The post-Brexit stiff upper lip should’ve quivered about Martin Roth’s imminent departure

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL October 22, 2016

Brexit text with British and Eu flags illustration

Martin Roth, the gifted German who served as director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is leaving the UK. The #Brexit vote pushed him to it, he told the media. Click here to read The Guardian’s September 4 report.

He cited the “cultural barriers” thrown up by dropping out of Europe.“For me, Europe is simply synonymous with peace,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a German. I did not want to grow up in a country that had killed a huge part of its population. So for me, Europe always gave hope for a peaceful future, based on sharing, solidarity and tolerance. Dropping out always means creating cultural barriers and that worries me.”

That’s a pretty significant comment by a pretty significant cultural figure. But there’s not been a firestorm of self-examination around the imminent reality of Mr Roth’s departure and the reason for it. Not so much. The British media hasn’t made as much of a big deal about it as it might.

This appears to have infected other forums elsewhere, not least USC Annenberg’s respected Centre on Public Diplomacy (CPD).

In a really rather anodyne interview with Mr Roth, CPD’s only big question about the implications of #Brexit was as follows:

“Given this year’s Brexit vote, what do you see as the impact on arts/cultural organizations in the UK?”

To which, Mr Roth soberly replied: “Sure, there will be implications. I cannot see how there won’t be. Arts and culture is multi-culturalism. We need to be open to all and to attract the best designing, making and professional talent from across the globe. It’s about open dialogue and collaboration. How can that happen in a society that blames immigration for the country’s shortcomings? Just look at what the British Prime Minister Theresa May said in her recent speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham. It starts like this and before long it spirals into outright xenophobia.”

Room for lots of follow-ons, one might think.

No. CPD elected to move on smoothly with a soft question about Mr Roth moving on from Britain this autumn. The stiff upper lip strategy by the British media may not be wise but it seems to be working. It’s infecting the way others cover Brexit.