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© Maria Stadnicka, June 2020


Photography: © John Stadnicki

Power to the Powerful

At some point in 2017, travelling from Germany to the UK, via France, I made an overnight stop in Calais. This is my diary note, dated 24th August:

Two years since I last visited the ‘jungle’ camp. I don’t see migrants around the French Docks anymore, as the temporary camp was demolished. Bulldozers flattened the tents donated by NGOs, the improvised kitchens and the food distribution points, and the school built out of cardboard and polystyrene. Silence surrounds the old site, measuring our collective dissociation from tragedy. Silence as anonymous as the stories told by Syrian refugees, as anonymous as their predicament. I wonder what happened to the Syrian people who tried crossing the European continent to reach Britain, Italy, France, and further up North.

It seems that the refugees came and went. In and out of history, their tragedy captured the West’s attention for as long as their presence disturbed the flux of goods and tourists at the French border.

But history is unforgiving and it does not forget. Diplomats, academics, politicians, strategists are currently gathered at the Munich Security Conference, which takes place from February 14 to 16, in Germany. The conference’s agenda covers talks and debates around energy, food, climate and internet security, as well as travel, investments and foreign policies. It is an attempt to re-think the European priorities, at times marked by insecurities brought on by the Covit-19 outbreak and the economic trade volatility. I would have thought this is an important enough event to require British diplomatic presence, but unfortunately, the UK is missing the event altogether.

This morning, in an interview for BBC Radio 4, David Miliband, former British Foreign Secretary, currently CEO at International Rescue Committee, expressed his disappointment at the lack of vision in British politics and the inability to work towards a wider scope rather than its own short-term goals. I can probably understand Miliband’s bitterness about the British politics. What makes me curious about the Munich Security Conference, where Miliband is representing his NGO, sits plainly in black and white on the first day’s agenda: Human Security and Westlessness.

There is a strong sense that Western democracies are beginning to see their power and influence fading, overwhelmed by complex global issues which require solutions based on vision and multi-national collaboration. To put it plainly, the West has started to understand that ‘the cold reality is not that autocracy will triumph and democracy will fail, but rather that the 500-year-long era of Western global supremacy is coming to an end’ (Barber, 2019). One could go even further and say that the West has lost it’s power with the rise of populist nationalist ideas, based on hostility to immigrants and protectionist economic interests. Francis Fukuyama (2019) sees this as a ‘fundamental mistake’ that facilitates abusive use of power and threatens the liberal order.

Populist nationalist ideology brushed under the carpet the tragedy of thousands (if not millions) of Syrians unsure about their future as they are displaced all over Europe by war, destruction and famine. In Britain, for instance, 45,255 Syrian refugees are waiting for an initial decision on their asylum applications, and more than half have waited for longer than six months already (Refugee Action, 2019). This is a symptom of a diseased bureaucratic system which serves its purpose well: to keep powerful institutions away from the citizens that they are supposed to protect and serve.

Nonetheless, the real power of the powerful is in the detail, in those small actions which make big differences. Real power means remembering, not forgetting, tragedy; it is about engaging resources to support communities, not interests. As the silence coming from top level politics is reaching epidemic proportions, I begin to understand that forthcoming governmental priorities will ignore issues concerning people, and will concentrate on managing databases. And if nobody keeps on talking about issues that are important to them, and put pressure on decisional factors to see things done, the Government’s job will soon be nothing but a walk in the park to serve its own interests. Silence gives more power to the powerful.

© Maria Stadnicka, 15 February 2020.

Published in International Times on 22 February 2020.


References: 

Barber, T. (2019) Rise of autocracies spells end to the West’s global supremacy. In: Financial Times, 6 November 2019. Available from: link.

Fukuyama, F. (2019) in: Spear’s, Arun Kakar: Francis Fukuyama on Trump, and why Brexit could be the end of Britain, 25th September 2019. Available from: link.

Munich Security Conference 2020 agenda available from here. The conference is live-streamed here.

Munich Security Report 2020 is available as pdf. doc here.

Refugee Action UK (2019) Press Release. Available from link..

Soyuz. Journal Page

Ward 7H. The spring jumped on me. Donald broke a leg in the playground. The nurse ‘nitialled his file and admitted him last week. We spen’ the evenins playin’ cards. After dinner, I give ‘im chemistry equations and leave ‘im to it. But let’s continue the session.

I’m telling ya, doctor, I’m defined by objects lost in a train carriage. I am sayin’ this only to you, not to ‘hem, but I know they can read my thoughts anyway. I just know it. A burst of laughter chokes me. I zip it. My arm is num’, my smile too. Donald is watching. He breeves down my neck and I know he is smokin’ behind the curtains. The ward is full of ash. I can hear his lung. Aren’t you tired, mate? ‘Cause I am. The night guard watches. ‘come play wif me’ over a cuppa. Overall quiet.

I’m defined, as I said, by lost fings. I lost a revolver, some stamps, an umbrella. Some childhood pho’os and my dog, Derek. A plastic ruler, my dad’s jacket, my eyeglasses. A few other fings. It could be thirty or so bits of ‘istory. Stop starin’, doc’, you make me itch all over.

I’ve only known Don for a few days but I can tell he is a good egg. He ain’ talkin’ much now as he used to in 2017. Kindda lost his shine a bit, his hairs, but he’s watchin’ over me like a God. I’ve started prayin’ to him now and he’s chuffed. He likes me. This morning he came by my bed and gave me a present. A nuclear boomerang. Hallelujah!

Published in ‘International Times’, available here.

©Maria Stadnicka, 2018

Movement

Photograph ©John Stadnicki 2017

 

If we want the world to move forward,

we must hold hands. Documenting the pain and the joy,

on the same page,

with water, with fire, with ashes

not with ink.

 

Freedom means nothing when the healthy and the sick

eat at separate tables.

Even the trees sit together. They know that life is actually simple.

But once people renounced their entitlement,

it will take more than a revolution

to reclaim such a right.

 

For too long we took the wrong turn.

 

What kind of world is this if

the madman tells us that

we should be ashamed of ourselves?

©Maria Stadnicka, 2017

 

Published today in International Times with illustration produced by Nick Victor.

New text…@International Times

Exile

 

Witness to a repeated history
in exile I learn a new language
facing the border control
at Heathrow Airport I wear my mother’s coat
ready for a winter of politics
when I need to
I keep my mouth shut I change my name to
look just like her
white and uncomfortable
the blinding sun has been washed and
smells of violets
people are happy
in such a beautiful land
nobody minds me
amongst
wrapped-well-packed boxes
brushing the dust off velvet cutlery
the only remains
of life before baptism.

©Maria Stadnicka

Photograph: ©Nick Victor

http://internationaltimes.it/exile-2/

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