Friday, 11 September 2009

Death of a Nation?

Massacre in Katyn Forest: Seventy years ago the nations of Europe attempted to overwhelm each other by force. Today there are easier ways of getting the better of your neighbours.

IN THE SPRING of 1940, on the orders of Joseph Stalin and his secret police chief , Lavrentiy Beria, close to 22,000 of Poland’s best and brightest citizens were murdered by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs – the NKVD. We remember this crime as the "Katyn Massacre" – named after the Russian forest where the NKVD murdered approximately 3,000 Polish military officers. The mass grave containing the soldiers’ bodies was revealed to the world by the Nazi army of occupation in 1943.

Today, the Katyn Massacre is all-too-easily dismissed as just one more war crime among a host of much larger and more chilling war crimes committed during the Second World War (which began with the invasion of Poland exactly seventy years ago this month). And yet, possibly because it presents New Zealanders with a comprehensible number of victims – 22,000 is roughly the population of Timaru – Katyn may have more to tell us than the almost inconceivable horrors of the Holocaust.

Because the executions ordered by Stalin were not carried out in the name of some insane theory of racial purity. On the contrary, they were undertaken coldly and methodically, in order to more speedily facilitate Poland’s integration into the USSR.

Beria’s logic may have been murderous, but it was difficult to refute. He argued that, when one pares away all the rhetoric, a nation draws its existence from its most intelligent, creative and well-resourced citizens. Execute its senior military and police officers; kill its political and religious leaders; eliminate its intellectuals and artists; wipe out its scientists, engineers, doctors and teachers; get rid of its leading financiers, industrialists and entrepreneurs – and what do you have left? A body without a head. An ant-hill without a queen. A place that is yours for the taking.

Looking back over seventy years, it is Nazism’s twisted passions, and their genocidal consequences, that horrify and appal. With Stalin’s Communists, however, the opposite is true. What horrifies and appals isn’t their passion, but their cynical rationality. The dreadful power of political logic when released from all ethical restraint.

"When the triumph of the Communist International is two centuries old, and the world is at peace," says the NKVD officer, as he reloads his pistol. "Who will condemn, or even remember, what happened here, beneath these gloomy trees? When our great-great-great grandchildren are living the communist dream – who will dare to suggest that the Omelette of Social Justice wasn’t worth the breaking of a few Polish eggheads?"

I THOUGHT OF KATYN last week as I was reading a news item detailing the contents of the latest report from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER). According to NZIER economist, Shamubeel Eaqub, the biggest threat to a sustained economic recovery in New Zealand is the continuing exodus of its people to an economically resurgent Australia.

As I pondered the story, it occurred to me that the lure of a fatter pay-cheque, and the prospect of a more comfortable and secure life, could – if their effects were permitted to spiral out of control – do almost as much damage to a nation’s chances of survival as Beria’s death squads.

How many more years of economic deterioration has New Zealand got in it before a critical mass of her senior military and police officers; political and religious leaders; intellectuals and artists; scientists, engineers, doctors and teachers; leading financiers, industrialists and entrepreneurs all reluctantly conclude that, if it’s a better life for themselves and their families that they’re looking for, then the most likely place to find it isn’t here, in their homeland, but somewhere off-shore?

It’s very far from being an idle question. Because if nothing is done to stem the flow of the best and the brightest New Zealanders to countries where their talents are properly appreciated, and much more generously rewarded, then sooner or later we will arrive at that tipping-point where too few of the sort of people whose function it is too keep a nation functioning will be left to prevent New Zealand from mal-functioning.

When the day comes that too few doctors and nurses remain to keep our health system operational; when there are too few academics and teachers to maintain a First World education system; when the scientific talent simply isn’t here to warrant serious investment in research and development – what will happen? The grim answer, of course, is that all of the patriotic doctors, nurses, academics, teachers and scientists who have remained loyally at their posts, will also conclude that the time has come to leave New Zealand.

The only New Zealanders likely to welcome this failed state of affairs would be the tangata whenua. Statistically-speaking, Maori are over-represented in the unskilled and semi-skilled occupations. So, as more and more highly-skilled and professional Pakeha workers and their families depart these shores, the original New Zealanders will begin to look forward to reclaiming their patrimony. Paradoxically, the very prospect of an emerging Maori majority will become the single most important factor speeding its arrival.

It won’t happen, of course. Before Maori are in a position to proclaim the Kingdom of Aotearoa, one of two outcomes will occur. Either, what’s left of the Pakeha population will petition Australia to admit New Zealand as the Commonwealth’s eighth state. Or, the by now very sizeable ethnic Chinese population will join forces with embittered Pakeha and open the floodgates to immigrants from the People’s Republic.

The first outcome seems the more likely. The Australians are unlikely to relish the prospect of what’s left of Pakeha New Zealand seeking refuge across the Tasman, any more than they’d welcome a larger version of Fiji, or a burgeoning Chinese colony, on their geographical doorstep. Additional pressure for incorporation would come from Australia’s vast population of ex-patriot Kiwis. Who knows, it might even persuade some of them to return "home".

Pondering these possibilities, I got to thinking about John Key’s recent visit to Canberra, where he participated in the very first New Zealand-Australia "joint cabinet meeting". I recalled his enthusiasm for a single currency, and Kevin Rudd’s advocacy of an "ANZAC" ready-reaction force.

"Oh Comrade Beria," I chuckled to myself, "If you’d only known how easy it is to swallow a nation without firing a shot, you’d have told your NKVD troops to put away their pistols and save the ammunition."

This essay was originally published in The Independent of Thursday, 10 September 2009.


Anonymous said...

I tried to post under your previous article on the Waitakere man with a similiar idea- that New Zealand has now lost so many of its educated populace that we are reaching/have reached a tipping point. The Waitakere man is now demographically gaining in numbers because we export our young graduates and replace them with migrant tradespeople.

I have university age children- they and their peers are planning to take the first plane out of New Zealand after graduation. There is no incentive for educated young people to stay in New Zealand. In many cases they are paid less here than blue collar workers - why would they stay when skills are so internationally transportable now?

And as you point out- once enough of these people leave because of lack of pay and respect- the country cannot function. The lack of medical specialists in New Zealand is already a real problem. Once upon a time doctors stayed in New Zealand and accepted lower pay because they felt needed and appreciated. That changed a few years ago as society fractured and it became every man for himself. Most people now look out only for themselves and their families, and the idea of doing things for the common good is relegated to history.

So yes- maybe we will have to become part of Australia.

Olwyn said...

Everyone talks about our losing our brightest and our best to Australia, whoever they might be - I am at least as concerned about losing our working class, in part because it enables us to continue to celebrate the success of a failed experiment; the pople we fail to properly accommodate go away and we pretend they didn't exist in the first place. To continue with your body analogy, it is almost the idea that cheyne stokes breathing represents an efficient use of resources rather than a death rattle. Heads do not survive long either if they are not accompanied by a vigorous body.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

Mr Trotter, today you really ARE in dreamland.

If you look closely, you will see the Tangata Whenua have beaten the Pakeha elite to it. Go and see how many successful bros are living on the Eastern Seaboard of Australia.

You are also about forty years behind the times. When I graduated in 1969, there were three jobs available in New Zealand for fortyseven specialized skilled graduates. Thay carried a starting slary of $2,200 with no perks.

I went to Oz and walked into a job commanding a $4,000 salary and unlimited private use of a brand new six cylinder car. All the talk about the gap between the two countries widening is delusional. It is no different today from that which existed then.

People shoud remember the wise words spoken to me by a prominent farm politican.

"For every two or three graduates and young tradesman who leaves, we get back one experienced adult, so the balance is about even.

People come back because, whatever else, New Zealand has always been one of the very best places in the whole world in which to simply live."

He was right, until Clark and Cullen came along.

Anonymous said...

A figure that is often quoted is that 25% of New Zealanders live overseas. The last time I saw international figures on this type of thing from the OECD a few years back, the rate of 25% put NZ second only to Ireland in having the highest proportions of its citizens living outside their country of origin. In numerical terms, this means that there are around 1,430,000 kiwis living outside NZ and according to government figures I saw this week, around 475,000 of us live in Australia.

This is not a recent phenomenon, despite Fran O'Sullivan's ridiculous suggestion in her column today that the Clark government was responsible for this. Muldoon made a joke about every kiwi leaving NZ for OZ raising the IQ of both countries and I remember a cartoon from the 1970s or thereabouts about of the last person in NZ turning off the lights.

Half of Muldoon's joke is correct. Of all ethnic groups in Australia, including native born Aussies, NZers have the highest rate of tertiary qualifications. And it is often said that without kiwis, the health and education systems in New South Wales and Queensland would collapse.

My view Chris is that, sadly, I think the tipping point may already have been reached, and some time ago. And Australia's outstanding economic performance during the past 12 months suggests that Australia will remain an irresistible magnet for kiwis with something to offer and the get up and go to get up and go.

I am genuinely despairing at the thought that NZ will continue to get poorer and further removed from that golden time as recent as the early 1970s when we were a top 5 country in terms of our overall prosperity.

The recent OECD report on child well-being revealed a connundrum for NZ. The report pointed out that we are a top 5 country in all of the wrong indicators for child well-being - child poverty, safety etc - but despite this, kiwi kids had the fourth best educational outcomes. So it seems that despite our declining prosperity in relative terms, we can nevertheles churn well educated folk. Trouble is, it appears that all we seem to be doing is providing other countries with the best educated immigrants around!

Working out how NZ might encourage the return of kiwis living overseas would seem like something worth investigating. Some bold ideas are needed and some serious cash and or tax incentives might need to be put on the table. Alas, after a brief period in the early days of the Clark government where kiwis were invited to come home, which invitation was not accompanied by any attractive incentives, no political party seems interested in the topic. In my view this ignores the possibilities that arise for the country in economic and cultural terms if prosperous and clever kiwis living overseas brought their capital and industry home. They won't come without incentives and if NZ is to have any future, other than competing with Turkey in the rankings as poorest country in the OECD, it has to be done. Loyal NZ-living kiwis will hate this, which is why I'm pretty sure it hasn't a prayer.

Anonymous said...

New Zealand is fortunate to have a political commentator of your ability.
Sometimes you write trite crap, but this time your well crafted essay is brilliant.
Several years ago I attended the after match celebration party after an All Blacks win at the Stade de France. What got me was the cream of our nation who had taken the Euro express to get to Paris, from England. I compared these wonderful young people with the unruly unkempt hordes I had seen at similar parties in Sydney, following a big win at Homebush. I sipped on my vin rouge and thought, by Jesus; we have lost a generation of our best and brightest. Others have called me elitist for expounding such comments.
Chris, keep up the good work, but this essay has set a standard that will probably be impossible to maintain.
Steve of Morrinsville

Tiger Mountain said...

The slow drain of the nation state continues. Countries are increasingly just ‘labels’ or flimsy containers for populations of competing individuals living in geographic proximity.

“No hell below us, above us only sky”, well, hell seems to have made a bit of a comeback going by the above post, and it is right here on earth.

Anonymous said...


I've been pondering this issue since I arrived in New Zealand a quarter of a century ago.

As Olwyn points out, we're not just emptying out of university graduates. We're also losing our aspirational poor, who take with them a huge range of practical skills of the sort that any society needs.

And whether or not, they're educated/skilled , migrants tend to come from the most energetic and enterprising segments of the community. Without them, we become a less interesting place, indeed, something of a 'sleepy hollow'.

The upside (for New Zealand) is that the UK is now mired in what will probably be a very long recession (probably longer than the US with its inherent resilience... and longer and much worse than France and Germany, with their intact industrial bases, semi-welfare states and less dominating finance sectors).

This is relevant as it's the UK that has traditionally drawn off many of our 'brightest and best'. The souring of the British economy might compensate in part for the impact on outward migration of Australia's economic success. But only in part.

Meanwhile, Australia's success is the best thing going for us for the foreseeable future. In fact, it's the only thing stopping us becoming the Iceland of the South.

A point to ponder is that any chance of recovery we may have is based on the fact that most of our most significant trading partners (Australia, the US and its own way...China)have all opted for a more or less neo-Keynesian approach that New Zealand has rejected and that Phil Goff feels the need to distance himself from.

I'm reminded of the the old story of the proud mum watching a group of boy scouts marching past.

"Look, they're all out of step except my Johnny!" she exclaimed.

Except that in our case it's "my Johnny and my Phil".

Finally, I agree with you that the Tangata Whenua are likely to have increased demographic weight as other parts of the population seek a life elsewhere.

But I don't think this will necessarily mean an Iwi-based Kingdom of Aotearoa or a Maori-isation of NZ. Culturally, most Maori are far more part of the mainstream than their non-elected spokespeople are fond of claiming.

Victor said...


I have stumbled upon this blog by accident, sorting through various Google pages about the Katyn Massacre. But, as I my friend lives in Auckland, I read the blog and the discussion below with interest.

While I feel incompetent to comment on NZ problems, I would like to say that your last paragraph is not fair. You implicit comparison between Beria and other countries (primarily Australia) getting the best of NZ educated does not seem very fair to me. The shootings of 21,500 of Polish elite was an evil at its peak, and although many other WW2 crimes (both German and Soviet) have outnumbered it, the Katyn massacre remains one of the most repulsive examples of social engineering in the Soviet style. The problems with brain drain are a natural process, when free people migrate to places offering them better opportunities. It certainly may lead to a collapse of a country - examples are plenty in the history. But it is not a decision taken by guns or cannons - they will enter the scene only when the actual verdict has already taken place.

It took Poland about fifty years to rebuild the elites destroyed by the Soviets and Germans. It could have been much, much worse - and actually, many still doubt whether today's elites are up to a level of those pre-war. Well, it is hard to measure - but certain things are still visible indeed. Anyway, it took fifty years to rebuild the elite. It shows that when things deteriorate to a certain point, a self recovery is very, very tough - perhaps impossible, so I agree with you on this.

Very warm greetings from - ehhh, down under or up above, depending on the point of view :-)