Archive | September 2015

Our meeting with Lech Wałęsa/Nasze spotkanie z Wałęsą

As most who know me are aware of, over the summer I got married in Gdansk in Poland. Aside from being a pretty town on the Polish coast, Gdansk is also famous for being the place in which the Solidarność trade union (which was instrumental in overthrowing Communism in Central and Eastern Europe) was founded.

Polish history is a passion of mine, and for a long time I have admired Solidarność and its original leader Lech Wałęsa (a man who went on to win the Nobel peace prize and become President of Poland). I was lucky enough to spend three months working at Solidarność in the summer of 2014, and the day before my wedding in August the opportunity arose for a few colleagues (in Gdansk for my wedding) and me to meet Lech Wałęsa himself. We of course jumped at this opportunity.

The meeting itself was very interesting. There were a few crossed wires (we thought the meeting was simply an opportunity to shake hands and take a photo), but Mr. Wałęsa was under the impression that it was a more formal meeting! Luckily we had plenty to ask, and Mr. Wałęsa spent twenty minutes or so answering our questions about Poland and its future. All in all Mr. Wałęsa was extremely charming, and I will now remember him as a true gentleman in addition to a bona fide hero!

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Jak wiele osób wiedza brałem ślub w tym roku (w Gdańsku w sierpniu), więc byliśmy w miescie wolności przez jeden tydzień w sierpniu. Od długiego czasu jestem naprawdę zainteresowany w historii Polskiej, i dzień przed ślubem miałem okazje poznać Lech Wałęsa. Pracowałem w Solidarności przez 3 miesiące w roku 2014 (tam robiłem badanie o umowach śmieciowych w Polsce) i taka okazja była dla mnie niesamowita! Tez poszedłem z kilkoma kolegami z Cardiff – oni były w Gdańsku na moim ślubie.

Spotkanie był bardzo ciekawy. Na początku byliśmy trochę zdezorientowany (myśleliśmy cel spotkania był po prostu uścisk ręki i kilka zdjęć), ale Pan Prezydent myślał spotkanie miał formalny charakter! Na szczęście mieliśmy wiele pytań o sytuacji w Polsce, i przez 20 minut Pan Prezydent odpowiedział na nasze pytanie. Pan Prezydent był bardzo miły, i będę pamiętać Pan Wałęsa jak prawdziwy dżentelmen.

RIP British social democracy

Tremendously depressing news that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected Labour leader. Labour has for the moment ceased to be a social-democratic movement – I wouldn’t touch a Corbyn-led party with a bargepole. I actually agree with much of Corbyn’s socio-economic programme, but there are a number of things that concern me greatly about Jeremy Corbyn:

I was flabbergasted to watch Jeremy Corbyn refer to Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’ in this week’s Panorama. Corbyn is obviously not particularly picky about his friends – the association of Hamas and Hezbollah with terrorism, murderous anti-Semitism and extreme homophobia is very well-known. Just imagine if footage were to emerge of David Cameron referring to his ‘friends’ in the BNP or Britain First. Perhaps that comparison is a little generous to Corbyn however, for the BNP and Britain First have nothing like the blood on their hands that Hamas and Hezbollah do…

I also take issue with Corbyn’s close association with the Morning Star – the far-left newspaper (mouthpiece of the British Communist party no less) in which he has written a weekly column for over three decades. For many years after Corbyn starting writing his column in the early 1980s the paper was heavily subsidized by the Soviet Union (the entity that brought you dictatorship, Gulags and alliance with Nazi Germany), and the Morning Star indeed cheerled the 1981 suppression of Soldarity by the Polish Communist Government just before Corbyn started writing his column. To this day, the Morning Star continues to have sympathy for a series of deeply undemocratic and unsavoury political forces.

Why, just to conclude, can’t the far ‘left’ do the politics of protest without getting into bed with monsters? Those of us on the social-democratic left are able to support better living and working conditions/oppose imperialism etc. whilst, at the same time, entirely eschewing and condemning the dictatorship and terrorism that the likes of the Soviet Union and Hamas go in for. This is something I will never be able to get my head around. Anyway, (reluctantly) off to the Lib-Dems for me…

Thoughts on the refugee crisis

As with my last post on the Eurozone crisis, the penning of this blog was prompted by the question of a former student. This time Devin, a very nice student from China who studied for an MSc with us last year, asked me what I thought of the current refugee crisis. Here are some reflections anyway…

1/ The role of social media in such crises is increasingly pointless and irritating

I say this for the reason that almost all of the posts on Facebook and Twitter that defend the refugees/attack reluctant Governments mainly seem to be about posturing. Such posts are very rarely accompanied by concrete actions like donations/volunteering, and merely seem to serve the purpose of making those doing the posting look good to their followers/friends. Posturing is something that most of us do on social media (plenty can be found on my own Facebook!), but such posts severely underestimate the complexity of the situation and are very poor substitutes for donations/volunteering.

2/ More talk about solutions is needed (particularly from left-liberals)

Another thing that has long irritated me about the immigration/refugee issue is the reluctance of those on the liberal-left to adopt concrete, detailed positions on this topic. It is very easy, as I allude to above, to criticize the actions of one’s Government, yet if one criticizes a particular policy consistency requires that a set of alternative propositions are advanced. This is something the left is generally poor at doing. Concrete policies/numbers are rarely put forward in the wider immigration debate, and calls for open-door responses to the current crisis completely ignore the resistance of electorates (60% of Brits do not want more refugees than Cameron proposes according to a Newsnight poll) and subsequent implications for refugees/economic migrants from other parts of the world. This is of course begs the question of what I would do, and…

3/ I would take more than David Cameron proposes but would not adopt an open-door policy

I do agree that the figure of 20,000 (over five years) proposed by Cameron is insufficiently generous. I would therefore be disposed to take more in the region of 100,000 to 200,000, and also push hard for European/international agreements that accommodate as many refugees as possible across as many countries as possible. I must confess that an open-door solution would concern me however. Not only would such a solution ride roughshod over the wishes of existing citizens, but the fact that many of those seeking asylum are not unambiguously refugees would beg serious question for future migration policy. The fact that many of the refugees have distinctive religious identities/very different cultural backgrounds (i.e. of the type that Europe has historically struggled to assimilate) also makes me think that an open-door policy is not a sensible idea…

4/ Nonetheless, I admire the position of Germany

Though an open-door policy is not something I would advocate, I do have something of an admiration for the actions of Germany. The country has (rightly in my view) been the subject of severe criticism for its management of the Eurozone crisis, so it is refreshing to see the country adopt its more traditional post-war position of international solidarity. This is the side of Germany that many of us admire – even though I have concerns regarding the long-term feasibility of this policy!