There are criticisms—some unfounded, many wholly legitimate—that people in my region, just like everyone else, have of the EU today. But openness within Europe and between Europeans is the most valuable thing about our continent. It allowed us to fully engage with Europe, trade, make, buy, sell, move, love, learn, and earn. And more than Germany, France, or Denmark, the U.K. was the country that had for decades given us familiar music, movies, humor, and literature, and held the greatest appeal for me and my friends. There are wonderful Scandinavian bands and Dutch DJs, but Adele, The Rolling Stones, and Paul McCartney sell out humongous arenas, still. Britain has the culture my compatriots and I, in the absence of our own regional idols and contemporary cultural giants, look up to. English is the second language we now most comfortably speak.
As a result, for those who wanted to try their luck abroad, many Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, and other neighbors felt the United Kingdom or Ireland made most sense as destinations. London offers opportunities in every imaginable field. It also allows multi-national couples a shot at success that other European capitals simply lack. I work in international development and my husband in tech: Buona fortuna to us in finding a competitive career for both in Rome.
And so it is difficult for me not to take personally the U.K.’s rejection of staying open to Europe. Polls show that the decision was largely driven by backlash against immigration, and that some of the districts with the highest support for Brexit were those that had high concentrations of Poles, Romanians, and other Eastern and Central Europeans. Laminated cards reading, “No more Polish vermin” and “Go home Polish scum” were found in Cambridgeshire after the vote, and the U.K.’s Daily Mirror just ran the alarmist headline, “Brexit to cause immigration surge as 500,000 East Europeans 'will rush in before borders close.'”
It now appears that second-class Europeans—Europeans who grew up with smuggled vinyls and dreams of owning real jeans, while hiding from informers and censors, or whose parents did—are not so welcome in the Europe we thought we’d come to share. It does not need to be printed out in capital letters to be obvious.
But many people on the streets of Prague, Bratislava, and Warsaw understand another thing, too. An inward-looking, destabilized European Union is not good for anyone except for Russia, which has never stopped seeing our region as an area to claim, and whose military and agents have been pushing closer. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and even Poland, are all worried about their long-term security. Given that for a country like mine, the last two and a half decades were the longest period of freedom in modern history, we don’t take not being invaded for granted. It is truly disheartening that it was we, and other immigrants, who U.K. voters seem to perceive as the threat to stability.
As Havel pointed out, a defining Czech characteristic is self-doubt. Some say anxiety. I feel both now more than ever. Despite my best efforts, I was not able to hide deeper in Europe at all.
This post appears courtesy of New America.