This is what it means to me to be part of the “European Family of Nations”. I took this picture, and many others, in October 2009 on a visit, with my son Jake, to Bosnia. All around us signs remains of the hatred that was unleashed when people who had learned to live together were taught to live apart. People do not hate naturally, they have to be trained for it, and their training begins with the highlighting of difference. You can do it with skin colour; language; food habits; customs. I just have to find something “your people” do that “my people” don’t, and ridicule you for it. Ridicule becomes resentment and before long “they” are responsible for all my problems and we’re planning to hand out yellow stars.
This is not hyberbole. Every major conflict in recent history has existed in language for months or even years before it is expressed in force. Just this morning at Keys&Co in Caen, I bumped into a couple on holiday from Oxford. He’s a Brit, she’s Serbian, raised in Belgrade. She confirmed to me what friends from the Balkans have always said, that hatred was stirred up on radio and television for months before any actual violence broke out. Having lived through such hatred and its subsequent wars, she took refuge in the UK, which she found to be relaxed, welcoming and open. Only now, for the first time, is she unsure of the decision she made.
Whether you voted LEAVe or REMAIN, please, please know that the way you speak about your European neighbours – and about any non-British people living in your community – will have consequences. European integration has been about a number of goals, but in my experience it is about two that matter most – learning to love the “other” and learning to work for peace. The people of the United Kingdom must decide whether these are goals worth fighting for.