Europe: Notes from the Underground

Article published on May 10, 2015
Article published on May 10, 2015

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

While I am getting ready for his year’s Charlemagne Prize ceremony, I look back a year ago, on what I have written for the same occasion.

A new round of hostilities between German and Greek politicians and journalists, probably unthinkable 365 days ago and the extremely violent attack in Paris, make me even more alerted about the collisions of different cultures that I have written about last year.

But I am enthusiastic and optimist for Europe: The young people from all around EU, I met in Aachen the last three years, with all their fantastic projects, are a solid proof that thinking by default European, (as opposed to national thinking) is the new reality.

With Peter H-l Laugesen, Charlemagne Youth Prize winner of 2014 and Paul Hershkovitch, French national winner for 2014, discussing seriously, how we will write the new Myth of Europe.

A New Myth[1] for Europe – Elina Makri

Article written for the the Karlspreis Europa Aachen Forum 2014.

  “Europe 2.0: The Who, Why and Whither”

The European Union is an enigma.

It is by far the best prototypical, paradoxical and political experiment in history. It is the most successful branch of international law and the world’s most unique seedbed of supranational notions of democracy and political organisation. But now it suffers and has lost some respect: financial crisis, raising unemployment, a blame game between northern and southern lifestyles, while youngsters moan as they emigrate north. We see what looks like two kinds of local ships headed in opposite directions and all the while the contradictions are passing into history.

Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a case of twice two makes four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that!

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground

A few months ago, while discussing with some technocrats on what southern countries should do in order to get out of the financial crisis, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s hero from the underground came to my mind. I can recall that, present in front of the few technocrats, were French, Greek and Spanish journalists, all arguing vividly in political terms. Apparently one side could not understand the other; Snow White could not understand Cinderella’s story. Suddenly, a German journalist asked the following: “I am the data guy (read: I understand numbers) here and I would like to ask the technocrats: where does “your” growth curb stop, if it stops, and at which social cost, for the social cohesion of a country?” Therein lies our tale…

Do we aim for a Europe based on calculation, profitability, efficiency and competitiveness? Values or virtues that do not guarantee a peaceful symbiosis between the north and the south of Europe? And if so, will these different behavioral patterns of different societies guarantee the peace of the continent, the protection of human life, freedom, dignity and the right to live in security in an open and fair society?

Mindful of the different cultures across Europe, I long to see a balance over this matter, a European Union based on the idea of ecumenism, as opposed to a flat and flattening globalisation, I would rather experience a dialectic between different and equal civilizations, cultures and modus vivendi, which constitutes after all the unique European heritage.

For sure, a better economy will not be a godsend but the European Union will be better able to unite and bridge civilizations. That being said, a civilization does not mean culture or other trendy buzzwords but a very different way of doing things. Are we tolerant enough to see this happen? 

In his famous Foreign Affairs article, “The Clash of Civilizations”, Samuel P. Huntington writes that “cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and economic ones.” Put it to the test and cast your eyes upon the history of mankind. What is made by man can always be destroyed by man. To quote once more our Underground hero: “And how do these wiseacres know that man wants a normal, a virtuous choice? What has made them conceive that man must want a rationally advantageous choice? What man wants is simply independent choice, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead. And choice, of course, the devil only knows what choice”. And speaking of the devil, a growing number of populist and nationalist parties are taking over public opinion about Europe and have shown that they can adeptly employ devious tricks as the European enigma unfolds.

The time has come for the Euro-generation, to create a new narrative of a communal European trajectory that will enter and last forever in the history of mankind. To create the myth that will ensure a rematch of the solitary, Faustian bargain.

[1] The author uses the word myth with the meaning of a supreme truth through the tales of men