Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. November 2003
  Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière  DEUTSCH | ENGLISH | FRANCAIS

History of the Idea of Europe - The Cultural Future of Europe

Erhard Busek (EU Representative, Vienna)


What causes us to ask about "Diversity," about whether Europe has a "cultural future?" To refuse to answer is "naiveté" - stupidity - just as it is to think that diversity is not the organizing element of Europe, that the question of the "cultural future" does not decide the existence of Europe.

There is a dichotomy, indeed, a schizophrenia of thinking. We are proud of the diversity of culture, and yet we have to recognize that there is a refusal to accept the "other," the stranger or foreigner. At the same time the cultural landscape is so rich: horizontally, that is, simultaneously, we experience a diversity of peoples, languages, and forms of expression. We know the differences in our valleys just as we do those in fashion, literature and music. However, the richness also includes the vertical, namely, the expirations of epochs. What all hasn't happened in this Europe since Antiquity, the Judeo-Christian world, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, until we landed at "postmodernity." Actually the concept of postmodernity is an indication of loss. As we talk in general talk about loss when we lament not knowing anything really modern or missing values. Have we lost our self-confidence? Do we lack the strength for the new?

Indeed, we are controlled by quotations, and apparently culture has been replaced by a kind of world civilization, which is characterized by extraordinary uniformity - simplicity. What the satellites send us for programs all over the world is the same canned material, is the "global village," which is unquestionably distinguished solely by its simplicity.

I am not at all concerned about the identity of Europeans; they are always recognizable and distinguishable - my countrymen and women abroad can often be only too quickly identified by their behavior. Then, on the other hand, there is that regionalism, which, correctly understood, can be transnational, as is the case, for example, around the Bodensee or also in the relationship of the "Suisse romande" (French-speaking Swiss) to their neighbors or similarly the situation in Ticino: a common feeling, which crosses borders. Then again, however, the critics speak of increasing disintegration, whereby the collapse of artificial nations proves to be the revenge of false solutions. Just think of the separation of the Czechs from the Slovaks, of the tragedy of Yugoslavia or of the downfall of the Soviet Union. But the Western nations don't lead a charmed existence either, for in the meantime the Italian landscape abounds in differences and diverse feelings, Spain struggles with the special wishes of the Basques and Catalans. Indeed, here and there even France has signs, which are written in the "langue d'oc." The "other" is perceived as a threat, while actually being an enrichment. Let us think of such basic matters of life as the great variety of cooking in Europe and of the fascination of culture or also of the various forms of religious faith. We have difficulty in knowing how to deal with the stranger or foreigner. Yet the word for foreigner in antiquity was the same as that for guest - someone who enjoys protection and at the same time is an object of curiosity.

This uncertainty has resulted from an event, with which we are still concerned today. The changes in Europe since 1989/90 have put us in a predicament. Communist internationalism has collapsed, the dream of being able to establish a paradise on earth on the basis of the equality of people has proven to be a fatal error. The continent is truly experiencing a "passages europeens." As in a film, the new/old diversity rolls by before us. We are discovering the Slavic world again, the shaping of a spiritual landscape through orthodoxy, the old Byzantium and the new Moscow as centers. Conflicts and wars make painfully clear the problems of nation and state, as they earlier dominated the outgoing 19th and the 20th century and ultimately led to world wars. We are also facing the problem that after a long time we are in the position of being one continent. But what is the "finalité d'Europe?" Geography will not suffice, for example, to end Europe at the Urals. After all, what has not come to us from Asia Minor, from the Near East, from North Africa? Even the concept "Fortress Europe" doesn't do justice to European qualities, for this continent was always open and never self-sufficient. Sometimes aggressive, as, for example, in colonialism, but always curious. A Europe of concentric circles, as Jacques Delors has suggested, or perhaps the idea of a core Europe is not fair to the continent, because it immediately reintroduces a division. The concept of Cosmos in Greek means ornament, decoration, but also diversity, for Europe is an open continent, and we must answer the question of how "European" we are.

Transversal, partial and parallel cultures are found everywhere in the modern model of Europe, in the center of the capitals of Europe as well as in its regions. "Multiculturalism" in the broadest sense is therefore a source of information, telling us that the native and the foreign no longer have any special reserved or exclusive areas.

Discussion takes place with varied force and strength and in various thematic fields. Perhaps this challenge of Europe is one of the most important, because it is establishing something like a "laboratory of the 21st century."

The questions, which directors of experiments and experimenters are asked, are not only cultural, but also eminently political and economic: how can the native encounter the foreigner without starting a creeping civil war? In the sense of H. M. Enzensberger's "Prospects for a Civil War," is one, by keeping to oneself and avoiding conflict, supposed to return to the European core culture, based on prosperity, and literally "give the other its hat?" Or is one to seek calm dialogue without expressly articulating one's own interests? Is the European idea of modernity and progress, so in need of revision and as questionable as it may also be in detail, to be dissolved into an uncritical acknowledgment of the comprehensive relativity of theory and practice? Is the confrontation to be carried on from militarily secured fortresses through the mediation of cultural-political emissaries? What is to be done about the "others" within one's own walls? Are they to be stripped of their citizenship and herded into camps built expressly for this purpose? Or do we not most urgently need new political and social forms, which enable a discussion of the core (native) culture with the parallel cultures, which make possible reciprocal self-assertion without aggression, respect without flight into relativism and heated arguments over the issues without suspending democratic forms and legitimacy?

The discussion about the future of the European Union dominates all of us. Europe is in a great state of transition, for actually it is a product of the West-East conflict, the attempt to concentrate the strengths of the free democracies. Today one is asking whether Europe can be an independent power - only through the interplay between diversity and unity.

Let us look for answers, which I will present in terms of the tension between opposites:

Marketplace and Temple

The marketplace signifies life, community and history, performance and competition, colorful exchange, but also the spectrum from egotism to populism. The politics of the day can be loud and shrill, the hosanna and the crucifixion are close together. The marketplace, however, is also a seat of democracy, for ultimately it was founded on the model of the agora of old Athens. The temple in turn is the holy place of values and ideals, the place of the best, the finest. The guardians of the temple are an elite. What must there be in the temple today? Business alone will not suffice, for we are already wrestling with its limits in an educational program of the EU. Religion today has become subject to secularization, but whatever of it remains is a culture of living together, as, for example, human rights and democracy. The "anything goes" of Paul Feyerabend sometimes appears to have become the rule, but it cannot insure that we will humanize our world and shape it better culturally. The theologian and natural scientist Teilhard de Chardin has stated that human history is nothing more than "humanization," becoming human beings. We are not born as human beings, but our striving as individuals and also as a community is directed toward the goal of becoming a human being - an ideal condition, which we attain only when we reach perfection.

On the other hand, politics stands for the masses, as it was in the first half of the century, which brought us dictatorships of all kinds and became the politics of the masses. This situation in turn provokes a fundamentalism, which demands orientation, it fosters emotion, because the mass as a unit wants to be led. Differentiation is necessary, however, we need elites, quality. On the other hand, we must also restore politics as something to be respected. The question about political culture is the question about politics for the future. It will not be so much a technology and information society, which determines our future, but education and culture, the creative power of the human being. Carlo Mongardini said that the existing "politique des industrials," must be supplemented by a "politique des intellectuels," a "politique pour la culture."

Memory and History

Culture depends on memory, on tradition. An educational policy of the recent past believed that it was only necessary to teach the techniques of how to search for information, how and where one has to look things up. But anyone who does not know the connections cannot get very far with the lexicon, library or Internet. If we want to proceed into the future, we have to know where we come from. Apparently the inadequacy of the contemporary education system is the reason why so many people visit the museums. It is the search for their own history, probably also the fear of the destruction of the cultural good, which, in view of the technical possibilities, can happen anytime. The unfortunate Francis Fukuyama spoke about the end of history, but we are experiencing the revival of history, for without history we can no longer understand any part of Europe. We have been thrown into the contemporeneity of non-contemporary events. The information highway brings us knowledge of everything from everywhere in the world, nevertheless we must understand that there is no neo-nationalism, but that old, loathsome nationalism, which is now being taken out of the icebox of Communism and is exhausting its strengths in the East of Europe in a time-delayed demise. On the other hand, there doesn't have to be a "clash of civilizations," as Sam Huntington predicts. A meeting of the different cultures of this world is possible, especially if we know who we are. In order to have this knowledge about ourselves, we have to know our own history as well as those myths and tales, which are parables for life. I reproach the older generation of our time for having passed on too little history and too few stories, exactly as we in culture know too few of the tales, which our Europe has created - other matters have filled our brains. Different matter should fill it.

The Spanish diplomat and philosopher Salvador de Madariaga in 1952 gave a sensible answer to this situation - coming from the bitter experience of the world of the Second World War, feeling certain that we not only needed a new political order, but also a European Community, which can only be organized through culture.

"Above all else we must love Europe. Here resounds the laughter of a Rabelais, here gleams the smile of Erasmus, here flashes the wit of a Voltaire. Like stars in Europe's intellectual firmament stand the fiery eyes of Dante, the clear eyes of Shakespeare, the cheerful eyes of Goethe and the tormented eyes of Dostojewski. Eternally the visage of Giaconda smiles at us, for all of Europe Michelangelo caused the forms of Moses and of David to emerge out of the marble and the Bach fugue soars upward in mathematically controlled harmony. In Europe, Hamlet broods about the mystery of his inactivity, Faust wants to escape the tormenting brooding through the deed, in Europe Don Juan seeks in every woman, who meets him, the one woman he never finds, and Don Quixote chases through a European land with his lance at the ready, in order to wrest defiantly a higher existence from reality. But this Europe, where Newton and Leibniz measured the infinitely small and infinitely large, where our cathedrals, as Alfred de Musset has said, kneel praying in their stony garments, where the silvery ribbon of rivers connects the cities, which the work of time chisels into the crystal of space this Europe must first come into being. It will not exist until the Spanish begin to talk of "our Copenhagen" and the Germans of "our Bruges." Only when we reach this point, will the spirit which directs our activity have spoken the creative motto: "FIAT EUROPA!"

© Erhard Busek (EU Representative, Vienna)

Plenum | Plenary Session | Séance plénière

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu

For quotation purposes:
Erhard Busek (EU Representative, Vienna): History of the Idea of Europe - The Cultural Future of Europe. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003.

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 18.11.2003     INST