Belonging

I’ve just arrived in Shiroka Luka to take part in, but mainly to enjoy, the annual Children’s Theatre School that LLP Group and systems@work  sponsors. Shiroka Luka is a beautiful village, high in the sparsely populated Rhodope Mountains of southern Bulgaria, a place where, in the days when disadvantage was a political inconvenience, orphanages and other institutions for disadvantaged or disabled children were placed, out of sight and out of mind.

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Through the Theatre School we try, in a small way, to bring attention to, and give confidence to, children who are otherwise marginalised. Many are Roma children (‘gypsy’, to use a word imposed by the majority) and they will face discrimination almost every day of their lives. If we can give them a little more confidence we can chip away at the wall of prejudice that they must overcome, though it will be many years before the opportunities for a Roma child in Bulgaria are the same as for a ‘white’ Bulgarian.

I loathe prejudice and I loathe the marginalisation of any community. Marginalisation breeds despair, frustration, anger, and sometimes even violence. It is the marginalisation of those left behind by globalisation that led to the Brexit vote. It is the anger of the left-behind in the USA that is fuelling Trump’s unexpected, irrational popularity. And dare, I say it. whatever the causes may be, it is the marginalisation of the Arab and the Muslim world that fuels the irrational cruelty of extremism and violence. Religion is not the reason. Religion is simply a convenient justification for feelings that stem from a deeper frustration.

I strongly believe that most people want the same things, whatever their nationality, culture, religion, location, colour, gender, or sexuality. They want freedom of opportunity, access to education, opportunity to travel, impartial justice, free access to information, freedom of expression, health and prosperity for themselves and their families. I do not believe that people are fundamentally different from each other. Those who enjoy these freedoms are usually happy to live and let live, to tolerate colourful difference in any form, as long as it doesn’t diminish their own opportunity.

So, building walls and closing borders, when frustration and rage spill over into appalling violence, as in Nice, will never solve the problem. Isolation isn’t the solution. Inclusion is the only long-term solution.

Here in Shiroka Luka we are bent on inclusion, showing disadvantaged communities that they have opportunities in a society that has hitherto neglected them. It may take us a hundred years to achieve our aims, but we must start somewhere.

Don’t ask me how we can persuade those attracted by the ideology of IS that they belong to the same world as we do, and can be equally successful in it, but surely we must. There is no other solution.

 

Liberty, Equality and Fraternity on the Beaches of the Cote d’Azur

I was amused by this article about Saudi King Salman’s visit to the Cote d’Azur, and surprised to read that even in the land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, expediency and commercial opportunity trump the rights of the ordinary beachgoer.

Beach Closed for Saudi Visit

King Salman is travelling with an entourage of about 1,000 and a stretch of beach will be closed to enable him to enjoy himself in ‘privacy’. He and his companions will arrive on two Boeing 747s, some to stay in the King’s villa and the rest to be put up in hotel rooms in Cannes. A thousand people for three weeks at the peak of the holiday season must cost the royal family well over three million pounds. Trickle-down theorists will point out, in his defence, that some of the money will trickle down to those locals who are denied a swim at their favourite beach.

King Salman

The balancing of individual rights against a wider commercial advantage isn’t something amenable to an automatic moral algorithm, sadly, but with the French leading the charge against economic inequality this pandering to the wishes of one rich foreign family is rather unexpected.

But what strikes me as most odd about this story is not the closure of the beach, but the idea that you might travel to a foreign country with so many of your own countrymen that the very foreignness of the place you’re visiting is entirely obliterated. If I travel to France I want to be with the French, to eat French food, to be insulted for my language skills, and perturbed by French hauteur, not to be surrounded by my own countrymen.

I’m reminded of a time in Sofia more than fifteen years ago, when one of my visits coincided with a state visit by Bill Clinton, then President of the United States. He, too, arrived with an entourage on two Boeing 747s, and took over most of the city’s hotel rooms. I shared a dining room at one hotel with the Presidential hairdresser. Most of the city was closed for the 36 hours of his stay, not just a single beach. But in practice we can’t demand equality of world leaders, whose security must trump the rights of the rest of us, for a time at least. The wheels of diplomacy and international relations must turn, however expensive that may be. The holiday visit of a Saudi King is another matter.