Bloodshed comes back because of some ailments

The vision and the way

The following text reflects the view of the authors, which does not necessarily correspond to the view of the European Investment Bank.


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I don't know exactly what Europe is. If I had to answer this question in one sentence, the words of St. Augustine from his Confessions, with which he started a reflection on the nature of time, would be appropriate: “If nobody asks me about it, I know, but if I do I don't know to anyone who asks me. ”But wait, that's not entirely true. I know a lot about Europe: for many people, perhaps especially for many young people, Europe is now synonymous with the European Union. And for many - young and old - at worst, the European Union is an unlikely and listless union of countries with a lot of past and little future, and at best a supranational, cold and abstract entity whose capital is in a distant, cold and abstract place called Brussels . An entity that is not known exactly what it is used for - except that it creates jobs for masses of gray bureaucrats and is used by populist politicians from all over Europe to blame it for all evils in their own country. It does not matter that the reality is completely different: that the well-being of Europeans depends on the European Union today; that their institutions build schools, hospitals, libraries and roads, help small and medium-sized enterprises and fund scientific research. Despite all these visible and tangible successes: Many people view Europe - or at least the European Union - with suspicion and indifference.

© Mike Kemp / Getty Images

EUROPE: THE PROMISE OF MODERNITY, PROSPERITY AND FREEDOM

The image of Europe has not always been so negative, at least not everywhere - on the contrary. For centuries, Europe was the great dream of many Spaniards. Since the beginning of the 17th century they knew that they lived in a country that was isolated and suffered increasingly from poverty, from a lack of education, a lack of freedom, anti-progressive dogmatism and the fiction of a declining empire. Those of my ancestors who were farsighted recognized the promise of modernity, prosperity and freedom that Europe offered from the middle of the 18th century. I myself grew up with this idea in a Spain that tried hard to leave Franquism behind. But you don't have to go back that far, and you don't have to limit yourself to my own experience or that of my compatriots. A little over a decade ago, right after the euro was born, when the European Constitution and EU enlargements were being prepared and the first meetings to create a common European defense took place, a united Europe seemed to be growing as the great world power of the 21st century - the only one that could question the hegemony of the US or China. So widespread was this idea that in 2004 the young British political scientist Mark Leonard dared to publish a book with the title Why Europe belongs to the future 1, and the well-known American economist Jeremy Rifkin said: "As the American spirit [...] fades, we are witnessing the birth of a new European dream".2 Rifkin's conclusion at the time: “The Europeans have mapped out a visionary path” that leads to a new promised land for humanity. It's hard to believe, but this is what thought leaders from all over the world said about Europe just recently.

FOUNDATION OF THE PAGAN AND CHRISTIAN PESARO (DETAIL), GIOVANNI ANDREA LAZZARINI (1710 –1801) © Getty Images

Those of my ancestors who were farsighted recognized the promise of modernity, prosperity and freedom that Europe offered from the middle of the 18th century.

IS THE EUROPEAN DREAM DEAD?

At this point the question arises: what happened that made all these dreams burst overnight? And that as early as May 2010 such an influential journalist as Gideon Rachman in the FinancialTimes wrote about the death of the European dream? The answer is also obvious: the worst economic crisis in Europe since 1929. A crisis that, unlike then, did not trigger a world war, but it was a major political earthquake. In addition, the worst demons in Europe had reawakened, above all nationalism, the demon of discord and division. Now that the crisis seems to be over, the question arises: Can Europe be what it was for my Spanish ancestors and for me in my youth? What was it for all or almost all people at the beginning of this century? Of course I don't know, so I return to the opening question: What is Europe? Does Europe have an identity like France or Germany, Great Britain or Italy, Norway or Spain? And if so, what is that identity? Do Dante and Shakespeare, Cervantes and Montaigne, Ibsen and Goethe have something in common? Is there something that connects all these poets who don't even speak a language? And is it actually enough to speak the same language to have a common identity? Do Milton and Melville or Quevedo and Borges have a common identity?

The worst economic crisis in Europe since 1929. In addition, the worst demons of Europe had reawakened, above all nationalism, the demon of discord and division.

A few years ago, George Steiner attempted to define European identity. At a conference he argued with his “idea of ​​Europe” that our continent could be reduced to five axioms. The first axiom defines Europe in terms of its cafés. Those places of encounter, where you write, debate or forge conspiracies and where the great philosophies arose, the great artistic movements and the great ideological and aesthetic revolutions. The second axiom is about Europe's tamed, walkable and traversable landscape, a landscape of human dimensions that differs from the wild, immense and impassable landscapes of Asia, America, Africa or Oceania. The third axiom presents Europe as a place steeped in history, as a huge one lieu de la mémoire - A place of remembrance, where the names of the streets and squares recall an ever present past, glamorous and oppressive at the same time. Steiner's fourth axiom sees Europe as the guardian of a double, contradicting and inseparable heritage: Athens and Jerusalem, Socrates and Jesus Christ, reason and revelation. Finally, the fifth axiom defines Europe in terms of its eschatological consciousness, the consciousness of its own impermanence, the gloomy certainty that it had a beginning and will inevitably have a more or less tragic end.

MIGUEL DE CERVANTES SAAVEDRA (1547–1616), AUTHOR OF “DON QUIJOTE OF THE MANCHA”, MOST IMPORTANT WORK IN SPANISH LITERATURE © Getty Images

Our continent can be reduced to five axioms. The first axiom defines Europe in terms of its cafés. The second axiom is about Europe's tamed, walkable and passable landscape. The third axiom presents Europe as a place steeped in history. Steiner's fourth axiom sees Europe as the guardian of a double, contradicting and inseparable legacy. Finally, the fifth axiom defines Europe in terms of awareness of its own impermanence.

EUROPE'S ONLY IDENTITY IS ITS DIVERSITY

According to Steiner, these five axioms define the essence of Europe. This idea is certainly brilliant and provocative, but it doesn't go far enough. These traits undoubtedly belong to Europe; but it is also certain that they are insufficient to describe his identity. I'm sure Steiner knows that. And he certainly also knows that the answer he gives to the question of Europe's identity is not the problem, but the question itself. In the second half of the 16th century, Montaigne wrote: There are “so many differences between us and ourselves as between ourselves and the others. " 3

MICHEL EYQUEM DE MONTAIGNE (1533–1592), AUTHOR OF THE “ESSAIS” © Getty Images

The great French writer had understood long before Freud that individual identity is, in a sense, a fiction; that inside of us a drama em gente - a "drama in people" - plays to use the words of Fernando Pessoa with which he described the heterogeneity of his work; or that we have an alliance of different souls within us, as a figure in Antonio Tabucchi explained based on Pessoa.

But if the individual identities are an illusion, doesn't that also apply to the collective identities? Collective identities - starting with the Spanish one - are in reality nothing more than collective inventions, derived or immediately dictated by state powers, which, like all powers, know very well that in order to control the present and the future, one must first control the past. That means: we have to create a narrative of the past that legitimizes a common present and prepares a common future. Basically, Europe's only credible identity is its diversity - a contradicting or impossible identity, an oxymoron. And the only narrative that could legitimize it would be the true history of Europe as a group of old countries with their own language, culture, tradition and history that, after centuries of merciless struggle, decided one day to come together and build a new country that was supported by the common values ​​of unity, prosperity and freedom.

A united Europe is the only sensible political utopia that we Europeans have achieved in the course of history.

Viewed in this way, the motto of Europe would be one of the first mottos of the United States, the political utopia that fertilized the Enlightenment and has historically been the most successful. The motto was: E pluribus unum - a single state from many countries, languages, cultures, traditions and pasts. At this point I have to make a confession. For me, Europe has always remained what it was for me as a youth who had just experienced the end of a dictatorship that never ended; what it was for the best minds of my Spanish ancestors for centuries. In other words, like my friend Erri de Luca, I am a European extremist. For me, a united Europe is the only sensible political utopia that we Europeans have achieved in the course of history.

Terrifying political utopias - paradises in theory turned to hell in practice - we have invented in abundance; reasonable political utopias, as far as I know, only this one: that of a united Europe. In my opinion, there are an infinite number of arguments for this idea. They are so obvious that we probably overlook them most of the time, as we live in a dictatorship of the present, in which yesterday is already the past and everything that happened a week ago was practically a distant past.

I just want to mention three of these arguments. First: Europe's popular sport is not football, as so many believe, but war. Over the past millennium, we Europeans have killed each other without a break and in all conceivable forms: in the Hundred Years War, in the Thirty Years War, in civil wars, in religious wars, in ethnic wars or in world wars that were in reality European wars. These world wars were terrible and insanely cruel. George Steiner recalls that between August 1914 and May 1945, from Madrid to the Volga, from the Arctic to Sicily, around a hundred million men, women and children fell victim to violence, hunger, deportations and ethnic cleansing. Western Europe and the west of Russia became the home of death, the scene of a previously unknown brutality, whether in the form of Auschwitz or the Gulag. The European Union project evidently arose from the horror of this indescribable bloodshed and from the conviction, borne by reason, disgust and courage, that something like this must not be repeated in Europe. The consequences of this conviction are quite obvious - and remarkable -: my father lived through the war, my grandfather lived through the war, my great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers and probably all of my ancestors went through the war - except me. So I belong to the first generation in Europe that has never known a war, at least - let's not forget the brutal fighting that tore up Yugoslavia - not a war between the great European powers. That is why many today consider another war in Europe to be unthinkable. That seems naive to me.