sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

September 8, 2015

Degrees of Unwantedness

Filed under: Europe, politics, Ukraine — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 1:27 pm

Twenty five years ago I was a stateless person crossing the Austrian border in a sealed train.  Demographically speaking my kind was negligible, but still no country in Europe wanted us.

We had it better than our immediate predecessors. In the 70’s and the early 80’s we, the former Soviet Jews, subjects to Arab terror attacks, were sequestered at an run-down high-rise in outer Vienna — read this beautiful essay by the late Svetlana Boym.  Thirty years later Boym was still reeling from the experience, but not complaining.

I can vaguely remember men with large guns patrolling the platform when our train full of Jews arrived to Vienna. I didn’t find them odd because uniformed soldiers were a normal site on a Soviet street.  Although my parents swear they were IDF, I doubt a sovereign country that Austria was at the time would let a foreign army operate on its soil.  In any event, were were housed in a rooming home in central Vienna, next to an operetta theater.  I walked the streets of the city with three other teenagers whose families shared apartment with us.  We were in awe.

Three weeks later, after declaring our intention to move to the US instead of Israel, we were shipped off to Italy where we stayed on a semi-legal basis thanks to an agreement between the United States government and that of Italy.  My parents were nervous about the trip in a sealed train, but I, in my teenage brain, was looking forward to seeing Rome.  I felt secure in the knowledge that tens of thousands of those who came before me had safely arrived at the destination.  In my head I was already composing letters to my girlfriends in Ukraine, telling the jewels of Western civilization resting behind the iron curtain.  Also, our train went south, not east.  Two cheers for the teenage brain.

I can relate, but I’m not moved by the 3rd world migrants forcing their way to the land of milk and honey.  Syrians among them left a war-torn country, but apparently they don’t feel that the land on which their families lived for centuries was worth a fight.  These military age man opted for reaching Germany; and once they get situated there, they’ll send for their clans.

These men are paying a premium to human traffickers, suggesting that some of the migrants come from wealthy families, and might have unreasonable expectations from their future place of residence.  One can live quite comfortably on German welfare, but this is hardly the kind of luxurious existence one leads in the Gulf States.  When the migrants, who already showed themselves to be quite hostile to Europeans figure that out, what happens?

I suspect European humanitarians have a soft spot for brown children.  They are crying bitter tears for a child that fell a victim to smugglers but doing their best to look the other way when there is a real life war raging on their continent.  Two years ago at Independence Square in Kiev Ukrainians listened to speakers promising them visa-free travel to Europe.  I daresay this, and not any kind of national idea, was the chief appeal of the Euromaidan movement to those Ukrainians who found it appealing.  The way things stand in their country, they travel to Lviv, a city flush with Western architecture, to get a whiff of the West.  Needless to say, it’s not up to Ukrainians to decide what kind of people the European Union will let in within its borders (apparently it’s up to Arabs), so as the war in the East heated up, EU further restricted travel from Ukraine.

Did she dream of Paris? This picture young mother and child killed, allegedly, by Ukrainian bombardment made the rounds on the Russian Internet last year.

The Kremlin, on the other hand, relaxed entry, enabling, according to the official data, two and a half million Ukrainian nationals to move to the Russian Federation.  Not all of them are strictly speaking refugees, many are laborers and a large number are on the run from conscription.  We have to commend Russia on choosing its refugees carefully.  Those Ukrainians are basically Russian people; they share the host country’s language and mentality and quite a few are done with Ukraine.  Russia is a natural choice for them the way Gulf States would be a natural choice for the Syrians.  And yet, had the Ukrainian nationals, for economic or whatever other reasons, fled West, unlike the Arab migrants they’d be indistinguishable within a generation or two.

9/9/15 UPDATE: Wasn’t there a near-riot situation in Ladispoli circa 1987 that got sorted out by social workers by the time the polizia arrived?

9/13/15 ANOTHER VIGNETTE: The Velvet Revolution happened as train passed by Prague on the way out of USSR.  That was cool yet worrisome because during our stay in Vienna we hoped one night to get standing room only tickets the Opera house.  Seeing a sizable number of Czechs pop up on the streets of the Austrian capital, we feared the standing room competition.  We got to the theater early and spent some time waiting in line in the cold.  We did get in, with the Czech, and the two totally amazing creatures that a few years down the road I learned to identify as art school hipsterati.

“What do we want?” “Tickets to Madama Butterfly!” “When do we want them?” “NOW!”

Speaking of which, that being 1989, I found that all young people in suites in Vienna’s downtown business district spotted Mohawks.  Or it seemed that way to me, being fresh out of USSR.  Sweet innocence.


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