US-President Donald Trump has called several developping countries „shitholes“. With his comment, the US’s Ambassador in Chief not only violated every diplomatic protocol conceivable. He grossly violated the dignity of the people living in the countries he called „shitholes“. We should all speak up against these remarks.
I’ve never been to Haiti or other places as bad off as said Caribbean island.
But my frequent trips to the Balkans have taken me to places that you wouldn’t exactly call the most desirable on earth.
Places where the only opportunity afforded to people seems to be the one to gamble away their money in shady casinos or betting cafes no village seems to small to host and that are more numerous than churches and mosques combined.
Places like the Bosnian side of the Sava valley, called Bosanska Krajina, and the lower part of the Drina valley where the most common sight is houses burnt down or otherwise damaged in the bloody civil war in the 90’s, their owners long gone – if, indeed, they survived the war – no one sees any point in fixing the houses.
And rather understandably so: It’s not like you could reasonably expect any future demand for housing in these regions.
Places like Peja in Kosovo where abandoned motels speak of better days long gone.
Garbage Bins And Handkerchiefs
Places like the city center of Beograd – a metropolis and almost immeasurably rich when compared to Port au Prince – where scores of residents are reduced to rummaging through garbage bins to find food or at least something they can sell. Some of These people receive a pension. Some have a job.
Places like the very centers of Beograd and Sarajevo where more than one house seems to be falling apart on its residents at any given point and time.
The same goes for many public buildings such as the Historical Museum in Sarajevo.
In this very city, it is up to its citizens‘ initiatives like Jedan grad, jedna borba to fight for moder standard water supply as year long neglect ny authorities has led to daily and hour long water outages in almost the entire city.
Places like the center of any town and city in Ex-Yugoslavia I’ve been to where Roma kids no older than six or seven sell handkerchiefs and pens in cafes at midnight in order to help literally put some food on their families‘ tables.
Not to mention passing places like the now razed infamous Karton City in Beograd, the dwellings of Roma families who face open racism and discrimination from the first breath they take to their last.
Their dwellings are made from whatever scrap material the residents can find. The roofs are often plastic sheets held in place by car tyres.
I’d imagine they pretty much look like the slums at Port au Prince.
Places People Want to Get Out Of
And yes, I’ve heard the tales of government corruption, of exploitation, of no perspectives whatever.
Though some of the details of these accounts may be inaccurate and wildly exaggerated, overall they are true.
I’ve been to places where anyone who can wants to do one thing and one thing only: Get out of there.
In fact, they do.
Serbia and Bosnia lose one per cent of their population to emigration every year.
The people who leave mainly are the well educated, the smart ones, the ressourceful ones. The ones who have a chance of getting a working permit somewhere else.
Most of them go to Germany and Austria. Many of them emigrate to the US, too, or at least dream about it.
Their parents don’t want them to come back, except, maybe, for family visits. Ever. They have long given up on their countries.
So, yes, I have been to places the President of the United States would probably call „shitholes“ if he knew they existed.
I resent him for it.
These places may be bad off. A lot of the dire situation may even be the fault of the people who live there who keepo electing nationalist and predictably corrupt politicians over and over again.
But they are not shitholes.
You Do Not Reduce People to Shitholes. Period.
These are people’s homes.
These are places where people live, sleep and eat, where they raise their children and bury their loved ones.
These are places these people love, no matter what.
You do not call such a place a shithole no matter how you feel about it.
Because, by doing so, you automatically reduce the people living there to the slur that you used. You reduce them to the poverty the have to live in.
You don’t do that. Ever.
People are never just poor and miserable. They are human beings endowed with the abilty to feel and think, to dream, to love, to hope, and yes, sometimes, unfortunately, to despair and hate.
They are endowed withthe ability to be kind, generous and empathic. They are endowed with curiosity, with the will to better the situation they live in by whatever means they are provided with.
Reducing them to the term „shithole“ violates their dignity. Period.
It takes away the possibly last thing they have: The ability to determine how they refer to themselves. How they think about themselves.
There Are Respectful Ways to Address Problems
And you especially don’t do it when you come from a rich country (and in this case an ever richer family) where most people never had to worry about whether they could afford to by food for their families the next day.
Do not mistake this for an appeal to keep silent about the conditions in these countries – any developping countries, for that matter. Quite the contrary.
We should talk about it openly (and mostly give the people living there a voice).
However, we should do it in an informed way after weighing all the facts accessible to us.
And we must do it in a way that is respectful of the people living there.
To be precise: Not necessarily respectful of the politicians in power. But respectful of the people who try to make ends meet and sometimes to somehow survive.
After all, it is them who we do this for. Or should be doing this for.
There are respectful ways to talk about the problems in poorer countries. Calling them shitholes isn’t one of them.
A Word About Western Policies
The track record of Western „development“ policies also does not make it too smart a thing to use slurs when talking about developping countries.
All over former Yugoslavia both the EU and the US have supported the Powers That Be no matter how nationalist and corrupt they are and were as long as they were willing to sell out, pardon: to open their markets, to Western banks and retail chains as well as industrial goods and privatize their economy.
And let’s not Forget that a lot of „development aid“ for say construction projects is granted only when Western corporations get to do most of the constructing.
So if you still want to use that slur you may want to ask if the policies of your government(s) didn’t also do their share to reduce these countries to the situation they are in right now.
It’s About Dignity, Stupid
Or to put it in the words of CNN’s Anderson Cooper who stood up against President Donald Trump’s remarks by defending the dignity of the people of Haiti:
“The people of Haiti have been through more. They’ve been through more, they’ve withstood more. They’ve fought back against more injustice than our president ever has.”
Anderson Cooper, CNN
And while it must be said that the current situation on the Balkans is no way near as bad as in Haiti, the same could and must be said about Serbians, Bosnians, Kosovars and all the others.
One can not thank Anderson Cooper enough for his comments.
And allow me one word directed at US President Donald Trump: It’s about dignity, stupid.
That’s the first thing we have to respect if we want to make the world a better place.