The Shuttering of Europe

For what purpose? To what end?

At the risk of sounding like a small child being scolded by its mother for fighting, it was Germany who started it – and I am not talking about WWI. Or even WWII, though I will always hold a deep-seated grudge against the country for both of those events.

I am talking about the complete shuttering of Europe for Christmas.

One day Merkel was on German TV screens wringing her hands and imploring her people to be more cautious. (I wondered what was going on; Merkel does not do emotion.)

The next day she reverted to type and threw Germany into a hard lockdown, closing shops, schools and everything in between. (I felt some relief; at least this was the woman I knew.)

Merkel is the ginger German equivalent of Mark Zuckerberg. And by that I mean very odd.

I swear that woman could impound Santa’s sleigh and still be back in the European Parliament by 7am in a pant suit, calmly discussing Fiscal Stimulus while little children wake to empty stockings.

The vast population of Muslims she imported into Germany call her Mutti Merkel (Mother Merkel) and I am sure they are as excited as Polar elves to watch this angry woman all but cancel Christmas in a country famous for its festive season. Erdogan must be rewarding her well.

Most of the major Christmas markets in Germany have been canceled, as have New Year fireworks displays.

And so it began.

As if following a playbook written by some more powerful hand, one by one the countries of Europe have blown out the candles, turned off the music and shuttered their doors.

In Spain, social gatherings for Christmas will be limited to 10 people, including children. If any of you have Spanish or Greek friends, you’ll know that this is the cultural equivalent of being sent to solitary confinement while enduring insults to the memory of all your forefathers en route.

Austrians only emerged from a second lockdown a few weeks back and barely had time for a cup of hot chocolate in the sunshine before being ordered to stop smiling.

They are still imprisoned in their homes between 8pm and 6am, with no bars, restaurants or traditional Christmas markets allowed to provide respite or festive cheer.

It’s the same story elsewhere in Europe.

In the Netherlands, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has slammed the country into a five-week lockdown ending on 20 January. And just in case decent people start looking for an escape route, the Dutch have been ordered not to book non-essential travel abroad until mid-March.

Whatever happened to lockdown to ‘flatten the curve’?

To protestors gathered outside his office, Rutte offered this consoling thought: “There will come a time when coronavirus will be behind us, when our lives will be normal again.

"It won't be now, or in a week, or a month. But with the vaccine, 2021 will indeed be a year of hope and of light at the end of the tunnel.”

Note how any hope of normality has become inextricably linked to the adoption of a vaccine…

Italy has fared no better. In what will be an absolute affront to most good Italians, there will be no Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, people will not be allowed to leave their home towns, and there will be a curfew.

Can this level of state interference in the private and personal domain of family and faith really be possible? In 2020 families are being told not to kiss and hug at Christmas, nor to attend their church – in Italy, which, remember, invented kissing, hugging and family. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to believe it.

As the Italians love to pray, so the French love to ski. So, naturally, Macron has shut the slopes as well, restricting the life-loving French with curfews, travel restrictions and police at the border with Switzerland should anyone think of crossing for a sneaky snow-fest.

These tyrannic shutdowns will shatter economies, but not before they have shattered lives.

I sit here with my husband and children, and all their noise and nonsense, and I wonder about young, single people who live alone and are dependent on their jobs to provide a social life. How will their Christmas be, under curfew and without company? Where will they find joy? Not to mention the elderly…

And as I spend hours on the phone with hotels and train operators, canceling my final road trip to London before Christmas, I feel real anger and bitterness towards all of these European governments – not least my own.

I had planned to visit those bravely standing up to state oppression by opening their businesses despite the ‘rules’, only for my own capital city to be thrust into Tier 3 closure without warning, throwing my trifling plans and, much more importantly, the livelihoods of tens of thousands into disarray.

I am truly apologetic to those I have let down by not turning up to show my support. I feel like a fraud because the truth is, I am worried that if I’m caught traveling into a Tier 3 area, I might be forcefully separated from my family at Christmas. Although, honestly, I no longer think in terms of ‘if' but ‘when’.

I look out across a Europe that ought to be a sparkling mass of lights and happy crowds and markets and see only rules, curfews and darkness. And I wonder: how did we get here, and so quickly, too?

Why is the state able to tell me how many people I am allowed to have inside my home? Why have more people been forced out of work than at any time since records began?

For what purpose? To what end?

I hear the phrase Build Back Better. And today there was a new one: Build Back Fairer. And I realize to build back, you must first completely destroy.

I may still hold a grudge for the wars Germany started, but at least in a time of war there are shots fired and bombs dropped. You can witness destruction by an enemy and use it to fuel your determination to fight back.

This time the enemy is the leadership we elected to represent us. Fighting back in this invisible war of attrition will be a far more bloody affair.

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