Europe's need for a reflective self-consciousness
Friday 31 March 2017

In LIKE's Statement of Brussels (Feb. 10, 2017), the network has expressed the regret that "the EU, as a product of a cultural history, has not been able to cultivate and capitalise on the support of a cultural sector that has long been ready to defend exchange and intercultural dialogue between peoples“.

One possible reason for this neglect has been stated by the philosopher Robrecht Vanerbeeken, for while the EU wishes to promote culture and the cultural sector, the reason for being hit by austerity measures i.e. cut backs in budgets is due to the EU neo-liberal cultural policy which stands completely in contradiction to the declared intention:

“The problem, however, is that from its very first lines, this programme approaches art and culture like a market economy...with its principal objective being to increase free trade to Europe’s advantage. This implies that art and culture must be in conformity with the market as much as possible: developing more markets, generating innovation for the creative economy, developing transnational business cooperation, increasing internationalization. It may be clear that critical art or artistic freedom is not a priority here. On the contrary, the EU conceives artists and art institutes as resources, that is, as raw materials” (Robrecht Vanerbeeken (2014) “The EU cultural policy is the problem, not the solution”. Generalwe, April 2, 2014

By not hearing the voices of poets and artists, a different way to view things will not be taken into consideration. By not allowing for another use of space, other forms of human interactions will be neglected. The EU risks consequently to deform the cultural sector by promoting only the creative industries. While claiming it would generate for all new jobs, it turns out to be a myth. Even worse is the wish to transform the artist into an entrepreneur when in fact the exploration of different materials and forms of expressions have nothing to do with managerial questions. Altogether culture is greater than the economy and means not only how people conduct their business, but how they view each other. The bringing about constructive dialogues has proven to be most difficult.

At a recent conference to present six successful projects which are being funded by the CREATIVE EUROPE CULTURE programme held in Berlin 16.Feb. 2017, one woman in the audience pointed out during questioning time, that all these projects depart from assumptions as if an unshakable truth, when in fact we are only told that the state of affairs is such. She posed the question if the projects are capable of developing themselves a critical potential to question their own assumptions and in so doing, reveal their own value premises they seek to uphold? Whether they are European values or not is then still another, equally critical matter never to be taken as if self-understood.

Surely by silencing the voices of artists and of those who would pose uncomfortable political questions, it means a subtle form of censorship is applied, so that controversial issues are never put on the table. So how can the European Union ever mature in terms of cultural values and thereby avoid selling fake success stories as if true ones? For sure, the decision making is a complex process which requires not only top-down policy recommendations, but the cultural sector having a voice in setting of the agenda. Moreover, artistic work means facing man's conflicts differently and show like Goya what the court ignores. Above all, culture requires a true artistic spirit, if people are to be inspired and can contribute to knowing what is the true state of affairs in Europe.

Of interest is here a call for papers for the Panel: "Thinking Europe: Philosophy, Autonomy and Culture" as part of 7th Euroacademia International Conference Europe "Inside-Out: Europe and Europeanness Exposed to Plural Observers" to be held in Porto, Portugal 28 – 29 April 2017. In reference to the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis, they remind that a reflective social questioning of the EU institutions has to be done in terms of European cultures based on a historical contingency. For Castoriadis, it was “in Europe that a genuine interest in the others as others emerged in the frame of the project of social and individual autonomy which originated in ancient Greece and reasserted itself by the European modernity”. Culture requires such self-consciousness.

About the author

Hatto Fischer, poet and philosopher, coordinator of the NGO Poiein kai Prattein has been involved with questions of culture in various ways: European projects, advisor for the Greens to the Cultural Committee in the European Parliament, study for the European Commission on how culture in Greece has been financed through the structural fund. Besides his own writings, he is engaged in dialogue with poets and coordinates the world wide Kids' Guernica - Guernica Youth movement with children and youth painting peace murals on a canvas having the same size as Picasso's Guernica (7,8 x 3,5 m). His latest research work has been on how Europe is connected through culture as exemplified by ECoCs since 1985.