Many artists, scientists and engineers are compelled to spend long periods of their lives at the sacrifice of wealth and lack of recognition until the fruit of their labour becomes visible. Many of them live with the risk that the value of their life's work will be recognised only after their demise. This is why they need not only talent for their achievements, but qualities of determination, absolute concentration on their field, perseverance, the ability to constantly question what they have achieved in order to improve it, as well as discipline to a degree that is hardly imaginable for uninitiated people.
Artists, scientists and engineers are pioneers of human progress and without their contributions, societies become culturally desolate, dull and lapse into technical regression.
When the great masters appear in public, they may smile. Behind their friendly faces, however, may also be the continuous experience of pressure from a variety of directions. This élite is vulnerable.
Since the nation states have not yet learned to settle differences of opinion in a civilised way, i.e. through a continuous and respectful dialogue and, if necessary, through the International Court of Justice, we hear the war drums again and again.
Although politics is not their area of expertise, the present terrible noise has persuaded various masters to turn to one side in a visible way.
That is their right. Maybe their bets will work out, or maybe they will suffer great damage in the end. However this group of partisan masters is not the object of this post.
In times of serious conflict, overpowering adrenaline flows determine not only how many people feel, but increasingly also how they think. The masses’ collective reactions generate an experience of ostensible legitimacy that drowns out scruples. This goes hand in hand with the fact that nuanced thinking, supposedly the pride of citizens of nations that perceive themselves as particularly civilised, is on the wane. Regardless of the level of education, the impact is mighty. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine empathy has suddenly become a scarce resource.
Institutions taking action against Russian artists
The following examples illustrate typical situations. This does not imply any claim to completeness. The scope of developments is considerable and only isolated incidents have become known to the public.
On 9 March the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal cancelled three performances of the Moscow-born young pianist Alexander Malofeev who had unequivocally distanced himself from the invasion of Ukraine.
The artful explanation is unique : “The OSM feels that it would be inappropriate to receive Mr. Malofeev this week. We continue, however, to believe in the importance of maintaining relationships with artists of all nationalities who embrace messages of peace and hope. We look forward to welcoming this exceptional artist when the context allows it.”
His and five other Russian pianists’ invitation to take part in an international competition slated to have the finals in Calgary later this year were revoked.
This fate is shared by the Russian pianist Roman Kosyakov, a graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, who was excluded from the Dublin International Piano Competition along with all other participants of Russian nationality. Kosyakov disclosed the email with the cancellation to the press:“We appreciate the efforts and commitments of every hopeful competitor. We hope that shared cultural values will help to once again bring the world together peacefully in the future. . . . We wish you all the best as you pursue a rewarding career as a pianist.”
While Ukrainian artists find it natural to play Tchaikovsky even when they are sheltering in bunkers, the Cardiff Philharmonic Orchestra has decided to cancel the performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture from a concert scheduled for 18 March, because it felt “the previously advertised programme including the 1812 Overture to be inappropriate at this time.”
The Russian pianist Ludmila Berlinskaia, who has lived in France for 30 years and has also suffered cancellations despite her condemnation of the invasion, commenting on the banning of Russian culture, pointed out that, “it is discrimination that does not lead us to peace but even more to war” and “You can't ban reading Tolstoy and playing Tchaikovsky.”
Institutions supporting Russian art
Nevertheless, while some have reacted to the drums of war with censorship, more clearer heads have prevailed throughout the arts world.
La Monnaie/ De Munt in Brussels announced its plan to create a season of Russian operas to underscore its role as “an anti-war and pro-peace institution”.
When the promoters of the "Ittlinger Sunday Concerts" in Germany bluntly cancelled a concert with the cellist Anastasia Kobekina because of her Russian nationality, there was a strong public backlash. Now, as part of the "Boswil Master Concerts", she will participate at the "Concert for Humanity and Peace" together with artists from Ukraine and Switzerland.
The Russian pianist Anna Vinnitskaya, whose grandfather was chief conductor in Odessa and who has been working in Hamburg for 20 years, made it clear in a moving radio interview what suffering the invasion of Ukraine has inflicted on her. She contributed to a very emotional charity event in Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie, where the Ukrainian national anthem was played. It is clear that her concern is humanity, not politics.
World Federation of International Music Competitions
The organisation issued a statement that “using the universal language of music, we encourage young artists to act as ambassadors of dialogue, understanding and bridge building between people.” , . . . and “artists from Russia and Belorussia are fighting for a better future, and they are in dire need of all the support we are able to extend to them.”
Scientists and engineers in the crosshairs
It is not just artists who have found themselves in uncomfortable positions, but other professions too. While a great many scientists and engineers in Russia have shown courage by signing a resolution against the war, many of their colleagues in the West have gotten into trouble if they are of USSR origin or just have Russian names. For example, their employers, especially in the defence industry, have started removing them from "sensitive areas of work".
In this time of erratic geopolitics, it is not only Russians or persons of Russiann origin that are facing this discrimination, but people of Chinese origin as well. Time and again, there are investigations against researchers with Chinese roots who are suspected of espionage.
Example 1 The judicial authorities functioned correctly, but they cannot repair the damage done to the person concerned.
How would you feel if, many years after a dramatic, difficult, and mostly involuntary emigration, following a struggle to get to the top of your field in research and engineering, you were suddenly publicly suspected of being disloyal? Does such humiliation strengthen loyalty? What conclusions might other immigrants draw from this? What is the message to a society that is in urgent need of many more highly skilled immigrants to defend its competitive position among industrialised nations?
In fact, in most cases the highly skilled immigrants appreciate the quality of their new home country better than the citizens who were born there and take it for granted. Such immigrants are deeply loyal.
Clearly, the suspicious approach of of some employers is extremely harmful to society as a whole.
Who sets the rules?
Like a game of football or an argument in private, the attacker is the one who sets the tone of engagement. Almost instinctually and often in small increments, we tend to follow their lead, until finally we end up playing within the framework they created.
In order to truly win, however, it is preferable not to follow that impulse, but to reflect rationally and in keeping with one's own ethics so that we may push back against irrational framing and impose our own rules. In this way, the probability of winning goes up significantly. And in doing so, we prevent the values of our societies from being diluted. It is the test of these values that they can be applied in stormy as well as fine weather.
The aforementioned institutions, which support Russian artists and do not put Russian art on hold, are those who have defined their own rules with sovereignty. They will win.
The stumbling block
The issue of immigration is stirring up emotions all over Europe, but in order to consider the appropriate rational response, we need to first distinguish between the different forms of migrations. In fact, only one of the four categories of immigration distinguished below is to be classified as a challenge:
Migration of High-Net-Worth Individuals (HNWI)
Let's start with the probably smallest group of migrants, which is also the least debated: very wealthy people who are able to move from one country to another with ease. Members of this group seldom encounter rejection and in some cases are actively sought after by countries.
HNWI can weigh up their motives and choose their targets according to their criteria. These include, for example,
security for personal life and wealth
quality of life
quality of the healthcare system
landscape or climatic preferences
quality of schools and universities.
Protection of wealth is frequently a major motivation for migration among the super wealthy and countries with low or no income tax are popular in this regard. On the other hand, while certain countries encourage HNWI to migrate to them, the benefits are not always as great as they might expect, especially when the migrant’s assets do not always accompany them to the country they are settling in. Furthermore, with laws that say an individual faces taxation if they spend more than 182 days in a country, those wishing to avoid this, simply rotate through different countries each year thus avoiding paying any income tax at all.
The number of migrants from this group is increasing, and the countries concerned are well known.
This group of migrants does not pose major challenges to European states.
2. Migration within the European Union: everyone with an EU passport
Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Regulation (EU) No 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the Union guarantee the freedom of every EU citizen to take up a job in any other state of the Union and to settle there with their family. This freedom of choice is a cornerstone of the European Union. It has led to significant migratory movements, which, due to the enlargement of the Union into Central Europe, have been accelerating gradually since the 1990s. In most cases, families put down roots in their new place of residence and do not move back to their countries of origin, although they maintain ties there.
The disadvantage of this migration is that citizens whose education took place at the expense of their home states now move to member states with higher wage levels and better career prospects, in effect creating what is known as an internal ‘brain drain’ scenario, where talented workers move out of the country of origin, depleting the national workforce. The receiving states thus strengthen their national economies at almost zero cost to them and at the expense of domestic countries responsible for their education and socialization.
These implications were clear from the outset, but the net benefits from a large economic area with free movement of people, capital and goods outweigh the drawbacks. Free movement has had a predominantly positive impact on the prosperity of citizens. Changing this structure and enacting new restrictions on internal migration would have a negative impact on the powerful new industrial structures that have emerged over the years.
Traditionalists should be very careful when they argue against free migration within the Union as there is a long-standing practice of it within the continent. The last two centuries have seen massive migrations within the area that now makes up the European Union: the countries of origin were mainly Italy, Poland and Greece. These movements are themselves a valuable component of European identity and increased wealth.
3. Migration from outside the European Union: skilled labour
While the world population is still increasing, a simultaneous decline in birth rates has been evident worldwide for many years. The trend is more pronounced in Europe, where population numbers are increasingly moving towards shrinkage.
Clearly it is not possible to fill the gaps in the labour market out of the continent's existing population. This would not change even if Europeans could be persuaded to sharply increase the current birth rate. In that unlikely case it would take at least two decades for a generation to become visible in the labour market.
Many industrial processes and services can be designed through additional automation in such a way that even fewer human resources are needed than now. This may mitigate the bottleneck somewhat, but would not eliminate it.
If there is no quick turnaround, Europe’s economies will inevitably enter a shrinking process.
The only possible countermeasure is to enter the global competition and attract talent for the known gaps in the labour market. This has been crystal clear for a long time, but fear of traditionalist and conservative voters’ sensitivities has led to most governments to only address the issue in the abstract and try to cook the necessary debates on a low flame. Slogans like "We are not a country of immigration" earn significantly more public applause in Europe than "We urgently need lots of immigrants". Yet everyone knows from their own experience that when a tooth hurts, it is better to go straight to the dentist. Postponing the treatment makes the pain worse.
The fight for human talents is not much different from the struggle for other scarce resources such as raw materials or technical components. The difference is that the competition for material things is rarely a source of cultural friction. Imported goods and commodities don’t arouse sensitivities among traditionalist voters. When it comes to human migration however, public decision makers tend to tread more cautiously and thus do not give the issue the visibility which corresponds to its actual relevance.
The Europeans are now operating a "Blue Card" system, which allows people from outside the Union to take jobs offered to them and apply for nationality after five years. This is a relatively arduous path for applicants. The “Blue Card” approach is less attractive than the more successful American "Green Card" system in which holders are granted permanent residency from the outset, and after five years they can apply for US citizenship.
Under the present circumstances the winners in the competition for talent are likely to be those countries that have a tradition of continuous immigration, have a long history of selective immigration and have the lowest bureaucratic barriers for immigrants who fit into their labour markets. These would be, for example, Canada, the USA and Australia.
4. Migration from outside the European Union: refugees, skilled or unskilled
The right to be granted asylum is not only enshrined in national constitutions and laws, it is also based on:
The right to asylum protects people irrespective of their origin who are exposed to political, racial or religious persecution in their home country. These rules, born out of painful historical experiences that includes the societies of Europe itself, are more than set in stone. All European national states are firmly bound by them. Debates about their abolition are as pointless as those about the abolition of gravity. Yet they are common.
The legal criteria do not extend to refugees who seek to migrate to another country for economic or climatic reasons and who are therefore unlikely to be regarded as refugees from a legal perspective. In order not to be classified unfavourably, refugees may exaggerate or embellish stories of persecution in their country of origin. It is difficult for the authorities of the receiving countries to properly verify the truth of such statements.
The examination procedures are complicated and take a long time. Even if an application is rejected, expulsion to the country of origin tends to be the exception. Suffice it to say that the length of procedures creates new social realities as applicants more or less take root, children are born and are shaped by the national school system.
Growing influx of refugees
The number of refugees is considerable and on average it has been increasing strongly over the years. According to Eurostat's findings, the number of asylum seekers in the Union in 2022 was 881,220 persons, up by 64% compared with 2021. Once individuals have been recognised as eligible for asylum, a second wave of immigration begins when family members are allowed to join them.
Some member states of the Union pursue a restrictive policy by enforcing the legal requirements very strictly or selectively, or even by infringing them. This leads to greater refugee flows to those countries that comply more closely with the rules.
As the authorities of the countries with the highest numbers of refugees become increasingly overloaded with examination procedures, processing times are getting longer. The accommodation of asylum seekers in camps is pushing municipal administrations to the limits of their capacity.
Xenophobic currents in the public debate are gaining support. Surprisingly, part of the growing opposition consists of former refugees and their descendants born or raised in the country who have obtained citizenship and successfully achieved social status in their new homeland.
When frightened or even traumatised people from a different cultural background enter a European country for the first time, their first impressions have a powerful influence on how they think and feel. In the case of many refugees, their first experiences are often crowded refugee camps, questioning, long waiting times, further questioning, etc. Bureaucracy weighs them down, and there is no end in sight.
While they are in limbo for a long time, the idea that dealing with bureaucracy is the way to a better life is imprinted in the immigrants' minds. This puts people on the wrong mental tracks and impairs their chances to settle in an industrial society. While they may become adept at filling out forms, they are missing essential cultural impulses and opportunities to learn and improve on valuable skillsets for an industrial economy.
The material interests of the immigration countries
If the member states want to maintain their prosperity, a proper discussion on immigration would mean that all four categories need to be considered.
The first two categories (HNWIs and citizens of other EU countries) do not pose major problems.
The third category ("Blue Card programme") is presently far too small. So a more thorough approach is needed.
This thorough approach could involve giving priority to pre-skilled immigrants from outside the European Union. Labour offices and companies know exactly which human resources are needed. This can be done with low bureaucratic barriers, high-quality language courses to introduce immigrants to the national mentality, help in finding accommodation and schools for children, advice on access to banks and tax advisors, and perhaps even tax holidays for a few years. The threshold before obtaining citizenship should be low for people who prove to be valuable contributors. Employers can be involved in the process of accelerating integration as they themselves have a legitimate interest of their own and will be supportive.
The approach to dealing with the fourth category (asylum seekers) can be to abandon the illusory goal of carefully assessing at the outset whether an asylum seeker has a legal right to stay. Any person whose identity has been verified, who has not already applied for asylum in another member state of the Union and against whom there are no security concerns, should immediately be offered a language course and a first job determined by the labour authorities. This is inconvenient for the applicants, but it provides them with a primary orientation and momentum. It is also more beneficial to their human dignity than the endless dependency on bureaucratic processes. If they prove themselves within a year, for example, they should be given a residence permit and the right to choose a job. This would also give a chance to people who would not be entitled to asylum but who fit into the labour market.
Formal procedures for asylum applications would be resumed only for applicants who cannot be integrated into the country's labour market. Applicants who do not meet the criteria for asylum should be included. Delinquent applicants should be excluded.
For the labour market, the reason for entering the country is not relevant. What counts is a committed and reliable workforce. So the primary responsibility here should lie with labour ministries and administration, while the overburdened immigration authorities are given some air to breathe.
War-disabled, traumatised and seriously ill people should continue to be given special protection and attention. Unfortunately, their number is not small.
Canada, a country with not quite 39 million inhabitants, is an example of a country that derives and updates its demographic needs very accurately from the labour market. There are numerous national and regional programmes that make it easy for needed immigrants to quickly gain a foothold in the country. And the country additionally uses the pool of asylum seekers to enrich the labour market.
“ . . . the Government of Canada is maintaining its target of 485,000 permanent residents for 2024 and completing the final step to reach 500,000 in 2025. Starting in 2026, the government will stabilize permanent resident levels at 500,000, allowing time for successful integration, while continuing to augment Canada’s labour market.”
The demographic gap in European countries is a well-documented fact. The EU's population is ageing and shrinking, and there are not enough people to replace the working population.
This demographic contraction will lead to a decline in economic performance and prosperity. The only way to avoid this is through well-managed immigration.
Traditionalists and xenophobes are against immigration, but they have no realistic solutions to the demographic gap. If we give in to them, we will condemn our economies to decline.
To develop a successful immigration programme, we should look to countries with a long history of immigration . These countries have shown that it is possible to manage immigration in a way that benefits both the host country and the immigrants.