Waarom ‘de ziel van Europa’?

Europa wordt aangevallen. We kunnen deze dreiging alleen afwenden als Europa eensgezind is. Zolang eensgezindheid ontbreekt, is Europa een speelbal van kwade machten.

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The new text of the mission statement of The Soul of Europe; in this short essay, based on many conversations with my faithful, I describe what motivated me to start this initiative. Wonder what you guys think about it.

Europe is under attack. We can only avert this threat if Europe is united. As long as unanimity is lacking, Europe is a plaything of evil powers. If we want to close our ranks, we must first learn to rediscover the roots of our European civilization. Only in this way can we become aware of a common European identity. From this understanding, we must frame our political decision-making, elect our governors and formulate our interests.

The political debate must therefore be preceded by a cultural debate about that European identity. All citizens must participate in that cultural debate. Society must become totally animated by the idea that Europeans belong together irrevocably. This wisdom comes from the writer Stefan Zweig (1881-1942 ) and French EU administrator Jacques Delors (1925-2023), among others. Europeans should care about Europe as much as they care about their homeland.

Such a cultural debate needs a vanguard who knows how to build a bridge to the man and woman in the street. A vanguard that can popularize complex issues without falling into a populism of false solutions and half-truths. There is no such vanguard yet. A Europe that captures people’s hearts does not yet succeed, although the EU invests tons of money in culture. Festivals, cinema, the results of all this beauty linger a bit in the social upper crust, “educated bourgoisie. Europe needs new European folk tales. Stories in which we fantasize together about our common future.

Identity does not spring from the head but comes from the heart. And Europe as a European Union is a (political) project of the head – the mind – and not of the heart. So digging for identity needs artists rather than thinkers, puts emotion over reason, imagination or fantasy over perception and analysis. It requires passion in addition to sanity. Identity is when you realize who you are and where you belong. This can be an overwhelming experience for those finding their identity.

Identity can be derived from what is in your passport. To the church where you were baptized. The language you speak. Where you were born, where you live, where you work. The stuff you use. Or to your awareness of your origins. To the stories told to you, the memories you have. Identity reveals itself in the rights you have – or don’t have.

But the only one who, in a liberal open society with freedom of conscience, is ultimately in charge of your identity is yourself. Wars are fought over being allowed to freely choose one’s identity. Russia denies that right to Ukrainians, China to Taiwanese.

Where identity of individuals interfaces, group identity can emerge. Political group interests arise from this sense of belonging, this “sense of belonging. They are a rational derivative of group feeling. At that point, identity also becomes politically concrete: real, rational, material and manifest. Suppression of group identity (such as language and religion) or social marginalization of a group always leads to subversion, to resistance to and undermining of the (over-)ruling social order.

In that light, the European Commission talks about the European Union as “the European family” held together by “shared values. But there is quite a bit of political feuding in that family, not least over those supposed shared values. ‘Family’, sounds warmer than ‘rule of law’ but also tribal: as a member of the European tribe (‘tribe’) you apparently belong to it, or not, based on otherwise rather arbitrary criteria that vaguely refer to geography and cultural history, ethnicity, religion and whatnot. Europe’s borders are debatable, not only geographically but also ideologically. What is accepted in one place makes one’s hair stand on end elsewhere. What passes for tolerance here is moral depravity elsewhere, which people rail against.

In the “soul of Europe” resides that which binds us together despite our mutual quarrels. That which we have in common and cherish together. This soul encompasses our cultural, historical and ethnographic diversity. She is the civilization within which we stand in solidarity. This togetherness is necessary for the survival of European civilization. Without it, Europe will perish in mutual strife, separatism.

That sense of shared civilization explains why the United Kingdom left the European Union without firing a shot, while now loyally marching with the EU in the war against Russia, in Ukraine.

Some other civilizations see ours as a threat. This is not incomprehensible because once they were harshly subjugated to Europe, to European nations. But we have come to repentance since 1945, after our own barbarism. We now believe we are merely doing the best for the world by proclaiming what we see as universal (read: superior) values. But the rest of the world is not yet convinced. That’s the situation.

Unanimity is even more important as Europe is under attack, in Ukraine, for its pursuit of self-determination. That’s why Ukraine wants to belong to Europe: It is safe there. Autocrats like Wladimir Putin and Xi Jinping despise our European way of life: The way of life of the open society. Open-minded and collectively striving for humanity. They are trying to undermine our trust in our society and our institutions. Therefore, we must defend the soul of Europe.

What makes Europe so worth living in and how we can defend it, to those questions we seek answers and that is why we ask you to raise your voice by participating in the conversation on this platform. We cannot entrust this to just our political elites. Too much is at stake for that. We must popularize the debate and broaden it to the total population if European civilization is to meet the challenges of our time.

To tell a new inspiring story about Europe, we must first face the juncture in which we find ourselves. For centuries, Europe has ruled the world and recreated human civilization in its image. No continent has escaped this. Europe colonized the world culturally, politically, economically. With science and with art. With trade and with industry. Military and civilian. For better and for worse. The whole world was becoming more and more European.

The cosmopolitan world still exudes European allure but the European heyday is turning. Other civilizations are now advancing they do not share our view that our values are universal. For example, that it is individual freedom before all else that unleashes unparalleled creativity. That this will create unbridled economic dynamism with unstoppable innovations.

Europe has long been blinded by its own belief in progress without much concern for the consequences for other civilizations. But the opponents of Europe, autocrats, are now giving us a taste of their own medicine. It is geopolitical revanchism, what Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are plotting against us.

Against these attempts to undermine and subjugate Europe, we must resist. Because Europe is dear to us. The open society with its civil liberty, political pluralism, democracy and independent judiciary is vulnerable. Vulnerable because of his tolerance for dissenters and his aversion to repression. You cannot defend him with political repression because that is exactly what his opponents intend: That means the end of Open Society.

The War in Ukraine is a culture war against open society. Therefore, he will not stop at the conquest of Ukraine.

Therefore, Europe must arm itself with cultural self-awareness. In doing so, we must not fall into the trap of complacency. We must not wallow complacently in our own rightness. Rather, we want to search critically for a new European story from a deeper sense of belonging and a shared ideal of civilization without a rigid, political program but from an open grounding. With the pen at the ready as a weapon but the sights always open. To arms! Pax Europea: Unitum humanitatis!

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