Welcome to Canada

Robert Dziekanski, picture from CBC

Welcome to Canada

Mark Wegierski considers a Canadian cause célèbre

Ten years ago, on October 14, 2007, Robert Dziekanski, a forty-year-old Polish immigrant to Canada, met his death at Vancouver Airport. Having arrived at the airport, he waited in the airport’s enclosed baggage area. His mother was in another part of the airport, and was erroneously told that he hadn’t arrived, and she then left the airport. After waiting for over ten hours, Robert understandably became angry, and started to make a ruckus. The over-zealous RCMP airport police rushed in and Tasered him a number of times, resulting in his death from a heart attack. One is struck by how pointless his death was.

This tragic death of Robert Dziekanski, which is still sometimes discussed in the Canadian media, leads the author to certain uneasy thoughts about the place and future of the Polish-Canadian community in Canada, as well as about allegedly “compassionate” Canada.

The tragedy brings into high relief the curiously uneven nature of Canadian “compassion”. While the launching of various investigations and inquiries is appreciated, it is comparatively easy for various officials to express sympathy after the fact, without asking some hard questions about the societal context that led to such a grave injustice.

English-Canadians in government posts are usually interested in being manifestly compassionate towards “officially-recognized” minorities. “White ethnics” like Poles are not numbered in this group.

Indeed, most “white ethnic” groups in Canada and the U.S. have encountered discrimination in North America. When they arrived in great numbers in the mid to late nineteenth century, and early twentieth century, there was disdain for the Irish as well as for Eastern and Southern Europeans. Today, however, this history has been mostly forgotten, and “white ethnics” have been ranked with the “oppressor” white majority.

Polish-Canadian and Polish-American communities typify this pattern of treatment. For example, in the North American (U.S. and Canadian) media there are sundry negative stereotypes about Poles. Arguably, the more the Poles are habitually derided in the mass media by the opinion-forming elites, the less consideration they will receive from lower-level functionaries in the system.

Let’s cite a concrete example of negative stereotyping. A few, mainly Polish-American critics, have said that that Borat movie is nothing but one long, ugly “Polack joke”. Interestingly enough, Sacha Baron Cohen as “Borat” sprinkles his dialogue with a few Polish expressions – something that Polish-speakers immediately notice. The movie is full of anti-Slavic and anti-East European stereotypes, which have been applied to, among others, Poles.

This negative view of Poles goes back a long time. In his magisterial but depressing book, Polish-American professor M.B.B. Biskupski documents Hollywood’s War with Poland, 1939-1945 (University Press of Kentucky, 2010). Incredible as it may seem — during this time of unbelievable agony for Poland – “Hollywood presented a fundamentally distorted and negative portrayal of Poland and the Poles during the Second World War” (p. ix).

This negative depiction indeed continued over the succeeding decades – mis-portrayals that are, indeed, accepted as facts by the captive American and Canadian audience that has only limited knowledge about World War II. Indeed, there is a history of literary bestsellers and Hollywood blockbusters misportraying Poles. Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird, with its highly negative portrayal of Polish peasants, has now been conclusively demonstrated to be a work of fiction, but it continues to appear on recommended reading lists. William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice (made into a spectacular film in 1982, for which Meryl Streep won the Best Actress Oscar) is full of slander against Poles. The idea that someone with the very high prestige of a professor of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow would call for the “extermination of the Jews” is a profound lie. Even the most fringe Far Right Polish parties in pre-war Poland did not advocate genocide against the Jews. The Holocaust mini-series (1977) was also full of historical inaccuracies, for example, showing auxiliary Nazi units suppressing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, dressed in Polish army uniforms.

There is a climate in North America today where the vast extent of Nazi Germany’s evil against Slavic countries and peoples is curiously de-emphasized. One example of the end-result of all this is President Obama casually uttering the phrase “Polish death camps”.

The tragedy in Vancouver also calls to mind the pointed criticism of the current-day system as an “anarcho-tyranny” – in which, it is said, that the state and the police typically treat real criminals with kid-gloves, but are often considerably indifferent and exacting towards ordinary people. The term “anarcho-tyranny” was first conceptualized by the controversial Paleoconservative theorist Sam Francis, but the term is certainly descriptive and explanatory of many current-day realities. The provenance of the term should not be held against it.

One notices, for example, that highly dubious elements stream unimpeded through Canada’s airports – whereas it is one honest, unassuming man with a poor knowledge of English that gets fatally caught in the gears of “security”.

Despite over a million persons of Polish descent in Canada today (according the official Canada Census numbers) the register of Polish-Canadians on the Canadian political and cultural scene is very low indeed. In Toronto, there appears to have been little but an accelerating decline in the community’s vibrancy since the 1970s, when the multiculturalism policy had been welcomed with such great expectations. The original definition of “multiculturalism” in Canada – which has been totally eclipsed today – was the recognition of European groups other than the English and French – especially Eastern and Southern Europeans. Indeed, the term “multiculturalism” was initially taken up with particular enthusiasm by the Ukrainian-Canadians, who clamored for more recognition in the Canadian polity. Although the initial trajectories of the Polish and Ukrainian groups in Canada were similar, they have significantly diverged – with the Ukrainians able to build up far more significant infrastructures (politicians, judges, academics, writers, artists, media-people) in the Canadian polity, and to successfully ensure the persistence of the Ukrainian language from generation to generation.

There have been several waves of Polish immigrants to Canada, from at least four, distinctly different Polish societies — including that of the Partition Period, 1795-1918, when Poland was under harsh foreign occupation — as well as their generations of offspring.

The post-World War II wave of Polish immigration to Canada consisted mostly of Polish soldiers who had fought on the side of the Western Allies — and were unable and unwilling to return to a Sovietized satellite Poland — some who came to Canada directly, and others who moved to Canada after settling in Britain. Those Polish soldiers who came directly were, as the price of their admission, required to work for two full years on remote farms. Conditions there were sometimes none too pleasant.

It could be argued that the situation of Polish-Canadians — and, indeed, of other “white ethnic” groups such as Ukrainian-, Italian-, and Portuguese-Canadians — points to a dilemma in current-day Canada. How are persons who are often “Old World” in their social and cultural outlooks to be assimilated into the prevalent system of social liberalism and antinomian pop-culture, when they are often inimical to it, and such assimilation is virtually equivalent to the annihilation of their cultural and spiritual identity? (While a stated purpose of official multicultural policy is ethnic cultural preservation.)

Indeed, the “North American” future for “white ethnics” like Polish-Canadians appears increasingly problematic. The contributions of Polish professionals, especially architects, engineers, technicians, and research scientists to post-war Canada have been remarkable and far out of proportion to their numbers – while remaining little-known by most Canadians.

The current definition of “multiculturalism” in Canada has become virtually equivalent to that in the United States – where it is a recognition of so-called “visible minorities” (an official term of usage in Canada) – rather than of “white ethnics”.

Some articles have recently appeared in the Canadian press suggesting that – if current immigration trends continue — within less than a hundred years, whites in Canada will number no more than twenty percent of the population. The stewardship of Canadian society by its mostly WASP elites might be seen as being increasingly deleterious to a society where all whites were once an overwhelming majority.

On the one hand, Canada promotes multiculturalism. On the other, Canadians of Polish descent are being massively assimilated to a broader liberal culture. Canada promotes official multiculturalism and claims that all cultures are equal and welcome. But what they don’t say is that “culture” is a complex phenomenon, comprised of, among other things, a political and moral culture, on the one hand, and folk mannerisms and appearances, on the other. The former matter tremendously, because they affect one’s sense of justice and one’s ability to integrate into Canada’s late-modern liberal order. The latter comprise dress, food, home language, etc. The latter expressions of ethnic identity are promoted by Canada’s multiculturalism policies as a way of helping to transition immigrants into the so-called Canadian mainstream. The former are suppressed – quietly, but continuously and persistently, as a threat to Canada. Over many years, many Poles have come to Canada and seen their “conservatism of the heart” ignored and squashed by a late-modern liberal elite, the same elite that claims support for multiculturalism. In short, multiculturalism in Canada is for cultural expressions that don’t matter. But to traditional Poles, their moral culture matters. And when they resist what the elites want, they are derided as backwards, regressive, etc.

The immigrants have mostly co-operated with this approach. But Canada has finally encountered an immigrant group for which this doesn’t work – Muslims. They take their religion very seriously, and so resist attempts to integrate them. Meanwhile, the liberal elite has lost confidence in its treatment of Muslims, seeing them as victims of an extremely powerful West. In short, the elites have guilty consciences concerning their treatment of Muslims, and most visible minorities – but not their treatment of Poles and other “white ethnics”.

Important issues of so-called “white ethnic” identity in general, and of Polish-Canadian identity in particular — and of its multifarious dimensions and possible place in the Canadian future – should be discussed more in Canada today. They should also be matters of interest in America – with its large Polish-American population, especially in cities like Chicago.

The fact is that “white ethnics” might increasingly become the focus for a white American identity that has been largely abandoned by America’s self-hating WASP elites. Ironically, Polish-Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, and similar groups, may have a greater self-regard and sense of identity, than the now-fading WASPs. 

Editorial note: In 2015, following an inquiry into Robert Dziekanski’s death, two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were convicted of perjury and given prison sentences

Mark Wegierski is a historical researcher. He was born in Toronto of Polish immigrant parents

 

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Rape Seed

I Vespri Siciliani, painting by Domenico Morelli

Rape Seed

Les Vêpres Siciliennes; Grand Opera in five acts, music composed by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Eugène Scribe & Charles Duveyrier, sung in French with English surtitles, directed by Stefan Herheim, conducted by Maurizio Benini, Royal Opera, 12th October 2017, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Verdi’s first new commission for the Paris Opéra, was premiered on 13th June 1855. Given its French audience, it had a somewhat provocative theme, to wit, “Sicilian nationalist fervour in the face of French oppression” (Sarah Hibberd, ‘The Creation of Les Vêpres siciliennes’, official programme). Indeed, the French occupying forces in Sicily are depicted throughout as drunkards and libertines who treat the local women as the victor’s spoils. In this, the first revival of Stefan Herheim’s 2013 Royal Opera production, the French Governor Guy de Montfort (baritone Michael Volle) sets the tone by raping a Sicilian woman (on stage). In due course, she will give birth to his illegitimate son Henri (tenor Bryan Hymel) enabling Verdi to address the putative conflict between loyalty to father and loyalty to fatherland. Continue reading

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Canadian Conflict, a War Game Perspective

 

Canadian Conflict, a War Game Perspective

Mark Wegierski considers Canadian Civil War, first published
40 years ago

Canadian ‘Civil War’: Separatism vs. Federalism in Modern Canada was a board wargame published in 1977 by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI), then the premiere gaming company. On the game’s cover-sheet, it is called “A Political Simulation Game”, and it is said that “the time is: 15 November 1976.” This is a game with mostly political, rather than military conflict, played on an abstract map, where the four different factions struggle with each other. These are the Federalists (Red counters); the Provincial Moderates (Orange counters); the Provincial Autonomists (Green counters); and the Separatists (Blue counters). The color of the Provincial Moderate counters is not meant to suggest the Orange Order. There is a three-player variant for the game (called “The Quiet Revolution”, without the Separatist Player); but the game works best in the four-player version. It does not work as a two-player or solitaire game. Continue reading

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Catalonia, on the Brink

Catalonia, on the Brink

Gerry Dorrian considers the roots of the current crisis

Political geography tends to fracture across historical fault lines. In 2015, the University of Oxford’s DNA map of Britain revealed the continuing existence of the millennium-old Landsker Line separating English and Welsh-speaking people in Pembrokeshire, as well as the sharp division between genetic groups in Devon and Cornwall running down the border between the two counties, again 1,000 years old.1

Writ large, the best-known example was the Iron Curtain, which sundered Germany roughly down the line dividing in medieval times western lands where peasants could own property (for a time) from lands where they could not,2 and continued down the Roman Empire’s easternmost stable border, inherited later by Charlemagne,3 which also divided the realms of Latin and Cyrillic text, and the division between western and Orthodox Christianity.4 From the late eighteenth century onwards, Yugoslavists envisaged their supranational Slavic state straddling this line:5 it didn’t end well. Continue reading

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Epistle to the Romans, part 1

Salvador Dali, Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus)

Epistle to the Romans, part 1

A new translation by Darrell Sutton of Paul’s timeless text

Introduction

October 31, 1517 was a fateful day in early-modern German history. For it was on that date that Martin Luther (1483-1546) published his Ninety-five Theses on the Power of Indulgences. In honor of the 500th year anniversary of the German Protestant Reformation, and to mark subsequent transformational events that occurred at that time among Roman Catholics, a new translation of seminal chapters 1-5 in the Latin Vulgate text of Romans, is proffered to readers. Paul’s epistle to the Romans is a key component-text of western civilization: the bulk of eastern Europe was untouched by these reforms. Romans became the main theological treatise for Christians of the later Renaissance era and of the Post-Reformation period, the interpretation of which instigated divisions between leaders, brought about schisms in nation-states and ignited strife in families. Adherents of a form of Erasmian reform Catholicism shunned the more militant views espoused in the Counter-Reformation. They forged ahead in another direction: Chrysostom’s (AD349-407) homilies on the text of Romans were more agreeable to them than the construal of Augustine (AD354-430). The internecine debates over Romans’ subject matter paved the way for so much of the harm and the good that was done in the name of religion. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, 7th October 2017

St Mary’s Abbey, West Malling

ENDNOTES, 7th October 2017

Frank Bridge Cello Sonata etc. at the West Malling International Festival of Music, reviewed by STUART MILLSON

‘Music is always important but even more so in difficult times. It brings people together to share what is good and enduring and underscores what we value.’ So writes Alan Gibbins, Chairman of the International Festival of Music held in the Kent town of West Malling and now in its seventh year. An event that is very much at the heart of the community (with many educational and outreach events to its credit), the Festival attracts Britain’s brightest performers in a repertoire that embraces Bach, Kodaly, Reger, Nielsen and many English composers.

The mediaeval Pilsdon Barn, situated behind a traditionally Kentish rag stone wall in the grounds of St. Mary’s Abbey, is becoming a well-known venue for classical music. For their concert on the 30th September, Chamber Domaine (Thomas Kemp, violin; Adrian Bradbury, cello; Sophia Rahman, piano) presented a number of works from the year 1917. Beginning with Frank Bridge’s deeply-felt and autumnal Cello Sonata, the ensemble also performed the lyrical Piano Trio No. 2 by John Ireland, a short piano waltz by Stravinsky, and the Chaconne Op. 31 by Carl Nielsen. Continue reading

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Slave Morality

Slave Morality

Aida, opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson, directed by Phelim McDermott, ENO, 28th September 2017, in collaboration with the theatre company Improbable, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Interviewed by the writer Adrian Mourby for the official programme, Phelim McDermott, director of this new production of Aida, acknowledged that the period setting therein is “a slight mash up. It’s not ancient and it’s not modern” (see ‘Mining of the Emotions’). And, he should have added, it’s confusing and it’s heteroclite. For we have soldiers in modern battle gear, brandishing automatic weapons; Radamès, decked out in a distinctly Ruritanian dress uniform, replete with gold braid; and (in Act 11, scene 2) modern, flag draped coffins containing the bodies of recently killed Egyptian soldiers, accompanied by framed photographs, evocative of burial scenes in modern day Israel. The costumes of the Egyptian priests brought to mind the head ware and the sombre suits of Ulster’s Orange Order. But we also have slave girls, and an alluring high priestess (Eleanor Dennis) dressed in what presumably is Ancient Egyptian attire. The costumes created for Aida, for the Women’s Chorus and for the pharaoh’s daughter Amneris (mezzo-soprano, Michelle De Young) were decidedly unflattering. Continue reading

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English, Old and New

Beowulf

English, Old and New

DARRELL SUTTON celebrates the scholarship of Medievalist, Fred C. Robinson (Sep 23, 1930-May 5, 2016), Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English at Yale

HWÆT;

is that the English of old,
Yet spoken in modern times?
It is the language of times long ago,
prefacing Beowulf’s lines.
Those days are gone,
their times are past; but Chaucer’s Tales
yet sail the ages with its ship’s mast
Intact.
In fact, the English we know and love
From Shakespeare to Slang:
Says, “Et Tu, Brute?” or “naw lil bro,’ you cain’t hang!”
Holding the Bible captive, and
Cradling European lore.
Our English tongues
are ever gluttonous: yes,
forever craving more.
Decades before, when times were dark;
Mitchell and Robinson then
hailed a new day. So
Old English textbooks got a new start,
And OE shan’t see shades of The Grave,
for English will never lay dead
in The Tomb of Beowulf.

Darrell Sutton is rector of the Tabernacle in Red Cloud, Nebraska, a small village in the Great Plains. He also teaches Semitic languages and edits an academic bulletin entitled ‘The DS Commentary on Books’

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Today on Radio 4…

Today on Radio 4…

Stuart Millson briefly forsakes the Third Programme and tunes in to a day of left-leaning bias on BBC Radio 4

Famous for programmes which have become “national treasures” such as The Archers, Desert Island Discs, Any Questions, Today and PM, BBC Radio 4 is conventionally seen as an influence for civilised, open debate, intellectual curiosity and the sort of listening which readers of broadsheet newspapers would regard as their cherished, familiar choice of network.

The BBC in general has long been criticised for left-leaning bias – by Tory backbenchers in rabble-rousing conference speeches and by media-bias vigilantes, who are often able to compare the number of broadcast hours given to (for example) “Remainers”, Labour spokespeople or the heads of “progressive” charities, as opposed to Vote Leave supporters, Christian fundamentalists or climate-change sceptics. However, despite the BBC’s duty to provide impartial political coverage, and Radio 4’s pride in its own editorial integrity, a day’s listening to the network – despite the quality of its programmes – shows how our national broadcaster now reflects the in-built cultural and political prejudices of its leading personnel; confirming, not necessarily a party-political bias, but a predisposition to a liberal-left view of the world which – in this age of resurgent “Corbynism” – could easily be taken for a broadcasters’ version of political activism. Continue reading

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Wisdom, beyond Consolation

Sigmund & Amalie Freud

Wisdom, beyond Consolation 

Freud: An Intellectual Biography, Joel Whitebook, Cambridge University Press, 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones

Professor Whitebook believes that Freud’s theories were profoundly shaped by certain emotional experiences, notably by his traumatic early years with his mother Amalie, then later by his insensate hero worship of Dr Wilhelm Fliess. Concerning the former, Amalie was evidently a depressive person lacking warmth. Contrary to the myth that she unreservedly worshipped her “golden Sigi”, her love was contingent on his success. She regularly retreated to the spa town of Roznau. According to the author, after the death of Sigmund’s younger brother Julius, she became “a dead mother”.[i] He attributes Freud’s recurrent mental difficulties to his anxiety and helplessness as an infant.

In 1886, Freud married Martha Bernays after a protracted engagement. In the following year, he met Wilhelm Fliess. The attempts by Freud’s epigones, including his daughter Anna, to suppress key aspects of this pivotal relationship, notably his infatuation for Fliess and his use of cocaine, persisted until 1986, when Jeffrey Masson edited the first complete and unexpurgated version of Freud’s letters to Fliess. Continue reading

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