Snapping the olive branch

Recent comments by the UK’s pro-Brexit “Vote Leave” campaign are almost enough to drive you to despair.

When former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, starts comparing the European Union’s expansionist ambitions to that of Napoleon and Hitler, I can feel my blood boiling. In fact, I’m less than an inch away from running wild-eyed through the city in my pyjamas, my face like something about of Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream”.

Delicious eccentricity

It’s not Boris Johnson’s absurdity that I object to. In fact, I love him for it. I love having absolutely no idea what random fruitiness will splurge from his lips.

A particular favourite of mine is when he declared his chances of becoming the next UK Prime Minister were “only slightly better than being decapitated by a Frisbee, blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge, or reincarnated as an olive.”

Alongside his unique eccentricity, I also love Boris’ irreverent opposition to anything he feels could threaten democracy and liberty. When the British Labour party - a rough equivalent of Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) - attempted to introduce European-style national identity cards in 2006, Boris Johnson’s response was priceless.

Not only did he denounce ID cards as a “recipe for tyranny and oppression”, he proudly boasted that if forced to own one, he would “take that ID card, snip it up, sprinkle it on my cornflakes and eat it.”

From appealing to repellant

But Boris Johnson’s flippant reference to Hitler in the context of the EU is nothing short of tragic.

Most young Germans today are fed up of being viewed as commanding, dangerous or xenophobic based on their country’s Nazi past.

For them, concepts such as a nation state, national borders, national standards and national interests, are buzz-words which are ultimately somehow linked to Germany’s dark past - something they want nothing to do with and are long sick of being associated with.

The blue-flagged Wunderland

Moving away from the nation-state via the EU, however, seems to embody the direction most young Germans want to travel in.

Young Germans don’t just want to enjoy free roaming charges to send a text from Paris, or whizz off on a cheap-flight to Slovenia. They genuinely want to play a leading role in creating a united Europe which pays together, and which stays together. They want a union that spreads love to all and embraces those in need.

For them borders are not just cumbersome and unnecessary, rather an affront to their liberty. In this way the EU is a symbol of peace and progress for young Germans. It is both dear to their hearts – and kind of groovy too!

Putting the boot in

To therefore see a prominent Euro-sceptic such as Boris Johnson, using Hitler to make disparaging comments about the EU, just bleeds with insensitivity.

Firstly is he insulting a political institution they admire, are proud of and passionate about. Secondly, by referring to Hitler in order to achieve this insult, he is prodding at a psychological wound of the national psyche.

But whilst it pains me to see German friends and colleagues once again hurt by such thoughtless British references to Hitler, for me this is not the only tragedy here.

Equally upsetting, in my view, is that Boris Johnson and his comments make an already overwhelmingly pro-EU German press, just turn its back in disgust and close its ears.

Tarred with the wrong brush

And why this is tragic? Because – and here’s the rub – the Euro-sceptic movement are not actually wrong in much of what they say to oppose the EU.

Moreover, as the defender of Germany’s democracy, the German press has a duty to be less starry-eyed in its reporting of the EU and more objective in its treatment of the Euro-sceptic movement.

But what are the chances now of the pro-EU German press ever giving fair wind to the Euro-sceptic views, when a leading Euro-sceptic compares the EU to Hitler?

I’d say they are about as high as being reincarnated as an olive.

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