In Poland for the marriage of his nephew, Kenny MacAskill visits the impressive Second World War museum in Gdansk and reflects on the bonds of friendship between people of different nationalities created by freedom of movement within the EU.
I’ve just finished going round the Second World War museum in Gdansk, where the first shots of the conflict that ravaged Europe were fired. There for over three hours, I could have spent much longer. Impressive and poignant, indeed full-on might be the most accurate description. It was also remarkably balanced, perhaps explaining arguments with the populist Polish government before its opening.
My reflections from it aren’t just the horror of total war, often missed when seen from a Western perspective, but of the utterly naive and totally despicable war references from Brexiteers, epitomised by that oaf Mark Francois. Our finest hour it may have been for a few, but for most it was pain and misery. That applied to all countries and peoples even if some suffered far more than others. Glorious it most certainly wasn’t for any of them.
It has left me not just contemptuous of anti-EU blusterers but angered by them. Brexit is more than just a threat to our economic well-being, it’s also a threat to the society that people have strived to create since a New Europe arose from the ashes of war. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy, as a visit yesterday to the Solidarity Museum reminded me. The heroism of Lech Walesa and comrades in confronting Soviet totalitarianism should also never be forgotten.
Not just Poland but Scotland and Britain have moved on and for the better. There are issues remaining with the EU and I have never forgiven them for their actions towards the Greek people. But it can be changed from within and for the better. Indeed environmental and employment rights that’ll be lost with Brexit, can be built on and enhanced – the promises of Brexiteers having as much validity as Chamberlain after Munich.
What brought me to Poland was my nephew’s wedding to his Polish girlfriend. My youngest son’s partner happens to be German. Theirs is the new Europe, not the bellicosity of Francois or buffoonery of Johnson. The ceremony in Warsaw brought together young people from Scotland, England, Poland and indeed across the continent of Europe; as well as having a few of us from an older generation. I was minded that long before I was even their age, I and others had embarked on inter-rail adventures, criss-crossing the continent, although half of it was closed to us by the Iron Curtain. Poland, along with so many other lands, was off limits. The younger ones have little understanding of that, being so used to just heading off and meeting new peoples. But, it’s not just been the collapse of the Soviet Union that’s opened up Europe but free movement within the EU. It’s the ability to just move about that has allowed my nephew to meet his wife, as it’s brought so many others into Scotland.
That’s undoubtedly been a good thing, whatever poison may flow from prejudiced Little Englanders or even Little Scotlanders for that matter. It’s not only brought two individuals together, hopefully for the rest of their lives, but provided a life blood for a country that has seen its own young people depart. A recent night out with school friends was revelatory, showing just how many of our peers were awa’ from the land of their birth. Every such Scottish gathering tells a similar tale.
Emigration has scarred Scotland throughout the centuries but it’s now a concern to our social and economic well-being. The recent announcement of the lowest birth rate since records began is frightening. We need people, we need them now and will do for many years to come.
The Poles and others who have come to Scotland have made it a better place, as others in years gone by did likewise. There have been issues as the bigotry and prejudice towards the Irish and Italians testifies but that’s shame on us not blame on them.
Not just personal relationships and love affairs that might be are threatened but the well-being of the nation. A few years back, I recall figures being disclosed that one in ten births in Scotland had been to a Polish mother. Good, say I, and if it happens to Donald and Aga, I’ll be delighted for them and we’ll be better for it.
So my museum visit along with the wedding has stirred me to oppose Brexit with every sinew in these final coming weeks. My father fought throughout the Second World War, not to seemingly rejoice in it as the likes of Francois do, but to create the better world that his children and grandchildren have enjoyed.
Let’s keep it that way, for his memory and future generations’ sakes.