Tuesday, July 25, 2006

What's Polish and what isn't?

A bit of gardening on the blogroll earlier. All the links should now be live, and hopefully most of the people linked to are actively blogging. If you want a link, please let me know.

I was surprised that nobody (at least not the poeple I read) has apparently blogged about the G2 Polish Special last Friday (21July) (for a sample, see here). With an excellent mix of cultural, political and economic pieces, I found it an excellent read. It not only covered some of the huge variety of issues raised around the recent post enlargement mass migration to the UK from Poland, but also referred back to earlier waves of Polish immigration, and the issues of cross cultural encounter engaged there. However, I was particularly interested to see in today's Guardian a letter from yet another type of Pole, who were not referred to in the G2, even though they exist here in quite large numbers: those who were born in this country of Polish immigrants in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. As the letterwriter says:

"[we were born] during the communist regime in Poland, when even telephoning, let alone travelling there, was difficult. We grew up hearing about the mother country, but without grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. The English treat us as Poles, but when we visit Poland, we are treated as English."

He concludes:

"Our cultural heritage is complex. I am proud to be of Polish origin, Lancastrian and British (but curiously not English)."

Interesting that.

Because there are others who feel the need to pick out the Poles amongst us and make a point about it. I refer here to that venomous and increasingly unfunny Guardian sketchwriter Simon Hoggart, who wrote - in a recent sketch about the absence of "English" MPs in Scotland when there are lots of "Scottish" MPs in England - that

"It is almost impossible for any English person to become a Scottish MP (I can find only the MP for Edinburgh North, and his name is Lazarowicz), but at least 22 Scots sit for English seats. They run the place."

Mark (or Marek) Lazarowicz is my MP, and it seems to me that it matters not whether he is of Polish origin (clearly he is), 'English' (born in Romford), or of very substantial Scottish connection (30 years, since University, in Scotland). What matters to me is his competence, and his effectiveness as an MP. But that little vignette, combined with the sensitivities of the Guardian's correspondent, highlights how quickly prejudices and assumptions about origins and who belongs where and why (and what they should and should not be allowed to do) slip into the language of commentary.

PS There are certainly 'English' MSPs. Mark Ballard is one. Went to school literally half a mile from where we lived in Leeds, and where Junior Bond was going to do his sixth form studies had we stayed in England. And he was elected to be Rector of the University of Edinburgh earlier this year.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blogging trivia

Over on my blog on EU law and politics, I see that someone, whose server identifies them as being in the UK, reached my blog, and specifically a post about Gibraltar and Commonwealth citizens voting in European Parliament elections, via a google search on "is the netherlands part of the commonwealth"....Mmmmm I wonder.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Europe's Islamic and Arabic Heritage

Right, now I've finished my 2006 tour of the southern Mediterranean, I'm in a much better position to make a comment about Europe's Islamic and Arabic heritage, and the relevance of said heritage for Turkey's EU accession talks.

First up, BB and I visited Dubrovnik at the end of February/beginning of March. No picture of that, as it's been well documented on this blog already, for example here. Fiercely independent, the Republic of Dubrovnik, or Ragusa as it was known in the Middle Ages, worked hard to balance between competing powers in the form of the Ottoman Empire and Venice. Trading with the Ottomans was clearly a way of life, and a way of staying prosperous.

Second on the list was last week's trip to Malta, a country distinguished in the European Union by the fact that its language is Semitic in origin, and closely related to Arabic. (I should note that this picture dates from an earlier trip in 2004).

During the Convention on the Future of Europe, the first 'official' speech in Maltese within an EU institution was given in 2003 by Maltese Government Representative at the Convention Peter Serracino-Inglott (pdf), who is a mighty interesting person as you can see from this link. This was an important breakthrough, first because in advance of Maltese accession, the EU authorities and the interpretation services were very reluctant to allow the use of accession state languages, except in controlled circumstances where they provided the exact text in advance, and second, because it was the first time that a Semitic language was used in the EU context. I remember him telling me, when I was lucky enough to meet him, that when he stood up to speak, it was not what he said that mattered, but the language in which it was said (otherwise he always spoke in English). On this occasion, he said, all the other members of the Convention put aside their headphones and just listened to the original language, to appreciate its cadences and its profound 'difference' from other indo-European languages (and Finno-Ungric) languages represented in the Convention and in the EU.

And now, finally, to Ronda, which may date back to Celtic times, but saw its first heyday as an Arab town, until 1485, and the Christian reconquest of Spain. The building you see photographed on the left is the Minaret of San Sebastian (scroll to the bottom), original the tower of a mosque (you see the window at the top for the calling of the faithful to prayer). Showing flexibility, those who came afterwards later used it as the tower for a now disappeared church of San Sebastian, and now it appears to be attached to residential property.

Anyway, does this tell us anything about the issue of Turkey's candidacy for EU membership, and the possibility that it may be admitted. As is well known, France has already decided that any future accessions (after a putative Croatian accession) will be subject to a national referendum (as indeed the UK, Irish and Danish accessoins were - although that referendum was of an advisory character only, and a Turkish accession one would be binding on the French state). So, many might say that discussing Turkish accession is a largely academic exercise - even more so than discussing the Constitutional Treaty. Moreover, if you regard the case for Turkish accession as fundamentally geo-political in nature, and related to (a) its strategic position in the middle east and (b) its current occupation of a pivotal position within NATO and the Western strategic alliance (not to mention its very large and professional army...), then the fact of historic European engagement with Islam, Islamic cultures and what one might regard as the quintessential Islam language perhaps matter not one jot. However, in practice the popular case is always made about the difference of Islam, and the fundamentally Judeo-Christian heritage of Europe. Not entirely true, as the Spain, Malta and the Western Balkans undoubtedly tell us. Time for a rethink, I would suggest.

Update: the morning after writing this post, I listened to an extensive presentation and Q & A session with the controversial Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. BB wants me to blog about it. We'll see whether I get the time before my memories fade.

We interrupt this programme to bring you the weather

We learn on the BBC, that - shock horror - it has been hotter in the UK than on the Spanish costas over the last day or so. I can confirm that this is the case, having travelled to Southern Spain yesterday. Certainly, it is sunnier in Edinburgh today, or so people tell me, than it is in Ronda in Southern Spain (see left for the evidence). Believe me, that picture was taken this morning. Since then it has rained. Yes, rained. Both last year and this year, despite some rain earlier in the year, there have been severe drought conditions in Spain. I doubt if the relatively few drops which fell today will make much difference to the overall aridity, but they certainly made for humid conditions outside.

In the meantime, from what little I have seen so far, given work and the weather, I can categorically say that Ronda appears to be everything it is cracked up to be, so I hope that if things brighten up a little this afternoon, I might be able to take some pictures with blue sky to embellish them.

As this is a EU-related piece of academic tourism, I should also report that I heard some interesting background, from someone high up in the EPP, to the Conservative decision not to leave the EPP (at least until 2009). More on that, when I find the time to revitalise the blog, on BloggingaboutEULawandPolitics, which is currently on hiatus.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Too hot to blog

As in previous weeks, I've not really been in a position to post. I was in Malta for the week, doing some work for the University - yes, there is a University of Malta and it has a Law Faculty. However, I did manage to get a couple of swims, in the sea of fthe rocky beach I could see from my sixth floor hotel room (see left). So life wasn't too tough. It was however very hot (at least by my softy northern standards).

I've been at home for the weekend, washing and ironing, helping with the painting of Junior Bond's flat (it's been a seemingly interminable project) and also visiting the East Neuk of Fife yesterday, to view it for the first time in full summer sunshine.

The East Neuk of Fife is really one of the UK's hidden gems. Literally, it is "nook", the final corner of Fife jutting out into the North Sea. So, imagine my delight and surprise when I came across the scene you see on the left, which can only mean one thing to me. That the new blessed Margaret is taking her annual break (and giving the G8 a miss at the same time) in East Neuk, just near St Monans, along with her security detail who are now themselves discovering the joy of caravan holidays.

Off again tomorrow, I'm afraid. This time, it's another holiday destination, and for the second time in just over a week I will be sitting in a plane jam-packed with holiday-makers, with my bag full of work clothes. This time is Malaga, where part of the point of the trip is to have a meeting with some researchers at the University of Malaga who are working on some research which is closely related to my own. Yes, it came as a surprise to me too to discover that researchers at the University of Malaga were prepared to have a meeting at 3.30pm on a late July afternoon.

However, this mention of Malaga gives me an opportunity also to link to something I read on the plane to Malta last week in the Observer about British expats in Spain and their experience, in particular, of accessing the Spanish healthcare system having failed to learn the national language. If you went through that article doing "global search and replace" replacing references to Spain with references to the UK and references to the British in Spain with references to immigrants of pretty much any nationality into the UK, it might make people think a little harder before they condemn either attempts which are made from the UK end to accommodate non-nationals and non-English speakers, as well as those immigrants who fail, for whatever reason, effectively to master the language. As this story shows clearly, integration is a two way process and raises complex challenges and questions, which in turn demand complex answers.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Separated at birth

We saw the Third Place play off this evening - Germany vs Portugal. Good result! I think we are both rooting for France tomorrow, but I will actually be in Malta by the time of kick-off, and I suspect that given historically close ties between Malta and Italy, I will probably be in the minority and so should best watch the match in my hotel room. It was 32 degrees today in Malta today. A tad warm for BW I have to say, but I'll try not to be a wilting flower all next week. Hope to blog from there, but who knows.

And no, I'm not on holiday. Will be very very busy.

Anyway, returning to the football, further similarities emerged between a certain player who got his chance tonight because of the 'generosity' of a fellow squad member and a certain fairly famous "knight of the realm". See it for yourselves.

On another matter, I didn't report on the fact that Sakchai Makao, the Thai facing deportation from the Shetlands, had been given bail in the context of the deportation proceedings against him (under the "clear 'em out" initiative aimed at former foreign prisoners by the beleaguered Home Office). That was already good news. Even better news is that the deportation proceedings themselves have now been dismissed by a three judge panel sitting in the North East of England, and Makao has now returned home to Shetland for good. All I can hope is that there have not been similar cases to Makao's which have gone unnoticed because the beneficiaries of the Home Office's attention have not been part of such a close community, willing and able to mobilise effectively to defend one of their own.

And since you insist on asking, yes, my hat is very well thank you very much. It is currently residing on top of the bookcase. I cannot predict when its next outing might be. It could, I suppose, be a while.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Buy a Hat - See the Queen...

Make the most of this bit of embarrassment folks as it may be deleted when BondWoman sees it! This is the very hat that attended yesterday's Garden Party, yes THAT Garden Party!

Personally I think it is truly awful, and am wondering if my camera will ever work again after such a traumatic experience as photographing that hat; hopefully I will be able to provide some good counselling and coax it back into service once more...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Dead Ringers

It was suggested on the BBC this evening that Raymond Domenech, the coach of France (see left) most resembles Eddie Jordan, the former racing driver and now racing car team owner (see below).

Is it the glasses? Or the hair? Or the general demeanour?

No, I would suggest that the first coach to take France to a World Cup Final since 1998 (hey, that's not so long to wait!) is a dead ringer for that famous cartoon character Joe Ninety. Judge for yourselves.

Living up to the challenge

In comments today, HW cries out: "I expect you to rise above the detritus of today's news and to give us some intellectual stimulation."

If only.

Instead you are going to get the height of kitsch for an incomer to Edinburgh. Attendance by Bondwoman this afternoon at the Royal Garden Party at Holyroodhouse, along with 8000 people (and Junior Bond). What a wonderful experience for a unionist! What can we tell you? Well not much. The blogger's favourite instrument, the digital camera, is banned. As is the mobile phone (but that didn't stop people). The Queen wore some sort of pale green with a sort of salmon pink top to her hat (and she is so short you can definitely see that). Phil the Greek was in grey, and looks quite grey. The Queen is much as she looks on the telly, but then we were about the same distance away from her... Couldn't see any other famous royals, but I'm quite sure there were many many pillars of Edinburgh and Scottish society there...

Junior Bond saw, and chatted to, people he knew. He is obviously integrated in Edinburgh society. I saw someone in my School at a distance, but no one to chat to. I am a failure.

It rained, it thundered, and people got quite wet. We had some sarnies, some mini scones, and some profiteroles, drank a couple of lemonades but none of the de rigueur tea, contemplated the long queues for the "luxury" portaloos, and split the scene after a couple of hours to go to the Regent, up Abbey Hill, which I have visited previously with BB. We chilled out there for a while, and then found a taxi home.

Actually there is another post in the making on what is "left" and what is "right" in Central Europe these days, after the Polish, Hungarian and Slovakian general elections. That'll have to wait until after the France/Portugal match. We're rooting for France. Unsurprisingly...

This Blog is not Asleep - But it is close to Dead!

I think that a wake up call is needed here, before this blog retires to that great blogyard in the aether! Ye Gods, I turn my back for a few minutes and what happens? NOTHING! That's what happens; the posts are so sparse here these days I am amazed that there are any readers at all. At least before my old mate BondBloke retired from here there was a bit of liveliness, winding up the loonies and what not. Maybe I should take up where he left off, or maybe start a campaign of some sort to help the intellectually challenged, but perhaps they wouldn't understand the principles involved. Ah, I know, how about an RFG campaign? Any supportes will be welcome...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

This blog is not asleep

Well, not quite. But almost completely, it would appear. It would seem I am hitting some sort of "wall" in terms of keeping the blog going when I am short of time and substantially distracted by other things. We'll have to see.

Anyway, here are two things which caught my eye together in a rather cursory review of the Sundays today. This (scroll down to: "Off-duty taxi driver fined after daughter lights up") strikes me as the unacceptable face of smoking ban enforcement. Taking the facts at face value, a one-off offence where the parties in question genuinely thought they were outside the limits of the law and in a truly "private car", and over-zealous officials apparently enjoying exercising petty powers. I *still* think the ban is a good thing, though. It was great to watch a couple of World Cup matches in smoke free pubs.

And in a comment piece which is only on the Scotsman premium content, Fraser Nelson writes about "Protest voters play the anti-politics card". The snippet here which interested me was that he pointed out that the May 2009 European Parliament elections fall on a date which might prove convenient for the then Prime Minister (he assumes Gordon Brown) to call a general election. Result: UKIP get the platform they want not only to take loads of Tory votes in EP elections, but in the Westminster election as well, and David Cameron is left fighting on two fronts as Europe becomes a "big issue" in a Westminster election. Interesting, and possibly quite a big gamble for any UK Prime Minister. For myself, I wonder whether or not Blair will go early enough (or late enough) to make 2009 a sensible option. An early departure, and we could well see a snap general election in Autumn 2008. A late departure, and we could be looking at an almost five year Parliament with perhaps late Autumn 2009 or even February 2010 a better option.

In the meantime, on in the background as I have been writing has been Big Brother (yes, apparently it has been continuing right throughout the World Cup and it is still a preferred TV watch of Junior Bond) and we watched in horror as one of the contestants managed silent disco-dancing to the same three songs, standing on a tiny mat (yes, that means no toilet breaks, no nothing) for *nine hours* all to get a small trophy for his pains. Puts the World Cup in context, to my mind...