Rechts- und Sozialphilosoph, Kulturwissenschafter, Programmbereich Arts & Festival Culture am Schwerpunkt Wissenschaft und Kunst, Universität Salzburg / Universität Mozarteum
For 60 years Europe grew ever closer - from Poland to Portugal. For 60 years the European Union was the guarantor of peace and prosperity. As the euro crisis shows, however, Europe lacks the sense of togetherness that enables 27 countries to believe in a common destiny. Does everything really hinge on the euro, a currency used by only 17 Member States?
So far the Union has overcome all its challenges, often simply because of the density of its political and cultural network and its common cultural heritage. But will this continue to be the case? I am often amazed at how depressive we Europeans are in spite of this tremendous success story. It it really just making idealistic associations to believe in Europe as a cultural community because it justifies its existence and essence through fundamental human rights, human dignity and the rejection of all forms of religious and political extremism? What liveable and achievable alternative might there be?
Yet many people are wondering whether the familiar environment - homeland, village, region, all these emotionally charged concepts - is really in danger of vanishing, be it culturally, structurally or socio-economically. Airports, shopping centres, supermarkets, leisure parks, hotel chains, stations, gated communities: life is shifting away from villages and small towns to out-of-town shopping centres, featureless boxes, non-places (to use a term coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé) which suck the life out of structures that have developed over time: migration, the increasing number of old people. Ranks of lemmings traversing the deserts of unemployment. Non-places which turn ever greater numbers of people into isolated, asocial consumers, not just in economic terms: strangers to themselves and to each other, united only in the anxiety of an isolated, empty existence. Places which evoke departures without arrivals, Nietzsche's returning, without finale, to nothingness.
People who are uncertain about the future respond to the challenge of culturality, openness and universal responsibility through human rights by restoring frontiers and taboos. Nostalgia for homeland and origin as a geographical space becomes a political threat to Europe where it directly or indirectly demands that the world of 'big politics' and 'big structures' be left behind. 'Small is beautiful' rather than 'Europe as a whole'. Concealed in this are risks to an open civil society that depends on its members becoming more international and global, opening up to world society. In short: homeland both as a representation of cultural identity and as a place for innovation and enlightenment. Seen in this light, Europe has, it has been said, so much past that it is future cannot be prevented.
In all honesty, the history of the last century robbed the concept of homeland of its innocence. Through the total dehumanisation of all that is human in the name of a better, racially pure homeland. The concept's catastrophic perversion by fascism and national socialism was followed by its widespread suppression after 1945. But renowned philosophers have constantly underscored the imperative need for the concept. Ernst Bloch, for instance, writes at the end of his work The Principle of Hope: that there is 'something which shines into the childhood of all and in which no one has yet been: homeland'. For Pestalozzi, homeland is the whole encompassing the narrower spheres of lives and horizons: the landscape, the country, the language area, followed by Europe and then the world. A sense of homeland implies recognition of the Other and, by virtue of that fact, tolerance. It is automatically always a form of global consciousness too. The concept of homeland thereby loses certain purely geographical elements and its existential meaning becomes apparent. Homeland is a complex that each and every one of us must actively create, a relationship which demands a constant effort of mind:
for a person to attach a high value to their own homeland is really meaningful and admissible only if they insist on the same consideration for others' homelands. This notion lies at the heart of the right to a homeland, which is considered a categorical imperative for all human beings. A concern for the homelands and sense of homeland of others, be they future generations or other peoples, is the necessary consequence and limit of a person's sense of their own homeland and concern for it. It is therefore necessary to oppose all forms of regional particularism (Johannes Hahn).
These views are not stubborn traditionalism but a real problem when one realises that living conditions and crises in contemporary civilisation make the influences of our origins and traditions a scarce good to be carefully eked out in the interest of present and future generations. They are a key element in 21st century civilisation. Protection of the landscape, environment and nature, conservation of historic buildings and monuments have long been positive examples. But we are also in the process of changing our attitudes to language and popular culture, festivities and theatre. Origin opens up the future for the new. And the new, with all its challenges, is indeed the prerequisite for tradition to continue. The dining table was always a major symbol of healthy sociability, sharing a table being the embryo of civilisation. It is where people began talking about people, about their achievements and failures, their struggles with the gods and the triumph of love. Through stories, through 'narrative intelligence' we allow ourselves to be positively challenged by the diversity of people and the spaces they inhabit and by the resulting opportunities for our coexistence. Besides creativity, innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, soft factors such as quality of life, well-being and cultural diversity are also economically important. This is also the reasoning behind the redesign of EU regional policy to enhance and mainstream the role of culture in local and regional development policy. And we want the Rethinking Europe series to illuminate this issue from many angles over the years ahead.
Responsible policy-making cannot ignore human beings either in their individuality or in the economic and cultural spaces in which they move. Otherwise we will find ourselves wondering ever more frequently where we are going, as we become ever less aware of where and who we are.
Michael Fischer (1945-2014)
Original text 2012
Extract edited by Ilse Fischer in November 2014