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Revisiting the Issue of the EU Cultural Identity

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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Recently we have seen in Ovi’s pages a timely and illuminating article by Professor Anis Bajrektarevic which reminded us that the geopolitical roots of Europe are extremely complex and not easily disentangled.

He pointed out in such an article that there is a Europe, the Balkans, or the Eastern part of Europe bordering on Russia which is often overlooked vis a vis the Atlantic West and the Mediterranean West in the center. This analysis, to my mind at least, exposes the weakness of defining the EU only in purely economic or geo-political terms. By implication, it also hinted at the fact that there may be another aspect to the European identity which may need to be rediscovered and appreciated, and it will be futile to search for it with the tools of political science, what are needed are the tools of cultural anthropology.

Not that there haven’t been academic studies galore on the subject. In fact, at a minimum five European identity models have been identified. They all have their methodological and theoretical assumptions. Here I’d like to list them briefly and then make a few comments on the first one, the one that I have been proposing in Ovi for the last eight years or so and which I believe is the most comprehensive as well as the most overlooked. The whole will function as a preamble to the issue of new paradigms for the idea of Europe and the relationship between liberty and democracy which we will explore in the next issue of the Ovi symposium.

The five models are as follows:

1. Historical-cultural identity — This model of European identity refers to a perceived common European past with cultural roots and common values. Politicians use this concept in order to signal a historically grown. Academics, such as politico-historians apply a primordialist approach.

2. Political-legal identity — In order to bypass the ethnic dimension in European identity, politicians favour a republican reading which is based upon citizenship, representation and participation. The academic debate looks at the issue from the perspective of democratic theory and legitimacy.

3. Social identity — The sociological variant of European identity focuses on the popular basis of politics. In the political arena this approach is often referred to as a ‘people’s Europe’ approach. The academic approach is based on communitarian and constructivist theories.

4. International identity — In terms of social collectiveness, this is probably the weakest interpretation of European identity. When politicians use it they mainly indicate the need for a more united image of the EU in world politics. In political science, this interpretation is typified by governance or regime approaches.

5. Post-identity commonness — this model strives to avoid the identity-trap. Political models are inexistent. Political philosophers discuss this question on the grounds of post-modernist and postnationalist theories.

It is worth mentioning here that there is no strictly chronological order in the above models, each new framework clearly responds to shortcomings in the previous one, except for the last one which declares the incompatibility of identity and integration and negates all the others. However, the first one remains the most comprehensive.

The historical-cultural model of European identity is based on the premise that there is a missing or forgotten historical consciousness of being European. It highlights a common past which needs to be remembered and even commemorated and celebrated for the successful continuation of the European integration process.

Historically the political use of historical European identity is usually linked to the Enlightenment as one of the truly European achievements, but, if truth be said, the roots go much deeper, all the way back to ancient Greek civilization and the Italian Renaissance which was a rebirth of Greco-Roman civilization synthesized, albeit imperfectly, to Christianity. This kind of identity harkens back to a commonly perceived pre-national or pre-modern past, when political and intellectual elites across Europe shared the same cultural, linguistic, philosophical and religious framework. It was called Humanism, and precedes both the Italian Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The process as a whole embodies the myth of a common origin, a continental unity with common traditions, values and achievements.

This search for ‘European-ness’ has indeed divided scholars into those who defend the existence of a historical European identity and those who deny it. The latter point to a lack of a transnational historical experience in the relatively early stage of European integration which itself needs to become a historical process before social bonds grow into a common social reality.

The political use of European identity is reflected in manifold speeches and dossiers on European integration. A typical example is Vaclav Havel’s speech “About European Identity” (1994). In Havel’s words: “The European Union is based on a large set of values, with roots in an antiquity and in Christianity, which over 2000 years evolved….” Thus it cannot be said that the European Union lacks its own spirit from which all the concrete principles on which it is founded grow. It appears, though, that this spirit is rather difficult to see in Europe. It has been quipped that it is easier to see outside of Europe.

Under Havel’s guidance a subsequent “Charter of European identity” was drafted, with passionate calls for the European Union to strengthen its federal structure and to establish strong education and cultural policies. The process of re-inventing the European tradition would be one of identity politics with a particular focus on Europeanized education in schools such as a European history book and a European curriculum.

During the European Convention, discussions on the historical model of European identity occupied a great deal of time and space, as it embodied the spiritual and cultural foundations of Europe many were searching for. It accounted for 28 percent of the contributions to European identity, these accounts of European integration discovered the roots of ‘European-ness’ in the humanist values of the liberal-democratic writings surrounding the French Revolution, which even found their way into the preamble of the “Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.” It stated that the universal values of inviolable and inalienable rights of every human person, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, are derived from the inspiration that the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe offers to all the citizens of the EU,

As I remember, since I was actively involved in it myself, one of the most controversial debates in the European Convention arose from the question of a specific religious European heritage, namely Christianity. For example, Elmar Brok, chair of the European People’s Party (EPP), supported a reference to Christianity and God, as did the then Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, who promoted the European Union as a “community that shares a Judeo-Christian heritage as its fundamental values….” He also stated that “We must make more explicit the roots of European identity, which we see as part of the value of the Christian religion.” As is well known, the majority of the Convention rejected the Christian reference in the final document. The secularists, excluding religion from the public agora and delegating religion to the mere private sphere had won the day. The rest is history!

 

P.S. This article has recently appeared in Ovi Magazine and is reprinted with permission of the editor and author.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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Europe

Merkel’s projection regarding nationalist movements in Europe

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In recent years, we have repeatedly spoken about the blows that hit the United Europe hard, and resulted in constant and overwhelming crises in this block. The European authorities now refer to “returning to nationalism” as a potential danger (and in some cases, the actual danger!) In this block, and warn against it without mentioning the origin of this danger.

The German Chancellor has once again warned about the rise of nationalism in Europe. The warning comes at a time when other European officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have directly or indirectly, acknowledged the weakening of Europe’s common values. This indicates that the EU authorities don’t see the danger of extensive nationalism far from reality.

“Nationalism and a winner-take-all attitude are undermining the cohesion of Europe”, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “Perhaps the most threatening development for me is that multilateralism has come under such pressure,” Merkel said. “Europe is facing attacks from the outside and from the inside.”

A simple contemplation on the issue of “return of the United Europe to nationalism” suggests that the current European authorities have played an active role in the desire of their citizens to return to the time before the formation of the European Union. In the 2014 general election, we saw more than 100 right-wing extremist candidates finding way to the European Parliament.

This could be the starting point for making fundamental changes in macroeconomic policies and creating a different relationship between the European leaders and the citizens of this block. But this did not happen in practice.

Although the failure of European leaders to manage the immigration crisis and, most importantly, the continuation of the economic crisis in some of the Eurozone countries has contributed to the formation of the current situation, but it should not be forgotten that the growth of radical and nationalist parties in Europe has largely been due to the block’s officials incapability in convincing European citizens about the major policies in Europe. In this regard, those like Angela Merkel and Macron don’t actually feel any responsibility.

Undoubtedly, if this process doesn’t stop, the tendency to nationalism will spread across the Europe, and especially in the Eurozone. European officials are now deeply concerned about next year’s parliamentary elections in Europe. If this time the extreme right parties can raise their total votes and thus gain more seats in the European Parliament, there will be a critical situation in the Green Continent.

The fact is that far-right extremists in countries such as France, Sweden, Austria and Germany have been able to increase their votes, and while strengthening their position in their country’s political equations, they have many supporters in the social atmosphere.
Finally, the German Chancellor remarks, shouldn’t be regarded as a kind of self-criticism, but rather are a new projection of the European leaders. Merkel, Macron and other European officials who are now warning about the emergence of nationalism in Europe should accept their role in this equation.

This is the main prerequisite for reforming the foundations in Europe. If they refuse to feel responsible, the collapse of the European Union will be inevitable, an issue that Merkel and Macron are well aware of.

First published in our partner MNA

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Dayton Peace Accord 23 Years On: Ensured Peace and Stability in Former Yugoslavia

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For the past twenty-three years life has been comparatively peaceful in the breakaway republics of the former Yugoslavia. The complicated civil war that began in Yugoslavia in 1991 had numerous causes and began to break up along the ethnic lines. The touching stories and the aftermath effects of the breakaway republics of Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo are still unfolding. Though the numbers of deaths in the Bosnia- Herzegovina conflict in former Yugoslavia are not known precisely, most sources agree that the estimates of deaths vary between 150,000 to 200,000 and displaced more than two million people. During the conflict a Srebrenica a North-eastern enclave of Bosnia once declared as a United  Nations  (UN ) safe area” saw one of the worst atrocity since second world war.

It has been estimated that more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks were massacred in Srebrenica and it was one of the most brutal ethnic cleansing operations of its kind in modern warfare. The US brokered peace talks revived the a peace process between the three warring factions in Bosnia- Herzegovina. For Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina a United States (US ) -brokered peace deal reached in Dayton on 21st November 1995. In a historic reconciliation bid on 14 December 1995 , the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in Paris, France, between Franjo Tudjman president of the Republic of Croatia and Slobodan Milosevic president of the Federal Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), Alija Izetbegovic, president of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

When conflict in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia ended, the reconciliation began between ethnically divided region. The US played a crucial role in defining the direction of the Peace process. In 1996, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -led 60,000 multinational peace enforcement force known as the Implementation Force (IFOR)) was deployed to help preserve the cease-fire and enforce the treaty provisions. Thereafter, the Court was established by Resolution 808 and later, Resolution 827 of the United Nations Security Council, which endorsed to proceed with setting up of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to try crimes against humanity . International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was the first United Nations (UN) war crimes tribunal of its kind since the post-second world war Nuremberg tribunal.

In the late 1990’s, as the political crisis deepened a spiral of violence fuelled the Kosovo crisis between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav forces. Unlike the Bosnia- Herzegovina, Kosovo was a province of Serbia, of former Yugoslavia that dates back to 1946, when Kosovo gained autonomy as a province within Serbia. It is estimated that more than 800,000. Kosovos were forced out of Kosovo in search of refuge and as many as 500,000 more were displaced within Kosovo.

Subsequent t hostilities in Kosovo the eleven week air campaign led by NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) against Yugoslavia in 1999 the Yugoslavian forces pulled troops out of Kosovo NATO. After the war was over, the United Nations Security Council, under the resolution 1244 (1999) approved to establish an international civil presence in Kosovo, known as the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Nevertheless UNMIK regulation No 1999/24 provided that the Law in Force in Kosovo prior to March 22, 1989 would serve as the applicable law for the duration of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

In this  context reconciliation is a key to national healing of wounds after ending a violent conflict. Healing the wounds of the past and redressing past wrongs is a process through which a society moves from a divided past to a shared future. Over the years in Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and in Kosovo the successful peace building processes had happened. The success of the peace building process was possible because of participation of those concerned, and since appropriate strategies to effectively approach was applied with all relevant actors. The strengthening of institutions for the benefit of all citizens has many important benefits for the peace and stability of former Yugoslavia. Hence, the future looks bright for the Balkan states of Serbia, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo.

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Hungarian Interest, Ukraine and European Values

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Diplomatic conflicts that have recently arisen between Hungary and its neighboring countries and the European Union as a whole most clearly show the new trend in European politics. This trend is committing to national and  state values of a specific  European country, doubting  the priority of supranational  interests within the European Union. Political analyst Timofey Bordachev believes that “the era of stale politics and the same stale politicians, who make backstage decisions based on the“ lowest common denominator,” are finally coming to an end. Politicians with a new vision of the world order come to power, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz, or the new head of the Italian Interior Ministry, leader of the right-wing League of the North Party, Matteo Salvini ”.

It is not the first year that Hungary is trying to protect the interests of its citizens and the state from external influence, to protect the Hungarians in the territory of neighbouring states  by establishing for this  a special position (Commissioner  for the development of the Transcarpathian region of Ukraine), to determine relations with other countries on the basis of their attitude to the rights of Hungarians. This is how conflicts with the European Union arose, after Hungary refused to let migrants into the country, in the same manner, a conflict  arose with Ukraine, which is trying to build a state ideology, based on nationalism, which a priori does not provide for the proper level of realization and protection of the rights of non-titular nations.

In relation to Hungary, Ukraine follows the same policy as in relation to Russia – to initiate various accusations, to call for punishment, to talk about the inconsistency with European values of the Hungarian policy under the leadership of  Orban. Doing so Kiev has its multifaceted interest: cooperation with NATO and the EU, support  for any decisions of Brussels, the anti-Russian course, domestic policy based on the nationalist  ideology. And in all these areas  Hungary poses  a problem for Ukraine. In the description of relations with Hungary  Kiev even  uses the word “annexation“.

Hungary is hardly planning to seize any Ukrainian territory, but on what  grounds Ukraine falsely accuses Hungary of its annexation intentions in relation to Transcarpathia?  The Ukrainian side highlights several positions:

Issuing Hungarian passports  to Ukrainian citizens (ethnic Hungerians)

This  is an old story, it has come to light again recently due to the growth of Ukrainian nationalism. Moreover,  there are concerns about the implementation by Hungary of the “Crimean scenario” in relation to Transcarpathia.

The Hungarian government has created the position of  “Commissioner  for the development of Ukraine’s Transcarpathian region and the program for the development of kindergartens in the Carpathian region”.

Ukraine demanded an explanation. A note of protest was delivered to the Hungarian Charge d’Affaires in Ukraine, and the Foreign ministers of Ukraine and Hungary had a telephone conversation on the problem. Hungary continues to ignore the requirements of Kiev.

Ukraine fears further disintegration processes

At the same time, in Kiev there is no understanding  of the fact that combining the ideology of nationalism with the country’s national diversity and European integration is hardly possible.

Ukrainian experts note the growth of separatism in the Transcarpathian region, as well as the “strange behavior” of the governor, who plays on the side of Hungary. They also complain that “pro-Ukrainian ideology”(?) is not being сonsolidated in Transcarpathia, and this region is not controlled and monitored by  the Ministry of information. In a word, the state is losing control over the territory, which it neither develops nor controls. Such behavior of the governor and the region’s residents may indicate that the state is not sufficiently present in the lives of residents of Transcarpathia, and this a financial and humanitarian drawback they compensate with the help of Hungary, – experts believe.

Apparently, Ukraine is unable to reach an agreement with Hungary as relations are tense. In response to the Ukrainian law on education, adopted in the fall of 2017, which infringes the rights of national minorities, Budapest blocked another, the third, Ukraine-NATO meeting. Ukraine witnessed this embarrassing  situation  in April 2018.  At the same time elections were held in Hungary, in  which Viktor Orban’s party won a majority in the parliament. Such a tough stance of Budapest in relation to the Ukrainian educational policy Kiev considered to be just a sign of electoral populism. However, this was a mistake.

Viktor Orban’s victory in spring 2018 was convincing, and a convincing victory means obvious support of his migration policies as well as his support  for compatriots abroad. The party of Orban – Fides – not only won a majority but a constitutional majority – 133 of the 199 seats  in the National Assembly of Hungary.

There is no doubt  that Hungary has become Ukraine’s another serious opponent in the process of its European integration. And it is unlikely that either  country  will take a step back: there will be presidential elections in Ukraine soon, and in Hungary, the victory won by Orban, apparently, confirms the  approval of his independent  foreign  policy  by  the citizens.  So the conflict is likely to develop.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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