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Travels with my wellingtons

Mark Mardell | 00:57 UK time, Thursday, 13 September 2007

I got some strange looks last week tramping through Faro airport carrying a pair of wellingtons. Outside, the sun was blazing and there was no mud in sight. The boots were the legacy of my trip to look at the environment in Poland - some 12 days and four countries later it seemed a long while since I fell in that bog.

But the odd looks I got weren’t half so quizzical as the look as I would have given myself - had that been physically possible - when I caught myself reading in my guidebook about a system of agriculture in northern Portugal, where people farm shifting sand dunes.

“That sounds interesting, I’d like to see that,” I thought to myself, before doing a double-take. Agricultural systems were not something I’d found fascinating before. But they say travel broadens the mind.

Since I’ve been back in the urban landscape of Brussels I’ve been reading your comments, and they’ve prompted some thoughts. There’s also a correction and a clarification to get off my chest.

Green romance

I think Richard is spot on. Returning to Bucharest, rather starry-eyed from my encounter with the hillside herdsmen, I did reflect that however romantically quaint the encounter, it was more important that Ion’s son should have all the opportunities that Europe can offer. I asked myself whether it was better that this (perhaps non-existent) offspring stayed on the hillside frightening off bears, like his dad, or had the chance to end up, say, as a correspondent in Brussels for Romanian TV. Preserving mosaic agriculture may not help create this opportunity.

Of course, the European Commission would say its aim was precisely to get the balance right between keeping the countryside as it is and making sure that people who work the land can make a good living.

But Richard raises a wider concern: is environmental protection driven by romance? In all the countries I visited, people in the countryside claimed that many environmentalists lived in big cities and saw the rural landscape as a sort of reservoir of peace – a contrast to the lives they actually lived. Standing on the hillside in Romania talking about the need to preserve mosaic agriculture, the words of the Polish headmaster came back to me: “Europe wants us to be a theme park.”

millau_203afp.jpgThis worry is more acute when you look at Europe as a whole, particularly because the new countries that joined in 2004 and 2007 are, on the whole more rural, with a less developed infrastructure than Western Europe. In Britain and Germany we destroyed the forests that covered the land more than a millennium ago. Who are we to tell others not to build the cities and roads and bridges that generate wealth? Or should we admit our past was a mistake and strive for a better balance in these countries?

Already it is clear that this is a big argument. One environmental group claims that in Eastern Europe the environment has been “shockingly marginalised”.

Manmade habitats

Several people thought I had fallen down on my duties by not spelling out whether the European Union was financing the bypass expected to go through the Rospuda valley. Apologies for that. As so often with the EU, the facts are hard to pin down. The best I (and the Commission) can do is: the bypass itself has received no specific funding, but the road it is part of, the Via Baltica, has. So far in Poland a part of the road north of Warsaw has got just over 140m euros. The Polish government is applying now for funding for three other stretches of the road: it could get up to 1.2bn euros.

So, in short, the bypass itself won’t get any EU money. While some of you feel that is the crucial point, that isn’t the case legally: the EU has stopped the road because it breaches a directive on the environment.

It is perhaps important to reflect on what is being saved.

sunkenlane_203.jpgIt’s a bit passé to call environmentalists “conservationists” but it’s a good word. Many do want to conserve the status quo. All three of the special habitats I looked at were, to a greater or lesser extent, created by man. Most of the environment in Europe is made what it is by farming. But at what point do we shout: “Freeze!”

Doubtless, environmentalists would have wanted to stop the British enclosure system which gave us the hedgerows and their birds. No doubt much was lost even earlier, when grasslands were ploughed up for farm land. What marine species were lost when Holland was rescued from the sea?

On my visit to Andalucia I asked Guido Schmidt of WWF whether in 50 years’ time his successors would be arguing to save the strawberry farms because a rare sort of butterfly had learnt to thrive on them. He laughed, and said that technology had reached such a pitch, and such fundamental changes could be made by man, that what was left untouched had to be saved.

The European Union, like all political institutions, has to perform a constant balancing act. Its commitment to preserve a diversity of species and habitats couldn’t be clearer. But EU money is one of the major engines of development, funding new roads and dams and the like. Brussels faces heavy pressure from well organised and well funded worldwide lobby groups, which are determined that the environment should be the main priority. Perhaps emotive, cute, animals are used to push the commission to put the environment, not development or wealth creation, at the top of its agenda.

Hand milking

A correction and an apology, I wrote that milking by hand is illegal under EU rules. It is not. The commission points out that there is no specific rule banning milking by hand. The regulations are aimed at clean milk and, “Technically when hand milking is done properly, hands do not touch the milk.”

But up on that hillside there was no running water and no electricity and I do wonder whether Ion’s milk, and indeed his hands, “comply with clearly-defined hygiene rules in order to avoid any contamination.”

The commission does, however, say: “Special conditions may be granted by the competent authority to take account of traditional production methods.” And the Romanian government says it will allow hand milking to continue.

So finally on to the question of my depiction of Romania raised by Regina. First of all, Ion and his friends are not gypsies or Roma. It wouldn’t matter to me if they were, but it’s a straight fact. The more important point is that Regina feels that by showing such images I’m perpetuating a damaging stereotype.

donkeys_203.jpgI do understand that Romania is not all antiquated farms and cute carts. While I was there, my suitcase broke and in the search for a new one I can testify that the hypermarkets are uncannily identical to those in Belgium, and the luxury shopping malls rival anything in Leeds or London.

I know that the country has a long record of achievement and the young people are particularly skilled in sciences. But none of this is relevant to a piece on preserving the environment.

But that’s an easy get-out for me. The point is, Romania is a bit different, at least to Western European eyes. Journalists in general remark on what is different, strange, striking. It is important we put what we find into context and don’t leave readers or viewers with the idea that the exception is the norm.

But during my few days in Romania I passed 40 or 50 horse-drawn carts on the roads. They are very common. You don’t see that in Berlin or Birmingham. Actually, you don’t see it in Spain or Italy. I’ve never seen it in my travels to Turkey or Kosovo. So Yes, we will show pictures of this. Because it’s unusual, and makes the point that a sort of agriculture unchanged for centuries still exists here alongside others. It’s not an attempt to demean Romania.

A Romanian colleague who was a tour guide in Ceausescu’s time tells me one of their duties was to stop Western tourists taking such pictures. One of the reasons that this particularly nasty dictator destroyed villages and herded villagers into half-built tower blocks was that he was obsessed with the fear that the outside world saw Romania as backward, and he wanted it to look modern. Let's not go back to the old ways.

Comments   Post your comment

Mark: I thank the gods that you do this blog. Keep writing as frequently and at length as you possibly can. Keep traveling and tell us what you see, learn and think about it and yes, tell us your biases, your sources and when you make a mistake, own up to it. Continue responding to reader comments that you deem response-worthy.

...And I will keep reading.

Hypermarkets in Belgium??? Please tell me where!

  • 3.
  • At 07:42 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • steveh wrote:

Mark - to link your two latest blogs;

My Romanian girlfriend's father still uses a horse-drawn plough on his land, as do most of their neighbours - how much land can they cultivate in one day?
Metric answer: 4,048.5830 sq mtrs.
Imperial answer: 1 acre.
No pun intended but surely it's a case of horses for courses.

  • 4.
  • At 07:54 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Dixon wrote:

Thank you Mark for another interesting piece. Your separate article on Romanian agriculture showed the wider picture so I do not think you need to be on the defensive. As for the piece above, you raise valid points about the need for balance and the difficulty in doing so in a rapidly changing world. Nowhere is this more so than in modern Spain. When I first started visiting friend in Malaga 30 years ago mules and donkeys where the norm, very pleasant but also poor and with very low productivity.
Everything changed in less than 10 years with both winners and losers.

By the way I know nothing about Portugase agriculture but I think you are refering to Souther Portugal as Faro is just about as far South as you can go!

  • 5.
  • At 08:31 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Jeroen wrote:

Eastern European officials still fear being shown as backwards, and every time there's a story in a Western paper highlighting horse carriages you can count on a small scandal back home in Romania, Albania, Bulgaria etc. In a guidebook I once published a photo of a man with a horsecart collecting the rubbish in an Albanian town. The result was pandemonium in the city council - 'what would the foreigners think of us now'. They were ashamed of their assumed backwardness - for a traditional, eco-friendly system of rubbish collection that had been in place for hundreds of years.
It would be wrong to preserve rural lifestyles just for the sake of the 'museum landscape', but on the other hand these countries should realise (and are only now starting to) that it is exactly these landscapes that are their great advantage in attracting tourism - foreigners love seeing horsecarts. As you said, these have all but disappeared in Europe now.
The challenge is to change these rural lifestyles to have them offer more chances for the local population without losing what makes them unique.

  • 6.
  • At 09:47 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Well done for fessing up about the 'hand-milking' - I was a bit shocked when I read your original report. That said it is important to be aware that there are loads and loads of rules and regulations which make farming very bureaucratic.

I think the point about Romania is also important. You couldn't write a blog as good as this and not make some specific points about the differences between European countries.

Of course, in the Western world there will always be more things in common in this day and age - but I don't think you should shy away from the things which are very specific to countries like Romania - even if they only relate to a minority of the people.

These minority activities give a very useful insight into what makes the great variety of Europe, and why it is that it is so difficult [impossible/?] for us to be considered as 'one country' like the US of A.

Perhaps you will be giving advice to Michael Palin for his new series ?!

  • 7.
  • At 10:02 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Michael Finch wrote:

Your Polish headmaster's remark that the EU wants countries such as his to become 'theme' parks is not altogether a new observation. I remember many years ago attending a meeting of farmers in North West England at which the then Min of Ag officials were explaining the benefits of the soon to be introduced Environmentally Sensitive Areas. It was at the time of Michael Jopling's tenure at MAFF. After everything had been explained one farmer observed 'they want to turn us into b****y park keepers!' The longer term debate might begin to focus on the need to treat food as an energy source just like oil and gas and how we maximise production in order to feed people while at the same time protecting - rather than simply preserving - the environment. Although the price (for e.g.) of wheat is well below most folks' radar it has risen in the UK from around £62 per tonne this time last year to about £160 and rising. Same with milk and milk products. And the conflict between using land for fuel crops rather than for food is getting well aired.

  • 8.
  • At 10:26 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Ian wrote:

The best reason for preserving small scale farming is not that it is good for the environment (it is) or tourism (also true), but because it is in reality the best way to sustainably feed lots of people. Lots of rural people that is. Small farms produce lots of food for the people who live on and near them, but they are less good at exporting the large quantities of unblemished uniform products to order, as demanded by the supermarkets. Large scale industrial farming is only good for exporting food to cities. Which brings me on to the next point:

If you think it is better for Ion's son to work in TV journalism than on a farm, then you clearly have an exaggerated sense of your own importance and that of your profession.

  • 9.
  • At 10:56 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Alexi Damianov wrote:

Hi, I'm from Bulgaria, a country where horse carts and wooden ploughs are also still quite a frequent view.

I do not agree that the problem with portraying South Eastern Europe as backwards and kind of retarded is entirely with the local officials. Western media really do tend to show in their reports either the highly urbanised areas in our capital cities or the backwards and poor rural areas. Never both of them in the same report.

And what the Western spectator thinks when s/he sees that is "of course, they show us their beautiful buildings as they hope that we won't see that they're poor and desperate, God save our investigative journalism".

P.S. And when I've been in the countryside, I have drunk on many occasions milk from a hand-milked cow. It's delicious!

  • 10.
  • At 10:56 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Mark, this is the Richard whose comments you werer kind enough to expand. Maybe I should take up blogging too!

I think the biggest issue is the nexus of Western Europe's desire to protect the environment and CEE's desire not to be seen as "backward."

The fear of backwardness runs deep in the psychology of most CEE nations. Modernity has always come from the west, and has always sat alongside the old ways.

100 years ago, Siemens and similar companies were busy building electricity networks, trams, cinemas etc in CEE's towns and cities, while partly-literate peasant farmers looked on in wonder when they came to town by horse and cart to sell food at the market.

Yet the countryside is also the bedrock of national identity in countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania etc. This is where language, the true definition of a nation in those parts, was preserved, while in the modern towns and cities, German, Yiddish and Russian were spoken.

Virtually everyone in CEE has relatives in the countryside, and the parents or at least grandparents of today's urban yuppies and polticians were often peasant farmers, with mud under their fingernails and smelling of manure.

The wave of CEE migrants to the UK has remarked how bad the food is (it's not straight from the farm like in CEE), how boring is the countryside (you can't roam at will, everything is fenced off.)

When I lived in CEE, locals were alsways amazed by my stories of school trips to farms. "But don't you have relatives in the countryside that you visit in the summer to dig potatoes and pick strawberries and mushrooms?"

Finally a wee hint. Next time in you are on the road in CEE, look out for how many fences you see the countryside. Then consider why there are so few compared to the West.

Mark Mardell wrote: "I know that the country has a long record of achievement and the young people are particularly skilled in sciences. But none of this is relevant to a piece on preserving the environment."

In my view, the above is a totally incorrect -but culturally highly significant remark:

At present I am (re)reading "The Age of Automation": The 1964 BBC (radio) Reith Lectures by Leon Bagrit (at that time chairman of Europe's first company specialized in "automation"). Sir Leon talks about how automation -if properly understood and applied would bring universal wealth, more or less ending the economic exploitation of human beings. "Today, if we know where we are going and if we use the slave services of automation intelligently and courageously, we have the chance of building a really high civilization for ourselves. And when I say 'for ourselves'; I mean the whole community, not just for a small elite on the Greek pattern. This is the essential purpose of automation."

This techno-utopianism is already questioned in Chapter 13 of Tracy Kidder's 1981 book "The Soul of A New Machine", ISBN: 0-380-59931-7: "Maybe it has been a kind of chronocentrism, a conviction that that the new machines of your own age must rank as the most stupendous or the scariest ever, but whatever the source, computers have acquired great mystique. Almost every commentator has assured the public that the computer is bringing on a revolution. By the 1970's, it should have been clear that revolution was the wrong word. And it should not have been surprising to anybody that in many cases the technology had served as a prop to the status quo."

By 2007 it must be even more clear that the disasterous consequences of the economic exploitation of humans has increased rather than decreased as hoped for by Leon Bagrit. How has this happened: Is there a fault in Bagrit's thinking -or have other forces diverted the course of history in less humanitarian directions? If so, then how has this been achieved?

As far as I can see, Bagrit puts a large emphasis on social understanding: "Automation in this true sense is brought to full fruition only through exploration of its three major elements, communication, computation, and control -the three 'Cs'. I believe there is a great need to make sure that some, at any rate, of the implications to our society of the three 'Cs' in combination are recognized and understood. That is the purpose of these lectures."

Elsewhere Sir Leon remarks on the need for "re-education" as opposed to "retraining" of those made redundant by automation.

In my experience, this is exactly what has failed to happen: Encouraged by Ruskin and the horrors of the French political and the British Industrial revolutions, English (and by extension, Western) culture has become terrified of science and technology. C.P. Snow's famous "two cultures": As a result, cultural intellectuals have (since around 1984 -when the commercial exploitation of computer graphics and the personal computer really got off the ground) conspired with commercial interests in the (by that time, largely American) computer industry to promote social theories which utilized the insights gained from "automation" -not for the general good -but in ways that effectively isolate the general public from any genuine understanding of the processes that they were buying into on a grand scale. Commercial lobbying seems to have encouraged governments to enforce the division between culture and science -by reversing earlier policies (New Mathematics, and such) to create a semi-educated public capable of operating machines but incapable of understanding the deeper implications.

On the "Newsnight" site -is an article "Crusades and Jihads in Postcolonial Times" by Dr S Sayyid . He says: "To continue to tell this version of the story of the west (let's call it 'Westernese'), means to continue to narrate the 'rest' as being authoritarian, and backward. The dominance of Westernese means that when those in the 'rest' look at the problems that their societies face, the only solution seems to be to make the difficult transition to the west, by westernising themselves."

The destruction of both the Middle East (via the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq) and the destruction of Eastern Europe by "western" consumerism would appear to be part of the same game -and has lead to an increase, rather than a decrease in economic enslavement, as hoped for by Bagrit. The social schizophrenia which divides science from culture and economics has encouraged us not to look carefully at the relationships between technology, culture and economics. If we did so, then we might see how closely they are intertwined. Indeed, consumer technology is currently being used today (via the advertising industry backed up by supportive academic theory) to modify our cultural and physical environment so that we are all forced into a "Westernese" lifestyle. In the Philippines, for example, "technology" does not often mean "enfranchisement" but more often the means to enslavement in a call center or some other menial job supporting the more comfortable lifestyles of those in the west -by providing them with cheap labour here.

Within the world envisaged by Bagrit in 1964, increased wealth would presumably allow individuals to pursue the lifestyle that they wished, without being forced to do so -or without having it destroyed -by economic forces outside democratic control. The price may perhaps (in some cases) be a somewhat "artificial" maintenance of cultural and physical environments that were once the direct product of economic forces -but these can now be maintained for purely "aesthetic" reasons because they fit in with the human spirit. Taiwan's dark village sees the light

If there are those within a Country_called_Europe who are able to open up the debate -so that the tides of consumerist techo-determinism can be turned -allowing a truly democratic debate over the future of mankind -then perhaps the EU will be be worth the effort. However, first, it seems that we must realize that America is not the benchmark for civilized modernity -in fact, culturally, economically and intellectually, it is a rather backward country.

  • 12.
  • At 12:05 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Katherine wrote:

hello mark!
i enjoy your blogs, but i wonder if you are falling into the trap of thinking that it's just the environmental lobby that is very strong. Industrial lobbies are very powerful as well, with far more resources than many of the environmental lobbies. Remember what the priorities of the Commission are.. last time I looked (admittedly not that recently!! i'll be glad to hear it if it has changed!) it was "competitiveness", lisbon agenda type stuff, with protecting the environment falling somewhat off the radar. How much money does environment get compared to many other european policies? In an era where biodiversity is being destroyed at an incredibly fast rate?
all the best, katherine

  • 13.
  • At 02:56 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Ronald Grünebaum wrote:

Mark's blog has become an absolute must-read. But I do wonder whether he is still "UK- and BBC-compatible".

Mark digs out the details and puts things into the right context. He understand the enormous complexity of Europe and the challenge for the Commission to deal with it. He travels, listens and is willing to learn.

But I observe that the European media, and most of all those in the UK, do not see much merit in explaining complexities. They sell better through simple messages. And nothing could be more simple than repeating again and again the mantra of the faceless Brussels bureaucrat pestering the hard-working taxpayer (or farm hand in this case). Factual information about the EU just doesn't sell.

Maybe I will meet Mark at the Woluwe Cora one day, but until then I would like to hear more from him on how his attitude to the EU goes down with his organisation and his compatriots.

  • 14.
  • At 04:13 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Gerard wrote:

Just a little anecdote...

When I was working in Livange (Luxembourg), every day and old fella would go by on a horse drawn cart.

This is the last place I expected to see that... :)

  • 15.
  • At 05:24 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Trhys wrote:

What a great blog - I just stumbled on it.
It is interesting, as a Californian, to read about environmental issues in Europe - we have SO MUCH UNTOUCHED land/resources the size of SEVERAL EU countries that we have the luxury of simple definitions for "saving the environment" - but as I saw recently at Mt. Diablo, where do we define what man has put up and is part of our history vs. returning to pre-human status. It's even more of an issue for Europe, since it's been trampled across for millenia. anyway, keep up the great blog! - TRhys

  • 16.
  • At 05:30 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Alex IONESCU wrote:

Dear all,

As a former CEE citizen I must enlighten you with one fundamental detail: horsepowered carts are a recent wisely controlled and encouraged comeback transportation technique due to the very next future oil crisis... It's the eastern europe answer to Prius-like projects and it is sponsored by the Greenpeace. By the way: it's also very Web 2.0... ;-) Just kidding... But hey, you can also see it that way. Have you ever travelled with a 1 horsepowered (2 is for "clustered configuration") cart ?! Well in my early years, I did. From a western-hectic-lifestyle point of view it's quite retarded, I must admit that. But from a different perspective it gives you a better understanding of the countrylife: it's slow enough to chat with people you meet, you have contemplating time that otherwise would be just trainspotting, etc. Bye, Alex
("to blog or not to blog")

  • 17.
  • At 05:31 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Sacha Cleminson wrote:

Dear Mark
We have been delighted to see your interest in the issue of the Via Baltica highway in eastern Poland. However, we are a little baffled by your recent blog entry.

The case of the Via Baltica is not about jobs versus development. Quite the contrary. Environmental NGOs support the improvement of transport links in eastern Poland. It would be wonderful if more people could travel to see the wildlife in these fabulous sites, as thousands of British tourists do.

The question we ask is ‘why build a road across some of Europe’s finest natural assets when a viable and commensurate alternative might exist a matter of miles away, which is shorter and potentially cheaper?’ The current project does not make practical sense, neither does it make legal sense.

EU laws do make sense in this respect. They provide for the strategic assessment of development projects, like the Via Baltica, alongside the conservation of wildlife. If projects are seen as of ‘overriding public interest’ then, sensibly, they can go ahead, provided proper compensation is put in place.

As a member of the Polish Government pointed out in the European Parliament this morning, Poland should be trying to avoid some of the mistakes that other Member States made in developing their infrastructure.

The natural environment is an asset, not a millstone. It provides clean water, clean air, tourism opportunities, food -such as fish- to eat, physical and mental health and a certain quality of life. Why should we destroy it unnecessarily?

Sacha Cleminson, RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, UK partner of BirdLife International)

  • 18.
  • At 09:43 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Zac wrote:

Horse-drawn agriculture? It may not be too long off before such non-fuels-dependent methods become vogue again in developed economies.

  • 19.
  • At 11:32 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Nicole wrote:

I remember my trips to the countryside in Romania, the fun I had coming in contact with animals, trying to hand-milk my grand-grand-ma's cow. I traveled in the horse-drawn carts. Here the food taste so good, and the air is so clean. Well, the same sensation I had years later during a visit at an amish family in USA. I was shocked how they could have those traditional conditions when they could have all the modern technology.
It demonstared to me that it is possible to have traditional in a modern world. The best pies and other food products are made by amish.
In Bucharest, when I buy cheese I go to the open market and buy it from a farmer, not from the supermarket, I know it is organic and has no preservatives.
I am wondering if I would be in Ion's son shoes what would I choose? I hope that Ion's son will decide to stay and look over his herd, get a house with running water, electricity and decent roads.

  • 20.
  • At 05:33 PM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Arthur Lincoln wrote:

You say "This is where I share my thoughts on the main stories in Europe, European politics and the EU".
I would be interested to know what thoughts you have on the arrests of EU parliamentarians and others who were peacefully standing in Brussels on 11 September 2007? Is this a display of European 'democracy' in action?

  • 21.
  • At 04:44 PM on 16 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

@ Arthur Lincoln (20): the EU, like any other totalitarian movement, does not like dissent and will try to squash it as soon as they can.

Think of people like Hans Tillack or Paul van Buitenen who exposed massive fraud: the EU's reaction was predictable, namely to support and promote the fraudsters and intimidate and prosecute the whistleblowers.

Of course the EU doesn't use violence (yet), but it does use intimidation, mainly judicial intimidation or blackmail (imagine a country being blackmailed with its own money).

I have been a "EE migrant" to UK since three years, and would like to congratulate Mark Mardell for very sensitive and to the point blog entry, and Richard and trevor batten for very insightful comments!

I would like to reiterate that our feeling of backwardness is centuries old and it is not necessarily linked to the Communist period that most West Europeans relate to. In XIX. century we were also madly trying to become "European" and felt hindered by being part of socially stale Ottoman or Russian Empires, or culturally/ethnically repressive German Reich. Modernisation and an international dignity were important parts of all national liberation movements! In fact even the October revolution was an attempt to catch up with a modern Europe!

Today again the self-feeling of backwardness is even more pervasive!
It is in fact the main reason why the common man in our countries is so overwhelmingly pro-EU. (and sometimes pro-NATO!) Being allowed in EU is seen as an affirmation from the Europeans that we are finally Europeans too! The end of 200 years or more of being second rate and catching up. However, this does not necessarily translate in belief in the same "set of values" as WE, and it remains somewhat a superficial act.

No doubt you have read Orhan Pamuk's "Snow" - I was stricken how similar (albeit far far more polarised) felt his image of the Turkish mind!

So, yes, be careful when as a foreign journalist you post pictures of horses and carts. :) It is sad that we are so embarrassed from and try to kill everything that WE has just started to appreciate in its "Neo-Orientalism", and which we will probably begin to appreciate ourselves a few decades too late.

What is the way out?
From my own experiences - the more East Europeans migrate to WE for a couple of months or years, the more will start to see the treasures in their own countries that WE lacks! Most of us here are longing for the exuberant peaches or tomatoes we could buy at home by the kilo, for a real hike in "wild" mountains, or for the warmer and easier human interactions we had there. Here we realise that a new hypermarket in your town is in fact not the pinnacle of civilisation. Or that the quality of theatre in a large EE city cannot be matched by every British or even French city (as we naturally thought).

We also gradually obtain the self-esteem and expectations that the British citizen naturally has. However, it is important that at one point we go back and apply our new outlook in our homeland!

So, please, keep the gates open for all those Polish workers and students! :)


  • 23.
  • At 10:09 PM on 19 Sep 2007,
  • Justin Blair wrote:

"But the odd looks I got weren’t half so quizzical as the look as I would have given myself - had that been physically possible -..."

Try a mirror.

I enjoy your blog.


  • 24.
  • At 01:08 AM on 29 Sep 2007,
  • Chris Gudgin wrote:

Concerning the ‘Green Romance’ – I think lecturing other countries on climate change after acting ourselves in ways we now disapprove of means we are definitely taken less seriously. I think we have to admit mistakes and more importantly - prove we are now making big sacrifices, in order to seem more genuine to other countries.

  • 25.
  • At 12:16 PM on 01 Oct 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

Ronald Grünebaum says: "I would like to hear more from him on how his attitude to the EU goes down with his organisation and his compatriots."

For the interested person in the UK there are plenty of sources of information about the EU that are not just simple messages (such as 'the EU has given Europe 50 years of peace') - see, the argument can run both ways.

The sad fact is most people in most countries are not interested in very much other than local gossip, football and television. You, Ronald, by contributing to Mike's blog are - numerically - an exception and part of a self-selecting group who happen to be interested in EU affairs. You'll find similar self-selecting groups on the blogoshere dealing with a myriad subjects from needlework to ferns.

As a EUrosceptic Brit I find Mark's take on the EU impartial, informative and most importantly, entertaining. (Unlike that of the BBC as a whole, which I see as biased). I don't always agree with him - but then I don't always agree with my partner (and we get along pretty well together).

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