European identity – in varietate concordia?

In his most famous text from 1983, Benedict Anderson forms one of the most important theories concerning community and belonging. In his book, ‘’Imagined Communities’’, Anderson argues that when an individual is a member of a community that is so big it is impossible to personally know all of its members, the community becomes imagined. That is to say, that from there on, the formation of the community is based on shared ideas of what the community is like. These ideas are then fortified with common, shared symbols such as anthems, flags, mottos and coats of arms. One could hence argue that the ‘Europe’ is similarly an imagined community constructed with specific, chosen concepts. Is this so? And even if it were so, would it necessarily be a bad thing?

For as long as I can remember, I have been witnessing an inner conflict between different possible sets of identities. First of all, I am Finnish, and hence Nordic – but also European, a EU-citizen who has spent many years in the British Commonwealth. So for myself, I am a handy mixture of rye bread, potatoes, wine, cappuccino, whisky and baked beans – but not everyone I encounter during my travels sees this the same way. I once told someone that for me, being European was equally important as being Finnish. My statement was met with almost utter disgust and rejection. How could it be that I identified myself with something as artificial, supranational and bureaucratical? I then tried to explain that being from a European country automatically meant that the person is also, consequently, European, but for my counterpart the idea seemed both far-fetched and difficult to identify with.

In my opinion, the word ‘European’ should be treated as a hypernym, a word with a broader meaning that includes a lot of smaller, more specific and detailed connotations. This would then mean that both being ‘Finnish’ and ‘Nordic’ would automatically mean being ‘European’ without further speculation. At the moment it seems that for a lot of people, especially the ones who hold a critical viewpoint towards the European Union, being European is equivalent to being force-fed artificial hymns, symbols and mottos. For them, identifying themselves with an European entity seems to be almost something that erodes their connection to their country of origin. It is also notable that many use the words ‘Europe’ and ‘European Union’ interchangeably, where as including non-EU countries as European could be a critical question of political and especially personal importance on the individual level. For instance, Saint Petersburg is historically much more European than many Finnish cities, despite the Russian Federation being rather far from the EU itself.  

Historically, pan-Europeanism was based on the values derived from the era of enlightenment and the republicanism of the French Revolution, rather than from individuals’ ideas and identities formed by their own culture or ethnicity. One could thus argue, that the roots of the European idea are inclusive rather than exclusive, at least on the individual scale. As we take a closer look at this, it is interesting to compare former colonies and countries that once were colonised, as well as republics and monarchies, with each other. Two big, former colonial powers, the republic of France and the UK, the latter of which is still a monarchy, are thus seen acting very different roles in Europe today. It is evident that the prevailing viewpoint towards the European identity in these two countries has been both a unifying and a separating factor in regards of their policies within Europe. An important aspect to note here, too, is the continental viewpoint. I have personally noticed many Australians and North-Americans referring to Europe as a solid entity, whereas the people living in this said entity tend to find the need to more closely and specifically analyse themselves.

Another consolidating factor on the European continent has been Christianity, and still today, approximately 75% of Europeans are Christians. However, once we take the future of the European identity under closer scrutiny, the impact of the growing religious minorities, such as Muslims, should be taken into account. One would surely hope that in the future the umbrella of European identity would, unless it already does so, fit the differing religious minorities under its canopy so that being European would not hold the precondition of being Christian. And really, the increasingly secular nature of modern European societies puts the entire question of the European identity being based on religion under question. One could argue that in the future, the idea of Europeanism will most likely be based on something else than shared historical and religious experiences.

What could these new experiences forming the modern foundations of Europeanism then be? A shared belief in universal human rights? Free education? Social welfare states and equality? Free, democratic elections and anti-corruption policies? Many claim that the quest of creating a pan-European identity for all the Europeans to identify with is a lost cause, despite the EU’s continuous efforts. But in my opinion, the rapid changes our world is currently going through should not be left disregarded. The era of the Internet and increased means of fast communication have created unforeseen opportunities for individuals to connect with people similar to them like we have never seen before. Perhaps the new streams and currents of Europeanism will be constructed within the people, the young Europeans, who cherish their continent, its cities, cultures, religions and everything else it has to offer?

I think this is something that we, the youth of modern Europe would want to do, as we all have an inner-built, human need for belonging – whether or not the community we identify ourselves with is imagined or not. And after all, rye bread, wine and baked beans work together alright.

TEXT Ella Kivisaari

PHOTO Charles Clegg

Kirjoittaja on kauppa- ja valtiotieteen ylioppilas, joka suorittaa opintojaan Aberdeenin yliopistossa Skotlannissa, ja kevääksi 2018 hän suuntaa Erasmus-vaihtoon ScienesPo Rennesiin Ranskaan. Erityisen kiinnostunut Kivisaari on kansainvälisistä suhteista, ihmisoikeuksista, maailmantaloudesta, Skotlannin ja muun Britannian tulevasta suhteesta EU:hun sekä kansallismielisen äärioikeiston noususta Euroopan eri kansallisvaltioissa.

Tagit: eurooppalainen identiteetti, european identity Kategoriat: Artikkelit, Eurooppalainen identiteetti, Nostot
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