I wrote this short text for a Facegroup group of more than nine thousand English expatriates in France, many of whom are uncertain of their future in the event of a “hard” or “blind” Brexit. There are hundreds of thousands of British expatriates in all the countries of the European Union.
Our tales all point to the tragedy of humanity and the clash between the “haves” and have-nots”. I don’t want to belittle anyone, being myself an expatriate in France still applying for the citizenship which will perpetuate the status we presently have as EU citizens. I will say this, we have “had it so good” since World War II. Most of us were born after 1945 (1959 in my case) and have only known peace and the period of change in the 1960’s – which is now at an end. I look at all this from the point of view of a historian.
In the 1790’s Wordsworth saw the reality of the French Revolution when the Terror began. He was married to a French woman, and he had to return to England leaving his wife and children behind. As France was occupied in 1940, any English had to leave. Some of us might have seen the film “Tea with Mussolini” about how English people in Italy, even rich ones, were made to leave their homes and assets. The grandparents of my wife lost everything twice during World War II, first in Warsaw and then in Lyon. These are tragedies that begin to haunt us once again.
This fiasco of Brexit is another chapter in the tragic history, and may destroy even the appearance of stability in our country. The consequences are so totally unpredictable, and all we hear are lies intended to anaesthetise us and make us helpless. It would be poetic justice if post-Brexit Britain suffered an economic collapse of such a magnitude that it would bring real-estate values lower than equivalent areas in France and would destroy speculation and profiteering with housing, food, health care and other essential utilities.
Some of us may have to go back to England. Most will be able to get residence / work permits or citizenship, and our life will be allowed to continue as it is. Others may be less fortunate. The powers that be in England would be just as uncaring about our plight than workhouse beadles in Dickensian England. There is still that puritan notion of the human person being worth his money, and that poverty is a consequence of sin or lack of faith! Thus I have taken a highly critical attitude and found a lot of inspiration in pre-Marxist socialism.
There will never be justice in this world, but I am one of you in this struggle. We left our country for different reasons. I sought a new and cosmopolitan life and found different experiences in France, Switzerland, Italy and Germany. The bedrock of my thought is Romanticism, as Europe emerged from the ruins of the Aristocracy and the Church and reacted against the extremes of the new rationalism. Everything is in the imagination and the force of the human spirit. My combat is one for humanism.
Our struggle is also one of cosmopolitanism and the gift of being in contact with other cultures and ways of life. I suffocate in England when brought into contact with parochial conservatism. I’m sure we didn’t come to Europe only because English housing prices are prohibitive. There is a whole cultural and human dimension.
I joined this group because I see in it a swelling of the human spirit from the ground that inspires me, in the same way as Polish dock workers in the early 1980’s fought against the Soviet straitjacket for freedom. We also sought freedom from a country that is subtly becoming something quite foreign and sinister.
England owes us nothing, as we owe nothing to England. Certain things may inspire us from our long history and rich culture. I am a musician and love Purcell, Vaughan-Williams and Elgar, but they were geniuses from their persons, not the country that made them. The true England is within us, no longer the country that is taking us back to the Victorian era! We are criticised by family and friends because they still live in Plato’s cave of shadows – but we have emerged and found something greater. The genii cannot be put back into the bottle!
The figures hearten me, and I suspect that the true England is here, off England’s shores and in the hearts of those who sought freedom and an original view of life.
I am new to this group, but I am sure we will achieve a lot by writing and making it known how many of us there are in all the European countries, speaking their languages, discovering new cultures and ways of life and being better persons for it. We are still English and refer to our roots. We should also write to those who represent our local authorities and governments in the countries in which we live, showing that we love and respect the values they and Europe have forged to make sure that the tragedy of Nazi Germany should never ever again happen. We need to show our love for human rights and freedom.