Showing posts with label citizen of nowhere. Show all posts
Showing posts with label citizen of nowhere. Show all posts

Identity Crisis

It was the Facebook ad for the supplements company that started it.

It bugged me all the following week. Which is why I'm writing about it. I suppose that's what writers always do. Try to get some perspective on disturbing things by writing about them. 

I thought at first glance that it was a spoof. It consisted of a Union flag, accompanied by a cartoon British Bulldog.  And essentially, it was advertising 'British supplements' made without all those 'nasty' foreign additives, of which it included a full list, most of which were harmless components of various herbal supplements. It only just stopped short of telling us that foreign supplements were (as my nana used to tell me about chewing gum, in an effort to deter me from wanting it) made of monkey bones. 

It had to be a spoof, hadn't it? 

Sadly, it wasn't. It was a jingoistic little ad from a jingoistic little country, and the comments were full of jingoistic little people saying how wonderful it was to have these unpolluted British supplements. It's out there, and I'm not going to link to it. Its strapline, unpolluted by commas, is 'clean strong no nasties'. It aims to promote 'British values' but it wants to 'open up a manufacturing branch in the USA'! 

This has been fermenting away in my mind, coupled with all those headlines about the EU supposedly 'blockading' poor little Britain, when in fact it's just about to enforce rules for non EU members that we helped to formulate back in those good old days when we were still in the club. The only country that might have been blockaded was Ireland, by England, but having bought some nice new ferries from Korea and opened up new routes, Ireland is doing just fine. 

Today, I saw a bunch of older people, on a Facebook group, making nasty, mean spirited, jingoistic comments about refugees from Afghanistan. It reminded me of those people who used to tell my mum that the 'Poles should go back where they came from', right after she had married my Polish refugee dad. 

The sad fact is that I'm a mongrel, a citizen of nowhere, and since 2016, although I was born in England, I've hardly felt British at all. I've lived in Scotland on and off since I was twelve and love this country very much. It's been good to me as it was good to my dear dad. Even now, people who used to know him will be at pains to tell me how much they liked him and, in some cases, how much he changed their lives for the better. 

But from time to time, I still feel like a foreigner here. More and more often, these days. And when I do, I find myself wondering if my dad felt the same - sometimes, often, never? He never spoke about it. I wish I could ask him now, when everything I thought I knew and felt about this disunited kingdom is open to question. 

Brexit, Bereavement, My Dad and Me.

For the first time since he died, back in 1995 - far too young at the age of 68 - I find myself with a sense of relief that my dear dad isn't around today. I'm especially glad he wasn't around on 31st January, to see groups of idiotic but dangerous xenophobes decked out in union flags, cheering as they burnt EU flags or jumped up and down on them in the mud, or told anyone with a 'foreign' appearance and a 'foreign' accent to go back where they came from.

My dad was a post war refugee alien and that made me half alien too. Proud citizen of nowhere, me. He came to Yorkshire via Monte Cassino in Italy, and the dreadful battle that was fought there and that he survived.

When he married my Leeds Irish mum, he was marrying into a family that already knew a bit about prejudice and hatred. My nana's own grandmother had come to Yorkshire fleeing famine, at a time when the incoming Irish were both exploited and insulted in equal measure by the native population. They were accused of being filthy layabouts, 'coming over here' but stealing English jobs at the same time. The people who make those accusations never, then or now, seem to notice the contradiction at the heart of what they are saying.

'Don't you think they should send all those Poles back where they came from?' somebody asked my mum, in casual conversation. That must have been about 1949, well before I was born. 'Not really,' she said, never exactly a shrinking violet. 'Seeing as how I've just married one.' You can read more about that time here.

The truth was that there was nothing and nowhere for dad to go back to. His mother was missing. His father had been imprisoned by Stalin, along with so many Polish officers. Most of his extended family were dead, killed by Nazis or Russians. Released when Uncle Joe changed sides, but forced to trek east, my grandfather died of typhus and is buried in Bukhara on the silk road. 'Lancer Wladyslaw Czerkawski' it says on his grave.

Later, Churchill, Eisenhower and Stalin came to an agreement. It didn't involve much regard for Poland at all and doomed them to years of misery.  Dad's home was now in the Ukraine. All the borders had shifted. So if you try to tell a Pole that Scotland isn't a real country, you'd better remember that Poles never ever confuse state and nation. They know the difference all too well.

Nowhere to go back to. Dad with his parents.

Dad made the best of things. He was a hard working, clever, kindly man. His contribution to his adopted countries, England and then Scotland, which he loved, and the good he did, is not really the subject of this blog, but it is real enough. All these years later, I still meet people who tell me of the small but positive ways in which he influenced their lives.

All the same, he had enough experience of fascism, of the lies that are told, of the fear that is imbued, of the way in which people can be groomed into evil, to be able to say with absolute certainty 'It can and will happen anywhere, if the conditions are right.'

So he would have been sad and worried about our disunited kingdom, but he wouldn't have been remotely surprised. He would have seen the signs long ago. Today, I read a harrowing account from a young black woman travelling on a London bus at night. A group of white men boarded the bus and racially harassed any passengers that they perceived to be 'other' - black, foreign, Muslim. Everyone else looked away. Nobody dared to defend the victims. Nothing to do with them, was it? Not yet, anyway.

It happened before. But now, it has been legitimised and the elected government do nothing to challenge it. Instead we're treated to gung-ho flag waving, the validation of 'England for the English' (unless you're wealthy) and the myth of a united country.

All of which helps to explain why I wake up every morning with the feeling of living in a nightmare. It feels like a bereavement except that it is compounded by a sense of helpless rage. I'm certainly not alone. Scotland neither voted nor wished for this and it is being imposed on this nation without compromise and in the most contemptuous way possible.

Too many people are sleepwalking into the kind of fascism, here and in the US, that my wise dad said could happen anywhere. And he would say too, that large numbers of people wouldn't realise it was happening until it was too late to do anything about it, and maybe not even then. Every cult has its adherents who will go to their graves refusing to admit that they were duped.

It all seems so ordinary, so harmless.
'Evil comes from a failure to think. It defies thought for as soon as thought tries to engage itself with evil and examine the premises and principles from which it originates, it is frustrated because it finds nothing there. That is the banality of evil.'
So says Hannah Arendt.

The US has its own intractable problems. So do parts of the EU. Now we seem to be governed by banal but fundamentally (and openly) dishonest people from whom a rational person would hesitate to buy a used car, never mind a policy. So I'm left wondering, did people sit at home like this in pre-war Germany, making the best of things, not wanting to rock the boat, shrugging off each successive outrage, each official lie, reassuring each other that 'everything will be fine. Because they wouldn't do anything too bad, would they?'

Until ... what? A slow descent into totalitarianism - or the kind of chaos that will result when the whole project collapses under the weight of its own contradictions?

What interesting times we live in, to be sure.