The Wall

December 2019

From Wikipedia
“ The Wall is the eleventh studio album by English rock band Pink Floyd, released 30 November 1979. It is a rock opera that explores Pink, a jaded rock star whose eventual self-imposed isolation from society is symbolized by a wall.”

I much prefer the first part of their career when Syd Barrett’s influence was significant, even when he was not there anymore. I often prefer the lesser-known, so my favorite recording is Live at Pompeii, a 1972 concert documentary.

I often thought of choosing it when the border wall policy was making the news for months on end, but that would have been too easy. A very long time ago, I used the Bee Gees song “How deep is your love?”, but adding “how tall is the wall?”, illustrating the fact that when people’s absolute despair pushes them to flee, no barriers, regulations or military border enforcement will deter them: many of them will make it to the other side.

In recent weeks a different wall has been in the news - the Berlin Wall, and with it what was then called the Iron Curtain that split Europe in two. Of course the division of Germany through the creation of Eastern Germany under Communist rule scarred Europe for almost 40 years. Very few were able to get through the Iron Curtain alive in order to escape these Communist regimes. At the same time, many managed to defect during official trips to the Western countries as athletes, musicians, scholars, and they asked for asylum in the countries where they found themselves. They obtained it right away with virtually no procedure.

Remembering my youth growing up in Europe and being aware of the alienation created by this physical wall were reasons for me to choose this title. This album is about a man suffering from mental alienation, isolating himself, suffering from paranoia. Having this idea that the wall protects him also played a role in my choice, as it resonates with the news I am getting.

THE 30th ANNIVERSARY OF THE TEARING DOWN OF THE BERLIN WALL
From Wikipedia
The Berlin Wall was a guarded concrete barrier that physically and ideologically divided Berlin from 1961 to 1989. Construction of the Wall was commenced by the German Democratic Republic on 13 August 1961…. After several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced on 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin, ultimately resulting in the demise of the Wall.

Many have written about and commented on the 30th anniversary of the fall of this wall. Many have published articles, videos, testimonies from that time to commemorate this groundbreaking event, which certainly reshaped the Western world, and in my view most if not almost all the international political crises that exist today. This belief stems from the fact that there was a balance of power between two superpowers - the USA and the USSR, which had the capacity to involve their allied countries. This balance, dangerous because it was backed up by nuclear arsenals, forced those two superpowers to refrain themselves from going too far in the direction of declaring war and invading countries. From the American side the Vietnam War can be looked at from this standpoint. I believe that the invasion of Afghanistan shows the same on the side of the USSR side. At the risk of sticking my neck out too far, I might add that the more recent invasion of the Ukrainian provinces of Crimea and Donbass might not have taken place, had such a balance continued to exist in a different form. Indeed Ukraine has been asking to be part of the EU and is allied with the USA.

The vast majority of the people living in the USA, as well as many Europeans, have never experienced what it meant to face that wall. In reality the vast majority of those who had a personal experience were those who lived where these Soviet walls existed. The wall was not a tourist attraction as such until it was torn down.

It so happens that during the summer of 1975, travelling with my parents, our family experienced first-hand what it meant to face this wall. We were all visiting my uncle and aunt who lived for over a decade in Helsinki in Finland, from where we made several day-trips by car. So one day we were driving East in very thick Finnish forests until we saw road signs telling us to turn around, because the road led to the border with the USSR, which today would be Russia. For miles and miles, my father ignored those signs, which were in just about all the languages that one can think of, with very explicit images. He drove until we met Finnish army personnel holding their machine guns horizontally in shooting position. We could see the tall concrete wall with barbed wire all over it. We could see the Red Army military personnel on top of several watchtowers who spotted us, pointing their machine-guns at us. Very politely the Finnish soldier explained to us in perfect English that we had to turn around immediately and leave the premises. We did!

The USSR was governed by one of the bloodiest and all-around worst dictatorships that modern world history has known.

I did not plan the coincidence between this anniversary that so many have been celebrating, and receiving the following testimony. It truly feels like I have come full circle regarding the topic of refugees, undocumented aliens, and immigrants struggling all their lives in their new countries. So this is a story about the Iron Curtain/Wall as it was called then - about refugees fleeing for their lives and managing to get to a Western country alive. I first met such a person, an American citizen, as a client about 20 years ago. We have stayed in contact on and off, as he has continued giving me small tasks to do. Given his name, I suspected Eastern European origin or descent. Until I received this email, I did not know anything about this.

This concludes my digressions about these topics, or maybe just one topic with several facets. I had no idea that I would be receiving so many testimonies, most of them heartbreaking, but never bitter or angry. I believe that they shed a very interesting light on the two very different narratives told by each side of the argument. I fully agree that there is a need for policies, for enforcing laws, and therefore the establishment of a comprehensive immigration policy. This is true for all the Western countries faced with both an influx of asylum seekers and a large number of undocumented aliens. The truth is that this policy deals with people who are deeply scared by what they went through in their own country, as well as by what they have experienced following their arrival in the West.

TESTIMONY - “I FLED MY COMMUNIST COUNTRY”
An excellent discussion of the rights to residency and the rights of « sans papiers », about whom most of us know very little, and even that filtered through the eyes of the media. Your objective view of such situations impresses me quite often when reading your newsletter; the fact that you are helping similar situations gives your answers the sense of « du vécu » and lends them humanity.

I was never a « sans papier », but I got out of my country as a stateless person, an « apatride », which was a kind of polite term for « political refugees » used at the time by communist regimes; as one who was never involved in politics I couldn’t be called a « political refugee ». « Apatride» probably seemed a safer choice. To this day I get panicked whenever I have to deal with “official papers”, so I can only imagine what it might be to live for years without papers.

FROM THE DEFUNCT IRON CURTAIN TO THE 2019 AMERICAN CONGRESS
I just want to add something about this testimony. All the networks in the USA are fixated with just one word: “Ukraine”. The entire political spectrum is talking about this nation, which was one of those countries under Communist Party rule, as it was located behind the “Iron Curtain”. Such rulers were taking orders directly from Moscow. This is why they were dictatorships that were about as bloody and inhumane as the USSR in those days. After the Wall disappeared, all such Eastern European countries wanted to be linked to Western Europe, which they had been part of for centuries, and at the same time they feared that Russia would continue its control over their countries. Their economic dependence - specifically, their dependence on oil and gas energy - that built up during those decades was at first enough to cripple their desire for independence. The most Western of them quickly joined the EU, including Poland, former Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Today the EU is reaching out to countries that share a border with Russia. Two things must be said here. These countries historically have had very weak ties with Western Europe. Russia, then the USSR, and finally Russia again, has always considered them to be within its zone of influence, a buffer zone protecting them from an invasion from the West, such as the Napoleonic campaign that conquered Moscow, together with WWII and the German invasion, to mention the modern Russian era. This Russian fear of Western Europe countries is therefore many centuries old.

This is maybe a controversial comparison. I believe that one can measure the fear induced by such a change as similar to the fear growing today regarding Ukraine’s desire to be Western and part of NATO. I see this as similar to the crisis in the Kennedy era with nuclear missiles being installed in Cuba, so close to the USA. This is the historical and the cultural explanation for why Russia is trying absolutely everything it can to keep Ukraine within its influence, including a military invasion of the Ukrainian provinces of Crimea and Donbass, and being constantly present in its political life with pro-Russian political parties. The pro-Western parties are crucially counting on Western and specifically American foreign policy to help their country free itself from the Russian influence it has been under for about 75 years.

The rest is American politics and I stay away from it. I have not heard this historical and cultural explanation expressed by any American networks. Viewed from the USA, this Russian visceral fear of an invasion, and the absolute need to protect its immense territory, can be seen as unreasonable and artificial. I believe that to get an in-depth understanding of this Russian “trauma under siege” one should study the Battle of Stalingrad during WWII and attempt to understand the influence of the Russian iconic image of these Soviet soldiers heroically defending each building from the German Army with close to no logistical support in order to allow the final victory to happen. This victory came with the entire 6th German Army being taken prisoner. Occasionally I re-study it, sometimes from the perspective of military strategy, sometimes from an historical and political point of view. The narrative is that the entire nation was ready for the ultimate sacrifice to protect what they call “the Mother country.”

AN INTERESTING RESPONSE TO MY NOVEMBER ISSUE
Less than a day after sending my November 2019 issue, I receive this email as it is copied-pasted: “On 1 Nov 2019, at 00:17, this person wrote:

”I'll be aroun' in the dark. I'll be everywhere-wherever you look. Wherever there is a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there is a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there...I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready. An' when our folk eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build—why, I'll be there.”

So it looked familiar but I could not place it and there were no references that I could use in the message. So I did some research and found this.

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7444096-i-ll-be-all-around-in-the-dark-i-ll-be
And this is how I found the exact quote from the novel “The Grapes of Wrath”

“I’ll be all around in the dark – I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look – wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build – I’ll be there, too.”

As a matter of a fact, I could have used a lot more than just the title to express this analysis. I immediately and sincerely thanked this reader who is a true fan of Steinbeck as well as of the movie on this book made by John Ford and released in 1940.

HOW CAN THERE BE A FRENCH BLACK FRIDAY?
I have already been writing about this for the last two years, and this year is even worse in terms of the advertisements. The novelty this year is that local shops are promoting their special sale on Black Friday and not just the major retail chains. At this point, I am no longer amused that some French outlets are promoting Black Friday week. It was somewhat cute last year when it showed up for the first time, documenting in this way their complete ignorance of what they are promoting. Alongside the wishes of many to get rid of Columbus Day, I like the fact that the narrative of Native Americans is increasingly being heard regarding both celebrations.

I AM THE SPEAKER FOR ANGLOPRENEURS ON DECEMBER 17th
At the AAWE event, Patricia Smith Zraidi who runs the Anglopreneurs' Monthly Evening Event asked me to be the speaker for the Tuesday, December 17, 2019 event. It starts at 7 PM until 10 PM and is held at: HD Diner Opéra (downstairs), 25 Bvd des Italiens, 75002 Paris. For more information check the page https://www.facebook.com/groups/anglopreneurs/

OFFICE CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS
The office will close for three weeks over the Christmas holidays, starting on Friday December 20th in the evening and reopening on the morning of Monday January 6th. As always, I will be reachable by email for emergencies and important matters. The service I offer of receiving mail for clients will continue while the office is closed. Of course, Sarah or I will honor prefecture meetings already scheduled, as well as a couple of other engagements.

Best regards,

DIVORCE AND COMMUNAL BANK LOANS

QUESTION

I was married to a French woman and we moved to Lyon, France in 2015 and I completed the full-time MBA in 2017. I partially funded my studies with a student loan with a French bank, which required my in-laws to co-sign, and I took the insurance covering the cost of the loan should I be unemployed.
My wife and I ended up with an “amicable” divorce and I have been on my own trying to secure my immigration in France. I was on a spouse’s visa and not a student one. In 2017 I started working and now have a work permit from Belgium. My French bank requested proof of income and residence when I informed them of this change.

At the time of the divorce the bank refused to separate our joint loan account. It did not matter as I was making all loan payments.

In 2019 I lost my job and qualified for Belgian unemployment subsidies; I managed to continue paying my loan. Later on I lost my Belgian immigration status and therefore all Belgian social rights including unemployment subsidies. I then notified my French bank that I wanted to reinstate my unemployment insurance, which was refused on the grounds that I did not live or work in France and was therefore not entitled to coverage. I paid my loan payments and I was never told that the unemployment insurance was void once I lived out of France. The bank is now going after my ex-wife and my former in-laws while I am still charged for the insurance.

I feel that this situation is unfair and that I can perhaps at least have the insurance payments stopped and refunded so I can cover loan expenses while looking for a job. How I can best handle this? As far as I am concerned this is plain robbery!

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ANSWER

I am so sorry you find yourself in this situation. This is terrible as I do not see any easy way out of it. The simplest way would be to re-negotiate the loan with a new bank in Belgium so you can get out of this trap. This having been said, I do not see any bank agreeing to lend you money when you have zero source of income and no immigration status in the country. You could move back to the USA and it would weaken the efforts to collect from you. The bank would surely increase their efforts to go after your ex-wife and her parents. As absurd and unfair your situation is, it is the strict application of the law. You are right that you can consider this to be robbery and criminal and with good reason. You are being forced to pay for a service that you cannot use and finding out when you most need to that you do not qualify when you thought you did. Yours is a human vision seeking fairness and common sense. Your situation is the result of two very different issues that are completely separate and have a huge compounding effect on one another:
- The loan was signed by the two of you and your in-laws were guarantors, and this cannot be changed by the divorce ruling,
- The geographical enforcement of a French contract.

1 - the communal nature of the loan that the divorce decree cannot change
To better explain the reason why the loan remains communal, think of a couple selling the house they bought together while married, so they can get their respective money from the sale. Most of the time, the sale first and foremost reimburses the loan. Here the loan was signed when you were married and it was a communal debt, and this cannot be changed as such. Had you re-negotiated the loan at that time and on your own merit, this would not have happened. I very strongly advise people who divorce to do this at that moment with all outstanding loans in order to avoid exactly your scenario. In addition, your in-laws signed a different contract which made them collateral to a loan. This is a different contract that is not affected by the divorce.

2 - These are the two legal situations you are up against.
Since you were holding a French carte de séjour, once you moved to Belgium, and certainly when it expired, you lost your immigration rights to live in France. So you do not have the right to re-establish yourself as a French legal resident without asking for a long-stay visa. Considering your current financial situation this will not happen unless you get a job in France. Then you will have a salary and will resume paying the loan. The fact that the bank knew about your living in Belgium does not change the fact that the insurance policy linked to the loan is a French contract that only applies in France. The bank needs to know whether you have the means to pay back your loan and where you are if there is a need to collect.

About the insurance policy when you are unemployed, I am pretty sure that the exact terms of the policy are stricter than that. I am pretty sure that it refers to the French unemployment agency “Pôle Emploi”, certainly meaning being registered and even requiring that you be compensated by it, in order to benefit from this coverage. Since you live in Belgium, it is not possible for you to do this. So this is how they have answered you from a technical point of view. It is important to understand that this is just a strict application of the terms of the policy. In many ways the worst thing for you is that you are paying for a service that you will probably never be able to use. You pay the bank back on a monthly basis, including the insurance because it is part of the contract. You cannot change this contract to your liking. The situation is totally unfair.

The bank is enforcing the contract on your ex in-laws as they signed. There is nothing illegal here on the part of the bank, which is doing nothing wrong by going after them according to the clauses of the contract. I am sure that your ex in-laws are totally mad at you at being put in this situation, and I agree with them that it is unfair. This said, I do not see any way out of this unless the loan is re-negotiated and therefore paid.

I see no immediate solutions, especially when it comes to your ex in-laws, since it is very likely that you will find another job in a different country, maybe moving back to the USA. Signing all the documents they want might enable them to have a stronger case against you to get their money back, and proposing to do so might ease the situation with them somewhat. This is probably the only thing you can do right away.

 

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MY RIGHTS AS THE OWNER OF A PARISIAN APARTMENT IN A SO-CALLED COPROPRIETE

QUESTION

I have been looking to buy an apartment in Paris. The wording of those ads is totally cryptic to me even though I am fluent in French otherwise! For example I see this wording on some properties that look interesting. What does “co-ownership” actually mean?
"To visit Co-ownership of 42 lots (No procedure in progress). Annual charges: 1587.00 euros.”

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ANSWER

Rather than limit myself to explaining this I would like to give a longer explanation. This way you can put what you read in perspective and only pick ones in which you are truly interested.

The French complete legal name for “co-ownership” is:
le syndicat des copropriétaires

This is the legal entity that owns the entire building, meaning both the communal area and the private parts. Only those private parts are numbered, and these are called “lots” without specifying what they are. I would like to list what these can be:
an apartment,
a cellar,
a shop,
an office,
a parking space,
and a “lot” can be sold and purchased independently as one unit.

Each owner of a “lot” is called a “copropriétaire”, as a shareholder owns a fraction of a corporation. The way of measuring this right is called “tantièmes”, often expressed as per one thousand (x/1,000), also called“millièmes” in that case. It is the normally the same ratio that is used to weight voting rights during the general meeting as well as calculating the amount of condo charges to be paid, called “les charges de copropriété.” This budget is for taking care of all aspects of the communal area and therefore of what needs to be managed in common. There is a general meeting held at least once a year. There are a few points that must be on the agenda, sent with the call to the meeting which are respectively called “la convocation.” These are the most important items:
“l’ordre du jour”, which refers to the agenda, often presented in bullet points (the agenda must be approved).
“L’approbation des comptes”, which means approving the finalized budget.
“Les budgets prévisionnels”, which refers to the estimated upcoming budgets.
“La nomination du syndic de copropriété”, which means voting to name the property manager. There is a contract signed at the end of the meeting, which defines clearly the details of the mandate to manage. Most of the time this is a professional, called a “syndic”, who is to take care of the “copropriété”.
“L’élection du Conseil Syndical”, which means the election of the Board of Directors, with a president leading it.

Based on my knowledge, this "syndicat des copropriétaires” falls in between the American condominium system - where the property management deals with everything and the co-owners seem to be pretty far removed from daily management - and the co-op, where the tenants who own their lodgings control who buys and who moves in.

The "syndicat des copropriétaires” should be pretty involved in the daily management of the building through the "Conseil Syndical” and its president. This is mainly done by voting when the property manager needs Board approval before proceeding with the work needed. The level of scrutiny is not the same if the limit is 200€ or 5,000€. They never have the control over who buys and who moves in, especially with regards to tenants with leases.

After all of this I would like to answer your question.
A Co-ownership of 42 lots therefore means that the "syndicat des copropriétaires” has a total of 42 lots, which is a fairly large building.

One final thing: a reasonably small "syndicat des copropriétaires” is between 15 to 25 “lots”. Upwards of 40“lots” we are talking about a larger building, very often with 2 or more staircases as the Haussmann-style buildings never exceed about 7 floors. Once you reach 100 “lots” and more, these are very likely modern buildings constructed from the 1950s onwards.

“No procedure in progress” means that the "syndicat des copropriétaires” is not engaged in any lawsuit. Indeed, if you are buying while there is a court case going on, you take the risk in case the decision goes against the co-ownership; there could be damages to be paid and since you will be a co-owner at that time, you will be paying for them. On the other hand, if the decision is positive and there are damages awarded you will be credited for a fraction of them. It is therefore always important to know what kind of lawsuit there is, if any.

Annual charges: 1587.00 euros means that the “charges de copropriété” amount to this on an annual basis. This is the normal operating budget, and if there is a deficit at the end of the year, you will pay for it. On the other hand, renovations already voted at previous general meetings will be reimbursed to you at the time of completion. The amounts will be called when you own the apartment, but you did not vote for them and so you should not pay. It can be possible that work starts and that the contractors therefore get paid for a year or more after the motion has been voted. Structural work such as re-doing the roof can take a couple of years before it starts.

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DISCLAIMER

Please forward this message to all those who would be interested in its contents. The information contained in this newsletter is intended only as general information. I strongly urge readers to seek professional guidance concerning the legal and tax matters mentioned. This newsletter is intended as a general guide and is not to be taken as professional advice.

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