Elena Remigi, 49 years old, is an Italian interpreter, translator, language teacher and creator of ‘In Limbo’, a collective book of 144 Brexit-related testimonies from EU citizens living in the UK. She was born and raised in Milan, where she is originally from and moved to Canada for a year when she was 19. She moved with her family to Cork, Ireland, in 1999, before finally settling in Berkshire in 2005, where she has lived ever since. She is married and has a 20-year-old son attending university.
- Please tell me where you are from and where you currently live and work.
I am from Milan, Italy, and currently live in Theresa May’s constituency, Maidenhead!
- Which European languages can you speak?
Italian, English and French (I also studied Latin and Greek, although I wouldn’t say I speak them!)
- Would you describe yourself as European? If so, is this part of your identity, or just a fact of geography?
Of course! I feel European above everything else. This is especially true coming from Italy, a country that has received influences from so many different cultures and civilisations. To me, every time I visit a different city across the continent, I feel as if it could be my second home.
- When you think of the European Union, what is the first thing you think of?
The first thing I think of when speaking of the European Union is an organisation which has brought peace and unity in Europe following the Second World War. It has allowed us, as a continent historically divided by conflicts, to come together in economic, political and most of all cultural unity. It is a thoroughly forward-thinking concept, albeit still with its flaws, which seeks a day when everyone will ultimately become a citizen of the world.
- Do you feel that living and working in Europe has made a difference to your professional career? How?
Living and working in different parts of Europe has made me more open-minded and tolerant of cultural differences. It has deeply enriched me. In my opinion, Europe is an incredibly beautiful and inspiring continent, especially evident when we look at its artistic heritage, at the variety of climates, landscapes, cuisines, or languages. Appreciating Europe and its diversity means also opening up to the entire world.
6. Were you interested in the Referendum on EU membership in the UK? What do you think of the result?
The Referendum came as a shock to me, though not entirely. Twenty years of tabloids undermining the true meaning of the EU by spreading fake news to the public have sadly borne fruit.
7. Do you think the EU helps maintain peace?
Yes. The EU has been essential in maintaining peace in our continent for 70 years. Let’s not forget this was the bloodiest continent and that wars between nations have brought millions of deaths until not long ago.
8. Do you feel as though you have a lot in common with people from European countries other than your own? Can you give examples?
With Milan having been historically part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, I feel a very strong affinity to Central European countries, whose cultures have left a profound influence on the part of Italy I am from. Moreover, since Northern Italy is close to the French border, I feel a close connection to our western neighbours, which is very evident in various cultural, linguistic and culinary similarities. Then again, having spent much of my life in Ireland and the UK, I of course feel very close to the culture of the British Isles, which I now consider myself a part of. Ultimately, I feel that Europe is so interconnected that one can identify with almost every country one visits – be it anything from Spain to Poland.
9. How would you feel about ‘ever closer union’ or a ‘United States of Europe’?
I have always been in favour of it. However, whilst some countries may feel the need for a much closer union, others should be given the option of a slightly looser one, with less benefits of course. A different-tier Europe is a possible option, in my opinion.
10. Do you have a favourite place in Europe? If so, where is it and why do you love it?
England has always been my favourite. When I was a small child, I always dreamed of living in this country, as I had always been fascinated by its culture and literature. Upon coming here for the first time in 1984, I fell in love with the British way of life, the true freedom one felt upon being here, especially compared to the stifling traditionalism back at home.
11. Which European national stereotypes are true, in your experience?
I feel stereotypes usually have some element of truth to them, otherwise they wouldn’t exist, but they are usually gross over-generalisations of a more complex reality and in case of national ones, often apply to a country as a whole without taking in consideration regional varieties. For instance, I am Italian so, according to stereotypes, should be dark, have a certain accent, like drinking coffee, be quite lax with time and so on. Well, I am blonde, have a indistinct accent, drink tea with milk, do not like wine, am methodical, very organised and always punctual!
12. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Europe today?
I feel the biggest challenge in Europe right now is extremist politics, of any kind. Alongside the rise of Islamist fundamentalism, there has been a rise of xenophobic far-right nationalism which is truly worrying, as it threatens the values which I, as well as the EU, so believe in. The recent victory of moderates in Austria, the Netherlands and France gives me hope, but I still feel this is a threat which cannot be underestimated.
13. Name a place in Europe you have not visited, but would like to. Why?
I would love to visit Denmark or Sweden. I’ve never visited any Scandinavian country before, but would love to go there as these countries are renowned for being very open and liveable places.
14. What do you think is the most significant moment in European history? Why?
I think the end of World War II, and the subsequent Treaty of Rome were the two most significant, and triumphant, moments in recent European history. They signified the defeat of fascist values, and the decision of European countries to come together and resolve to commit to pacifist ones. Of course, the fall of the Berlin wall and the USSR and the resulting annexation of East European states into the EU were a very significant part of this process.
15. Do you think the election of Donald Trump or the election of Emmanuel Macron is more significant for Europe? Why?
Speaking from a more immediate European point of view, Macron’s victory was truly fundamental for the EU’s survival. A Frexit would have spelt the demise of the European Union. Nonetheless, being the leader of the most powerful country in the Western world, Trump’s victory will evidently have repercussions for our continent at large.
16. Are you hopeful for the future of Europe?
Europe still has many challenges to face. However, I am hopeful for the future. I cannot imagine our continent returning to being fractured in many nations. In a globalised world, it would be doomed to failure.