Resistance, Resilience & Adaptation: Understanding a Changing Europe
Europe seems perennially poised at a crossroads of late: about to embark on a vigorous program of federalization at one point, breaking up and dividing at another. Its citizens are variously depicted as rejecting the diktats of consumer capitalism and seeking to resolve inequalities on the one hand and, on the other, increasingly turning to right wing, nationalism-fuelled political parties. The economy is slowly recovering one day and about to plunge into a ‘triple-dip’ recession the next. The current social, political and economic situation in Europe defies any easy classification and even the long term prospects seem unclear – are we merely experiencing a blip in the year on year growth that Europe has experienced post WWII or have we reached the tipping point where Europeans have to adjust to the falling living standards and disproportionate international weight which they have long enjoyed as the BRICs go from strength to strength and leave Europe behind? Are we on the brink of a brave new world order or is this just another example of the cyclical nature of crisis? On the pan-European stage, responses to the crisis vary from Barosso’s push for a ‘federation of European nation-states’ or Merkel’s push for greater economic integration to the disengagement and increasingly vocal isolationism of Cameron. The resultant disunity and lack of cohesive direction, at precisely the point where it is needed the most, contributes to the apocalyptic rhetoric surrounding almost every EU summit of the last 4 years.
With this as a backdrop, the IP topic seems particularly pertinent and valuable as we seek common approaches to accepting, managing and profiting from this change. For let one thing be clear – change is a Janus-faced beast but need not be negative. The Stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, once said “Why should anyone be afraid of change? What can take place without it? What can be more pleasing or more suitable to universal nature? Can you take your bath without the firewood undergoing a change? Can you eat without the food undergoing a change? And can anything useful be done without change?” Upheaval and change can also be the catalyst for innovation, creative input and the reversal of status-quo – after all, without revolutions, the engine of society could never turn.
Now, more than ever, there is a need to follow these processes, to analyse them with a critical eye, understand why there is resistance and learn how to adapt to it, while learning when and how to build up resilience in the face of crisis. This is the task which faces this year’s Euroculture IP and its students.
The sub-topics include:
1) Change and the City: urban spaces as catalysts for change
The City, the entity that put the polis into politics, has been at the fore not only in the recent wave of protest but has also undergone considerable change itself of late. Whether seen from the ‘negative’ perspective of protest and demands for change or the ‘positive’ of innovation and regeneration of urban spaces, their role has been a key factor and catalyst in driving change.
The Indignados and the Occupy movements have shared one key element in their approach to calling for change: their use of public spaces and the very fabric of the city to not only garner maximum attention but also to symbolically and physically reclaim urban spaces which belong to the people. The manner of protest has shifted from the temporary, one day march to a longer term approach which refuses to play by the traditional rules of protest. With anarchist groups supporting residents against the ‘ravages’ of gentrification, parents turning branches of Starbucks into impromptu crèches (at least, more so than usual!), tent cities debating alternatives to capitalism, guerrilla gardening and urban agriculture, the urban fabric is in a state of flux and is playing a role in driving the changes currently at work. And yet, some would argue, this has ever been the case, the city has always been used both positively – the public square as a public forum, for example – and negatively, in the architectonic features of urban spaces such as the banlieue which serve to separate and divide their inhabitants. This sub-theme concerns the role of the city in providing and inspiring change.
Key themes: politics, culture, counterculture, movements, protests, urbanisation, urban planning, creative/active citizenship
2) The shifting borders of inclusion/exclusion: Europe as a space of change.
Change constantly alters and shifts the boundaries of ‘in’ and ‘out’, blurring borders and redrawing them. The current situation in Europe has been an inspiration for some to claim that the best response is to shut up the European shop, to cease expansion, seal borders and retreat into a hermetic foetal position. Others, conversely, see the current problems as a result of Europe having not come to terms with its future ultimately being multi-ethnic and diverse and advocate greater immigration and integration as the answer to both the demographic and economic deficit. Traditionally, such tensions are exacerbated in times of crisis and, with the integration of Europe, societies have also seen their traditional national values change – how are new members adapting to the influx of ‘Western’ values? With this, almost inevitably, comes reaction and yet more polarization, evidenced by the rise in support for nationalist parties across the Union. What has the crisis meant for societal inclusion and the integration of different ethnic and minority groups? Borders are not only drawn between citizens and foreigners, however, as value systems vary widely even within relatively ethnically homogenous societies. Fault lines of inclusion and exclusion are also marked by clashes within a multitude of social identities: generational gaps, ideological differences, gender issues, sexual orientation, to name but a few. On the EU level, what has become of candidate countries and does EU membership still represent something worth pursuing? Is Turkey better off joining the Union or forging ahead on its own? This sub-theme refers not only to the physical borders of Europe but also both its internal and external ideological, social and economic boundaries.
Key themes: demographics, norms, ethnic origins, ideological viewpoints, social identities, economic challenges.
3) Europe’s place in a global setting: unified, divided, multi-track or simply lost?
The much vaunted rise of the BRICs, especially China, coupled with the demographic decline in Europe would have always meant a challenge and change for the Union: indeed, prior to the crisis this was recognized and was a driving force behind the move towards a knowledge-based economy for Europe. The change induced by the crisis has served to shatter the previous consensus, if indeed it ever existed. Europe thus finds itself with a number of routes which open up towards an unknown future: to be unified, divided, multi-track or, in the worst case scenario, simply lost and adrift on the global scene.
Unified means variously a march towards a ‘federation of nation states’, towards closer economic cooperation, towards greater integration: in short, more Europe and not less. To be divided, on the other hand, means the Eurozone falling apart (or being systematically dismantled), the UK drifting off into the Atlantic, the southern EU members floating away in a Mediterranean Union and everywhere right-wing governments looking towards national solutions and identities rather than European. The multi-track model might lead to some opting out of the Eurozone or a domino-like process whereby first Greece is forced out before the ‘vulture capitalists’ move on to perch by the next ‘victim’. A two speed Europe might spring up, member states may opt out of other areas of cooperation or choose greater integration. Finally, Europe may end up simply lost, overshadowed by the emerging powers and playing the part of an increasingly infirm elderly relative reminiscing over past glories.
Much has been made here of politics but what of culture and cultural policy? What, indeed, of Euroculture? With the greatest markets for culture, both high and low, now located outside of Europe, what relevance does European culture and cultural diplomacy have on the global stage? What about the role of literature, new media, film and art as a medium for dialogue, both with the ‘outside’ world and within a divided Europe itself? What is the way forward? This sub-theme explores Europe’s position in a global setting, politically, economically and culturally.
Key themes: foreign, economic & cultural policy, cultural diplomacy, integration, expansion, federalism.