The Czech Republic hasn’t been so important in European affairs since the appalling days of Nazi and Soviet aggression. Now though, it is in all our headlines for gentler reasons.
It looks like the final hurdle to the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will be cleared today by the Czech President who, and good for him, has been standing up for his country against the overwhelming pressure leveled at him by most of the other European governments.
The Lisbon Treaty is, barring a few dissenting voices, generally seen as the blue print for a European Constitution which will, hopefully, iron out some problems but probably create a whole lot more.
On balance though, I am on the side of European solidarity even if I am against the idea of giving the European Union an executive President who would be able to lord it around the World involving us in agreements that we might not want to go along with – there are enough of those kinds of deals in Europe, and in Britain, as it is.
I am a European at heart I think after a life-long love affair with Italian Opera and Italian clothes, French painting and French wine as well as German Romanticism and German sausages. Throw in some Czech beer preferably consumed in the wondrous city of Prague, Hungarian dancing in Budapest and that all night “spider bar” in Seville, and my immediate memories of Europe put me there at its emotional core.
I once made a documentary film in Italy which meant that I had to spend some time in that wonderful country, from the snow covered Dolomite Mountains in the North, through Venice and Rome down to Naples and Sicily in the South.
My Italian, learnt at music college and enriched by my obsession with the operas of Bellini, Verdi and Puccini, has usually “got me by” but this time I had to confront the fact that Italians, like the English, just don’t want to speak other people’s languages. If you don’t understand what they, or we, are saying then, well, tough.
It was tough too at first but as time went on those early rather proper conversations in received Italian from a naturally reserved English man grew into a more hot-blooded affair. By the time I had got down to Naples, there was no turning back. Once I might have said in a disagreement: “I don’t think that is a very good idea” or “I am not sure about that one” but after some time working in Italy I now found myself waving my hands around and saying loudly and clearly: “No!” or “Impossibile!”
It worked too even that day when I wanted to film in an underground Neapolitan handbag factory/sweatshop. I was told I had to speak to the man who could arrange it. So I met fiery eyed young Italian in a room behind a busy restaurant and he did sort it too but not after he had put a revolver on the table between us. I still said “No!” to his demands somehow hoping that I had to call his bluff. He grinned and the meeting ended with a bear hug. I think I had just become a European.
An infusion of Mediterranean temperament into typical English sang froid is a healthy cocktail I discovered, there are some things that are best expressed in various different European cultures and languages and I discovered many of my wolf-like characteristics having a lively time in Italy. Let’s stick together on this one but let’s also try not to make the place the boring dreamland of all those Brussels politicians’ grey imaginations.
I hope that the Czech President will sign that treaty today but I also want the French, German and British governments to clock that we don’t want to be bullied in this or anything else for that matter. Otherwise the day will come when I too will shout: “No!”