EU IDENTITY IN ACCESSION PROCESS
Thursday, 27. October
Moderator: Ana Frank, Peace Institute, Slovenia
Alexandre Mirlesse was born in Geneva, Switzerland and lives in Paris, France. A student in comparative literature and modern history at École Normale Supérieure in Paris, he worked on European research projects with French think-tank “Notre Europe“. In 2009, he was one of the organisers of the Europe XXL conference in Lille, France, which brought together a number of European leaders to reflect on the idea of Europe, twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Alexandre Mirlesse is the author En attendant l’Europe (La Contre Allée, Lille 2009). This book compiles a series of interviews with intellectuals and artists on ‘European identity’, which he did during a one-year journey across Europe, and was awarded the 2010 “Bienvenu Prize“.
EU Controversy: Identity between East and West
Thinking Europe is like drawing a map: you always start with the outline. It is on the fringes of Europe that you find tension. That’s where the hand trembles, where corrections are made all the time.
Building on this remark by Belarusian poet Adam Globus, my paper aims at better understanding the link between the EU’s enlargement to the twelve Central and Eastern European states in 2004/2007 on the one side, and the revival of a dormant debate about Europe’s culture, values, borders and “identity“ on the other. How did public intellectuals in these countries contribute to that controversy? Was their reaction to their countries’ accession as unanimously positive as it was claimed in Brussels? Has political integration brought about a European public space, putting Eastern and Western intellectuals on an equal footing? Such are the questions I will try to address, based on the series of interviews with Eastern European thinkers and artists I have conducted since 2007.
Dušan Gajić is the chief editor of SEETV, a TV Production based in Brussels, Belgium, providing news footage and coverage of EU affairs to TV channels in South Eastern Europe. He is also European affairs correspondent for Radio Television Serbia, Serbian public broadcaster, and co-founder of MREŽA TV Production Group in Belgrade, Serbia. SEETV is involved in documentary production, mainly on topics of regional interest in the Balkans. SEETV’s latest productions include “The Long Road” (2010) documentary, “Kosovo Diary” (2008) documentary, an award-winning documentary “Greetings from Kosovo” (2005) and “Culture Rocks the City” (2007) documentary on the role of culture in the face-lifting of Eastern and Western European cities. For a list of SEETV productions see www.seetv-exchanges.com.
From 1997 to 2002 as a co-founder of MREŽA Production Group, Gajić was involved in editorial management and production of a bi-weekly TV newsmagazine on political, social and economic issues in Serbia. In 1997, Gajić worked on Belgrade TV channel Studio B as News Broadcast Editor, and producer of TV features and live panel discussions. Dušan Gajić graduated at Belgrade University with a degree in literature in 1997.
Balkans Joining Europe – Losing Identity, or Helping to Forge a European identity?
Europe is not in fashion these days. EU citizens have more and more difficulties to recognize the benefits of the European integration. Europe is shaken by economic, financial and euro-zone crisis. Even traditionally most recognizable achievements of the EU: freedom of movement within the Schengen zone and the Euro as the common currency – have been put under strong pressure recently. Europeans are increasingly inward looking, pessimistic and euro-skeptic. There is one more crisis to add to the long list – crisis of European identity.
The institutional set up doesn’t ease this situation. The Lisbon Treaty was adopted year and a half ago but results are still not reassuring. Instead of clarity sometimes it looks like we’ve got more confusion on who does what. Instead of speaking with one voice on the global scene Europe very often looks as divided as ever. Goes without saying that this is not the best time for the EU enlargement: in the eyes of majority, more members means only more trouble.
In candidate countries, especially small ones, some traditionally fear losing national identity in the big EU. In reality this never happens. Quite the opposite: there is no such thing as “supra-national” EU identity: there are 27 national public opinions and even more specific national identities. If the people of the Balkans still have problems with their identity, so do peoples of countries which have long been part of the EU. Actually one of Europe’s important problems today, seems to be the lacks of attractiveness of the European identity to EU citizens– European citizens do not relate enough to the European Union as a wider ensemble that ensures stability prosperity. They don’t seem to see clearly the advantages of being part of the EU as a force for “good” in a troubled world context.
Will the countries of the Balkans, when they join the EU, help shape the European identity of tomorrow? Will the Balkans countries bring their stone to the complex construction of the European identity? Will the future EU enlargement make Balkan people as well as European citizens aware of the fact that belonging to the EU will never actually replace national identities, but potentially give more added value to one’s national identity?
Simina Guga holds BA in Sociology and Anthropology and MA in Community Development in Bucharest University, Romania. She is working as a researcher and a social counselor for immigrants, refugees and people with subsidiary protection. Although she would like to work with self-organized informal groups, she found herself working for NGO’s. Currently she is searching for new non-institutionalized structures that could provide her a living wage, would involve less bureaucracy and a permanent contact with migrants in Romania. Meanwhile she decided to study Arabic language and to talk about what crosses her mind in the debates organized at “Biblioteca Alternativa” (library and social-cultural centre) that she, together with a group of friends, has established in March 2010.
We were born in a country where people were afraid to speak up their minds and express their political beliefs but were nonetheless economically secure. We grew up in a country whose transition lasted for almost two decades, in which the old structures were wrapped up anew, and millions of people became labor migrants. We became adults in a NATO and EU country, holding a promise for a different kind of future in which we would be able to move freely, while learning to fear for our own security, home, job, culture, seeing difference as a threat and the Others—the poor, the LGBT, the Roma, the disabled, the ill and the immigrants—as dangers to our “newly built integrity”.
Nowadays Romania is holding hands with Bulgaria in taking bows at the Schengen gate. Their discourses are, as always, humble, and their promises are building new walls that will secure rights and privileges for the white and prosperous Europeans. The institutional mobilization of these two countries has many similarities and is largely targeted at immigrants—the deepening of borders, enforcing the meaning of citizenships and the xenophobic filters, creating new detention centres for immigrants, employing new machines to track them down, to number them, to question them and to decide who is useful and who is useless. All the human rights and migrant conventions are instruments that we have created for ourselves and that is the reason why we have the right to violate them, to reinterpret and to change them to our own advantage.
The immigrants—The Others—will have to cultivate a culture of collective resistance to the oppressions of white Europe. They will have to weigh their options and decide whether to choose a hostile Europe or a home that offers no promising future. They will have to create new identities in a world that does not automatically grant them this privilege. These are our countries and these are the immigrants. We, the people who have the choice to physically and mentally travel inside and outside the fortress, are caught somewhere in between. What can we actually do with these privileges and how do we move towards a more solidarity-based world? An open subject that we could develop further….
Jiřina Dienstbierová works as the Director of the Czech Council of Foreign Relations, a Prague based NGO providing a setting for reflections and expression of views on European and global contexts of human existence.
The Council is publishing books and articles, (e.g. Economic Dimension of Czech Diplomacy, Improving the Life of Migrant Worker’s Communities, Stability of the Balkans and the EU, Our Global Neighborhood, The Great Misunderstanding, The CR and the EU, The Czech-German Relations, Relations of the CR with Serbia and Montenegro …). An important part of the Council’s activities is devoted to lectures, workshops and seminars. The Council especially stimulates and supports activities of young people. A special part of the Council activities represent artistic projects where actual topics are addressed through creation of different art works. The Council organized more than 50 exhibitions in different countries.
Student’s Posters Exhibitions
In my presentation I will introduce our four Student’s Posters Exhibitions organize by the Czech Council on foreign relation. We started in 2006 with projects European Identity, Balkans Perception of European Identity, Europe without Barriers and finished with Migration to Europe in 2011. These projects are intended for art university students in the European Union and beyond, who are able – using a piece of artwork, a poster – to join in a far-reaching debate on European identity, immigration from the developing world, its cultural and social values, its barriers and its future. These projects facilitate a long-term active communication between individuals through students’ artwork in the European region. Art enables a meaningful dialogue and interaction, obviating the need to understand the different languages. These projects present young people’s views on different issues and topics throughout the Europe. This facilitates an active debate.
The student’s posters are building a bridge spanning all European countries. Unlike spoken word and written page, visual perceptions have a direct impact and become subliminally yet deeply ingrained in human minds. The students approached the subject with considerable humour, intelligence and without prejudice, despite the weightiness of the matter. They often used both iconic and abstract imagery in their images, and commented on many thorny issues, the need for tolerance between nations, the preservation of identity and many others. We have had organized more than 50 exhibitions. More than 30 art universities’ and more than 600 art universities’ students in the European Union and beyond participated in our projects.