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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

July, 2005

 

THE SKEPTIC'S JOURNAL
Where IS Slovakia? Near Bolinas?
By Jeanette Pontacq

Much hand-wringing in Europe over the negative popular votes by both France and the Netherlands in rejecting the proposed EU Constitution! How French workers, artisans and small business people have fared so far under globalization can act as a warning to us in West Marin, if we pay attention.
Regulations are handed down from the EU office in Brussels that can damage or outright destroy traditions, cuisine, and culture that have been in place for a thousand years in France. A certain unity within main Europe can be beneficial to all. But when homogenization and the ease of moving capital over borders (for the greater good of multi-national corporations and investors) becomes more important that the traditions, identities and cultures of the very people of the country in question, the people themselves should have THE main voice in deciding how much "unity" (and with whom) they are willing to accept.
Few countries within the original EU members have dared to ask their people for their opinion on this issue... instead assigning their bureaucrats the job. It is almost as though the governments were unsure of those unruly "people" and didn't want to take a chance on rejection. (Note: the same thing is happening here, where the government has given open approval to outsourcing of jobs, corporate interests over public interests, and tacit approval to open borders to depress wages of workers and support a corrupt foreign power).
The original EU was composed of six countries, then fifteen.(Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, and Greece.) In 2004, ten more were taken in... (Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Cyprus, and Malta-the second tier). With no real voice of the people such additions would affect! After all, the "suits" know best. Workers, the "suits" say, don't understand or have faith in globalization, cheap labor crossing open borders to depress wages, outsourcing and loss of cultural identity. Gosh, what a surprise when one is trying to support one's family and one's social identity!
The addition of Muslim Turkey, in a further list of potential enlargements (Bulgaria and Romania), was the final straw for a lot of workers/voters in western Europe. Beyond Turkey's refusal to even look at their culpability in the genocide of the Armenians at the beginning of the 20th Century, or their historic human rights abuses, they have little in common with central Europe. Different religion, history, view of the world, financial structure, etc. Further, countries such as Germany, France, the Netherlands, and others of the original six, have already been inundated by millions of cheap workers from Turkey and other eastern countries over the last decades. The large influx of foreign workers (with high birth rates), and the low native birth rates, have played havoc with assaults on culture, liberal integration, wages and language. "Frenchness" was/is at stake. In other words, the stakes were very, very high.
France has historically been welcoming to political dissidents and immigrants, simply because there were small numbers and the "newbies" always willingly entered French culture and spoke French.
This changed after ill-advised adventures in Algeria and West Africa in the 1800s/1900s, during which the deluded French of the time both governed those areas very badly and gave their colonial subjects full French citizenship, to create "Greater France." France has always been chauvinistic. The land of 246 types of cheese (per Charles De Gaulle) thinks well of itself, with good reason: its history, culture, cuisine, literature and political re-inventions over the centuries are legend and a basis for our own. But the addition of peoples quite a bit different than the French Everyman, matched by a failure of historic submersion into the French culture, has placed whole peoples as "others" in a dwindling sea of Frenchness.
Therein is one of the largest, underlying fears that drove the Non vote against the European Union: the fear of completely open borders, of being overwhelmed by immigrants from countries for which the French history, culture and language mean relatively nothing. The average Frenchman may admit that a good part of the immigration is coming to fill empty, low-paying jobs. But the French sense of self is under assault in the eyes of many, even if few will speak of it. People will vote against their own practical interests to uphold their self-image and their perceived culture. There is no right or wrong in this, just reality. Thousands of years old. Everyone needs to have a voice, a vote, in how they see their future, and with whom.
Globalization and Diversity are each two-edged swords there and here. How do YOU feel about it? For West Marin. It is a subject rarely spoken of openly here-the subject is always talked about as happening elsewhere. But West Marin is NOT an island off the coast of California, as many have said over the years. West Marin is part of a California in crisis and a country in peril. We might want to look at working out a way to have West Marin communities actually be able to voice their opinions finally. How about voting? It seemed to work for the French. ([email protected])

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