My remembrance day, a pledge for peace in support of soldiers

As an immigrant in the UK, it took some time to understand the deeper meaning of the remembrance day. In fact, remembrance day is lived by different British people in different ways, and to truly embrace this event, one has to stare a red poppy and feel what it means for them. You should have an intimate meaning for the red poppy to relate to the remembrance day. If you do, the wearing of the red poppy becomes not only a charitable gesture but a deeply meaningful action. As an immigrant from a country where the red poppy is not a tradition, therefore, it is only after one decade in the UK that I can finally embrace this day full-heartedly.

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Remembrance day is approaching. I hope most people will reflect on what this day actually represents. It is the day where Commonwealth nations remember the soldiers fallen during the first world war and by extension, it is the day many intend to pay tribute to those who died in wars. In these weeks, many people will use war rhetoric and will revive patriotic emotions. Many people will proudly wear red poppies, to support veterans, as a statement of national pride, to remember the fallen soldiers, or for social pressure. Like every year, the news will invite comments, there will be vast support, but also critical opinions, and critical rebuttals of those critiques. Eventually, remembrance day ends up to be all those things. This year, however, I will have my first true remembrance day when I will not care about what this means for others, but I will care only about what it means for me. The reasons are two. One is that after many years I relate to British traditions as my own. The second is that my daughter, a British citizen who self-define as English, is in year 1 at school and I have to dialogue with her about the red poppy.

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The red poppy is not a symbol for blood nor a symbol for death and, in the UK, it is adopted by the Royal British Legion as a charitable act, and to manifest support for Armed forces, veterans and their families. The red poppy should be worn as a personal choice and there is no ‘correct’ way on how to wear it.

However, the colour of this flower and the origin of this symbol  – the devastated fields where soldiers died during the first war and were then covered by red poppies – are so evocative that many people cannot refrain to associate the colour of the scarlet red poppy to the blood of soldiers who died in the war.

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So, what is for me the red poppy? It is the blood of the soldiers shed during wars, but it is also the blood of the civilians crashed between opposing fronts. The bloody tears of those who survived, the broken families, the broken hearts, the children, the mothers and fathers, the elderly who died in battle or were visited by death at home. To me, the red poppy and remembrance day are reminders that we should always do anything possible to avoid conflict and war.

As war rhetoric came back fashionable also in democratic countries, when authoritarian movements are gaining the consensus of the public, and when too many people are proud to divide nations rather than to unite, we should not escape from the deeper meaning of this day.

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To me, the red poppy is the blood that should never be spilt again but that will, and does. 

And therefore, I will embrace this remembrance day as my own. With gratitude for brave soldiers that defended our freedoms but with shame because we have asked and we will ask them again to kill and to die instead of just being vigil, watching with pride our democracies working peacefully together.

1984 – A BREXIT tale

British people are lucky, as they have a wealth of literature to read from, a rich history to learn from and a great number of world-leading experts to listen to. They also have a lot of selfish, ideologically-biased and intellectually dishonest politicians to listen to. Not that all politicians are dishonest, but many – if not all – have the need to survive elections and when facts do not support their bid for a seat in the parliament, many politicians are simply keen to alter the facts. And in this era of non-accountability, this strategy works perfectly. So, why do many people decide to ignore facts and live in a fantasy world narrated by politicians? Spoiler alert: no answer to this question.

In the dystopian world beautifully described by Orwell in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four,  the government alters recorded facts to make them fit with their policies and propaganda. For example, when the price of chocolate increases, the historical record of the price of chocolate is altered with higher prices; then people will have to take note that the price of chocolate has actually decreased in recent times. More importantly, in a society that respond with violence to those (‘enemies of the people’ and ‘saboteurs’) that do not conform with the ruler-engineered representation of reality, people will accept this contradiction between their own memory and what reality appears to be. But, importantly, they will eat less chocolate as the hard facts are… hard facts, even when they are ‘white, red and blue’.

Next year, the NHS will get an increased budget of £4 billions. Which is a great and greatly overdue news of course. The Tory MP and minister Andrea Leadsom commented “As we leave the European Union and stop paying significant annual subscriptions to Brussels, we will have more to spend on priorities such as the NHS”. Well, at least they spared us a new red bus at this round. Let’s be clear, NHS spending has nothing to do with the EU, it was a government decision to not increase budgets when needed, and it is a government decision to increase funding now. There is no money that was saved so far from the EU contributions and there will be no money for a while longer (facts). Even when funds will be released from EU commitments, people should be reminded that this will be just £8 billions a year, the net contribution of the UK to the EU budget, or ~1%  for the UK government budget. This saving will be partially reabsorbed by investments in administrating functions currently devolved to the EU, including a custom infrastructure. Who can do sums know that the ‘EU dividend’ will be real but down to very little money. Moreover, notwithstanding the fact that the UK economy might flourish outside the EU, even with bright and smart politicians steering us in the right direction, all predictions are for short-term economical pain in the near future.

While the political debate will now focus on an imaginary ‘EU dividend’, I wished to remind myself and those two people that read this blog a few simple facts. If we neglected for a moment the bright imagination of Boris Johnson about EU policies, and the hatred of Nigel Farage for everything European, we might still remember that the UK did very well within the EU, growing economically more than others. We will never know if the UK could have done better, but we certainly know that the UK had a prosperous time within the EU.

Then the financial crisis struck. Make a long breath and repeat – slowly: ‘the financial crisis struck in 2008’. It was a decade ago and very little was done to improve how our economies work, meaning that other financial crises like the 2008 are possible (or likely?). Private debt is again massive, very little was done to reform the financial sector, almost nothing was done to recoup the huge financial resources legally hidden away or simply moved around by wealthy people and organizations. All this money that is syphoned away from the UK, it is money that does not go into public services. It is the lack of funds that get your surgery rescheduled several times, get you wait six hours at the emergency, or four hours for an ambulance, get you pay a lot of money to travel on slow trains, get schools struggling or your prospect for a decent pension low. All these ‘little’ things we ‘normal’ people we actually experience.

So, now repeat – calmly: ‘the financial crisis struck one decade ago’. Also repeat with me, quietly: ‘wealthy hedge fund managers such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg told me that the EU is evil and I forgot that the financial crisis even happened’. Repeat that a few times. If you do not get angry or feel fooled, it is ok. The Farages, the Rees-Moggs, the inept politicians and the smart financers we do not actually know publically, swept under the carpet, a blue and yellow carpet called the EU, all the damage they have done.

When the financial crisis was unfolding, I feared an increase in xenophobia, tensions between states, the formation of new blocks of countries and seeding new wars. I grew-up and I was educated in Italy, another country with a rich history and literature. And, although I was never the perfect student and I can barely remember what I ate yesterday, I do know what happens from an historical perspective. We are on that horrifying trajectory. Social and political tension is increasing, and if there will be hints to more significant financial stress, I am afraid politicians and those powerful people that have access to them will need to burn the carpet and its hidden secrets.

Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia in a perpetual war to conquer the disputed regions in Africa and Asia (1984), a tool of propaganda to distract people and resources, that is what politicians need next to cover-up the major fuck-ups that are engineering around the world.

People have a choice. People can choose right, left or centre governments. People can choose to be pro or against Brexit. But people have also a choice to speak about war or pretend that it is not a possibility. Perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not next year, but people’s political choices, carefully influenced by seemingly inept and bizarre characters with somehow huge resources, are directing several Western-countries towards discord and tension. People have a choice, the choice between peace and war, the choice between selecting their representatives or been lead like sheep. So, sometimes, let’s forget about Brexit and the little sit-com characters it delivered. Let’s just focus on the bigger picture.

Within the EU or outside the EU, people in the UK will be responsible for their own decisions. Our political system, trying to survive, created one extremely dangerous  situation. Soon or late, changing the record on the price of chocolate will work no longer. There will be two possibilities. The first is the one I would welcome, the one thought by an ‘optimist-me’ that prosperity for all of us is around the corner. That would be great. The second is that politicians will lose control, they will get us into another more powerful crisis, this time with no financial reserves, no political capital, no patience to leverage from people.

They will have only one way ahead, enflaming people souls, even more than now, and getting a big nice war to hide their pettiness. Now repeat calmly, after me: “I want no war, I want a life as a free man or woman”. Imagine yourself in the 1920s, in Germany, Italy, or any other European country of that period. Would you hail politicians on nationalist platforms to get your country first, to get back control, to reclaim sovereignty and prosperity for your people? Or would you warn people about the perils of populism and lack of cooperation among nations? Would you be an ‘innocent spectator’ not just of crimes ‘committed by a few’, but also of all the run-up to those more horrid years, that period during which everything got in motion? Then, repeat with me, with a bit of humility: ‘we need to fix the real problems, in our own country’ and shout this aloud to any politician that tells you that the price of chocolate has decreased, again.

P.S. These are just a few thoughts, clearly not a technical analysis. Of course, my opinion is largely shaped by the British political landscape and events, where I live for longer than a decade. However, I am equally critical of most of the events and politicians I follow, from Italy to USA passing through Germany and Turkey. All opinions expressed on this website are my own, even those more confined to my academic activities. I do not and I will not use this platform to share my political opinions too often. However, even though not known to the masses, because of my work I am somehow a public figure and – with no expectation that my words will make any difference – I could not refrain to declare publicly my worries about our society and our future. If we do not speak out against war, violence of any type, if we do not speak in favour of civil and human right, or against threats to our freedom, perhaps it is not worth speaking at all.