Old Europe

European_flag_in_Karlskrona_2011

Ah Europe!

Last week the UK voted to leave the European Union; well actually England outside of London voted to leave as did Wales.  London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.  Now comes the hangover from the drunken deliriousness – the morning after.  It’s kind of like waking up married in Las Vegas to a woman you met last night.  The vote may precipitate the break-up of the United Kingdom.

I received some interesting comments concerning Brexit on my post last week. You can see them here:

https://toritto.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/ok-british-and-european-readers-the-nation/

The comments show the divide on the issue. Here in the U.S. supporters of Donald Trump have taken heart from the vote.  The “people” here have likewise given the political elites  (at least the Republican elites) a punch in the nose.  Notwithstanding, Hillary Clinton currently holds a double digit lead in the most recent polls.

The long term danger, as this old man sees it is not that Britain will leave the E.U.   The danger is that this is the beginning of the end of the European project.  The danger is that others will leave, the E.U. will become a powerless shell and we will return to a Europe without the E.U. We will return to the “old Europe”.

You remember that Europe don’t you?  Too young are you?  Well I remember it.

When I was a kid and would not eat my vegetables my mother would say “Eat your carrots!  Children in Europe are starving!”  And indeed they were.

The Europe before the E.U. gave us not one, but two devastating conflagrations resulting in the deaths of hundreds of millions.  It was the Europe of hyper-nationalism and chauvinism.

Europe learned nothing after the First World War; the initial reparation demanded under the Versailles Treaty was equivalent to over $850 billion in current dollars.  When Germany couldn’t pay, the French and Belgians marched into the Ruhr, beat German workers and took Germany’s coal leaving millions of Germans with no heat in winter. It was the beginning of the march to World War II and the resurgence of German nationalism.

In 1945 Europe was in ruins.  a heap of ashes from London to Stalingrad.  Soviet style governments ruled from East Germany to the borders of the USSR.   Millions were displaced wandering the roads.  Toritto was three years old and grew up during the Cold War.

In Britain the era of the empire was over.  India, Kenya, Uganda went their way.  The end came after the Suez War and the raising of the Egyptian flag over the canal.  The UK cultivated it’s “special relationship” with America and the Commonwealth nations.

France seemed to have learned nothing particularly under the leadership of Charles De Gaulle   The French thought they could pick up right where they left off in 1939.  There was the brutal Algerian war and the war against Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, both of which the French lost.  French West Africa gained independence.  Meanwhile De Gaulle built his “force de frappe” nuclear force, testing atomic bombs in the open air of the South Pacific.

Belgium abandoned Congo while Portugal sailed away fro Angola and Mozambique.  The Indians took Goa.

All of this while Western Europe continued independent only under the umbrella of American nuclear power, living on the  Marshall Plan.  It all seemed so unsettling.  France, Britain, Germany, the Italian pretender and a slew of nations, all speaking different languages; the lesser ones all with a diva’s sense of their own self importance.  It was a breeding ground for hyper-nationalism.  And with hyper-nationalism come economic walls, ethnic and racial hatred.

Italians are considered nice people; a nation of art, culture and music.  Home of the Renaissance.  In their hyper-nationalism, they bombed and gassed Ethiopian tribesmen on horseback armed with spears.  Put tens of thousands of Libyans in concentration camps.  Considered Slovenes to be “yokels;”  Albanians needed a firm Italian hand to guide them into the league of civilized nations.   Italy passed race laws similar to Germany’s which is laughable considering the place of Italians on the Northern European racial ladder.

Germany scapegoated the Jews.   They wore different clothes, wore their hair funny, spoke a strange language, a different religion, were clannish, did business only among themselves, lived apart.  Soon they were all rich with lots of money stashed in their houses, stole from Gentiles and sacrificed Christian babies during Passover.  They were the Christ killers.   I heard that term regularly among Italians when I was young.  And above all, they weren’t German.  Today the Roma suffer the stereotypes.  This is not to say America wasn’t as racist as anyone at the time.  We were.

I never thought I would see genocide again in Europe but during the Balkan Wars there it was again along with the now familiar ethnic cleansing.  Serbs and Croats killing eachother while most Western European and American observers are unable to recognize a dime’s worth of difference between them other than two different branches of mainstream Christianity.

I don’t think anyone, other than those on the far-right of their country’s political spectrum want to return to the Europe of the 1930s or before the E.U.  That is not to say only rightists voted “leave.”  Many feel, as many do here, that the political elites of the major parties are completely out of touch with the working man.  That they are trapped in a system rigged against them; that “austerity” only allows the moneyed classes to increase their share of the pie. That “growth” has not benefitted the vast majority of the population.  That no one is listen,ing to their concerns.  That anarcho-capitalism does not allow for a viable, secure middle class.  It is the remains of Thatcherism.

While these folks voted “leave,” rest assured the rightists did the same but for different reasons – “sovereignty” and “immigration.”

The idea of a federated economically and politically integrated Europe, building a “European” identity, was meant to ensure democracy and counter the resurgence of hyper-nationalism.   With statements such as Winston Churchill’s 1946 call for a “United States of Europe” becoming louder, the Council of Europe was established in 1949 as the first pan-European organisation. In the year following, on 9 May 1950, the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed a community to integrate the coal and steel industries of Europe – these being the two elements necessary to make weapons of war.

It’s been a long struggle getting to where we are today, a common currency in the Euro-zone, a common defense in NATO, free movements of goods and people all of which was designed to replace the Europe of the first 50 years of the last century.

No one wants to do away with it completely except neo-fascists and national chauvinists.  Yet it is these folks who have taken heart with the “leave” vote.  Even secessionists in Texas have woken up!

Federation and integration requires compromise.  If a vote on secession were to  be held in our southern states or Texas I’m sure it would be close.  Lots of folks here don’t like taking orders from Washington or paying more in taxes than the states individually get back.  Subsidizing some poorer state.  And why should a state like Wyoming get two Senators –  same as California.  Compromise is the reason.

If the UK leaves let us hope we have not started on the path to the old days.

A couple of French pols showed their latent chauvinism yesterday.

Their first comment and  recommendation after the Brexit vote was that English be dropped as an EU official language.

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About toritto

I was born during year four of the reign of Emperor Tiberius Claudius on the outskirts of the empire in Brooklyn. I married my high school sweetheart, the girl I took to the prom and we were together for forty years until her passing in 2004. We had four kids together and buried two together. I had a successful career in Corporate America (never got rich but made a living) and traveled the world. I am currently retired in the Tampa Bay metro area and live alone. One of my daughters is close by and one within a morning’s drive. They call their pops everyday. I try to write poetry (not very well), and about family. Occasionally I will try a historical piece relating to politics. :-)
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6 Responses to Old Europe

  1. beetleypete says:

    Frank, you know well enough that I am neither a Rightist, nor a Nationalist. I am uncomfortable in the company of those, obviously, but we will (or just might) have to deal with them later. There is little chance of a return to the Europe of the 1930s. We have had Gay marriage, human rights, and various international laws since then; staying in Europe, or not.

    One thing that I am certain of. Whatever the political climate in Europe, it will never be as Capitalist, or Right-Wing, as either Clinton or Trump, in the USA. For that small mercy, I am thankful.

    Sometimes, Democracy is a double-edged sword. We have to live with people who voted for the wrong reasons, and educate them accordingly. Not easy, but always possible. We won’t be passing any gun laws allowing ownership of assault rifles anytime soon, of that you can be sure.
    Given the choice of an independent Britain, or an out of control USA, I will stick with the uncertainty of ‘Brexit’, thanks all the same.

    Very best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cindy knoke says:

    What a well reasoned and thought out essay.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ms. V says:

    Much of Europe has had a similar reaction to the Brexit as Americans have when Texas threatens to secede as they are wont to do: The UK needs Europe far more than Europe needs the UK, Despite what the American papers are saying, current governments in Europe are not in a panic. Consultancy firms, on the other hand are doing the dance of joy because this is going to be one big bureaucratic mess to dismantle.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. And we’ve already had people standing around outside schools in England handing out notes saying “Go home Polish vermin!” And I know that you don’t approve of that, Pete, any more than I do. That’s not what I’m saying. But popular uprisings tend to involve tumbrils and guillotines as well as liberty, equality and fraternity… There are real dangers as well as hopes in this situation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • beetleypete says:

      You are correct DOC. Nasty people exist, and uprisings might well end with tumbrils, or the sound of boots on stairs in the night. The leaders are not going to change overnight, and the rich are not going to give their money away to the poor. There are dangers that have to be acknowledged, and genuine fears and concerns felt by many.
      I have a feeling that not much will change. The rich will stay rich, the poor won’t be any better off, the main political parties will dust themselves off, do some deals, and it will all feel much the same.
      I just voted for a principle. I couldn’t have not voted for it, whatever the outcome.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. jfwknifton says:

    The truth is that we cannot support 350,000 people coming to live here every year. We have totally free health care and free education. EC rules make these people eligible for whatever they decide to claim. People are coming here to claim free treatment that they cannot afford in their own countries. Our country is vastly overcrowded and north of London, in the areas that voted to leave, desperately poor. These people cannot stomach £12 billion being paid to the EC every year. They get nothing out of the EC, as they have poor pay, will never be able to afford a house and see their kids’ classes in school hugely overcrowded, reaching closer to 40 than the recommended figure of 30.

    Liked by 1 person

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