When visiting Brussels for the CRUMBEL conference last week, I used Eurostar for the first time. Ahead of many impending deadlines for Britain possibly (and possibly not) leaving the EU, I was particularly observant regarding all manner of dimensions to the portrayal of the border in art and signs.
In this context, on the way back at Brussels Midi railway station, I found this deployment of the present-day cliche of barbarian identity in the context of Belgian nationality particularly amusing and striking. Permanent art as one approaches the Eurostar terminal is so naff I refuse to share it with you, redcoats with busbies, china tea sets, red telephones, sickening nostalgia for a tourist London that belies the realities of modern Britain.
Yet there was something the Belgians added to this that I thought deliberately countered this external portrayal of the European border of the UK. Prominently deployed at the entrance to the Eurostar security check area at Brussels Midi Station, and between the strict regulations against carrying knives, knuckledusters, firearms and other dangerous items on board Eurostar trains, I encountered the image of a smiling young blonde woman in a tricolour Belgian horned hat. In true football supporting barbarian fashion she wears face paint too in the photograph (although it has been pointed out to me that the young lady photographed is wearing the face-paint of the Romanian flag…).
I’ll let you, dear reader, decode the (intended?) humour of this playful allusion to present-day sport and past fantasies regarding barbarian identities for yourself, especially on the context of warrior women!
Of course Brexit and the border are serious life and death issues in recent years, considering especially the Refugee Crisis. Indeed, it was disturbing to see for the first time the heavily fortified entrance to the Channel Tunnel at Calais. Still, sometimes humour finds a way to make points about the most serious of issues we struggle to articulate via other media. At a time when inflammatory rhetoric regarding violent immigrants persists, the barbarian horned helmet might speak of a less hostile, playful side to imagined early medieval pasts.