I got a comment to my Fare well Brittania! post drawing that line, which got me thinking. A reflection and response.
First, I'm a European, not only by heart but real-life. I was born in westernmost part of Germany (Bundesheimatministerium?...), on the right side of the Rhine, which, naturally, is the left (co-inciding with my political alignment).
|Being born on the civilised side of the Rhine goes way back. Background map by tataryn; Roman Empire at the time of Trajan, 117 A.D.|
Half of my grandparents were Nazi profiteers (but not in the party as far as we know), the other half suffered the consequences of ordinary people of World War II. Consequence being, I never knew my granddads. They didn't die in the war, but because of it a few years later (one being kept as a prisoner of war in Yugoslavia till 1951, so probably his hands were drained in blood; the other drowned in the Mosel a year ealier intoxicating himself against the chronic pain of the grenade splitters in his body). I'm anti-fascist because of common sense, family history, education, and knowledge. Good people can only be found on one side, never the other. Nazis, fascists and alike came and come only in four versions: stupid, bad, worse, and nigh-evil.
Born very close to two other European countries, France (30 mins) and Luxembourg (just over the hill) – Belgium and the Netherlands are only an hour drive away – I fancy the grass on the other side. Not because it's greener (my birth area is a pretty nice place and hard to top) but because it's different! As a kid, my father made sure we'd travel every little bit of (western) Europe including Yugoslavia (being the only communist country before the Iron Curtain). I've probably been to places in Ireland or Spain, most Irish and Spanish haven't seen. Luckily, my work as a researcher (first stationed in Germany, than Sweden, finally Austria) brought me to different parts of world (only two continents are missing: Australia and Antarctica) and got me in contact with a lot of different people, including not few that were more cosmopolitan and me, too (usually left and liberal, it's a curse knowing and have seen too much). I speak fluently German and English, pretty good French (can't write it, though) and could survive with Swedish; I hold two EU nationalities — I'm an Auslandsdeutscher and utlandssvenk (and, in the future, possibly a third; you don't need it within the EU unless you want to elect the national parliament/head of states).
This analysis is way too causa proxima and no causa ultima....have to go back 2000 years and God knows how many "EUs" ....Caesar's "EU" to Hitler's "EU" to the coming Xi Jinping's "EU"... to understand Breaksit.
I disagree. Brexit is a child of our time. Or, rather, of a quite short time frame (What UK thinks). Notably, the same factions of British society that elected the Iron Lady into office, who gave up "British independence" (according contemporary interpretation by the political Right) and entered the (then) European Community, was the main group backing Brexit.
More importantly, comparing the EU with the Roman Empire and the Nazi conquest of continental Europe is, to put it plain and simple, bullshit.
The Roman Empire – unification by legions and common wealth
Regarding the Roman Empire, part of my ancestors, the Treviri (those dwelling on the proper side of the Rhine), didn't even bother to raise shield and sword, and were awarded with quick implementation of superior civilisation. Better living and fancy public baths [German Wp/official page in English], for instance. Our Roman legacy (at one point, Augusta Treverorum, Trier, was the third most important city of the Roman Empire, after Rome and Byzanz), UNESCO World Heritage sites, attracts millions of (non-German) visitors to a city, which happens to be the birthplace of Karl Marx and me. Remember Life of Brian: "What have the Romans ever done for us?"
Napoleon's unification of Europe
Let's not forget Napoleon's "EU". Napoleon brought war to most parts of continental Europe but also much needed order to European chaos, especially in central Europe. Many of our current codes of law (in countries of the EU but also South America) are still inspired by the Napoleonic Code, the Code civil [Brittanica]. He also cleaned up the German and Italian microstates, thus, laid the foundation for nation building, which would have dire consequences.
|Departements of the first French Republic, which replaced noble fiefdoms of Medivial Ages. Named after rivers and other natural features (hence, Departement Forêt, lit. forest, for what used to be Luxembourg) and including some later lost, like the Departement Sarre around the former Roman city of the Treveri. Background map by BrightRaven|
The darkest time: Nazi horror sweeping Europe
German nationalism and militarisation, the rise of Prussia culminating in the declaration of the first actual German Empire (the Holy Roman one was it just by name) in the ashes of shattered French dominance 1871, is also a consequence of the Napoleonic re-organisation. Without a unified, homogenised Germany, there would have been no war of 1870/1871, WW I or WW II (at least not in the same form). Or, the Nazi terror.
In stark contrast to Romans and Napoleon, the Nazis solely brought sorrow, misery and unfathomable evil to Europe. While roaming the world, I noticed that non-Germans (including well-educated ones) have too little idea what my ancestors actually did, except for the survivors of concentration camps and their families. There is nothing comparable to it. What sets apart the Nazi horror from anything else in human history is that we did not only commit genocide (quite common in human history) but we planned, organised, and optimised it! Any comparison of anything to Nazi Germany, the holocaust or the many "little" horrors in its wake, minimises unduly the Nazi horror.
Knowing about the darkest bits, makes the EU shine in bright light
While ignored by too many in the World, at least up to 1990s, all (western) Germans were taught what we did in school. Even those that were kids or born decades later (like me): the Nazi horror was and should still be part of our German soul, it's our Erbsünde as a people. Not rarely, in soul-shattering detail. One reason, Germans have been astonishingly pro-EU since the beginning, it that we know better (or should). This was the only tiny little positive spark from that darkest period: because of the horror, we incited across all of Europe, Germany was (against the will of not a few) turned from a warmongering nationalist industrious chimera into a nice little apatriotic but still industrious kitten. One lesson of the greatest disaster in European history was that we need to work together in peace for mutual benefit, why the European democracies founded the EC which would become the EU. It's a lesson learnt. Well, on the continent, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
You probably can't blame the English (or unwitting young continentals) for lacking the European-unification-is-without-alternative sentiment because the abysmal horror never really touched their soil, just a bit of bombing and rocketing (ironically, a technology which brought the Americans to the moon before the Soviets, why they made sure in the last days of the WW II, the UK wouldn't be able to get their hands on Nazi Wernher v. Braun and try him for the V2 attacks on London).
History has a lot in common with matryoshkas. You can always peel layer for layer and dig deeper.
The EU hasn't forced anyone into joining
By all its flaws (see e.g. my European-Not-Really-A-Union posts focussing on odd aspects), the European Union is not (and has never been) an alien occupying force. In contrast, it has been most beneficial to its member states. Typically more useful to their industries, commerce and upper 1% than for the rest (an example: I have four social security numbers; why?) but still: Everyone, especially in my generation – grown-up with the threat of nuclear annihilation and smuggling coffee and cigarettes across the Luxembourgian-German border – has to be blind, or stupid, to not realise that. The EU could be much better than it is (especially these days, with nationalist-fascist governments of Hungary and Poland blocking needed EU legislation and evolution), but there is no viable alternative to European unification. Anything else would be worse. My grand-grand-mother told us of live during the first and second world war (she was "lucky" to live through both) and I experienced the 1980s first hand, I don't want to experience them again! (The permanent reminders in current politics, Trumpydumpty, for instance, are fully sufficient.)
|European-Not-A-Union: the Happiness divide. Happiness scores from World Happiness Report 2018 (more here, methodology, and here, original post)|
No one has to be forced into the EU. Every member country wanted (and those not yet in, still want) to become part of it. Ironically, the UK, are more of a forced union. The Scottish nobility and parliament only signed the Act of Union (dedicated UK parliament page) because they were bankrupt after the Darién scheme. Now, Scotland is removed from the EU against its documented will, same for Northern Ireland (referendum results in full at BBC). As always in the history of the "United" Kingdom, mighty, populous England decides, the rest of Her Majesty's dominion stays put. Northern Ireland is a forcibly colonised, occupied country, too (Wikipedia's History of Ireland is pretty comprehensive). There wouldn't be any unionist protestants in Northern Ireland if not for the near 800 years of, originally Norman (viking Frenchies) becoming "English" conquest and colonisation of the island.Whether one likes it or not. The EU is the only attempt to unify Europe without armies (Romans, Napoleon) or insane ideologies (Nazis). Entering it makes (still) a lot of sense, especially with China emerging as capitalist but autocratic world superpower trying to undermine it. Leaving it, is just stupid.