Daniel Trilling

Daniel Trilling’s Lights in the Distance: Exile and Refuge at the Borders of Europe is out now.

From The Blog
28 May 2020

The Financial Times reported today that the UK has the worst death rate from Covid-19 ‘among countries that produce comparable data’ (new data from Spain now put it ahead of the UK). The delay to introducing lockdown measures was made worse by shortages of PPE, a chaotic testing policy and a failure to protect care homes. The standard the government wanted to be measured by was ‘excess deaths’ – a public health term meaning the number of deaths above the expected level in any given period – and by this measure its policies have fallen short. ‘The UK has registered 59,537 more deaths than usual since the week ending 20 March,’ the FT says. The evidence points to a catastrophic mistake. But something worries me about the apparent neutrality of the term ‘excess deaths’. British political culture is very good at making avoidable deaths seem like an unfortunate fact of life, or a matter of personal responsibility.

From The Blog
18 May 2020

On 13 May, Italy’s government unveiled an economic support package that, among other measures, includes an amnesty for undocumented migrants who work on farms and in social care. ‘It’s true. I cried,’ the agriculture minister, Teresa Bellanova, who had proposed the amnesty, wrote on Facebook. ‘Because I fought for something I believed in from the beginning, because I closed the circle of a life that is not only mine, but that of many women and men like me who worked in the fields.’ Bellanova, who was born in the southern region of Puglia in 1958, began work as a day labourer on farms around Brindisi at the age of 15. She says she saw girls her age die from the harsh working conditions. She spent years as a trade unionist before being elected to parliament in 2006.

From The Blog
5 May 2020

Two years ago Sajid Javid, newly appointed home secretary after the Windrush scandal, declared an end to the phrase ‘hostile environment’. It was an ‘unhelpful’ form of words, he told Parliament, which ‘doesn’t represent our values as a country’. The phrase, which describes the bureaucratic obstacles conceived in 2012 to make life in the UK impossible for unwanted immigrants, may have disappeared from the official lexicon, but the policies remain, even during a pandemic.

From The Blog
17 January 2020

For the past few months, Margarete Kraus’s face has been looking out at passengers in the lifts at Russell Square tube station. Photographed in the 1960s, she is leaning from the window of her caravan, smiling. Her Auschwitz prisoner number is tattooed on her left forearm. Kraus, who came from Czechoslovakia, was one of the hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people targeted by the Nazis for extermination in the 1940s. Her story is told, alongside those of others, by an exhibition at the Wiener Holocaust Library.

From The Blog
4 December 2019

At the House of European History in Brussels, a long display cabinet sets out the forces that have shaped Europe through the centuries: philosophy, democracy, rule of law, ‘omnipresence of Christianity’, state terror, the slave trade, colonialism, humanism, the Enlightenment, revolutions, capitalism, Marxism, the nation state. For each, a historical image is matched with something contemporary: for philosophy, you get a bust of Socrates and a photograph of Žižek; for revolutions, Liberty Leading the People and the uprising in Kiev’s Maidan Square; for the slave trade, iron shackles and a Banksy painting about child labour.

‘I’m not racist, but …’

Daniel Trilling, 18 April 2019

The word​ ‘Caucasian’ was first used as a term for white people in the late 18th century, by men who believed they were making objective scientific judgments about the world. In 1795, the naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a professor at Göttingen University who owned a prodigious collection of human skulls, proposed the existence of five ‘varieties’ of...

All of the pressures that result from international migration are also generated by migration within a country’s borders. Linguistic and cultural differences, scarce public resources, unequal distribution of wealth: all of these exist within as well as between nation-states. So why limit controls to international borders? Why not prevent people from Solihull moving to London and putting pressure on the rental market?

Stuck in Sicily

Daniel Trilling, 5 May 2016

On a sound file​ sent to me via WhatsApp, a teenage girl sobs, and an older woman says: ‘Don’t worry, the white people will help you.’ The girl is 17, from a village in Edo state in Nigeria. A family friend came to her house, she says, and asked her parents if they’d like to send their daughter to work in Europe. The friend didn’t say what kind of work she...

Short Cuts: On the Night Bus to Idomeni

Daniel Trilling, 17 December 2015

Nothing much​ happened on the night bus from Athens to Idomeni. A baby cried, people shuffled in their seats, the driver switched the lights on and told whoever was eating sunflower seeds not to make a mess of his coach. But no one suffocated or drowned; nobody assaulted anybody; no one froze to death or broke down in tears. The ticket agents and the coach owners are entrepreneurs, not people...

Since​ the civil war in Syria began in 2011, more than 12 million people have been displaced by the fighting, 4.1 million of whom have fled the country. The flow of refugees from Syria has been constant, but there have been two great surges in the past four years. The first was in the middle of 2013, when fighting intensified. That was when the Assad regime stepped up its attacks, the Arab...

Short Cuts: At the Amygdaleza Prison Camp

Daniel Trilling, 5 March 2015

Roughly​ every other night for the past two months, my phone has rung at around 11 p.m. Most of the time I don’t answer, as I don’t speak any of the caller’s language and he doesn’t speak enough of mine to make the conversation worthwhile. Sometimes, in the morning, there is an answerphone message: a pause, then an Urdu-accented voice saying ‘Hello?’ two...

Short Cuts: At the Selmentsi Crossing

Daniel Trilling, 31 July 2014

The European Union’s​ eastern frontier cuts through Selmentsi, a village on the border of Slovakia and Ukraine. On the Ukrainian side, the road leading to the checkpoint is lined with shops selling fake designer clothes. The villagers serving in the shops slip easily between Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian and Slovakian, a legacy of the region’s contested history. Once part of the...

From The Blog
15 March 2019

Far-right terrorist ‘manifestos’, like the one apparently published by one of the Christchurch shooters, are a kind of Rorschach test, inviting the reader to finish the job by finding meaning in the incoherent and contradictory ideas it contains. An act of mass murder is turned into a global spectacle by the use of real-time social media networks. Traditional media organisations and individuals online are drawn into repeating, arguing over and sharing the claims and images made by the perpetrator.

From The Blog
7 March 2019

The European Commission says the ‘migration crisis’ is over. It has published a fact sheet aimed at countering both the far right, who tell lies about migrants and refugees, and humanitarian campaigners who point to Europe’s complicity in the imprisonment and torture of people in Libyan detention camps. It acknowledges that some ‘structural problems remain’.

But what is over, and who is it over for?

From The Blog
22 February 2019

An exhibition split between the Jewish Museum and the Photographers' Gallery revisits the work of Roman Vishniac, best known for recording the lives of Eastern European Jews in the years immediately before the Second World War.

From The Blog
10 January 2018

The single-lane road cuts through an almost empty grassland plateau. Every so often there are signs warning drivers not to wander, at risk of death from unexploded bombs. A burned-out tank punctuates the horizon, its gun raised in salute. The road continues like this for a good twenty minutes before reaching a small car park outside a village church. On the morning of New Year’s Day the car park was almost full. People were getting out of their cars and making their way up the hill to the church: families with children and elderly relatives, a dog-walker in a camouflage anorak, a young couple in quilted jackets and Union Jack wellies.

From The Blog
1 December 2017

The Estonian National Museum is a glass, concrete and steel slope that rises out of the runway at Raadi, a former Soviet air base near the city of Tartu. On a tour of the museum, which opened last year, the guide explained that its design incorporates several features of Estonia’s history. It bridges a stream that once ran through the estate of a Baltic German baron, part of the aristocracy that ruled over a largely Estonian-speaking population for centuries. The former air base is evidence of domination by Moscow: two hundred years under the Russian Empire, a brief period of independence from 1918 to 1939, then reoccupation by the Soviet Union until its break-up in 1991. And the new building, opened several months before Estonia took up the presidency of the Council of the EU, suggests how the country would like to be seen today: bright, open, European, on the up.

From The Blog
3 November 2017

The genocide memorial in Yerevan, a giant complex built when Armenia was part of the USSR, sits on a ridge overlooking the city: its museum tells of how ethnic Armenians in the final years of Ottoman rule were massacred and forcibly scattered and how the lands claimed by Armenian nationalists were reduced, by military defeat and international diplomacy, to the present-day republic in the South Caucasus. Passengers who leave the metro station at Yerevan’s central square are greeted with a giant map of Greater Armenia, a historical region that mostly falls within the borders of the current republic’s neighbours: Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan and Georgia. And on the streets, pasted to lamp-posts, walls and junction boxes, are fly-posters offering cheap minibus rides to distant cities: Krasnodar, Rostov, Novosibirsk. The republic’s economy is partly sustained by emigrant workers, most of whom go to Russia.

From The Blog
21 June 2017

The Documenta festival, a contemporary art exhibition that usually takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany, is currently in Athens. Its presence there isn’t uncontroversial. The role of the art market in gentrification, the festival’s preference for established or dead artists, the spectacle of a wealthy German institution descending on a city that has been at the centre of economic and refugee crises in recent years – all this has drawn criticism. The curators have made some effort to engage with the political context, but not everything has gone to plan: a collaboration between the artist Roger Bernat and an LGBT refugee group foundered when the participants stole the exhibit in protest at what they saw as exploitation.

From The Blog
21 April 2017

‘Colonialism as a form of violent foreign rule was legitimised by a racist ideology of European superiority,’ says the board that greets you at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin. In a slightly too small room, hundreds of objects are laid out in clusters along a line representing the Greenwich Meridian, a ‘symbol of Eurocentrism’ and the anchor for a system that European powers used to navigate, conquer and impose borders on large parts of the world. The objects – carved elephant tusks, commercial images for coffee brands, whips – tell the story of the German Empire.

From The Blog
19 October 2016

An estimated 387 child refugees who have relatives in the UK are stranded alone in Calais. The UK government doesn't really want to bring them over, and has only started to after being sued by a group of charities. Three teenagers who arrived this week have been accused of looking like young men rather than children. The way the right-wing press has singled out these boys and published their faces in a hit parade is straight-up racist intimidation, playing on a stereotype of non-white foreigners being freakishly and threateningly overdeveloped.

From The Blog
29 February 2016

Ilya B., my great-grandfather, is buried in the Jewish cemetery at Weissensee in Berlin. He was born around 1880, into a middle-class family in Kiev, which was then part of the Russian Empire. Like many Jews in Kiev at the time, he spoke Russian, not Ukrainian. Russian was the language of power, essential for minorities who wanted access to jobs or education.

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