‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’ – Samuel Johnson
In survey after survey, Austria follows the UK as the most euro-sceptic of all EU members, yet here in Vienna, the euro-elections have a dynamism that is unimaginable in Britain: there are television debates, political rallies, (I was caught up in a large Socialist Party march yesterday while cycling home) and political posters line most streets. It underlines the degree that the UK has been isolated from the European debate. The best that can be said about the remaining parts of the British media not obsessed with ‘the horrors of the EU’ is that they never quite rise above being non-euro-phobic. Euro-positive simply does not exist – it only amounts to degrees of dislike with even the most Europhilic journalist and politicians conceding that ‘things must change’.
Yet uppermost in the debate in euro-phobic Austria is the argument that the EU has brought peace and stability to the continent for the longest period in history. This has a resonance that the British arrogantly ignore. They seem to have swallowed the myth, that they, like the Americans, were somehow tricked into fighting continental wars that were of no domestic relevance. Geographical proximity was to Imperial Britain unimportant – India, Kenya and Singapore were closer than France. It was, apparently, never the UK that started continental wars – they were sucked into them by default, and only in order, (should Britain’s staggeringly chauvinistic commentators be believed), ‘to sort out their quarrelsome neighbours’. In the biggest lies is a kernel of truth: the British were too busy fighting Imperialist wars across the globe to be involved in many continental conflicts. After Crimea in the mid-1850s, they busied themselves by sending gunships to darker regions inhabited by darker-skinned people. They had no time for the squabbles and positioning on the continent. Metternich’s ‘balance of power’ was irrelevant. . . . until 1914.
An oft forgotten fact is that Bismarck’s years following German unification in 1871, were spent entangling European powers into a mesh of ‘self-neutralising’ treaties. It was a fantastic concept to come from the man who had dreamt up ‘blood and iron’. No country could attack another because of various treaties that in effect, neutralised each other with counter treaties involving other states. It was the perfect pre-nuclear deterrent and only came unstuck when his successor Bernhard von Bülow neglected to maintain them. This neglect resulted in the remaining treaties in 1914 that cast Europe into its second ’30 Years War’.
Peace, stability and cooperation are important components for an electorate, yet bizarrely, the British media portray the EU as an instrument that is against all of these things. In equally Euro-phobic Austria, it has become the strongest argument in favour, with each party except the extreme-right, falling over backwards to support transnational advantages. Cooperation on energy and the environment are far more evident to ‘the man on the Viennese omnibus’ in little Austria. In Britain, we simply hear the triumphalist retort that ‘we’re the 6th richest country in the world. . . . .’ It resonates with the tone of Country Club boasting and of course, it is delusional.
There can be no debate on Europe in the UK, if all suggestions that there may be benefits, are shouted down by flag-waving nationalists. EU elections are not the ‘Last Night of the Proms’. Indeed, the level of debate in Britain has reached a point that arguments in favour of the EU are cowed. It’s only possible to ‘suggest’ that there are benefits. The untruths, myths, distortions and out-right lies put out by Britain’s fanatical anti-Europeans are not only reported and commented in the non-euro-phobic press, they have no apparent effect on the public. Why? Because the anti-EU arguments in Britain have ceased being rational (as they remain in Austria apart from the crypto-Nazi FPÖ), and are now purely xenophobic. The popular media and the anti-EU political parties can carry on with their made-up horror-stories coming out of Brussels, while counting on the suggestion that all of these outrages are the result of defective French and Teutonic societies. And it would be amusing were it not so frightening to hear how the far-right parties of Britain fall over themselves to prove how ‘un-racist’ they are while attacking social orders and national cultures on the continent with a vocabulary that would be unacceptable if used in discussions of Africans or Jews.
On a blog that focuses on the horrors that politics have wrought on the arts and most especially music, this matters today as well. How paradoxical that these issues are taking place almost to the date of the start of the cataclysm that destroyed so much. In the late 1940s, when the deadly dust had settled, racist nationalism was recognised as toxic. The reminder of this toxicity is central to the European elections being held later this month. Only in the UK, have they held to the myth that there is something psychologically, emotionally almost physically inferior on the continent that they cannot be part of. Even the most positive debates are pitched with the argument that Britain must stay in the EU in order ‘to sort it out’. Hardly an endorsement – but the record of such chauvinism isn’t promising.