Ordinary People

Ordinary people don’t generally employ cooks. So they will be spared the effects of the Saki witticism: “The cook was a good cook, as cooks go; and as cooks go she went.” Are Poles good cooks? It is hard to generalize but the news that Poland’s Union for the Promotion of Fish (PUPF) has sent over 120 live Polish carp to the Vatican for a special pre-Christmas feast for the Swiss Guard sets the alarm bells ringing. The carp will be prepared in a variety of ways to produce some twelve carp-based dishes by the official chef for Poland’s national football team (and look how well that team performs). Gosh, it’s not often that one regrets not being Swiss and wearing something colourful designed by Michelangelo. The chairman of PUPF said that the occasion was a wonderful opportunity to promote Polish carp (very popular over Christmas in Poland) and that it might persuade some Poles who have abandoned the dish to try it once again as well as hoping more people will feel that it is the right Christmas fish for them. I am not sure that a really good cook would see carp as the summit of piscine culinary ambition but, to return to Saki, as cooks go the Poles went.

In large numbers. Not only have they abandoned carp but they have abandoned Poland. Since Poland joined the EU mass emigration – some two million Poles have left – had an adverse impact on many Polish regions and the position seems unlikely to improve with the Migration Research Academy, in a draft report, predicting that the population of Poland will shrink by over 2.5 million by 2035 (by which time, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the UK will have become the most populous country in the EU, overtaking Germany). Permanent emigration, a low birth rate and an aging population has already had an impact and will affect the future development of the affected regions. For example, ten per cent of the Opole region and nine per cent of Podlasie region have gone and the Warmia and Mazury region, the poorest in Poland, has lost 7.5 per cent of its population.

According to the report, Polish women are now twice as likely to have a baby outside Poland than inside the country, a fact which is certainly borne out by what is happening in the UK. The structure of the age of the population will also change with ten per cent fewer under 15 year olds and seven per cent fewer 20-64 year olds. This declining population will affect the structure of the family and the care of the elderly as extended families are broken up.

Indeed this has serious implications for Europe as whole which is faced with declining birth rates in many countries. This is advanced as an argument for increased immigration from outside Europe without there having been, so far, much public discussion of the long term effects of the typically higher birth rates among the non-European immigrants and, equally importantly, the often negative effects on the countries which suffer mass emigration, especially in terms of the loss of valuable skills which are badly needed at home. It is all very well, for example, for the UK’s National Health Service to absorb medical staff from hither and yon, but in many less developed countries from where those doctors and nurses come they are both desperately needed and not easily replaced. It seems ironic that Poland, now an EU member state, could in some areas potentially face similar difficulties. Emigration on a scale normally experienced only after war, famine or natural disaster is bound to have consequences, which seem to have caught the politicians napping, as usual.

There is now increasing concern, particularly in the UK which seems to be the preferred destination for many that the current EU rules of free movement of labour are not working. This has upset the foreign ministers of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia who issued a joint statement saying that the concept of free movement of labour is a key EU principle, adding gratuitously that such immigrants are younger and economically more active than the average British workforce and that they also contribute to UK national revenues far in excess of the social benefits they use. Well, what’s sauce for the goose (it is Christmas, after all) is sauce for the gander and since the UK – one of the larger net contributors to EU funds – seems to be doing a much better job of providing opportunities for Visegrad Group workers and their families than their home countries, perhaps some of the EU largesse lavished on those countries should now be re-directed to the UK where it will clearly be better used. Perhaps these politicians would be better advised to look closer to home to ask why their citizens are voting with their feet before criticizing David Cameron.

Be that as it may, taking a wider philosophical view, population decline combined with attacks on cultural symbols and, in consequence, our cultural foundations of the sort discussed last week (please see The Cross) must lead us to ask whether European civilization, especially as it has been understood since the Renaissance, is slowly dying, literally and metaphorically. Some may argue that in the ebb and flow of human endeavor ‘twas ever thus, but looking around I am not persuaded that the alternatives currently on offer are particularly attractive.

As ever, there may be a much simpler explanation – the ordinary people have left Poland to escape the carp (anagram).

Merry Christmas!

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