By Lukas Kisielius
Never in my lifetime has there been a vote more polarized, and with more poignant consequences for the side which lost. Divisive along the lines of age, income, and education, the Brexit referendum was a smacking blow to those who took the European Union, and its ideals of solidarity and cooperation, for granted.
What is most bemusing for me is that the younger generation’s political apathy allowed for the proponents of the old idols to decide their future. Arrogance and the notion of exceptionalism, which undoubtedly were the underlying themes of the Brexit rhetoric, must have been foreign to young Britons who overwhelmingly supported the Bremain campaign. Unfortunately, their fervent support manifested itself by them sitting around at home, instead of turning out to vote. Now, in throngs the young adults protest in Westminster, or organize online petitions for a second referendum. Alas – not going to happen.
No-Longer-Great Britain is now obliged to set its course in accord with the wishes of the thoughtless minority. The Leave campaign was more politically engaged, and more visible in the debate and news coverage. Its nineteenth-century politics would have been decimated in an intellectual debate, if there had ever been one. That is, if the two centrist major parties hadn’t failed to cooperate, and hadn’t tried to deliberately sabotage each other’s efforts.
The young and the rational voter was not the only “victim” of the vote. Southern and Eastern European immigrants, who are my counterparts in this situation, will probably take the heaviest blow from the Brexit outcome. Millions of them made good use of the liberal EU policies for the free movement of labour, and have managed to settle in the British Isles. Now, their lives are in jeopardy: while it is unlikely that they would face mass deportations of any kind, the dangerous expressions of xenophobia and discrimination have and will become more common. As of now, hatred has already manifested itself in London, where a Polish cultural center was sprayed with insulting graffiti, and in Cambridgeshire, where dozens of laminated cards reading “No more Polish vermin” were being distributed (as the text was presented in English and in Polish, I would like to thank England, in the name of the nation of Poland, for the kind translation).
However, what’s commonly misinterpreted is that those very same “second-class” Europeans, whom working-class Britons think of as stealing their jobs as Tesco cashiers, kitchen staff, hotel waitresses and airport cleaners, also increasingly contribute to the British economy in the fields of information technology, medicine, academic research, and financial services. Within the field of higher education, as an open letter from 103 British universities would indicate, students from EU countries, the majority of whom come from Eastern Europe, not only generate revenue, but also contribute to research in areas as diverse as climate change and cancer. It is now highly likely that the Brexit vote would make Britain lose its position as one of the global leaders in higher education and academic diversity.
Now, with racism and xenophobia in Britain being on the rise, there is a benevolent initiative that I would like to mention. The #SafetyPin is quite literally all about putting a safety pin onto your clothing, giving out a little signal that shows support to people facing hate crime in the post-Brexit Britain. In the face of uncertainty and unpredictable nationalism, such advocacy for tolerance and safety is truly welcome.