Silent women – unknown fates

We've had a couple of beggars downtown all winter, but a new one just showed up. The season has started.
We’ve had a couple of beggars downtown all winter, but a new one just showed up. The season has started.

I have written extensively about refugees/migrants over the last year, and a bit more sporadic about beggars. I’ve tried to be as objective as possible and the point has been to aim my criticism at Norwegian authorities and the many Norwegians that don’t see the extent of their own naive altruism.

I wish I could say that I thought Norwegians were too smart to correct the charges against the refugees when they realize that there is a price to pay for this altruism, but I’m afraid we are just like most people. History has shown that growth and stability is regularly followed by a recession, and sometimes a crack. That would probably have happened in 2008 under normal circumstances, but the USA, EU and IMF worked hard to stop it, and governments worldwide managed to avoid a complete crisis. They believe they managed to avoid it altogether, which is still a possibility, but I’m not convinced when I read news about the oil price and multiple governments talking about the need for citizens to pay a much higher tax in the future to maintain the same services we have today. A Norwegian group of experts (the productivity commission) recently said that if the present trend continues (low oil price, a historic low productivity growth that has been disguised by oil money, an aging population, increased need for healthcare, large public sector), the tax burden could increase to 65 percent in 2060. This is going to happen regardless of how many disabled people we import.

My focus has been on the fact that once we invite people to stay here we must make sure they are comfortable. We can’t expect them to live in poverty, although I think Norwegian authorities tend to be too generous, but what about the beggars? There’s been Eastern European men knocking on my door for a number of years now. Some of them try to sell something, while others just ask for money, and they usually hand me a note someone helped them write in English. The note says that they were forced to leave a sick child in their home country, and now they are collecting money for a hospital bill. I haven’t thought that much about the people sitting in the shopping street or in front of a shopping centre. These could easily give a wrong impression of Norway. It may look like, to tourists, that Norway is not supporting refugees, so they have no choice but to beg. The truth is that the EU and their home country have failed these people. We don’t know anything about the beggars, except that most of them come from the EU country Romania. Many people are guessing and there’s been accusations that these are gangs or organized criminals. Some have even hinted to possible prostitution and trafficking.

This is a world I don’t know at all, so I can only speculate myself, but the way I see this it’s unlikely that these are victims of organized crime. They may have loaned money to travel to Norway, but they don’t seem to generate enough income for this to be interesting to criminals. There are organized groups of foreigners stealing boats and cars during the summer, but that’s different. The main problem is that poor people don’t have any rights, either in Norway or in the EU. The beggars obviously get some money, or they wouldn’t come back to Norway every spring/summer, but giving them a few coins won’t solve the problem. The problem is the country and union that refuse to take responsibility.

When I wrote the post The left wing failed us it struck me that perhaps I had not had enough sympathy for those travelling to Norway to sit on the street with a cup in front of them. Both Norwegian authorities and Romanian aid organizations have warned us against giving them money, and I have followed this advice, but it’s not good enough when politicians allow such extreme poverty to affect one ethnic group. This is not Norway’s responsibility, but when I think about the abuse Norwegian authorities committed against the Gypsies in the past, it’s uncomfortable thinking that the Romanis are still not considered to be European citizens. They are a sub-group with a different type of dignity compared to the rest of us. I sometimes wonder who these people are. They probably come from a country where they have been forcibly moved and segregated, and there are probably many stories there that would move us. No one wants to tell these stories, however. They are not getting any help from their own country or EU, so what are they going to do? We were getting quite overwhelmed for a period in Norway, and the politicians considered a ban on begging. That gave us a lot of negative attention, such as this article from Reuters: Norway, one of the world’s richest nations, drops plan to ban begging. I don’t think that was entirely fair.

Most people don’t see a person with dignity when they pass these beggars on the street, and it must be humiliating being treated as an outlaw in your own country, and become so desperate that waiting for a few alms in Norway is the best you can hope for. I read an article from a Norwegian newspaper that had actually taken the effort to talk to one of these beggars. This mother left her child every summer and with the money she was able to raise in Norway she could send her son to school. The article is in Norwegian, but I include the link if you want to see some photos. We may look down on them, but at the same time there’s something compelling about people that won’t give up. Some Norwegians have suggested giving them jobs, but that would be giving them rights that neither Norwegians, refugees, or other immigrants have.

The EU-project has many fine formulations. They like words like promoting equality, tolerance and diversity. They also like to portray themselves as a union eager to listen to all its citizens, but it’s not that clear to me that they have been terribly successful. We often change our mind when things become personal, when the identify an individual face in the crowd. Then it’s not so easy to explain away the things we find unpleasant. Norwegian media has been quick to give us Syrian faces. This has been so important to some journalists that they have been willing to ignore critical thinking and the need to check their facts.

I’m curious about the beggars and hope to come back with a more personal angle later. This should bother us because it could be immigrants or Norwegians-born beggars staring back at us in a few years.

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