This will be another tough and very personal post to write. Again, it’s not intended to offend, just my mixed up emotions poured out via my keyboard. I’m not going to edit and self-censor this too much. I want to preserve how today feels in all its shades and dimensions.
Emotion number 1: Almost joyous relief.
This came quite unexpected, I have to say. I didn’t anticipate that I would actually be smiling and feel a sense of happiness at the announcement of the result. Ok, so perhaps there was a touch of Schadenfreude in it, but oddly it’s not the dominant source of joy here. Even if it’s not the result I had hoped for, after months of living in anxious limbo land, I finally have certainty. I guess I hadn’t appreciated quite how much this issue had been weighing me down.
Emotion number 2: Total mental panic.
Now that I have certainty, there’s suddenly lots to think about – and stuff comes up all the time that I hadn’t even considered! Obvious: rent London flat out or sell? Which will be more profitable/least painful in the long run? Savings – f**k I have just lost so much money!! Status – do I need any paperwork to stay in the UK (btw, shouldn’t I have heard a peep from the German Embassy in London by now??). And anyway, where the hell am I going to move to? Where would be good to live? Where am I going to find a job? What job is that going to be? Will I need to learn another completely different language to make all this happen? Less obvious: What paperwork will I need? Pension – what is going to happen with that? How does claiming your tax back work when you leave a country? How will that be affected by what’s happened, i.e. when a country morphs from EU to non-EU status? What am I going to do with 22 years worth of possessions? Just sorting that last bit out is going to be one ginormous endeavour in itself!
These are all really hard questions to figure out answers to when your mind is constantly racing at 150mph. Once my mind has calmed down enough, I will have some tough decisions to make, and I am not looking forward to that process.
Emotion number 3: A sense of despair and Told-You-So.
As tragic as the whole thing is, it was obvious to me from the beginning that Leave was going to have the upper hand in this. I knew this would boil down to educated vs uneducated; people who get out and engage with politics vs those whose sole intellectual input is found on ITV; people who have never travelled or travelled only to sit by a pool and get plastered on cheap booze vs people who travel to open their minds to other cultures.
I am notorious for my often razor sharp, biting social commentary on both FB and Twitter. People think I’m unkind, and perhaps that is often true, but you know what? The truth hurts sometimes. I fear that the ‘always be nice to others’ society has killed this country with kindness when it really needed a good old slap round the chops with a big wet fish to wake it up from its deluded slumber. – By this I mean a slap motivated by care, rather than one motivated by hatred. It has had its slap now. What a sad costly life lesson!
Today Britain is dangling precariously from a zip wire.
I know many will argue that it’s no one’s fault that they are not educated when the government doesn’t provide an adequate system. You know what that sounds like to a German person? Whining. There is this sense in this country that ‘the world owes me something before I need to lift a finger or engage a brain cell’. Waschlappenmentalität. Learned helplessness.
In reality, it is quite simple: if you really have the will to learn, you’ll find a way – and please don’t tell me that it’s impossible or too difficult! In a country where there are more smartphones than people, a country where the vast majority of people have some shape or form of www access, pretty much everyone has the option to learn. The real issue is this: why would you spend your time reading something boring (or, in fact, encourage your kids to do so) when there’s some mildly entertaining baking contest or some so-called celebrity eating a testicle in a makeshift jungle camp to watch on TV…? Exactly.
This graphic from the FT is scary. It shows just how much education mattered in the outcome of this referendum.
[TL;DR: The dumber the population, the easier it is to manipulate people into believing just about anything.]
I am thankful for the sensitivities to propaganda and political manipulation that my education has given me. You see, I grew up in a country that still, to this day, bears some of the emotional scars of a Europe at war. I went through an education system that taught us to question everything, to look at the world with reason and rationality first, emotions second. One might say that it’s a sort of coping mechanism to deal with the horrors of our past.
My education included school visits to several concentration camp sites. I can’t even put into words what a devastating emotional experience that is for a German teenager! What other nationalities visit as a sad tourist attraction feels rather more cutting to those of us whose families were so directly impacted by those years. And although more than 70 years have passed, many continental European families are still haunted by the horrors of their past. Stories passed on from one generation to the next, stories that are now very distant memories, but that are so horrific, they are still leaving emotional traces in many of us. I’m wiping a tear as I write this. All these years later it still gets to me.
So given all those personal horror stories from days gone by, how can I not feel strongly about the EU, an organisation, as flawed as it is, that seeks to avoid this kind of human tragedy from happening again? How can I not be proud of what Europe has achieved? I cannot comprehend why anyone would so nonchalantly drop out of an arrangement just because it costs a bit of money and effort to reach agreements sometimes. Forget the damn trade deals, the cheap flights and the financial cost of stuff just for a moment. This is about so much more than that!
Emotion number 4: Anger and defiance.
But most of all, how can I not feel completely exasperated when I see a country succumb to hate and propaganda? Sections of your country’s political parties, some corporations and your popular press have conspired in an obvious act of Gleichschaltung (look it up if you don’t know what that means), and the gullible 50% of the population have not just walked, but run into the open knife. How can such a large portion of a nation be so incredibly blind? For goodness sake, educate yourselves!
I am not for one second suggesting that all is hunky-dory in Euroland. Far from it. There are those Europeans who have lost touch with our continent’s past and those who feel powerless and threatened by the policies of their governments. Every European nation has its EU skeptics. But education is the key, and those of us who can educate need to take responsibility and act to counterbalance the hate born mostly from fear and ignorance and helplessness.
When I hear cynics talk about European leaders, such as Angela Merkel, as opening ‘the floodgates that will encourage thousands more migrants’, I frankly despair. You are talking about families like mine. People who through no fault of their own have lost everything. People who have experienced horrors you have never known. When I hear voices that dismiss our poorer European neighbours as only clinging onto the EU because of financial dependency or because they want to milk the system, I just want to get another big wet fish out to slap some sense into those people. Yes, finance is an important factor, but it’s not the whole story.
So while the British still rejoice in their World War victories, the continent has never truly forgotten what it felt like to suffer displacement and misery. We Germans in particular have learned our lessons from being politically manipulated and terrorised by a regime that brought such pain to so many people. We are never that remote from our past, sheltered on a little island. And you can have as many 11 November ceremonies as you like, dear Brits, your history books tell a very different story from the books that I learned from.
Emotion number 5: Gratitude and hope.
I have never felt so grateful to hold an EU passport as I do today, and even though a rocky road and a lot of personal sacrifices lie ahead, I have hope.