Some European Union members’ decision to minimize acceptance of asylum seekers, migrants, and fellow travelers has generated many heated discussions. The political leaders and populace of countries in question, from Poland to Hungary, face labels of bigotry and xenophobia for their unwillingness to allow “progress and change.” If this is correct, then we first need to define bigotry, xenophobia, articulate what is change, and evaluate how it is beneficial for this geographic region.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary a bigot is:
“A person who has strong, unreasonable beliefs and who does not like other people who have different beliefs or a different way of life.”
A xenophobe is:
“A person who strongly dislikes or fears foreigners, their customs, their religions, etc.”
For “Change” the dictionary provides several definitions, ranging from “To exchange one thing to another, especially of a similar type,” to “Make or become different,” and “To form a new opinion or make a new decision about something that is different from your old one.” Finally, the dictionary defines “Progress” as “Movement to an improved or developed state, or to a forward position.”
The foregoing definitions describe people who, because of unreasonable beliefs, are less willing to become different and change their own way of life, or to allow foreigners’ assistance in improvement and development of their living area. The important question, however, is if these “unreasonable beliefs” are actually unreasonable? To expect that a people sharing the same way of life, be that a family, a tribe or, a nation, would voluntarily allow an uncontrollable influx of outsiders—thereby drastically changing the cultural status quo—is from an evolutionary angle rather naïve.
In an evolutionary context, human groups have evolved through separation from each other, through conquest rather than through cooperation. From this perspective it becomes easier to comprehend why ethnically cohesive societies like Polish, Hungarian, or Czech are unwilling to open their boundaries to settlement of people from entirely different and distant cultures. [What most observers, who perceive this as an attitude of bigotry and xenophobia, seldom if ever acknowledge is that the migrants come from cultures who practice rather similar cultural norms in terms of preserving their own homogeneity as do people in eastern Europe.]
[Cultural Universals: All cultures share certain fundamental needs, practices, and characteristics, but their manifestations differ through time and space.]
It is a cultural universal for an individual to adhere to his culture for survival, whether material, economic, or social well-being. When people migrate, they transplant their own cultural traits and overall way of life into new areas (hence the establishment of ethnic neighborhoods in new destinations followed by chain migration). Migrants from cultures farther away are less likely to share the same cultural and social norms with the host culture, and therefore they tend to retain their native cultural traits much longer than if they had more in common.
It is also a cultural universal that those living in an established cultural region willingly accept something imposed upon them from an outside (e.g. political decrees). A migrant cultural group accepts changes, but only gradually, on their own terms. In such conditions immigration can happen without conflicts. If changes are rapid and under someone else’s terms (imposed from elsewhere), the members of a cultural group will fear existential threat and respond accordingly to unreasonable demands.
Peoples of central and eastern Europe and their political representatives fear that immigration demands, as they stand now, threaten their cultural core (such as customs, traditions, and other aspects of social interaction).
Figure 1. Photo taken a few minutes prior to the morning mass at a Catholic church in Slovakia. It is difficult to imagine local residents, practitioners or not, enthusiastically embracing a Muslim call for prayer from a nearby mosque for sake of multiculturalism; the vanishing number of Christians and their churches in the Middle East would, among others, probably serve as one of the arguments for why not. (All photographs were taken by the author.)
Figure 2. Cultural landscape of Bosnian countryside.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina church bells and calls for prayer share an audience. On the island in the background is a well-known Catholic Franciscan monastery; a mosque dominates the landscape of the village in the foreground. Neither Bosnian Christians nor Muslims (Muslims are the country’s demographic plurality), however, are enthusiastically embracing settlements of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan, or from anywhere else in Asia or Africa into Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are much happier that the migrants are just passing through onto destinations elsewhere in Europe.
Scale and Things that Matter
“Every human group on the planet has traditionally sought four goals for sake of its survival and growth; only then can it slowly allow integration of outside groups into their cultural geographic system. First, a group creates homogeneous cultural conditions in order to prevent being overrun by others (who, too, seek the same goal in their respective living areas). Second, its members need enough to eat, which in the modern economy relates to gainful employment and provision of goods for one’s immediate and extended family or tribe. Third, it has to secure shelter, a place to live, and develop the system of communal social interaction that the majority of people in the group support. Finally, it needs procreation in numbers that make the group grow in size and power. When these aspects are satisfied the cultural integration can be more successful.”
Figure 3. Cultural landscape of a Polish village.
The previous paragraph I wrote in Germans’ Dilemma and to a great degree it applies to the countries in this article, too. Figure 3 illustrates the statements from the previous paragraph. It depicts an ethnically homogeneous society with a system of social interaction supported by the majority of people. People have shelter and place to live and many inherit their forebears’ properties. In local churches, shops, bars, and restaurants people gather to interact with fellow neighbors as they have done through many generations. Everyone depends on each other in some capacity; bloodlines are long and network of relatives is extensive. Here, as in each other village in this region, cultural conditions are nearly identical in terms of the residents’ socioeconomic interaction and overall way of life.
Despite culturally identical lifestyles and relative physical proximity, the degree of interaction between people from different villages, however, has always been less than on the intra-village level. As spatial units, settlements like the one in fig.3 historically served for fortification and protection of its residents from any outside influence, including from culturally identical neighboring villages. Imagine how the local residents would feel and react if a refugee shelter for people from another continent, with whom they have barely anything in common, suddenly begins operation here without their consent? Consider that a village’s economy already struggles to provide conditions for gainful employment for many, hence forcing many young residents to emigrate. Extrapolate such conditions to a national level—a country is nothing else than many small spatial units like this village put together—and expect a harmonious multicultural future between the locals and predominantly young, unmarried male migrants. Is it any wonder that the majority of Poles do not consider this arrangement to be productive for the future of their individual communities and the country?
The process of cultural integration is not rapid. Even under the most ideal of conditions, it generally takes three generation to fully assimilate immigrants into a foreign culture. The first generation (parents) retains most of cultural traits from its own culture. Their children are acculturated (acceptance of the host nation’s cultural traits) at a much faster rate, but they are not yet fully assimilated. It is the third generation (grandchildren) that becomes fully assimilated into host culture. It works like this in most instances. A body of scientific evidence confirms that short of taking children away from their families at early age, assimilation process cannot be drastically shortened.
Figure 4. Public perceptions about immigrants from foreign cultures and their acculturation/assimilation in host nation are like Berlin’s renowned graffiti landscape—they change through time. Here, a message that may be from the first and second generation of immigrants…
Figure 5. …followed by a message from what may be from the third generation of immigrants.
Where immigration is controlled, based on merit, rather than imposed from elsewhere, and with an adequate societal and economic base to support it, acculturation and assimilation have a considerably better record of performance, including cultural conflict. When immigration fails to fit within this scope, cultural conflict arises (keep in mind that absence of direct conflict is not necessarily proof of tolerance between immigrants and the host nation).
Despite the clear message from the eastern Europeans—politicians and populace—that they do not want any immigration quotas, the pressure to settle migrants within their borders continues. Arguments for quotas follow along the lines of “It is the right thing to do,” “Everyone should share their responsibility as members of the European Union,” and “Multiculturalism is good for developing economically and socially progressive societies.” Unfortunately none of these statements can be accurately measured in terms of host nations’ benefits for acts of good will, leading to discourse that ultimately spirals into accusations of bigotry, xenophobia, and right-wing fanaticism when the answer is “No!”.
Response from eastern European members of the European Union is clear. Those who believe that the current scope of migration into the European Union will have positive short and long-term outcomes can continue with this policy within their respective countries. No one is preventing them from doing so. Meanwhile, Hungarians et al will remain on the sidelines, continue to build border fences, and monitor how the “Progress” (Movement to an improved or developed state, or to a forward position) evolves elsewhere in the European Union, then decide for themselves whether or not they made right decision.
One aspect of the immigration debate that receives little attention today is the fact that immigration to Europe has been ongoing for decades without filling media headlines. Only in the past several years has immigration become a burning issue in the European Union. The transition in concern occurred after a practically open-door policy without proper screening and adequate border control became a reality. Critics of this policy see it as a direct attack on national and local sovereignty, and perceive the supporters of the current system to be incompetent do-gooders.
In response, an often-cited reason for why the migrants should be allowed to enter en masse is the EU’s demographic decline and need for larger workforce. At the same time, the EU authorities exercise a strict work permit and entry visas for culturally similar countries (e.g., the United States, Canada, or Argentina, to name a few) and millions of Ukrainians who, too, would like to just march in without issues and acquire jobs. Unrestricted immigration from culturally similar regions would generate less resistance and conflict and facilitate quicker integration, if it was just about the workforce demand issues, but the current legal requirements are unlikely to change.
En masse has turned into a mess and, as eastern European critics observe, the experiment will not succeed in its present form. Pro-immigration alchemists in Brussels (EU headquarters) cannot create multicultural gold any time soon without blowing up the lab—regardless of labels attached to their critics, including bigotry and xenophobia.