Culture. A Headache for Europe?
Rede von Botschafter Mag. Dr. Emil Brix anlässlich der Konferenz
"More Europe, More Culture - foreign cultural policies in and beyond Europe"
Warschau, 9. - 11. Oktober 2003
Since the beginning of European integration, there have never been better reasons for significantly expanding European cultural policies:
- The European Union is at a crossroads where deepening integration can only be achieved by accepting and promoting cultural togetherness (emotional bonds) and by increasing worldwide cultural projection of what Europe stands for.
- Promoting cultural cooperation is the most effective means of overcoming the mental east-west divide that clearly still exists.
- Cultural diversity is certainly a specific strength of Europe; however, if the protection of diversity is left to member states, it is not surprising that their policy-makers will protect specific national cultures and not so much common European ideas or regional, cross-border cooperation.
Apart from some cosmopolitan intellectuals and commission bureaucrats, who might show an interest in responding to these challenges? A clear majority of EU member states adamantly rejects the idea of more common European cultural policies. Whenever a politician speaks of more culture for Europe, it should be expected that he is talking about “good governance.” Whenever a public cultural policy-maker speaks about the values of “cultural diversity” for Europe, it should be expected that he wants to defend national interests. Such conclusions may sound radical, but they are based on a growing European political dilemma that concerns culture and democracy.
In European countries, national cultural policies tend to be state-driven means of supporting specific political ideas about identity (strengthening national community, increasing democratic spirit, securing cultural reproduction). Foreign cultural policy is predominantly seen as an instrument for “winning friends and influencing people.” Even liberal thinkers tend to accept that democracy works best within the institutional framework of states and not at the EU level.
What are the consequences of these facts for European cultural policies? The issues at stake are:
Bigger, better, beautiful. EU enlargement will enrich Europe culturally; with a growing complexity of players inside and outside the EU, expansion will also mean a new challenge to our ability to communicate across cultures. Both candidate and non-candidate countries should be included in Europe’s cultural dynamics.
Brave New Europe. Can Europe develop frameworks for intercultural competency and thus tackle the ‘multicultural challenge’ and the need for a new sense of ‘cultural security’ and ‘belonging’? Obviously, in the context of a dialogue with Islam, Europe is searching for a specific mediating position.
Richly diverse, but united in goals. How can politics ensure that Europe’s creative diversity will become a competitive advantage in a globalising world?
A cover story in The Economist (12.2.2000) on the topic “What is Europe?” began with this assertion: “Forget geography, forget culture. The thing called ‘Europe’ that a dozen or more ex-communist and other countries want to join...is about politics and economics.”
The European system is based on states and in spite of intellectual challenges that declare the end of the state as the sole power-container (Anthony Giddens), EU member countries show little interest in changing this situation. The arguments brought forward are that the general public demonstrates little readiness to identify with a “European identity” (emotional deficit of Europe), that democracy functions best in state structures (Ralf Dahrendorf - democratic deficit of Europe), and that there is no progress in creating a European public space for discussion and decision-making.
The European Union, which has become the most successful European integration project ever, has thus far relied mainly on economics and politics. Common cultural narratives have been introduced rather haphazardly (cf. symbols such as the European flag, the European anthem) or reluctantly (late inclusion of cultural clauses in the European treaties). In order to avoid 19th century-like discussions about nations and ethnicity, cultural matters such as education, cultural policies, language and issues of identity are left to the member states.
Today, processes of global competition, the new dynamics of measures of integration (Euro, concept of a common European knowledge-based society), and the enlargement of the EU (developments since 1989) clearly introduce cultural discourses in the EU. Traditionally exclusive concepts such as language and identity are sure to gain influence in European politics and in the perceptions of European citizens.
The traditions and experiences of the new Central European member countries will be very valuable in coping with these cultural questions on a European level. The dominating intellectual experience of any Central European citizen is that the only natural fact about the notion of “identity” is that identity is in a permanent state of crisis (because of competing, multiple identities).
What traces of multinational tradition (cf. Habsburg myth) are left on the minds of Central and Eastern European populations? Today, discourses on ethnicity, legitimate power and cultural imperialism are the dominant critical interests of European social scientists. These topics refer back to the final decades of continental European empires when political disintegration processes evolved from similar dilemmas. Present day European integration is far removed from empire building. Still, there seem to be lessons that can be learned from the decline and collapse of European multinational empires.
The integrated, larger Europe of the future will be much more of a battlefield of symbols than at any other time since the end of World War Two. Central European traditions of plurality and of the failure of exclusive ethnic concepts increase the chances that growing cultural discourses about legitimate power will not give rise to processes of European disintegration.
Thus, the term “cultural diversity” may gain meaning as something far beyond the preservation of a concept of “national cultures.” The topics for discussion at a European level include:
Appreciation of complexity
Legitimacy of differences
Dynamics of urban centres and regions
Relativity of borders (including cultural divides)
Plurality of languages
Presence of history / traditions (taboos, collective memory)
Creativity of contrasts
Role of ethnicity
Return of geography
Transnational civil society
To hear relevant answers to these questions, we will have to listen to many different and often contradictory stories. For some of these questions, we will find good European answers, for some not. We should possibly accept that interpreting and formulating cultural policies always causes headaches: “People who were not born then,” wrote Robert Musil of the Austrian fin de siècle, “will find it difficult to believe, but the fact is that even then time was moving faster than a cavalry camel... But in those days, no one knew what it was moving towards. Nor”, Musil continues, “could anyone quite distinguish between what was above and what was below, between what was moving forward and what backward.”