I have felt uncomfortable in classing myself as German for all my life. This is not least due to Germany’s past, my aversion to being stereotyped and feeling more like a global citizen. It almost got to a point where saying I was German felt acceptable to me. I support the country’s intake of migrants, am satisfied with the ongoing memory politics, and as a member of the Green Party, I am happy about the environmental efforts. The response to me being German abroad, and over the past three years in Scotland, has always been positive either way.
Now, saying I am German in the UK, which to me really only means I was born and grew up in the country called Germany, feels slightly different again. I am being told I am welcome in the UK. Of course I am, I am working here, I am a human being with freedom of movement. But Brexit seems to have changed the response to my heritage. Reassurance is nice to hear. But if I perceive it as pity, it is wrong. I should not feel vulnerable in the country I call home – it is the same country I have been living and working in for a while. Strangely, I perhaps do feel more German now. Even though I have always considered myself as just being born in Germany and at home anywhere, being able to identify my beliefs with the political culture of the place I stay is more important to me than I knew myself.
It seems much about the Brexit campaign was wrong: no government paper, thus no plan; no consistent campaigning; no reliable information sources; distracting time and money from problems that should rather be addressed. Why Brexit? How about Bremain for a slogan? It baffles me how some politicians got support without having presented a post-Brexit plan, spreading lies, and changing their minds on a daily basis. In times of media scaring the public with terrorist attacks as well as a 'migrant crisis’, many might not have listened to the actual factual predictions. It seemed it was a tick-the-box exercise. The question posed at the polling stations was simple for a complex problem. Scotland is currently left in the UK, out of the EU; that is not what many Scottish people voted for in the Scottish referendum last year.
But it is too easy to blame others. Perhaps I, like other non-British citizens living in the UK, should have been more active beforehand about our right to vote which we did have in the Scottish referendum, and not just accept it and hope for the best. Whilst we would have been 'biased’ towards Remain, not being able to have a say in the country that feels home is disenfranchising, and somehow outdated. Now, even though I didn’t realise it would, the outcome does influence my future.
Nevertheless, much of the ongoing Leave discourse is unacceptable to me. Right-wing ideas are not only being spread in the UK, but in Germany, France, the Netherlands. Protect the borders? From what? Make countries great again? What does this even mean? I am glad to find that the overwhelming majority of friends, colleagues and people I meet all over the place strongly objects to it too. Frankly, it doesn’t matter where someone was born. Even though it gives us a sense of belonging, nation states are social constructs and no country borders are made by nature. In the 21st globalised century where we are interlinked on all levels, why have we still not fully come to internalise that we are all on the same planet, all the same?
Yes, I am upset. I am upset about not getting a say in this at all, about having to adapt my future, and I am also frustrated with the views of about 50% of voters.
But this doesn’t help any further. It is much too early to draw conclusions. Circumstances and our views change all the time, even though sadly much dependent on the economic climate. Initial reactions will be put into perspective in the future. Every country has a history. We all have done things even in our own private lives we wish we could change. We should learn from it, and get over it together. A little bit more historical reflection would be very helpful in present politics, in order to understand where we are coming from, and that actually, we all want the same.
I still believe in my generation. I believe in the intercultural understanding we have created, I believe in shared values and I believe in the good in people, which I experience just everywhere. Even though the informed 'democratic’ vote in this referendum and the small majority as being representative of what the nation really wants is questionable to me, no matter how much we discuss the outcome, are upset or wish for article 50 to just be forgotten about, there were reasons for people to vote as they did.
This reason is likely to be a better future of some kind. And this better future is what connects us. I want to look at it positively. This referendum can be a wake-up call for strengthening our human relationships all over Europe and all over the world, it can be a wake-up call for the UK to become a more equal country, for Scotland to make clear where it stands, and an opportunity for the EU to once again stress our common values and vision.
If we understand that the EU might not work as a bureaucratic apparatus for the whole of the UK, still, I strongly believe we will uphold the same European values of a peaceful union. We are still on the same continent. At some point, what we experience now will be history. Let’s write it with the vision of everyone’s shared future together.
Karolina Gombert is a PhD student in applied health sciences at the University of Aberdeen