Sunday, 20 September 2015

Hospitality put to the test

Abortion, in-vitro, gay marriages, separation of the state and the Church… The list of discords between Poles has grown long for a while and this month attitude towards migrants joint the catalogue of divide lines. Actually the problem has not come out of the blue, but the influx of migrants and / or refugees to Hungary has triggered disputes how United Europe should face the challenge and how Poland should behave in order to protect its interests with encroaching European solidarity.

I used the terms ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ as they both show up in the discussions, yet should not be mistaken for each other, nor used interchangeably. In simple words, the former term generally refers to people who strive to settle down in another country to seek a better life, while the latter term describes people who had to flee their homeland because they had been persecuted there or because their country is war-stricken.

The scale of discord was best observable on… facebook. As I learnt, among my (so-called) friends I have both avid supporters of openness towards migrants, calling for greeting them with open arms and playing host to as many of them as possible, as well as extreme-right-wing freaks, posting one post after another decrying the migrants, displaying them as Muslim rabble (or would-be terrorists) assaulting Europe and attempting to set up their own rules here. The gap between the embracement and rejection for migrants was so wide that while I looked at posts from the two sides of the dispute, I wondered where the truth lies.

If I had followed only my leftist ‘friends’ and turned off news feed from my right-wing ‘friends’, I would have shaped an opinion of migrants as of poor people who had to choice but to leave their property and lives they had led behind and escape their homelands to search for a safer home. The newcomers would enhance cultural diversity of Poland and after all out of purely humanitarian reasons, we should take them in.

Had I tweaked with the visibility settings and left in only news feed from my right-wing ‘friends’, I would have viewed migrants as uncivilised horde, made up mostly of men aged 20-35, invading Europe in uncontrolled way, living in camps resembling rubbish dumps, rioting with the police, slinging stones into trains, robbing food from trucks, wheedling out social benefits, etc.

So where does the truth lie? In between? With time both groups of ‘friends’ cooled off, while other, more balanced posts began to emerge. As it turned out, the picture cannot be painted with one of two colours, it is neither black, nor white. There is a variety of shades of grey and the problem of inflow of thousands of migrants has many facets and it is not as simple as advocate or straightforward embracing or rejecting migrants claim.

Among migrants there are refugees from war-afflicted regions, but many more migrants take the opportunity to search for easier life in Europe, whose leaders naively want to play host to everyone. As statistics of humanitarian organisations and TV footages reveal, most migrants are young men, who on one hand are potential conscripts, on the other hand who have been probably sent by their families for a mission to settle down and then help other family members move in.

I argue motives of majority of migrants are purely economic. They do not want to just live in a peaceful country. Had they wanted, they would have stopped in Hungary, Croatia, or Poland, but they treat CEE countries only as a transit areas on their way to Germany, Austria or Sweden, where they would live off generous social security benefits. Quotas on migrants allocation EU leaders intend to set are an absolutely flawed way to tackling the crisis, since they totally disregard reasons which bring migrants to Europe. Even if Mrs Merkel instructs Poland, by threatening to cut off the stream of subsidies, to take in 10,000 or more migrants, unless tighter border controls are instated, those migrants will eventually land in Germany, because they do not want to live in a poor country which can offer them fairly low allowances. The way European politicians handle the matter prompts comparisons to centrally planned economy or to allocating animals between zoo gardens, while all decisions are claimed to be made in the name of most humanitarian, lofty values.

While reading the above you might have the impression I might be intolerant to migrants. The impression might be misleading. I am not afraid of migrants, I appreciate cultural diversity, I respect different customs and religions, skin colour, etc. In my neighbourhood I run across several people from Belarus or Ukraine who came here in search for better life, often work in grey economy to earn money, rent the cheapest accommodation, eke out a living and the rest of the money transfer to their families abroad. In the corporate world I have worked with people from former USSR and even from Middle-East regions and they have all been competent and reliable workers. Sometimes I eat out in restaurants run by guys from Turkey or one of surrounding countries and although I am most fond of Polish cuisine, I hold dear their contribution to variety of eateries in Warsaw. Those people have one thing in common – they work, while by all accounts most migrants flooding Europe have no intention to take up any job, but aim to settle down in countries with most generous social security systems. This is who I am intolerant to – loafers, regardless of their descent.

Once I discarded political correctness, time to face another truth – attempts to bring in Western-style democracies to Arabic countries have been doomed to fail. People living there are from a different cultural circle and simply have not grown up to democracy. With time I more and more often think it would have been wiser not to bring down dictators who, surprisingly, better kept law and order, than setting up democratic systems which are rather a travesty of democracy and in terms of death toll prove inferior to dictatorship.

I wonder how the whole story unfolds. I wonder whether tightening border controls would put to an end Europe without borders established by Schengen agreement.

I wonder whether putting in walls on some of the borders will divert the stream of migrants to Poland and if it happens, how the Poland’s administration will cope with thousands of migrants heading for Western Europe, especially if Germany closes its borders.

I wonder whether Poles would see train stations occupied by migrants, or if A2 and A4 motorways will have one westward lane occupied by marching migrants.

I wonder whether the commotion will reduce the number of safe tourist destinations available for Poles.

I wonder whether travelling by car across Europe will be a safe as and easy as it used to be…

And I hope by spring next year it all straightens out…

For those seeking a fairly unbiased coverage, I wholeheartedly recommend The Economist’s column dedicated to migration crisis.

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