Ideas: Why Hamlet is no euro-federalist
28 August 2011
Although many commentators have called for it to be established, the United States of Europe remains a chimera, which is incompatible with the history and plurality of cultures on our continent, argues Romanian writer Mircea Cărtărescu.
In recent weeks, Romanian President Traian Băsescu has repeatedly spoken of the need to create a United States of Europe: an initiative that will only be possible if participating countries agree, in a context of economic and financial necessity prompted by the ongoing crisis, that they should all “hand over control of part of their sovereignty.” So it would amount to a necessary evil and a strategy for survival in a region of the world that is struggling to cope with many imbalances and vexations.
However, I do not believe that this scenario is either realistic or desirable if the model for such a federation is the United States of America, which is what Traian Băsescu’s expression implies. More importantly, I do not think that there is an existing federal system anywhere in the world today that could serve as a model for a united Europe. For a united Europe to function (as it has done already to a certain extent), it will require another basis that is specific to our continent, and not one that is solely focused on the issue of economic survival.
We should bear in mind that European states are not simply rectangles that have been arbitrarily demarcated on the surface of the globe. They have histories that date back for thousands of years. They have their languages, their traditions, and their own mentalities and ethos. Each one has its own collective unconscious, its own fantasies, and they all have old wounds and frustrations that have been accumulated in the course of a history they share with their neighbours. This past, which oozes out of every stone, feeds the ancillary nationalism of European peoples, as well as their superiority and inferiority complexes. Nothing is plain and simple in Europe: neither its borders nor its laws, which differ enormously from one state to the next. Some countries even continue to use different systems for weights and measures, and we still drive both on the left and the right hand side of the road. All of these major differences and insignificant idiosyncracies contribute to a force of repulsion between the states of our continent that we cannot ignore.
The European mind: the driving force that built our civilisation
In Europe, national consciousness came to the fore during the Romantic era and later gave birth to the degenerate and chauvinistic nationalisms which figured large in the conflicts and stereotypes that reached their poisonous apogee in the last century, when heroic ideals were transformed into a nightmare of totalitarianism and world wars. Millions of European citizens were massacred in the name of patriotism and to serve the ends of exacerbated nationalism. The Cold War and the Iron Curtain between the West and East of the continent also contributed to mutilation of European consciousness, or what was left of it in the wake of the historic hell it had endured.
The trend towards fragmentation based on ethnic principles still continues today, in countries as diverse as Belgium and the republics of the former Yugoslavia. Then there is the issue of the religious fragmentation of the continent, which follows borders that are not aligned with national ones to produce the famous Huntington faultline that also crosses Romania. So the question is – can a unifying force provide an effective counterweight to the terrible power of nationalism?
Fortunately, such a force exists and it does not rely for its raison d’être on the legislative centralisation and standardisation orchestrated by Brussels. I am talking about the European mind: the formidable cultural and artistic alliance, which is the driving force that built our civilisation – a common heritage that includes such visionaries as Homer, Socrates, Dante, Leonardo de Vinci, Shakespeare, Newton, Vermeer, Goethe, Kant, Beethoven, Proust, and Einstein to name but a few. Europe is first and foremost a cultural concept, a state of mind, and a sense of belonging to a civilisation.
A united Europe cannot be a United States
It is the continent of museums, concert halls, and cathedrals. It is the home of the spirit of scepticisim, with all the slow deep power that is embodied by the figure of Hamlet (himself a European archetype), who is the polar opposite of the man of action. Present-day Europe relates to the United States as Athens once did to ancient Rome. And although at one point Athens sought to emulate Rome, I can see no reason why modern Europe should seek to emulate the United States.
A united Europe will never be united in the same way as the United States. It is a continent that has had the good fortune to be blessed by its quest for a point of equilibrium between the nationalism of nation states and the European mind, which is characterised by free thought and creativity. And although the European mind has been used to provide ballast for an overly centralised bureaucracy and a drive for standardisation which does not take local conditions into account (and this is currently the case), we are still very far removed from the goal of unity. Very few governments appear to be willing to hand over more of the state sovereignty which they represent to a monolithic power that apparently aims to implement an overly planned version of economic socialism.
Because in Europe we would not only be handing over our sovereignty, but our living history which is deeply rooted in the past. If we are to make such a sacrifice, we will need a goal that is significantly better than the one that has been presented thus far.