Product of more than one country: A weary EURef post

Most people who read this will know already. For those who don’t, I’m Anglo-German. Anglo-East German, to be historically pedantic. My dad (English) met my mum (East German) in East Berlin and they moved to London in 1982 after an invasive three-year visa application process which broke the Geneva Convention in a thousand ways (Ignorant white-liberal Americans at parties, please kindly note: It is not “easier” to emigrate to the UK just because you’re white, but let’s have that chat another day…). The Berlin Wall came down at the end of 1989, when I was five years old and had just started full-day school. If it’d fallen a bit earlier we might have moved back to unified Germany instead of out to Tory commuter belt-town and I’d be writing this auf Deutsch. Quite a thought.

To be honest, I’m a bit of a disgrace to my German heritage these days. I’ve been vegetarian for two decades which means my knowledge of my ma’s homeland cuisine is largely restricted to Kartoffelsalat, and whichever Imbisse in Berlin do a good tofu currywurst. I can follow German conversations almost entirely but not talk back very well at all (super-annoying!) and I don’t see much of my German family anymore (as much to do with different lifestyles and personalities as language and geography, really – how many big extended families honestly all get on like a house on fire?). But I firmly consider myself European (White European or White Other, for diversity monitoring tickybox purposes), and voting Remain is the easiest decision I’ll ever make. Actually, it’s not even a decision; it’s a question with an instinctive yes for an answer. You may as well ask me: “Do you intend to have a shower tomorrow?” or “Do you believe in women’s equality?” 

As a journalist by training and someone who loves statistics and evidence-based everything, it pains me to say it, but I couldn’t really give a monkeys about any on this question. Even if an economist offered irrefutable proof Britain was better off outside the EU (and they haven’t) I would still vote to Remain because the bigotry and insularity of many Leave voters makes me so sick to my stomach I wouldn’t stand with them on anything. Much like football and religion, it’s not the game but the noisy fans that leave me cold. Show me someone who made my life difficult growing up and it’s pretty likely they (and/or their parents) are voting Leave. I know there are very nice Leave voters, just as there are very nice religious people and football fans, who are my friends (and lots of atheists and people who don’t watch football aren’t very nice etc etc etc). It’s the sheer nastiness of the nastiest that defines my vote, whatever the right or wrongness of the figures behind their beliefs. If you’re voting Leave, forget about the arguments for a moment and just look at who you’re voting with. A list that reads like a wedding guestlist straight out of the toastiest hell and a man who punches strangers in the face. I wouldn’t take their side if they offered me free champagne and back rubs for all eternity.

The Referendum is even more emotive for my parents, especially my mum, who I’ve seen close to tears in recent weeks whenever the polls have swung against us. During a family discussion prompted by Lucy Mangan’s piece in the Guardian about her Leave-voting Tory husband, Mum said quite genuinely that it would be hard for her to be married to someone who voted the other way on this – or even to accept it if I was. Never having met an eligible Eurosceptic it’s an academic question for me, but, in my taboo alternate universe, it could’ve been a dealbreaker and a cause for chin-scratching. It’s very hard to reconcile the idea of one of the nicest people you ever met, with a shared love of your favourite European cities, agreeing with some of the most unpleasant. On reflection, I could just about manage to see past it, depending on their reasons, how they expressed them, and their views about all sorts of other things. But, if I were married to a Brexiter right now, for the health of that marriage I think we’d need to be spending some reflective time apart over the next couple of weeks…

If Brexit happens tomorrow, I can apply for a German passport, emigrate and skip the fallout. But of course, it’s never that simple. If it was, I’d have emigrated years ago, before David Cameron was PM, let alone before the Referendum was even a twinkle in his eye. But I have mixed feelings about being forced out of a country where  – for all its flaws – I grew up and feel I belong. If and when I leave, I want it to be a positive choice; like the one my mum made out of love and a thirst for adventure. I don’t want to be bullied away from here – whether it’s because of the impossible cost of living or people being reactionary wallies. It would break my heart to leave behind friendships that have been so hard-won despite years of mental rubbish which frequently convinces me nobody would want to be friends with me, and go and start all over again somewhere else.

People who scoff at patriotism often argue “Why be proud of your country when you could’ve grown up somewhere else?” For me, that’s acutely true. One of the ugliest things about Leave’s campaign is the moronic slogan: “I want my country back.”  Whose country? It’s not yours to own. Or mine. Or anyone’s. But it’s my home, and I’d like reasons to stay. A vote for Remain would be one.

To quote a friend’s Facebook post from the other day, (who I hope doesn’t mind):

Nationalism and isolation have never made a country stronger, and never solved its domestic problems, which have never been the fault of a non-existent “other”. Nations come and go, their populations always the result of immigration and trade. Countries are not innately better than one another, but have moments of strength and moments of weakness of differing degrees.

The path of nationalism and racism, once started down, is almost impossible to leave. However you vote on Thursday, make sure you vote for openness and globalisation – reformed as you see necessary – instead of small-minded nationalism and hatred. Only violence and division can result from the latter.

 

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