The „Soul of Europe“ includes solidarity, respect and tolerance
Started by a strong speech by European Parliament President Martin Schulz, the 2nd day of the conference about “Europe, its values, its citizens” continued to be an interesting collection of many initiatives, ideas and specific examples of citizen participation.
Now, with the current refugees challenge, Europe needs to prove itself in many ways and is forced to come to terms with its own identity. As Doris Pack, former chair of the cultural & education committee in the European Parliament – said: “…we are still working on the task, to give Europe a soul and it is now more necessary than ever.”
Especially because there are no traditional nationalistic ideals for Europe and because of its diversity with a wide variety of languages and cultures, the European Soul can be only discovered in common values and higher ideals. These however, need to be translated into practical and understandable actions. As an example, we can take the idea of European Cultural Capital, which is a title given to a city not to showcase folkloristic performances and present their own national cultures, but rather to use the platform as a unique tool to demonstrate how the local, regional and national culture is part oft the European Culture.
However, many European countries are still looking for their identity within the larger group. This requires sensitivity from all constituents and the willingness to learn from each other.
One focus of the day was the discussion about the European peripheries, the areas to where the general focus in the European discussion has moved to already since a while, but which is now overrun by the current events. The outside borders of Europe are in the periphery and urgently need some form of united professional management, but the real conflicts are now in between the peripheries. Some nations just recently became members oft he EU, some would like to and yet others outside the chance (like Ukraine, Kosovo or Turkey) are nevertheless part of the European periphery and as such an important player not only in the refugee challenge. Hannes Swoboda – president of the international Institute for peace – compared the possible conflicts with the situation in the Paris Banlieus. When we ignore and forget the people in these regions, we will unnecessarily saw even more conflicts.
So, what is the solution? Integration through culture! This means specifically intercultural exchange, citizen participation and grassroots initiatives. With various initiatives introducing their activities, it became clear, that the European soul could be found also in its solidary actions in between communities. One example is Athens, where local citizens started to form their own initiatives with absolutely no financial support (because „ there is no money from nowhere in Greece since the crisis“ – as Amalia Zepou (Vice-Mayor of Athens) said.
“Culture can create places and opportunities…”, said Michael Roth from the German Foreign Ministry in his Keynote; places, where people can meet and interact and start to see each other as human and therefore nourish the respect despite the differences. In looking beyond the differences and focussing on our common ideas and values, we are actively supporting the establishing of a European soul.
Every European citizen has a story but how do you bring these stories to the community? Asked the future Curator of the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, Paul Spies. All these individual stories belong to the greater European Narrative – the story of Europe, told in millions of voices, building together the culture of a continent.
Every refugee has a story, too. Why would so many refugee stories tell of the desire to come here – not to take advantage of our democratic systems, but as a safe haven from war, suppression, dictatorship or brutal poverty under corrupt governments. Europe is an idealistic hope for many as much as it is a promise. With nowhere else to go, it is logical, that the refugees chose a place, where they may have a better chance to survive.
With the “Europarede” of the current European President Donald Tusk, a long day ended. However, the work of describing, communicating, distributing the ideas for a European Culture just continues.
Only when Europe understands its own value, a proper response towards the challenges of our time can be formulated. The value of united democratic societies, living in peace and freedom, forming a union build on respect, tolerance and solidarity. This Europe, which is in itself an accomplishment – given the history until 1945 (and lets not forget the “Balkan Wars”) – this Europe is worth to be protected. Therefore the European border protection in its most humane form is necessary.
If there was one thing, many speakers of today agreed upon, it has been this: that in these challenging times, we all need more courage to talk about the positive side of our continent, to mention her values and to proudly show the soul of Europe.