Friday, February 15, 2008

What a difference a place of birth makes

From CTV.CA:

"... Seifert, who was dubbed by some as the Beast of Bolzano, was an ethnic German born in Ukraine when it was a republic in the Soviet Union. He was born in Landau, a German-speaking town near Odessa. He moved to Canada in 1951..."

From CNN:

"...Seifert, a Canadian citizen of Ukrainian origin, has acknowledged being a guard at the SS-run camp but denies being involved in atrocities..."

Does being born in a particular place make you what you are, or does being born into a particular family do that? Seifert was no more Ukrainian than I am a German -- and I was born in Germany. But other than my birth certificate (which did not make me a German citizen), there is no other connection for me to that country. True, I did live the first four years of my life there, but it was in a DP (displaced persons) camp, a refugee place, waiting for some country to take us.

Citizenship and nationality and ethnic origin are all very intertwined, are not always the same, and some, not all, make the person. You can be a Schwab, born in Rumania or Hungary, but you will always know that you are German. You can be an Armenian born in Turkey, but that certainly will not make you a Turk! Your citizenship papers and passport may give place of birth, but your cultural and ethnic heritage -- and family -- make you what you are.

How much clearer it would be if the media identified someone as "born in Ukraine to Jewish parents," or "born in England to Ukrainian parents," and on and on. The family influence is there much more than the surroundings of where you grew up. Of course the latter does have an impact on your life, but not to the extent that family does.

Those of us who started out as immigrants and refugees certainly do appreciate the countries that welcomed us (sometimes not that eagerly, it seems) and whose naturalized citizens we are. And we are fiercely patriotic about our new homelands. But the patriotism of the ancestral land is also strong, in a different way. Sometimes there are interesting variations, where you can distinguish between Canadian Ukrainians and American Ukrainians -- so place does have an influence.

Back to the media -- interesting how, since 1991, Ukrainians became more visible in the news, especially when it came to something negative. If it was a positive story, the person was still Russian- or Soviet-born, but if it was negative, all of a sudden, the person was Ukrainian-born, even if his/her ethnic identity was not Ukrainian and if, at the time, as during WWII, Ukraine as an entity did not exist de jure.

Will time change and heal this? We shall see.


Orysia Tracz said...

and CBC also called him "Ukrainian-born"

Pawlina said...

I agree that "Soviet-born" would be a much more accurate description of Siefer's origins.

It's probably unrealistic to expect the media to ever do that, tho. There is still a great fondness in the media, especially the CBC, for all things soviet ... despite protestations to the contrary.

Provided Ukraine remains sovereign and strong, things will probably change with time ... eventually.