Wales Arts Review editor Gary Raymond on the hopes for the future to be found in a rejection of political narratives and a re-emphasis of faith in creativity and culture.
The day is here. The day that many of us didn’t really believe would ever come. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. Many perceive this to be the result of lies, misinformation, Machiavellian chicanery, the clinging of scoundrels to their last refuge, the rising to the surface of old bigotries and prejudices us decent people thought our sophisticated country had outgrown. The campaign to leave was dishonest, shameless, shameful, the manufacturers of it happily playing to the basest instincts of a shockingly substantial section of society. That section was peopled by a mass we thought we did not recognise; a people who have been reduced over decades to only see the ugliness in everything, who can only express themselves through ugliness, and who only want ugliness for others. For that is what Brexit means to many: a reduction in our horizons, in our hopes, in our ability to experience the world, in our desires to connect with other cultures, other people. It is a stain on our wish to love and be loved, our ambitions to grow as individuals but also as a collective, to learn, to laugh, and to experience beauty in its multitude of forms. Politics has taught us the good guys lost, and the bad triumphed. We are lesser now, in the shadows of that defeat. That is what politics has taught us: Brexit means smallness for us all.
But it needn’t be that way.
On this day of an expression of a desire for ugliness to define our country, I think it is worth reiterating that many people in this country continue to stand against the grotesque puerile worshipping of ugliness, the arrogant inadequacies of the media, the willy waving of the right wing newspapers, and will forever refuse to be defined by the toxic fears of the incurious ignorant nationalists at the core of this historic bedwetting. And even though many others are saying it today, with sadness and regret, it is worth repeating, and worth building to a cacophony. Brexit will not defeat us.
A country is more than its government. So much more. A country is more than any political movement. A country is more than any trend, and is more than any great wrong it commits, in the past, in the now, and even in the future. In Wales, we are so much more than the things we are told define us as a nation. We are more than rugby, more than choirs, more than our land and our myths, our poets and our passions, more even… dare I even say it for a fear of my body being hanged from the battlements of Twitter… more than our languages.
I have just returned from Egypt, where I was privileged enough to be invited to the Cairo International Book Fair to help promote the Arabic translation of my last novel. There I met wonderful people. I made new friends. We laughed, we discussed literature, cinema, food, the nuances of our countries. I was not restricted by the lowness of our politicians in Westminster, just like I have never been turned off by the philistinism of our politicians in Cardiff Bay. The racists who have driven Brexit through would revel in the notion that these connections could be severed. For we must all realise by now, that Brexit has nothing to do with Europe.
The people of Europe will still exist, as will its art and culture. It may be more of a battle to connect, as funding that facilitates some such connections is throttled, travelling arteries are clogged up, and most people will be poorer to travel, but that doesn’t mean we will not find the ways, as we always have done. What we must not do is continue this retreat into political silos that continue to define us as smaller and smaller.
We have been failed by politics. We have also been failed by journalism. We will be failed by them again in future, as we have been in the past. Staying in the United Kingdom, ruled by these parasites of nostalgia, seems emotionally unsustainable. But the prizes of Welsh nationalism will disappoint soon enough if they are ever won. The question is which unattractive political future is more attractive. Scotland will find the same. Because politics always disappoints in the end. That’s what it does. That’s why we have elections: to renew our hope, regenerate our collective ambitions for utopia as the vessels of our former faith betray us. It has the pattern of a game. How about we try not playing it?
I appreciate the instinct to withdraw and huddle with people we believe to be likeminded. But if it is politics that pulls us together, it will only be for a time. Politics is about lines in the sand, and if the world is currently dominated by the politics of diminishment, those lines get thicker, closer. It is art and culture that erodes the barriers politics erects.
As we prepare to step into the coldness created for us by the agents of Brexit, nobody knows who is safe. Businesses will collapse, entire industries will follow, but also institutions will asphyxiate. As with probably every other cultural entity in Wales, Wales Arts Review can no longer guarantee its existence in 12 months. Or perhaps it will be 24 months. Or perhaps we’ll scrape through. Or perhaps we will flourish. But whatever the destiny for Wales Arts Review and spaces like it, the ideals that have formed its backbone will continue, because it was built by individuals. It has not been the mouthpiece for a political movement, has not been in the pocket of any interest. Brexit will not stop the hunger for cultural exchange, debate, curiosity, even if it pulls the guts out of the platform we use to explore it. And it shouldn’t do for anyone else either. And it won’t. Because my faith is not in politics. It is in people.
Gary Raymond is a novelist and broadcaster and editor of Wales Arts Review.