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Democracy's all Greek to Heaney

By Gail Walker

Published 15/09/2009

I know it's a bit like attacking a secular saint but where does Seamus Heaney get off?

With polls showing a significant narrowing of the gap in the (forced) re-run referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Nobel laureate weighs in yet again.

Europe, he says, was "more than a bureaucracy, it's an ideal. The word 'Europe' is one of the first cultural underpinnings to our lives in this part of the globe. It's for Greece, Italy, Rome, England, France that I feel it."

Mmm. Big stick talk, is it not? Against the Lisbon treaty? Worried about the democratic deficit in the EU? Think it's all a capitalist cabal? Globalisation? Then, you're a big hick then who probably moves his lips while reading Ireland's Own.

In Heaney's world, anti-Lisbon campaigners are manufacturing 'fear', 'anti-Europe' and, by implication, anti-'European culture'.

Indeed, the poet seems to think the current EU and 'the ideal of Europe' are virtually synonymous. To vote 'No' would be to lose ourselves in the modern world, he says.

The way they'd tell it you'd think Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, Picasso and Mozart would, if around, be pounding the pavements of Ballsbridge to ensure Cowan and Barroso get the nod.

It never seems to occur to Seamus and the yes camp that a person could vote 'No', not because they fear 'Europe' but because they love it in all its glorious complexity and diversity.

But most galling is Heaney's peremptory dismissal of those hapless dupes who had the temerity to vote 'No' last time. He describes the No vote as "manufactured". Whenever people get a chance to vote - France, the Netherlands and Ireland - on a closer European union, the vote is always denied or re-run until Brussels gets the right answer.

Whenever the people of Europe are asked, they always clearly say no thanks we are happy the way we are.

And, if the people of Europe are not 'Europe', then what exactly is it?

Democracy, it's a Greek concept ...

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