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..

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

BarKing Powder

When I was a child and lived in an overheated three-bedroom second floor flat, my brothers used to make water bombs. They would fill plastic bags up with cold tap water, tightly knot them, and throw them over the bedroom window every time they would see a pretty girl crossing the alleyway underneath. The water splashed all over the victim and they laughed their heads off, behind curtains. This detail came to mind watching the Brexit process taking place, month by month.

Photography: @JStadnicki, 2018

On reflection, the ‘hahaha-hihihi’ is coming this time from Downing Street as I get on with my form-filling life.

It’s has been hot recently (anyone noticed?!), even I can admit to that, and I’m used to Siberian summers. However, the heated discussions among the ministerial flock have raised the warning level from orange to red as nobody seems to have a clear view-point, nor an exit plan or a rescue package. It feels more and more like we’ve all been hoarded up into a long-haul flight, with a crew of unqualified attendants. In case of crash, it’s going to be ‘each to their own’.

Earlier in the week, the BBC mentioned how the PM is risking a revolt (I wish!) if the ‘type of Brexit she promised is not delivered’. Come on, Duncan, calling the PM ‘insolent’ on Twitter will not bring a velvet revolution. When Tusk issued a ‘last call’ at last week’s summit in Brussels, he didn’t mean your plane to the Maldives was about to take off. He meant business as you were about to sip another cooling lemonade. Last Saturday, a ‘livid’ Gove physically ripped up a report (did he really?!) for a new customs partnership with the EU. Qui prodest?

I get to understand miss Vicky when she said we needed a ‘practical, pragmatic deal that gives certainty to business and trade… not an ideological one’. The only things with it is …. everything on paper stays on paper and, therefore, is ideological. I’m back, for now, to reading Nausea. It makes, by far, a clearer point.

We are about to leave, I’ve got used to the idea by now, but there isn’t a destination on sight. We might find ourselves flying over the European economic space until the engine runs out of fuel. And then, let’s see who’s got a parachute.

©Maria Stadnicka, July 2018

published in ‘International Times’ / 3rd July 2018

International Times and ‘Imperfect’…pre-election dossier, 19th May 2017

The box arrived. The first books now being sent to the British Library. And, in the middle of it, a new poem published this morning in ‘International Times’ – the newspaper of resistance.

‘A Day at the Office’ – pre-election dossier.

http://internationaltimes.it/a-day-at-the-office/

 

Uranium Bullets

I always arrive late for everything.

Stuck in a traffic jam by the docks,

missed Noah’s boat but

survived under water

accidentally trapped between stolen books,

trapped by a word heavier than a stone,

lighter than a feather.

 

Hidden in the overcrowded wooden train carriage,

radicalised by the anonymity of my blue name-tag,

with a heart growing outside my body.

Each beat painfully visible to the guards

around the Monopoly table.

 

On the waiting list for ballet lessons,

radicalised by the price of uranium bullets on Mother’s Day

handwriting an apologetic note.

My deep eye silenced.

The familiar solemnity of a world without a face.

Photograph: @John Stadnicki, Bristol MMXVI