Why I am no longer a European
Opinion: Europe is contaminated by vulgar slogans such as ‘unity in diversity’ – political double-speak for a policy of Merkelisation
‘We are no longer united by our sense of diverse cultures meeting on common ground, but by a common enemy: the fiscal rectitude and social compliance expected of us by our paymasters, Brussels and the International Monetary Fund.’ Above, a demonstration against the visit of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel to Athens earlier this year. Photograph: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
I belong to three cultures: England, by birth; Ireland, by adoption; and Greece as a visitor for 50 years and a resident for 10. Thirty years ago I was an ardent European and would have regarded my three hinterlands as autonomous nation states contributing to a wealth of European culture, making the continent morally and spiritually strong.
Working as a consultant to the Council of Europe on cultural development programmes, I observed local people solving local problems, usually without the help of national governments – problems of self-determination that affected the lifestyles of communities in the council’s then 21 member states.
I saw small communities anxious to articulate their sense of identity and to find concrete means of accommodating it in their lives. They were highly diverse: rootless young families in a new housing estate in Helsinki looking for a link to the past; renewal of cultural institutions in France; and an indigenous community group in Manchester reaching out to Muslim immigrants, one of whom was awaiting trial for the “honour killing” of his daughter.
Cultural democracyThe principle was that of “cultural democracy” – enabling people to decide their future for themselves. “Votre ville, votre vie, votre avenir” was the project title: your town, your life, your future. The common factor was the momentum towards self- discovery and self-determination. It was heart-warming. It made me want to be a European, to celebrate these examples that could be multiplied throughout Europe to provide a narrative of hope and will- power. The reports I compiled on what scientists call “biodiversity” would mean nothing to today’s EU mandarins.
Today I see my fellow villagers wondering if they have any identity at all when they are told by Europe that they are insignificant nobodies on the periphery of meaning.
The vision I then had of a Europe united by its cultures is no longer valid. Europe is contaminated by vulgar, meaningless slogans offensive to the intelligence, such as “unity in diversity” – political double-speak for a policy of Merkelisation, making people believe they are unique while systematically making sure they are homogenised.
We are no longer united by our sense of diverse cultures meeting on common ground, but by a common enemy: the fiscal rectitude and social compliance expected by our paymasters, Brussels and the International Monetary Fund.
We used to sell surplus produce into “intervention”. Intervention has now entered our lives as a fifth column that erodes local, regional and national identities. It has taken the plurality of cultures and subjected them to a credo of conformity in which there is no longer room for difference or deviance, or the discovery of what makes us what we are.
Today we have the prospect of Albania starting negotiations for EU membership – a country with a culture radically different from most of the other 28 member states. Turkey is waiting hopefully on the sidelines. As a European, despite my personal dislike of their cultures, I would have respected them and welcomed them into the European fraternity. No longer. These candidate states will be accepted when they have satisfied the EU that not only have they buried the cultural differences that make them unique, but have aligned themselves economically and politically with the dominant European powers.
This is why I am no longer a European. Today I am an Englishman, an Irishman and a resident of Greece. In these states I see resistance rather than compliance with a European momentum that has shown itself to be indifferent to Irishness, Greekness, Englishness, except as factors to be ignored or suppressed. To be European formerly meant to be proud of belonging to a community of distinctive nations. Now it means being a number in a system that refuses to tolerate difference.
In May 1941 Manolis Glezos, then a teenager and today, at 91, the father of the European Parliament, tore down the Nazi flag on the Acropolis. I used to wear the European badge in my lapel with pride. Today, in our hearts, we tear down the European flag because it offends our sense of our humanity.
Richard Pine is a literary critic. He lives in Greece