Being and/or Becoming European
In many Europeans’ minds the term ‘Europe’ refers to Greece and to its mythology. For a non-nationalist Greek, going a couple of thousand years back to identify and possibly celebrate what ‘the cradle of democracy’ bestowed upon us in terms of a term is ironic and perhaps a dubious exercise. The ultimate irony regarding Europe is that it started as a myth concerning sexual desire and a divine abduction and – surprisingly enough - for many around the world Europe still symbolizes force and desire.
Ever since antiquity Europe has come to represent a land and sea space with relative geographical borders that tend to change ‘internally’ from time to time as a result of the deployment of force and - quite recently in historical time – as a desire to learn from the mistakes of the past and move forward with peace, understanding, solidarity and a whole array of values that aim to put ‘life’ at the center of Europeans’ interests and dreams.
I happen to have lived so far in my life for almost ten years in the Netherlands, Ethiopia and the USA. Surprisingly enough the first time I felt European was when I landed in the “New World”. English as a medium of communication was helpful and the same went for the multiracial and multiethnic – at least in its origin - ambience. What was different was the standard mindset of average ‘Joe on the street’, a totally different sense of history (or lack of it) and the apocalyptical difference between, on the one hand a naïve, young, optimistic and energetic ‘American’ who does not ask questions and on the other a rather ‘heavy’, aged and wise ‘European’ who refuses to stop asking or even creating new questions.
Being and/or becoming European is based neither on a shared memory of suffering, as is the case with many fellow humans from Africa nor on a predestined zeal to ‘do good’ as is the case with fellow humans from the USA. Europe is a mosaic of former enemies, most of whom are becoming aware of their (our) historical inefficiencies, shortcomings and dead-ends. Europe is the only geographical space on our planet where the crucial question, one of a rather philosophical nature question concerning individuality and community is still without a definite answer. This dynamic interaction between the individual and the community in defining our identity is finally being taken into account.
Violence might still be ‘the midwife of history’, as Frederic Engels put it, but in Europe we know that, under particular circumstances, a midwife can also kill the mother and the baby at the same time. And although Europeans still engage in violent acts in our domestic, national and transnational lives, we all agree that this is not the way to go but we assume that we ‘are forced by circumstances to act in that way’. Nevertheless more and more Europeans are coming to realise that it is we as citizens who create circumstances and no a divine hand or demiurge.
Europe needs to move faster toward putting the principles it set forward some decades ago into action. In a similar way to Ulysses who refused to hear the tempting songs of the Sirens, we Europeans should refuse the policies that take us and those we elect away from the foundations on which we decided to come together and which leave borders as mere fading “lines” on pieces of paper called maps. We should translate solidarity into everyday activity and not reduce such glorious notion to loans of billions of Euros via profit making bankers. Solidarity must be understood as a principled commitment to be adhered by all as a life stance that protects life and respects dignity.
Historically speaking, our continent has never been a fortress. On the contrary, from the ancient colonies of the Greeks around the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the notorious naval adventures of the Vikings, the constant waves of ‘newcomers’ such as the Germanic tribes, the Slavs and the Turks, the Roman Mare Nostrum and more recently the brutal colonial conquests of a number of European modern states, Europe has expanded, has exported population, has appropriated wealth and has flirted on a number of occasions with global domination. The call to build a ‘Fortress Europe’ would sound like a joke if it did not mean the increased suffering of fellow human beings. According to some, immigrants who come to Europe are simply paying back the visit Europeans paid to their lands. As long as Europe continues ‘fighting terrorism’ using brutal force without addressing the root causes of poverty and destitution in the developing world, the countless waves of immigrants that appear in Europe should not come as a surprise. To cut a long story short, we need to come to terms with our historical experience if we are to break the vicious circle of power and domination as we preach.
The Europe I am proud of is that of a geographical space which is not afraid to come to terms with reality and defies existing paradigms, while transforming its experience of millennia into positive action for our planet. The Europe in my heart and soul should identify itself as an ‘ecolocomotive’ of peace and social justice for Europeans and non-Europeans alike.