Claiming the flag

By: Ole Jensen, Research Officer

Mid-April, and approaching another St. George’s Day. Last year, at approximately this time, we were getting ready for the first leg of the EUMIA fieldwork, focussing on the St. George’s Day celebration in Bermondsey, South London. In this blog, I will discuss the significance of this celebration as both a successful, locally led community event and an inclusive coming together around something that is, essentially, very English (though St George is actually, as many local residents and stakeholders told us, the patron saint of not just England, but a wide range of countries and cities around the world).

Capturing the flag
Winner photocomp 2011
In comparison to, for example, Scandinavian countries where use of the national flag is associated with any kind happy event, the English flag is used with much more restraint. Apart from sports events – typically football tournaments where myriads of St George’s flag emerge, only to disappear again after another lost penalty shoot-out – the English flag has been out of favour in the public sphere, ‘successfully’ captured by far-right political parties and therefore often widely frowned upon by ‘polite society’.

Bermondsey would seem an example of such  a ‘capture’. A white working-class inner city area, Bermondsey was targeted by the British Fascist Party in the 1930s. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, a widespread perception of the neighbourhood as racist, insular and hostile to outsiders was underpinned by a longstanding association between Bermondsey and the British National Party (BNP), with BNP staging marches through Bermondsey on St. George’s Day.

While such perceptions still exist, the demographic profile of Bermondsey has changed dramatically over the past years. In South Bermondsey, where the St. George’s Day celebrations take place, the White-British proportion of the population declined from approx. 60% in 2001 to 40% in 2011. Though  nearly 30% of the minority ethnic population in South Bermondsey in 2008 still considered  racial harassment a serious problem (CLG, 2008), the last decade has nevertheless seen a co-incidence of declining levels of racial harassment (as experienceded by local residents) and an increasing proportion of non-white residents.

Standing up for the area
The St George’s Day celebration emerged against a backdrop where local authorities were looking for ways to counter racism in Bermondsey. A hate-crime conference had failed spectacularly, as recalled by Darryll Telles, Neighbourhood Engagement Manager in Southwark:

‘Of course the issue there is that if you call something hate-crime, then people feel scared to come forward. But also, people do not want to be associated with something that actually, how can I put it, denigrates the area. And that was a real learning curve for me, and the board [...] actually, we’ve got to start standing up for the area.’

This notion of standing up for the local area was also expressed by Pat Hickson, chair of the Bonamy Estate, and the prime mover who got the event of the ground. She felt that whereas events were put on throughout Southwark Borough to celebrate diversity – for example St. Patrick’s Day for the Irish minority, Bermondsey Carnival and the Black History Month (celebrated borough-wide) – the White-British population was, she felt, being left out, forgotten. Accordingly, a celebration of St. George’s Day provided an appropriate occasion that could bring together the local community around a celebration of something essentially English.

Other residents would agree, but also emphasize the active re-claiming of the flag – as observed by a long-term resident and community activist:

‘I think it is quite interesting, because there is a sense that people want to reclaim the cross of St George as something we can be proud of. Being English, and not being racist in that’.

Staging the event
St George's Day celebrationFirst staged in 2006, the festival takes place every year on a Saturday afternoon in late April.  It has throughout the years been staged at the grounds of the local Ilderton Primary School, with 400-500 participating residents, largely from surrounding estates. There is also a range of local stall-holders. At the 2013 event, these included a gardening programme set up by one of the TRAs, selling plants,  and stalls selling knitted, heart-shaped St. George’s flags. Surrey Docks Farm, a local pet farm, showed off some of their smaller animals, and the efforts of the face painters would show in the faces of many of the kids on the venue. Bands from two local schools were playing, one of them a steel band. Millwall was staging a ‘beat the goalie’ tournament in a separate part of the school yard, and a number of local businesses had contributed vouchers to the raffle that concluded the afternoon.

Was that a march?
There was among research participants a wide-spread recognition that the St George’s Day celebration has grown into an increasingly inclusive event where the people mix by and large would reflect the demographics of the area – i.e. middle-aged and elderly white residents, and BME youths and families.

And the BNP marches? A local, black librarian remembered how, in the 1990s, he and other black colleagues would be asked to go and work in libraries in other parts of the borough when a march was announced.  This constitutes a stark contrast to the present situation:

‘I think there was a march, was it a year or two ago? [...] What happened is that you maybe had half a dozen or a dozen people just walking along the street [...] In fact, I didn’t actually realise there was a march, and it wasn’t until I looked that I thought “oh, this is supposed to be a march”.


  • Communities and Local Government (CLG) (2008) Community cohesion and neighbourhood management: A theme report from the neighbourhood management pathfinders national evaluation. Department of Communities and Local Government.


Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in event, integration, research, Urban Change and Settlement | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Nikkei Cuisine: understanding immigration through food

By: Ayumi Takenaka, Research Officer

Peruvian food marketFood can tell us a lot about immigrant integration.  Immigration transforms local food; immigrants, in turn, assimilate local food into their diets. Through the transformation of food, one can see how immigrants adapt and identify in the host society, as well as how they are identified and accepted by it.

Japanese immigrants and their descendants in Peru, collectively called Nikkei, are a case in point. Long ambivalent about their identity, Nikkei Peruvians are comfortably at home in Peru today, as manifested by the emergence and proliferation of Nikkei food, or Cocina Nikkei, in Peru and elsewhere.

Continue reading

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Recognition and redistribution in Latin America: Reflections on the meaning of multiculturalism

By Anna Krausova, Research Officer

The concept of multiculturalism is often an integral part of the debate on migration in the UK; and in recent years, proclamations that ‘multiculturalism has failed’ have frequently been made in the public debate. This has attracted empirical studies examining the consequences of multicultural policies, with some researchers being able to show convincingly that multicultural policies in the UK do not appear to have been detrimental to integration and community cohesion (e.g. Heath & Demireva, 2014). Yet the notion of ‘failed multiculturalism’ does not seem to have been particularly weakened in some public and political discourses.

2nd PLACE McGrath, Sandra, Hopes and Dreams, Photo Comp12

‘Hopes and Dreams’ by Sandra McGrath
(COMPAS Photo Competition, 2012)

In spite of the potency of the claim, perhaps not enough attention has been paid to the theoretical foundations of the concept of multiculturalism itself. Delving deeper into what we actually mean by multiculturalism could help to problematise the term further, allowing us to think more critically about what kinds of multiculturalisms we can think of as normatively acceptable as well as empirically beneficial.

Continue reading

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in integration, migration | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Figuring out diaspora roles in social recovery

by: Nick Van Hear, Deputy Director, COMPAS

The attitude to diasporas in settings of conflict and crisis has shifted over the years.  A decade or more ago they were seen as troublesome ‘long distance nationalists’ exerting power from abroad while not having to experience any of the dire consequences of their actions in their homelands.  More recently a more positive view has emerged that diasporas could help with peacebuilding and recovery in home communities.

Over the last three years COMPAS researchers have been participating in a collaborative research partnership to investigate the role of diasporas in societal recovery in three places – Sri Lanka, Liberia and Haiti.  COMPAS researchers teamed up with the Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Researchers at George Washington University in Washington DC linked with researchers in Liberia.  The University of Miami connected with the Inter-University Institute for Research and Development (INURED) in Port au Prince, Haiti, where we held a meeting late in February to draw together some of our findings.

Continue reading

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Flows and Dynamics, migration, research | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Crisis in Ukraine and its Implications for Migration in Europe

By: Franck Düvell, Senior Reseacher

In Russia, Putin has established a kleptocracy, a regime which allows the elites to plunder the country and its people (Granville 2003, The Guardian 2010, Bobinski 2014 ), and it is this system as much as other national interests and ambitions that Russia is now defending (see for e.g. Dawishe 2011). In Ukraine, ex-president Yanukovych established a similar regime; over 70 per cent of Ukrainians, over 80 per cent in western Ukraine, believe that ‘there is a lot of corruption in Ukraine’ (Düvell et al. 2013). This has held back modernisation and productivity and negatively impacted on living standards and life satisfaction (ibid.).

In behaviourist theory migration is understood as an ‘exit strategy’ to escape dissatisfying conditions; in contrast, protest is a ‘voice strategy’ to change dissatisfying conditions (see Hirschman 1970). The third option is either loyalty or silently putting up with the given conditions. In our Eumagine project conducted before the crisis from 2011 to 2013, we found that 49.3 per cent of our survey respondents had an aspiration to migrate (Bilan et al. 2012). This was driven by overall low levels of life dissatisfaction, dissatisfaction with economic opportunities, alienation from the political class, dissatisfaction with public services (notably the health sector) and endemic corruption. Since 1991, the year of Ukraine’s independence, the country has lost 7 million of its population; this is partly due to emigration and partly to natural population decline. It is assumed that 3-7 million Ukrainians – no one knows the exact number – are engaged in temporary or permanent migration.

Continue reading

Share this:
Facebook Twitter Email
Posted in Citizenship and Belonging, emigration, Flows and Dynamics, immigration, migration, policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment