Europe Faces Europe: Narratives from Its Eastern Half

Europe Faces Europe: Narratives from Its Eastern Half

by Johan Fornas (Editor)


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783207510
Publisher: Intellect, Limited
Publication date: 07/15/2017
Pages: 250
Product dimensions: 7.60(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Johan Fornäs is professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies in the School for Culture and Education at Södertörn University, Sweden. His previous books include Digital Borderlands, Consuming Media, and Signifying Europe, the last of which was published by Intellect Books.

Read an Excerpt


Europe Faces Europe: An Introduction

Johan Fornäs

The European Commission (EC) has campaigned for a 'new narrative for Europe' to breathe new life into the European spirit. In March 2014, its cultural committee report emphasized the 'shared values of peace, freedom, democracy and rule of law' but also the role of culture as 'a major source of nourishment and supply for Europe's social and political body'. Indeed, cultural aspects linked to symbols and narratives seem increasingly central to Europe's future prospects, functioning as a means of identification and interaction between the severed halves of the continent.

Top European institutions, often in grand self-congratulatory terms, look for ways to use such aspects as strategic tools to secure popular support. This is done on several different levels, including, for instance, both the European Union (EU) and the much larger Council of Europe (CoE). However, redefining Europe is not just a top-down task for dominant institutions in Brussels. All over the continent, other actors have also for a long time been engaged in unfolding narrations that rework conventional traditions and thus redefine European identities, as critical movements and grass-roots debates either propel or challenge European interactions, adding new dimensions that serve to undermine or revitalize dominant discourses.

Since 1989, some of renegotiations of identity have particularly centred on the post-Communist borderlands of Eastern Europe. While this integration process has been a major concern for many on all levels and in all regions, little attention has so far been given to how East European voices themselves relate to Europe as a dynamic project. How is Europe identified in narratives from its eastern half? This is thus the core question asked in this volume based on the multidisciplinary research project 'Narratives of Europe'. The book chapters' systematic in-depth studies of selected mediated discourses investigate how Europe faces Europe in a range of cultural fields, mapping, comparing and interpreting narratives circulating in phenomenological philosophy, international geopolitics, news journalism, social movements, visual art and popular music.

Narratives are powerful tools for shaping formations of identity, as they seek in various discourse fields to identify Europe's past, present and future. Such narratives are sometimes echoed in European studies but rarely closely investigated in terms of their main constituents and forms, or of the meanings and identities they give to Europe. Many previous studies of Europe have dealt with the political or economic dimensions of its history. Here focusing on cultural and narrative dimensions casts new light on the intricate processes that indicate in which directions European mentalities and structures of feeling are moving, and thus what Europe may become tomorrow.

This introductory chapter will first situate the issue of European narratives in relation to a series of recent and current transitions and then problematize the often assumed East–West divide. Next, theories of narrative identification are presented, leading to the suggestion of a methodological model for studying such narratives from a critical-hermeneutic perspective. Finally, some results of the six case studies will be summarized, indicating possible comparisons across cultural genres and fields as well as between different regions within Eastern Europe. The reading of this final part of the introduction can therefore also be postponed until after reading the empirical chapters.

Narratives of Europe

People living in as well as outside Europe develop ways to identify it in thought and (inter-) action, giving it a range of meanings that link it to a variable set of characteristic traits or values. Europeanness is then always intertwined with other identities, including those involving nationality, ethnicity, class, age, generation, gender, sexuality, religion and political affiliation. Identities are relationally constructed through discourses that construct differences to 'others', in Europe's case notably Islam, Asia, Africa and the US, even though they in some respects actually may also be regarded as integrated within that same Europe, for instance through Muslim immigrants or the strong US American influences on academia and popular culture.

Europe has no fixed essence or existence. It is always in a process of becoming: a Europe-in-process, always contested and always in a crisis. This process has – from varying positions and in shifting terms – been interpreted by a range of social theorists. Jürgen Habermas has, for instance, argued for new forms of interlinked public spheres that could serve as infrastructures for Europeans to communicate on shared issues and be 'united in diversity' (the European motto): with plurality not as a barrier but as a resource for unification. Jacques Derrida has insisted on the acknowledgement of difference and alterity for a 'Europe still to become'. Zygmunt Bauman likewise regards Europe as an unfinished adventure, defined by its lack of fixed identity and yearning for transgression. Europe's rich history of superimposed differences has, Étienne Balibar argues, lent it a particular capacity to act 'as the interpreter of the world, translating languages and cultures in all directions'. 'The future of Europe' is seen by Paul Ricoeur 'in terms of imagination', outlining a series of models for a 'post-national state' to combine identity and alterity at different levels: asking for a 'translation ethos' of hospitality that could mediate between different cultures, and where people take responsibility for 'the story of the other' in mobile identifications through readings that constitute narrative identities.

Many have problematized the lack of sufficiently rich and successful narratives of a shared European identity. They have questioned the elitist and exclusivist nature of official conceptions of European identity, suggesting that they may obscure cultural complexity and diversity. Policies devised and implemented by elites centrally and from the 'top down' are too unresponsive to the more organically emerging cultural practices and symbols of European identity. Oppositional narratives implicitly presuppose a grand narrative, usually centred on the EU HQ in Brussels, which serves as a contrast to their own alternative versions. Though the EU certainly has strived to develop a doxa, a core story of Europe's quest for greatness, this grand narrative is subverted and transgressed by the cross-currents of many different intersecting 'small' narratives found in the continent's various peripheries.

Europe has thus always been an unfinished project, and in some kind of crisis. The twentieth-century world wars almost annihilated this whole project, and for more than four decades, it was in a semi-frozen state due to the forced separation between its eastern and western halves. The post-1989 eastern expansion of European institutions then demanded a reformulation of shared identities that could encompass diversity rather than being based on any given common characteristics.

This unexpected shift did not end the turmoil of European politics. Francis Fukuyama's vision of the end of politics in fact appears less and less relevant. The reflections on narratives presented in this volume are not distanced meditations in a phase of calm stability. Instead, they are positioned in a highly transitory phase of history when European identity is again questioned and in crisis, as a series of further transitions and convulsions currently continue to challenge the project of European formation and integration. Geopolitically, there are changing patterns and growing sizes of migration as well as intra- and interregional shifts of balance, including the traumatic effects of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc on Russia's relations with the EU as well as with Ukraine and other neighbouring countries. The economy is troubled by shifting phases of marketization processes, including the raging financial crises that are even threatening to break up the EU. There is an ongoing restructuring of social relations between classes, genders, generations and ethnic groups, linked to the menacing growth of xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-feminism and right-wing populist nationalism. Technological changes have given risen to the digital network media, which culturally enable new modes of representation across genres. These transitions are accompanied by swift political post-1989 changes, with the accelerating and expanding European integration process creating a demand to renegotiate the basic understanding of what it means to be European. Ann Rigney notes that '"Europe" is continuously narrativized, seen as a region in transition between the past (of division) and the future (of integration)'. Integrating the experiences of ex-Communist East European countries into the European master narrative demands a renegotiation of how to evaluate and combine different regional and national experiences and traumas. The EU and the geographically much larger CoE have sought ways to codify some kind of European identity, using key symbols to identify Europe from 'above' and 'within'. Europe is more than just the EU, but this union's presence has installed a dominant institutional apparatus that frames how Europe is understood today, both inside and outside of the EU.

Such transformations of European identifications may be traced through the shifting narratives of Europe – as an idea, a geographical territory, a political-economic institution and a social community. Europeanness is identified and narrated in various ways in different parts of Europe as well as in different genres of narration. Philosophical, political, journalistic, activist, art, musical and other mediated narratives have over time developed specific ways of depicting Europeanness, though there are also common threads between them.

Looking for New Narratives

In 2009, the European Cultural Foundation (ECF) initiated a project to look for 'New Narratives for Europe' since 'Europe needs a story to tell', according to ECF's then head of research and development, Odile Chenal. ECF was set up in Geneva in 1954 and has since 1960 been based in Amsterdam. Its founders included the Swiss philosopher Denis de Rougemont and the French politician Robert Schuman, one of the leading architects behind the EU, the CoE and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and whose 'Schuman Declaration' proposed by the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1950 is annually celebrated on Europe Day (9th May).

Like several previous initiatives, often driven by the EU and the CoE, such as, for example, various 'People's Europe' and 'Europe for Citizens' initiatives from the 1970s until today, ECF's European narrative project was based on the apparent 'disconnection between Europe and its people, between the EU and its citizens', Chenal continued. The equation between Europe and the EU was taken for granted. The dissatisfaction with the Brussels bureaucracy seemed to fuel 'a withdrawal to within national borders'. 'Many people, especially young people, do not see the need for Europe between the local and the global. Europe as a project for peace and shared welfare, which was the vision after WWII, does not "work" any more. Even the magic of 1989 is forgotten.' Chenal argued that 'Eurocentrism is dead', and that 'WWII cannot engage as a widely-binding story across greater Europe' anymore, especially among the young generations in West and East Europe. Also, while 'unity in diversity' (or as the European motto actually goes, 'united in diversity') is a prominent narrative for European institutions, it is overly vague and too multiculturalist to convince Eurosceptics.

ECF's wish to revitalize European narratives derived from two main factors, one temporal and the other spatial. One problem was the lapse of time and the generation shifts that made the historical motors behind unification slip into oblivion: young people apparently needed something more up to date than the last-century European wars to spark any enthusiasm for the EU. Another had to do with the geographical expansion eastward, as ECF representatives felt certain that East Europeans needed the European project to counteract Russian dominance in the region. However, these representatives suspected they wanted a slightly different kind of Europe than that constructed by the old West European narratives. To improve that situation, ECF supported and commissioned artistic projects, seminars and publications, gathering 'intellectuals, artists, politicians and journalists from across Europe and beyond'.

The EC 'new narrative' campaign mentioned in the beginning was a key step in that direction. In Brussels, on 23 April 2013, the EC president, José Manuel Barroso, launched another new project devoted to reformulating 'a new narrative for Europe'. 'Citizens' Dialogues' were organized, young people were specifically asked to contribute, and a special cultural committee of 20 distinguished members was set up, led by the Belgian art historian Paul Dujardin, artistic director of Palais des Beaux-Arts (BOZAR) in Brussels, and including, for instance, the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, the Icelandic visual artist Olafur Eliasson, the Basque sculptor Cristina Iglesias, the Hungarian author György Konrád, the director of the Free Word Centre, Rose Fenton, and the president of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Michal Kleiber. In Berlin, on 1 March 2014, the result was unveiled in the form of a declaration on a 'New Narrative for Europe'. This initiative will be returned to later in this volume and is especially important for Carl Cederberg, who will relate the declaration to a long-standing philosophical tradition in European thought.

After some years of searching for a plurality of narratives, the report boldly stated that it is now time to present 'a new narrative for Europe for all citizens'. The declaration seems not to have impressed the general public. Just to mention one example, Michael Privot, director of the European Network Against Racism (ENAR), already on 27 February, two days before the declaration was launched, published a criticism on the EurActiv Network home page, describing the initiative as a move 'from myth to mythomania'. He attacked the illusions that the European project is motivated by a shared culture, spearheaded by the classical Western high culture heritage. Instead, the anti-racist ENAR network proposed its own 'progressive' narrative: 'Realising full equality, solidarity and well-being for All in Europe'. This critically responded to the leading institutions' austerity policies of crisis management, which had resulted in increasing resource gaps, the dismantling of social welfare and failing representative democracies: 'nobody can deny that culture and arts play a central role in our lives, but today Europeans want a future, not a culture'.

Several narratives thus competed for influence, but Barroso and the cultural committee preferred to construct one coherent story out of this polyphony, abandoning the idea of 'new narratives' in favour of the singular: 'a new narrative'. Despite all initial talk of 'new' narratives for Europe, all reformulations seem also to reproduce what may be seen as 'a European master-narrative: the idea that all European nations have a history of bloody, deep, fundamental divisions that, at some point, were overcome', in the words of Amsterdam professor of European Studies Joep Leersen at the 2010 ECF seminar.

The March 2014 Declaration of the EC Cultural Committee constructs a metaphor of Europe as a combination of mind and body. Europe's body consists of its social and political institutions, and this body needs a mind: it needs the sciences, the arts and cultural heritage to counter disintegrating 'populist and nationalist narratives'. The new narrative is meant to distil the essence of this mind: 'Europe is a state of mind formed and fostered by its spiritual, philosophical, artistic and scientific inheritance, and driven by the lessons of history'. It is based on 'civic, political and social movements that have defended the rights of those without power' and 'rooted in its shared values of peace, freedom, democracy and rule of law'. The emphasis is on culture in the broad sense: 'Europe is an identity, an idea, an ideal'. Dark sides are mentioned, from colonial conquest, world wars and Communist dictatorships to the recent economic crisis – these together motivate the need for a narrative vision of a better future.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Chapter 1 Europe Faces Europe: An Introduction Johan Furnäs 1

Chapter 2 Europe as Identity and Ideal: Reading Barroso's 'New Narrative' Heretically alongside Hegel, Husserl and Patocka Carl Cederberg 35

Chapter 3 Clashing Internationalisms: East European Narratives of West European Integration Stefan Jonsson 63

Chapter 4 Narratives at War: Representations of Europe in News Media of Ukraine, Russia and Poland during Euromaidan Roman Horbyk 93

Chapter 5 Narrating Protest: Silenced Stories of Europe in Occupy Stockholm and Occupy Latvia Anne Kaun 133

Chapter 6 The Resilience of the Periphery: Narrating Europe through Curatorial Strategies Katarina Wadstein MacLeod 153

Chapter 7 Euro-Visions: East European Narratives in Televised Popular Music Johan Fornäs 179

Index 237

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