Europe is a dream

What is Europe and Europeanness?

Which European ideas and values could we adopt? How can we contribute to creating diversity in Europe? What is our dream within Europe and our dream Europe?

Such decisions are a part of an important and regrettably lacking process of introspection in society.

The Open Lithuania Foundation will attempt to enrich society’s introspection with new ideas by organizing a cycle of discussions entitled “In the search for the European idea”.

On April 27, the author of this article, A. Švedas, will moderate the first discussion – “The fate of the European dream”.

 

In his book Inventing Europe, the British sociologist Gerard Delanty refers to Europe as “the vague continent”. This should not come as a surprise. Europe is constantly transforming, which is why the very term “Europe” has meant different things at different times. In other words, Europe is a composite and complex reality undergoing constant change.

According to the French historian and philosopher Remi Brague, this constant change allows for the claim that Europe is trying to integrate the best achievements of various cultures, from whichever culture they may stem. Therefore, in Brague’s opinion, Europe is open and ever-creating. The latter, he says, can be seen as Europe’s essential civilizational feature.

Here, another note should be made: Europe is not only in a state of permanent change, but also in a state of permanent crisis. As such, it is not at all odd, and in fact rather symptomatic, that we hear much at the moment of at least several troubles ailing 21st-century Europe. These are the political, economic, security, and refugee crises. They can be comparatively referred to as “the hard crises”. Next to them, an entire parade of “soft crises” arranges itself: the shortage of cultural unity; the lack of a central narrative to mobilize the Europeans and infuse their existence with meaning; the fragmentary and impermanent nature of common memory; the lack of consensus regarding the question of the nature of European values.

This state of constant transformation in the face of crises presents a true pain for those who wish to determine what Europe and European identity is (and is not), say, in the era of Charlemagne, King of the Franks (at the juncture of the 8th and 9th centuries) or in the modern period of Donald Tusk’s presidency over the European Union. When historians, political scientists, and scholars of the evolution of civilizations attempt to pinpoint the formula of Europeanness (which could even for a moment merge into one definition all of Europe’s diversity as revealed in numerous constellations of time and space), they usually mention several qualities of “vague Europe”: the heritage of classical antiquity; Catholicism and Protestantism; linguistic variety; the separation of church and state; legislation; social pluralism; representative bodies; individualism; and a socioeconomic model based on the institute of individual property.

In addition to the above features, I would like to mention another.

Europe is a dream. One cannot become European without wishing it, for being in Europe geographically by no means equals belonging to Europe in terms of memory, culture, ideas, values, and mindset. Each of us takes part in a daily “mini referendum”, deciding how / how much he or she personally needs a European identity.

In the 21st century, the Lithuanian state and society gained a unique opportunity to make an essential contribution to the creation of the European dream. Yet there is no rush to take this opportunity. Having formulated such a thesis, one undoubtedly needs to offer arguments to substantiate it. Hopefully, a brief historical review will play the part.

The metaphor of Central Europe as a “kidnapped West”, coined by the Czech writer Milan Kundera, is quite an apt description of the peculiar process of Lithuania as a “piece of the mosaic” gravitating towards Western Europe, which began after March 11, 1990: initially, nurturing cautious dreams of “returning to Europe”; after 1994 – “knocking on Europe’s door”; after 2000 – painstakingly doing homework to prepare for membership in the European Union; finally, in 2004 – joining the most successful European integration project created in the modern era.

To be honest, May 1st, 2004, made Lithuanian society and its elite flinch and ask itself the fundamental question: we have returned to Europe by becoming members of the EU; what next?

It seems we are yet to find the answer to that question. Unfortunately, conservative Andrius Kubilius was correct in the pessimistic prognoses he made in August 2003: “Now, as I consider the nearest political perspective, it seems that it no longer has any large road signs. Everything looks much more minor, mundane, even egoistic.”

Without a clear idea or vision of the kind of creation to undertake upon joining the European Union, the Lithuanian citizens still live in the rhythm of reactive, minor, and mundane European policy. Europe and Europeanness have suddenly become a unified, household-variety self-evidence – just like the English language, cheap airline tickets, euros, mobile roaming rates, or a Spanish retail chain offering cheap clothing.

Europe and Europeanness have suddenly become a unified, household-variety self-evidence – just like the English language, cheap airline tickets, euros, mobile roaming rates, or a Spanish retail chain offering cheap clothing.

For a citizen of Vilnius, Pagėgiai, or Nida in the 21st century, being a European and a citizen of the European Union is a given that causes no intellectual tension. It is like breathing, walking, or sleeping. Yet in this case it is as though we are sleeping open-eyed, that is, without answering the fundamental existential questions, hoping that the traditional forms of cultural self-perception that helped support the life of Lithuanian society throughout the 20th century will aid our survival in the 21st, under the mark of globalization.

It seems that such optimism is ungrounded, and that we will still have to face those basic questions.