Category Archives: society

The United Kingdom survived. Intact?

Today’s the day after the big day. Yesterday was the day that was to make history. A referendum concerning Scottish independence was held. Scots had to decide whether they still want to be a part of the United Kingdom or want to leave the union and become sovereign. This is one really important question, so it is not a surprise that more than 80% of population went to cast a vote and say ‘aye’ or ‘not’. And as most polls showed the opinions cut almost evenly in half – nothing was certain until today’s official statement.

First, let’s ask why does Scotland even want to be independent? Being under British rule since 1707, the first independence ideas has been around since late XIXth century. But the current situation is mostly triggered by the 2011 election of the Scottish National Party. The whole campaign was accompanied with heated debates, politicians making promises and statements and ended yesterday – at ballot. In my view, the details of what will happened after secession was too unclear and uncertain for it to become true. People mostly was lead by their feelings not by the real situation of the Northern part of the island.

When I was talking to a Scotsman about a month ago, he said a similar thing – that Scottish independence is very beautiful and romantic idea that will never work in practice. But there are advantages of such an event. Even if all time I spend in Scotland was rather fleeting, I managed to get a glimpse of how this nation is distinctive from others. They have their own accent, culture, attire (these kilts…) or food just as any other one. They seem to be rather unfriendly towards British people indeed (but not everyone, as it is now presented in media!). And I did try to pay  pounds issued by Scottish bank in London. I do not recommend it to anyone.

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The famous Scottish Highlands, so different than London's cityscape

Our continent faces a lot of problems – the crisis in Ukraine or the position of Great Britain in EU (!).. Right now, the situation of Europe is very unstable and the consequences of independent Scotland could be very disadvantageous. Not only we cannot be sure of its position in EU and NATO – most likely it would have to apply to be admitted just as any other country, but also – and in my view more importantly – it could have triggered an avalanche effect. There are many regions that waited only for the outcome if today’s referendum – the Basque Country, Catalonia or Silesia. And creating more little countries with little power will seriously diminish the political unity of whole continent. To say nothing of Great Britain – had the Scotland seceded, Great Britain would probably have lost the permanent seat in the Security Council. Overall, the influence and importance of UK would be seriously diminished. That’s probably the reason why David Cameron promised Scots even more autonomy if they don’t vote yes at referendum.

Today’s a memorable day. For some great one, assuring that UK is still union of four countries, for others it’s a day of grief and lost hopes for possible better future. Unfortunately, there are always winners and losers. How will it affect relations between these two nations? We will see.

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The paranoia of the war on terrorism – the aftermath of 9/11

This time, thirteen years ago all citizens of United States of America were in commotion. In panic. In fear. The eleventh of Sepetember 2001 was to become a pivotal point in recent American History. A day that changed the future of the country, its policy and attitude of its citizens. The day when America has altered for ever, when four terrorist attacks were launched on World Trade Center, in New York City. The suicide attacks destroyed the Twin Towers and left people terrified, looking for their friends and relatives.. It was al-Quaeda’s five minutes that will never be forgotten which cost three thousand people their lives and more than $10 billion in property and infrastructure damage.

The sudden and unexpected collision of planes with two of the biggest buildings in the world in broad daylight is quite an event. It has been talked about for long, long time after and has influenced the society. Isn’t it great for a terrorist organizations such as al-Quaeda? After 9/11 the national paranoia started. Also, people changed – they immediately started spending more time with family. praying and showing patriotism. This shows how big the impact of this tragedy is. And let’s not forget that fearful nation is very easy to manipulate, which is very dangerous. A lot of uncertain facts and lies has been said (here, I will recommend you Michel Moore’s book ).

Such a big killing spree cannot leave people and governments intact. The conspiracy theory which were not unpopular in the history of United States became a collective paranoia. The anxiety level has been noted to be much higher than before. But the most noticeable thing was obsession with security. When you read the stories of people who were considered as dangerous at the airport for ridiculous and inadequate reasons. The attempts to track down terrorists by scanning the web in search of people who use words such as “bombs” or “terrorism”, sometimes not even cinsidering the context.

But these reactions are understandable. And even if the war on terrorism had made it hard for people to travel, we may risk saying that al-Quaedea and Osama bin Laden is not around thirteen years later. Maybe the United States and world is not completely free from terrorism, but we do everything to improve. As Americans didn’t allow such events to repeat, we can only look with hope to the future where our sense of safety will not be upset.

Dumb ways to die – be safe around guns!

Recent situation on the West and aggressive politics of Russia is certainly worrying most of the world. Those who are touched by the problem the most are Ukrainians, but their neighbours don’t feel completely safe either. Some Poles are also afraid of the possible danger. Thus, a draft of the bill concerning legalisation of gunfire in order to protect your home prepared by an organization called Citizen Movement of Gun Lovers (Ruch Obywatelski Miłośników Broni) has been brought to the debate. The vice chairman of this organisation wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, to state that he and his organisation along with their supporters think that everybody should have legal access to guns, in order to protect ‘domestic peace’. But I really doubt that this is good idea.

Firstly, we should keep in mind that actually you can have legal gun in Poland.  The thing is that you have to go through numerous trainings and you are examined. This way, it is very unlikely a weapon will be obtained by somebody who may potentially be dangerous to others. And you are able to handle gun properly. Not ensuring that the person to be given permission is responsible enough not to go around and kill people and animals on his or her way is a huge mistake, especially in a politically and economically unstable country which Poland certainly is. Even if this country has one of the most strict policies towards gunfire, arming people who are angry at the  government and dissatisfied with their lives may not be the best idea.

The gun culture is something we associate the United States with. Its history starts with Samuel Colt and lasts till today, as it is important part of American culture. The famous Second  Amendment is probably what some Poles would like to see in their law. But the statistics are clear – the more strict policy towards gunfire, the less hold ups there are in the country. In the USA each year more than 11 000 people die by the firearm, while in Poland in 2012 there were only about 500 crimes involving gunfire, with only 30 murders. Of course, there is also Switzerland where guns are easily accessible and the gun crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. But the society is completely different and the social gap almost doesn’t exist unlike in United States and Poland. pistol-106630_640   The main argument for facilitating the access to guns is to protect our lives and property. But people don’t seem to want guns around. Recently, I saw a debate about the safety of Poland during which one of the representatives of nationalistic party, that is very fond of the idea, asked if what others think about legalizing gunfire. Everybody laughed. It probably shows the general attitude towards weapons among Poles – let’s invest on professional army who is able to protect our property as the idea of teaching teenagers how to shoot seem  potentially dangerous. But on the other hand, reading comments along the web, there is also plenty of people wanting everybody to have possibility to have legal weapon. So as always, there are those who are in favour and those who are not.

When I was browsing the website of the ROMB is that there is a lot of quotes from such great personalities as Bonaparte or Thomas Jefferson. But uploading only half of a quote I deem inappropriate. I was struck when I saw only the first part of famous words by John Fitzgerald Kennedy – ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country’. These words are all about  patriotism and willingness to stand for your country. Using it in the gun context seem out of line to me. Let alone the fact that some of these sentences seem absolutely out of touch with the subject.

All in all, nobody said that current world order and peace assured by organisations such as UN or do EU will last forever. In today’s world, we have to think how strong in the military way we have to be in order to maintain peace. Even if it’s a paradox, the logic says that if we have power to fight back, we will be left alone. But let’s not risk galloping rate of gun crime. It’s not worth it.

 

Winnetou and the stereotyping of Native Americans

Who was the first people to dwell the continent of North America? Famous Pilgrim Fathers? Not really. The oldest inhabitants are Native Americans who lived peacefully with nature, worshipping Mother Earth and Great Spirit. Children listen to the stories of brave Chiefs and Pocahontas’ love. We seem to forget that they are still normal people, living in today’s world, not only in legends and myths.

The ordinary people’s knowledge about Indigenous people comes from literature and films. They perceive them as all looking the same – black, straight hair, with no facial hair, with the same colour of skin. To a large extent, these stereotypes are based on famous stories by Karl May “Winnetou”, a German teacher who wrote innumerable novels about Native Americans in the 19th century. Interestingly, May had never seen Native Americans with his own eyes. Westerns and documentaries in general have tended to portray Natives in stereotypical terms: the wise elder, the aggressive drunk, the Indian princess, the loyal sidekick, obese and impoverished. These images have become known all across North America. Stereotyped issues include simplistic characterizations, romanticizing of Native culture and stereotyping by omission—showing American Indians in a historical rather than modern context. We still tend to think about them as “Indians” which is  now commonly considered pejorative.

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A series of stories about Wild West by Karl May.

Some of the tribes had very well-developed societies as for example Sioux had. Their government was divided equally – men were chiefs, but they were dependent on women that chose them and stripped of power if needed. It is said that Siox people influenced the first constitution of United States. Besides, it was Native Americans, especially one – named Squanto who taught first white men on the territory how to survive on land where their seeds wouldn’t grow and the land seem hostile. So why they had to be put through so much?

Colonisation always involves killing, territorial expansion and eradication of culture. That’s more of less history of Native Americans. White men wanted the land – more and more of it, moving the boundaries of where red-skinned people lived, killing many in the process.The interesting thing is that contrary to the popular belief,  Indians have not mostly been killed by gunfire, but died of white men’s diseases and alcohol which they were vulnerable to. Another black mark on the history is residential schools in Canada. Created in 1870’s by Catholic church and Canadian government, these places were destined “to kill Indian in the child”. And more than 150,000 First Nations, Metis and Inuit children were taken from their families and treated them as subhuman. Many reported emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The last school was closed not so many years ago, in 1996.

Moreover, the stereotypes have real impact on Indigenous people’s lives. As for example, Indigenous women are considered to be sexually available and willing to have intercourse with any and every man. Such misconceptions lead to murder, rape and violence of Native women and girls by non-Native men. But the physical violence is not the only damage done to Indigenous people. Stereotypes become discrimination when the assumptions of being more prone to violence and alcoholism limit job opportunities. This leads directly to Indians being viewed less stable economically, making it more difficult for those that have succeeded to fully enjoy the benefits is the same way that non-Indians do, such as obtaining credit. The government also spend statistically less on their kids’ education in comparison to other children. Even though it is commonly said that in return for their land, natives get some benefits that other do not, it is certainly not true.

In the heat of the debate about their rights and its infringements, we seem to forget that they are all people like us. To fight the stereotypes, in the 1980s and 1990s, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made efforts to improve the portrayals of Aboriginal people in its television dramas. Spirit Bay, The Beachcombers, North of 60 and The Rez used Native actors to portray their own people, living real lives and earning believable livelihoods in identifiable parts of the country. Unfortunately many of accurate portrayals even if critically acclaimed are not widely distributed and existing in mainstream. Although, there are few exceptions, for example one of the most popular song from American rock band, Anthrax named “Indians” that is about injustice in treating Indigenous people.

In the age of globalisation, when no matter which end of the continent you are currently in, you have the same Starbucks and the same menu in the restaurants, preserving your culture and traditions is very rare. Let’s sometimes look up to those who have suffered so much and still want to live in harmony with nature, being grateful for the world.