Defending Democracy

 

Watching the British parliamentary debate last night was a painful experience. The political class has proven to be a group asking and answering its own questions, loyal to its own ideology, pushing the societal divide even further. The televised mockery, wave of insults and well-rehearsed propaganda made parents sent their children to bed early. Many would like to forget what has just happened and, maybe, if possible, to erase the whole chapter from history books. Politicians say ‘they are tired’, referring to the general public watching the live broadcast.

There has been much discussion about the fact that ‘people’ are tired of this Brexit issue, and want it resolved. We are led into believing that we are all tired, and that the public irascibility is caused by the unresolved crisis launched by the Brexit referendum. It is worth remembering that the ‘people’ have not, in fact, created this crisis. In 2016, most people minding their own lives and jobs have been made aware of the referendum by politics. This ‘need’ was man-made, the present democratic crisis was politically manufactured.

For this reason, I am not tired to go back to history books and to dig out examples when freedom of speech and social institutions have been silenced by unelected leaders. Yesterday’s proroguing of Parliament has a great significance, as it creates a historic precedent by limiting the actions of an institution created to question and to challenge governmental decisions. In this context, I wonder who is governing the Government now.

I become increasingly aware that our legacy is defined by the fact that we have taken the democratic values and institutions for granted. Democracy does not defend itself. Democracy can be safeguarded by people keeping a close eye on those governing, and by being involved in decisional processes. Democracy can be defended when people’s values and principles are clear and are functioning. When people are willing to easily give up these values and principles, we face political tragedy.

© Maria Stadnicka, September 2019.

Exit and Antiexit

 

Euro Vision and Eurovision #Flashnews (Part V)

©John Stadnicki, 2019

The first signs of European meltdown are showing the crude side of politics. Ukraine will not take part in this year’s Eurovision Song contest. A shame. I like Ukrainian music, but the singer Maruv pulled out, over disagreements about imposed conditions by the Ukrainian national broadcaster. The Russian delegation is considering its position, though they are completely oblivious to all this, knowing well ‘you need to be in it, to win it.’

I suppose many overlook the fact that the whole point of Eurovision was to rebuild a war-torn continent in the mid 50s. It should have been outside politics and scandal. To my shame, though, I’m guilty of overlooking many things about Eurovision too.

I’m used to ignoring Eurovision, although I kind of expect it to happen. I have the same love-hate relationship with it, as I have with the weather forecast. I know it happens after each news bulletin so, by the time the presenter shows the maps, I switch off and check the weather on my mobile phone.

This time though, with Brexit looming, I remember that Eurovision has been going on for ages. And it has been about politics. For ages too. This realisation helps me understand why the Brexit Backstop is the real ‘apple of discord’ in the negotiations between the British and the European technocrats.

By the end of the day, Ireland has won Eurovision seven times. An absolute record. Britain only five times, with its most recent victory registered over 21 years ago. As it stands so far, both Ireland and the UK kept their places secure at Eurovision 2019.

I dread to think what would happen if Britain wins and London has to host Eurovision 2020. Or, another dreadful possibility, the Brexit Backstop stays in place and Ireland wins Eurovision again.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times on 16 March 2019.

The Euro Vision and the Gold Rush #Flashnews (part IV)

@JohnStadnicki, 2019. London.

Over a month ago, the media pointed out that the price of gold increased again. A sign that investors are using gold against weaker stocks, as a response to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the trade disputes around the world. But even a child knows that when gold starts shining, it is a sign of trouble ahead.

The recent Brexit developments send waves of worry throughout Europe, whilst governments across the English Channel are increasingly interested in taking back control over their money.

Only a year ago, the National Bank of Hungary took back three tons of the country’s national gold reserves stored at the Bank of England. The decision followed similar reactions from Austria, Germany, Holland and Venezuela, which considered storing the national gold reserves in London a risky decision.

For a few days now, the Romanian authorities have been debating whether to take back their sixty tonnes of gold stored in the London vaults. With the crisis of storage space the British authorities have been facing for years, I imagine that storing a country’s national gold is not cheap.

Sixty tonnes is, by any means, a lot. Imagine ten elephants put together, if one takes the average weight of one elephant at around six tonnes. To put it simply though, the average weight of 15 people together, say, in an elevator, is about one tonne. By the same logic, sixty tonnes of Romanian gold is about 900 Romanian migrants, currently living in London.

What would be the weight in gold of 300,000 Romanian migrants currently in the UK? And what about the 3.7 million European migrants, in the UK? Imagine that gold! Imagine the value!

But in this equation, and in all Brexit negotiations, who is looking at what value people have, when financial interests are at stake?

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019.

Published in International Times, 9/03/19.

On Euro Vision and the Migration Strategy #Flashnews (part III)

©John Stadnicki, 2019.

In 2012, Theresa Mary May (née Brasier) was just a mere Home Secretary. She was under pressure from David William Donald (née Cameron), who was fighting Nigel Paul (née Farage) on the electoral front, to do something about the migration data. And she had an idea which got her a few brownie points from the PM. ‘Dave, why not produce a hostile environment for undocumented migrants,’ she said, to which the PM responded ‘Well done, Theresita, that’s my girl.’ And, as simple as that, the hostile environment strategy was conceived on a sofa in 10 Downing Street, and later on ended up being implemented.

The strategy is up and running since 2016. The Guardian(ed. 16th Feb. 2019) reports that the Home Office is attempting to embed immigration officers at a rate of almost £60 an hour as part of an ‘enhanced checking service.’ The service is available to public services, including NHS trusts and local authorities, as well as private firms. Over the past two and a half years, Home Office officers have been deployed to test the policy. But the strategy is not just about ‘enhanced checking.’

Institutions and organisations are offered ‘real-time’ access to information about someone’s immigration status as well as ‘on-site immigration official.’ The on-site officer can attend interviews and can encourage undocumented migrants to leave the country voluntarily. There is no public information about the methods used to encourage people to leave but, hopefully, with the media’s pressure, the Home Office will release further details.

I will not explore any further how the public funds are used under the pretext of national security. The governmental misjudgement and funding misplacement are, by now, legendary locally and Europeanly. And the Home Office’s policies seem to fit well a system based on miscommunication and misunderstanding.

There is something more bothersome I came across not very long ago. A few weeks ago, I came to understand that a young British citizen, travelling by train from London to Paris, managed to cross the border without a passport. The UK Border Agency let the young Brit off on the basis that the teenager was travelling as part of the group and had a scanned copy of his passport saved on a laptop. Although getting out of the country was easy, coming back from Paris a few days later created a bit of a problem at the Parisian train station. But the British citizen managed to get back to Britain on his scanned document, whilst the UK Border Agency’s officer warned the eyewitnesses that he would put a complaint against the section of the UK Border Agency which had let the person travel in the first place. Well, who is going to check that such a complaint was actually put forward?

The questions this incident brings forward are numerous. The issue of ‘legality’ in such a case would be the first, followed by the problem with the Home Office’s wasted funds on ‘monitorisation.’ And there are rhetorical points here. What is the point in having passports, if one could just travel without? Would a migrant have been allowed to travel from the UK to Europe and vice-versa without a passport? If I turn up at Heathrow or St. Pancras with just a scanned copy of my passport, will I manage to cross the border without problems? (to be continued)

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times on 2/3/2019.

On Fashion and Euro Vision #Newsblitz (part II)

©John Stadnicki, 2019, Paris

I spy with my little eye something beginning with…..P. [I can see you looking around.] YES! Correct! You spotted them too. P-rotests.

Three months of P-rotests in France. The revolt started in November last year with the ‘gilets jaunes.’ The P-rotesters have called for lower fuel taxes, reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, a minimum wage increase, the implementation of Citizens’ initiative referendum and Emmanuel Macron‘s resignation as P-resident of France. From yellow vests, the social unrest extended to include the ‘red P-ens’ when six teachers launched an online campaign against low P-ay and untackled aggression against teachers in schools and colleges. In a few weeks, the movement gathered over sixty thousand members, demanding P-ay renegotiations and P-olicy changes.

©John Stadnicki, 2019, Paris

Further on, from ‘red P-ens’ to ‘red scarves.’ At the end of last month, a counter-demonstration occurred in Paris by a group identifying themselves by the ‘foulards rouges’ (red scarves) they chose to wear. The ‘red scarves’ are against the ‘yellow vests’ and reject the threats and verbal abuse aimed, they say, at non-yellow vests.

At the moment, it might be tricky to wear something in France without making a P-olitical statement. And maybe for this alone, not long ago, Britain chose to offer France a different approach to expressing discontent.

You might recollect, on 8thFebruary, John Humphrys (who’d just announced his P-robable retirement from Radio Four) blushing over his microphone, when questioning the naked anti-Brexit campaigner. And during their discussion someone mentioned another word starting with P. This time was…P-rude. Whether John Humphrys is a P-rude or not is a matter of P-ersonal life, therefore irrelevant here. The media reported the rattling sounds in the studio, others were offended for having to imagine stark nakedness so early in the morning.

A week later though, nothing really changed. We are back to our daily routine, whilst Westminster is holding its nerve. Would you have imagined that a naked campaigner could P-rovoke a change in Britain, when thousands of P-rotesters and bloodshed fail to move an entire French government? I have to admit, I P-erversely thought that it could. P-ossibly. Despite my misplaced P-erversity, or hope, I sense the slow built-up towards a national nervous breakdown. (to be continued)

Published in International Times on 23/02/2019.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

On Polar Bears and Euro Vision #Newsflash (part I)

©John Stadnicki, 2019

There is an invasion of polar bears in Russia. And the British press finally found out about it. When it happened, a week ago, the media wasn’t that interested to begin with. To be more specific, last week, the Russian authorities in the Novaya Zemlya islands declared state of emergency after dozens of polar bears entered residential and public buildings searching for food. This has been without precedent in the region and raises the climate change reality to a new level. And not just the climate change, in general, but the reality of heavy urbanism, socio-economics, pollution and many other sins of the neo-liberalist economies.

The British press wasn’t that keen on bears for reasons which can be, in part, understood. It applies the law of proximity. News is news only if it’s close enough to us. Last week, the media had a different concern. With the news about the British singer selected to perform at Eurovision, it had to re-think the strategy around coverage from Tel Aviv. And, lastly, the same media became consumed by an acute need to compete in predicting how bad things will be for all of us, once we are out of the EU. It is worth a mention that there are voices still in disbelief about Brexit. But there are increasingly more voices who question the whole legitimacy of the vote and the basis on which the Brexit process is based on.

In 2016, the Brexit referendum was primarily an electoral manoeuvre proposed by David Cameron who had become increasingly concerned with the threat posed by UKIP. The opportunism which motivated the referendum did not have the people’s best interest at heart. The government failed to articulate what Brexit really involved because Brexit was not actually supposed to happen. It was merely an exercise to get David Cameron elected and the Conservative Party united. When the politicians woke up to the shock results, the slogan ‘Brexit means Brexit’ took ground and quickly became a governmental mantra. The ministers themselves were unclear what Brexit meant and what plans needed to be in place to make the transition possible.

Two years later, after ‘heavy’ negotiations and ‘nerve holding,’ the political class is still praying for a miracle from Brussels, stocking paper and ink for the legislative system in need of restructure. In the meantime, millions of people who voted ‘pro’ or ‘against’ in 2016 are getting used to the shortage of beds in hospitals, the crowded doctors’ surgeries, the pharmacies experiencing delays in orders, the train cancelations, the ‘out of order’ buses, the increased criminality and suicide rate, the unaffordable houses. Many know, as they’ve been told in 2016, that the main problem this country has is the migration and not the polar bears nor the politics. And although people also know this is all a lie, they are too busy queuing, and put up with it. The French put up with far less.

(to be continued)

©Maria Stadnicka, 2019

Published in International Times, 16 Feb. 2019