Lifestyle & Culture

Joanne Storie in Riga: ‘I joined a Brexit protest so my grandkids remain free to live and work in Europe’

My frustration was bubbling when Boris Johnson made his move last week to suspend the British Parliament. What could I do in Latvia, so many miles away from the United Kingdom?

I made my home in Latvia 11 years ago and I love it here. My connections to the United Kingdom are through family and friends but essentially that is about it now.

Then there was a post on an expat forum.

A quintessentially British post:

Would anyone be interested in attending an anti-Brexit protest at the British Embassy this Saturday? It’s just an idea at this stage and we’re not 100 percent sure we have time to get the required permission but there’s various protests going on in the UK this Saturday and it’s annoying that we can’t join in.

Anyone? Anyone?

Yes me! I was busy though. It meant a trip to the capital.

JOANNA STORIE AT HER VERY FIRST DEMONSTRATION (All photos courtesy of Joanna Storie)

I dithered overnight but by the next morning I had made up my mind and posted my response:

The first time I’ve ever joined a protest in person, but I will be outside the British Embassy in Riga, Latvia, tomorrow with a small number of other Brits and supporters. It’s too important an issue to stay at home and support with good wishes. I want my grandchildren to have the same opportunities that I have to live and work in Europe. Freedom of movement and living in a peaceful Europe is too much to let go of.

On Saturday morning the alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I was catching the bus at 6:40 from my small town/village 100 kilometers east of Riga. I could work on the bus at least and the Wi-Fi meant I could keep updated on the day’s events. I worked some more in a café over a latte and wandered around the eerily quiet streets of summertime weekend Riga until our meeting

The British Embassy is not exactly on a main thoroughfare and so we could gather without too much hindrance. The new British security guy was just moving in that day, but he said he wasn’t too worried about a riot so hadn’t requested for the police to come.

However, our properly registered official protest meant the police did arrive – from the next building and two stood at either end of our little protest.

There weren’t many of us and most of us had never been on a protest before, but we all felt we needed to be seen to be doing something. So, we had a very British protest with a picnic blanket and hamper and cups of tea and biscuits.

We were requested to move the blanket as it was blocking the path. But the police were happy enough for us to squeeze in between the planters. And there we stood, chatting amiably. We engaged in conversation with the few people who happened to pass our way and we tried – in vain – to explain what on earth the UK government was doing.

Rather difficult as we didn’t really understand it ourselves.

We were honoured to be joined by Latvians, an Australian and an Argentinian. I chatted with the Argentinian and asked what brought him to a Brexit protest? Remember the British went to war against his country in the early 80s over some tiny islands and his response summed up why I was there.

He doesn’t care about the debate – why should he! – but he
cared about the division sown over the issue and wanted to stand on the side of a peaceful resolution. He wanted to stand on the side of a flourishing democratic process and for that, I’m grateful.

We both agreed there has to be a new way of doing politics in this world and so we stood together, side by side, registering our commitment to change.

Yes, I’m British and I’ve written about that before, but I’m settled here. I chose not to vote in UK elections after we left, not because I am apathetic about voting: On the contrary, it is because I am adamant that people should exercise their right to vote where they live.

That changed with the UK Brexit referendum, a referendum that reached its tentacles across the sea with unknown consequences for my residency here.

I was just eligible to vote in 2016 under the 15-year rule but that has since lapsed as I actually left the UK in 2003.

The slowly unfolding horror that is Brexit, where every shred of credibility the UK had has been slowly dismantled, has rumbled on now for more than three years. Three years of not being sure if the life we choose will be taken away from us. Three years of uncertainty. Three years of rage, helplessness and despair.

I’m an optimist by nature and know that life will go on whatever happens. But that does not stop me from writing about my dismay about the Brexit
farce. Everything about the process makes me cringe. I can put faces to those who are on the receiving end of the nastiness that has been unleashed in British society.

And yet I have received only kindness and sympathy wherever I have travelled in Europe.

About the author:

Joanna Storie is a British emigrant and Ph.D. candidate living in Latvia.

You can read more of Joanna’s posts here.

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