Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Contemporary plight

A continuous stream of fugitives from all sides washes on the shores of Europe, and flowing through the porous borders on its east flank... and the images on the news are heart breaking, especially of the children, exposed to the winds of history of which they have no incling. Millions of years have been necessary to create the most complex structure in the universe: the human brain with its consciousness, and a trajectory of thousands of years made the creation of a society possible where human beings can live safely and in harmony with nature more or less under control. But beyond the borders of Europe, hordes of excitable men, driven by irrational ideas and destructive desires to kill wherever possible, exercise their psychosis while masses of people who do not share those instincts, flee to the island where, after many ages, something of a human civilization still tries to maintain its standards. It is disheartening to see the bickering among the European members of the EU about the numbers of asylum seekers to be accepted, as if alone the numbers and facilities and costs are subjects of concern. Either Europe closes its borders and turns its back to the mass extinctions that would then inevitably take place, or it accepts fugitives from war-torn areas and integrates them, turns them into Europeans. These are the only options. With people from the cities integration is, in general, not too difficult, and they seem to be in the majority - cities are often more developed than the countryside which, given its poverty and underdevelopment, is a breeding ground for destructive ideas and instincts. There are immense open spaces with deserted villages in France, for instance, which could be populated by immigrants, to be invited or to be put to employment in agrarian sectors which suffer from decreasing work forces. There must be more areas like this elsewhere in Europe, where immigrants can be Europeanized and integrated into society and can create a life worth living, thereby also contributing to society. That is, after all, the very thing fugitives want.

In this situation, questions about Europe's identity, and especially cultural identity, becomes important: what wants Europe to be? How can immigrants be Europeanized in such a way, that the future of the continent is safeguarded, but also while creating enough freedom for some of the cultural heritage that immigrants took with them? Foreign influences have to be transformed to be a fruitful injection, as Europe's history clearly shows. If merely left to its own dynamics, Europe will suffer a fate that may remind us in some ways of what happened in the 4th and 5th century - and we know what was the result of that broadly-spread and complex disaster: it was, among other problems like economic ones, the combination of Germanic peoples which aggressively invaded the Roman Empire and the flow of immigrants from the Middle East which, in the end, helped to bring down the Western part. The peaceful immigrants brought with them Eastern culture which, together with Christianity, fundamentally changed the culture of Antiquity which had been at the heart of the empire's cultural identity. Together with the Germanic tribes' influx, which happened gradually and with regular accomodations, the Roman Empire had become too big and too cumbersome and too internally divided to cope with it all. (An interesting book about the subject: 'The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization' by Bryan Ward-Perkins, Oxford University Press, 2005.)

It took Europe some 8 centuries to recover its civilization. Therefore, its culture and the maintainance of its spiritual and historical heritage should receive the utmost attention and support, and be upgraded in the educational systems with the utmost intensity. If we look at the institutions which present contemporary art and contemporary music in public space, they seem to be the fossiles from ideas by now half a century old when the situation was completely different, celebrating a postwar hangover and materialist nihilism, thoroughly hostile to its own cultural history. Instead of destroying Europe's own cultural traditions, they should be revived and reinterpreted, and again be understood as the mental space where Europe explores its identity, its history, present and its future.

With an agressive Russia at the eastern borders, a Russia that does no longer want to be part of the civilized world, the need to form a federal Europe which can resist the various threats appears increasingly necessary, and the immense challenge of the fugitive problem also requires a centralized form of solving the problems, these pressures can no longer be dealt with on a local level. We do not want a European Soviet Union, as some bureaucratic tendencies have shown in the last years, but a strong, humane federal state which can include variety and difference - but within a context formulated by the best of European civil society. That means that quite much work has to be done, also theoretically and analytically, before workable solutions can be found on the political level.

Identity is digested, not denied history. Cultural traditions are not museum pieces but living organisms. As far as classical music is concerned (in its widest sense), in 50 years time there has to be an understanding audience for it, because that art form has things to say about what Europe was, is and could be. That audience will be constituted of descendants of Europeans and of Europeanized immigrants, and it will have to look reasonably 'coloured', reflecting European society as a whole and not be seen as the luxury toy of a small, rich elite. Measured against this framework, a thorough rethinking of the aims of contemporary art and music appears to be one of the great challenges of the 21st century, and fundamentally related to the other challenges present and ahead. If Europe fails, it will sink and die, and all the insane wars that currently misfigure the Middle East and Africa will spread in our middle, cities like Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Munich, Warsaw etc. will be battlefields and war zones where the hell will be created which Europe has successfully tried to prevent over the last 50 years.

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An interesting article in the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung about immigration can be found here:

http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/richard-alba-ueber-einwanderung-integration-und-islam-13723632.html

The problem with these well-meant and rational analyses is, that the cultural factor is undervalued. Muslem immigrants from underdeveloped areas bring with them a culture which is felt, by Europeans, as difficult or impossible to harmonize with European values. It is education which has to be the focus in attempts to solve this problem, but especially the information and awareness of European culture and identity, and that has become very hard when Europeans themselves are loosing interest in their own culture.

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Addition 23/8/15:

A programme on Dutch TV documented the younger generations' leaving of the province of Zeeland, the beautiful island area in the south-west of the country. Towns and villages gradually depopulate, where only the old are left behind - and worse, the businesses now begin to follow the young because they cannot find the needed work forces. The quality of life in Zeeland is very high: clean and fresh air, oppulent meadow landscape, picturesque architecture where the modernist glass-and-steel cubes are conspicuously absent, excellent infra structure and schools for the children.... Authorities are desperately seeking means to attract people back to the area which otherwise would end-up completely emptied. Similar problems are hitting the north-east of Holland, where comparable high life quality is not enough to keep the population from departing for the cities in the west, especially over-populated Amsterdam where public irritation has become structurally ingrained. Obviously, the solution here would be to send Syrian fugitives to these areas and turn them into Europeans, which would be not too difficult because here they would find exactly the conditions they desperately seek: those which make a normal, safe life possible. And most of these fugitives are educated anyway, had jobs in Syria, and are westernized already. Why does nobody think of this solution?

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