Social Exclusion in South East Asia and Europe


I’m Christoforos, an expat Greek in his late twenties who tries to make the most out of his nomadic life. With background in media and communications, I experience the daily struggle to find accurate information and stay open to new theories that might convince me to re-consider.

I more or less disappeared from the online conversation for a while and it was –to an extent– on purpose. I am enjoying my stay in SE Asia, learning first hand that globalisation did not triumph over geography and local cultures matter.

Having the chance to attend two international film festivals, one in Phnom Penh and the other in Yangon, Myanmar, I drew –maybe arbitrarily– parallels with Europe. The films displayed and winning awards are topically focusing on deforestation problems in view of construction investments. Often forbidden for public screening, this sensitive issue nurtures the creativity of young talents to capture what happens in the sake of ‘development’, ‘growth’ and ‘job creation’; buzz words which cause the homelessness of hundreds, if not thousands of people and condemn them to extreme poverty as they are deprived of land and basic resources. This phenomenon goes beyond (social) exclusion as next generations are found trapped in the cycle of poverty. I have to add that education and health care are not institutionalised and that individuals depend on their family or community at least if you are a member of traditionally disadvantaged communities, i.e. either religious (Muslims in Myanmar) or ethnic (Vietnamese in Cambodia) minorities, which go unrecognised and are denied access to education and social care.

Is it paradoxical, to think of parallels with Europe? At first sight, it seems pretentious. Yet the excitement during the screening of ‘The Tramp’ with the legendary Chaplin in Phnom Penh as part of the Memory! International Heritage Film Festival impressed me and made me think. If Chaplin’s character resonates with Cambodians, the explanation ought to lie within the daily struggling of this tragic-comic figure and the adventures that life brings along.

We don’t know much about The Tramp’s origins, but no one would assume that he was born in an affluent household. Chaplin’s character won fame for the merits of self-identification of a whole generation in the 1930s and after. How about today’s screenings of ‘The Tramp’ in Europe? What do our fellow citizens project into this movie? Do they laugh when he falls as SE Asians do, even with a bitter tone in their laughter?

It’s more complicated. The squeezed middle class throughout Europe, who at best saw their real income plummeting, at worst lost all income in their household, have little in common with the funny middle-aged man gazing indiscreetly at cakes in the display window of the pastry shop. Because they used to enjoy comforts, often on credit, and lost them brutally and quickly. And that element of decline makes it especially hard for the new type of excluded. However, compared to the situation in SE Asia, the European kind of exclusion still offers people the perspective to return to the social and political life as full members of society.

Anyway, the instant ups and downs of ‘The Tramp’s’ fortune in Chaplin’s movies invite anyone to believe that there is hope, after all.

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