Sieg Fail: In Praise of Those - Citizens, Artists, Clowns - Who Insist They Like All Colors, Not Just White
Photo by Lolsoldiers of Odin. Front photo of Syrian man kissing his daughter after arriving on Lesbos in November by Santi Palacios/ AP
As the number of refugees from Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Eritrea and other war-torn countries continues to mount past a million, European governments - many of whom, lest we forget, helped cause those wars - have done a largely dismal job of greeting with compassion those in need. Their responses have ranged from Hungary infamously hosing down and busing out refugees, to France teargassing those crowded into Calais' Jungle, to Austria last week closing its borders. In the last few weeks, the U.K in particular has also come under fire.
Prime Minister David Cameron has been blasted for repeated slurs; in the latest, he caught flak for deriding efforts by Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn - who cites the UK's “human responsibility to reach out” to refugees, especially children - to meet with "a bunch of migrants." This, after the Nathaniel Hawthorne-ish news broke of contractors painting the doors of asylum-seekers red; following egg-throwing and other harassment, they were repainted. Then reports surfaced that a refugee shelter in the Welsh capital of Cardiff was making refugees wear colored wristbands to receive meals; as one put it, "No band, no food - We are made to feel that we are second-class humans." After an outcry that they were being shamed with "the garments of an outcast," the bands were scrapped for I.D. cards. In the most recent indignity suffered by asylum-seekers at the hands of supposedly enlightened European governance, Denmark - and possibly Switzerland - came up with the twisted notion of pilfering the paltry worldly goods of those seeking safety in exchange for asylum, an idea rightly dubbed "despicable."
In blessed, big-hearted contrast to such calamitous governmental policies, the people of those countries have often up in creative ways to bridge the gap between what is and what should be. Last week, Iceland welcomed its first refugees after almost 10,000 families last summer offered to take in a family to protest the government's declared goal of just 50. On Lesbos and other Greek islands, where hundreds of migrants continue streaming even after over 3,000 drowning deaths, residents struggling with their own austerity measures have flocked to help the thousands arriving in rafts and small boats on their shores. For their valor, a petition currently boasting almost 350,000 signatures seeks to nominate islanders for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. Ordinary Greek citizens have "opened their homes and hearts" to save refugees fleeing war and terror, it reads. "With their actions, they drowned fear and racism in a wave of compassion and reminded the whole world that we are one united humanity, above races, nations and religions."
In Denmark and Switzerland, people likewise rose above their own governments. After the Danish announcement about appropriating the modest valuables of those seeking shelter, many wise guys took to Twitter to do what it does best - indulge in savage mockery. Thus, the hashtag #SaveDenmark, which notes, "Countless thousands of people may be struggling to build new lives amid the world's largest refugee crisis since World War II, but the real victims here are the peaceful, wealthy nations of northern Europe." It goes on to lament that Danes have had to burn all their phones/calendars/Legos for fuel: "This is a serious situation. Serious, serious." Meanwhile Switzerland - "Our need is legendary" - is so broke it has to share a Facebook page with Denmark. The bio of those who wish to Save Switzerland reads, “We are a desperately poor nation, plagued by war & starvation. Only the involuntary donations of rich refugees can #SaveSwitzerland.” Other posts urge refugees to bring beer with their valuables, and to urge the government to take one kidney from each refugee because "it's not fair you have two."
In another artful act of defiance, Banksy has continued his refugee-themed street series - begun with an image of Steve Jobs, son of a Syrian immigrant, in Calais - outside the French embassy in London with his first interactive work. His image of the iconic Cosette from Les Misérables, crying from clouds of tear gas wafting from a canister at her feet, can be scanned and linked to a video showing the real-life teargassing of migrants in Calais by French police. And in Finland, roving clown troupes have taken to the streets to mock anti-immigration white supremacists patrolling to "keep the streets safe from Islamist intruders." The clowns, dubbed "Loldiers of Odin" after the right-wing "Soldiers of Odin," the supreme Norse god, say their goal is to “make the streets both safer and hilarious-er for all people.”
On their website, they describe marching "for the open-mouthed and open-minded, for intergalactic peace and an all-around more colourful Milky way...And once you have opened your mouth, you can courageously keep it open and let the rhymes of peace and love flow without borders." Their appearances on the streets of Tampere, complete with wild outfits, a horn-bedecked Odin and a demented anti-Swastika banner, are timed to coincide with those of the black-garbed Soldiers: "We noticed a patrol with torches walking around town. We got plenty sad that they only had white torches and very serious faces...Clowns like all the colors, not just white." Video of them cavorting around the grim-faced bigots and, at the end, gaily waving good-bye to them - "Bye bye! The streets are safe now! Let's patrol the streets together again soon! Bye!" - priceless.