One Week After Brexit

I happened to be in Moscow during a particularly beautiful sunset over Red Square a few weeks ago.  A colleague of mine and I were standing in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which, located at one side of the Kremlin wall, is dedicated to the soldiers who died in WWII.Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 15.27.50

We stood against a stunning crimson sky looking at each other. My grandfather died in that war and so did my colleague’s. We were silent for a while. I doubt we ever learned the words needed to express something that defines so profoundly who we are. Wars have transgenerational consequences and etch deep wounds in the psyche of families.

This is probably why Brexit has hit me so hard. I seldom cry over political events but since it happened I have been feeling shocked and sad.

“The problem with the European Union,” an old friend of mine who works for the Commission in Brussels wrote on my FB wall, “is that it began as a peace project…. But nobody remembers and nobody can relate to it”.

Throughout my life I have lived in six European countries. I speak five European languages.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 16.41.43I was living and studying in Austria during the last years of the Cold War. I remember my happiness when talks about the country joining the European Community started in the late 1980s. Soon we would be able to leave behind that The Third Man feeling you often got when reading Austria’s recent history. Austria would no longer be suspended in time, wedged between East and West. It will no longer feel like the corpse of an empire for which history had not been able to find a replacement.

Life then took me to Czechoslovakia where I worked as a journalist right after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Years later, in 2003, I happened to be in Prague on a gorgeous June day when the Czech Republic voted to join the EU. It felt like a miracle. After having witnessed first-hand the misery that decades of separation from the rest of Europe had left behind, it looked like a page from a history book I never thought I would get to read.

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 16.42.03At the time, I was already living in Brussels where I worked for nine years for international trade associations. I have run an endless series of international committees, boards, working groups, task forces… Finding common ground with someone who comes from a different culture and has a different way of relating to the world is hard work. Sometimes what they say runs counter to everything you have ever stood for in this life… And still… you have to listen and make an effort.

When faced with arrogance, you have to try and move beyond it. It will be hard and your pride will be bruised, but you have to move beyond it. If you encounter weakness, you have to keep yourself in check and not take advantage of it.

Understanding among cultures is hard work. It is the result of a fragile balancing act.  We don’t know yet just how much damage the result of the June 23 referendum has done to that balance. I still believe and hope that reason can prevail.

Let there be more stunning sunsets and less people standing against them wondering why it all happened the way it did.

 

Views my own.

 

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