Wednesday, 25 November 2015

European renaissance?

These times will be decisive for the future of Europe... and it will be of great consequence which trajectory will be taken: the breakdown of the European Union and the nation states locking themselves up behind their borders, quarrelling about interests, money and fugitives, with war zones in their capitals; or in contrary a renewed movement to a political union: a federal Europe that - because of its unity - can be strong both inwardly and outwardly, and overcome its many problems, including the terrorist threat. If the latter road will be taken, critics of the EU will say: 'empire building', and will interpret this as a return to the worst characteristics of Europe's past. But for people, who understand that division and provincialism will eventually bring great damage to everybody, these times are a challenge and a great chance to let Europe's best values overcome the problems. One thing can be taken for granted: the terrorist threat cannot be overcome by individual nations alone, it simply requires the most thorough cooperation on all levels.

In the light of both the fugitive crisis and the terrorist threat, the state of established contemporary culture in terms of new creation, cuts a futile and pathetic figure. Culture is the embodiment of the values of a civilization. Today, European civilization is under threat from forces inside and outside its territory; in such situation, culture is not less, but more important. Thinking of the silly demonstrations of non-talent and decadence, like cut corpses in formaldehyde, crucifixes in urine, tinned excrements or unmade beds in the visual arts, and digestion noises, mating violins, orchestras murmuring, groaning and moaning beyond their normal sound production in music, it strikes me as utter waste that such activities are still given attention in public space and money from subsidizing bodies. What does all this have to offer to the real world? Nothing. It merely adds to its misery.

The future, when becoming the present, is the result of dreaming. Why not dream for a moment? Why not close the curtains for an hour, shut down the email programme, the telephone, the apps and the smart phone, and let fantasy roam freely? It may help to outline our ambitions... and individual trajectories. I dream of a united, federal Europe, something like the USA, economically strong, and governed by the rule of law and by social justice, a Europe which can absorb fugitives and help them to assimilate, to become European, populating the deserted areas where younger generations have left the picturesque villages and towns and the gentle landscapes, for the excitement and career chances of the big cities, thus breathing life into the land without which also the big cities cannot really thrive. Culture will be an important instrument in the process of integration, not merely for the immigrants but also for the locals who grew-up in times of erosion and ignorance about what made Europe great. So, a thorough educational system centralized around the humanities. It may be a good idea to cut the big nation states into smaller units where populations can more directly relate to the area, which is already finding its expression in Wales, Scotland, and Catalonia. If political representation is scaled-down to such smaller areas, people will be able to feel better and stronger integrated into their communities.... say, something like the various 'Länder' in present-day Germany. Above that level, a general system of representation will deal with the greater issues like economic and foreign policy, and the balancing-out of taxes and government spending. To avoid the danger of a hughe, impersonal bureaucratic European Soviet Union, as the Brussels administration often seems to prefer, a bureaucracy which does not inspire to emotional commitment, a bit of colour would be effective to emotionally bind populations: in the small Euroregions, kings or queens with representative functions can be installed, including ritualistic and decorative events - but without political power. Why 'king/queen' and not some more neutral, modern term like burgermaster or president? Because 'king/queen' rings with archetypal resonances: there is a symbolical dimension to it that other, newer terms do not have and actually were developed to avoid such resonances.... like 'president', 'chanceler', etc. Such local kings/queens could be given a budget for cultural projects to be organized in their residence, like salons, and chamber music events, as an expression of cultural and social importance. We have already remnants of the old European nobility making themselves relevant in charities and cultural projects, and maybe they could be mobilized into more structural jobs. We could go further and think of installing an emperor, chosen from the elite of elderly statesmen who have demonstrated an effective and impressive commitment to the idea of Europe, people like Helmut Schmidt - but without political power which would be seated in the European parliament and the parliaments of the Euroregions, and always someone who has been chosen on merit. Think of the emotionally-mobilizing effect of rituals as exercised by the British queen, and how the members of that family function pretty well within modern society in spite of the occasional internal upheavels visiting them.... the only down side being the hereditary nature of the monarchy, being born into the job, which is absurd. Kings and emperors should be chosen, as was often done in the Roman empire.

Of course, on first sight all this sounds crazy and completely unrealistic and naively nostalgic - but think of the practical advantages such a Europe would have. Take Italy: the prosperous north does not quite like to pay for the impoverished south where the maffia gets their fingers into everything. If it were two different regions, or even cut into 3 or 4 regions, and money to support the south would not come directly from the Italian neighbours but from the Union where all regions pay into and receive money according to their needs, this will produce a very different feeling both in the north of Italy and in the south. Also the great differences between southern, rather 'loose' economic cultures and the thorough north, would be balanced-out because if Europe would be cut into a great number of small regions, sorting-out imbalances would be less difficult than these continuous conflicts between economically failed nations like Greece and the irritation of a paying Germany that wants to see the accounts. There should be a capital, and that should not be Brussels but a place with deep roots in European history, to feed Europe's cultural identity and create a location that would inspire the present and the future. (Given the multi-national and multi-cultural character of such a Europe, Vienna comes to mind as a perfect place, since the Austrio-Hungarian Empire was a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national country. Also, a perfect place for offices would be the Neue Burg, if the second wing - which was envisaged but never built - would finally be created, forming a strong symbol of continuity and cultural identity on a European scale.) In short, the combinations of two different developments: one towards small-scale organisation, and another towards a general, overall administration. It should be possible to figure-out such an empire, and to make it work. What the Romans could do, contemporary Europeans should be able to do much better.

A central idea of Europe is: diversity and pluralism combined with unity. But what is this unity, especially in times when we see more of the diversity than the unity? I think these two notions occupy two different levels of society and culture. It is like a polyphonic work by Bach: the voices go their own independent way but keep themselves within the limits delineated by an overall framework which keeps the different lines together. Or a string quartet by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven: a civilized conversation between different characters, forming a harmonious whole within which there can be varied endlessly. But in society, unity is created by a Leitkultur, a general cultural framework based upon some fundamental values, as have been developed since the Englightment, which should offer freedom but within limits, so that disruptive 'parallel societies' can be avoided.

But seriously... apart from all the dreaming: the great mistake of the development of the EU, a mistake which also has a strong impact upon the developments of culture, was to organize the EU into a territory according to mainly economic considerations, on the assumption that other things, like a political union and, maybe a cultural one, would take care of themselves. The European project has lost the full commitment of its populations, and while in these times the problems and crises demand a strong solution, the EU seems to be rather powerless and lacking any real vision - it cannot mobilize 'Europeanness'. To win back the commitment of the people, their deep emotional resources have to be touched upon and they are by nature atavistic: not a modernist Manhatten of cool skyscrapers filled with faceless bureaucrats who organize things without being in touch with the reality of the people, but an emotional vision of greatness which can inspire the masses to cooperation and constructive effort. Look at the French: over time, they have cultivated a rather irrational vision of 'la grande nation', a vague but very strong idea of all the great achievements of the country in the past (!) which  have greatly contributed to the world's civilization and especially to Europe's civilization, and in these times of profound crisis, a wave of unified emotion binds the people together. Of course, the divisions are great in France, and that terrible woman Le Pen is whipping-up populist stupidity, but the general loyalty towards the idea of France that is bubbling-up is real. Imagine such emotional appeal towards the notion of Europe, the Grand Empire of civilization.... answering - in fact - the dreams, often exaggerated, of the refugees fleeing barbarism, destruction and death by war. They see 'Europe' as the civilization offering the fruits of humanity, which is being destroyed elsewhere by psychopaths. I have the feeling that the passionate dreams of those Syrian families, struggling with their young children on their shoulders, through endless landscapes and along pointed guns, are the potentials of a Europe that stands for its immense achievements. It is on this point, that the original dream of a civilized and cultured Europe and the dream of the numerous fugitives find a confluence, thus forming a possible basis of a fertile integration and renewal.

The best of Europe is also embodied in its culture, and that means: not in its postwar modernism and its deplorable progeny. If culture has to be the inspiring and symbolic force it has been in the past, it should courageously return to the means of that past, and use them for a renaissance. Such renaissance has already happened once, and there is no reason why it could not happen again. Also the Italian renaissance was the result of dreaming.... by many very able people and very talented artists, and we know they were not naive, nostalgic misfits but active intellectuals and artists. I would say, let us dream of a European renaissance... culturally, politically, civilizationally. If Europe could combine its best forces, all crisis could be overcome. The alternative is too horrible to even consider.


Addendum 24/6/16:

Now that the UK has decided to leave the EU, which is a forceful slap in the face of the European project, a weakened Europe can either fall apart or pull together and reform. In the UK, the vox populi has spoken, but has split the country in two since the difference of the votes is a mere couple of percentages. It is to be expected, with great probability, that Scotland, N-Ireland and Gibraltar, where the population in an overwhelming majority voted for remaining in the EU, will leave the United Kingdom, and that a majority of banks will relocate to Frankfurt, the other big European financial capital, which will benefit from it. The campaign for leaving the EU was based on lies, fear mongering and appeals to primitive nationalistic instincts of uninformed people ignorant of the consequences but full of suspicion towards foreigners and supposed uncontrolled immigration, whipping-up the ghost of nationalism which has created so much havoc in the European past and presenting an example which rightwing parties elsewhere will be happy to follow. Now already one hears voices, inspired by the Brits, in Denmark, France and the Netherlands, claiming vindication of the 'nationalistic need'. This remarkable shift in terms of nationalities and identities only shows that the need for identification with locality has to be addressed, and in the same time to be balanced by a greater vault of supranational unity, exactly as described above in my fantasies.

As a convinced European, I feel connected in a cultural sense with England (where I have studied and have friends and professional contacts), with Germany (given the nature of my music) and France (providing a fertile soil for some of my cultural roots). It is not so difficult to identify with multiple cultures that have different histories, since there is so much that overlaps. A multicultural identity is a combination of elements from different cultures which can form a whole, including its differences, and according to individual character and inclinations. The brexit is a gesture of refusal to cultivate such type of identity and seems nothing more than a reaction of fear and a clinging to an imagined, old monocultural identity. It pains me to see that so many Brits prefer to be an island instead of playing their part in a greater unity. I never felt that travelling through the UK was in some way 'abroad' from Europe.... and its musical culture is so strongly connected to the musical world of the continent. The brexit will harm the UK's musical culture, it seems to me, and stimulate a parochial mentality.

When the UK falls apart into a more provincial status, turning its back to the continent in a gesture of self-destructive protest, it betrays its historic openness and cultural credibility. But if the EU would reform and nation states would, within its context, split-up themselves in smaller culturally-defined areas, a small England - no longer a United Kingdom - could, like Scotland and Wales, apply for the EU umbrella, because it would no longer be the UK that as a whole decided to leave it. And then, England would be in a very weak position in the negotiations.

Action provokes reaction. It is only to be hoped that a reformed EU, which is much more socially-sensitive and less materialistically-bureaucratic, and which would create and stimulate both local and European cultural identity, can provide a counterbalance to the threat of rightwing politics and extremism which is on the rise. The fact that almost half of the UK electorate wanted to be part of Europe, especially the young, is a sign of a justified hope.

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