Monday, 5 May 2014

Bratislava, or why people would rather do low paid jobs in the UK

Bratislava Castle and Cathedral Church from the Danube
Chances are that you've not been to Bratislava. I mean why would you unless you had a hankering for the old capital of Royal Hungary, to pop into the places built by those Hungarian nobles as they whiled away the centuries somewhere other than Hungary (the Turks were running Budapest back then I gather).

Hold on. Isn't there an oddity here? Hungary? But isn't Bratislava capital of that ultra-new state of Slovakia? How did that happen then if it was so much a centre for the old Austro-Hungarian lot rather than the northern Slavs? What happened was part of the bizarre combination of lottery, plebiscite and bad decision-making that created boundaries after the first world war (when the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist) and then jiggled them about after the second world war. Meaning that today Pressburg, in whose church Emperors were crowned, is now called Bratislava and is the capital of Slovakia.

We paid a short visit to Bratislava so this is as much an impression as a considered analysis of politics of economics in the Slovakian capital city. And we were tourists, doing tourist things like visiting the cathedral and sitting in pavement cafes watching the world go by.

A few things will strike a visitor to Bratislava: every second building seems to be either an embassy or else to have the word 'narodny' prominently in its title - 'narodny' means 'national' in Slovak. Where there is a public square it will have a splendid piece of recent statuary celebrating a nation hero: here's the one for Ludovit Stur, leader of the 19th century Slovak National Revival:

All this sounds pretty splendid but Bratislava has a problem. Despite the capital status, all those embassies and national institutions, the city feels like a place with little purpose. In truth a poor place with little purpose. The streets are quiet - we were there at 9am on a work day and it was less busy than Harrogate on a Sunday - and for every grand building there is a tatty row covered with graffiti, a broken door or a little shop selling not much more than a few boxes of sad looking fruit and veg.

This is the capital city of a country with five-and-a-half million people. It ought to be buzzing, filled with people making, creating, entertaining and building a nation. It's not. And I can understand why a young, educated Slovak (the sort who are guiding tourists round the city, telling them just how awful communism was and how it left them so badly off) would decide that nursing a clapped out car to Dortmund, Rotterdam or Birmingham has more appeal that trying to make a good life in their homeland.

Which is why there are multilingual graduates working in English bars and cleaning Welsh hotels. And why the killing of chickens in Cullingworth is exclusively done by emigres from places like Bratislava. And why should I blame them for doing that? Or prevent them from having that opportunity to do a crap, low-paid job in Britain?


1 comment:

asquith said...

... not to mention the fact that Bratislava will eventually prosper, not through government or EU policies, but through remittances and money earned in Britain and the enhanced productivity and seed capital of people who've worked in Britain for a bit and then come back.

They suffered horrifically under communism but who says they'll be poor forever? Not me!