Source: Ian Buruma, Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, Project Syndicate, June 29
The most sickening irony for a European of my age and disposition lies in the way narrow-minded and dispiriting nationalism is so often expressed. Bigotry against immigrants is cloaked in the very symbols of freedom that we grew up admiring, including film clips of Spitfires and references to Churchill’s finest hour.
The wilder Brexiteers – shaven heads, national flag tattoos – resemble the English football hooligans infesting European stadiums with their particular brand of violence. But the genteel ladies and gentlemen in the shires of Little England, cheering the lies of Farage and Johnson with the kind of ecstasy once reserved for British rock stars abroad, are no less disquieting.
Many Brexiteers will say that there is no contradiction. The wartime symbols were not misplaced at all. To them, the argument for leaving the EU is no less about freedom than World War II was. “Brussels,” after all, is a dictatorship, they say, and the British – or, rather, the English – are standing up for democracy. Millions of Europeans, we are told, agree with them.
It is indeed true that many Europeans take this view. But most are followers of Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, and other populist rabble-rousers, who promote plebiscites to undermine elected governments and abuse popular fears and resentments to clear their own paths to power.
The EU is not a democracy; nor does it pretend to be one. But European decisions are still made by sovereign – and, more important, elected – national governments after endless deliberation. This process is often opaque and leaves much to be desired. But the liberties of Europeans will not be better served by blowing up the institutions that were carefully constructed in the ruins of the last calamitous European war.