The EU referendum has clipped our wings

This is a sad, self-indulgent post about some of my feelings about the UK referendum ‘leave’ result. It’s emotional and not about the economy or politics, and I know that the Brexit will be long and complicated and no one is sure exactly how bad it will be. Just feels I wanted to get out, ok?

I was born on the edge of Europe, and grew up under a battle-scarred Rock that had sheltered many peoples from the storms of war. A fortress that has sheltered many peoples when the Great Powers raged, and known many kings. It has heard many languages and known many gods. I grew up in a fortress that we had turned into a peaceful city, of enviable prosperity and freedoms for its citizens. Multi-coloured, multi-lingual. We spoke two languages and a half, words from one tongue spilling over the other like the conflux of two great rivers.We were a people made of castoffs from the Mediterranean, sailors, whores, merchants and the servants of soldiers. Some of us were darker, and some were lighter. It was generally acknowledged that at some point, everyone had come from ‘somewhere else’, but we were one people now, with one home. Once we had been Spanish, Genoese, Maltese, English, Irish, Scottish, Indian, Pakistani, Moroccan. Now we were in some sense all those things, but the main thing was that we were Gibraltarian. But it’s not enough to ‘just’ be Gibraltarian in a wider world. We were British, by our allegiance to the United Kingdom, and we were proud of it.

Our neighbours across the border were both our friends and family and somehow also barbarians who wished for our destruction. When you showed your passport and walked into Spain, you were in a different country, even if you could still see your house from the frontier, and understand everyone around you. In my teens I ran, drank and laughed with young Linenses, haltingly at first in my Spanish mixed with English, but soon without reservation as we would embrace and share our adolescent anxieties, our hopes and fears. I knew from then that it wasn’t people who made the borders and enemies. These frontiers and hostilities were hangovers from the wars of our ancestors, and everywhere else in Europe old borders had come down after the fall of the Iron Curtain. I had little doubt in my mind at the time that our frontier would also fall, not because Spain would conquer us, but because this growth of tolerance and freedom was obviously the destiny of the world, and eventually we would be accepted by the other side not as subjects or enemies, but for who we were. This experience is key to my feelings about the Brexit result. We could be friends and brothers in our individual relationships on both sides of the border, but as long as officially and legally we were not, people suffered, suspicion and hostility waited and festered.

The UK had an almost mythological place in our culture. It was like some distant father. Wise, cultured, strong and always benevolent. Our teacher and protector. I grew up primarily reading British writers, watching British TV, listening to British music. These stories and images from miles and miles away, shaped my mind, honed my  ambitions and broke my heart. My passport was British but living under two straight weeks of rain was unimaginable, as I watched the tv dramas of a culture that was my own in a land that was not. When I went to study in the UK I was in for a bit of a nasty shock within the first couple of weeks, being punched in a bus stop for my tanned skin and mediterranean features – ‘You’re not even English, are you?’ was the question that came before the fist. I wasn’t given time to explain myself. These moments aside, my time in UK was fantastic for me, and I’ll always cherish  the friendships and experiences from the 5 years I spent there. A big part of my longing to move from my small country and be part of the wider world was fulfilled there. But I’ll always remember that there were people there eager to lash out at anyone not like themselves, even fellow Brits who didn’t meet their narrow criteria of Englishness.

Since then I’ve lived and worked and travelled in mainland Europe without much hassle by virtue of my British passport. Europeans from Finland to Slovenia have been my friends, colleagues, housemates, lovers. We talked and laughed and wept and sang and danced and talked and talked and talked and talked and talked and embraced. We lent each other the books and records that had inspired us, we cooked each other meals, taunted each other to down our nations’ strongest liquors. We shared our love like we shared our lands. We gathered in cities and trekked through the mountains, we gathered at music festivals like an army for love and marched through the squares against austerity, Europeans (and others together), because a victory in one country would be a victory for all of us. I’ve had so many offers to visit friends in their native countries, and sadly taken too few of them up, but I knew that it would be easy when I decided to. I’ve been in groups of friends, or even an office, where 5 different languages are spoken in the same room.

I was Gibraltarian fundamentally, and British, but I was also European. I could be a little bit French, German, or Greek, and so on, when I wanted to. There would be no shortage of people to help me. We were from different countries but we shared the same future. Ours was Greek philosophy, French wine, English humour, Dutch painters and all the myriad treasures of Europe. I met young people from the former Eastern bloc that had migrated west, full of hope and energy and optimism and ready to seize the opportunities in a free Europe that their parents never had.

Today I live in Berlin, a multicultural city, bright and ‘bunt’ as it lifts itself from the shadow of a history of war and division. Reminders of suffering and repression under the Nazis and the Cold War are everywhere. The dead are gone but their shadows linger on the wall. Just like London felt more European than the rest of the UK, Berlin feels more European than German. British expats/immigrants aren’t the only ones feeling the pain here. Plenty of Germans and other Europeans with friends in Britain are sad and disappointed, offering their condolences and good wishes.

Can we still be friends, and live and work in each other’s countries? Of course, laws will not suddenly change the way I feel about the people I know or transform my personal relationships. But just like my experience with my Spanish friends as a teen was shadowed by our consciousness of the border and political hostility that we had to overcome, these legal rulings have an impact. For the British, leaving the EU sends a message that they will not be making their future as part of Europe, that they are turning away form solidarity, that they are not going to share. Those of us who still want a relationship with the EU will see that relationship change on a conceptual level, as the mistrust unleashed in the country is projected onto us. We will no longer be part of the family, but outsiders, albeit perhaps honoured guests, part of that intimacy and solidarity afforded to family will atrophy.

I understand that the majority of British people we not excited about being European, didn’t care about the opportunities offered to them, or about their role in building a future, for, and with the continent and its peoples. But for those of us who are, who like me enjoyed their youth as a European among many, working, laughing, dancing, wandering, struggling and suffering together, and believed in making a future together, it feels like a profound blow.

The music fades, the lights grow dim and the sad dancer’s limbs slow and stiffen. The party’s over, the good times are gone. Europe doesn’t belong to us anymore, we have to beg for it. It’s as if, high up in their towers, the wicked sorcerers Farage, Gove and Johnson have worked a dark ritual to steal some part of our souls. Suddenly, we are stricken with an invisible affliction that blights our senses, hobbles our feet, clips our wings. Maybe we can still move through Europe, at a crawl. But we will remember that we could fly. That’s where the pain will come from. From our phantom wings.







~ by theserpentscircle on June 24, 2016.

One Response to “The EU referendum has clipped our wings”

  1. This perfectly sums up my feelings with beautiful expression. Thanks Nicky x

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