“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned. / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity”. Describing the atmosphere of post-war Europe, these prescient words were strung in poetic form by W B Yeats in 1919 in the aftermath of first WW and beginning of the Irish War of Independence that followed the Easter Rising, at a time when British government was preparing to send in the Black and Tans to Ireland. The nickname ‘Black and Tans’ arose from the colours of improvised uniforms initially worn by a hastily conscripted group of soldiers, composed of mixed khaki and rifle green uniform parts of British army’s RIC contingent.
The Black and Tans became infamous for their attacks on civilians and civilian property. Due to ferocity of the Tans’ conduct in Ireland and numerous war crimes they committed, feelings about their atrocities continue to run high. The term Black and Tan can still stir bad memories because of the beastly brutality associated with it. One of the best known Irish Republican songs is Dominic Behan’s, Çome out Ye Black and Tans. The Irish War of Independence is sometimes referred to as the ‘Tan War’ or ‘Black-and-Tan War’, a term preferred by those who fought on the anti-Treaty side in the Irish Civil War and is still used by Republicans today. Modernists read the poem as a dirge on the decline of European civilization in the mode of Eliot, but later critics have pointed out that it expresses Yeats’ apocalyptic mystical theories, and it is thus the expression of a mind shaped by the 1890s. The gyre, a historical cycle of about two thousand years in the given context, denotes a doomsday vision predicting the anticipated anarchy that would be let loose around two millennia after birth of the Saviour. The gyre also hints at the image of a world spinning outwards to such an extent that it cannot recall its own origin. These anxieties are closely tied to traumas of a continent at war, and the rise of industrialism and militarism on a global scale. The beastly nature of traditional ruling classes of Europe, who were unable to protect European traditions from materialistic mass movements, comes into sharp focus in the concluding lines, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”, underlining Yeats’ belief in cyclical nature of events in history, with his age representing the end of cycle that began with rise of Christianity.
Fast forward to the gloomy scenario ninety seven years later where, in a dramatic turnaround on 23rd June 2016, the rough beasts reversed, apparently with nihilistic fervour, the integrity of a unified Europe, assiduously built up across a period of over four decades. I clearly recall the euphoria over UK and continental Europe emerging as a unified entity in the mid 1970s in the form of EEC, a glorious precursor to fall of the wall of shame that subsequently paved the way for reunification of Germany. It signified the convergence of a splintered world, where bits and pieces of diverse hues were harmonizing into artistically graceful forms on the stained glass of unity and inclusiveness. Brexit heralds not just Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU); it probably marks the shattering decline and fall of carefully nurtured ideal of a liberal and globalised world. It opens the lock-gates to draw in the destructive ethos of ultra-nationalism and racist xenophobia, mindlessly blaming foreigners and minority communities for all ills, and claiming, against every logic and humanism, that turning your insular self on the world will somehow usher in a golden age of prosperity.
What next from current events looming like an Armageddon that certainly appears to be an inflection point in the global geo-political situation? From grand contours of a unified and expanding community of nations born out of the ashes of two world wars, sans borders and squabbles on lines of control, the discordant note sounded by Grexit (Greece) earlier, which though still hanging in the balance, continues as Brexit. Adding to the growing clamour for separation, are demands for Nexit (Netherlands), Frexit (France), Swexit (Sweden), connecting to secessionist moves in Italy seeking to break away from, and majority swings in Scotland and Northern Ireland desiring to continue in, the European Union. On other side of the Atlantic, there is electoral rhetoric aplenty and cacophony trumping up to such a crescendo that no one is quite sure which way the dice will roll.
What went right and what went wrong? For sure, there were several rights and few wrongs. Prominent among the rights are passing of the Human Rights Act by UK in 1998, ostensibly under pressure from EU; open borders facilitating free flow of people and investments, accompanied by freedom to work, study and live anywhere in Europe, and financial stimulus packages for backward regions of every member country. Ironically, it is these very well intentioned measures that ended up becoming expedient tools in the hands of exit hawks. Whereas globalization has benefited the well-heeled in the upper strata of societies, successive governments have grossly failed to ensure that the advantages of free trade and liberalization percolated to the lowest denominators and economically vulnerable class consisting of factory workers, farm labourers, and the unemployed. The unskilled, unable to keep abreast of a technically advancing economy, the uneducated, up against those with university degrees, the outlying underdeveloped provinces versus the developed metropolitan areas, all constituted a social time bomb ticking away and capable of detonating without warning. Regardless of the type of government, it takes enlightened leadership coupled with consistent dedication to address these problems. Unfortunately the only thing that is obtaining is a steady supply of short-sighted politicos solely targeting winning the next election riding on whatever discontent on which a campaign can be mounted. Lopsided governmental policies over last several years saw huge cuts in welfare spends, resulting in reduction of jobs, depleted allocations for schools, hospitals and housing, and allowances for the elderly disabled. Instead of putting in place corrective measures in these areas and creating more employment opportunities, the demagogues exploited the situation by laying entire blame on the EU for job losses and declining public services. To hell with EU, if the situation could be flogged for rabble-rousing to secure a quick access to # 10, Downing Street, may have been the thinking in all likelihood.
If the reports on post referendum events in Britain are anything to go by, it appears that Brexit politicos are already reneging on many of the promises made to an unsuspecting and beleaguered multitude of people who voted in favour of leaving, while the politicos are now happily celebrating their victory playing cricket with glitterati and dancing in discos till wee hours of the morning with hardly any regret about the state of the country that once was one of the largest colonial powers on earth, now fast set to dwindle to a tiny fraction consisting of England and Wales, which can still regressively attenuate if Cymrophobia and Anglophobia are allowed to further tear the fabric asunder.
One of the glorious objectives of the EU was to create a unified market, rendering it a borderless region within which wars were impossible, and thereby setting itself as a shining template for smaller nation states in rest of the world to consolidate into larger confederations, enabling free flow of trade and greater interaction between communities, reducing borders through lesser number of countries and thereby potential for internecine conflicts and warring regions. For the time being, it looks as if all these goals are taking an unexpected beating. At this juncture, it may be desirable to shift the focus to Juno, the spacecraft launched by NASA in 2011, set on the new frontiers mission en route to planet Jupiter. Programmed to orbit Jupiter on the 4th July 2016 after traversing a distance of 2.9 billion kilometers, Juno is tasked to unravel hitherto unknown facets of planet Jupiter by continuing its orbit for a period of twenty months. The name Juno derives from Greco-Roman mythology; the god Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to conceal his mischief, but goddess Juno, his wife, is able to peer through the clouds to see Jupiter’s true nature. The name Juno also inspires the backronym, JUpiter Near-polar Orbiter. As the mission attains a successful completion up there, down here on terra firma the fervent hope is that countries will emerge stronger from temporary frustrations, with bigger resolve to steer towards directions leading to uplift and ultimate progress of humanity.