When I was a child I used to collect stamps. It was the delight a child takes in the small; tiny colourful pictures of faraway places and their buildings and kings and queens and dignitaries and wildlife. What has stuck in my mind though, is some of the names, places like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. A child now coming across a stamp with the name of Ceskoslovensko on it would doubtless consult Wikipedia to find out that this was a Central European country from just after WW1 in October 1918 to its – happily relatively peaceful – dissolution in 1992.
There it is; nationalism, borders, politics. Avidly watching some of the tumultuous Brexit coverage yesterday I found myself nodding in agreement with the commentator that said that the current ‘deal’ threatens the integrity of the United Kindgdom, and that indeed Brexit always has had this threat inherently within it, something the Brexiteers choose to ignore and dismiss. Straight after the referendum result, in a flurry of trying to get my head round what was happening and could happen, I read an article on the break-up of Yugoslavia, a change of national identity and status far less happily achieved at around the same time as that of Czechoslovakia, and was reminded of how easily groups of people can peacefully co-exist at one moment and be at loggerheads in the next.
When we signed the Good Friday Agreement we (whoever ‘we’ are) on the British side agreed to the equal validity of both sides’ right to their national identity. It may have escaped the notice of many in the multiplicity of Brexit strands that just about a year ago Mrs May agreed that Northern Irish citizens would retain their right to an Irish passport after Brexit, which confers upon them EU citizenship. So to repeat that; the people of Northern Ireland retain their rights to EU citizenship after we leave the EU.
I have an elderly neighbour who voted leave; we’ve had some lively conversations about it. She’s not stupid but she didn’t have the kind of education or opportunities that would have made her horizons wider, in fact she’s never been abroad. One thing she’s asked me is why I would want to be ‘ruled’ by ‘them’?
To me of course Europeans are not ‘them’, they’re us. I don’t feel ruled by anything other than fellow Europeans. I will feel personally changed and diminished by leaving the EU and I still hope it won’t happen. But I would not be surprised if our leaving leads to continued fragmentation; the loss of Scotland, Northern Ireland, who knows where it could end? Because there’s no end, only continued shapeshifting.
Will my great-grandchildren have to look up United Kingdom on Wikipedia in order to discover what it used to consist of? And marvel that for a brief span of the twentieth and early twenty-first century, there was relative peace and a marvellous attempt to live within Europe with minimal borders and a sense of co-operation and common aims and values across national identities?
Who could possibly think this loss of community is progress?