Croatian writer and journalist Slavenka Drakulić envisioned what the European way of life could be in her article "Euroskansen": the continent will be flooded with tourists, mostly from the east, who look at the Old Continent as we now look at Babylon. Tourist guides will tell tales of this once-great union of countries which brought its own potential and glory to the end because politics were left to politicians who were largely influenced by private interests, national interests were given more importance than common interest and immigrants were not welcome or well-integrated. E&M started a European discussion with Drakulić about European identity, European fears and the power of European citizens - and we welcome your opinions. 

Photo: Goran Mehkek http://slavenkadrakulic.com/category/photo_gallery/
Croatian writer and journalist Slavenka Drakulić will discuss European identity with E&M in September.

E&M: In one of our blog posts, we talked about how some define Europe in opposition to other communities. Do you see a European community and identity being built up in contrast to some "Other Identities", creating anti-Muslim or racist tendencies towards immigrants and refugees but also towards other cultures and religious groups outside of Europe?

Slavenka Drakulić: I think that any national, or in this case European, identity is formed against another, as a reaction. Usually one does not need to ask: who am I? I saw it during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. To be a Serb, a Croat, a Bosnian or an Albanian - that was not a problem until somebody asked you to define your identity; your national belonging, by asking you who you are. In other words, when national identity becomes important, there is trouble in sight. The same goes for the anti-immigrant atmosphere growing in Europe and in the EU in the last years. It has to do with fear; fear of the "other." At the moment Europeans are afraid of Muslims but also of the Roma - tomorrow it might be some other ethnic group, a nation or a religion. 

The real question is, why are Europeans afraid of them? What drives fears of the "other" and how the "other" is created? A good example to look at is France with Marine Le Pen. The right wing parties are getting the upper hand in Europe and that is worrisome.

In "the tune of the future" you write that "If Venice is where old Europe is dying, then Bari is where new Europe is emerging. It is one of the entry points for immigrants to Europe." Can there be a European identity that immigrants and refugees will also be able to relate to?

In my opinion, the question should be asked the other way around: how do we, Europeans, i.e. the majority, relate to immigrants from other continents and their culture? How long are they going to be "Them"? Why do we expect "Them" to accept our culture unconditionally? Obviously there should be a slow process of adaptation from both sides; a kind of give and take. If there were no major frustrations in a society, like the economic crisis, this process would have a chance. But now, a scapegoat is urgently needed. I am not saying that there are no problems with immigrants; of course there are. But both media and politicians are whipping it up for their own needs.

"There is no European identity in the first place."

You once mentioned that some countries, especially ex-communist countries, instead of truly wanting to become part of Europe, are trying to trick the EU by forging reforms in one of your interviews about hope, integration and disillusionment in Europe. Is this a failure in the process of true European integration, do you think? What can be done about it by normal European citizens?

Now we can see that Greece, a member of the EU and not a former communist country, was forging reforms and falsifying documents all along. So much for the failure of the process of true European integration! After this happened in Greece, there is no point in talking about forging reforms, I think. In former communist countries, after 1989, there was a strong desire to demonstrate that they belong to Europe; that they too are Europeans. That desire to be accepted by the West (in our communist dictionary, Europe was equal to West) sometimes resulted in formal reforms, while a society was functioning as before. However, when speaking about "true European integration" or "normal European citizens," we perhaps should start with definitions of what we mean by that. If not, we do not know what we are talking about.


#2 Rike M 2012-07-18 12:41
Very interesting interview! Though I am a bit sad to read that one of Europe's intellectuals is so pessimistic about our future. I wonder two things regarding what Slavenka Drakulić said about European identity: How is the existing European identity any more superficial than the national identities we have? Don't we all only feel German/British/ Romanian/Dutch/ Spanish/... when we travel and see that in other places things are handled differently?
I'm also not really convinced that a common language is needed in order to establish a common identity and would be curious as to why Slavenka Drakulić believes that. I think the Swiss have a national identity despite speaking four different languages. I can imagine that there are lots of ways to identify with others, ways that are that strong enough to build a common identity even if you don't speak the same language.
#1 Lucy 2012-07-17 15:17
I found this article very interesting, but also quite a sad read. Is this really what we're faced with - Europe as a relic?

It's funny that the topic of "Yugonostalgia" comes up as a related article - I'm sure this is just because Slavenka Drakulić is from Croatia, but I did feel that there was a strong nostalgia in this article for a golden age of Europe, which made me wonder whether we have ever had a real golden age, or whether we just imagine one.

In particular - and this is the question I'd really like to ask Drakulić at the Debating Europe event - I was struck by the claim that "there are not enough "thinking people" whose voices could be heard. They used to be called intellectuals, but this is dying species!"

Why are there fewer "intellectuals" now than there used to be? What is the job of an intellectual - how can s/he make sure Europe doesn't turn into an amusement park? What can we do to make sure more "thinking people" emerge?

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