A PLATFORM FOR THOUGHT AND HUMANITY "In generosity and helping others, be like a river. In compassion and grace, be like the sun. In concealing other's faults, be like the night. In anger and fury, be like dead. In modesty and humility, be like the earth. In tolerance, be like the sea. Either appear as you are, or be as you appear" (Mevlana Rumi) "Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the life-long attempt to acquire it" (Albert Einstein)
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Timothy Garton Ash, Oxford University Prospect Magazine, February 2007 .
Europe has lost the plot. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the treaty of Rome on 25th March 2007—the 50th birthday of the European economic community that became the European Union—Europe no longer knows what story it wants to tell. A shared political narrative sustained the postwar project of (west) European integration for three generations, but it has fallen apart since the end of the cold war. Most Europeans now have little idea where we're coming from; far less do we share a vision of where we want to go to. We don't know why we have an EU or what it's good for. So we urgently need a new narrative.
I propose that our new story should be woven from six strands, each of which represents a shared European goal. The strands are freedom, peace, law, prosperity, diversity and solidarity. None of these goals is unique to Europe, but most Europeans would agree that it is characteristic of contemporary Europe to aspire to them. Our performance, however, often falls a long way short of the aspiration. That falling short is itself part of our new story and must be spelled out. For today's Europe should also have a capacity for constant self-criticism.
In this proposal, our identity will not be constructed in the fashion of the historic European nation, once humorously defined as a group of people united by a common hatred of their neighbours and a shared misunderstanding of their past. We should not even attempt to retell European history as the kind of teleological mythology characteristic of 19th-century nation-building. No good will come of such a mythopoeic falsification of our history ("From Charlemagne to the euro"), and it won't work anyway. The nation was brilliantly analysed by the historian Ernest Renan as a community of shared memory and shared forgetting; but what one nation wishes to forget another wishes to remember. The more nations there are in the EU, the more diverse the family of national memories, the more difficult it is to construct shared myths about a common past.
Nor should our sense of European togetherness be achieved by the negative stereotyping of an enemy or "other" (in the jargon of identity studies), as Britishness, for example, was constructed in the 18th and 19th centuries by contrast with a stereotyped France. After the collapse of the Soviet communist "east," against which western Europe defined itself from the late 1940s until 1989, some politicians and intellectuals now attempt to find Europe's "other" in either the US or Islam. These attempts are foolish and self-defeating. They divide Europeans rather than uniting them. Both the negative stereotyping of others and the mythmaking about our own collective past are typical of what I call Euronationalism—an attempt to replicate nationalist methods of building political identity at the European level.
In this proposal, Europe's only defining "other" is its own previous self: more specifically, the unhappy, self-destructive, at times downright barbaric chapters in the history of European civilisation. With the wars of the Yugoslav succession and the attempted genocide in Kosovo, that unhappy history stretches into the very last year of the last century. This is no distant past. Historical knowledge and consciousness play a vital role here, but it must be honest history, showing all the wrinkles, and not mythistoire...