Guest blog post by Luca Jahier, President of the Various Interests Group of the EESC.
In the 7th Century B.C., Sappho was regarded as one of the greatest lyric poets of her time. Described by Plato as Ancient Greece’s tenth muse, Sappho is reputed to have commented “I declare that later on, even in an age unlike our own, someone will remember who we are“. Today, almost three thousand years later, after the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, two World Wars and the reunification of Europe, we still remember Sappho. For in Europe, we made the conscious decision to adopt the classical world as our common European heritage. We decided to create a community of Europeans based on a shared history, common values, responsibilities and normative ideas. However, the question that needs asking is ‘what went wrong’?
The Various Interests Group of the EESC did precisely this, at the high-level conference entitled ‘A Hope for Europe! Culture, Cities and New Narratives‘, that we organised at the EESC on 20 & 21 June, in partnership with the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament and the Centre for Fine Arts, Bozar. Among the questions that we debated were: did we go too far or not far enough? Can Culture help us overcome the systemic, political and identity crises which are currently shaking the European Union? What role can Culture and Cities play in strengthening social and territorial cohesion, in engaging in dialogue and building trust in our complex societies? Can Culture bring Hope, New Narratives and a second Renaissance to Europe?
The decision of the citizens of the UK to leave the EU has brought these questions centre stage. Without doubt, the vote for a Brexit does question the vision, identity and future direction of the EU. Regrettably, the voices of those undermining the intrinsic values of the Union will certainly grow louder and more confident in the foreseeable future.
Within this confusion, it is my firm conviction that the EU and its Member States must allow Culture, which is the foundation and cement of our European identity, to come to the fore as a powerful instrument in its own right. Culture has an enormous untapped potential for becoming a unifying and mobilising instrument in Europe. At precisely this time when European citizens are questioning their common identity more than ever since 1945:
- Now is the moment to firmly place Culture and cultural policies at the heart of the European political agenda and to create a new narrative for our common future!
- Now is the time to invest in the sector and to support the plethora of actors engaged in cultural governance!
- Now is the time to include Culture as a tool of soft power in Europe’s External Relations and to promote Culture as the 4th Pillar of Sustainable Development!
As Jean Monnet wisely stated: “If I had to do it again, I would begin with culture“. For culture gives a direction and a meaning to individuals and societies. It is the very essence of our humanity, driven by emotions, making us see, feel and think differently, in effect determining our perception of the world. Culture, Civilisation and Art are intertwined, engaged in a dialectic relationship, bouncing off each other, absorbing external influences and constantly evolving. Nonetheless, throughout history, Culture has also been employed as a political instrument. The case of the Florentine Medici family in my own country, Italy, being one of the most famous examples. Culture is able to do this because it is closely tied to the concept of the demos, the people. Membership of the demos implies common identity and loyalty to a collective political entity, where there are those who belong and those who are outsiders.
Within this context, on 20 & 21 June we sought to explore four very concrete dimensions, namely:
- Culture as a vehicle of economic growth
- Culture as an instrument for reconverting cities and territories
- Culture as a tool for integration and inclusiveness
- Reshaping European identity within Europe and Beyond.
The conference also provided the opportunity to publicly launch the study commissioned by the EESC, at the request of the Various Interests Group: ‘‘Culture, Cities and Identity in Europe‘, written by Culture Action Europe and Agenda 21 for Culture – UCLG. This excellent study was very well received by the participants at the event.
Before ending this Editorial, I would like to recall the words of the English writer G.K. Chesterton: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder”. For in our heart of hearts, we yearn for the beautiful, the true and the good, a force that imbues all of us with an immense creative power and which can stem the horrors of the violence assailing much of Europe – the murderous insanity of terrorism, or the assassination of Jo Cox, the young and talented British MP to whom I dedicate our conference. It is this yearning for what is beautiful, true and good that must be nurtured by the quiet force of Culture, if Europe is to move forward once again and find a new narrative in which we can all believe.
Together, let us ensure that this ‘soft’ force of Culture is able to multiply and to positively contribute to Wellbeing, Progress and the Europe of Tomorrow! Let us empower Culture and all those actors whose pure energy is already driving new models of cultural governance and new models of society. For today, this is what European citizens are calling for!Blogactiv Team