I’m European. So what?

I’m Slovene. I’m Slovene. (…) At the crossroads leading to Mecca and Bethlehem. (…) The Balkans are not my home, the Champs-Elyséés even less. (…) I’m more attached to my home than a fetishist to chains. (…) I check six hundred and sixty-six times a day to see if I have really locked all the doors and drawn all the curtains. If you want to see dinosaurs, you don’t need to see a movie, the more I’m in step with the times, the more the world is returning to the Pleistocene. (…) Unconfident and unnoticed through and through. Even I do not know who I am, but I still expect the world to know.

(N’toko, Slovenec Nism, Parada Ljubezni, 2010)

Not too long ago, when wearing a tracksuit in Slovenia had a political connotation, I read a statement in the weekly that I have subscribed to since high school that my hometown is supposedly one of the most “ethnically pure” towns in the country. According to the last population census, there are evidently no residents with Serbian as their mother tongue. Having read this I flinched, I admit it. Apparently there are also no Roma, Italian, Hungarian or German native speakers. However, there are quite a few “unknowns”. Or rather “unrecognised/undefined”. Okay. So I said to myself that if we were no longer multi-ethnic or multicultural, I would search for diversity elsewhere. Not much effort was needed. Since the late 1950s, the town or more precisely a hill in the town has served as a refuge for people who are “out of the circulation”, unable to work or mentally ill. Mainly for those who moved here from the coastal area. And that is the ultimate proof I come from the entirely urbanised (?) outskirts. From the sticks.

Slovenes are certainly not comfortable having psychiatric institutions near them. They cannot accept them, so they are built in the back of beyond or at best on the outskirts of town. Is it because diversity is hard to tolerate? Whether or not it is behavioural, mental, linguistic, sexually oriented, family, ethnic or national?

It appears so. However, I do not want to be constrained by prejudice. I am not deluding myself into thinking that Slovenes are any different from other European nations. Which is why we should be concerned. With regard to accepting and respecting diversity and multiculturalism, which is part of our lives whether we like it or not, not to mention the democratic spirit and openness of society, the physical and probably even mental proximity of Slovenia’s eastern neighbour that is already deeply immersed in nationalist conservatism, represents a scary warning for Slovenia, as well as the whole of Europe. The question of the rights of same-sex, single-parent, foster and other “non-traditional” families, immigrants, the unemployed, precarious workers, the Roma, children, the disabled, the mentally ill, victims of physical and mental abuse… in other words, those who are different. This is what Europe should be devoting more attention to rather than speculating in an apparently serious way whether the Excel graph should show one or three per cent economic growth or whether the amount of government debt should be written in gold or rusty letters, or better yet which credit ratings are worth falling on your knees for and which are not. Not because I would like to live in a fantasy world where the economy does not matter, but because I live in the real world where the economy matters too much.

The European Union, which is supposed to be the most characteristic international counterexample to a purely economic focus, has proved itself once more to be loyal to its tradition of being in particular a (politically) economic community – but not of being a cultural, spiritual and metaphysical one. Or at least not predominantly, which it might wish to be.

If the Euro fails, the European Union also fails is a frequently repeated mantra of today’s European crisis managers.

Maybe it is true that since its introduction, the Euro has been one of the most powerful identification symbols for EU citizens. At least far more powerful than the European flag or the European anthem. Nonetheless, it is still “just” a means of payment, which proves that the calculations of the EU architects did not add up: in line with the principle of historical inevitability, the economic and political processes of European unification should immediately have been followed by the formation of a collective European cultural identity, but were not.

With regard to this elitist delusion, which seems to be insisted on even in these difficult times, I could not agree more with Francis Fukuyama and his critical assessment of European identities. But at the same time I wring my hands over his statement that the French national identity is “the least problematic” from the perspective of potential ethnic, racial or religious antagonisms because its secular tradition involves treating its citizens equally, regardless of their ethnic, racial, religious or other affiliation. Which is also why it is supposed to be the prototype of European identity. Even if we ignore certain historical facts, such as that in France, Jacobinism and industrialisation tried to liquidate the Basques, Bretons, Alsatians and others to purify the “French population”, and that the use of the Breton and Occitan languages in the education system of the new French state was prohibited, the modern France is obviously still not immune to challenges presented by the issues of ethnic, national and racial identity, although it pretends these do not exist. A French expression, la barrière du silence, eloquently explains the minimising or avoiding media coverage of Jewish topics and consequently of anti-Semitism in the country. After all, the social reasons behind street unrest are certainly connected to the ethnic or racial identity of those involved and the entire colonial past of the country, as well as its neo-colonial appetites.

That is why reflection on European identity should be oriented towards considering the existence of ethnic, national and other “particular” identifications, but at the same time and above all towards transcending these. In particular, it should aim to transcend ethnic and general exclusion, aggression, hatred and disrespect for diversity, which countries are apparently unable to accomplish themselves. This might mean that there is also a place for an open-minded Europe. It is about time. Are the Slovenes ready to start the ball rolling?

 

Translated by: Sarah Humar.

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