the berlin wall
The other night I was having a conversation about the early 90s, music was the topic and we were reminiscing about the time when MTV was still worth watching (yes, reminiscing indeed). My conversational partner is a bit younger than I and comes from a different musical background, so I was telling him about the wonders of 120 minutes and getting a weekly input of alternative music. As I was talking it all came back to me, that early 90s vibe of crumbling walls and the European dream. I was 13 years old when the Berlin wall fell and I still remember how I felt when I saw the images on the TV screen. How I looked at my parents with bewilderment and asked them if this was really happening. I wasn’t that old, but I understood that this really meant something, that this would change the world. And it did. And for a few years there in the early 90s it really seemed like a new world was possible. That Europe would now truly become one. In my memories, in the way I understood the world, the early days of MTV Europe was a bit like that; all of Europe in one studio. It was all done in London, that’s where the studio was, but the VJs came from all over Europe, there were even Swedish people, and back then that meant something to me because we weren’t part of the European Union yet, but the fact that we still got to be part of MTV somehow gave me hope. Because I didn’t want to be Swedish, I wanted to be European. Or rather, I didn’t really want to have a nationality at all, so being European at least felt like a better deal. That feeling hasn’t really changed all that much, but back then there were moments were I could feel something almost resembling pride when I though about being European, in spite of all the past atrocities it seemed like being European could actually be an ok identity, but today being European doesn’t induce anything even resembling pride. Not only because of the horrendous political currents surging through Europe right now, but also because the idea of a European identity has almost faded away.
I may be incredibly naive, but I actually think the European Union is a good thing. Not the way it’s actually been implemented, or the way it’s working today, but the idea itself. The idea of creating a unity of nations and have the focus be on working together for everyone’s benefit is good. In fact, it’s brilliant. And if this could be the guiding principle for the whole world, that would be even better – working together to ensure everyone is ok. Not just the rich and privileged, but everyone.
If you really want to do that, make sure everyone is ok, you can’t care about borders or ethnicity because the moment you start focusing on those aspects the basic concept is lost. It’s supposed to be about everyone. Every single individual. And of course that’s an utopian idea, but that’s the whole point of political ideas, they are supposed to be about creating utopia, the perfect world. Anything that has “good enough” as the highest standard requirement is not even worth considering. Stagnation, that’s the end result of such ideals. Only ideas that lead to the best situation for every single individual are even worth considering. But at the same time the focus cannot lie solely on the individual. Through the sheer fact that there’s actually a lot of us, taking such a stance becomes not only preposterous but also impossible. Because even if we start getting into the really deep waters of the ontological ocean, we can’t really overlook the fact that yes, somehow on some level there are other individuals out there besides ourselves and if those be simply figments of our own imagination or intrinsically tied to us through the bond of creation from some higher power or being, is actually of very little relevance for the task of determining whether they need to be included in the equation or not. On some level they are there and thus they must be included. Hence the ‘everyone’. And that also means that no one has any right to infringe on anyone else’s freedom. That the freedom of one individual cannot be founded on the serfdom of another. You can’t expand your freedom at the cost of mine. And that applies to nations too. One nation cannot raise their standard of living if that happens at the cost of another nation. Not for reasons of morality but for pure logical reasons. Because that overthrows the equation. X doesn’t equal that. It just doesn’t work.
And that’s why the statement that it wouldn’t be a catastrophe if Greece left the EU is flawed. If Greece leaves that would be a breach of the founding principle. The idea is to work together, to create a codependency where all are depending on one-another, and staying true to that principle doesn’t allow for exit. Especially not for the reason that you can’t keep up economically. We’re in this shit together, that’s the whole point. I know it’s a very cliché thing to say, but on a continent that has seen two world wars we should have learned by now that one against the other is a very bad idea. It feels a lot like stating the bleeding obvious, but apparently now is a time when we really have to be reminded about the bleeding obvious. Such as the insanity of the “us against them” principle. Might isn’t right, it never was and it never will be. And yes, we really should have learned this by now. Fear is a shitty way to motivate people and it usually results in really bad things. The Holocaust being a very blatant and relatively current example. What happened in the Balkans even more recent. The principle of non inclusion simply doesn’t work. We always end up at the same place and that is in total fucking disaster. Colonialism, crusades, ethnic cleansing, genocide and destruction. It doesn’t work. And there really is no place for division, we are all people. All humans. All of us. And we really need to remember that right now because right now is scary.
Right now racist populism is invading the european parliaments and big business are trying to cover their asses by shifting even more assets from those who have nothing to those who have everything creating an even greater gap between rich and poor. Yes, we do live in a time of crisis, but the economic one is actually the least of our problems, it’s the ideological one that’s really the point of worry. And to give up on the european project now would be a tragedy. But at the same time, selling out the EU to the financial market would be equally bad. So what do we do? Where do we turn from here?
I don’t know. But wouldn’t it be great if we, the citizens of the EU, could realize that it’s actually about us? That the young unemployed people in Spain are facing the exact same problems as the students in the UK and that raised retirement ages are on the agenda everywhere and that those two are actually connected? It’s all about us, about what kind of society we want. This whole project is actually ours, we are the ones who should decide what to do with it. And so far, it hasn’t really been about us. It’s been about protecting the individual financial markets, about maintaining an artificial division called nations while at the same time claiming that mobility is free between them. It is, but as long as my nationality is still relevant can we really claim to be all that mobile? I’m from Sweden but I live in Germany. So why can I still vote in the swedish elections? And why am I not allowed to have a say in how the country where I actually live and pay taxes is run? Isn’t that very strange somehow? To me it is.
The biggest problem with the EU is that we haven’t taken it seriously. We’re still holding on to a nostalgic idea about nations and nationality and as long as we do that how can we ever take Europe seriously? To grasp the fact that we actually have this thing in common. When I talk about this I often get told that it’s because we are too different, that Europe isn’t homogenous enough, but are we really that different? Since the 80s we’ve all pretty much been in agreement that democracy is the way we want to go, that freedom and equal rights are pretty nice guiding principles and that the environment is something we should actually care about. When it comes to basic values we do actually have quite a lot in common.
But that’s the thing with differences. If you look hard enough you can find them everywhere. And in Europe you don’t even have to look that hard. It’s enough to look at the individual countries. Northern italians think the people from the south are different, in Belgium the Flemish and the Walloons don’t really see eye to eye, the Basque don’t want to be part of Spain and in Finland there are strong voices being raised for the abolishment of Swedish as the official second language. Us against them. But at the same time, if you ask a northern italian if he’s got more in common with a person from Sicily or a person from Papua New Guinea I think he would go with the Sicilian option. It all depends on what perspective you take. And for some reason we seems to have a fondness of focusing on what separates rather than what unites. And sure, if differences are what you want to focus on Europe is full of them. But diversity is actually a strength. In genetics diversity is the best way to secure the survival of a species and in marketing the diversity aspect is becoming more and more important. It’s how you gain the big market shares, by embracing the differences in your target audience and try to broaden your address. Because that’s the point, homogeneity only works in the short-term. Sure it’s easy if everyone is the same, but it also means the end, and quite inevitably so. Nothing that is the same can evolve and without evolution nothing can survive. Basic principle of all living things. Europe is no exception. So yes, thankfully we are all different, but we also have a lot of things in common and if we focus on that, and keep in mind that in the longer perspective something can only be sustainable if diversity is not only accepted but also revered, then maybe we could finally get on with this here European project and start using it the way it could be, should be used, namely as something to benefit the citizens of Europe. All of us, not just the rich and privileged or the big corporations or financial institutes, but the people of Europe, regardless of where in Europe they happen to live, what gender or sexual orientation they have or what confession they have chosen. We’re in this together and sooner or later whatever disaster we inflict on others will come and bite us in the ass too, so the best way to avoid that is to actually be the change we want to see. Yes, it may be a tremendous cliché, the second one in this text, but it’s never the less true. Even if you keep dumping your crap in the neighbor’s backyard eventually the shit pile will be big enough to cast a shadow on our backyard too. Sustainability, that’s what it’s all about. And we were supposed have learned that after World War II so no, Greece are not going to leave the EU because that’s not even part of the potential options. It’s just not part of the deal. We’re in this shit together and that’s what we need to focus on. That and bringing this whole idea back to what it’s supposed to be: realizing that working together is a lot more fruitful and beneficial for everyone than working against each other. And once we finally get this, maybe then we could also give up this stupid game of nationality. Because really, we’re all just citizens of this planet and borders are just figments of our collective imagination. There’s no us and them, just us – humanity, with all our differences and flaws, but we’re still all very much in this together. Like it or not, the only applicable terms is we, us, humans.