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Foreigners, go away! Foreigners, go away!
by Alexander Mikhaylov
2008-08-12 09:14:15
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When you travel extensively, or indeed live in various countries for years, you cannot avoid getting acquainted with different cultures.

Personally, I always enjoy it, even though moving from place to place comes with a price, such as a culture shock, plain inconvenience, spontaneous anxiety and …  oh yeah… an occasional taste of xenophobia and nationalism.

I try not to think about these things much, perhaps because for me it is a real issue: something that I experience on ‘my own hide’. Therefore, it is not surprising that the recent article in Prague Monitor Online arrested my attention. To give a better idea, I will quote a few paragraphs:

“Far-right party wants to relocate Roma to India"
Prague, July 30 (CTK) – The Czech National Party wants to succeed in the general election in 2010 with radical anti-Romany rhetoric formulated in 150-page study called “The final solution to the Gipsy Issue in the Czech Lands” that it will present in a month, Lidove noviny (LN) reported Wednesday.


The name evokes Nazi Germany and its final solution to the Jewish issue, but the nationalists claim they do not want to kill Romany, but that they want to buy land in India and to relocate the Romany there, LN writes.

The team of study authors is headed by party member Jiri Gaudin and party chairwoman Petra Edelmannova is also a member, according to party spokesman Pavel Sedlacek, LN writes.

The team was allegedly assisted by a few experts from “the academy environment”, who, however, request anonymity, LN writes.

Ivan Vesely, chairman of the Romany association Dzeno, told LN that the Romany ‘have lived here for 500 years and we are still considered foreigners.”

Sedlacek told LN the study looks at the Romany issue in a “comprehensive way-where it originated and why no one has as yet solved it.”

He said that the study concludes that repatriation is the sole possible solution after all other attempts to cope with the issue have failed.

“It must be solved on an all-European basis, land must be bought in India and the people must be given the opportunity to live on their land and according to their own ideas,” LN quotes from the study. “

Amazing stuff, isn’t? Buying land in India… I wonder what the Indians have to say to that, not to mention such a minor detail as a forceful deportation of your own citizens…Seems like the ideas of comrade Stalin are alive and well.

Unlike the Roma who lived in the Czech Land for 500 years, I spent a mere 6 years there. I cannot say these were bad years. When I came to Prague in 2000, it was not a member of the EU and it was bubbling with hopes of joining the Western World, getting an opportunity to travel visa-free and building Capitalist’s Economy. I found it a nice place and fun one as well. It had been, according to my buddy, a hard core expat from California who had lived in Prague since 1998, “A really crazy place, man, I mean, it is so liberal, you wouldn’t believe it. It had been even crazier a couple years ago. Service in supermarkets was terrible but the other things…For instance, guys used to go around the city smoking heroin openly and nobody minded, because even police had no idea how to react to that.”

Since then, I have heard many names, attributed to Prague. ‘The alcoholic capital of Europe,’ ‘Ecstasy heaven’, ‘Bordello of Easter Europe’ and so on… Speaking of the latter, the locals I became acquaintance with, warned me of ‘gypsy prostitutes’, populating Vaclavske Namesty – the central square of Prague. There had been a great number of girls with dark complexion lurking at many corners indeed, although I could not pinpoint their nationality with any degree of accuracy.

Speaking of the Roma, my first encounter with a local Roma happened on the third or fourth day upon my arrival to Prague, on an old square. The thing that struck me as unusual was that unlike many others he spoke decent English. (We had a nice chat and parted our ways ten minutes later. After that, I did not speak with local Roma often.) 

During our fourth year in Prague, we rented an apartment in Liben, an inexpensive and pretty run down part of the city labelled as ‘gypsy district’. By that time, I was rather curious as to why Czechs always tended to speak of Roma with various degrees of disdain, using derogatory terms, such as ‘thieves’, ‘troublemakers’, ‘criminals’ and of course ‘outsiders’ and ‘foreigners’. The last term especially rang the bell to me, since I was a foreigner as well. On the other hand, how these people, apparently born in the country and speaking its language, could be regarded as ‘foreigners’? It was puzzling at first. Then things began to disturb me.

I recall one instance, when I was sitting in our living room writing (we were living on the fourth floor). Suddenly I heard violent screams outside. Just across the street, I saw a Roma girl lying on a pavement, curled in a foetal position, and a tall guy standing over her. (I recognized the girl: earlier that day I had ventured outside to buy cigarettes and I spotted her fishing beer and plastic bottles from a dumpster and placing them into a cardboard box). Now the smashed box was resting on its side with all the bottles scattered around.

The screams and bellows I had heard a moment ago were of the Czech guy: as I continued to watch, astounded by all this, he yelled something hysterically and kicked the girl a few times, aiming at her head. (The girl lay motionless, covering her head with her elbows).  Finally, the guy stepped aside, threw an arm in Nazi salute, yelled ‘Heil Hitler!’ and ran into the nearest bush. The whole incident took only several moments, during which I experience a whirlwind of sorts, such as ‘Must I call the police? Run after the bastard?’ The funny thing was that a few passers-by happening to be on the street just took a detour and went on walking. Meanwhile the girl got up and began to collect her bottles.

Was it a common sight? I must admit it was not, although by that time I heard enough similar stories, not to mention gruesome tales of the other kind, such as setting homeless people who were sleeping on park benches, on fire.

But to return to Roma… I still remember with an uneasy feeling as my wife, who had taught English at that time, told me how solid professional men of Roma nationality tend to hide it from their co-workers. Strangely enough, even a person with dark complexion was considered a ‘normal’ Czech if he/she was dressed in a business suit and had an office. The envious colleagues just commented on their ‘great tan’.

I recalled times when she had conducted English classes for adults (some government workers) and if the discussions touched Roma issue, people’s reaction was nearly always the same: ‘They are different from us. They are like foreigners and they are lazy, and they hate to work and they prefer to steal instead of earning their income.’ Questions such as ‘In what way they are different from you guys?’ the answer was always ‘Eh…Well… They are just different. They are not Czechs.’

‘They are not Czech.’ Apparently, this is another ‘hot spot’ that many Czechs love to argue. It might be summarized in a simple statement such as ‘No matter how long you live in Czech Republic, no matter what language you speak, you will never be like us - so do not even try.’ 

The Czech’s dislike of Roma goes back centuries. But what about Chinese and Vietnamese emigrants, who began to arrive to the capital of the Czech Republic only recently? Nowadays Prague is peppered with tiny food and liquor stores, run by them and their families. During my Prague days I always found these stores the most convenient places (their owners run their stores from an early morning till late at night, including all major holidays, when the rest of the city is virtually dead and your chances of buying any necessities are practically nil).

And how the locals, who shop in these stores all the time, feel about these industrious shopkeepers? ‘Money grabbing bastards.’ ‘Should be deported from the country at once.’ How many a time I witnessed some drunken, red-faced fellow, who popped in for another couple of beers to cure his hangover, bawling at a storekeeper, only because the storekeeper spoke Czech but with a terrible, terrible accent, which was so hard to understand! I believe that the very fact that the Chinese and Vietnamese are ready to run their business at all hours offends the local population. Why? ‘Because it only shows how money hungry they are. Therefore they should not be allowed.’

Speaking of ‘strangers in a strange land’, the attitude of many Czechs to foreigners in general always baffled me, to say the least. Once I came across a short article in an English language college newspaper, written by a student, who, I am sure, was not innocent of multiculturalism. The article was a long reminiscence of a nice spring afternoon. The author had been walking along one of the central streets of Prague, enjoying her ice cream and warm breeze, when her gaze suddenly fell on a group of drunken Brits.  (Due to the low beer prices, Prague is still popular with British guys as a place for stag parties).

After some lamentation on ‘how terrible it is to witness these rowdy people on our streets’ she proposed a simple solution ‘To paint a parts of sidewalk in yellow and to bar them with something (barbed wire?) from the rest of the pedestrian area, so all these drunken foreigners could ‘laugh like crazy, puke on the asphalt and litter their designated strips, without bothering the local population.’  

I remember I had been astonished at the sheer number of graffiti that disfigures the faces of many Prague buildings. When I asked some local once ‘why there are so many graffiti around Prague?’ the answer was ‘That’s the work of all these damn foreigners. They come to our city for exactly this purpose – to destroy the look of our streets.’ And those foreigners even took pains to learn to spell in Czech better than I could learn in my six years there. Amazing.

Many a time, when I rode a metro, I witnessed a somewhat funny picture. A group of foreigners comes in and starts talking and laughing loudly. The rest of the passengers stare at them morosely and try to move away, as if these foreigners were lepers. A typical explanation of such an attitude is simply this ‘Foreigners do not know how to behave themselves. They are nearly always bad mannered. We never laugh in public transport like crazy. We never behave like this.’

I guess that ever since the Czech Republic joined the European Union, this somewhat xenophobic attitude must be growing… I recall that when I had first come to Prague there had been many people, who spoke or at least tried to speak English to me. (Which is why I have never learned Czech language to any serious extend). Six years later, they ceased to speak English almost entirely. I often wondered why…

Some merry Czech entrepreneurs went as far as creating a ‘humorous’ online blog, designed as bogus ‘marriage site’. It describes, also in a ‘humorous’ form various types of foreigners, supposedly seeking marriage, each man’s ‘profile’ completed with detailed inscription,  from ‘Single Russian Mafioso, who likes his vodka and who walks up to his knees in blood’, ‘Ageing Brit  with alcohol problem who loves prostitutes’, ‘Money grabbing American’ and so on. And the tag line inquired: ‘Do you really want them at your home?’

I do not say that the Czechs as a nation are bad people or the Czech Republic is a country of nationalistic morons. All I want to say that unfortunately, such an attitude is not original. A grumpy repairman back in Turku, Finland, who came to fix electricity, on our question ‘Do you speak English?’ angrily snapped ‘Aren’t we in Finland? Why the Hell should I?’ The conversation was carried out in Finnish, but I still don’t know (and unlikely to learn) Finnish for ‘busted plugs’.  Or, as one kind soul told me: ‘Nowadays things in Finland are much improved. A few years ago employers refused to hire people who spoke Finnish … with an accent.’

 As to Roma, a dislike towards them still seems to be nearly universal. I cannot help but recall another, personal incident: when my family and I was running away from the Soviet Union in 1989, it so happened that one day we were standing on a street of Budapest, homeless and without money to pay for food or shelter for the night. I think it were Roma, who stood there on the same street, selling clothes, handmade jewellery and all such stuff, and who made a room for us, when we had tried to sell some of our clothes, my wife’s ring and a couple of my kid’s toys.

I still see it as if it was yesterday: good people of Budapest passing us by, asking ‘What’s your nationality?’ and upon hearing the word ‘Russians’, breaking into a happy laughter, pointing at us with their fingers. I guess to them it was the sign of the ultimate justice – here they are, damn Red occupants, standing next to gypsies. Can one get any lower than that?


    
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Emanuel Paparella2008-08-12 10:21:17
Poignant story indeed. Actually the nut who is in charge of Iran has the same idea: relocate the Jews somewhere in Europe from where they came in the first place. A bit simplistic historically speaking but not without a logic and rationality of its own; after all Israel came about because of an Holocaust in Europe. How does the song go? When will they ever learn?


Sand2008-08-12 23:10:17
For those of you who are interested in a more balanced viewpoint of the movement which ended in Israel's establishment see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zionism

The movement started in the 19th century and was, of course, driven by the centuries of hatred engendered by Christianity, but it in no way is comparable to the Romani culture which suffers under genocidal tendencies in many countries. No doubt the Holocaust was the tipping point which launched Israel but many decades before this Zionists had envisioned a voluntary homeland for the Jews. This has no comparative in Romani culture. Information can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roma_society_and_culture#Being_a_part_of_Romani_society


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 06:37:25
For those who are interested in a less biased and slanderous viewpoint see:

http://christianactionforisrael.org/antiholo/antib4.html



Sand2008-08-13 06:49:55
To deny that Christianity had a prominent place in the history of the persecution of the Jews is totally in line with Holocaust denial. My family, as did many other Jewish families, fled Europe to the USA under the direct threat of pogroms initiated by the European Christian community in the late 19th century.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 08:37:58
http://www.christiancadre.org/topics/hitler.html

For a more nuanced and less biased view of the issue of connecting Nazism to Christianity see the above link.

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0602448.htm

For a less biased, less ideologically driven and more truthful account of the issue of the slanderous nexus between Nazism and Catholicism see the above written by a Jew.




Sand2008-08-13 09:03:45
It is a very, very solid historical fact that Christian persecution of the Jews predated Nazism by centuries. Nazism was merely the ugly flowering of a very long Christian tradition. Anybody who denies this is totally off his rocker.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 09:25:08
I must have said something novel and insightful to have the Grand Inquisitor in charge of political correctness take notice after he said he would not say anything until I did. The sad fact remains however that what can easily and egregiously and grandiously asserted with a broad stroke can easily be dismissed and ignored. Those kind of people go by name of charlatans in the serious world of scholarship. After a while nobody pays attention any longer.


Sand2008-08-13 09:28:10
As I said, off his rocker.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 14:37:04
I must have said something novel and insightful once again to merit a precious comment by the Grand Intellectual Bully in charge of pre-fabricated slanderous facts and political correctness. Thanks for the acknowledgment but once again beware of the visiting voices in your head, they are deceivers and up to no good.


Sand2008-08-13 14:45:20
As I said, off his rocker


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 15:36:30
Is that you talking or the parrot on your shoulder, or perhaps one of the voices? Thanks again, I must have said something novel to deserve a comment, albeit from a parrot or a visiting voice.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 17:05:20
On another poster Mr. S. who thinks of himself a god with no roots born of the foam of the sea suddently discovers his Jewish roots in Europe to make a case that Christianity is the source of all evil. No surprises there either. Since when has Mr. S. been afraid of contraditions when it comes to grabbing an opportunity to smear with a wide brush religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular?


Sand2008-08-13 17:24:23
Tough, Mr.P. Assassinating my character will not make centuries of Christian persecution of Jews disappear. The knowledge is too widespread to try to hide it with bullshit.


Sand2008-08-13 18:18:04
Tell me, Mr.P. That the Jews were not expelled from Spain in 1492 by Christian rulers, tell me that Jews were not forced to live throughout Europe in ghettos for centuries by Christian rulers, tell me there were no pogroms by Christians against Jews centuries before the Nazis arrived on the scene, tell me that the information at http://www.hearnow.org/caljp.html is not true and I will know you are a liar, all the people who read this will know you are a liar and you will know you are a liar and a fool.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 18:36:32
I must have said something novel and surprising to deserve a comment from the Grand Inquisitor. Sadly, those who live their life looking at only one side of the coin and demonizing those who dare show another more objective and nuanced side, do not easily give up that nasty and pernicious intellectual habit; but justt in case you wish to look at another side as seen by a fellow-Jew who is able to be more objective, take a serious look at the following links below and then you may have a inkling as to who may be the liar and the slanderer. In any case this is included for the reader and to keep the record straight:

http://www.christiancadre.org/topics/hitler.html

For a more nuanced and less biased view of the issue of connecting Nazism to Christianity see the above link.

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0602448.htm

For a less biased, less ideologically driven and more truthful account of the issue of the slanderous nexus between Nazism and Catholicism see the above written by a Jew.


Sand2008-08-13 18:45:30
In your supreme stupidity, Mr.P., you are trying to deny accepted established history. Your persistence pretty thoroughly confirms that there is something radically wrong with your mind.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 20:18:43
Thank you. Like the little boy commenting on the Emperor's regal attire, I must have said something novel and striking to deserve the jewel of a comment from the self-proclaimed Grand Inquisitor in charge of political correctness and the measurement of profound stupidity. Indeed, most rationalists are eventually ovrtaken by the paradox of existence.

"Don’t you see, don’t you see?
Anxiously asks the Grand Inquisitor
In his regal ceremonial vestments
Showing the instruments of torture.

The Grand Inquisitor has no chest,
shouts boldly a courageous little boy.
The Grand Inquisitor is perplexed by this impertinence,
Utterly perturbed by the boy’s bold implication,
A challenge to his authority and his rationalism,
but silently continues to grind his ax."


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 20:23:17
Reagarding "accepted established history" this comment by Alexander Solzhynitzyn bears repeating:


“Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development. I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.”


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-13 20:27:35
P.S. Any alert reader can see the herd mentality at work even in this otherwise admirable magazine: there is a tendency to form inner clubs or mutual admiration society where psychophants support each other's opinions no matter how misguided it may be, and ignore those who propose opinions that go against the grain. One woudl have to be blind not to notice.


Sand2008-08-13 20:33:49
Well, that's a good deal of meaningless nonsense in an attempt to cover your lies. Sorry, it doesn't work.


Sand2008-08-13 21:19:55
Chestless with an ax. Hmm. Is that what you think a Grand Inquisitor looks like? And here I thought the inquisitors of the past were merely the Catholic thugs that pulled off fingernails to convince people of the eternal love and mercy of their God. History certainly is deceiving. I was totally unaware that the Catholic royalty of Spain never did kick out the Jews in 1492 nor did I know that Jews and Christians freely intermingled their living quarters in Europe in the Middle Ages nor was I acquainted of the total lie that there were such things as pogroms. You certainly do educate people, Mr.P. Mr. Orwell would be proud of you.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-16 11:37:07
Had you read Orwell you'd know that 1984 is not dedicated to glorifying bullying and demagogery but in showing their insediousness. Your poetics of defecation exemplifies them in this particular forum and that is too bad because it discourages those who wish to conduct a more constructive and positive dialogue. As it is, we need to be happy with the upholding of freedom of speech and not giving in to bullying.


Sand2008-08-16 11:48:52
Paparella, your continual whining about being bullied is obvious signaling that you know your comments are so weak and ineffectual that you must squeak like a cornered mouse to try for sympathy. And your horror over my reference to the verbal shit you continually produce is under the delusion that your farts smell like violets and your shit doesn't stink.


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-16 15:49:36
Where they giving medals for "poetics of defecation" you would win the gold hands down. Does all this prurient preoccupation with bodily functions explain also your slanderous anti-Catholicism and the propagandistic degradation of the symbols of religions?


Emanuel Paparella2008-08-16 16:11:54
Errata: "where" above should be "were."


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