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Who Is a European?

March 25, 2010

An interview with Timothy Garton Ash in the Hoover Digest:

What does it mean to be European, and what is Europe’s future? Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Ahto Lobjakas asked these questions of British historian and Hoover senior fellow Timothy Garton Ash in the Estonian capital, Tallinn, after the forum “Rethinking Enemies of Open Society,” presented on May 29, 2009, by the Open Estonia Foundation.

Ahto Lobjakas: What is Europe?

Timothy Garton Ash: It’s a place. It’s a history. It’s an ideal, a vision. And it’s a set of institutions, a complex set of institutions. You have the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and the Council of Europe, but central to those institutions is the European Union, which is sui generis; it cannot simply be defined. In the terms of conventional political science, it’s an unidentified flying object.

So the place, the geography, and the history, the ideal, are all there, and all have to be taken into account. But when we’re thinking about politics, political action, then I think a part of our thinking is this extraordinary project of the European Union.

Lobjakas: What does it mean for a country—say, Estonia or Ukraine— to claim to be European?

Garton Ash: That’s a very good question. Because it’s clearly not a neutral term. I remember a magazine in Poland in the mid-1980s had a sort of humorous political dictionary, and under Europe it said—this is still under communism—“If we go into a restaurant and there is a clean white tablecloth and the waiter appears in less than ten minutes, we say, Europe.” [More]

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