Tag Archives: Europe

Freedom austerity

After the most recent EU summit in Brussels it seems the history has come full circle and democracy just died in the land where it was born. Greeks voted for anti-austerity government. Said government put to vote austerity measures that were suggested by the EU. After those were clearly rejected in a binding referendum, the Greek PM accepted terms harsher than the ones rejected just under a week before. And that there were no good solutions. And that Greek banks had no money and they really could use some. And that Angela is quite scary. But what about… what about the freedom?

Photo by Jorge Gonzalez –  https://www.flickr.com/photos/acampadapraga/5751397365

Have you ever asked yourself if you are free? As in: do you have freedom? Not freedom of speech or to leave or enter a country but a general, overarching and overwhelming freedom. If you live, as I do, in a Western democracy, you are probably inclined to say yes. I mean how could you say ‘no’? Every single month we hear about another country, be it Ukraine, Libya or Sudan whose citizens are fighting to defeat those in power. To gain their freedom.

In this way freedom is often defined by what’s missing. People lack freedom when they are not able to say what they think, to choose who makes laws of their country, or to leave the country they were born in. In this context the answer seems to be simple. We compare our situation to what is experienced by people in North Korea or Cuba, and we arrive at rather obvious conclusion – they are truly screwed, and we’re all right.
For a moment though let’s forget about all of those suffering in Syria, repressed in Russia or tortured in Iran. Let’s focus on a definition. How do you define freedom? Ability to do, say, think whatever you want, to behave in the way you want – I guess this would be the first thing that comes to mind. The Source of All Knowledge (read: Wikipedia) defines it as power or right to do as one wants. Can you though? Can you ‘do as you want’? I certainly can’t. In theory nothing stops me, I theoretically can do anything. Practically I am restricted by money, laws, cultural norms, social pressures, time obligations… (runs out of breath)… and innate abilities and probably some more obstacles that just did not happen to come to my mind this very minute.

All right then, we may not have total freedom, but why would we? It would probably not be too good for us anyway. So let’s be more specific; what is quite often understood as freedom is political liberty – democracy and the ability to choose who rules the country we live in, and, in this way to make our own laws. There is no denying that those of us lucky enough to be born in the West do live in democratic societies. Is democracy what we imagine it to be though? Is it really the rule of the demos – the people? Or is it a mirage; an illusiomn making us think that we are in charge, when the real power lies somewhere else?

With the eyes of my imagination I see Socrates circling the streets of Athens as he did 25 centuries ago. Walking around, starting conversation with strangers. As I write, he stops a random person, looks her or him in the eye and asks: ‘So, now my friend, tell me – are you free?’ Are you?

Migratory Triptych

The right wing nationalist wave is still spreading across Europe. Economic crisis and austerity yet again proves to be breeding ground for ideas stretching further and further into the far right. In those, just slightly more difficult, times many countries seem to be tempted by the idea of detaching themselves from the rest of the world. Many people tend to seek a reason for shrinking economy and socio-political decline. That reasons often get face of the ‘other’ – immigrants who come to steal our jobs and abuse our welfare system (most probably in the same time).

 

In the UK, after extremely successful European Elections, UKIP won its first and soon after second seat in the parliament. In the run up to the Rochester by-elections UKIP’s candidate Mark Reckless (who in September was still a member of the conservative party) managed to position himself on the right of his own far-right party suggesting that migrants from other EU countries, who have legal right to live and work in UK, should be asked to leave. It’s needless to say that he went on to win the by-election.

 

Immigration is often used as a scarecrow – something to blame for countries internal issues, something that is supposed to sell the papers and attract voters. This is well reflected in a research recently published in Poland – another country that, for obvious reasons, I find particularly important. The study focused on Poles’ awareness of socio-political issues in their country and discovered that on average Poles believe that 1 in 7 residents of this country is an immigrant. In reality 1.75% of population was born abroad… that’s 1 in 57. One may say that this is just an innocent mistake, I see more than that. Completely wrong idea about the number of migrants is a reflection of certain anxiety, fear that there is already too many of ‘them’.

 

Both of these events happened in one week – the same week Barack Obama decided to put new legislation in place allowing 5 million illegal immigrants across USA to come out of shadows and get 3 year work permits without the risk of being deported. It is clear that this far from a perfect solution – they will not have access to free or subsidised healthcare, there are at least further 6 million immigrants that still have to lead their lives fearing deportation and finally it is not clear what is going to happen with all those people after their 3 year work permit expire. This is, however, an approach so strikingly different than current European path. One that in my opinion, is also by far more moral, effective and simply beneficial both to immigrants and to the nation they arrive in.

 

Why can’t Europe develop a healthy approach to migration and instead constantly feels threatened by them? Is it because economically Europe and the US are in completely different places? With US economy powering full steam ahead and European still struggling to recover from the crisis? Are we only prepared to accept immigrants when we the economy is performing well and we feel financially secure? Or is it because Americans because thanks to the history of their nation are more aware of the benefits of accepting migrant?