharing common area and kitchenette with people you didn’t know. To rent out the whole suite was 2500 NOK ($430). Probably 70% of the guests were Norwegians. The rest were wealthy tourists from The Continent and the occasional Americans.

•••

A vacated room was supposed to take no more than 20 minutes for a single housekeeper. A whole suite, about an hour. The bathtub filled with seaweed took an hour to clean. Smock-pockets filled with cleaning spray and rags, we descended upon the rooms, dusting, wiping, changing sheets, and folding fresh towels like origami. If there were dirty dishes, we did those. The cleaning spray dried out our sinuses and gave us bloody noses. In the bathrooms, there was always a steady supply of hair in bathtubs and the sporadic used condom. When it came time to fold the loose end of the toilet paper into a triangle—apparently nothing says luxury like having someone attend to the aesthetics of your ass-wiping experience—I had to remind myself I was making $25 an hour.

If the whole suite had been vacated, we would brew some coffee and drink it on the suite’s balcony, a view of the mountains and sea so sublime that we forgot we were wearing sweaty smocks stuffed with cleaning spray. More than the money, these views—and the ability to go hiking, swimming, and fishing after work—are what made the work bearable for my housemates and me.

After cleaning the vacated rooms, we moved on to the rooms that still had guests. Sometimes, the guests were present when we cleaned. Even if they were kind—I once received about a $10 tip for fixing a curtain—there was something demeaning about this. If they were rude, it became almost too much to handle. After some angry Norwegians complained about one of my colleagues cleaning—”We paid too much for this to not be cleaned perfectly!”—I had to re-clean their suite then, just to make sure they were appeased, wash their dishes while they sat on their balcony smoking, pretending I did not exist. On their dining table, there was a book on how to find peace by communicating with your pets. In moments like these, it wasn’t comforting to think of the money I was making. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t confined to a lifetime of service work.

•••

While my Swedish housemates constantly complained about the inefficiency of Norwegian society and how backwards the culture was, I found most Norwegians to be delightful people who were laid-back, even bubbly, in comparison to Swedes. My favorite of them was the cook I worked with at the Best Western, a delightful local woman of Valkyrian stature who had cooked there for over 20 years. When Ellen wasn’t foisting food on me, she was asking me about the poverty and inequality in America or making fun of Sweden. When she found out I wasn’t actually a Swede but an American, she asked why I’d learned Swedish instead of Norwegian. She often served Jell-O for dessert—Norwegians apparently love Jell-O—and couldn’t get over the fact that most Swedes hate the stuff. “What’s wrong with these fools?” she asked me. “Do you Americans like Jell-O?”

“College kids do,” I said, and proceeded to explain the concept of Jell-O shots as Ellen’s eyes grew wide with excitement. She decided she would make Jell-O shots for the personnel party for the three sister hotels, an end of the summer thank-you from the hotel’s husband and wife ownership team.

Which is how I found myself holding a watermelon filled with green rum-infused Jell-O in front of a shuttle-bus full of color-coordinated Scandinavians, the Swedes painting their faces the color of their teams and the Norwegians singing the early-nineties Norwegian hit, “I’m not sick, just Swedish.” When we arrived at the hotel owners’ cottage, a beautiful little summer home on the sea, we were met by the owners dressed as judges, draped in black sheets and wearing black beanies pinning down dust mop heads, makeshift judicial wigs. (The husband’s beanie was emblazoned with a bikini-clad woman holding a chainsaw and the text “Swedish Psycho.”)

Scandinavians, awkward and bureaucratic people, love organized fun. Parties have themes, and usually there are games or trivia. Even the drinking is orderly: overdone speeches followed by toasts and later, drinking songs with shots of schnapps. For the personnel party, we had been organized into four competing teams (red, blue, green, yellow) and each team given some money to prepare a course (appetizer, fish, meat, dessert). The husband-owner raised his glass in a toast to the employees for their help, then raised it again to acknowledge the help of the Swedes and to toast their country. Out of the 20-or-so employees, there were only five Norwegians.

I’ll spare you the details of the dinner except to say the Swedes groaned at the sight of the Jell-O, but never ones to turn down free alcohol, ate it anyway. The judges gave it terrible scores. But it didn’t matter. When the judges announced the winner, I was in the outhouse and emerged to find one of my teammates holding out a gold-foiled chocolate medallion.

Returning to the cabin, I looked around at the drunken Swedes and Norwegians, arms around each other, singing each country’s drinking songs; they had become indistinguishable, blurring into one Nordic mass.

Bewildered by the Scandinavian solidarity and unaccustomed to drinking in front of employers, I walked down to the beach to sit by the sea. The number of tourists was dwindling, and in the coming days the people in our group would begin to migrate back to Sweden. It was 11:30, and the dusk would soon be replaced by darkness, a change which my girlfriend would herald as the return of the stars, the signal that it was time to return to Sweden. As I stared out at the sea, my medallion still dangling from my neck, I heard a retching off to my right. My co-worker Martin—”Bruce Wayne”—was puking.

Link: People of Color in European Art History

The focus of this blog is to showcase works of art from European history that feature People of Color. All too often, these works go unseen in museums, Art History classes, online galleries, and other venues because of retroactive whitewashing of Medieval Europe, Scandinavia, and Asia.

Although the focus is toward art dating from the fall of the Roman Empire until about 1650, it will also include Baroque and Early Modern pieces, as well as works from places other than Europe, Scandinavia and Asia. Ancient Greek, Egyptian and Celtic works featuring People of Color are also fair game.

My purpose in creating this blog is to address common misconceptions that People of Color did not exist in Europe before the Enlightenment, and to emphasize the cognitive dissonance in the way this is reflected in media produced today.

The ubiquity in modern media to display a fictitiously all-white Europe is often thoughtlessly and inaccurately justified by claims of “historical accuracy”; this blog is here to emphasize the modern racism that retroactively erases gigantic swaths of truth and beauty.

A tertiary effect of showcasing these works is to provide a vehicle for correcting assumptions that works of fantasy based in “re-imagined” worlds of Medieval or Renaissance Europe that omit the contributions and presence of People of Color are made with 
"historical accuracy" in mind. In fact, the opposite is often the case.

franzderkaiser:

Ruins of the Frauenkirche, Dresden, East Germany, 1973.

franzderkaiser:

Ruins of the Frauenkirche, Dresden, East Germany, 1973.

(Source: linklayer, via infinite-iterations)

Link: If Elections Could Change Things, They'd Be Illegal

The Greek elite have new scapegoats - society’s wretched and defenceless: immigrants, prostitutes and the poor.

Were one to write a pre-election analysis in the glorious days of Greece’s ancien regime, one would most probably have to present and analyse the political positions of the main competing parties. Yet, this is one of the most outdated things one might want to do if one intends to say anything useful about Greece today. In fact, no-one expects to learn anything new from the traditionally televised debates among politicians (no doubt that this disillusionment should be regarded as one positive outcome of the “crisis”). Alas, there are still many hopes regarding the outcome of the elections.

The old anarchist slogan that inspired this article’s title has gained urgent actuality in Greece. Spray-painted with black and red letters on random walls throughout the urban landscape, its bold message stands in alarming contrast to the empty utterances by the talking heads now standing for election.

For a long time, the most insightful and inspiring quotes about the political situation in Greece have totally eclipsed the manifestos of technocrats and the reports of journalists. Hope and insights, endurance and critique, are more likely to be expressed through red and black graffiti than in the speeches made by experts.

The “Greek crisis” has had at least two side effects so far: it demonstrated that official politics has no vision whatsoever, and that mainstream journalism has no shame.It is doubtful whether there has been another moment in the country’s tumultuous post-WWII history in which the carefully manufactured (and brutally defended) consensus - which apologists of capitalism euphemistically call democracy - has suffered so much a loss of face at the hands of internal and external ruling elites.

In an ironic twist of history, “democracy” collapses day after day in its cradle, only to reveal itself as a bloodthirsty cacophony of exploitation, suppression and inhumanity.

This is what democracy looks like in the place of its birth today:

Criminal neo-Nazi groups launch murderous pogroms against immigrants - driven away from their homes from imperialist wars in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa - thereby sharpening their fighting skills on the bodies upon the most vulnerable, and effectively preparing themselves for the upcoming assault on the homegrown resistance movement.

Crypto-racist and violence-prone armed gangs - aka dias and delta motorcycled police teams - roam the streets of major cities, beating up journalists and harassing and arresting those who appear ”suspicious” or “rebellious”.

Guilty politicians from both major parties (the conservative/neoliberal New Democracy and the social-democratic/neoliberal PASOK) hide from an enraged people behind the walls of guarded palaces, evoking doomsday scenarios in case the citizenry dare not vote them back into office.

Unelected bankers and EU-technocrats effectively run the show, deciding for the generations to come to sell out the country’s most vital assets, and to sink the population into unprecedented levels of poverty and misery.

Unsavoury journalists hide behind ludicrous televised lies and unqualified threats, lamenting as psychiatric cases those schoolteachers who, imitating Mohamed Bouazizi, were willing to take their lives in political protest.

Amid this atmosphere of omnipresent physical and structural violence, fear and hopelessness, inflicted by the elites and their proxies, the old anarchist slogan not only represents the most accurate description of the situation in the place formerly known as the Greek republic, but also the only way forward: the struggle against austerity and hypocrisy should be fought not only on election day, but on every day.

Link: Naughty Medieval French Tales

Largely unavailable for centuries, a new collection of bawdy, naughty, and vivid medieval French tales reminds us that our ancestors were a dirty bunch. Yunte Huang on what they reveal about human nature. 

“By trade I am a fucker, miss
so may your heart be filled with bliss”

Scandalous at the time of their creation in the Middle Ages, the old French comic tales in verse, commonly known as the fabliaux, can still shock you today with their outrageous obscenity, salacious humor, and carnivalesque laughter. Equally scandalous, if not more so, is the fact that these lyrical tales, as provocative as The Plum in the Golden Vase, the Kama Sutra, or Ovid’s The Art of Love, have remained virtually inaccessible for so long due to censorship by cultural and religious orthodoxy. Over the centuries, general readers have only been able to savor a whiff of the fabliaux’s scatological aesthetics and erotic trickery filtered through bowdlerized versions or watered down by canonical authors. Chaucer, Boccaccio, Rabelais, and Molière, to name just a few, were all indebted to those itinerant minstrels wandering the countries and marketplaces of medieval France, those quixotic jongleurs who composed, performed, and passed down these quaint literary jewels. Now thanks to Nathaniel Dubin, a professor of modern classical languages at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University in Minnesota, we finally can read for ourselves these almost-millennium-old tales that once titillated some of the best literary minds in the West.

Literary history aside (or be damned), these anti-establishment, anti-ecclesiastical fabliaux are pure, unadulterated fun. Naughtily sporting 69 stories in total, Dubin’s volume is a golden bough of erotic imagination and folk humor, peopled by randy wives, cuckolded husbands, fornicating priests, and priapic knights. Breaking down rigid social hierarchy so characteristic of the Middle Ages, these riotous tales poke fun at everyone. In “The Three Estates,” two knights ride along and find a shady spot in the woods, “decked with flowers and herbs.” They imagine this to be a nice place for a picnic, a party of wine, pasties and other niceties “as gay as/in a great hall on the high dais.” Along come two clerics, who have a different idea for the use of the sylvan enclave: bring their lady friends here and have a quality time. At last, two peasants barge into the scene, with spades and threshers on their backs. Seeing the enticing spot,

they started speaking just like peasants:
“Hey, Fouchier, from the looks of it
this is the perfect place to shit.
Let’s take a dump right now, old pal.”
“Upon my soul, we may as well.”
Then each of them squats down and strains.

In contrast with the well-mannered noblemen on high horses and clerics with not-so-clerical minds, the peasants, in the parlance of everyone’s native town, just don’t give a shit.

Very often a fabliau is a comedy of situation: a rendezvous between a married woman and a priest is interrupted by the unexpected return of the cuckolded husband. All parties must think on their feet or risk exposure and shame. It’s a survival of the wittiest. In “The Crucified Priest,” the wife of a master carver and her cleric paramour are caught on a tight spot. She tells him to hide inside her husband’s studio and pose as a naked statue. As in all of the fabliaux, the table can be turned as easily as changing positions in bed. A trickster can be tricked, a duper duped. The husband, seeing through the ruse as clearly as he sees the “hanging balls and cock” of the priest, does not let on and comes up a clever scheme of revenge:

“Lady,” he says, “I’ve made a shock-
ing image here by not omitting
those virile members. How unfitting!
I must have had too much to drink.
Some light! I’ll fix it in a wink.”

He goes on to nip off the priest’s genitalia.

In spite of the exaggeration, hyperbolism, and excessiveness, the fabliaux embody an authentic, deep sense of realism. In the words of R. Howard Bloch, a Sterling Professor at Yale who writes a truly inspiring introduction to the volume, “the fabliaux make the body speak.” To be more precise, they make the lower body speak: cocks, cunts, butt holes, farts, shit, and urine. “The Blacksmith of Greil” sings a super-phallic panegyric, rendered superbly into colloquial English:

he was endowed with a prick,
the most colossal slab of meat
that’s served to women as a treat,
God’s honest truth—one shaped so fair
that Nature must have lavished care
to make it, and surpassed her craft,
around the bottom of the shaft
two palms in length, wide as a fist.
A hole, though shaped like an ellipse,
in which this well-hung stud had placed it
would look as if a compass traced it.

Or, in “Trial by Cunt,” three sisters fight for the same man by trying to outwit each other in reply to a Jeopardy!-style question: “Who was born first, your cunt or you?” The first sister replies that her cunt is older because it has a beard and she does not. The second thinks otherwise, because she has grown teeth, whereas her cunt has not. The third sister believes her answer hits the jackpot: “my cunt’s younger than I,/and I’ll tell you the reason why./While I have been weaned from the breast,/the mouth of my cunt gapes from thirst/and, at its young age, needs to suck.” Or, in “The Two Peasants,” the hostess’s gassy butt hole is mistaken for the hungry mouth of the peasant’s companion. Chaucer, it is said, borrowed the rim-job motif for “The Miller’s Tale” in his magnum opus.


Stumbling over the Past
In Berlin, more and more victims of the Nazis are being remembered with Stolpersteine—brass plates, embedded in concrete, in the streets where they lived. Andreas Kluth traces the stories behind the stones.
On a hot July evening in 2012, Menasheh Fogel, his wife and three children were returning from a favourite haunt, the sandy beach at Wannsee, one of the lakes on the western outskirts of Berlin. Fogel, still in his beach clothes, parked near their home on Bamberger Strasse, a charming street of old buildings with high ceilings. As he unloaded their beach toys, his wife started chatting with an older man on the other side of the street. “He was just talking in English to anybody walking by,” Fogel recalls. “He came off as a bit loony, but he was just emotional.” So Fogel, still in his flip flops, walked over and started to listen. The half-hour chat that followed changed the way he relates to his street and city, its past and his present.
The man outside Bamberger Strasse 3 turned out to be Howard Shattner, from Santa Rosa, California, about an hour from Berkeley, where the Fogel family had lived until a year earlier. Like Fogel, Shattner is American and Jewish. And this address was where his family had lived before the war. In 1938, Shattner’s father and two uncles fled Germany. But his grandfather Chaim and aunt Jente stayed. In September 1942, the Nazis came to this building and took them away.
Twelve days before he met Fogel, Shattner had commemorated his grandfather and aunt by embedding two Stolpersteine—”stumbling stones”—in the pavement at Bamberger Strasse 3. He had come back on this day to talk to residents and passers-by about them. They are brass plates sitting on concrete cubes of ten centimetres on each side. Printed into each plate are the details of one victim of National Socialism—Jewish, gypsy, homosexual or other—who had his or her last address at this spot. The information is deliberately kept terse. The stone for Shattner’s grandfather reads:
HERE LIVED CHAIM SHATTNERBORN 1867DEPORTED 22.9.1942THERESIENTSTADTMURDERED 20.12.1943
There are now almost 40,000 such Stolpersteine in several European countries, most in Germany, thousands in Berlin alone. Some streets that used to be centres of Jewish life teem with them. My own street, in elegant Charlottenburg, is one. In front of my own front door are five Stolpersteine, and they were among the first things that my kids and I noticed when we first came to look at the place. We bowed down and I read the inscriptions out loud. My seven-year-old daughter wondered what this might be about. Since she asked, I began to tell them, for the first time, about the Holocaust. As I did so, some of our neighbours-to-be paused and joined us and an ad hoc conversation arose—all before we had even moved in.
In the same way, Fogel had also noticed Stolpersteine in the streets almost immediately after moving to Berlin. There were already several in his own neighbourhood, Bayerische Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) in Schöneberg, not far from Charlottenburg. Built by and for the bourgeoisie in the years just before the first world war, this was and still is a well-to-do area. Most of the streets are named after Bavarian cities, hence the name of the quarter. But so many Jews once lived there, Albert Einstein among them, that its other nickname was “the Jewish Switzerland”.
Berlin, and all Germany, has many memorials and monuments to the Holocaust. But for Fogel these small blocks in the sidewalk made remembrance concrete and therefore more touching, immediate, even eerie. “You can go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or to the Holocaust Memorial here in Berlin and it’s kind of impersonal and abstract. But this is one person, in one place, and you can imagine what his daily life was like.”
At first I assumed that the Stolpersteine were a government project, organised by the city. Fogel had thought so too. Then, during one of his German lessons, his language teacher told him that they were a private initiative run by an artist, Gunter Demnig, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Cologne. “When I learned that the Stolperstein project was actually a private art project and not something done by a public agency,” Fogel says, “I actually got a little upset. I realised that while there are quite a few Stolpersteine throughout Berlin, the streets would be literally covered in them if all of the victims were memorialised. It really made me realise how many people could easily be forgotten.”
And so the Stolpersteine dredged up every conflicted feeling that Fogel, as a Jew, had about living in Germany. Nobody in his own family died in the Holocaust. On his father’s side, he is fourth-generation American; on his mother’s side, he is fifth-generation. But he is still Jewish. And not only does he now live in Germany, but he works there – in information technology—for Bayer. Today, Bayer is known predominantly for Aspirin, which it invented. But during the Holocaust, Bayer was part of IG Farben, a chemical conglomerate that made, among other things, Zyklon b, the gas used in the death chambers.
Fogel had made a sort of peace with his mixed feelings about his career move. As a tech guy, he is the linear and logical type. “My left brain overrides my right brain,” he says. “I have nuanced feelings because Germany has dealt with the Holocaust so openly and modern Germany has some of the most progressive politics in the world—environment, governance, companies and all that.”
And yet, the past is always there, sedimented into every place. Take that sandy beach at the Wannsee, where the Fogel family had been swimming just before they met Shattner. On a warm day, there are kids splashing in the shallow safe area, bigger kids tumbling from the water slide farther out, and off to the right the nudists are enjoying themselves. But looking diagonally left from the beach, one can see, just across the water, a grey mansion. This is the Villa Wannsee, where 15 leading Nazis met on January 20th 1942—nine months before Chaim Shattner was deported—to decide the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Stumbling over the Past

In Berlin, more and more victims of the Nazis are being remembered with Stolpersteine—brass plates, embedded in concrete, in the streets where they lived. Andreas Kluth traces the stories behind the stones.

On a hot July evening in 2012, Menasheh Fogel, his wife and three children were returning from a favourite haunt, the sandy beach at Wannsee, one of the lakes on the western outskirts of Berlin. Fogel, still in his beach clothes, parked near their home on Bamberger Strasse, a charming street of old buildings with high ceilings. As he unloaded their beach toys, his wife started chatting with an older man on the other side of the street. “He was just talking in English to anybody walking by,” Fogel recalls. “He came off as a bit loony, but he was just emotional.” So Fogel, still in his flip flops, walked over and started to listen. The half-hour chat that followed changed the way he relates to his street and city, its past and his present.

The man outside Bamberger Strasse 3 turned out to be Howard Shattner, from Santa Rosa, California, about an hour from Berkeley, where the Fogel family had lived until a year earlier. Like Fogel, Shattner is American and Jewish. And this address was where his family had lived before the war. In 1938, Shattner’s father and two uncles fled Germany. But his grandfather Chaim and aunt Jente stayed. In September 1942, the Nazis came to this building and took them away.

Twelve days before he met Fogel, Shattner had commemorated his grandfather and aunt by embedding two Stolpersteine—”stumbling stones”in the pavement at Bamberger Strasse 3. He had come back on this day to talk to residents and passers-by about them. They are brass plates sitting on concrete cubes of ten centimetres on each side. Printed into each plate are the details of one victim of National SocialismJewish, gypsy, homosexual or otherwho had his or her last address at this spot. The information is deliberately kept terse. The stone for Shattner’s grandfather reads:

HERE LIVED CHAIM SHATTNER
BORN 1867
DEPORTED 22.9.1942
THERESIENTSTADT
MURDERED 20.12.1943

There are now almost 40,000 such Stolpersteine in several European countries, most in Germany, thousands in Berlin alone. Some streets that used to be centres of Jewish life teem with them. My own street, in elegant Charlottenburg, is one. In front of my own front door are five Stolpersteine, and they were among the first things that my kids and I noticed when we first came to look at the place. We bowed down and I read the inscriptions out loud. My seven-year-old daughter wondered what this might be about. Since she asked, I began to tell them, for the first time, about the Holocaust. As I did so, some of our neighbours-to-be paused and joined us and an ad hoc conversation aroseall before we had even moved in.

In the same way, Fogel had also noticed Stolpersteine in the streets almost immediately after moving to Berlin. There were already several in his own neighbourhood, Bayerische Viertel (Bavarian Quarter) in Schöneberg, not far from Charlottenburg. Built by and for the bourgeoisie in the years just before the first world war, this was and still is a well-to-do area. Most of the streets are named after Bavarian cities, hence the name of the quarter. But so many Jews once lived there, Albert Einstein among them, that its other nickname was “the Jewish Switzerland”.

Berlin, and all Germany, has many memorials and monuments to the Holocaust. But for Fogel these small blocks in the sidewalk made remembrance concrete and therefore more touching, immediate, even eerie. “You can go to the Holocaust Museum in Washington or to the Holocaust Memorial here in Berlin and it’s kind of impersonal and abstract. But this is one person, in one place, and you can imagine what his daily life was like.”

At first I assumed that the Stolpersteine were a government project, organised by the city. Fogel had thought so too. Then, during one of his German lessons, his language teacher told him that they were a private initiative run by an artist, Gunter Demnig, who was born in Berlin and now lives in Cologne. “When I learned that the Stolperstein project was actually a private art project and not something done by a public agency,” Fogel says, “I actually got a little upset. I realised that while there are quite a few Stolpersteine throughout Berlin, the streets would be literally covered in them if all of the victims were memorialised. It really made me realise how many people could easily be forgotten.”

And so the Stolpersteine dredged up every conflicted feeling that Fogel, as a Jew, had about living in Germany. Nobody in his own family died in the Holocaust. On his father’s side, he is fourth-generation American; on his mother’s side, he is fifth-generation. But he is still Jewish. And not only does he now live in Germany, but he works there – in information technologyfor Bayer. Today, Bayer is known predominantly for Aspirin, which it invented. But during the Holocaust, Bayer was part of IG Farben, a chemical conglomerate that made, among other things, Zyklon b, the gas used in the death chambers.

Fogel had made a sort of peace with his mixed feelings about his career move. As a tech guy, he is the linear and logical type. “My left brain overrides my right brain,” he says. “I have nuanced feelings because Germany has dealt with the Holocaust so openly and modern Germany has some of the most progressive politics in the worldenvironment, governance, companies and all that.”

And yet, the past is always there, sedimented into every place. Take that sandy beach at the Wannsee, where the Fogel family had been swimming just before they met Shattner. On a warm day, there are kids splashing in the shallow safe area, bigger kids tumbling from the water slide farther out, and off to the right the nudists are enjoying themselves. But looking diagonally left from the beach, one can see, just across the water, a grey mansion. This is the Villa Wannsee, where 15 leading Nazis met on January 20th 1942nine months before Chaim Shattner was deportedto decide the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”.

Link: The Facts, the Myths and the Framing of Immigration

Today, the same arguments once used against Jews, and then against South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, are now raised against Muslims and east Europeans. However, Kenan Malik finds some comfort in reviewing the facts of the matter. He then tackles the illusions.

At the heart of the current debate about immigration are two issues: the first is about the facts, the second about the public perception of immigration.

The facts are relatively straightforward. Immigration is a good thing and the idea that immigrants come to Britain to live off benefits laughable. Immigrants put more money into the economy than they take out[1] and have a negligible impact on jobs and wages. An independent report on the impact of immigration commissioned by the Home Office in 2003, looked at numerous international surveys and conducted its own study in Britain. “The perception that immigrants take away jobs from the existing population, or that immigrants depress the wages of existing workers”, it concluded, “do not find confirmation in the analysis of the data laid out in this report”.[2] More recent studies have suggested that immigration helps raise wages[3] except at the bottom of the jobs ladder where it has a slight negative impact.[4] That impact on low paid workers matters hugely, of course, but is arguably more an issue of labour organization than of immigration.

Immigrants are less likely to claim benefits than British citizens. According to the Department for Work and Pensions, of the roughly 1.8 million non-British EU citizens of working age in this country, about 90,000, or around five per cent, claim an “out of work benefit”, compared with around 13 per cent of Britons. Migrants from outside the EU are also much less likely to claim benefits.[5]

The most comprehensive study to date of East European migrants in Britain concluded that “A8 immigrants who arrived after EU enlargement in 2004 […] are 60 per cent less likely than natives to receive state benefits or tax credits, and 58 per cent less likely to live in social housing”. The study also discovered that “in each fiscal year since enlargement in 2004, A8 immigrants made a positive contribution to public finance despite the fact that the UK has been running a budget deficit over the last years”. This was because “they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes, and make much lower use of benefits and public services”. They paid around 30 per cent more in taxes than they cost our public services.[6]

Whatever the truth about immigration, it is clear that there exists widespread popular hostility to immigrants. For some, often on the right, the hostility makes sense because, irrespective of its economic benefits, the social impact of immigration is destructive. For others, often on the left, such hostility exists because people are irrational and take little notice of facts and figures. Both arguments have little merit.

Immigrants, the critics insist, disrupt communities, undermine traditional identities, and promote unrestrained change. David Goodhart, director of Demos, whose book on immigration, The British Dream, is published on Monday, claimed last week that “Large-scale immigration has created an England that is increasingly full of mysterious and unfamiliar worlds”. As a result, “for many of the white people […] the disappearance of familiar mental and physical landmarks has happened too fast”. He quotes one man from Merton in south London: “We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more”.[7]

Had Arthur Balfour been able to read that, he would undoubtedly have nodded in agreement. Balfour was the Prime Minister in 1905 when Britain introduced its first immigration controls, aimed primarily at European Jews. Without such a law, Balfour claimed, “though the Briton of the future may have the same laws, the same institutions and constitution […] nationality would not be the same and would not be the nationality we would desire to be our heirs through the ages yet to come”. Two years earlier, the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration (an “alien” was, in the early twentieth century, both a description of a foreigner and a euphemism for a Jew) had expressed fears that newcomers were inclined to live “according to their traditions, usages and customs” and that there might be “grafted onto the English stock […] the debilitated sickly and vicious products of Europe”.

The sense that Jewish immigration was uncontrolled and that “We’ve lost this place to other cultures. It’s not English any more”, was palpable in the discussions. “There is no end to them in Whitechapel and Mile End”, claimed one witness giving evidence to 1903 Royal Commission. “These areas of London might be called Jerusalem”. The Conservative MP Major Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon expressed the same sentiment through a quite extraordinary metaphor. “Ten grains of arsenic in a thousand loaves would be unnoticeable and perfectly harmless”, he told Parliament, “but the same amount put into one loaf would kill the whole family that partook of it”.

By the 1950s, the Jewish community had come to be seen as part of the British cultural landscape. The same arguments used against Jews half a century earlier were now deployed against a new wave of immigrants from South Asia and the Caribbean. A Colonial Office report of 1955 echoed Arthur Balfour, fearing that “a large coloured community as a noticeable feature of our social life would weaken […] the concept of England or Britain to which people of British stock throughout the Commonwealth are attached”. There were worries, too, about the uncontrolled nature of immigration. “The question of numbers and of the increase in numbers”, Enoch Powell insisted, lie at “the very heart of the problem”. “Whole areas, towns and parts of England”, he claimed, were being “occupied by different sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population”. A decade later Margaret Thatcher gave a notorious TV interview in which she claimed that there were in Britain “an awful lot” of black and Asian immigrants and that “people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture”. The echoes are unmistakable both of the debate about Jews before and of the contemporary immigration debate.

Just as Jews became an accepted part of the cultural landscape, so did postwar immigrants from the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, though the acceptance was more grudging, and often not extended to Muslims. Today, the same arguments that were once used against Jews, and then against South Asian and Caribbean immigrants, are now raised against Muslims and East Europeans.

The idea that immigration is disruptive of culture, identity and social cohesion is, in other words, as old as immigration itself. Whether it is Irish or Jews coming to Britain, Italians or North Africans to France, Catholics or Chinese to America, every wave of immigration is met fear and hostility and a sense of being overwhelmed.


Our Mothers, Our Fathers

A miniseries that aired in Germany this month has enthralled viewers with its emotional portrayal of the role that average people played in WWII. Stripped of moral pretension, it also establishes a new, multigenerational milestone in the country’s culture of remembrance. // Photo: In a radical, inquisitorial manner, the student movement of 1968 demanded accountability from its parents. At the same time, it unwittingly resembled the older generation in its willingness to unquestioningly devote itself to a greater cause and its ideals. But “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” attempts nothing less than directing undisguised attention to the inconsistency of the war generation.

At the end, the famous zero hour, when the survivors meet again in the now-abandoned Berlin pub they used to frequent, tight-lipped, with empty faces and a dull look in their eyes, everything comes down to a single sentence. None of them can say it out loud. It would sound far too weighty in light of the historic nothingness they face in their reunion.
Instead, a voice-over delivers what is, in a sense, the moral of the story following the demise of Nazi Germany in May 1945, establishing both an end and a beginning: “Soon there will only be Germans, and not a single Nazi.”
At this point, the SS major has burned his brown uniform and already sits in a neatly pressed suit at a desk for the occupying power, announcing matter-of-factly that his experience is needed. The others, the war-wounded, look as lost as strangers as they stand in the wreckage, without the slightest idea of what comes next.
But the viewers, with their knowledge of the historical facts, do know what comes next. They already knew what would happen when the five friends said their farewells in the summer of 1941 with the promise: “We’ll see each other at Christmas.” They are familiar with the deceptive nature of the euphoria that followed the first battles of encirclement and drove the German army, now sure of victory, into the broad expanses of Russian territory. They have learned that the SS paramilitary death squads known as Einsatzgruppen were raging behind the front, murdering large numbers of people, women and children included. They also know that the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, was also culpable, if only because it made these crimes against humanity possible in the first place.
Most of all, they know how quickly things went uphill for West Germany after Nazi capitulation. They are familiar with the German economic miracle as a form of compensation, with democracy and Western European unification under the protective cloak of the Allies. And then German partition, the Cold War and the war generation’s long silence and efforts to repress the past, a generation that girded itself with the West German success story. And they know about the recurring shock waves of enlightenment, remembrance, shame, mourning and coming to terms with the past that have rolled across German society at regular intervals since the 1960s.
So why was it necessary to film this ZDF epic, which spends four-and-a-half hours negotiating terrain already surveyed many times before? What accounts for the emotional force of a TV film that attracted 7.63 million viewers for its final episode, a rating of more than 24 percent? If the three-part series hadn’t been such a hit, it would have signaled “that there is no longer a willingness to grapple with this material from the past,” says Nico Hofmann, the producer of “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" or "Our Mothers, Our Fathers."
The contemporary witnesses, the war generation of perpetrators and victims, the collaborators, followers and members of the resistance, are dying. As they pass away, they take their actual experiences from Germany and Europe with them. But the past refuses to disappear. Like the undead, demons from the darkness of abstract history are constantly coming to life again. And even if they no longer torment grandparents and parents, because soon there will no longer be any contemporary witnesses left to tell their stories, they will continue to haunt the imaginations of their children and grandchildren.
World War II ended 68 years ago. It has certainly taken time to grapple with the history of that period, but by now virtually everything has been studied, examined and said. For future generations, enlightenment no longer occurs through knowledge and confrontation with the hard facts of real barbarism, but through emotions. It’s as if the Germans, even the very young, to whom tales of the Nazis must feel as if extraterrestrials were at work, still shudder when they think about what their grandmothers and grandfathers were capable of. As if they were afraid that certain patterns of character and behavior could be passed on to future generations.
The concept of the soul of the people or national character is extremely unscientific. But then why do Germans constantly invoke the vow that it should “never happen again?” Why are Germans constantly reinforcing the need to promote democracy, freedom and human rights, as if this were a lesson of history specially created for them?
There is an inescapable suspicion, as irrational as it may seem, and one that it also voiced abroad at every possible opportunity: The German people are a special case, a people who, considering the singularity of their crimes in the 20th century, were historically misdirected. They are an insecure people in constant need of reassurance. Germany apparently remains eternally wounded, dependent upon the healing power of remembrance. Germans must live with their trauma and occasionally reopen the wound to prevent it from festering.
The reactions of 15-year-old schoolchildren who have seen the ZDF series show how important it is to bring the whole of history into the individual’s world of perceptible experience. The culture of remembrance, in its ritualized repetition, creates distance and with it sometimes tedium, just like the repetitious knowledge derived from schoolbooks. The SS thugs and the clamor of Hitler and Goebbels are taken out of time and space, and sterile instruction points to a different world, one that has become unreal. Nazism then turns into a grotesque theater, an impression that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino can successfully exploit.
By contrast, a series like “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” offers the antidote — an experience of emotional awakening. It attempts to provide an answer to the incredulous question asked by young people today: Grandpa and grandma were there when that happened? Unimaginable! What might appear to non-Germans as just another war drama with moving stories like those portrayed in “Saving Private Ryan,” gains a veracity that is more than just documentary. Producer Hofmann, who has already produced many historical films (“Dresden,” “March of Millions”), believes that he achieves “a transfer between generations” by touching personal feelings, reconstructing family connections and allowing his protagonists to act in the gray zone of the anti-heroic.

Our Mothers, Our Fathers

A miniseries that aired in Germany this month has enthralled viewers with its emotional portrayal of the role that average people played in WWII. Stripped of moral pretension, it also establishes a new, multigenerational milestone in the country’s culture of remembrance. // Photo: In a radical, inquisitorial manner, the student movement of 1968 demanded accountability from its parents. At the same time, it unwittingly resembled the older generation in its willingness to unquestioningly devote itself to a greater cause and its ideals. But “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” attempts nothing less than directing undisguised attention to the inconsistency of the war generation.

At the end, the famous zero hour, when the survivors meet again in the now-abandoned Berlin pub they used to frequent, tight-lipped, with empty faces and a dull look in their eyes, everything comes down to a single sentence. None of them can say it out loud. It would sound far too weighty in light of the historic nothingness they face in their reunion.

Instead, a voice-over delivers what is, in a sense, the moral of the story following the demise of Nazi Germany in May 1945, establishing both an end and a beginning: “Soon there will only be Germans, and not a single Nazi.”

At this point, the SS major has burned his brown uniform and already sits in a neatly pressed suit at a desk for the occupying power, announcing matter-of-factly that his experience is needed. The others, the war-wounded, look as lost as strangers as they stand in the wreckage, without the slightest idea of what comes next.

But the viewers, with their knowledge of the historical facts, do know what comes next. They already knew what would happen when the five friends said their farewells in the summer of 1941 with the promise: “We’ll see each other at Christmas.” They are familiar with the deceptive nature of the euphoria that followed the first battles of encirclement and drove the German army, now sure of victory, into the broad expanses of Russian territory. They have learned that the SS paramilitary death squads known as Einsatzgruppen were raging behind the front, murdering large numbers of people, women and children included. They also know that the regular German army, the Wehrmacht, was also culpable, if only because it made these crimes against humanity possible in the first place.

Most of all, they know how quickly things went uphill for West Germany after Nazi capitulation. They are familiar with the German economic miracle as a form of compensation, with democracy and Western European unification under the protective cloak of the Allies. And then German partition, the Cold War and the war generation’s long silence and efforts to repress the past, a generation that girded itself with the West German success story. And they know about the recurring shock waves of enlightenment, remembrance, shame, mourning and coming to terms with the past that have rolled across German society at regular intervals since the 1960s.

So why was it necessary to film this ZDF epic, which spends four-and-a-half hours negotiating terrain already surveyed many times before? What accounts for the emotional force of a TV film that attracted 7.63 million viewers for its final episode, a rating of more than 24 percent? If the three-part series hadn’t been such a hit, it would have signaled “that there is no longer a willingness to grapple with this material from the past,” says Nico Hofmann, the producer of “Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter" or "Our Mothers, Our Fathers."

The contemporary witnesses, the war generation of perpetrators and victims, the collaborators, followers and members of the resistance, are dying. As they pass away, they take their actual experiences from Germany and Europe with them. But the past refuses to disappear. Like the undead, demons from the darkness of abstract history are constantly coming to life again. And even if they no longer torment grandparents and parents, because soon there will no longer be any contemporary witnesses left to tell their stories, they will continue to haunt the imaginations of their children and grandchildren.

World War II ended 68 years ago. It has certainly taken time to grapple with the history of that period, but by now virtually everything has been studied, examined and said. For future generations, enlightenment no longer occurs through knowledge and confrontation with the hard facts of real barbarism, but through emotions. It’s as if the Germans, even the very young, to whom tales of the Nazis must feel as if extraterrestrials were at work, still shudder when they think about what their grandmothers and grandfathers were capable of. As if they were afraid that certain patterns of character and behavior could be passed on to future generations.

The concept of the soul of the people or national character is extremely unscientific. But then why do Germans constantly invoke the vow that it should “never happen again?” Why are Germans constantly reinforcing the need to promote democracy, freedom and human rights, as if this were a lesson of history specially created for them?

There is an inescapable suspicion, as irrational as it may seem, and one that it also voiced abroad at every possible opportunity: The German people are a special case, a people who, considering the singularity of their crimes in the 20th century, were historically misdirected. They are an insecure people in constant need of reassurance. Germany apparently remains eternally wounded, dependent upon the healing power of remembrance. Germans must live with their trauma and occasionally reopen the wound to prevent it from festering.

The reactions of 15-year-old schoolchildren who have seen the ZDF series show how important it is to bring the whole of history into the individual’s world of perceptible experience. The culture of remembrance, in its ritualized repetition, creates distance and with it sometimes tedium, just like the repetitious knowledge derived from schoolbooks. The SS thugs and the clamor of Hitler and Goebbels are taken out of time and space, and sterile instruction points to a different world, one that has become unreal. Nazism then turns into a grotesque theater, an impression that filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino can successfully exploit.

By contrast, a series like “Our Mothers, Our Fathers” offers the antidote — an experience of emotional awakening. It attempts to provide an answer to the incredulous question asked by young people today: Grandpa and grandma were there when that happened? Unimaginable! What might appear to non-Germans as just another war drama with moving stories like those portrayed in “Saving Private Ryan,” gains a veracity that is more than just documentary. Producer Hofmann, who has already produced many historical films (“Dresden,” “March of Millions”), believes that he achieves “a transfer between generations” by touching personal feelings, reconstructing family connections and allowing his protagonists to act in the gray zone of the anti-heroic.