Once more with feeling.

kebelia: Attila Volgyi:XinhuaAttila Volgyi/Xinhua / Barcroft Images

I was once on a ship that came to a land foreign to me. Details became clear as the fuzzy grey line of the coast expanded, a pillar box with a curious crown, a man on a bicycle with an odd hat, the same things as at home but differently expressed.

The thought struck me that people in other lands, foreigners, were no more than people who had arrived on earlier boats which led me to ask whether, once born somewhere, don’t you have a second home in the world at large? Perhaps yes if you can hack the voyage.

Voyages – cheap shirts from China, cheap people from the war zone. Even though the blocks of Portacabins and the rectangles of barbed wire at that camp on the Hungarian border with Serbia at Kelebia  repel there is something in my breast that wants to give the place a tick. The same something that says about the squatters camps in Paris, why not supply them with building materials?

The function of the Kelebia camp is to bracket new arrivals until they can either be lost in one of Europe’s great cities or returned to sender. The evil of such camps, of the security industries, is not only that they crush the individual but they employ sadists and multiply their opportunities and that this security view of crushed humans spreads back into the bloodstream of the nations concerned, today Hungary tomorrow Montenegro?

Even without the barbed wire of the camps and the Nato garrisons, Europe’s eastern states with their mixture of nationalism, Catholicism and racism look, to western right wing parties, like Europe’s most clean cut brawny defense. What they miss is the Europe they imagine was effectively volatilized once and for all by the Nazis when they subtracted the Jewish part.

Do the right wing European parties have vertical links with the intelligence community alliance known as Five Eyes? Girdling the globe Five Eyes, America Canada New Zealand Australia England, is the master saloon in which at a turn of a card gunfire can be triggered anywhere by the countries described euphemistically as old commonwealth (meaning white) the parts of the world that three hundred years ago convicts, dreamers, failed sons, chancers and religious maniacs from Europe arrived at in boats.

That is one imagined context for the camps, another would be lucrative contracts and brown envelopes, tuned by Iraq to a fine, kinetic, pitch the re-build rolling in just back of the people killers, the house smashers.

Voice off, “Why wail, aren’t you part of it?

It was once said that if all the world’s population agreed to stand on one leg they could fit onto the Isle of Wight. But that depends on being able to speak to your neighbor and stand his smell, depends on being recognized without derogation on racial or religious grounds. I think I tick the camp at Kelebia because both there and at wild urban equivalents the optimists amongst the indigenous and the new arrivals could practice their unnameable faith, answer their practical question, how deal with the other on an individual basis.


Roland Godefroy Isle of Wight Festival 1970 via Wikimedia Commons

Europe evolved able to collaborate with the otherness in others which made it possible to federate and mutualize widely enough to create the état-providence which the people in the camps aspire to enjoy. They should learn that link. In return, as the état-providence evaporates and we are nudged back into being a twittering, tittering flocks or herds of like-minders, the habits of social collaboration need the stimulus, the difficulty these arriving peoples represent. Natural and mutual repugnance is the actual material to be worked with, the clay of human interaction, mutual because most of the people in the camps come from societies honeycombed by rigid family and clan cells in which people-like-me would never find a place.

Where better than in these frontier territories, no-mans wastes, to imagine learning communities in which architects, body culture enthusiasts, pop up cafes, music makers, language teachers, team builders, shady businessmen could circulate exchanging cultural pollen with the transient other.

They began to do it at Calais before it got ripped up. Much of the stuff practiced the last twenty years in ZADS could now be applied to this harder case. Within the Schengen area couldn’t what were frontier areas become again territories of strangeness and discovery? Events at the French Italian frontier near the Morto della la Passo over which Jews scrambled not so long ago  where locals scouted out an abandoned holiday camp for the incoming Africans show steps are possible.

Who knows what the mediaeval fairs of Champagne were like? Who knows what useful rezistances the arrivals might not pass on? Couldn’t the incomers supposed intense talent for bricolage and trade be just what we need? And perhaps not the tired flag waving of paying for our pensions but the more prickly idea of re-invigorating our skills of social collaboration. Why not see the camps as market places, not only for contraband and necessities but also for ideas and social practices?

The camp at Kelebia is about twelve hundred kilometers to the east from where I live close to a second world war internment camp in south west France. If we have a year before Brown & Root start to refurbish it that would be time enough to have a team ready to go in, including, bien sure, undercover people on the official payroll. Tennis anyone?