June’s referendum delivered what looks to some as an almighty blow to Britain’s future development. For others it signifies a new beginning and a reason to be hopeful. Anglophile and Polish-American sociologist Leszek Sibilski argues that optimism will win through and that Brexit will be only a part of the never-ending human migration.
It is not my intention to judge the British voters on their decision to exit the European Union; it was their sovereign verdict on the future course of their own country, and I fully respect their choice. Now, it is time to move on and look forward. As a native of Poland and a proud naturalised citizen of the United States, like many immigrants, I know something about exits and entrances.
In my sociology lectures about globalization much of what we explore is about human migration and social resilience. While Poland was under the control of the Warsaw Pact, it only had three neighbours in addition to the natural northern border with the Baltic Sea: the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic. Upon the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the People’s Republic of Poland became the Republic of Poland, and our neighbours disappeared from the maps. Poland now shares its borders with completely different countries namely: Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Russia. This dynamic process of the formation of new nations started in Poland with the Solidarity Movement of almost 10 million strong. I tease my students by telling them that Poland is pondering whether, for the sake of the Mediterranean Sea, it should get rid of the cold and polluted Baltic Sea.
These changes hailed a geo-political earthquake of biblical proportions, but the people of Eastern Europe survived it intact, and have thrived enjoying democracy and the free market. Likewise, post-Brexit, the people of the United Kingdom will find ways to move on. I am a big fan of the British people; they are highly competitive and if they stick to their values and traditions, this last month will only be remembered as an emotional hiccup in their very rich history. Somehow, I sense that the Brits will turn Brexit into Brentrance to a new future.
The day before the vote on leaving or remaining in the 28 nation block, I noticed a Facebook exchange between two of my colleagues: one of whom is British and works in Germany, and the other a French person working for the same company in the HR department. The French person jokingly wrote: “In case the UK is out of the EU please make sure to secure the permit for work by Friday morning”. The reply was funnier: “On Friday? You will be on strike!” Resilience and humor will make a huge difference in this British transition into separation from the EU.
Another sociological phenomenon from the Polish exit from the Warsaw Pact was that most of those who fought for democracy and free market left Poland after achieving the ultimate goal: Poland free of communism. A massive West migration occurred, settling in West Europe or North America or even in Australia.
Once while on a long layover at Heathrow, I decided to have sushi, served by Polish waitresses in a Japanese restaurant. I am predicting the same development with some of the UK citizens who will be migrating in the same directions as the Poles did in the past with the great advantage of having excellent knowledge of British-English, which is highly appreciated around the world. The American entertainment industry and Hollywood have been dealing with this pattern for a while but for different reasons. We will see the disappointed Brits exchanging their expired EU passports for the Green Cards and US Passports. The great human migration still continues, and no wall or refugee camps will stop it. Mobility is the essence of humanity. Whether we like it or not, we have to always take it under our consideration. The young men and women from the islands will start their families away from the Crown, but knowing them they will remain loyal and proud to their tradition.
Some politicians have predicted that the UK’s decision is the beginning of the end of the European Union. I would use a stock market term instead: this is only an adjustment; some nations will leave, some will stay and new nations will join the Union. Perhaps, the ‘unthinkable’ will happen sooner than later and Russia will join the European structures. While that now sounds fanciful, did anyone in Poland in the 1980s think that Poland would not only become one of the most active and credible members of NATO, but also graduate the status of a developing country with flying colors?
Leszek Sibilski is a sociologist and advocate for issues related to climate change, family, public policy, global poverty, youth, and role of women in society.