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Contesting the origins of European liberty

September 25, 2010

Stefan Auer in Eurozine:

The European Union loves anniversaries. To the extent that the EU seeks to foster European identity, it is not surprising that it is increasingly deploying tools and methods that states used to create nations: commemoration of key moments in the nation’s history served as rallying points for national attachments, creating or strengthening a sense of national identity.

Europe is different from nations. The European Union is not a state and Europe struggles to turn its history, or, to be more precise, its many histories, into one unifying narrative. From the outset, the European project was based on a somewhat paradoxical relationship with its past. Europeans were initially united more by what they rejected than that to which they aspired. In 1945, the great French poet, Paul Valéry, described the European predicament: “We hope vaguely, we dread precisely”. What people vaguely hoped for was peace, what they dreaded was the devastation of past wars. To find more positive sources of identification in their past, Europeans had to reach back further to the Enlightenment and its cosmopolitan ideals, which found expression in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with Schiller’s Ode to Joy. It is thus fitting that the EU adopted the tune of the Symphony’s finale as its anthem in 1986. [More]

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