A visit to the Channel Islands last week gave an unlikely glimpse into a double conundrum that besets the times we live in.
The first is the housing shortage – a persistent problem not only in Ireland but in many other countries.
The second was a surprising reminder of the tangled history that connects and divides Russia and Ukraine.
One might have thought that the Channel Islands (total population 177,000, with tough immigration and residence laws) would have few concerns when it came to housing shortages. But in St Helier, Jersey’s main urban center, there is an acute shortage of housing and accommodation.
The rental costs are proportionally often higher than in Dublin.
A few days ago, Jersey’s new housing secretary took matters into his own hands. He was seen putting up posters in front of empty lots. He wants the owners to talk about putting these buildings up for sale. Alternatively, he would like them to be made available for rent.
“I’m looking at ways we can address one of the greatest challenges facing our island,” said David Warr.
As in Ireland, rising housing costs in Jersey are making it impossible for many young people to climb the property ladder.
A typical home on the island now sells for around €700,000.
“The housing crisis may well be the single greatest threat to Jersey’s continued prosperity,” said a government official.
“We hear companies are struggling to find housing for employees – and young people are leaving the island because they cannot afford to live here,” warned a senior politician.
The Nazis imposed a brutal caste system on their slaves. And the tail lights were the Russians and Ukrainians
Concern is growing in St Helier’s cafes and bars that the cost of living crisis will hit the affluent Channel Islands.
As in Ireland, there is much speculation about how an economic downturn will affect the property market. Some economists insist that the tight supply coupled with a rise in the cost of building materials will ensure house prices hold their value.
But apart from such talk of the ongoing difficulties in the housing market, a visitor to the Channel Islands is reminded of the past, particularly the Nazi occupation during World War II.
Compared to the blood and chaos elsewhere in Europe, the German presence on the islands was relatively mild for many locals. A sort of normality lasted until the final year of the war, when food shortages and other hardships became acute.
But it was a different story in the vast underground tunnel built by the Nazis and dug deep into the rock a few miles from St Helier.
It was intended to be a safe haven from possible Allied bombing raids, and its facilities included a hospital for wounded German soldiers. It is now open as a tourist attraction.
However, its eerie zones of silence keep their own secrets. They reveal nothing of the sufferings of those who were abducted from their homelands and brought to these islands to work as Nazi slaves, forced to hack their way through the unforgiving rock.
The Germans imposed a brutal caste system on their slaves. Bringing up the rear in Jersey were those referred to as “Slavs” – mainly Russians and Ukrainians.
Records show that these POWs transported from the Eastern Front were viewed as subhuman by the Nazis and treated accordingly. Many were worked to death.
For the Ukrainians who died along with their Russian compatriots far from their homeland in Jersey, it was another example of a complicated relationship with a powerful neighbor.
Deep underground in the Jersey Tunnel, you can perhaps imagine whispers of these two peoples and their shared suffering, victims of a then-common enemy.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/wartime-tunnels-of-jersey-hide-a-million-secrets-41903911.html The Jersey War Tunnels hide a million secrets