Tag Archives: migrants

“Palermo is not a European city. It’s a Middle Eastern metropolis in Europe. Palermo is Istanbul, it’s Beirut.”

19 Nov

Look like Sicilians haven’t forgotten their emigrant past…  (We ALL need to see Gianni Amelio’s 1994 Lamerica  — and see it again if we have already, now…)

Something I’ve always said about my beloved Naples too.

A conversation with Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo. Something I always said about Naples From Krytyka Polityczna & European Alternatives :

“Palermo is not a European city. It’s a Middle Eastern metropolis in Europe. It’s not Frankfurt nor Berlin, with all respect to them. We are proud of being Middle Eastern and we are proud of being European. Palermo is Istanbul, it’s Beirut. Our mission is to be a Beirut with a fast over-ground metro, to be an Istanbul fully serviced by public and free wifi…

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 3.26.55 PMToday, facing the epochal challenge of migration, we now are a “city of rights” where it would instead be a treason to comply with current laws. Today we are the most advanced Italian city because we have started “further back”. We have experienced the tragic and tiring journey to attain legality against organized crime, and today we want to be the reference point for the effective exercise of civil and social rights. We organised the biggest Gay Pride in Southern Europe: 300,000 people, families and kids in the street, people applauding looking outside their windows. It is thanks to migrants that we have recovered our story and our harmony: we have finally gone back to being a “Middle Eastern city in Europe.”

And the major money quote is, for me:

Beyond this, the distinction between the “asylum seeker” and the “economic migrant” based on the policies of European countries makes me shiver. What is the difference between those who are likely to be killed because their country is in war and those who are likely to starve? [My emphasis] I want to delve into this criminal logic for a moment: if I have a right to asylum, why can I not buy a plane ticket and get to Europe regularly, landing in Berlin or Rome or Madrid? The proposal to outsource the right of asylum, its management to African countries or to Turkey, and creating camps is unacceptable. Instead, it is necessary to create guaranteed arrival paths, as real humanitarian corridors.

I had felt the same shivers back in the spring of 2016 is from me, as I wrote back then:

The idea that Afghans are “economic migrants”…unlike Syrians and Iraqis, because Afghanistan is no longer a war zone, is obscene.  What does the barometer for endemic violence, chronic poverty or a people’s desperation have to read for someone to be considered a “real” refugee?

And Orlando continues:

That is why I say: we must start from the local territories. From cities. Beauty is local. The fundamental values are embodied here. The national state, on the other hand, is a closed space. The European Union is not functioning precisely because it has become a place for legitimizing national selfishness. For the younger generations all that exists is the neighbourhood and the world. What’s in the middle is an obstacle to happiness, an impediment to being oneself. Migrants helped us question that idea of state, as Europe’s constituent fathers began to after the war. The construction and choice of one’s identity is the greatest act of freedom of every single person, I say as Gadamer’s pupil. My “homeland” is where I decide it is. [My emphasis]

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 4.19.01 PM.pngPalermo — (I’m assuming some well-off suburb because this doesn’t look like the Palermo I know)

lamerica-movie-poster

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

#stopmindborders — the New Neo-Greek recovers his conscience

13 Aug

I hate to throw the term “New Neo-Greek” at you readers who have just started to grasp what “Neo-Greek” means.  I should have explained more explicitly earlier, but I think some of you sort of understand.

The “New Neo-Greek” is first and foremost the Greek of the Crisis.  That should explain most of it.  In an old post titled: “Un Verano en Nueva York”  I wrote, about a conversation between me and one of my favorite waiters on earth at Bar Jamón in New York:

“So a Greek and a Spaniard get together,” the joke goes — and of course these days they compare notes on how fucked up their respective countries have become.  I tell José that I think Spain is salvageable but that Greece seems in danger of just slipping off of the face of the earth at some point soon.  He’s not so confident.  He says people in Spain are “learning to be poor again,” getting used to a life with “un plato de alubias” — a plate of beans — a proverbial Spanish expression for just-bare-subsistence poverty.  He’s probably around thirty and he says bluntly that his generation in Spain is destroyed; that they’re going to hit their late thirties and early forties without any job experience and that unless you’ve got family money, your only option is emigration, like “old-time Gallegos” we both say in sync.  (Galicians in Spain are like Epirotes in Greece, the archetypically emigrating region, so much so that in much of Latin America all Spaniards used to be collectively referred to as “Gallegos.”)

My heart goes out to him and I respect his straight-eyed stoicism and I think he’ll be ok because he seems strong.  As hard as I try, though, my heart doesn’t go out to Greeks of his generation nor do I respect them.  I think they’re cry-babies who would be scared shitless – or worse, think it beneath them — to work in a bar in New York the way José does and that they deserve – richly — to relearn the cultural lessons of emigration and being poor again.  Three decades of illusory prosperity created an unbearable type of human being in Greece, a nouveau-riche culture of entitled provincials, cold, petty snobs who are snobs the way only the truly provincial can be – and I’m talking about Athens more than the provinces…

I’m pained by the genuinely poor and the old and the sick and the heroin addicts who are suffering and dying in Greece…

But that urban, middle-to-upper-middle-class, twenty-five to forty-five-year-old demographic in Greece…they can just go back to washing dishes in Chicago again like our grandfathers did as far as I care.  Let ‘em start from scratch; see what kind of culture they can come up with this time.

Well, I have to now admit that I was a little unfair.  The “nouveau-riche culture of entitled provincials, cold, petty snobs who are snobs the way only the truly provincial can be…” still exists, of course, but they have been completely marginalized by a new awareness: of tradition, of “politesse,” of civilized behavior, and of a humanism that I’ll accept the charge of cliché for, but which suddenly seems to have become Greeks’ instinctive birthright again.

As far back as 2015, Roger Cohen wrote in the Times:

Greece has made me think about everything statistics don’t tell you. No European country has been as battered in recent years. No European country has responded with as much consistent humanity to the refugee crisis…

More than 200,000 refugees, mainly from Syria, have arrived in a Greece on the brink this year, almost half of them coming ashore in the island of Lesbos, which lies just six miles from Turkey. They have entered a country with a quarter of its population unemployed. They have found themselves in a state whose per-capita income has fallen by nearly 23 percent since the crisis began, with a tenuous banking system and unstable politics. Greece could serve as a textbook example of a nation with potential for violence against a massive influx of outsiders.

In general, the refugees have been well received. There have been clashes, including on Lesbos, but almost none of the miserable bigotry, petty calculation, schoolyard petulance and amnesiac small-mindedness emanating from European Union countries further north, particularly Hungary.

I might have put off explaining what the “New” Greek is like all at once then, and just kind of refer to it here and there in different posts, because I didn’t feel like there was any one thing that I could hold up as evidence.  Then this #stopmindborders campaign appeared and I thought I had to jump at the opportunity.  I think maybe Greeks would have responded to the migration wave that came into the country in the last few years with decency even if the country weren’t in such a crisis, but it was the waking up from amnesia that Cohen refers too that played the greatest part; Greeks suddenly remembered that they were once one of the planet’s great emigrating peoples.

More at some other time.  Watch all the campaign’s videos though (mercifully subtitled); they’re really moving and worth the time.  Their motto is: “The greatest borders are the ones we build in our minds”

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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