I received a request today on my Facebook page <www.facebook.com/tony.pratschke> to sign a petition started by DiEM 25 (Democracy in Europe Movement) demanding transparency in the EU. This Movement was started by Yanis Varoufakis and a number of international figures who are deeply concerned by the attitude of officialdom in the EU
(and elsewhere) towards their own electorate and also towards outsiders.
I am now 77 years in this space-suit. My family is European Irish. Let me spell that out to those who purport not to “understand” or who for one reason or another do not now “feel part of” Europe. My Irish identity is an integral part of my European heritage and identity. “Europe is for everyone, from barmaid to bishop, from chambermaid to chancellor”. That phrase is from a contribution I made in 1966 as an Irish delegate to a European Teachers Conference in Milan, Italy, in the heady days when a united Europe was a dream and the wounds of war were still nursed. I still remember quite vividly, after that conference, walking and hitching my way from Trieste to Dubrovnik (then both part of Tito’s Yugoslavia) down along the Adriatic Coast. I camped for a few nights in Dubrovnik with others young travellers, many from Eastern Europe, at that time a part of the Soviet Union. When dusk was falling my two Czech friends fell silent. When I continued to chat, one them dropped his voice and said just one word – “Spitzer” (“spies”). I began to understand.
That experience related to my earlier attendance at the University of Peace, at Huy, Belgium in 1963, where I spent time with other young people from around the world, studying the ideas of Pere Dominique Pire, a Dominican monk and Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work with refugees after World War II. On another occasion, I walked from Brussels to Amsterdam, along country roads and beside canals. One morning in a small town I went to the local bread shop and in French asked for the bread I wanted. I thought the service was rather lukewarm. I went to a bookshop and bought a phase book for tourists. It was in Dutch. I returned to the same shop later in the day and in a very stilted few phrases I had learned in Dutch I sought to buy some more food. I received smiles and nods of friendship from the staff and nearby customers. I had not realised earlier that I had arrived in the Flemish-speaking half of Belgium.
These and other similar experiences in my travels around Europe made me more aware of how important were to efforts to unite Europe. My holidays as a young man were spent camping and hiking in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Italy, as well as, I may add, in Ireland, as my way of absorbing the culture of Europe, my shared inheritance, from both sides of my family that include O’Gormans, O’Sullivans, O’Driscolls as much as from Pratschkes, Pumphrys, Czabys, and others.
When we see the tensions created in Europe today, the threats hanging over us are very real. They have been put into stark relief by the Brexit results in the U.K. They cannot be seen clearly from blinkered eyes. Bigoted hearts can never throb in time with the heart of Europe. We must never forget that our Irish ancestors from the so-called Dark Ages, living on a misty island on the edge of the world as they then knew it, ventured by boat up and down the Western Atlantic Highway, along the Atlantic shore of Europe from the Orkneys in the North of Scotland to the Mediterranean cultures of Egypt, Greece, and Rome and the others in between. That was a major European trade route by sea, because in those days, Europe was covered in forests that were home to bears and wolves and other threats to existence. Those hardy ancestors brought back more than traded goods or slaves (even though they may have brought both at times!), they brought back ideas, revolutionary ideas such as writing, learning, social systems, and put them to use at home in ireland.
As a result, early Irish scribes and monks developed a written version of the Irish language, they learned Latin and Greek, and together with the Romans and the Greeks, the Irish were the first Europeans to create a written literature! In this way they preserved oral traditions and cultures, when they committed their knowledge and our mythology to written manuscripts. They brought writing to Britain and if you think I am exaggerating, search online for copies of manuscripts written at the Monastery of Lindisfarne, in the North-East of England, where Irish monks were teaching the local scribes how to write. Look at the online copies of their work, look at copies of the Magna Carta, the Doomsday Book, and other English manuscripts. In them you will decipher some evidence that should make you proud of our Irish ancestors. For there you will see from those scripts that the people who wrote them by hand with a quill and homemade ink, both in daylight and in candlelight, learned from Irish teachers. Look for the unique Irish shapes of letters like the following: ƽ ƾ Ᵹ Ꝼ ꞇ ꝺ in those manuscripts now available on-line. As a schoolboy I learned my Irish using that old script too.
A few years ago, President Mary McAleese attended a meeting in Central Europe commemorating the contribution made by Irish explorers, and travellers, and monks to the development of the “concept” of a Europe. Remember, Europe was an area occupied by Celtic and other tribes. There were no national or regional governments then. Our ancestors were there at the beginning, quite literally at the conception of Europe. It is a tragedy that so few Irish people today know why were there, why we are there, and why we must be there, at the heart of Europe, not with a begging bowl on the fringes.
Nevertheless, as is clear from this petition initiated by DiEM25, the soul of Europe has been and is being dragged down and degraded by elected politicians, by appointed officials, by commercial interests and by crude nationalist rhetoric in the EU. We must stop this decay. There is too much to lose by letting our heritage be destroyed. These are the reasons why I signed this petition. That is why I am now an active member of DiEM25, the Democracy in Europe Movement that was founded in the past year. There is an added urgency to this message today also, because I hear the rustles and the whispers of the stage managers of Irish politics getting ready to put another barn-storming show on the road, another election. This time we must interrogate every party, every candidate, who dares to stand. I suspect that many will grab their pensions and run. We must stay. We have a job to do. We are Irish. And we have always been Europeans.
If you would like to see the details of the DiEM25 petition, just click here. Who knows, you may even be moved to join us and make your voice heard!