The Lesser of Two Evils

I’m not here saying people shouldn’t have voted Leave, because leaving EU certainly is a bold move, with a lot of uncertainty — yes, but how do you make a meaningful change that is safe? You can’t. It is understandable that the people of Britain were tired of ineffectiveness of the EU in many ways. I don’t argue that EU is great. And in a way I certainly commend the UK for being the one to ‘challenge the authority.’ If no EU members ever took that rebellious step, there is a real possibility that Europe would’ve been soon enough run to the ground by EU in its current state. UK is the perfect volunteer to shake things up by leaving the union, as it’s a country whose economy will most likely survive on its own, separate currency being a major factor.

But there is two ways of looking at the separation. As described above, by having challenged the status quo quite drastically and leaving altogether, the UK is doing a major favour to the remaining union in case it stays intact: now Europe is so much more likely to have the upper hand in negotiations for the better EU. However, the cost of Brexit culturally is not doing modern society any good. It’s a completely different point of view, but not quite opposite to the Leave ideology — did you notice that Leave and Remain campaigns did not surround the same issues? There was some countering of “facts” presented by the other side, but the campaigns’ flagship claims took quite different directions altogether. While the Leave campaign kept repeating the sums we waste on things in EU that bring us no profit, Remain brought out reasons why Europe would be better as a whole. These two approaches are hardly the opposites of one another, so providing that neither side was lying, a voter needed to weigh up their values and see which of the two campaigns not only resonates more deeply, but also which outcome has bigger repercussions. Sadly some of the Leave voters did not recognise the issue that Remain legion was fighting for as something worth giving a thought to at all. Even though I recognise that (as many of my friends who voted Leave have reminded me) many Leave votes were not about immigration at all, it is my personal opinion that more damage has been done by neglecting threat to the unity of Europe in comparison with whatever economic and political outcome we would’ve had to live with by remaining a part of the EU.

As the world grows tighter every single day, races and cultures mix more and more. Different people have different ways of reacting to change, but the more rapid the change, the more stressful it is to adapt to it, so more and more people run into the limit of their open-mindedness towards the change, currently the rapidly growing migration issue in particular. In the past few years politicians of certain European parties have been successful in identifying this phenomenon and capitalising on it by having keeping countries “clean” as one of their main campaign promises. As the profile of the conversation was raised through media, people throughout Europe fooled themselves into thinking that there exists a choice of whether to stay “pure” or mix with others. I am here to remind you that there is no such choice. Once the gateways for a global multicultural society were opened, no country has really stood a chance of keeping up with the world while keeping their borders closed. Science and technology have advanced the world to the point where everything: business, travel, and people’s lives in general have gone global. There is no coming back from the path that humanity’s advancements have paved. It is understandable that sometimes the world moves at a higher pace than we would like, but there is really no other option than to embrace the change and move with it.

As an illustration, I’ll describe my background. I was born in Estonia — a small European country — just after it had become independent from USSR. Both my parents are Russian and identify as such. As USSR broke up, my parents suddenly found themselves in a new country, the language of which they couldn’t speak, as Estonian (a language that just couldn’t be more different from Russian) hadn’t been imperative to know in Soviet times. However, their whole life was there, in that specific geographical location that just didn’t feel like home anymore. And now they had a baby — me. A baby that they would need to make choices for until it could decide for itself. They chose to give me better tools than they had to adjust to this rapidly changing world: first they made sure I learnt Estonian. It indeed is an important thing to mention because a large number of Russian people in the same circumstances as my parents at that point raised their children without finding it necessary to teach them Estonian. (It has caused a major cultural schism in the country but that’s a story for a different time.) They then went to extra lengths to sign me up to an Estonian-speaking kindergarten. Then an Estonian-speaking school. And suddenly they found themselves with a child who identified as Estonian. For a while it caused some problems in my family, as of course my parents were upset that I didn’t quite feel part of the same culture as they did. But what could I do? The only Russian people I really knew were my family members. I spent my formative teenage years being influenced by Estonians — my classmates, friends at all the extracurricular activities I was involved in, and of course, excellent teachers. I was an attentive child, and I listened. I understood. I was proud to be an Estonian, a trait that all Estonians share. And while Estonians who surrounded me day-in, day-out never questioned my loyalty to the country, I suddenly started noticing how my very obviously Russian name often played a big role in forming prejudices against me in Estonians I met for the first time. There was a point where I started questioning who I am and where I really belong. You’d think ticking the major boxes (speaking the language impeccably, being of the same mind with Estonians, and most importantly, feeling Estonian) would be enough. Apparently it isn’t. People would often try and undermine my identity by suggesting I was born in Russia. I wasn’t. Eventually I grew out of my uncertainty, and decided that I am what I am. I made my peace with the fact that whatever I feel I am, I would never be fully accepted as, and moved on.

Back to the real life: I graduated from my Estonian high school with excellent final exam results, and went on to get a bachelor’s degree in North East England. First my plan was to finish the degree, get a few years of work experience in the UK and then happily return to Estonia. The plan went great for the first two years, when most of my friends were other international students. Suddenly, I got a part-time job where I was the only non-British employee. As I started working more and more hours a week, I found myself understanding the English a lot better. I grew to like a lot of things English people like; I was pleased that my need to unnecessarily apologise for everything resonated with everyone around. Every few months one of my international friends would notice another local word slip into my vocabulary or another dislike of something quintessentially British disappear. It took me ages to admit it. As my international friends started leaving England, I found myself even closer with the English people I knew. Somewhere in my third or fourth year in the UK I started thinking: hey, it’s not too bad here. The friendliest area of England didn’t care where I was from (in a good way — they would listen when I told them), I wasn’t “the enemy” as I from time to time felt back in Estonia, and I’m hardly the most exotic thing around, having a skin whiter than white. I didn’t mind, and frankly was quite excited about staying in the North East after I finished my degree. I stayed, fell in love with someone English, and was happily envisioning my beloved North East as a backdrop to my personal and professional future, and then suddenly the date for the EU referendum was set, and I started hearing all the talk about the EU issues. A whole lot of talk. And believe it or not, it was uncomfortable hearing people talk about immigrants being the scum of the earth. Just as I had accidentally found my place in the world, I was made to feel like I’m the enemy again.

An EU national teaching music at a Scottish university has written an excellent article for Guardian, explaining how the country has changed in the past couple of months, and says this: “I don’t know whether I would be allowed to stay, but, like many others, I am beginning to wonder why I would want to.” (For the first time in 18 years, I don’t feel welcome in Britain, Guardian) That sentence resonated with me so deeply, but for the author there exists an option of going back to Berlin, while I suddenly realised that I have nowhere to go. Not because I don’t feel Estonia is my original home, of course it is. But will I be welcome there? If all of Europe will be encouraged to separate and contain themselves according to their roots, do I belong in… Russia? A place I have no ties to, except for my understanding of what it means to be Russian and thus knowing that I cannot, hand on my heart call myself a Russian by any measure. Would you rather have people like me in places they don’t feel a part of or places that they feel are home? Or is it still important to you to divide people into countries based on their skin colour and “nationality”?

It’s not the actual separation that scares immigrants, it’s the arising sense in many European societies that the ideas about separating people according to superficial traits can be justified. The world has been opened; the more ground will be given to ideas about closing it back up, the more narrow-minded European people will become. The coexistence of a variety of cultures is not just good, but absolutely necessary in order for our civilisation to move forward. The quicker Europe learns that, the smoother our coexistence will be, and together we will learn to walk at a better pace, hand in hand with evolving technology. As of now, science is paving so many paths forward, yet people of Europe are dragging each other further back to the times of segregation.

If you have been born to parents who have a skin colour and nationality appropriate to the country you live in, consider yourself lucky, as you most likely will have a strong sense of national identity and belonging. However, it is just as likely for you to have been born to a multicultural, maybe even biracial couple. Maybe you were raised by a parent who has no sense of cultural belonging themselves. The possibilities are endless, but the point is, world is already global enough for any of these scenarios to be a regular occurrence. If your national identity is set, please be considerate to a growing number of other fellow humans who might be in the search of somewhere to belong. By voting to leave the EU Great Britain has maybe taken a step forward for Europe economically, but it has also pushed Europe back ten steps as a society.

When something is inevitable, do you fight back or readjust your perception?