Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Talking to people in England about Brexit

I thought of going to Iran but in the end I decided that the most interesting place to go, since I like holidaying in political hotspots, was England – with a two day stop in Nice where eighty innocent people had been mowed down by a Tunisian immigrant a few days earlier.

And, of course, England is the most astonishingly beautiful country. It has the most beautiful countryside in Europe, even more beautiful than Romania’s. It has wonderful summer weather. Meaning temperate. I speak the language better than my compatriots. And it has so many wonderful cathedrals and churches, albeit much damaged by the Reformation. And full of such nice people, much nicer than in the 1980s.

So, my first summer holiday in England after emigrating to Romania eighteen years ago.
But I wanted to know what people thought of Brexit. I arrived a month after the referendum, when people were almost getting used to the result. It almost felt old news except people were still in shock

What did I find?

My very inscientific survey. Most (not all) nice people were Brexit. The nice people who voted Remain tended to do so mostly from fear not enthusiasm, pragmatism not ideals.

Monday, 22 August 2016

You've got to string these blighters up

I heard General Zia, the dictator of Pakistan in the 1970s, on ITN say these words, an antiquated cliché
 that I hadn't think anyone had ever really uttered.
"You've got to string these blighters up. It's the only language they understand."
He looked exactly like Terry-Thomas except brown - the same moustache and grin, and clipped Sandhurst way of speaking. I don't remember whom he was talking about. Probably Bhutto.


I suppose Mrs. Merkel is not actually the worst German leader since Hitler. One has, grudgingly, to admit that Ulbricht and Honecker were even worse than her.

Before Facebook

There was a time, wasn't there, when Facebook didn't exist?

So the elders tell us.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Monaco is expensively cheap - Nice is nice - Vermiglia is heaven

I spent two days in Nice on my way to England to check out the reasons for the massacre there. There were several more killings by Muslims in Europe before and after I arrived.

Nice is enchanting, even though seaside resorts usually repel me, but I missed the opportunity to go to the public housing areas or talk to enough people about the massacre that had taken place so recently. Flowers piled up at the grandstand at a memorial for the dead. My waiter at the Hotel Negresco was traumatised by seeing children killed before his eyes as he served guests in the garden beside
the Promenade des Anglais

What did I expect to learn?  It seemed the France of films, books and paintings. Some women in headscarves. Not very many. I was told Muslims do not live in a specific part of town. I should have found out more but I was on holiday and it was very hot.

Nice is cheap to get to and its gracious early nineteenth century architecture is exhilarating. A great, quick and very beautiful train ride takes you along wonderful coast to Monaco, Menton and Italy.

Monaco I had been warned was awful and it is dull and ugly, slightly like Durres in Albania, but with less interesting people. A friend who grew up in Monaco told me it was

Friday, 19 August 2016

Putin and Cromwell

Worrying about Russia feels like Cromwell fighting Spain when France was the threat.

in 1943 Churchill suddenly said to Macmillan late one night: 

'Cromwell was a great man, wasn't he?' 'Yes, sir, a very great man.' 'Ah, but he made one terrible mistake. Obsessed in his youth by fear of the power of Spain, he failed to observe the rise of France.'

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The plan is a Europe with open borders and without nation states

Ulrike Guérot the "Founder and Director of the European Democracy Lab", at the European School of Governance in Berlin, said in an interview in Deutsche Welle that 
the existence of nation states is in itself one of the biggest problems with the European project. 
She went on to say that Angela Merkel was right to let in the migrants, but did it the wrong way. She should have consulted the other EU countries first. The second point is true. 

According to Frau Guerot, the influx of migrants into Europe is not a problem caused by the EU, but this is not quite right. Were it not for Schengen, far fewer migrants would

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Il Brexito: a synopsis

This synopsis of the opera Il Brexito isn't by me (I wish) but was posted on Facebook. I don't know the author and hope he doesn't object to my borrowing it.

Act 1: The Ducal Palace. Davide, Duke of Mantova, has summoned the peasants to the marketplace to vote on his plans to allow the citizens of Verona and Vicenza to continue to offer goods for sale in the Duchy. He sings of his love for Samantha. Michele, the Judge, enters. He tells the Duke that his plan is against the ancient constitution. Boris (the Duke's half-brother) appears: he too, he says, will be opposing the Duke. Outside a hubbub is heard: it is the Corbinistas, local brigands arguing about who should be their leader.

Act 2: The Marketplace. The peasants are gathering. Davide sings from his balcony 'Guarda questi idioti' (look how stupid they are). Michele and Boris move through the crowd. When the time comes for the vote, to the Duke's horror his motion is defeated. With a howl, he runs back into the palace.

Act 3: The Palace. Giorgio, the Duke's Treasurer, is busy packing gold coins into sacks ready to flee Mantova. He sings 'Erectione straodinario' (what an amazing c8ck up). Boris enters the room and goes out onto the balcony to speak to the crowd in the marketplace below. Michele creeps up behind him and stabs him in the back. As Boris lies, apparently dying, he sees to his delight Teresa, head of the police force, come in and stab Michele in his turn. He collapses as Andrea, a scullery maid, enters the room. She taunts Teresa with the aria 'Your ovaries are frozen', but then as the crowd below starts to chant Teresa's name, stabs herself, and falls dead over the corpse of Michele. Boris rises: he was wounded but not killed, and Teresa tells him that he must be her Ambassador to the other Italian cities. She drives Giorgio from the room, and the opera ends with Teresa and Boris singing the duet 'Panforte per tutti - ma senza tariffi', while outside the window the Corbinistas can be heard, still arguing.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Back in the Paris of the East

I just woke up in the Paris of the East, after two and a half weeks away, and as always it's exciting to come back. (To Str. Blanari - would it be less exciting did I live in a block?) 

It was 36°  yesterday here, the taxi driver said. I miss British summers, too. 36°  Celsius, which means 97° Farenheit. Will England go back to Farenheit now?
My Ryanair plane delayed was delayed two hours. I'd fly Tarom or BA except I want to leave from Stansted.

The description Paris of the East, by the way, has been applied to a large number of locations, including: Baku, Bandung, Beirut, Budapest, Esfahan, Hanoi, Irkutsk, Kabul, Jaipur, Leipzig, Manila, Pondicherry, Ross Island, one of the Andaman Islands, Saigon, Shanghai, Smyrna (Izmir) and Warsaw. 

Antananarivo was called the Paris of the South, which it really really is not. Yaki in The Balkan Trilogy aptly calls Athens the Edinburgh of the South. Though I imagine Edinburgh is more interesting and much older. Lvov/Lviv is well called the Florence of the East.

Romanians don't like 'the Paris of the East' which suggests they are, well, Eastern. They infinitely prefer 'the little Paris' with its suggestion that they are Western. Some liked but many others were very angry with my brilliant aphorism: Romania is the Middle East dreaming that it is France.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

England, My England

When does one realise one know longer understands the world? The first intimation was the grief for Diana and sense that the monarchy might tumble, but then I went off to Romania. There have been further signs (books in the Bucharest British Council being replaced by DVDs, Donald Trump, transgender lavatories) but coming into Norwich public library where Blue Moon is playing rather loudly settles the matter.

I failed to blog day by day about my recent travels - to Nice to investigate the massacre and to England to find about Brexit. Maybe I shall.

Impressions of England. Many young fat, often very fat, mothers, rather attractive in their way.

Southend my native town yesterday, after twenty years stirred deep emotions. A surprising number of burqa clad and veiled women on the seafront. Tomassi's on the High St still does gingerbocker glories but the places has moved position, the High St is pedestrianised and all the waitresses come from Eastern Europe. My Polish waitress says he prefers Southend to London which has far too many Third World people. I speak Romania to a gypsy selling gold rings in the street but do not buy one.

Friday, 29 July 2016

Robert Tombs on the English revolt

Dr. Robert Tombs, who taught me in my last year at the university and recently awoke to find himself famous, discusses Brexit brilliantly here.

There is also a widespread belief, powerful though fanciful, that the EU prevents war between the European states. All these are important reasons why there remains considerable support for unification as an aspiration. But all these reasons are weaker, and some of them non-existent, in Britain, and especially in England. The simple reason for this is that Britain’s experience of the 20th century was far less traumatic. Moreover, during that time loyalty to the nation was not tarnished with fascism, but was rather the buttress of freedom and democracy. Conversely, the vision of a European “superstate” is seen less as a guarantee of peace and freedom, and rather as the latest in a five-century succession of would-be continental hegemons.

....What galvanised the vote for Brexit, I think, was a core attachment to national democracy: the only sort of democracy that exists in Europe. That is what “getting our country back” essentially means. Granted, the slogan covers a multitude of concerns and wishes, some of them irreconcilable; but that is what pluralist democracy involves. Britain has long been the country most ­resistant to ceding greater powers to the EU: opinion polls in the lead-up to the referendum showed that only 6 per cent of people in the UK (compared to 34 per cent in France, for instance, and 26 per cent in Germany) favoured increased centralisation – a measure of the feebleness of Euro-federalism in Britain.
In contrast, two-thirds wanted powers returned from the EU to the British government, with a majority even among the relatively Europhile young. This suggests a much greater opposition to EU centralisation than shown by the 52 per cent vote for Brexit. The difference may be accounted for by the huge pressure put on the electorate during the campaign. Indeed, arithmetic suggests that half even of Remain voters oppose greater powers being given to the EU. Yet its supporters regard an increase of EU control over economic and financial decisions – the basics of politics – as indispensable if the EU is to survive, because of the strains inherent in the eurozone system. This stark contradiction between the decentralisation that many of the peoples of Europe – and above all the British – want to see and the greater centralisation that the EU as an institution needs is wilfully ignored by Remain supporters. Those who deplore the British electorate’s excessive attachment to self-government as some sort of impertinence should be clear (not least with themselves) about whether they believe that the age of democracy in Europe is over, and that great decisions should be left to professional politicians, bureaucracies and large corporations.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Brexit was the right decision, but we are treading on other people’s dreams

I had dinner last night with a wonderful, young, idealistic Romanian lawyer who has been traumatised (really) by the decision of a country she loves to abandon the European project she passionately believes in. I didnt realise some young Romanians feel this way but they do and very many good people in Britain and Europe feel the same for the sort of reasons I respect - idealistic, noble ones.

Lots more British people worry about how it will affect the economy, which I very much understand.

But a fair few people in Britain on the left feel like Ed Vulliamy in this article in The Guardian (where else?). They hate Brexit because they don't like Britain and want it to stop being so British. This is also a strong reason why they are in favour of lots of immigrants Coming to the U.K.

"For me, departure from Europe was a given: in the tea leaves at a deep and mainstream cultural level beyond the slaughter at Heysel stadium and serial record of England’s football fans, or politicians’ Eurosceptic ranting. It was in the tarot cards of those bulimic, retarded royal occasions – jubilee, wedding, babies; in the sickly nostalgia of The King’s Speech; in the Olympic Games and Boris’s parachute – like Ukip on bad acid. Above all, over the crisis of wretched refugees and migrants, it howled from the pages of newspapers like the Sun, which has never lost an election and wasn’t going to lose this one... 
On the slipstream of empire, I’ve always thought – to the point of treason – of my British passport as a “burden of shame” as UB40 so eloquently put it, “a British subject, not proud of it”. Now, trying to cling on in “the continent”, it is just a downright embarrassment – not only a badge of shame, but also, worse in a way, of pointless, bellicose imbecility."
He is right about one thing - Brexit now feels like it was inevitable, although unlike him I did not expect it.

Some Romanians think our leaving the EU is 'selfish' and we should stay to make the EU a better institution, particularly for Romania's sake. Many (most?) Romanians seem to think Brexit is about racism directed towards East Europeans. The Romanian executive I had lunch with today thinks that, though he said he thought racism was normal. A few admire Britain's courage in leaving. 

In the late nineteenth century Romanian intellectuals looked to France as a source of ideals on which to model themselves, as Lucian Boia pointed out, whereas most Romanians liked the EU because it spends money spent on the country and because they prefer to be ruled by Westerners rather than their own politicians (they are right to do so). However things are changing and a number of Romanians in their twenties believe in European unity. Which makes good sense viewed from Bucharest.

It is not only British freedom that is a romantic idea. The EU has its poetry too. Unfortunately those beautiful ideals segue into ideas like this, expressed by a German Professor of International Relations who moulds the minds of young people at a British university.
I understand the term foreigner but I reject it as retrograde. I don't perceive myself as a foreigner, or any of the people I know. I reject the idea of countries and boundaries should be transcended as much as possible. The very nature of states or countries has changed dramatically. Borders limit human freedom, they are social constructs that need to change. From an IR point of view, the purpose of international institutions is to alter the behaviour of states so that they cooperate rather than purely pursue national interest because the latter results in conflict.....I see the EU as a vanguard promoting freedom of movement which in the future should encompass the world.
This is Romantic with a vengeance - the kind of ideas that the French Revolution produced in the minds of the sillier readers of Romantic poetry.