Sunday, June 26, 2016

On how to attain a passport (but still lose your citizenship)

I came to the UK some 16 years ago. An old saying at the place I grew up in, one of the provincial backwaters of Greece, has it that ‘where you hear about many cherries, take a small basket’. The idea that big promises are often inflated and opportunistic is common sense, but my basket was big and I was much younger some 16 years ago. Also, the native certainty that where I was going, I would meet civilisation, was indisputable – the cherries would be many, no doubt.  Sure, I wanted education I could not get in Greece for a variety of reasons, and a job, but above all, I wanted freedom and respect. Over the coming years, my basket filled half or more: I attained some moderate recognition by peers, my new friends and family; also, I became an academic and preserved most of my beliefs and values in a culture that promised more tolerance, more openness to difference and more social opportunity.

As of 23 June, my basket started hosting some rotten fruit, even though I am still who I more or less wanted to be at a younger age. After being granted British citizenship rights last year, I could, at last, feel relief to not have to deal with Greek bureaucracy any more. I have outlined this dreadful journey to renew my passport in 2011 (unsuccessfully) elsewhere, so I will not dwell more on this unfortunate incident. Here I want to conclude with some reflections on the current state of my adopted country in the aftermath of the Brexit; and my own current state!

Few would disagree at this stage that the outcome of the referendum was a travesty of democracy, dressed in the clothes of due, decent process. The overall rhetoric of the pro-Brexit Tory and extreme right, the mediatised propaganda, matched the expectations of a demoralized and disenfranchised working class (by the self-same propagandists, who would constantly tarnish others or erode the country’s welfare support and proceed to blame it all on migrants), with few educational capital to assess the consequences of withdrawal from the EU, and the nebulous, backward-looking ethos of a third age with little interest in the future (and no personal future). The investment by the right was made in the politics of death: the working class saw the eradication of their social rights and access to a better life as a symptom of foreign invasion (by migrants of all kinds). The older voters, facing physical finitude anyway voted for the recovery of heaven in a green (non-European!) England before their own death. Death all-around became a safe bet for those political circles wanting to seize power, but the right excelled in such thanatological mantras. On their part, both the old and the working classes were investing in a better aftermath, constructed by political lies, inaccuracies about the economic benefits of the exit and a grotesque xenophobic celebration of future ethno-national purity for England. An intelligent scriptwriter could have made an acclaimed horror parody out of this mess – but of course, interesting cinematic variations on such British cultural pathologies have been cast by a mature Danny Boyle and a young Peter Jackson.

Next to these hallucinating social groups, we can find those plagued by total indifference to their future. More correctly, I would not attribute nihilism but plain indifference-as-stupidity to such socially heterogeneous groups: as an amusing article in Washington Post noted, on the day of the referendum, the top question on Google’s search engine from UK users was ‘What is the EU?’ (Or some variation of it anyway). The metropolitan press and the Anglophone media flooded with reporting on how people regretted casting a negative vote, how they want to ‘take it all back’ now (it is not that easy, Tory spokesmen retort). Disorientated old women appeared on the news explaining that they do not really know why they voted for Brexit, or what it really means, but they hated Cameron anyway.

After this circus of (suggestive, by all means) impressions, came more organised cries for help: the realisation that London and the country’s large peripheral cities will be stripped of their European status, but also of their cosmopolitan atmosphere – so important for the maintenance of their global economic networks and their all-essential creative industries – suggested that it is not just money that will go away, but also the culture of which Brits are admired abroad. Mourning the loss of glamour was followed by a panic over the preservation of intellectual capital in the country – the reality of a brain-drain in the British Higher Education’s international profile of employees. The consternation pointed to the loss of a more enlarged notion of civic participation, so essential for the maintenance of the country’s migrant makeup (often integral to its international reputation and achievements). An electronic petition to Parliament to consider a second referendum started on 24 June from half a million signatures, only to climb up to 3,459,624 on 26 June as I write this – and it is still climbing in numbers, a heavy traffic that crashes the Government website. Those who voted to remain in the EU, but especially academics, also sign another petition, addressed to the EU, with a plea to retain their European citizenship: ‘this may take the form of a European Passport, or a fast-track to citizenship of a nation within the EU’, the petition helpfully suggests (I smile bitterly as I read this). 

I have signed both petitions, and will sign more, as there is hope things might improve. Hope resides in pressure (by educated or not people who ‘want back in’, by media networks and organised bloggers, by those celebrities willing to help in achieving the country’s reversal of fortunes) but also in the realisation in London’s political headquarters that a conservative volte-face may actually save face for those careless politicians of all constituencies. And what I say ‘save face’, I mean it in the strictest anthropological sense - for, these political figures that pushed Britain down this cliff, with their lies, egotistic ambitions or silence, are male in their vast majority and adhere to a misogynistic and racist conduct that reigned (or still reigns) in fascistic regimes.  

 My basket is not empty, but it has some inedible cherries. I said good bye to Greece with the intention to become full citizen in both social and political terms elsewhere. Now I find myself in the most peculiar position: circumstances (including physical constrictions and a commitment to equality the Greek state refuses to show to women and the disabled) make it difficult to renew my Greek passport; the acquisition of a British passport granted me again with legal cross-border mobility, but the Brexit stripped me of my European citizenship. The only proof of my European-ness now is a piece of laminate paper I detest, a document born out of Greece’s authoritarian past adhering to the strictest biopolitical principles: my ID. Which is why I signed the petition to the EU to acquire a European passport. So, to answer the question with which I closed the post ‘On how not to renew your passport’: I do not belong to a country beyond my official documents and credentials; I belong to a transnational group of people who observe the principles of dignity, peace, equality and freedom; altogether, we sign a plea not to destroy a decades-long project that has given us legislation on welfare and protected our basic human rights. I do not wish to sing EU’s praises – it is a politico-economic formation that has harmed and benefitted. Nor do I claim expertise on European affairs. But the right to transnational connectivity, inclusion and mobility should be for all, and at the moment, the incompetence, lack of intelligence and misguided ambition of some, damages the prospects of others. If something has to change, the Brexit is not the obvious answer.

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