Differences

In the last month millions of Ukrainians have fled, seeking refuge where they can. As of the 22nd of March, Krakow is housing 100,000 and Warsaw is housing 300,000. Other cities in Poland are housing over a million more between them. Denmark has agreed to take 10,ooo and many others have gone to Hungary, the Netherlands, Slovakia, Czechia and Germany. This has been a historic feat for Europe.

Some less charitable sorts have noted that countries that are usually less-than-welcoming to those seeking asylum have opened their arms to Ukrainians. Naturally, race and “Islamophobia” are listed as the reasons by the likes of the Guardian and others. The same culprits have also noted that European countries are waving Ukrainians through but refusing admission to visa holders from third countries.

In such situations it’s best to ignore the regular culprits and analyse the situation dispassionately. When looking at Ukrainian refugees, the first thing to note is that they’re actually Ukrainian. They identify themselves using either their Ukrainian passports or their Ukrainian national ID cards. Both are valid for travel in Europe. Ukrainians do not need a visa to travel in the Schengen zone. Already, we can see a major difference. Beyond that, the demographics of those Ukrainians are very different to past waves. Ukrainians entering European countries seeking refuge are women, children and the elderly. None are young, fighting-age adult men.

As you can see, there are profound differences in the nature and character of this wave of humanity as compared to previous ones. Perhaps yet another variable should be pointed out. Due to the speed with which Ukrainian refugees have had to flee, finding housing has been an issue. They have been housed in defunct schools, hotels and resorts. Sometimes they have been housed in cities, sometimes in the countryside. Many have been housed be friends and relatives living elsewhere in Europe. My Russian teacher is currently living with an old friend in Germany. She might stay with another friend who owns a small flat in Sweden if this drags on too long. My therapist who lives in Lombardy told me that many Ukrainians who have been living in northern Italy have welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes. Something you don’t hear from them is complaints. There is none of the “What? What do you mean I have to live in a cabin in Norrland? I want to live in Stockholm and I want to know when my new Volvo will arrive”. There is none of the “Hey, this old school in Saxony is drafty and isolated. I want to live in Berlin and why do I have to take the bus? Why can’t I have a Mercedes”? that many in previous waves thought was their due.

They are not asking for handouts and they’re not shopping for countries that give them better benefits. To this point, many have gone to work and have made themselves useful. Those staying near farms often help on the farm to keep their hands and minds occupied. In Denmark, many are signing up to work in care homes to fill critical shortages — especially in the provinces. Although some, especially in Poland which has absorbed two million on its have noted that it has been a challenge. Many have health problems — physical and mental stemming from the conflict. What they’re not complaining about is the people themselves. Well, very few at any rate and Poles are adept at the art of having a moan.

As for those citizens of third countries being turned away at the borders… That tensions were brewing and that a conflict was potentially imminent has been known for some time. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs, the United States Department of State and the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have all warned their citizens in Ukraine to prepare to evacuate if not to evacuate. It is, ultimately, the responsibility of their own countries to ensure their safe evacuation. Ukrainians are in their own country and they are fleeing because they have little choice. Third country citizens are in Ukraine on their own volition and they have another country to return to. As I explained to my landlady (a good-natured, cheerful and warm-hearted American woman — they do exist), if the United States fell into civil war, she could seek refuge in Canada but I’d have no choice but to head to Europe as I hold a BRD-issued passport and I am ultimately their responsibility.

What a Web We Weave

I did not imagine that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would unfold the way it has. In fact, I was not sure that there would be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at all. Russia has a recent track-record of invasions. In 2007, it invaded Georgia but largely limited its military ambitions to Abkhazia and South Ossetia — regions that had long been de facto autonomous from the rest of Georgia. When Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, it largely limited its ambitions to Crimea. Unofficially, it has been an active participant in Luhansk and Donetsk. An invasion of sorts had long been expected. NATO and Ukraine had tacitly accepted it as unwanted, but seemingly inevitable. China had signed off on it with a few provisos. One was that Russia would wait until after the Beijing Scamlympics. The second was that Russia would act with restraint and limit its ambitions as it had in the past.

The extent of Russia’s invasion took everyone by surprise. It has also put China in an awkward position. China had intended to use this as a test case. If a surgical Russian occupation of two de facto independent Ukrainian oblasts went off smoothly and international responses were tepid, China would ramp up pressure on Taiwan with an all-out invasion on the cards. A test-invasion of Kinmen would be a near-certainty. Kinmen is a region comprising a few small islands administered by Taiwan in Xiamen Harbour, about six miles from the Fujian coast — or 116 miles from the Taiwanese coast. By breaking with its precedents, Russia confirmed another: the decadent, degenerate and divided West is still capable of uniting and causing serious damage. The United States might no longer be the undisputed global leader it was in 1992, the United States might have a president whose reign of error puts him into the same disastrous category as Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, but the United States is still able to cobble together a coherent and cohesive coalition. In this way, Putin and Xi underestimated the West in the same way that Hitler and Mussolini underestimated the West, in the same way that Kaiser Wilhelm II underestimated the United Kingdom and France.

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No Ordinary Games

The 2022 Beijing Olympics will start shortly. It’s a world removed from the glitz, glamour and forced cheer of the 2008 Summer Games. Back in 2008, the Summer Games were Chinese debut in the same way that the 1964 Tokyo Games were Japan’s or the 1988 Seoul Games were South Korea’s. Of course, China in 2008 was not Japan in 1964 nor was it South Korea in 1988.

By 1964 Japan (with American oversight) had developed into something resembling a liberal democracy. In 1988, South Korea had made significant progress towards becoming a prosperous, liberal democracy. The Seoul Games put South Korea under the global magnifying glass and the country’s authoritarian leaders were not in any position to alienate and antagonise anyone. Beijing 2008 was China showing that it was a major global power. Heads of state from most major and many minor countries came to celebrate together. On the ground, it was not the most pleasant of games. Athletes and observers noted that for all its technical brilliance, the 2008 Beijing Games were tightly scripted and Chinese authorities ensured that nothing potentially embarrassing happened. Sydney 2000 was good-natured, cheeky and filled with lots of banter and larrikinism. The 2012 London games were brilliantly quirky, fun and cheerful. The 2008 games were overwhelming and full of subtle creepiness.

Of course, life went on. London was London, Sochi was, well… Russian?, Rio was… Brazilian? Pyeongchang was a success — South Korea had come a long way from 1988 and there was much hope. North Korea and South Korea met, North Korean and South Korean athletes played joint matches. The Japanese male figure skaters shut the insufferable American talking heads up and won gold and silver.

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Whither Ukraine?

If you believe the news, never a good idea, you’d believe that Russia was acting with unpredictable aggression towards Ukraine. Of course, you’d also be incorrect. Russia is certainly acting with aggression, but it’s entirely predictable and entirely logical. Much has been said about Vladimir Putin’s argument that the collapse of the USSR was a geopolitical catastrophe. Many people in Russia agree with him. Far fewer in countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary or Ukraine would agree with him. The truth is, of course, that it was for the best for some countries, for the worse for others and, on the global scale, a calamity. The absence of an alternate power centre meant that the US was able to do as it wished on the global scale. Under Clinton, the US had a largely responsible foreign policy. Under Bush Jr. and Obama, the US behaved with reckless disregard. American intervention in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia led to chaos and misery.

I do not wish to defend Russian aggression per se. I also do not wish to be seen as an apologist for socialism or the USSR. If Russia had all that much to offer, then countries that were once part of the Russian Empire and the USSR wouldn’t have been so keen to get out from under Russia’s shadow. Even in Ukraine, one of the more troubled post-Soviet European states, the benefits of independence have far outweighed any negative consequences. Europe is not, however, the entire world.

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The Fall of Merkel

I had intended to write this sooner, but real life proved to be less than amenable.

Merkel is gone. The person who was the global face of Germany for 16 years is out of power and out of the Bundestag. The most noticeable thing is that there is nothing of note. Life carries on and her legacy, to use that awful term, has evaporated within days. That seems to be the norm; now more than ever. A prime minister like Cameron, a president like Obama, a Kanzler like Merkel can hold office for years, dominate discussion and public focus and then disappear as if they had never existed at all. If a legacy does exist, more often than not it’s toxic. Tony Blair left the UK worse for the wear, far worse. Turnbull left little of value, but planted a toxic crop that still hunts the Liberal Party. He’s not so much “the Ghost” as he is “the Fart”. Macron is creating a climate so toxic that even if he is forced out of power in April, the French state has become so heavy-handed and brutal that already strained relations between the people and the government will take years to heal if the French state makes few major mistakes.

So Merkel is gone. Her party is in tatters, rudderless, leaderless and in desperate need to find itself. Is it a centre-right, Christian Democratic party, the legacy of Adenauer? Is it a centrist party a la Merkel, reliant on Bavaria’s CSU to hold the line? After all, the only reason why it didn’t collapse entirely is that Bavaria, albeit by a reduced margin, once again supported the CSU. Without it, the theoretic centre-right would have been reduced to a rump opposition in the way that they were in Western Australia or the Northern Territories.

Germany has a new government. It is a complicated piece of political machinery. The Social Democrats stand at the centre of a three-party coalition that includes the Greens and the Free Democrats. The old party of labour, the party of activists and student union demagogues and the party of the polite middle class now need to hold together for four years. Is it possible? Quite probably so. The SPD haven’t led a government since 2005 and this is their chance to prove that they are still capable of that. For the Greens, it’s their first taste of power since 2005. For the FDP, it’s their first time in power since 2013 and their first time in a coalition with a party other than the CDU/CSU since Helmut Schmidt, some 40 years ago. It’s not that one can expect much from them, but being in power is its own aphrodisiac and it’s doubtful any of the three are keen to risk losing it (and electoral credibility).

Farewell, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was always going to be China’s acid test. Thatcher, Britain’s last conviction PM, was never keen on returning it to China. She never trusted Beijing to abide by its commitments further than to interpret the Anglo-Chinese Joint Declaration whichever way suited it best. Originally inclined to hold onto the colony, she relented only because the Chinese were prepared and able to starve and dehydrate Hong Kong into submission.

Hong Kongers knew what they could expect. Some, such as Carrie Lam and Jackie Chan, sold their souls to the Party. Both have done well out of it. Carrie Lam, for all her uselessness and incompetence, was appointed Chief Executive of the territory. Jackie Chan is the CCP’s poster boy. He is the model that Beijing wants all Hong Kongers to emulate. Speak Cantonese if you wish, be a Hong Konger if you must, but never forget that Xi Dada is your lord and master and that you must bow to Beijing’s whims without complaint or question.

Of course, much of Hong Kong’s business elite have taken this position. So, frankly, has the greater portion of Hong Kong-based criminal syndicates. When there were protests, frequently heated, a singular, obvious fact was pointed out by many advocates of a liberal Hong Kong. The vast majority of thugs and troublemakers could not speak or understand Cantonese. They were Mandarin-speaking. That is, they were brought in from the Mainland to do the Triads’ and Chief Executive’s dirty work for them. The odds of someone recognising a Hong Konger would be too great.

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Howdy

Just thought I’d follow up on Sheona’s question about being able to write original posts.

Not much to really say. I’ve been extremely busy, balancing three jobs and a busy study schedule. Managed to slip out of California for a week to visit Texas. Will fly back to California tomorrow. Would prefer to be in Europe, but Boris managed to destroy that for me and I’m working on getting to Sweden.

Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the…

I take malicious joy in watching people here squirm. I know, of course, that it’s not very kind of me. After years of toxic bile directed towards Blighty, the lot have had to face the reality of their own ineptitude. No, Germans trains do not run on time and save for a very select few lines, they’re not particularly clean or brilliant, either. The famed ICE is really no better than the Bristol to London-Paddington GWR line. The country is hardly efficient. If anything, the albatross that is the state weighs heavily on the necks of the country’s peasants.

After so many years of hearing about how Adolfina Honecker, er, Angela Merkel I mean, is a leader superior to Boris, Toxic Tess (not difficult to be) or David Cameron (again, not exactly a challenge) it’s all come undone. Germany has managed to bungle everything terribly. Take, for example, the vaccination drive. Elderly people were expected to complete a ten-step online appointment registration process with a two-step online ID-verification procedure. The procedure would give me a fit of the vapours and I grew up using this technology. I bloody well can’t imagine my 89-year-old nan who has never used a computer in her life or the 77-year-old neighbour who thinks it’s all bollocks to cope with it. (This isn’t a swipe at the venerable, rather a swipe at the fact that Germany is yonks behind the UK, Australia, Sweden and USA in respect to digitalisation)

The glorious German government is now at the verge of collapse with both major parties heading to historic defeats. The CDU and CSU are caught up in scandal after scandal, reaching as high as the health minister himself. (His husband was profiting from government procurement contracts given the company he works for.) Between general incompetence and corruption, the sense that the CDU/CSU just need to leave and that SPD have betrayed everything they should stand for, Germany’s heading to a frightful coalition.

Then, when things were already going badly, they waged war against the Oxford jab for political reasons. This isn’t my opinion, this is the view of the Italian health authority! As Britain passed the milestone of 50% vaccinated, the German government has finally started to grasp that it might need to simplify its vaccination process. Not that it much matters to me. I’ve given notice of intent to vacate to the landlady, made sure that my papers in the UK are in order and have my aeroplane tickets booked. Oh, and I have made arrangements to get the Johnson & Johnson single-shot jab whilst in California. I might as well get something out of my tax dollars.

Turny Worms

This morning I received a message from an acquaintance, a woman in her 70s who grew up between Britain and Hunland. She asked me for my opinion on Adolfina Honecker’s, I mean, Angela Merkel’s, China deal. Having been distracted with other things recently, I hadn’t heard about it. (Funny how real life and work tend to get in the way of things) I took a Captain Cook and was amused.

Amused. Yes, I was amused. The EU will now increasingly become reliant on China. Had this been 20 years ago, I would have been more forgiving. Even 10 years ago one could have been relatively forgiving. After all, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao followed Deng Xiaoping’s maxim that China’s initials “PRC” should serve as an acronym for its foreign policy: please remain calm. Under Deng and his hand-picked successors, China sought to position itself as a stable, doveish but assertive alternative to an often histrionic United States. As the 1990s came to a close and the USA engaged in a catastrophic series of wars and foreign policy blunders after 9/11, Deng’s call bore fruit.

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Tilting At Windmills

Germany is a special place, special in the nest of three-headed, phosphorescent rats on the shores of Lake Karachay sense. Germany can be difficult to stomach at the best of times. After all, even seemingly mundane matters can give those of us with distinctly Anglo-Saxon leanings fits of the vapours. For example, in order to be enrolled in a “Krankenkasse”, I was instructed to provide a copy of my British health insurance card that does not exist. They were well aware that prior to my descent into madness, I mean, move to Germany, I had been living in the United Kingdom. They were also aware that there is no British health insurance card. Yet they requested it anyway.

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