Last week we visited the Resistance Museum in Oslo. The museum highlights the steps that the Norwegians undertook during World War II to undermine the Nazi puppet government and to support the Allies’ cause. (Watchers of the recent TV drama The Saboteurs will be familiar with the story of how the Nazis’ attempts to build a hydrogen bomb were undermined.) The museum is particularly generous in its portrayal of the UK as the main focus of opposition to Hitler’s regime, and it was a refreshing reminder that this country had a key role in the liberation of Europe.
Or perhaps we should be more accurate, and speak of the liberation of western Europe. The fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite states would take another four decades.
A couple of days after returning from Norway, I re-watched The Lives of Others, the excellent spy drama set in East Berlin in 1985. Most UK citizens can still remember when it seemed that the Iron Curtain would last forever. The Berlin Wall fell just 27 years ago. We are still only in our third post-Soviet decade. To put that into context, someone born in East Berlin in 1933 would have lived in a state of war or under a totalitarian regime for 56 years. Poland, the country for which Britain and France declared war in 1939, regained its freedom a full fifty years later. These people have been through a lot.
The EU has embraced many of what were once Soviet-dominated countries. It has helped them develop working economies. It has helped spread democratic values and human rights – and any neocons who think this could ever be a smooth process are deluding themselves. The EU is playing a role in the liberation of Europeans, seventy years after the citizens of the founding members were themselves liberated. On a continent the standard settings of which have been historically set to ‘war’, the EU has been a peace machine. The EU is finishing the job that Britain began.
This is our work. We can’t walk away. It will continue to be messy. It will involve people we don’t like, who do things we don’t like. (It will also involve people we like, doing things we like, but that doesn’t sell newspapers.)
No one is forced to join (a point which has been forgotten by those making ludicrous comparison to Hitler’s Germany or Napoleon’s France), and yet more and more countries seem to wish to. But they don’t get to come on board unless they have fulfilled basic criteria that protect their people.
Constitutional arrangements are boring. No one gets excited about the council of this and how it relates to the commission of that. But wider opportunities for those who have been denied them for decades; now that’s exciting and a very British pursuit. Let’s carry on the work. Let’s vote Remain on Thursday.