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The great irrelevance

January 16, 2012

The other evening, we re-watched a DVD of ‘The English Patient’  – not only a great film but one which vividly portrays the horrors of war. Reflecting on it afterwards, it brought to mind a number of memories from our trip which are, in an odd way, all linked.

Avid readers of our blog (and there are many!) may recall that our very first side trip in continental Europe was a visit to the Dunkirk beaches and the First World War battlefield at Passchendaele, which I described as a sobering experience.

Sometimes, I think it is worth remembering just what these wars meant in terms of ordinary lives cut short or damaged and what how in turn this affected Europe in the latter half of the twentieth century. The subject came up in a roundabout way last week, when Nick and Jude were here and we were having lunch with Hans and Hanneke. All of us were born within ten years of the end of the Second World War and agreed that as ‘the blessed generation’ we have a lot to be grateful for, in that there have been no major wars within our lifetime which have impacted on our wellbeing and we have been able to enjoy the benefits of material and economic wealth which have produced a lifestyle beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents’ generation. Indeed, the six of us eating pleasant food in a restaurant in Crete overlooking the Libyan Sea, on a beautiful day in the middle of winter was testament to the fact!

The conversation reminded me of something we saw on a visit to to Agios Nikolaos on the previous day. In an upstairs window in the Main Street was a poster (unfortunately I did not take a picture). One half was a picture of German troops in Greece with the dates 1941-45 below and the other was a picture of the EU flag. Both halves had a red cross through them. Not only was it the first indication that there may be a body of opinion in Greece which supports an exit from the EU but if I am interpreting the meaning correctly, it may be also be reflecting an underlying and smouldering resentment against German hegemony in Europe.

Since we have been here, I recall reading a passing comment in the British press in the context of Angela Merkel wielding her handbag at Brussels to the effect that what seemed to be happening was that after failing militarily to dominate Europe in two world wars, Germany was achieiving her objective economically through the mechanism of the EU. Now I don’t necessarily agree with this view but what is clear from opinions expressed to us since we have been away, is that there is a generally held acceptance that Britain seems to be giving up on Europe, just at a time when many Europeans would like us to be more closely involved.

David Cameron’s histrionics prior to Christmas have done nothing to reduce this perception. Indeed, the current preoccupation on the part of the political class in both England and Scotland, with a referendum relating to Scottish independence seems to reflect an increasing engrossment with national self-interest both at home and perhaps if my interpretation of the poster in Ag. Nick is correct, in other parts of Europe too. In my view, those who dabble in these dark areas would do well to remember the lessons of two world wars and the associated curse of nationalism. Like it or not, Britain is part of Europe and right now, Europe needs Britain to be playing a full and active role, not distracted by the great irrelevance of a Scottish Referendum. 



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  1. James Minta permalink

    Maybe watch the Dad’s Army DVD next time?

    “Don’t tell ’em your name, Pike.”

    • Careful, James. You should remember that your paternal Great-Grandmother was Edith Pike!

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