Europe is an old continent. It is full of history and tradition. And every country has its own stories, legends, customs, and celebrations. One cannot mistake France for Germany or Greece for Luxembourg. Although European nations share a history and indeed, commonalities, they are quite distinct and independent in their identity. This, of course, is part of the continent’s charm. It is a part of its soul. A sense of historical identity is often mixed with religious and cultural characteristics.
With the advent of the European Union, however, many worry that a desire for more uniformity might have a negative impact on these diverse characteristics. Even though the prospect of a United States of Europe seems increasingly unlikely, the idea lingers still, and, no doubt for pro-EU politicians, it might be the desired outcome, seen perhaps as the solution to the prospect of the Union’s break-up. Yet, even if such a future might become possible, it is necessary for Europe to protect and encourage its cultural diversity, as homogenization of culture and identity lead to the loss of both.
In this respect, Europe can learn valuable lessons from the North American state which embodies the desires of pro-EU advocates, the USA. This is a country the size of a respectable continent, which seems to be doing very well, to the point, in fact, that it is one of the great powers of our time. However, care should be taken not to assume that, firstly, what happened in the US is repeatable, and, secondly, if it is, that it is a good and stable system free of problems. It took a series of circumstances to create the US which would not be possible for Europe to replicate. The US is new and was formed on quite the universal, uniform mindset and language background of the settlers at the time. Europe is diverse and old with traditions dating back thousands of years. At the same, the US has many issues Europe has yet to encounter. One of these issues is, for most, a lack of identity, due to the fact that the country is now a melting pot of cultures which have not sprouted territorial roots, but rather are spread out around the nation. Adding to this issue is the fact the US is quite uniform in its presentation. There is no feeling of old traditions, languages, or even a big diversity of commercial outlets, which, with some exceptions, are pretty much the same everywhere. There isn’t often a sense of anyone belonging anywhere, as most of the population moves wherever financial or career opportunities beckon. There is prosperity in the country but little in terms of identity and roots.
While such a reality might not do more than perhaps numb the spirit and motivation of some in the US, and provide a sense of independence for others, it would kill the essence of Europe’s soul to exist in a similar way. Luckily, it is highly unlikely that such attempts would come to any success, as identity is quite ingrained in the nations of Europe. Of course, it is important not to take identity to its extreme version, which excludes and persecutes. Rather, it is important to keep it as a memory and reality of one’s history, which should be neither forgotten nor abused. That way, history may be celebrated, not weaponized.
It is good for the EU to have freedom of movement and collaboration, but it would be tragic for Europe to lose the essence of what makes it so precious and unique. A diversity of individuals without territory is less stable than diversity of cultures linked through memory to their territory. Roots must be cared for and nourished so that they might provide the fertile ground for the future. If done with care and balance instead of zealous extremism, the foundations of belonging can usher in progress, without the danger of annihilating memory. Only then can enough space and security be provided for people to live and share ideas in harmony.
More about this author