This year was for me the second ever Christmas I spent in London (the other one was coincidentally 5 years ago) and experienced it UK-style from Queen’s TV speech (focused this year on ‘reflections’) to Fireworks (as expensive as only London is) instead of heading back home. Indeed, I am an immigrant. Currently the most undesirable type descending from Eastern Europe.
At times when everyone’s NY resolutions are to do with ‘stop drinking’ or ‘quit smoking’, I have different reflecting considerations. I am in the process of scanning 10 years worth of diary scrapbook notes of London living to decide the fate of this heavyweight material gathering dust in boxes in dwarfish flats.
I am leafing through my 10 years London life reading a documentary series formed of collections of anthropological scribbled notes, city travel journeys, cultural narratives, recorded experiences, urban myths, daily personal observations packed with pictures and descriptions. A ‘looking back’ similar with the recorded footage of the NYE Fireworks: a phone video record for a future with no watching back. Now it came the time for me to do this ‘reflecting’ thing instead of visiting the winter’s latest ‘what’s on’ of the National Gallery or British Museum. Through the last clearance of the last remaining sales shelves, I reflected over last season’s stock leftovers after lost excitement.
Is UK no longer ‘exciting’ for me, the Eastern European migrant, I wondered?
Now that after all those decades of visa deadlines, tight budget survival allowances, personal sacrifices and hardships to make the journeys, now that we did arrive in the West as full EU citizens parting for good with a destructive historic socialist past enforced upon us to live like a cruel international experiment that subjugated our identities and annihilated our cultures, now that we claimed back the European identity after 25 years since the Revolutions of ’89 and our presence finally acknowledged and recognised, have I lost the excitement?
Or are we Eastern Europeans being made to feel again bitterness and resentment about who we are in this world?
An identity with a handicapped image: it is today acceptable to shout at Romanians and Bulgarians in particular what the Jewish would call Holocaust treatment. An identity of all identities on earth towards which it is still acceptable to direct attacks and abuse of lowest denomination without consequences. An identity that feels all right to kick around the UK media playground freely at leisure in undignified way. Ultimately a type of identity which the West probably needed to invent, if it did not exist!
We emerged out of bleak communism after 50 years of destruction, exhaustion of resources, and historic stagnation. By comparison think in the UK, it’s enough for a simple rain to stop a train on the rail track to provoke a standstill. During communism private houses were demolished (so we ended up with stray dogs for decades), journalists were exterminated in concentration camps for criticising the regime, the industry nationalised diabolically managed from Moscow and indeed, the countries shut firmly within their borders with no exit to the world. A world we only imagined that it existed.
At the end of communism there was no international support for reconstruction or financial resources available to us all as East Germany benefitted from the West. And until today there still isn’t. We Eastern Europeans have to work abroad in whatever jobs with whatever incomes to raise capital and cash to rebuild houses and send remittance money for personal necessities as no other available source has been available to us to reconstruct our ruined lives.
And upon reflection that can only be a good thing for all those in the world with the clenched fist up in the air shouting yet again that dictatorial dictum about firmly shutting the borders. Unlike them, I lived an experience as terrifying as that of ‘shut borders’.