Saturday, 14 November 2020 04:30

Schnitz-canned! How Austria trolled Brexit Britain

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Schnitz-canned! How Austria trolled Brexit Britain Schnitz-canned! How Austria trolled Brexit Britain

When online images of this stamp surfaced in early 2020, some collectors were sceptical that it was genuine.

There was good reason to think it wasn’t. As if German-speaking Austria would write its name on its stamps in English! (‘Österreich’ is the standard inscription.) And as if a serious, modern nation would issue a Brexit stamp with a ‘strikethrough’ joke on it!

To set the sceptics straight: as it happens, German-speaking Austria sometimes writes its name in English on its stamps. And yes, the serious, modern nation of Austria issued a Brexit stamp with a strikethrough joke on it.

It’s a troll! Those strudel-slurping scamps.

There’s nothing subtle about it, either. I’m surprised they didn’t add “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehn, goodbye.”

The strikethrough joke was a happy accident, but it’s the cherry on top of a great, simple design by Anita Kern. Here is Europe, with EU nations in dark blue. (Did you spot Portugal’s Madeira archipelago hiding among the perforations at bottom left? The Azores and the Canary Islands are further afield and seem to have missed the cut.)

Nestled among the dark blue nations is the rancorous UK. It’s in a light blue – so light that it’s almost invisible, like the personae non gratae of EU holdouts Norway, Switzerland and the funny little Russian exclave of Kaliningrad that the UK now aspires so enthusiastically to emulate.

(Edit: The UK is printed on the stamp with a light blue transparent varnish. Thanks to reader Dustin who mentioned in the comments below that, when held to the light at a certain angle, this varnish makes the UK disappear. Meow! I love it.)

Then there’s the »BREXIT« inscription and that date. The stamp was originally to be released when Britain had scheduled itself for release from the EU: 29 March, 2019. According to reports, 140,000 of those stamps were printed. But as the UK and the EU failed to come to an agreement, the official Leave date was pushed out to 31 January, 2020. Why waste any more money printing new stamps? Austria Post overprinted the stamps accordingly, striking out the old date and adding the new. The stamps were released when the Britain FINALLY left. They were an instant hit.

The denomination is intriguing. I’m pretty sure that €1.80 is the cost of a standard priority letter to the ‘rest of the world’ – outside of European nations, be they EU or non-EU. Letters bearing these stamps are not going to the UK.

Would the cost of a letter to the UK (one euro) have been more pointed? The UK wanted to leave the EU, and the EU surely by then couldn’t wait to see them gone… a one-euro stamp would have helped to bring everyone together to celebrate this momentous occasion.

But perhaps Britain is not the target market for this stamp. By sending Brexit stamps out to the rest of the world, I suspect Austria is trying to broadcast a more urgent message: We don’t know those guys! They’re not with us.

Incidentally, the Royal Mail has so far resisted issuing a Brexit stamp. The internet has been quick to fill the gap:

Search for “Brexit stamps” for more laughs, it’s worth it.

I do feel for Britons as the nation careers towards the end of the transition period on 31 December this year. At least last year’s election result put the wrangling beyond dispute, but I fear that in the long term, that will come to be of small consolation. Brexit was promulgated by charlatans and is built upon a deception perpetrated by a self-interested rich and powerful few. I wonder how many Leave voters may come to nurse regrets as they are turfed out of closing factories. I particularly feel for the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where majorities in each voted to stay, but must now confront the ramifications of leaving. Britain now stumbles desperately back to the Commonwealth, deluding itself that a few trade deals with its former empire will magically outweigh slamming the door on the world’s largest economy.

If nothing else, Brexit stands as an eternal reminder to voters in functioning democracies never to assume the outcome of an election. Your vote counts. USE IT. (Ya hearing me, America?) You owe it not just to yourselves, but to your fellow readers of this blog who don’t have the luxury of a meaningful say in their nation’s affairs.

(Side note: this week brought news that the UK is appointing as a trade envoy the former short-lived Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. It’s been greeted with some mirth down under. It says much about Boris’s Britain that it hires a man who complained his way into power in between spruiking his policies to the women of Australia “as they do the ironing”, and whose chief achievements once in government were then to tear down effective climate reforms and reinstate knighthoods so he could award one to Prince Philip. There’s a forward thinker. Good luck.)

What’s that? Enough with the opinion, get back to the stamps? OK. It’s worth pointing out that Austria’s Brexit stamp overshadowed the release nine days earlier of another commemorating the 25th anniversary of Austria’s own accession to the EU. ‘Flags on stamps’ is one of those topical collections that I would love to pursue, but I know that once I start, I will never end. Flags and stamps are made for each other. This is a beautiful example. The merging of the two flags produces such an aesthetically satisfying confluence of the primary colours. (And some white. And some flutters.)

Nice work, Austria, and congratulations on the 25 years. Danke for the laughs.