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2004-06-11

Islands, Fears, and Negativity 

According to opinion polls, the UK Independence Party that advocates a negotiated exit of the United Kingdom from the EU is expected to have done well in the elections for the EU-parliament, with the EU-sceptical Tories also scoring high. I have always remained perplexed by British EU-scepticism, but of course there is a plausible story that it must have to do with the British national mentality of living on a big island and its associated illusions of self-sufficiency.

Compare this with Austria, a small, landlocked country lying at the old watershed between East and West. There is a term from cold war times, "the island of the blessed", which everybody understood to be ironic because, well, for one thing it's no island unless you are suffering from pretty serious delusions. But many Austrians would like their country to be more of an island, to be protected against all the alien chaos that keeps swapping over the borders... I think they are afraid. It would be arrogant to say that these fears are unfounded. For people who are in weak economic positions in society, external influences can sometimes wreck their lives - for example if a job is lost.

Yet there is also genuine, heartfelt negativity, which is dispensed with pleasure on outsiders and their affairs, and I think there is some of this both in British insularism and in Austrian xenophobia. To explain this negativity, one would have to resort to wacky psychologising or historical blame-games, which I'll leave for another time. Anyway, politics has little chance to cure such negativity, so rather it should try to overcome its resistance. The challenge then is to always act along this fine distinction: mentality and fears that you respect, and negativity that you rightly despise.


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