Today, the British are paving the way to an open debate about the most important issues facing Europe.
Prof. Andrzej Nowak
Orbis Britannicus ab orbe divisus est – “a British World is divided from the world.” This proud motto was written by Ben Jonson, considered the second most prominent English poet and playwright, after Shakespeare of course. Almost exactly 400 years ago, he printed it in “The Entertainment of the Kings of Great Britain and Denmark (The Hours).” This piece celebrated the accession to the English throne by the king of Scotland, son of Mary Stuart (who had been beheaded on order of Elizabeth I). In Scotland, he ruled as James VI, and in England as James I. He united under his scepter the British Islands, which, as in Roman times, began to be called Britain again. This proud Britain had to endure a century of bloody religious wars, of empire-building, as well as of persistent searches for compromises, before the United Kingdom would be created, bonded by the Parliamentary Union of 1707. It would become the present day Union of England and Scotland. Ireland was subordinated to the imperial laws of England and did not become an equal member of the union. And so it would be fighting for independence up to its (partial) victory.
But why bring up this ancient history? Well, when you read these words, the fate of the presence of Great Britain in the European Union seems to be decidedly clear. The British insisted on having the right to decide their own future—and they realized this dream. Today, again the British World decided to separate itself—politically—from a wider community, known as the EU. This is how independent nations act: they have the right to decide on such a possibility.
The decision of the British may very well be fatal to the European Union. It may also entail dangerous consequences for Poland. The outcome of Brexit will bring about a loss of the portion of common sense that the United Kingdom was bringing to the increasingly poisoned ideological madness and bureaucratic arrogance of Brussels. Moreover, Poland and the other countries of our eastern part of Europe, especially the Baltic States, are going to lose support for warnings about the neo-imperialistic machinations of Moscow. London understood well the meaning of these warnings; without it, Berlin and Paris will be even more eager for “normalizing” relations with Putin at the expense of the security of our part of the EU. Additionally, the exit of the United Kingdom will also affect Polish citizens who study and work in England, exercising the freedom of movement guaranteed by the European Union.
All of this is true; of that there is no doubt. But at the same time the British referendum is a sign of health rather than of problems with the local political system. The British are not so miserable and weak that they would accept without hesitation the blackmail, which is so effectively used by the “dogmatic” followers of the EU: either the Union or “hell on Earth”. The Brits are paving the way to freely debate the most important issues facing Europe today. The citizens of other countries had been brainwashed by unequivocal and monopolized media and political establishments, convinced that they need to hold “ruki po szwam” (Russian for “stand at attention”) and follow the axiomatic commands coming from the enlightened experts, politicians and journalists. But this façade is beginning to crack, there are signs that it is no longer working as expected.
Recently an important Polish guest was invited by Timothy Garton Ash, a friend of Adam Michnik, to a meeting at one of the youngest Oxford colleges (St Antony’s) to take part in the series “On Modern Poland” and to tell the young listeners about the dreaded political situation in today’s Poland. The diversification (or lack thereof) of this series was reflected the names of featured speakers: Jan Tomasz Gross, Adrian Zandberg, Ryszard Petru, Aleksander Smolar, Jacek Zakowski. In one of these debates an argument was raised that Poland is drifting away from the EU under the PiS government. The young Oxford listeners could not of course assess the accuracy of such a diagnosis of the situation in Poland, but nevertheless recognized the absurdity of the assumption that was made. Why is it that the question of whether the EU is, in its present form, even beneficial could not be debated? After all, we in the UK are doing exactly this! But others, for example the Poles, may not? The guest from Warsaw was a little surprised by this argument. But he was able to recover: the Poles were in a different situation. They were allowed less freedom of discussion than the British.
I do not want to encourage here Poland’s secession from the EU. I only want to encourage critical reflection on the positive significance of the British example. When the Union fails to work in a satisfactory manner for its members, then the voices of the people must call for a repair or for change—and, if that does not work, calls to secede should not only be possible, but indeed welcome. Today, only the citizens of Great Britain dared to put forward such a case. It will either help to fix this undoubtedly sick and getting worse EU, or further secessions, maybe even (God forbid!) secession wars could become inevitable.