If you ask me, what I love, I´d say: „Movies. I love movies.“ I really do. I like books. I also like good music. But I love movies. Why? Movies have this capability of telling you a story in a very compact and compelling way. The story, the emotions and all the relevant implications are brought to you in one and a half hours. By using moving images this sort of narration continues to tell us stories, the way we were told when we were children. It´s actually an illustrated, no, animated children´s book for adults. Besides the fact that you will see real persons dealing with real problems – in a simulated world.
It was about two years ago when I watched this movie called „District 9„. The movie is set in Johannesburg in South Africa and is about an extraterrestrial species that somehow stranded in Johannesburg. Contrary to expectations (the expectations of the audience AND the fictional inhabitants of Johannesburg), these aliens were not keen on destroying the City of Johannesburg by harvesting all community-owned resources and incorporating all goods. Actually they seem lost, harassed and in need of help. The spaceship, with which they crash-landed on earth, is lost without trace. No one is willing to help them, they´re seen as a public nuisance and have been separated from the local community. Obviously the movie makes a reference to a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town, South Africa – known as „District Six„. It discusses issues like humanity, xenophobia and social exclusion in a – admittedly – blatant way.
My parents and almost my whole extended family migrated during the 60s and 70s of the last century from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Austria. I was born in Innsbruck, grew up and went to school here. Today I feel European, more than Austrian or Tyrolean. Because of that I am aware of the situation, the European Union faces on its external borders, at the frontiers of the so called „Schengen Area„. Conflicts everywhere. Spain, France and Italy are the most common destinations migrants from the Maghreb set their sights on. Lampedusa, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, has become a symbol for these developments and as if all this wasn´t enough, the Maghreb states themselves are confronted with migration movements from Sub-Saharan Africa. In October 2005 the „European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (FRONTEX)“ launched its agenda. Is FRONTEX a modern „castle-guard“? Will „Fortress Europe“ be stormed by immigrants, arriving from almost all sides in the near future and would this actually be a good or a bad scenario?
There is one thing, that is absolutely certain: Europe has to steer a middle course, somewhere between restriction and harmonization, between biliteral agreements and an integrated, holistic approach.
„Migrants depart from complex societies as well as intricate family relationships to chart independent life-courses in another, equally complex society that seems to provide more options. The cluster of reasons that influences departure decisions also influence the interaction of migrants with receiving societies, whether this is considered a temporary haven from where attempts are made to change an oppressive regime at home, as a long-term wage-work environment, or as a permanent place of abode for family formation or entrepreneurial opportunities. Migrants´ ways of life are not deposable „cultural baggage“ but are socialized into their bodies and minds. Within this frame they negotiate the new society in a secondary socialization.“ 1
If we look beyond the borders of the European Union, we become aware of the main reasons, why people migrate and what their expectations look like. We begin to understand why their situation is very often a precarious one. We ask ourselves, „Are there better – or at least different – solutions to this problem?“ Setting up development programs in the migrants´ home countries, providing necessary ressources, like education and capacity building on institutional and societal levels, with the assistance of local NGOs is the first step that has been taken. In a second step – a step that would give direction to mutual understanding – a change of mindset throughout Europe will be necessary. Some kind of a „tacit admission“ has already been communicated by the European Commission:
„Whitin the context of the common immigration policy the only coherent approach to dealing with illegal residents is to ensure that they return to their country of origin. However, in a considerable number of cases it is not possible to implement such a policy for legal, humanitarian or practical reasons. It is necessary to consider this group of people both from the point of view of their impact on the labour market and with respect to the objective of integration and social cohesion.“ 2
How is the public feeling about this issue? It seems like very few people bother themselves about it. Or let me rephrase: Actually there are a lot of people who are concerned and their worries lead to anti-immigrant sentiment. Certain political camps have a long history in feeding people´s fear and focus on scoring political points on this sensitive talking point. There will always be hardliners and for some reason this even seems to be necessary but contrary to these people the remaining members of the public have one distinguishing feature: the ability to agree to a reasonable compromise.
We need deep understanding far more than drastic measures and ignorance. 3,4,5…….
Welcome in Innsbruck!
Innsbruck, a small city in between the Tyrolean Alps is often referred to as the „Capital of the Alps„. In the city´s promotional film (see above) you will be welcomed in numerous languages. It is indeed a beautiful city, attracting tourists from all over the world. However, in early 2012 the deputy chairman of Innsbruck´s tourism association (the very same association responsible for the „Welcome in Innsbruck!“-promo) run for a post in the city council. This man is the owner of two successful hotels in Innsbruck and for some reason he was fielded by the „Austrian Freedom Party“ (FPÖ). His election campaign caused a significant uproar in the media landscape as well as in the general public. By using an imperfect rhyme he and his party insulted the entirety of an ethnic group.
„Love of one´s native country – instead of thieves from Morocco„
“My plan: Patriotism, not thieving Moroccans.”
But „his plan for Innsbruck“ [sic!] – whatever it might have looked like – didn´t work out. A dedicated civil society offered opposition to this dull campaign and very soon the media and others jumped on the bandwagon. The election posters were removed after a certain time and even the candidate himself decided to renounce after the elections. Struck by his parties‘ fear-feeding ideology but in office as a member of Innsbruck´s tourims association board down to the present day. Significant, isn´t it?
Well, here we are.
And we haven´t spoken about the Moroccans in Innsbruck yet.
Just for the record:
Docking the ship (boat)
In the last scenes of the „District 9„-movie the audience observes one member (and his „alien-child“) of the extraterrestrials, who is capable of boarding the long-lost spaceship. It sets the course to a journey home and in the end we don´t actually know what will happen in the near future. Will there be an alien-initiated rescue operation for those left-behind? Or an alien vendetta in return for the humans‘ inhospitality? The fictional story ends here. It´s obvious that adapting the above described fictional course of action to reality is more than ridiculous, absurd, inappropriate and somehow incoherent. It even has the potential of a misleading chain of thought.
At this point we have to face up to reality. This reality has no spaceship in it (and highly likely that´s a good thing), although sometimes there is the talk of boat people stranded on Lampedusa. The similarities are undeniable. Still, reality is far more complex. Clearly, in reality there are far less explosions (wich is another good thing) but reality is – as I said – far more complex.
There´s one simple thing: Being inhospitable and ignorant doesn´t suit us well at all.
We don´t need to build or to find a ship or a boat.
As they say: We´re all in the same boat.
1 Harzig, Hoerder; „What is Migration History? – Migrants´ Identifications at the Beginning of the Twenty-First-Century“; p. 142, Polity Press UK, 2009
2 Lutz; „Migration and Domestic Work – A European Perspective on a Global Theme“; p. 182, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2009 abstracted from: European Commission (2003), „On Immigration, Integration and Employment“, Brussels, (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52003DC0336:EN:NOT)
3 Demos, „The new face of digital populism“, (http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/thenewfaceofdigitalpopulism), 2011
4 Hamilton Adrian, „The rise of Europe’s far right cannot be explained by recession alone“ (http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/adrian-hamilton/adrian-hamilton-the-rise-of-europes-far-right-cannot-be-explained-by-recession-alone-7682326.html), The Independent, 2012
5 „Far-right voters: unusual suspects“, euronews reporter, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E43AcH6D9oI), 2012