I could write a long essay about why we should all vote tomorrow to stay in the EU, but I doubt you’d read it. Instead, I’ve ‘curated’ a collection of photographs I’ve taken over the years during holidays and time working abroad in the EU. These constitute but mere fragments of unfathomable memories that I have of Europe.
The United Kingdom may be an island, but that doesn’t mean it should be insular. Our past is intrinsically tied to mainland Europe-I’ve seen many references to WWII and the need to honour those who died by voting to leave and “take back control” of the country they fought for. Except, they weren’t only fighting for the UK, they were fighting alongside other Europeans in Europe in order to save the lives of other Europeans. The EU is representative of a collective effort of European nations to work together so that peaceful and productive relations can be maintained. Europe is our past, Europe is our future.
As a teenager, I was lucky enough to go on several school trips abroad, including a trip to Ypres to see the war memorial there, and Berlin. I took this experience for granted at the time, but it was an invaluable part of my secondary education. I had read about the Berlin Wall, for example, but nothing compares to actually seeing it ‘in the flesh.’ Leaving the EU would hinder the access of students to such trips, especially those from poorer backgrounds. It’s imperative that young people especially have the opportunity to see such cultural landmarks and be able to reflect for themselves on the impact of historical events that have shaped the world they live in.
As a university student, I had the opportunity to take part in an exchange with LMU Munich, and to take part in excavations at the Roman site of Interamna in Italy. The latter experience in particular aided me in pursing a career in commercial archaeology. I also took part in undergraduate and postgraduate courses with the British School at Athens during summer and spring breaks in between my studies. After graduating, I even got an internship at the Knossos Stratigraphic Museum and lived in Crete for two months. While it may sound like I’m reproducing parts of my CV, the point I’m trying to make is that by being an EU citizen I had the opportunity to gain invaluable work and study experience in different European countries that I’m still benefiting from years later. Luckily, I had savings to help me cover some of the associated travel expenses, but many others do not. If we were to leave the EU, apart from the fact we would be losing funding and turning our backs on a much wider intellectual and cultural community (in all guises, not merely academic), we would also be raising the barriers of entry to such programmes much higher. Raise the drawbridge, and you end up marooning your own people.
Over many summer holidays my parents took me and my sister on various trips around Europe. We spent hours traipsing around museums from a young age, so it’s really no surprise that I ended up as an archaeologist. Again, I want to make the point that I was very fortunate to have these experiences, and I’m still benefiting from them now. I could tell you so many stories of misadventure from our family holidays-the time my Mum fell off a train and we were stuck in the Italian countryside with only some pigs for company, the time my Dad was driving through the alps and we thought we would fall off the edge of a mountain because sun cream was dripping down into his eyes and obscuring his vision, the time I almost fell down a cliff in an Italian seaside town but my sister caught me by my ankle, the time I had a terrible ear infection and a French doctor sang to me as he treated it, the time we had to run away from prostitutes in Berlin, the time we ran into an actor from The Killing in Denmark, and every time my Dad talked about a ‘lustral basin’ in Crete. There have been so many stories, so many people, so many memories. Europe- a place I could explore freely in the knowledge that if I got ill I would be able to find inexpensive healthcare. Europe, where as an EU citizen I knew I could move freely and always feel a sense of solidarity.
We deserve much better than this referendum. The people who aren’t yet old enough to vote deserve the opportunities that I had, as do those people who haven’t even been born yet. In a world fixated by a cyberspace without borders, leaving the EU and throwing up metaphorical walls makes very little sense. Throwing up such walls will not halt the tide of change, but it will have very real consequences for the opportunities that the next generation have. Others have made the economic case to stay-I make the cultural case. Europe is us and we are Europe. We can do better with the EU, so let’s work with other countries to improve it and make sure more people know how it works. Let’s celebrate our European history, our European archaeology, our European science, our European arts, our European soul.
I know my memories of Europe will remain, but will we?