Stranger Than Fiction
by John King
It is common now for our politicians and media to refer to the European Union as ‘Europe’, anyone who dares criticise the EU instantly branded a right-wing bigot, left-wing crank, middle-of-the-road Little Englander. The insults cover every angle and come out of the playground. We are told that to be anti-EU is to be anti-European, but this is nonsense. The EU does not represent the people of Germany, France or any other nation. Its mission is to centralise power, promote big business and create a superstate. Similarly, ‘Brussels’ is used to describe the EU administration, as if the careerists strutting up and down its corridors somehow connect with the open-minded mix of the Belgian capital. This distortion is straight from the pages of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, written as a response to the evils of totalitarianism. It is classic doublespeak.
Brussels knows all about fiction. The 9th Art is a Franco-Belgian tradition of ‘drawn strips’, stories told through images and words, a modern-day English equivalent seen in the graphic novels of Alan Moore who, along with illustrator David Lloyd, is the creator of Jack The Ripper tale From Hell and the anti-fascist V For Vendetta. Orwell and Moore may have lived in different eras, but they share the concerns of all those who see the EU as a dictatorship in the making.
Tintin is the best-known of the Belgian characters, a blond-quiffed adventurer who travels the globe with sceptical British sea-dog Captain Haddock and canine pal Snowy. The Belgian Comic Strip Centre shows off the 9th Art in the Waucquez Warehouse, an art-nouveau department store designed by Victor Horta in 1906. Ornate glass panels fill the ceiling. Light floods displays that are clear in their aims. Asterix, the beautiful Natasja and a chunky Smurf add weight, glamour, humour.
The European Parliament represents another sort of fiction – a darker art. There is no glamour and little intentional humour, the heavy manners to come. Twenty minutes away by bus, the characterless blocks of the Parliament fill one side of Luxembourg Square, the dull facade masking the scale of the coup taking place inside. The EU is a deliberately faceless, complex organisation, its slow-motion takeover the direct opposite of those older blitzkrieg tactics. Hiding behind layers of propaganda and remixed history, it presents a liberal face to the world.
Hundreds of windows bounce the sky back on itself as a handful of visitors stand on the walkway below. A huge comic-strip circles them – Out Of The Abyss: How Europeans Built Peace Together. Billboard-sized pictures start in 1945 with the aftermath of the Second World War – the horror of Auschwitz and the devastation of Warsaw. The story moves to ‘A Way Forward: Creation Of The European Movement, 1948’. Independence struggles in Hungary, Cyprus, Greece, Portugal and Spain follow, along with economic progress and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. In the 21st century ‘Coming Home: Ascension To The European Union, 2004’ leads us into ‘Democracy Together: European Parliament Elections’. In 2012, the EU is handed the Nobel Peace Prize. The message is clear – the EU has saved Europe. The only shock is that Superman isn’t on the podium to accept the award.
There is one small glimpse of Britain – a long-range picture of the queen walking head down across an Irish field. There are no Russians or Americans. John Cleese goosesteps past. We must not mention the war as the controllers of those countries either defeated or liberated by the Allies find it distasteful. The resentment is clear in the EU’s condescending attitude towards the UK. The fact that liberal Britain, which stood firm against tyranny, has been labelled reactionary for refusing to give up the last bits of real power it has, is a major achievement for the EU fiction department.
Those struggles for independence have since been betrayed. Sold out by their ruling classes, the likes of Greece and Spain are feeling the discipline of a new master. The true mark of a dictatorship is the strength of its bureaucracy, and the EU has the structures in place. The changes that influence all our lives today have taken place across generations. We have moved from the idea of a common market to a EU that has its own currency, president, police and army. It makes laws that bypass our democracy, policies that are never voted on by the House Of Commons. The goal of the EU has always been to build an empire, and yet the people of Europe want more autonomy, not less. They value their cultures.
Belgium itself is based around two groups – a Dutch-speaking Flemish community and the French-speaking Walloons. Brussels is a friendly, vibrant city, and merges the quirky conservatism of the French with the easygoing liberalism of the Dutch. Due to this split and its location, the fact the country has been overrun by larger powers in the past, there is a lack of interest when it comes to politics. Even so, a Flemish Movement accuses the ruling class of preferring French-speakers in positions of power. Across the two groups, few Belgians support the EU, but there is an acceptance of the inevitability of a system driven by business interests.
Brussels is loaded with bars and cafes, bookshops packed with comics, chocolate-sellers, waffle and chip stalls. Belgian beer is highly-regarded, some of the best coming out of Trappist monasteries where it is double- and triple-brewed. English diners can be found at Fritzworld once the bars close, the chips here double-fried, mayonnaise and curry-sauce bottles sitting next to the ketchup. Music and football links visitors and locals, while overpaid and undertaxed EU administrators remain aloof in their upmarket restaurants and clubs. From punk and heavy metal to industrial and trip hop, the culture of the masses builds natural connections. Belgian football is on a high with Eden Hazard the star of a national side largely playing in England, a team that could well match the success of major rivals Holland. This is where the unity is found.
It is a myth that the people of Europe love the EU, that it is only the English and Captain Haddock who are sceptical. There is defeatism in the likes of France as well, a belief that the ordinary person has no say when it comes to the EU. Many admire Britain for refusing to join the euro. If northern populations feel this way then it is far worse for those in the Mediterranean countries mentioned outside the EU Parliament. The Greeks, Italians and Spanish have been crushed by the politics of the eurozone. The feelings of the common folk of Europe are never reported in our media. Really, they don’t count – ‘Europe’ is the EU, after all.
Britain is seen as a rebel nation by many, even though we too have been betrayed from within, first by Ted Heath and his Tory government, and then by every prime minister since. The Union Jack is considered a symbol of resistance. It is the flag of punk rock and the flag of the football terraces. This view of England and Britain is why thousands of Europeans sing along to ‘England Belongs To Me’ at a Cock Sparrer gig and believe in every word.
Next to the European Parliament is the Parlamentarium. A couple of hours spent in this visitor centre is a surreal experience, the double-brewed beer of the monks merging with the doublespeak of the exhibitions. The slant of the pictures outside is reinforced. There is more balance to be found in the fiction at Waucquez Warehouse than here, and after a while the Parlamentarium has an hallucinatory effect. Exciting examples of the Parliament at work confuse the senses. Is that Nigel Farage in the distance, moving across a wall, digitised among hundreds of Little Europeans? Or it is Tintin in disguise, staying cheerful among federalist assassins? And who’s the Smurf staring at him?
The stories roll on, clumsily tilted, maybe targetted at the very young. There is even a free graphic novel – Troubled Waters – which taps into the tradition of the 9th Art. Like everything here it is EU-controlled, paid for by our taxes. Set around the Parliament, the highlight is a scene where chemical workers riot against the green policies of the EU. In reality it is the anarchist wing of punk and its animal-rights and environmentalist factions that has been out on the streets confronting the EU and G8 for years. These riots, like those of the general populations in Greece and Spain, have been downplayed or just ignored by the media. Protesters often wear the Guy Fawkes mask of V, hero of V For Vendetta.
The European Union relies on handouts from its members, money that comes from the citizens of the very countries it plans to break up into regions. Despite this, it has immense power, the EU’s reaction to the eurozone crisis an insistence it needs more control over national economies. There is no apology for the misery it has caused so many millions of people, no shame, just the arrogance of a dictator. Looking to extend its borders while closing out the world beyond, it has played its part in the Ukraine crisis, where Russia was always going to react to its empire-building.
If Britain left the EU we would save billions – some estimates say as much as £12 billion each year. This is an incredible sum that could be spent to improve our social services and infrastructure, but it is skirted over by politicians who instead target the most vulnerable in society. They won’t talk honesty about the EU, but are happy to bully the elderly, young, unemployed and infirm as they try to repair the damage caused by the banks. The EU’s idea of freedom is the freedom to exploit, to drive down wages and cut back on public services.
While our politicians concentrate on the economic effects of withdrawal, for the majority of people their identity and culture is far more important. Economically it makes perfect sense to regain our independence, while culturally it is essential. To be anti-EU is to be pro-European, pro-democracy, pro-difference. Orwell’s Big Brother is watching us. The sooner Britain leaves the EU the better.