The inscription on the grey granite headstone is as simple as it is stark.

Giovanni Righetti

1904 – Dachau

Four words that tell the story of modern Europe, found in a graveyard in the small Slovenian village of Storje, only a few kilometres from the Italian border.

Josipana, Giovanni’s wife ( I presume) was born in 1909 and died in 1993, two years after this tiny county in the heart of Europe broke free from Communist rule, and 11 years before it became a member of the European Union.

Her life, too, tells the story of modern Europe.

As I turned away from Giovanna and Josipana’s grave, I started to cry.

At every turn in our journey through the EU we have been reminded of the two thousand year-old bonds that tie Europe together: Ancient Greek philosophy; the march of the Roman empire; the Reformation and the Enlightenment; and the devastation of the two 20th century wars.

The EU’s iconic blue flag flies everywhere, its gold stars symbolising the 60 year-old union which has – largely – kept us safe and – mostly – prosperous for two generations (Greece is another story).

There was no European Union when Giovanni was slaughtered in a Nazi death camp.

But it was set up only 12 years after the end of WW2 to “make war not only unthinkable, but materially impossible”.

It has, by and large, succeeded in its heartfelt ambition.

The break up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991, precipitated a dangerous decade where conflict among the various ethnic groups led to 140,000 deaths, and the terrible stench of genocide.

Now those countries that were at war only twenty years ago are either members of the EU, or waiting to join.

The EU is not a perfect union. How could it be, made up as it is of 28 countries with differing political agendas, divergent economies and diverse cultures.

But there is far more that unites us than divides us.

Our shared history binds us together.  Our future well-being is dependent on each other’s. We all shop in Lidl for goodness sake.

Giovanni’s memorial made me cry.

I was born in 1956 and so brought up in the wake of the Holocaust. It was a terrible reality to my generation, and I still cannot come to terms with its horror.

I cried too because I feel as if my country is abandoning the rest of Europe.

I understand why some people voted to leave the EU. Not everyone we speak to during our tour of mainland Europe is enthusiastic about Brussels either.

The project has been hi-jacked by career civil servants, who, regardless of whether they are from Slovenia or Scotland, usually think they know what is best for their fellow citizens, even as those citizens are screeching in protest at the bureaucrats’ latest, pointless, wheeze.

I understand too why the free movement of people unnerves many folk. A cacophony of languages, customs and cultures is what makes our cities so vibrant. It is more unsettling in a small town.

But Brexit is not the answer.

Our politicians who backed it, and those who now promote it, are cowards.

Instead of fighting for a better Europe, they have traded its ideals for short-term political gain.

And worse, they have turned their back on Giovanni Righetti’s memory.

 

 

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