My citizenship, my truth

Mine since November 2020 (Katharine Eyre © 2022)

Good grief, how I despise the phrase “my truth”. What started out as a trendier way of saying “my side of the story” has been co-opted by those who fancy themselves morally superior to present their own set of alternative facts under a more acceptable guise, or flaunt grievance. All the more annoying, then, to find myself actually using it.

The phrase “my truth” took its terminal dive in my estimation when it became part of the pitiful rhetorical repertoire of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan. But it began to irritate me long before that.

“My truth” has been bandied around so frequently by the those claiming that feelings and subjectivity trump all else that it has become a genuine competitor in public discourse to THE truth. Aka, the real, actual, objective truth. The one which is either self-evident to the objective observer or which we discover through reasoned argument and debate, taking in various points of view.

This elevation of emotions and “lived experience” over facts and robust debate is perverting public debate — even shutting it down in some instances. If we are hindered in the free discussion of certain matters because we fear hurting people’s feelings or challenging their “truths”, this cannot end well. Not socially, not democratically, not politically — and definitely not logically.

So, when Harry and Meghan began to use “my truth” as a key module in their “How To” course in victimhood and fact-poor narrative, off that godawful phrase went into the section of the left hemisphere of my brain marked “Quarantine — keep in isolation”.

Until I found a situation where no other phrase would do.

At the start of the pandemic, I made the decision to apply for Austrian citizenship. This was not — as many might rashly assume — to do with Brexit and my rights to continue living in Austria after the UK’s departure from the EU. It had been my plan to become an Austrian citizen long before 2016. Because I wanted to VOTE and be fully involved in the democratic life of the country I’ve been paying my taxes in since age 22. We British gals are all daughters of Pankhurst somehow— and this one takes her political participation seriously!

Originally, I pencilled 2019 in in my mind as the year when this decision would finally be made. For various reasons, the decision was postponed.

The beginning of the pandemic meant that a wave of uncertainty broke over my private and professional life. Like many other businesses, I saw my income crater overnight as countries went into lockdown and economies were put into deep freeze. I did not know if or when my legal translation business would recover.

Considering that Austrian citizenship law requires citizenship candidates to demonstrate a certain level of income in the 6 years (and, more specifically, the 6 months) prior to the application being filed, this economic upset really threw a spanner in the works with my plans. Until now, I had comfortably met those requirements and assumed this would continue to be the case. Now that was in doubt.

I decided to stop procrastinating and just do it.

The Austrian immigration authorities in general have a (deservedly) bad reputation. But as far as my own naturalisation process is concerned, I can only say good things. Everything went swimmingly. My assigned clerk was friendly and completely professional, providing me with clear information about which documents had to be submitted and answering any questions which I had during the process. A mere six weeks after my application appointment, I was an Austrian citizen. Quicker than I could ever have imagined.

Now came the tough part — at least from a personal point of view. Austrian citizenship law pursues a very rigid policy of mono-citizenship to which there are very few exceptions. So I’d have to relinquish my British citizenship to complete the process. The British Home Office being as incompetent as it is, this step took far longer than the process for obtaining citizenship in Austria (think: 20-minute calls costing 65p a minute at the end of which I am none the wiser about any of my questions). At length, a letter dropped into my letterbox informing me that I had ceased to be a British citizen on 1 April 2021.

I won’t lie — the day I got that letter was a very difficult day and tears were shed. Let me be clear: I’m absolutely not one of the misery crew who drone on about “being ashamed of being British” or being “dying to get rid of my UK passport”. I think these people are spoiled ingrates who should count their blessings that they still hold a powerful passport when many others in the world would kill for the chance. I was — and am — really proud and privileged to have been a British citizen for almost 40 years.

Having to relinquish UK citizenship felt so wrenching, so unfair…yet at the same time incredibly banal. At the end of the day, it was just…paperwork. At first I couldn’t get my head around it.

But it didn’t take too long. The rebel in me reared its defiant head to say quite clearly: you are still the same person, no matter which certificates you have and what passport you hold. You grew up in Britain, you were a British citizen and British is what your identity will continue to be — as well as Austrian! No one can take that away from me. That is…my truth.

Whoa! MY truth? Hadn’t I sworn, all guns blazing, that I would never, ever say this?

Well, the phrase just fits here. It sometimes happens that the truth of the law (i.e. under Austrian law, you can only hold Austrian citizenship and no other) stands in blatant contradiction with the personal situation of the person affected by it. Both sides have their own justification and rationale: both “truths” are legitimate.

Austria is quite entitled to decide on how to structure its own citizenship rules, which — as a good citizen — I respect and adhere to. I cannot expect to have the laws of this country pander to my own emotional sensitivities — to whinge or assert otherwise would be to demonstrate the most monstrous kind of entitlement.

Conversely, it is my right to say that my legal status does not accurately represent my dual identity, which I shall continue to maintain. And as long as this inner attitude does not result in a conflict with the laws of the Republic of Austria or the oath I gave in all honesty when I became a citizen, both truths — the legal and the personal — can peacefully co-exist.

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Geriatric millennial writing on Medium.

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