Sunday, 12 June 2016

EU Referendum

I have been pondering whether to post about the British EU Referendum for several weeks. And now I have finally put fingers to keyboard. We bought our Czech house in 2004, so we are approaching the twelfth year of our Czech adventure. During those years I have continued to live in both countries, moving freely between the two. In 2007 I started this blog with the stated aim to help the British understand the Czechs and vice versa. So I would be failing if I did not post about the possible Brexit

What has triggered this post was a load of comments on a YouGov survey. One commentator said that the Remainers had to decide whether they were British or European, a view supported by other Brexiteers. My answer is I do not have to decide any such thing. One of the things I have learned over the last twelve years is that you can be both. Indeed you can have many identities. I am British and European, I even consider myself to be a little Czech. I am also English and British. When I spend time with my Australian friend, as I did last week, I am conscious we share a common heritage and Commonwealth identity. Even if we do leave the EU, I will still be European and proud of it. Because Europe is also about shared culture, history and view of the world, something my time with Czechs has made very aware of. In truth we have far more alike than different.

Here in the Czech Republic I am the outsider, the foreigner who might be accused of taking away an affordable home from young Czechs. I even have failed miserably to master the Czech language. And yet the Czechs have welcomed me and made me feel at home. The leaders of Brexit say that EU citizens don't have to worry about being forced out. But I have no doubt that if the roles were reversed and I encountered from Czechs the levels of xenophobia and hostility expressed in those comments and in the press and media, I would seriously be thinking of selling up and leaving. I am sure the same is true of Czechs in the UK now. Even if the UK opts to Remain, I fear we have already done a lot of damage to the trust between our peoples.

One of the tragedies of this is the loss of benefits the Czech and other EU migrants bring to our country. I am not just talking about the lovely carer who comes every morning to help my frail elderly mother or my excellent Polish NHS dentist, but about the fact that mutual understanding is the best driver of trade and commerce. My business promotes the Czech Republic and I know of plenty of Czechs who have returned to their homeland and continue to do business which is favourable to the UK.

As a historian I was struck by the total nonsense some of the commentators came out with. Over and over they kept talking about how we needed to make Britain great again, how we were better going it on our own, with (I could hardly believe it) lots of references to Dunkirk and our finest hour. This is all based on historical myth. There is no historic precedent for what is proposed. We have been in some sort of supra-national alliance – be it Empire, Commonwealth, or European Union for over three centuries. We were not alone after Dunkirk. Indeed Churchill's finest hour belongs not to the British but to the citizens of the British Empire and Commonwealth, and moreover he talks about the Czech, Polish, French and other nationals, who had come to Britain to fight. This myth of Britain standing alone does a disservice for all those who fought by our side in those dark hours and especially those that died. I have been researching the Czech RAF pilots for my next book and my admiration and gratitude to them is enormous.

When I first read those comments, I was angry – angry on behalf of the Czechs and on behalf of my son and the young people of his generation, who would be denied the chance to enjoy as I have done the freedom to live, travel and work anywhere in Europe. Now in retrospect I am sorry for the commentator and his narrow, backward-looking world views. I am sorry too to all those young Czechs living in the UK who find themselves subjected to those views.

A note about bias
I am sure if those commentators were to see this post, they would sneeringly dismiss me as being biased, of having a self interest in the result of the Referendum. And it is true that I am worried about my business and therefore my income being damaged by a Leave Vote. My currency broker tells me the £ will collapse in the event of a Leave vote and I believe him (after all he will make money either way). I am so worried that I am considering closing down my business in October. I am also worried that the cost of living in the Czech Republic will rise to an extent that I will not be able afford to be here and really will have to choose between the UK and the Czech Republic. But that said, I was thinking about retiring anyway, I have lots of friends here who would invite me to stay, and the change in the exchange rate would mean I would get more £s for the sale of my Czech house. So my self interest works both ways.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Ride of the Kings, Vlcnov



I have been meaning to make the journey to South Moravia to see the Ride of the Kings for several years. Until this year it clashed with work obligations elsewhere in the Czech Republic. This year I was determined to go and had even structured a tour to include the Ride. When that tour was cancelled, I decided I would go anyway and took my friend Maggie Porter of Wanderweg Holidays.



I really didn't have much idea what to expect. I knew the Ride of the Kings was a traditional celebration which had received UNESCO listing. A number of villages in the area have a Ride of the Kings, but the most famous and the only one that happens every year is Vlcnov. I presumed the village would be packed with visitors, much as Cesky Krumlov is for the Festival of the 5-Petalled Rose.
 


What I found was a genuinely local celebration with few tourists. In fact the locals seemed delighted that a Brit and an Australian had come to see their festival. The King is a 10-year old boy, dressed in women's clothing with a paper rose between his teeth, who rides through the village accompanied on either side by two aides in similar attire. In addition there are the riders - young men who recite verses in praise of their King and encouraging by flattery and insult the watchers into donating money. Their horses are decorated with ribbons and over 1000 crepe paper roses.


After the ride there is another procession featuring the women and men of the local villages in traditional folk costumes. Each village has its own costume. In the open-air amphitheatre in the centre of the village we watched local groups perform traditional dances and songs, whilst in one of the houses we met with two ladies who showed us how to make crepe-paper roses and fed us the local cake.

It was a quite extraordinary day and we loved every bit of it. Sadly my camera battery died half way through the day, but that gives me the excuse to go back another year.

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