Three colours. Red, white and blue
It’s Independence Day
All over town.
Bruce Springsteen, Independence Day
Winds of the world give answer!
They are whimpering to and fro.
And what should they know of England
Who only England know?
The poor little street-bred people
That vapour and fume and brag,
They are lifting their heads in the stillness
To yelp at the English flag!
Rudyard Kipling, The English Flag
On September 15, 1821, after the final Spanish defeat in the Mexican War of Independence, Guatemala declared the whole of Central America independent. So it was that Costa Rica – officially The Republic of Costa Rica – threw off the imperial Spanish shackles it had worn since the 16th century without a shot being fired or a sword drawn.
El día de la independencia is a very special day here in Costa Rica, and the small town by the Pacific in which I have washed up is famed for its annual parade. So it was that at 9am on Friday last I made my way from my shack in the rain forest to watch proceedings down in the streets.
The whole place was decked in flags. I had been watching the preparations all week, noting flags billowing from cars and motorbikes, national dress for little girls prominent in the clothes-shop displays, and massed drumming coming from the school, which is twinned with a school in South Korea. The South Korean flag, with its I Ching hexagrams and Yin and Yang centerpiece, flies proudly on the roof beside the red, white and blue of the simple, banded Costa Rican flag.
Red, white and blue. As an Englishman, the coincidence was not lost on me. You do still see mass flag-wavings in England, although they are at state-approved functions such as the Queen’s birthday and often employ a degree of cynicism. Politicians, or rather their advisers, steeped in public relations and its attendant chicanery, believe that it’s okay to let the plebs wave that bloody rag once in a while because, you know, it keeps us in with the Mail readers, much as we despise them. Tony Blair’s PR people, also known as his colleagues, made sure every kiddie had a little Union Flag – it’s only called the Union Jack when flown at sea - the day he was elected British Prime Minister for the first time. Optics, I believe they call it, in some circles.
The flags that flew here were state-supported, alright, but in a very different way. They were supported by the state because the state loves its own country. Never before had I felt so keenly the sheer, nihilistic hatred that the British elites have for the notion of sovereignty, nationhood, country, flag and people. Never before had I felt so sharply the sheer hatred that British politicians have, not for Great Britain, but for England.
The Costa Rican flag itself was adopted in 1906, after a few predecessors which looked a lot like Argentina’s famous sky-blue-and-white flag. Costa Rica’s inaugural First Lady, Pacífica Fernández Oreamuno, designed the current flag in 1848, and based its design on the French tricolor.
Costa Rica’s revolution was rather more bloodless than that of France, but the revolutionary impulse lives in the colours and banding. The current Costa Rican flag, officially, has been adapted to include the country’s coat of arms. This is genuinely ironic - in that it says one thing and means another - as Costa Rica, since 1948, has had no standing army. Think of all the diversity training and gender awareness seminars that has saved the country.
The coat of arms features, instead of martial symbolism, the three local volcanoes and seven stars to represent the seven provinces of Costa Rica, as well as a ship. Costa Rica’s east coast was said to have been one of Columbus’ first ports of call on his first voyage to the Americas. Costa Rica would be the kind of country that would celebrate that idea while, in the USA, angry students are looking to tear down Columbus’s statue. Third world versus first. I know where I stand.
On Friday, I stood in the street and watched the parade pass before me.
And I had never seen so many flags. The parade was seemingly endless. Many of the groups and musicians who passed were children, some very small, decked out in their national colours. An acquaintance had told me that it was amusing to see the adults trying to corral the little ones as they wandered off hither and thither. Thus, it amused me to see the rope boundaries with which the adults kept the toddlers from dispersing. I saw the toothy, skinny little girl who so loves my dogs and always stops to pet them. She was in a majorette uniform and playing an instrument that looked like a cross between a Brazilian guera and a cheese-grater.
After an hour or so watching the parade, I became acutely aware of something. I was crying. Now, I am a bit of a big girl’s blouse, I will be the first to admit, and will cry at the drop of a hat. I finished a biography of a favourite poet once while on a train and made a spectacle of myself when I reached his inevitable death. On the other hand, I cried at Wembley when Arsenal were pick-pocketed 2-3 by Luton Town in the 1988 League Cup final, at which I was present, the year after The Gunners had beaten Liverpool in the ‘Charlie Nicholas’ final. I was at that too, crying with joy.
But this was different. Why, I wondered as I quickly donned dark glasses, was I starting to blub now? I’m not Costa Rican. It was a day of great joy and dancing, smiles on all faces, children and carnival. And there I was acting like a great big, moustachioed baby. Then I got it.
Thousands of people waving their red, white and blue national flag while marching slowly through the streets. Martial drumming. National costume. An outpouring of joy and happiness surrounding the celebration of the creation of a sovereign nation.
In Britain, these people would be called fascists.
Thousands of people marching through a Surrey town – which is a decent comparison with the town I am in - some in uniform, banging drums, decked in the colours of their nation and waving flags as far as the eye could see. Every single head in the editorial offices of The Guardian, The BBC, and The Independent would simultaneously explode. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, James O’Brien, Giles Coren, Polly Toynbee, Madeleine Bunting and the rest of the prat pack would vomit thousands of words stating that Britain had gone back to Oswald Mosley, that Islamophobia had come to Surrey – a very white area, you know – that white supremacy had reared its ugly head.
The sadness that I felt was born of the joy I could see around me at the very notion that Costa Rica was and is a sovereign state, with borders and national costume and indigenous people and a love of flag and country.
Then I noticed something else.
Again, transposing this parade to England, and our fictional – and they will remain fictional – Union Flag-waving, uniformed, fervently nationalistic little drummer boys, there would have been hundreds and hundreds of police officers present. That would not, in actual fact, be because of any threat posed by the marchers themselves. It would have been due to the fact that one side of the street would have been ranked with jeering, spitting, screaming Muslims holding up placards which, had they been wielded by British nationalists, mutatis mutandis, would have led to imprisonment, and the other side by wild-eyed Antifa hurling abuse, as well as bottles of urine and packets of faeces, as has been recent practice at these events in Europe and the USA. Arrests would have been made, but disproportionately of those sporting anti-Muslim T-shirts rather than Antifa or violent SJWs.
As I say, police numbers would have been in the hundreds, many of them looking intimidating, like something from a dystopian science fiction comic-strip. As I walked around the patchwork labyrinth of the town, trying to send-guess where the procession would appear next, watching the puppet devils and witches and skeletons, ordinary people in extraordinary papier mâché heads, listening to the chiming xylophonics of the pretty lyra, I counted the police officers I saw in half an hour.
I saw five.
Then I understood.
The reason I wish to stay here is that I now hate my own country, hate what it has let itself become. Here, the Costa Rican people love Costa Rica, and that is the end of the argument. They would just laugh at people such as Owen Jones, Deborah Orr, Lily Allen, J K Rowling, Bob Geldof, Jon Snow, and all the other varied puppets who are paid to hate England.
I have moved from a country which loathes and despises itself to a country which celebrates and enjoys itself. I have moved from a country in which all Muslims have to shout is ‘Jump!’ and the government – of any party – whimpers, ‘How high?’, to one in which 0.01% of the country is Muslim – none here, it pleases me to note – and, when they ask for a mosque or some consideration concerning halal, are politely but firmly told to go away. I have moved from a country in which the historical flag is being slowly banned to one where it is worn openly and as a badge of pride and honour.
So, don’t cry for me, Costa Rica. But you made me shed a tear.