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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 2 July 2016
WORLD 22 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 2 JULY 2016 #Brexit How much longer can we deny that the monster has broken free from its leash? DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM PHOTO: AAP VIA EPA/ROBERT PERRY. GERARD PAPASIMAKOPOULOS This is not going to be my attempt at picking apart the political arguments that drove the two opposing sides of the recent British referendum. I think that’s been done to death; we have heard why Britain was right in leaving and we have heard why Britain has committed socio-economic suicide. This is not going to be an 800-word version of the blame game. This is not going to line up Messrs Cameron and Corbyn, Johnson and Farrage and attempt to analyse their failures and shortcomings. This is not going to be an I’ll-tell-youwhat’s-really-at-stake-here-because-I-can-read-between-the-lines-and-you-can’t tirade. Living in an age where even breathing is more or less defined by our social media presence, the last thing anyone needs is another hearty slice of keyboard-warrior pie. All this is, is just me scribbling some thoughts, because maybe if I write these words down, I’ll be able to get them out of my skull, and stop them from ping-ponging inside my head, like ball-bearings banging against metal walls. I was born in England in 1976, to a British mother and Greek father. I studied in England, I have family there, friends and more memories than I could ever put in some form of logical order. Irrespective of what the referendum ultimately produced as a result, no matter how my family and friends voted, there is no divide between us, no angry fights or exchanges. And yet, it would be foolish to ignore the highly active role that xenophobia and racism have played in this charged affair. Of course, I’m not saying anything that most of us don’t already know. But as is usually the case with racism and xenophobia in any country, there is a very pressing and active social need to initially deny it, to refuse to acknowledge its true size and might, even when it’s flexing its muscles inches from our nose. We’ve seen it in Greece, Hungary, the Netherlands, France, the United States and of course, we have and are seeing it in England. It’s here, now, and the fact that we are so passionate about gorging on denial is not as perplexing as many of us would like to think, though it is without a doubt heartbreakingly depressing. While xenophobia has never vanished off the map, it would be fair to say that it goes through periods of social hibernation, unsuited as it is at times when there are precious few cracks and stress marks on the socioeconomic façade. Ever since the current financial and global socio-political crisis has gained notable traction, however, the oh-so-easy song of xenophobia has started to ring out clear and crisp once more. At times when people are besieged on all sides, the one-size-fits-all easy-peezyness of xenophobia becomes an ideal solution: somehow, for reasons you don’t really have to think about right now, it’s all down to them other peoples, them that come from another country and want to come to this country (‘this country’ being code for ‘wherever the heck you happen to be, daddy-o’). It’s a fantastic piece of Night of the Living Dead simplicity. Focus on a mass of people that is moving towards you, or living next to you and everything else fades into the background. It’s us vs them. And that will do nicely. Was the #Brexit campaign fuelled and driven by xenophobic demagoguery? Of course it was. From the posters, to the taglines, to the raise-the-alarm articles splashes across countless newspaper pages and websites. Was that all there was behind the #Brexit campaign? No, but to deny the role that xenophobia and racism played is to slowly and surely allow them ever closer to you, to the point where their breath is so closely mixed with your own that it becomes difficult to tell what’s what. Living in Greece, such a process is not something I haven’t seen before. Golden Dawn, the neo-Nazi party that has sunk its claws deeply into the flaccid flesh of the Greek political body, has connected itself with words and ideals like ‘patriotism’, ‘speaking hard truths’ and ‘swimming against the political flow’. The Greek political world and the public at large initially reacted with pointless posturing. There’s only a few of them, they said. They represent a very small section of people. No one could possibly take them seriously. Golden Dawn of course only grew in power, and with them, the racist rhetoric gathered pace, becoming distinctly more ‘legitimate’, no longer whispered but shouted with pride and in public. The #Brexit story shares a number of elements with how xenophobia emerged out of the shadows and staked its claim in Greece. I’m not saying that the referendum was the angelic #Remain campaign against the evil forces of the #Leave campaign. I’m saying that the referendum affair was clearly infiltrated by something sinister and something that hides in plain sight. We can argue other points all we want. The EU’s inability to stop more and more structural fractures appearing, thus allowing ample room for countries to openly discuss its continued importance, the failure of David Cameron to truly comprehend the importance of the referendum he put forward with a smirk and a wink, yes, all that, and a whole lot more. But what we should be openly talking about is what we can do to further stop the spread of racism. It has already driven a stake deep into the soul of the English psyche, managing to claim a sizeable portion of the #Brexit vote as its own, and it will continue to spread like wildfire, hungrily burning through the hearts and souls of people looking to the horizon for an easily-identifiable enemy they can rally against in these dark times. The more we continue muttering our surely-it-can’t-be, the more time and space we’re affording for this creature to flesh itself out. And by the time it eventually crashes its monstrous paws through our own door, it will surely be too late. * Gerard Papasimakopoulos is a radio show host and translator based in Athens, Greece.
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