Saturday, March 12, 2016

My rant on Slovakia's deplorable response to the European refugee crises

I've been meaning to write about this for a while now and with Slovakia's 2016 parliamentary elections behind us (but their ultimate outcome is still unclear, at the time of writing), I thought it was time to chime in.

When driving to and from Vienna's airport on our trip to Slovakia over the 2015 winter holidays, we saw a refugee camp right on the Austrian side of the border by one of the old pre-Schengen checkpoints. It was made up of rows of attached shacks that looked to be fashioned out of shipping containers, and you could catch fleeting glimpses of people through the windows sitting around, milling about, and likely wondering about their fate. Part of what's interesting about this is that while stepping outside the border can afford one a sobering view of the European refugee crisis as it's unfolding, you'll see nary a trace of any refugees in Slovakia.


Knee-jerk bigotry and political fear mongering

Ever since the crisis blew up in the summer of 2015, Slovakia and its central European neighbors (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic) have steadfastly refused to allow refugees to cross their borders, and they have resisted complying with EU directives requiring countries to house a certain number of refugees (and Slovakia is even suing the EU over this).

Making matters worse, a startling number of Slovaks have reacted with hostility and racist rhetoric to what they perceive as an impending onslaught of barbarian, jihadist immigrants. Playing on people's baseless fears, Prime Minister Robert Fico and his Smer party have continued to regurgitate xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiment, and in the months leading up to the recent March 2016 parliamentary elections, they even erected billboards all over the country - with Fico's bruiser of a mug - boasting "We Protect Slovakia." Of course, we all know from whom.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Smer's toxic xenophobia actually backfired and an alarming number of people instead flocked to the far-right, extremist People's Party-Our Slovakia (LSNS), led by known fascist and all-around creep Marian Kotleba. I wrote about Kotleba here back in 2014 when he was elected governor of Slovakia's Banska Bystrica region. His party won 14 seats in Slovakia's parliament in this latest election. To any normal, rational people, this is a frightening wake-up call! But anyone paying attention to the prevailing views of many Slovaks since mid-2015 shouldn't be too surprised by this depressing outcome. If you spend time on the ground in Slovakia, the anti-migrant hysteria is everywhere and Terezia encounters it constantly through "friends" of "friends" on Facebook.

A huge number of Slovaks seem to be quite freaked out by the prospect of having to share their country with muslim refugees, and just about everyone in Slovak politics has pandered to this. Seemingly all the political parties leading up to the election, be it the ruling Smer or the opposition, have been united in their hostility towards the migrants. The only elected official brave enough to be the adult in the room is President Andrej Kiska. He seems to have been the only voice of sanity among the leaders of the four Visegrad countries, having expressed sympathy for the refugees and their plight. But his voice has largely been ignored, and sadly, Slovakia's presidents wield very limited powers.

Needless to say, it's deeply frustrating to see how so many Slovaks unquestioningly swallow the toxic, Trump-like fear and xenophobia spewed by many of their elected leaders towards the refugees (and towards multiculturalism in general), which belies deeper problems with the sheltered way in which Slovaks are brought up and educated.


A little backstory

Slovakia has so far refused to accept anyone other than a few hundred Christian (non-Muslim) refugees, which is, of course, ridiculous and entirely unhelpful, and even that still has many Slovaks totally freaking out. One reason laughably stated - with a totally straight face - by public officials for refusing muslims is that Slovakia has no mosques, so the muslim migrants wouldn't be very happy there. Problem is, the reason Slovakia has no mosques is because a law was passed years ago that prevents any from being built in the first place!

Check out this John Oliver piece on the refugee crisis (and some EU countries' response to it); he mentions Slovakia at 9:38:


Polls have shown a majority of Slovaks only want to live with other Slovaks and they are opposed to any kind of multiculturalism. Of course, this kind of closed-minded, provincial attitude is only going to ensure their country and their capital city remain boring, culturally homogenized, unintellectual, and lacking a pulse, but most Slovaks don't seem to mind.

Never mind that hordes of Slovaks go abroad to live and work for better pay and more economic opportunities, and the country is suffering serious brain drain as a result. Yet the prospect of people from the outside coming in scares them to no end.

The good news for these Slovaks is that the refugees don't even want to go to Slovakia in the first place, and Slovakia has little in the way of economic opportunities to offer migrants anyhow (unless they want to work in a car factory). Literally no refugees so far have willingly come knocking on Slovakia's door, as they'd much rather go to places like Sweden or Germany, where there are more jobs and a higher standard of living, and importantly, where they're more likely to encounter some people who are friendly and helpful.


Only a small minority of Slovaks seem to actively oppose the bigotry

Yes, I'm all too aware that Donald Trump is on the rise in the US in part because his mouth has been farting out the exact same racist hatespeak, but there is a crucial difference: unlike in Slovakia, most Americans don't actually agree with him, and the voice of the opposition to his hateful views is strong and very present - in the media and both in and out of government. Even big names from Trump's own political party have publicly condemned his chyme-encrusted hate speech. (And let's say hypothetically that Trump were to somehow win the presidency, the collective voice of opposition to him would remain immense).

By contrast, in Slovakia, only a tiny smattering of progressives, NGOs, and newspaper editors (like my friends at the Slovak Spectator!) are protesting against the hate, and their voices seem to be drowned out pretty easily by the din that Smer and other parties have generated. Even Slovakia's so-called liberal party, SaS, is led by, Richard Sulik, a tone-deaf asshole who insists Slovakia should close its borders and use "violence" against any refugees who try to cross over. Just how is he supposed to differ from Fico or Kotleba again? Pretty much all politicians in Slovakia know very well what the voters want, and they will drop any of their own party's purported principles or ideological leanings in order to stay in power. If the people want a xenophobic, knee-jerk bigot to lead their country, that's what they'll get!

And what about western Europe? Clearly, they're not all embracing the refugees with open arms. But, a crucial difference is that while Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front in France has yet to win any national government elections (even though its support has definitely grown), Kotleba's party has 14 seats in the Slovak parliament! And while there's plenty of violent, anti-refugee sentiment floating around in Germany, Angela Merkel is still (at the time of writing) dictating policy and keeping the door open. In much of western Europe (again, at the time of writing), anti-immigrant hysteria has gotten quite loud, but it's still basically on the fringe, politically. In sharp contrast, the central European countries, have managed to elect some of these far-right creeps into power.


So why are Slovaks freaking out so much?

Some Slovaks' fears are rooted in simple racism and misinformed fear; for others, it's ignorance of the severity of the situation in countries like Syria and Iraq, as well as misconceptions about the refugees and their circumstances.

To explain why this is, I think that broadly speaking, firstly, you can blame 40 years of isolated Soviet-style communism. During communism, very few immigrants came to the Soviet Bloc, and so people had no sense of what it means to live in a culturally diverse society. Everything was pretty homogenized and very white, and that's still more or less the case today, especially in Slovakia.

The quick and traumatic transition to capitalism in the 90s is another factor, which left many people relatively poor and without much of a social safety net. Most people in the Visegrad Four countries today feel scarcely better off financially today than they did under communism, except that now the social safety net has been diminished. This means many Slovaks feel their country lacks the resources to justify helping migrants. Slovak wages, especially outside Bratislava, are notoriously lower than their western European neighbors, and seniors complain incessantly about their meagre retirement pensions. And yet, the cost of living in Slovakia in most areas other than rent and real estate is about as high as in western Europe, so just getting by in Slovakia can be a struggle for many. So you have a country full of people unwilling to help those in need because they see themselves as victims in need.

I suspect many Slovaks see it simply as: we already have comparatively little, we make very little money, and our resources are already too stretched to accommodate immigrants. To that I say, Slovaks - your lives are still infinitely cushier than those of the refugees fleeing their own war-torn countries.

Education is yet another factor. During communism, education was tightly controlled by the state, and especially when it came to things like history, people got a very warped, one-sided, highly ideologically driven view. From everything I've read, history in Slovak classrooms today isn't much better off. Many students don't get a clear picture of what World War II, the holocaust, naziism, or fascism were all about, which can partly explain why Kotleba seems to appeal so much to young people (a lot of his support came from young, first-time voters in their 20s). They lack the historical context to understand what creeps of his ilk are all about. But even if they didn't, would they care?

Many Slovaks essentially grow up a little racist by being taught to hate/fear Roma (and to a lesser extent Hungarians). I could (and should) write a blog post on the ongoing tension between Slovaks and Roma, but I'll just say that the animosity between them is deep and profound. A lot of Slovaks grow up to be selective racists, whereby they hate the Roma but don't seem particularly bothered by other non-white ethnicities. Yet, the seed is already planted and it wouldn't take much for them to get riled up over another ethnicity that the media or government actively paints as something to fear. Simply put, Slovak children do not seem to be taught that racism is immoral and hurtful, and they're not raised in an environment in which diversity is valued (at least not consistently).

Another factor at play here is the deeply rooted insecurity Slovaks harbor about their cultural identity. Slovakia is a very young country, and Slovaks have a long way to go before they could even hope to establish the kind of instantly recognizable cultural identities of countries like France or Italy. France can absorb other cultures without losing its quintessential Frenchness. While I highly doubt Slovakia's Slovakness would ever truly be at risk of vanishing if people of other cultures started moving there, a lot of Slovaks seem to fear just that.


Final thoughts

Look, no one thinks the ongoing process of getting immigrants to learn and adapt to the cultures of their new countries is going to be easy, as events in Germany and elsewhere have shown. It's inevitable that problems and clashes will arise, especially when you have large concentrations of foreigners in a new place figuring out how to fit in while still retaining their own cultures and traditions. There's going to be a fairly steep learning curve for everyone.

But here's the thing: the majority of these refugees are genuinely in need of help because their homes have become uninhabitable; they are not terrorist "sleeper" soldiers sent to wage jihad on Europe (something some Slovaks we've encountered believe). They are normal people who want to live safe, normal lives with steady jobs and raise their children in peace. Plus, diversity and multiculturalism benefit everyone. Tensions will persist, but your cities and towns will become infinitely more interesting, cosmopolitan places, and their inhabitants will become more knowledgeable about cultures outside their own. Plus, the rest of the world won't think you're a country full of provincial, racist dick heads.

At any rate, these developments make us kind of relieved that we don't live in Slovakia anymore, but it's still hugely embarrassing and sad to see this country that we have such a deep connection to react in such a toxic, lunkheaded, reactionary way. Sure, one could be optimistic and say that eventually Slovakia might come around, but I fear that an awful lot of damage could be done before that ever happens.

Rather than drone on and on about it, I'll end my rant and link you to some opinion pieces from the Slovak Spectator that do a better job of discussing this than I do:

http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20070183/slovakias-meanness-deterring-more-than-migrants.html 

http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20064873/leading-from-behind.html (a witty piece written by my friend and former Spectator colleague James Thomson).


http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20060167/blog-fear-is-dictating-slovakias-actions-towards-refugees.html (
This one, in particular, is interesting because it was written by a Slovak who really delves into the mindset of her people).

16 comments:

  1. Next time you’re in Europe Jeff, be sure to visit the Muslim ghettos of Paris, East London, Bradford, Luton, Gothenburg, Brussels etc etc (but good luck – from my own personal experience I can tell you that they don’t take kindly to strangers) . Whilst the Bay Area may be a multicultural success story, you can’t blame Slovakia for looking around Europe and being somewhat deterred by such glaring exceptions (not least the scenes in Cologne on New Years Eve, or Stockholm’s disturbing ascendance to becoming known as the rape capital of Europe). What’s more, you neglect to mention the fact that a large proportion of Europe’s asylum seekers aren’t even genuine refugees, and that there have already been considerable security implications resulting from Merkel’s utterly irresponsible behaviour (which of course she never even had the courtesy to consult Slovakia or any of her neighbours on, before trying to force them to pick up the inevitable pieces when the plan backfired). I’m not saying that Slovakia doesn’t have a problem with racism (and the rise of Kotleba in particular is of course deeply disturbing), but the least we deserve is an even handed report, not a liberal whitewash from someone who has neither grown up in Europe or indeed truly experienced the opposing side of the story first hand.

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  2. Hi Anonymous – thanks for taking the time to read the post. First off, how "brave" of you to make such bold (and at times inaccurate and presumptuous) claims under the cover anonymity!

    I have visited some of the Muslim communities that you mention, particularly in Paris, as well as some in the US. Naturally, you fail to mention that many of the people in these communities have been marginalized from years of discrimination from the native societies of these countries. That often leads to festering frustration, especially among younger people who wind up with fewer opportunities than their white counterparts, and some of them unfortunately look to radicalization as an escape from the general poverty and aimlessness. The reasons these communities are the way they are are myriad and complicated.

    From what I've seen in the media and various statistics, over 60% of migrants who have come to the EU were from countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan - countries which, as I'm sure you're aware, have been ravaged by war for years now. In 2015, just under half of all migrants who entered the EU were from Syria, according to the UNHCR. Similarly high numbers of Syrian refugees came to the EU in 2014, according to Eurostat. The thing is, people from these countries qualify for asylum in the EU.

    To be sure, there has been a good portion of economic migrants, but the statistics indicate they are a minority. Fico's claims that something like 95% of all migrants are of the economic variety are grossly exaggerated. And this raises the question: should the EU block all refugees, including those who are legitimately fleeing war, because a minority are not?

    Keep in mind that a huge number of asylum applicants have been and will be denied asylum, and will eventually be forced to leave.

    It's also worth considering that Turkey and Lebanon have taken on the biggest burden, with 1.9 million going to Turkey and 1.2 million to Lebanon, as of late last year.

    With regard to Sweden's rape epidemic, the numbers have been high and growing for years, well before the migrant crisis, and from what I've read, it has more to do with the way rape is legally defined, reported on, and handled by the police.

    The new year's attacks in Cologne were obviously horrifying, yet while most reports have indicated that the culprits were of North African or Arab descent, there were also reports of assaults by caucasians. Also, the number of migrants involved nevertheless represents a tiny percentage of those who recently migrated there. Numerous migrants condemned the assaults.

    I'm not saying that the EU has managed the crisis well. The influx of migrants has been so fast and heavy that it's been near impossible to handle with any degree of efficiency. I'm also not saying that it's all sunshine and rainbows with regard to the migrant population integrating in EU countries. I also think that Germany and Sweden perhaps took on too big of a burden, and naturally, with far more migrants in those countries, law of averages dictates you're going to have more problems there. They probably should have taken a more cautious approach than the open-door policy that they adopted, but I don't feel they should have locked the gates, as you apparently do.

    But you also have to consider that countries like Germany will benefit economically from the migrants. Given Germany's aging population, low birth rate, and labor shortages, there are plenty of migrants who are ready and able to fill the gap.

    I'm not suggesting that Slovakia should have a totally open-door policy, but I am lamenting unfortunate and often racist attitudes that appear to be way more prevalent there (and in other central European countries) than in many western European states, which prevents any sort of rational dialogue from occurring.

    It's a complicated issue, obviously. You call for an even-handed report, yet all you offer is the by now typical right-wing, alarmist narrative. No wonder you chose to remain anonymous.

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  3. First off Jeff, thanks for taking the time to respond. I can assure you however that my anonymity was not intended as any “cover”?! Far from being the kind of “bold” sentiments you claim, I’m in fact only expressing an opinion now shared by a majority of other Europeans – nothing controversial in that then. Furthermore, I must take umbrage at you claiming that anything I said was “inaccurate”. On the contrary, everything I said can be proved very easily.

    Regarding integration then, the discriminisation card is an all too easy one to play, but is cast into sharp and uncomfortable focus when considering the paths other minority communities have taken in Europe. Take Britain’s Hindus for example – they would have suffered no less racism etc than anyone else, but have risen above it to thrive and indeed be a success. Likewise again Britain’s Afro-Carribean community – things may not always have run smoothly, but integration was never a problem because their values were always compatible with the host nation. I could go on (Irish, Jews, Chinese… even as far back as the French Huegenots), but I think you get my point. There is clearly a problem integrating Muslims (particularly though not exclusively amongst young males – which of course make up the majority of Europe’s migrants), and to deny as such gets us nowhere.

    Moving on then, you claim that “over 60%” of refugees are genuine, but then mention 2 countries which aren’t actually at war (Iraq and Afghanistan). Yes, I’m not saying that these are particularly pleasant places to live at the moment, but this doesn’t mean that their citizens have a fundamental right to settle here instead. In fact, when Europe was left decimated after 2 world wars, her inhabitants remained in order to rebuild the continent we have now, and many of these people should now be doing exactly the same in their countries too. Regardless of this however, even if I am to accept your somewhat spurious figures – this still leaves the reality of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants in Europe. Genuine refugees should be vetted and aided first and foremost in their countries of origin, not encouraged to embark on potentially lethal journeys across continents. This is the line that the UK is taking, and Merkel should have been no different. It’s no surprise then that her popularity has plummeted in Germany, but it’s not so pleasant to witness the upsurge in the far right that this behaviour has inevitably led to across Europe.

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    1. Hi Gary,
      Ultimately, I think we're going to have to agree to disagree here. But you’re still making some inaccurate claims, perpetuating stereotypes, and generally following the kneejerk, hysterical right-wing line on this issue.

      "I’m in fact only expressing an opinion now shared by a majority of other Europeans – nothing controversial in that then."

      When that majority opinion is rooted in xenophobia, stereotypes, and misinformation, that is absolutely controversial and cause for concern. But I wouldn’t be so sure about how rock solid or unanimous that majority opinion really is. From what I've read, Europeans have been deeply divided on the issue (http://www.cnbc.com/2015/09/08/how-europeans-have-reacted-to-migrant-crisis.html), their views vary considerably from one country to the next, and in some countries it’s nearly an even split between those who support offering asylum to immigrants and those who oppose it. True, anti-(muslim)immigrant sentiment has grown, particularly after events in the last several months in France, Belgium, and Germany. But there are still many people who prefer to figure out a way to effectively help those in need of asylum over simply locking the gates and doing nothing. For every anti-immigrant demonstration, I read about a pro-immigrant one. One of your arguments in your first post was to dismiss my views because I haven't grown up in Europe – as if growing up in Europe would somehow make me automatically agree with you! I truly hope you see the fallacy in that line of thinking. Plenty of born-and-bred Europeans - including Slovaks! - actually share my views, so your argument doesn’t hold water.

      Opinions on this issue aren’t as black and white as you’d like to think. There are many people who are okay with the current number of refugees, or feel their countries have accepted all they can handle, and would prefer not to accept any more, and that is quite a different thing from opposing any and all refugees. Many Europeans also support helping refugees, but feel that the refugees should be more evenly distributed around Europe, which again is quite different from simply opposing all refugees. Europeans are sharply divided, but many hold fairly nuanced views and many still want to help.

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    2. “...spurious figures…”

      Spurious? Okay, according to the UNHCR (http://tracks.unhcr.org/2015/12/2015-the-year-of-europes-refugee-crisis/), as of early December 2015, over 75% of those who arrived in Europe had fled conflict and/or persecution in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Also according to the UNHCR, the top three nationalities of the more than one million Mediterranean Sea arrivals between January 2015 and March 2016 were Syrian (46.7%), Afghan (20.9%) and Iraqi (9.4%). That’s over 75%, and that’s just arrivals by sea, not including those who, say, chose to go north through Russia into Norway (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/world/europe/bypassing-the-risky-sea-refugees-reach-europe-through-the-arctic.html?_r=0), among other routes. (And the Organization for Migration has estimates that more than 1,011,700 came by sea in 2015, vs. 34,900 by land).
      The majority of those who fled to Europe in 2015 and applied for asylum (for the first time) came from Syria, followed by Afghanistan and Iraq. Click here (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911) and scroll down to the Eurostat chart titled the Top 10 Origins of People Applying for Asylum in the EU in 2015.

      Here’s another piece: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2015/09/economist-explains-4

      You can find these same or similar stats elsewhere.

      We can glean from this that a majority of refugees are fleeing countries that are embroiled in war, or places where they face death or persecution if they remain, and most are coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, as well as Eritrea and elsewhere. As a result, most of these people at least meet the criteria for applying for asylum in the EU. That still doesn’t mean they’ll get it, but we can lay to rest this fabrication that a majority of refugees risking their lives to get to Europe are simply economic migrants.

      “...young males – which of course make up the majority of Europe’s migrants...”

      So while young men made up a majority of the refugees in 2015, as of early 2016 there has been a surge in women and children, who now make up nearly 2/3s of the refugees/migrants who are arriving. As it turns out, many fathers made the treacherous journey alone and are now attempting to bring their families over:

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/03/un-one-third-refugees-sailing-europe-children

      http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/europes-border-crisis/refugee-crisis-more-women-children-move-men-unicef-n510291

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    3. “you claim that “over 60%” of refugees are genuine, but then mention 2 countries which aren’t actually at war (Iraq and Afghanistan). Yes, I’m not saying that these are particularly pleasant places to live at the moment, but this doesn’t mean that their citizens have a fundamental right to settle here instead.”

      Um, you do read the news, don’t you? Just because wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been declared officially “over” and the US has been gradually pulling out (yet still maintains a strong presence) in no way reflects the reality on the ground for many people in these countries, who face continued armed conflict, not to mention the daily prospect of torture, beheadings, rape, abduction, etc. ISIS still controls vast swaths of territory in Iraq, and with the Taliban still very much wreaking havoc and making gains in parts of Afghanistan, war is far from over for many people in these countries. Try telling folks in ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq or Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan that these countries are merely “not particularly pleasant places to live at the moment” and see what kind of response you get. I’m sorry Gary, but downplaying and/or ignoring the plight of people living in these areas is exactly the kind of irresponsible behavior that Fico and many other politicians are perpetuating to stoke anti-immigrant fears, and it helps no one.

      Besides - I didn’t write the rules for asylum! If your home country is ravaged by war or you come from a place where you are in serious, legitimate danger of being killed or persecuted, you at least have the right to apply for asylum. I don’t know about the EU, but the rules for asylum in the US are incredibly strict.

      Here are some links to news articles to get you up to speed on what’s been happening in Afghanistan and Iraq:
      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/09/world/asia/afghanistan-taliban-kunduz-doctors-without-borders-airstrike.html?_r=1
      http://www.latimes.com/world/afghanistan-pakistan/la-fg-afghanistan-taliban-kunduz-20160417-story.html
      http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/u-n-warns-20-000-children-are-trapped-fallujah-iraq-n583696
      http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-aid-idUSKCN0YM28L

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    4. “Genuine refugees should be vetted and aided first and foremost in their countries of origin, not encouraged to embark on potentially lethal journeys across continents.”

      Yeah, let’s try doing that in war-ravaged Syria right now and see how far that gets. I just thinkn that’s a worryingly naïve thing for you to say. You are aware of what’s been happening in Syria, right?

      “In fact, when Europe was left decimated after 2 world wars, her inhabitants remained in order to rebuild the continent we have now, and many of these people should now be doing exactly the same in their countries too.”

      Actually, millions of people fled their countries in Europe in WWII, millions were displaced, and millions died because they couldn’t flee but would have if they had the chance! Many who did flee never went back. Some estimates show as many as 60 million Europeans became refugees during WWII. And there was a very sizable exodus after the war. In fact, a UN study shows that as many as a million refugees had still not found a place to settle by 1951. Think of how many Jews wanted to flee but couldn’t get out in time - are you suggesting people in Syria just stay put even if it means they meet a similar fate (i.e. death)? There is a reason why the current crisis is commonly referred to as the biggest refugee crisis since WWII.

      I get what you’re saying to a point about people fixing problems in their own countries, but how do you fight ISIS and Assad – two forces which are armed to teeth, extremely well funded, highly disruptive, and ruthlessly violent? Do you not understand how formidable an enemy they are? Have you seen how things have been going for the anti-Assad rebels so far? And Syrians are not getting much reliable outside help (and Putin’s misguided meddling is only increasing the number of refugees and the displaced).

      Do you continue to live there and risk the lives of your family amid daily chaos and violence, or do you do whatever you can to get your family to a safer place, even if it requires a perilous journey to Europe (though the vast majority of refugees are only going as far as Turkey and Lebanon)? The mere fact that they are willing to take such an arduous and uncertain journey should be an indicator that the decision to flee their homes is not made lightly. Do you expect everyone to stay put and somehow raise a ragtag army of rebels to fight not one but two well-armed, brutally violent and ruthless forces? If that were to have any chance at succeeding, there’s no way they could do it alone; they’d need robust, highly focused, and committed military aid from other countries – something they’re definitely not getting now, and most countries with the power to help have been extremely reluctant to get involved. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to expect people to up and leave for a safer life over the likelihood of death and a seemingly endless war.

      As for Iraq and Afghanistan - yes, those countries’ inhabitants must work to resolve a wide range of serious problems ranging from massive corruption at every level of government to weak and unmotivated armed forces, to serious poverty and divisive sectarianism, among myriad other things, all of which have helped the violence there to flourish. But you can’t blame people who feel utterly powerless and at great risk for attempting to go to another country to find a safer life for their families.

      I’m just surprised that I have to keep reminding you of what a massive humanitarian crisis this is.

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    5. "There is clearly a problem integrating Muslims…and to deny as such gets us nowhere."

      Trying to pass off toxic, xenophobic stereotypes as truth gets us nowhere. There are loads of muslim immigrants around the world who have, in fact, integrated perfectly well into their new surroundings. You just can't paint the entire muslim immigrant population with such broad strokes. There are many reasons why numerous muslim ghettos in Europe have turned out the way they have, and it’s not due to something in their culture or religion that’s inherently violent or backwards, like you seem to suggest. Many communities have not turned out to be jihadist breeding grounds, particularly in the US.

      This article provides a good overview of the situation in Europe: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/integrating-europes-muslim-minorities-public-anxieties-policy-responses

      Inhabitants in many of these communities in Europe have faced neglect, disenfranchisement, discrimination, and a lack of the same opportunities as their caucasian/European counterparts, leading to hordes of disaffected young people. Still, many muslims do feel an allegiance to the European countries they live in, and extremists remain a minority:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4375910.stm

      An interesting piece on the subject:
      https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/columns/2016/03/27/why-there-are-muslim-ghettoes-belgium-but-not-united-states/zek1CSRR0epWhLmSCiPWKK/story.html

      Another perspective: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/11/15/how-immigrants-come-to-be-seen-as-americans/in-the-us-immigrants-find-acceptance-in-europe-ghettos

      A nuanced view on the subject: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/03/the_vicious_cycle_of_muslim_immigration_sympathy_then_disinterest_then_hostility.html

      Another good piece: https://www.lawfareblog.com/do-syrian-refugees-pose-terrorism-threat

      You can’t just leave hordes of muslim immigrants in a ghetto, give ‘em a monthly welfare check, forget about them and hope they’ll figure it all out and integrate on their own! Blaming them for failing then just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as one of the pieces I linked to above states. The host country must provide proactive, ongoing outreach and education, and help them find jobs. Many European countries have different approaches toward that end, and these programs vary among cities, towns, municipalities, etc. Some are more effective, while others are inadequate. Unfortunately, they all require money and resources - another argument for distributing refugees more evenly among EU countries so that one country isn’t draining its resources while its neighbor does zilch. And even if the programs do work, discriminatory attitudes of the native population (especially in the labor market) still keeps immigrants isolated.

      Maybe integration was less problematic for a few groups you mention, but generally that's not what has occurred throughout history most of the time – those are exceptions to the rule. This is nothing new, and integrating immigrant communities is often a slow work-in-progress.

      Calling multiculturalism an “outdated utopia” is silly, since it can and does work in many places around the world with a variety of ethnicities and cultures. You even admitted that problems in the UK were overcome over time with certain minorities, and said you want to raise your children in the kind of world you grew up in, which you emphasized was not all white. You can’t blame me for thinking you sound contradictory. Maybe the words you and Merkel use are simply code for “we just don’t want muslims”?

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    6. Merkel’s comment about the “failure” of multiculturalism pertains to what she described as the unintended creation of isolated societies. But like I mentioned above (it bears repeating), you can’t just dump large groups of immigrants in some urban pocket with monthly welfare checks and forget about them, hoping they’ll figure it out on their own. Every attempt must be made to reach out to those communities and help them integrate.

      Besides, Merkel has continued to contradict her statements with her actions. At least she still recognizes there's a major humanitarian crisis and that helping the millions of people who need it is the right thing to do, unlike Fico or Orban.

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  4. Next up then, it sounds alarmingly like you’re trying to defend the actions of the perpetrators of the scenes witnessed in the likes of Cologne because a handful of whites might have been loosely involved too?! So, by that logic, are we to excuse the epidemic of grooming and abuse suffered by young white girls in the North of England, at the hands of gangs of Pakistani men, simply because there happens to be one or two indigenous paedophiles in the area too? As for Sweden, the reason it’s garnered its unsavoury new reputation isn’t because its indigenous male population has suddenly taken to sexually assaulting women, it’s because of the immigration policies of its government. I’ve been to Stockholm, and what I’m told was once a gentle, friendly city now has an air of menace hanging over parts of it which simply wasn’t there before. This might sound like right-wing sensationalism to you, but this is the same kind of attitude which has led numerous police forces to cover up the truth, certainly in Britain and elsewhere, for fear of being labelled racist (and thus the problem only intensifies, the suffering goes on, and this leads to extra resentment once the truth finally comes out). Surely it would be more sensible to instead consider why this is happening, and consider the uncomfortable reality that young Western girls are in fact seen as fair game by these monsters? It’s easy to say that this is inflammatory talk, and I am certainly not saying that all Muslims are bad people, but, along with gay rights, sexism, anti-semitism, extremism etc etc, there is a huge problem integrating many Muslims into Western society, and this is a reality that the left in particular has always struggled to come to terms with. Burying our heads in the sand will solve nothing, and neither will shutting down debate with a careless wave of the race card.

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    1. "it sounds alarmingly like you’re trying to defend the actions of the perpetrators of the scenes witnessed in the likes of Cologne because a handful of whites might have been loosely involved too?!"

      Okay, you're really twisting my words here. Of course I'm not trying to defend the perpetrators in this event - don’t be so daft. The main point I was trying to make is that if you google "rape," "Stockholm," and "Sweden," you find articles like this one (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19592372) discussing the phenomenon, mostly before the immigrant wave of the last few years, and many people attribute it to laws enacted over a decade ago that significantly expanded the way rape is defined and reported in Sweden (for example, if someone is raped by a significant other multiple times, each incident is reported by police as its own individual case), as well as an effort by law enforcement to take the issue much more seriously by *not* covering up the truth and *not* fudging stats to make the numbers seem lower, etc. This also came with efforts to encourage more victims to report what happened to them. This is reportedly a major reason why the numbers have gone up so sharply over the past decade or so. Yet, right-wing groups like the Gastestone Institute have used this data to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment. My point about how numerous caucasians were among the assailants in the New Year's Cologne assaults was just to illustrate that this awful event wasn't exclusively a "muslim problem."

      Here’s an interesting article that looks at the issue from several angles:
      http://time.com/4182186/sweden-feminists-sexual-assault-refugees/. What’s particularly interesting is the emphasis some of the people interviewed in this article put on educating immigrants about gender equality, just to make sure they understand Sweden’s cultural stance on the issue. A member of the Swedish Member’s Lobby is quoted in this article as saying, “We can have a generous refugee policy, and at the same time, have mandatory education.”

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  5. Finally, you have the apparent audacity to label Slovakia “boring, unintellectual and lacking a pulse” for not embracing more wholeheartedly your multicultural agenda. Aside from wondering whether you’d say the same thing if you were visiting certain countries in Asia or Africa (and I’ve no doubt that you’d in fact claim very much the opposite), it’s worth remembering that even mainstream European politicians such as Cameron and Merkel have long ago declared the multicultural project a failure (multiracial – yes, multicultural – no). So, your championing of this outdated utopia is perhaps no longer as popular as you might think. Furthermore, what you see as a weakness would in fact be to many others a great strength. Take here in London for example - communities that would have once been bound by their togetherness and unity have dissolved into disparate entities where most people don’t even know or speak to their neighbours anymore. In many areas, traditions such as Christmas now exist only as an afterthought, many Western norms have disappeared and crime has made life for many locals intolerable. So, when I’m in Slovakia I appreciate being reminded of how things used to be here too, and I would like to think that they too realise that this is a strength and not something to be sacrificed needlessly to the whims of the “progressive left”. Yes, you may think that the numbers of migrants they should be taking are low, but you have to remember that they are a small country too. You need only look at other countries to see where this might lead (not least my own city, where the indigenous population are now a minority, but many others too) to see what the future might hold for Slovakia’s demographics and culture (not least due to the high birthrates that the migrants usually bring when they arrive, as well as the inevitable dependants that might arrive in their wake too). Financially too, you have to acknowledge the fact that not all migrants contribute evenly. Take the UK for example – whilst migrants from mainland Europe tend to benefit the economy, very much the opposite is true of those from many other countries (including those that you now expect Slovakia to open their doors to). Neither Slovakia or the UK are the United States, but regardless of that – any country should have the right to preserve its way of life the way it seems fit, to be selective over those who it allows to settle, and to not be slandered by those who might disagree. After all, I’m sure you’d celebrate this fact if it was anywhere else but Europe.

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    1. “Financially too, you have to acknowledge the fact that not all migrants contribute evenly. Take the UK for example – whilst migrants from mainland Europe tend to benefit the economy, very much the opposite is true of those from many other countries (including those that you now expect Slovakia to open their doors to).”

      Sure, it’s different for every country. But take Slovakia – it’s suffering major brain drain and has been for sometime due to a lack of well-paid jobs for university-educated people in their 20s and 30s. Yet, Slovakia is going to need those people if it ever hopes to catch up economically with some of its neighbors, and especially if it hopes to grow its fledgling tech industry in the Kosice region, for example, and I suspect there are many young immigrants who are capable of filling the gap, or will be once they can settle and and get an education.

      "any country should have the right to preserve its way of life the way it seems fit, to be selective over those who it allows to settle, and to not be slandered by those who might disagree. After all, I’m sure you’d celebrate this fact if it was anywhere else but Europe."

      It's all about finding a balance, my friend, and not giving in to toxic extremes. Why is that so hard for you to understand?

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  6. I think you’re a good guy Jeff – I enjoy your blog and can tell that you mean well. I also appreciate that a man with your refined, internationally flavoured palette requires your local food emporiums to cater for your expansive tastes, but there’s more to life than the exotic flavours you eat. Nevertheless, to write a piece claiming points such as mine are “baseless allegations” etc smacks of not only being disingenuous, but is also entirely counter productive too. I presume that you enjoy being in Europe, and that - like me - you appreciate much that it’s culture and way of life has to offer? If this is the case however, then again - you should also have the foresight to realise that the demographic upheavals being wreaked upon her stand to alter her complexion and way of life on a scale never before seen. Personally speaking, I have children to think about, and I want them to grow up in the kind of world that I did (and no - I certainly don’t mean all white either, it was far from being that). Sensationalist garbage? Not really, when you consider that forecasts have shown that many indigenous populations will be minorities not only in their cities, but also in their own countries within the next 60 or so years (and if that’s the case, how can the culture that has thus far prevailed possibly sustain itself – particularly since it’s already dying out in so many places, not least my own home?). It’s not a pretty picture, but by failing to acknowledge it we will only have ourselves to blame. Perhaps then the likes of Slovakia will have the last laugh after all.

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    1. “I also appreciate that a man with your refined, internationally flavoured palette requires your local food emporiums to cater for your expansive tastes, but there’s more to life than the exotic flavours you eat.”

      Okay, now you’re just being a patronizing jerk. In no way have I ever suggested that ethnic food is the only benefit to a cultural melting pot. Living in close proximity to other cultures and ethnicities often brings about fascinating levels of richness that obviously run far deeper than food. Other cultures bring ideas, art, literature, music, and lifestyles that often add a unique character to the general atmosphere of a place when allowed to.

      “In many areas, traditions such as Christmas now exist only as an afterthought, many Western norms have disappeared and crime has made life for many locals intolerable.”

      There are plenty of Jewish or Chinese boroughs, for example, in the western world where - guess what - most people aren’t christians and they don’t celebrate Christmas! Should we be getting our underwear in a knot over them? And crime is not exclusive to areas where western norms and Christmas are absent. I’m not sure what kind of idyllic Fox News world you’re trying to live in, but I feel like we can maintain a healthy balance.

      Look, there has got to be a middle ground here. This is a complicated issue that requires a much more nuanced assessment than you're willing to give it. Obstinately refusing to help and only accepting 200 Christian immigrants is not going to cut it. To quote European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans, Slovakia’s policy to accept only Christian migrants is “terrible, and what’s more it’s not very Christian to say we will only accept Christians.” Again, I’m not suggesting that Slovakia open the floodgates. My (Slovak) wife and I are both deeply bothered by an alarming number of Slovaks who have a kneejerk opposition to helping refugees, which is often based on wildly inaccurate information and racism. If one is going to oppose immigration, at least try to use informed, rational, nuanced arguments, and not obviously paranoid bullshit like “all the muslim migrants are jihadist ‘sleeper agents’” who are impossible to integrate, or Fico’s ridiculous claim that 95% of migrants are purely of the economic variety. And believe me, we’ve heard much, much worse from Slovaks.

      I freely admit the US certainly has the resources to do WAY more than it’s doing (and it’s the same misguided, racist, Trump-like rhetoric that is preventing the US from doing more), and I applaud Canada for accepting more than 35,000 refugees this year.

      Again, we have to find a middle ground here, because I certainly don’t want to see anti-immigrant hysteria plunge Europe into the far right - there’s already a devastating historical precedent for that which had profoundly tragic consequences. I do believe there is a connection between the anti-immigrant hysteria and the accompanying ignorance and perpetuated stereotypes of the cultures and the plight of the refugees, and the rise of people like Kotleba. These are not isolated, unrelated phenomena. Terezia and I just wish more Slovaks could view the situation in a more level-headed, nuanced way and think “what can be done to help?” rather than decide all immigrants are bad and ignore the problem. Also, I get that new things can sometimes seem a bit scary or strange at first. But in an increasingly globalized world, we have to get over that fear and accept the fact that we’re not all the same and that that’s okay.

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