Thoughts of a foreign minority immigrant to Ukraine

 

You readers are kind not to call me for hypocrisy. I go on at length about the dangers posed by foreigners and immigrants and minorities here in Ukraine and in the West. I am of course a foreigner, an immigrant, and a minority myself.

That status has provided me with some interesting insights which I would like to share. First of all, you may ask, how do I fit these categories? I am an older straight white conservative American male. That’s enough adjectives for this purpose. The contexts in which I have been situated during my life are where I lived: Berkeley, Washington DC and Bethesda Maryland, Vietnam, Germany ,Buenos Aires, and now Kiev; institutions of higher education: Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Berkeley and The University of Maryland. Apply any combination of the adjectives which describe me to these settings, and I have been a minority in all cases.

There are several adjectives which one often ascribes to minorities. Despised, shunned and envied would be three. Yes, I have certainly been all of those things. The worst examples were in the more liberal contexts that I just named in the United States: firstly, Reed College, Washington DC and Bethesda, and the University of Maryland. They really don’t like conservative straight white men, especially those who argue back.  Most on the left would rather hammer an opponent with slogans and slurs rather than argue the merits of any given issue.

That’s enough on the experience of being a minority within my own country.  In any foreign country there is some level of resentment of Americans. In Vietnam, and again now in Kiev, I am somewhat resented because I am fairly well-to-do and have an attractive wife. I experienced some of the same kind of resentment at a lower level in Germany and even in the United States. Envy is a part of the human condition.

Americans as a group are resented for more substantive reasons. In Germany and in Japan they were resented because they posed a real threat to the communities. American soldiers tended to commit crimes at a level distressing to the orderly Japanese and Germans.  Moreover, both nations recognized the black American soldiers were quite a bit more prone to commit crime than white ones. The black soldiers complained that they were discriminated against by shopkeepers taxi drivers and prostitutes alike. This was entirely true. It was a natural reaction their experience with the blacks.

Such a reaction did not originate with American blacks. The French forces which preceded us in Vietnam were also integrated. They left evidence in the form of mixed race children. And the American black soldiers in Vietnam were greeted from the beginning with the same exaggerated level of suspicion in Vietnam as they met in Japan and Germany. The Vietnamese experience with Blacks had paralleled that of other nations. Whereas some Vietnamese offered the opinion that mixed raced children of white Americans were strengthening their racial stock, a line which they probably learned from the French, no Vietnamese would have made that claim about mixed raced children with black soldiers.

American retirees in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and elsewhere they form their own communities. A great many never learn to speak Spanish.  They are insular, though generally not unkindly disposed to the locals. At any rate, their wealth and separation leads to a certain level of resentment among the local populations who are not as well situated.

My point, using the example of us Americans ourselves overseas, is that any hopes that we will integrate fully with the local peoples generally remain unrealized. Most Americans don’t integrate, as most other immigrants everywhere in the world don’t fully integrate.

The reasons they fail to assimilate are fairly consistent. Two strong reasons are a lack of aptitude to learn the local language, and to acquire the same level of education as the locals. There’s also the matter of cultural differences in acceptable behavior, and tolerable levels of crime.  I will conclude below that no country has an obligation under anybody’s moral scheme to open its doors to all comers. Every country has a right to its own sovereign integrity, and Ukraine should exercise it.  I advocate that Ukraine maintain its ethnic homogeneity, that it defend itself against immigrant minorities. How do I square that with being an immigrant minority myself?

Ukraine made it difficult for me to immigrate. I had to marry a local, and wait for years. There was supposedly a mechanism whereby I could have gained immigrant status by investing $100,000 , but I no lawyer could never figure out how to do it. I am glad. If it was difficult for me, it will difficult for everybody, as I believe that it should be.

Nonetheless, there are some minorities here:  the permanent long-standing ethnic minorities such as one finds in any European country. Ours include Hungarians, Tartars, Armenians, Gypsies and Jews, among others. All are fairly well tolerated.

None of the minorities are numerous enough that there are large enclaves in which they speak only their own language. Ukrainian and Russian are the two languages that get you around in Ukraine, and everybody speaks them. The Gypsies in my neighborhood could not survive without some combination of the two. Likewise the Tartars, of whom there are perhaps a half million in Crimea, all speak Russian to get by.

Therefore, by some combination of native intellect, curiosity, and pure need, everybody speaks one of the national languages. There are no unassimilated pockets of immigrants. There may be grandmothers and grandfathers who came with their families and don’t learn to speak the language, but anybody in childhood or of working age pretty much learns it.

I will make one exception to this general rule: English speaking people. God has favored us in many ways. One of them is that people throughout the world want to speak English, and they spare us the obligation of learning to speak their languages. Of the Americans and the Englishman that I know here in Ukraine, only a distinct minority speak the local languages. Almost all of those who do learned them through the Peace Corps or early in their student days. With the exception of myself, who started studying Russian as a retiree and I still hasn’t mastered it.  So the Lord looks out for small children and wayward Americans, but otherwise one has to have the local language to get by here.

I will add another thought on the minorities. Most of the minorities here are not terribly readily identifiable by their faces. The Central Asians who sell fruits in the bazaars are distinct –in their dress, their occupation, and to the locals, distinct in their accents. They do however speak fairly good Ukrainian/Russian and their faces are not that different. This is unlike the United States, in which Hispanics and especially blacks are very distinguishable by both speech and appearance.

While there are a few blacks here, there are not enough that they can form ethnic enclaves. There is a collection of 20 or so who run a used clothes bazaar in the Shuluyavska area of Kiev. One understands that the police keep a pretty close eye on them. They speak African dialects among themselves but pretty good Ukrainian to their customers. And they at all aggressive, as blacks can be elsewhere. They are deferential to whites, as well they should be, because if they were not they would suffer for it.

There is also a smattering of mulattos in the population. The Soviet Union as a gesture of magnanimity extended university education student black Africans. Obviously, the best and the brightest came. Patrice Lumumba’s Congo was well represented. And while they were here, they did as visiting firemen always do, got acquainted with the locals. The result was a smattering of mixed children who grew up as Ukrainians. They are visibly different, but they were socialized in an entirely Ukrainian society, and whatever temperamental characteristics they might have inherited from their fathers are suppressed. They act like good Slavic people.  You see them with their fair skinned Slavic friends as if there were no difference whatsoever to be remarked. And they behave like their Slavic friends.

One can observe the same thing in certain sectors of American society. One of my grown daughters had a half black friend, who came on sleepovers fairly often. Mother would characterize father with the stereotypical adjectives about blacks – fun-loving, good-looking, and not very reliable. The daughter inherited from temperamental characteristics mostly from mother, but quite a bit of charm and good looks from father. She became a successful woman, if not an intellectual star.

I served on the school boards of two private schools in the Washington DC area, and substitute taught in several others. The admissions processes in the schools was a more highly guarded secret than Obama’s SAT scores. We had a certain number of black students. And we awarded a certain amount of scholarship money. Though I was the treasurer of to the schools, I was certainly never told to whom the scholarship money was going. It was obvious, but they did not want me to ask, and I did not want to push the matter. Nor did I ask the academic qualifications of the scholarship recipients. As a substitute teacher I observed the blacks’ performance in class, and as a parent I observed the intellectual prowess of my children’s black schoolmates. It was not impressive. But it was incumbent on me to remain quiet and I did.

The percentage of minority students in the private schools never exceeded about 15 or 20%. In other words, there was never the opportunity for a black culture to form within the schools. One sometimes saw black culture in individual classes. The first year that I served as a classroom teacher I was given the hard case students, who included mostly scholarship kids, and even in this small group of about five kids confined to one class they managed to form a bad attitude club and generally reject the notion that they might do school work. I did the best I could with it, went along with it, but I’ll have to observe that the schools could not have allowed any substantial number of such students in ordinary classes without disrupting the entire institution. I was charged with them precisely to keep them out of the other classes where their attitudes and their inability to learn would’ve been a drag on everybody else’s achievement.

A community which observes diversity through having such as the above-mentioned Ukrainian mulattos, or the young woman I wrote about in the United States, or a Barack Obama in its midst seems to get along quite well. Diversity only becomes a problem when the minorities don’t act like the host majority:  they retain their own temperaments and cultures in defiance of their hosts.

If one or two Somali families were to live in my neighborhood, I’m quite sure that they would learn to speak Ukrainian and they would not practice female genital mutilation. If there were 100 families here, I expect the opposite would be the case. Therefore diversity seems to be something that appears to work, and even appears attractive when the numbers are small. There comes, however, a tipping point at which it appears no longer to be such a good idea. Societies which reach that tipping point find that they have a devilishly difficult time turning back. Many people will have become intellectually committed to the project of diversity, and refuse to see the problems.   And in any case, precedents, laws, and other practices will have been put in place which favor diversity. It is a self-reinforcing mechanism. Once you get a little diversity, the thing spirals out of control and you soon get a lot. My advice to the Ukrainians is, don’t get started. Don’t be seduced by the fact that the little bit that already exists does not look that bad.  Only look to the West and see where it inevitably leads.

Ukraine appears finally to have achieved some real, if shaky, independence twenty years after the fall of the Soviet Union.  They have to be strong indefending themselves against the Soviet Union’s successor state, Putin’s Russia, and against Europe’s seductions.  Ukraine needs to reflect on the fact that it was their solidarity as a people that enabled them to coalesce and to overthrow their dictator, and to observe the impending collapse of the west.  Ukraine is well off with the population it has.  They need to strongly defend the status quo.  No immigration!

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