This blog post was originally written for the ‘Reimagining Europe‘ project
Just days remain until the ‘Brexit’ referendum; on the whole, the view here from the Baltics is still one of bemusement. It seems perverse to most people here, in countries which have fought to achieve their right to belong to Europe, that anyone would deliberately choose to turn away from all that membership of the European Union brings in benefits – economic, political, cultural and philosophical.
Not long ago, my husband and I had the privilege of visiting Bulgaria. All countries in Europe have histories, many of them complex and painful; but Bulgaria’s legacy of history and culture is among the richest and most astonishing. In fact, at the very heart of Sofia lies ancient Serdica, which came close to being the capital of Constantine’s Roman Empire, instead of Byzantium.
In modern Sofia, there are still clear traces of ancient Thrace, Rome, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, the Bulgarian national revival, the Soviet era – all brought together in the vibrant and self-confident city of today.
Looking at the clearly very mixed origins of passers-by in Sofia, it is obvious that there are many cultural strands that are woven together; but also that a distinct identity has been created from the weaving process. In our hotel, we found a magazine with a brief introduction to Bulgaria, which said something like this: Over the centuries invaders have come and gone. Rulers have come and gone; but the people remain.
In today’s complex political situation, overlaid with anxiety about national sovereignity and the impact of migration, European societies, and the United Kingdom among them, are increasingly voicing fears about a loss of identity. And yet it is not membership of the EU which threatens identity, any more than migration or the threat of climate change. The greatest threat comes from within ourselves, and from the possibility that our fears and insecurities will change our core values and make us increasingly wary of the stranger and the vulnerable, increasingly hostile and inhospitable. Conversely, it is clear that the greatest challenges to our civilisation will be much better handled together, jointly and in co-operation with other countries and nations in our region.
Identity has always been a fluid entity; and in the end, rulers and political unions will continue to come and go, but people remain.