OPINION

Dear Europe, I’m sorry

Marisa Bate says goodbye to an old love

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By Marisa Bate on

Dear Europe, 

I’m sorry. 

I’m really sorry. 

I’m really sorry we didn’t fight hard enough to make this work.

I’m really sorry that you have been blamed for things that simply weren’t your fault. I’m sorry that you’ve taken the hit for a government insistent on shrinking the state, crippling the NHS and refusing to build affordable houses. I’m sorry for a toxic racism that has driven rightful anger to the wrong place, and for a totally useless Remain campaign that has let us all down.

I’m really, really sorry.  

My love affair started with France. Trips to the south by train. We went year after year. The speedy TGV would whisk me from the green farmland of the north down to the glistening water of the south. And then I found Paris and met French boys who wanted to visit Liverpool, to see where John Lennon was born, and I went to see where Proust and Hemingway would sit and talk and write. I Interrailed around Italy and saw paintings and statues I’d only ever see in books. And then I cemented my love for the Continent: I moved to Amsterdam. I became, for a few years, truly European. I lived amongst Europeans, with Europeans. I learnt that a little country close by has so much to teach me – about openness, and culture and history, about how being a European is like being in the best club ever, where we share ideas and resources and culture. Where we support each other. We discover we are fascinatingly different and yet unspeakably similar. We learn that be human is to be with others. 

I’m sorry that some of us don’t feel that way. 

I keep thinking about the tragic shooting in Paris last year. I think about all the times I’ve sat in a cafe on the corner of a street in Paris with a glass of wine and talked with young people. I think about how that attack on Paris was an attack on me, on people like me – young, urban Europeans. I think of that bond and that proud feeling of identity. I think of Paris as London’s chic sister, who knows how to pair black and navy better, and I feel like someone has just taken her away from me. But she was my sister. 

I’m sorry we are causing these ruptures.

Europeans have shaped me. The French – and the dear French friend I have who lives in London – have told me to drink less wine more often. My friend’s Polish husband taught me how brave people are to come to a country where there is xenophobia, but build lives anyway. The Spanish taught me not to go out in the sun at lunchtime. The Greeks taught me how to be generous when you have nothing. The Swedes taught me that we should pay for the things we believe in and those Icelanders, although few of them there are, taught me that you can be small, but giant, like Jo Cox. Revolutions don’t start with thousands – they start with a determined few. I’m sorry you won’t be here to make London what it is now: a multicultural mash-up that elects Muslim mayors in times of extreme Islamophobia. 

I’m sorry that we are pushing these valuable lessons away.   

I’m sorry if we’ve broken your heart, because mine is, too. I’m sorry our democratic process cracked and the people we had put our trust in failed us so gravely. I’m sorry the hatred and fear was louder than the compassion and solidarity. 

I want to say we’ll always have Paris. But I don’t think I can any more. 

@marisajbate

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