This the original English version of the interview I conducted with Madeleina Kay. A German translation is available here.
A note on where this is published: Ich kann nicht mehr leben ohne is a blogazine I write together with two friends: Ursel Braun and Cerstin Henning. It is a blogazine about life, women, fashion, travel, good things and bad things — and anything and everything we can no longer live without (that is what the blog name means). We do an annual photo shoot — here is our latest — and have featured in a German women’s magazine. Writing this web blogazine with my friends, laughing with them when a safety pin is needed to make the photo shoot work, is one of the things that keeps me sane in this Brexit shit show.
Madeleina Kay – EU Supergirl
Madeleina Kay was never all that political. But then came the Brexit vote and everything changed. Since then she’s been tirelessly fighting Brexit as EU Supergirl, daring to take a stand for a better future and European solidarity – fighting not just for young Britons, but also the ideal of the EU itself. That’s why she was recently awarded the title Young European of the Year 2018 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation.
I recently met Madeleina at the March for Europe in Edinburgh. It’s where we dared together – with many more campaigners engaged in this important cause. For women, whether young or older, the fight against Brexit is particularly difficult because abuse of anti-Brexit campaigners, and misogynistic abuse in particular, is unfortunately very widespread and now part of our daily lives. So it was great to talk about what Brexit, and the fight against it, means to Madeleina. We both hope that more of you – women and men, everyone – will join us and dare. The time to do so is now! Regardless of where in Europe, where in the world, you live.
Madeleina, it was great to recently meet you in Edinburgh – I admire your activism and I know it’s not easy … especially as a woman. You are one of the most vocal anti-Brexit campaigners. Why are you fighting against Brexit?
Madeleina Kay: Because the EU is worth fighting for and I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I hadn’t tried. The damage that Brexit is set to cause, to our economy, our society, our culture is inexcusable. When our European friends tell me they feel rejected and betrayed by our decision, it saddens me to the core. What is worse, is that the most vulnerable British communities (who often voted highly in favour of Leave), and who are already suffering at the hands of Westminster, will suffer the worst consequences of Brexit.
That’s what I find particularly tragic too. It makes the lies some politicians keep telling to this day even worse.
Madeleina Kay: The sense of injustice burns deep. This is also the legacy we are leaving to our children. It’s an absolute outrage and I refuse to accept this future, for myself or for future generations. We have the opportunity now, to stop Brexit, before the full extent of devastation is wreaked upon the country that we love. It’s our civic duty to oppose it. Standing back and complacently accepting Brexit, is effectively colluding in the act. It is our democratic right to protest against Brexit, and it is perfectly possible to stop it through democratic means. So I will fight to the end. We aren’t beaten until we decide to give up.
See, I said I admire you – that’s why! You were recently named Young European of the Year 2018. Congratulations again! What does this mean to you?
Madeleina Kay: I am incredibly grateful to be awarded the “Young European of the Year” title because it helps to legitimise the work I have been doing for the last two years. There is an ongoing narrative of doubt in my mind, which is fed by trolls and critics, and this acknowledgement provides reassurance and confidence that I’m doing the right thing. My “unconventional” methods of political activism are met with a lot of criticism, despite being a very effective way of capturing attention and communicating ideas. The Schwarzkopf Foundation has clearly seen the power and potential in the way I use art, music and literature, and more creative means of conveying what is fundamentally a very serious message about peace, love and unity.
Yes, indeed. I think what you are doing, and how you are doing it, is brilliant. In my experience people respond better when the message is personal and not abstract.
Madeleina Kay: Absolutely. And focusing on the emotional argument, for example by using humour and fun – it helps to engage people who are otherwise bored to death by politics. Which is not something people who work in politics often want to hear: that politics is boring most people. But it is vital to our democracy that we engage and inform citizens, so I think we need to widen our toolkit and use more varied methods of communication. The award has given my alternative means more credibility and influence. The award is also providing some fantastic opportunities to travel Europe, attend events and meet other people working in EU institutions.
Many people in continental Europe do not think all that much about Brexit because it does not really affect them quite so directly. Do you have a message for them?
Madeleina Kay: If you think that Brexit is purely a British problem, woe betide you. Ignore the causes of Brexit and you will see the problem reoccur across other member states. My primary criticism of the EU, and I have made it on numerous occasions including a blog for the Commission’s website and an article in the Panorama magazine, is that they are very bad at engaging with their citizens and communicating to them the good work that they do. This problem is not exclusive to the UK. We see the rise in populism in countries across Europe and fewer citizens are participating in EU elections. People need to feel involved in the democratic process, to feel empowered that they can contribute to change, in order to continue to believe in a political system. The EU has failed when its citizens no longer believe that it is working for progress and positive change that will benefit them and their communities.
I agree with that. It’s funny: Brexit supporters always accuse me of wearing rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the EU when, in actual fact, I am often its fiercest critic. But that’s because I believe so strongly in its foundational ideals. Same as with you.
Madeleina Kay: Exactly. Brussels has a serious problem with the grey, faceless facade that makes people feel disengaged from the institutions. Nearly everyone who works in those building is white, middle class and wearing a grey suit. When I attended the EWRC (European Week of Regions and Cities), I can not tell you how many times I heard these very people say “We need to engage more young people.” Yet precious little action has been taken. It’s one of my goals to put pressure on the EU to change its approach to citizens’ engagement initiatives and how it communicates the great things they achieve. We need to bring the conversation about the value of the EU down to a personal level and put some passion back into that it means to be a European citizen.
I couldn’t agree more! Now before we conclude let me ask: what is your hope for the future?
Madeleina Kay: My immediate hope is that we can stop Brexit before it is too late. We still have about a year in which to demand a vote on the final deal for the British people and also to influence the MPs “meaningful vote” in Parliament. I will be putting in 110% effort to achieve those aims, and also to convince the British people that we need to vote to Remain. However, as far as I’m concerned this is just a sticking plaster on the fundamental issue of euroscepticism in the UK. I think a lot more work is needed to educate British people, to properly publicise EU-funded projects, and to engage our society in the debate about Europe. Ultimately, I would hope that both the UK and the EU would learn from this terrible mistake and be able to work more effectively together in the future. I would also hope that the EU continues to expand and as other European countries meet the necessary requirements for membership, so that more people across Europe can begin to enjoy the benefits of being a European citizen.
Thanks so much for talking to me, Madeleina. Regardless of what happens next year, you give me much hope! And I know the same is true for many others.
If you found this interesting, you might also like to read my interview with Annette Dittert about her book London Calling.
To end here are some impressions from the March for Europe in Edinburgh. You can also watch my speech.