Thoughts on Bulgarians

In Poland, as in most European countries, there are different ways to address people depending on how well you know them. The formal way is “Pan” for a man and “Pani” for a lady, which is actually an indirect form of address, while people you are more intimate with are addressed as ‘ty’. Getting this right is a fundamental part of etiquette and great importance is attached to the transition from the formal to informal address when you have got to know someone well enough to regard them as a friend. In Poland you seal this by drinking vodka together in a ceremony known as bruderszaft. In nearly a quarter of a century of visiting the country I have actually only done this once and that was not with a Pole.

Pani Jonka is a Bulgarian and long standing friend of my wife’s family who has lived in Krakow for nearly half a century. Until retirement a few years ago she taught German at the Jagiellonian University. It was one summer’s evening in her flat some fifteen years ago that she suggested to my wife and me that  we should move to ‘ty’ and we sealed this in the time honoured way. So Pani Jonka  became Jonka, as a result of which I can say that I can count a Bulgarian among my friends. This, I suspect, is more than most people at the Daily Mail can say, or indeed the assorted xenophobic Conservative Constituency Association chairmen. who wrote to the Prime Minister last week. Reading the recent scare stories I had some difficultly reconciling the depictions of hordes of scroungers and benefit tourists alleged to be heading our way with the cultured and thoughtful Bulgarian lady I know.  Jonka has worked all her life and includes among her former students people who have become prominent in public life. There can be no doubt that she has contributed much more to Poland than she has taken out.

I can say the same about the Bulgarians I know in Birmingham, a young married couple who run a cleaning and ironing business whose services we sometimes use. They are honest, enterprising and hard-working. As they have a young child they must be considered as one of the “hardworking families” that the Conservatives claim to be wanting to help.

The Bulgarians (and Rumanians, about whom I will write in a future post)  who do come, will benefit our country and I can only welcome them.


It’s Not Just About Pierogi

It’s ‘be horrible to immigrants’ time again. David Cameron is running scared of UKIP and proposes to tell councils who they should allocate houses to. So much for localism. He proposes to restrict access to benefits for people from EU countries which may be unlawful under European law. This probably suits him as a further stick to beat Brussels with. As a policy it is anyway unworkable.

He can’t have it both ways and neither can European politicians generally. We have free movement of capital and a single market. Free movement of people is a logical consequence. Some people here don’t want to see that. Many are trapped in fallacies of the king that say ‘we have a million unemployed and a million employed migrants. Therefore immigration is causing unemployment.’

This is a fallacy based on a view of the economy as static with a fixed volume of employment. In effect immigration and employment is a zero sum game on this analysis. The most obvious new immigration into the UK is from Poland. It is worth taking a look at the Poles. There are now so many of them that they have an infrastructure of their own, shops, cafes, hairdressing salons, newspapers etc. Many Poles work in these businesses and the jobs would disappear if they left. In any event knowledge of the Polish language is a prerequisite for many of these jobs.

The businesses also create opportunities for the British businesses who supply them. They also generate tax income. A number of Poles have set up businesses providing goods and services to the wider community. Guess what? Many of them employ British people,

The presence of significant numbers of generally young, enterprising and hard working people stimulates economic activity and we have a desperate need for any kind of economic stimulus.

Generally immigration is a good thing. It is also, if you subscribe to free market thinking, self correcting. Once the labour market becomes saturated, the marginal economic advantage from moving here will reduce to a point when potential migrants will opt to stay at home. Simple really. The problem is that politicians who lay lip service to neo-liberal nostrums don’t really believe them, especially when the Daily Mail is in full steam.

Immigration is also culturally beneficial. The idea that Englishness arose in isolation from the rest of Europe is laughable. Look at our language. Ours is a West Germanic tongue with significant overlays of Scandinavian, Latin and Norman French. I have used words from all four sources in writing this piece. Immigration has made the English language what it is, a thing of exceptional richness and beauty.

One final remark. I like curry, I like crispy fried duck, I like pizza, I like pierogi. I look forward to trying Rumanian food.