09 2008

Notes and Remarks on the Category of Europe

Translated by Maja Lovrenov

Katja Praznik

If no intellectual, artistic, political discourses are developed which criticise what is going on in Europe, there will be no interest, no participation in European issues at all.
Therese Kaufmann / Gerald Raunig in “Position Paper on European Cultural Policies”[1]

Let me try to note, in a short and schematic way, the motives that have led me to point out the problems of contemporary Europe and the position of art and culture in it, which are treated in this issue’s thematic block. On the one hand, this was triggered by the otherwise banal political fact that, this year, Slovenia, as a former communist country, held the EU Presidency. On the other hand, the theme resulted from various internal discussions among European colleagues, especially those that are not enticed by the establishment of a new geopolitical situation – a result of the joining of former Eastern Bloc countries, or better yet, the countries having lived under a communist system – into believing in the idea of a new united Europe and even less so in the idea of a real existence of a European cultural policy.  

The other motive for the wish to discuss what contemporary Europe is like and what it should be like was the debate on the heritage of the Parisian May 1968 and the reflection on the Prague Spring, or better yet, the characteristic social movements which took place all over Europe in 1968.  Oddly enough, the heritage of the Parisian movement has been discussed substantially more prominently than the heritage of Eastern European movements. These symptoms have many reasons and complex roots that should be analysed. Here, I shall connect both motives in order to put a few issues up for debate.

Already before the first great enlargement of the EU in 2004, the problem of the inequality between the old and the new members could be seen. This inequality is even worse for the countries that still have not yet obtained their entry ticket to the EU. Furthermore, EU member states themselves did not have the same rights and possibilities of access to EU and European Commission programmes. Or, as Therese Kaufman and Gerald Raunig wrote in their 2002 discussion on how to define European cultural policy: “There are significant imbalances and inadequacies between different regions or states, e.g., in tax regulations, the recognition of diplomas, local/national funding, etc., which can pose hindrances. The divergence of cultural administration or funding systems in the various countries can represent a major obstacle, and with the new Member States joining the EU and with the members of the Council of Europe, this problematic situation becomes an even more urgent issue.”[2]

But EU bureaucrats care very little about art and culture, which was obvious already in 2002 when Kaufman and Raunig asserted that “no groundbreaking action is being taken at the level of the institutions, nor are there significant plans with respect to a further development of the legal instruments for culture.”[3]. Similarly as in the local context, in the EU, it still holds true that “culture is a part of the human condition”, but we forget that “since culture as a pure and positive aspect of civilisation and humanity has always been reserved to the small portion of white, heterosexual bourgeois people, this never has been a democratic argument. It becomes totally inappropriate under the postmodern conditions of control society, especially whenever universal rights are instrumentalised for particular interests.”[4] Even more, it has become increasingly clearer that, from the viewpoint of art and culture, the EU is merely an economic category and that, in its actions, there is “a tendency to focus on the possibilities of economic exploitation rather than on the critical, participatory and political potential of cultural content.”[5]

Slovenia’s EU Presidency coincided with the political project, named the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, which constantly emphasizes equal dialogue, even though this equality does not exist among EU countries. The problems lie, at least in part, in the fact that, especially in the new member states that have joined the EU since 2004, there are no established regional cultural and political narrations that could even enable equal dialogue or if there are, they are being partly ignored and overheard. And yet, without the articulation of the specifics, it is difficult to establish a dialogue especially if, as Branka Ćurčić finds, the last EU enlargements represent, above all, the expression of “old” Europe’s economic interests in the new member states of Central and Eastern Europe, with global commodification taking place without any real interest in cultural contents and the subjectivity of the members of those countries. Even more, “market stabilization in the developing countries is a process that is usually well traded, in the sense that the interests of those who are stabilizing are, first of all, well respected.”[6]

We can say that the advantage of (Western) capitalist logic and neoliberal ideology lies especially in their developed technologies and techniques of domination, manipulation and subjugation and the power with which they smoothly refute and discredit the suggestions of other models of society and cultural policy that do not come from their ranks – but in their own ranks, too, they have by now, in a large part, managed to demoralise the need to act and fight or this need has become only a new trendy label which we stick over our identity. 

The problems are manifested in the lack of discussion or rather, unpreparedness to engage in a dialogue about those concepts created in the former Eastern Bloc that have, today, been banished from our collective memory: not only the Prague Spring but also the events of the 1980s that contributed to the fall of the iron curtain in 1989 and the arrival of the so eagerly awaited freedom which had gone awry in the time of transition.. Neither is there dialogue on the differences in the conceptions that have originated in the experiences that were created separately in the East and the West after WWII or, even, the specifics of the former Yugoslav context. The problem of the importance of distinguishing between two different geopolitical experiences is, in part, treated in Jacques Rupnik’s text “1968: The Year of Two Springs”, in which he analyses the differences between the Parisian May 1968 and the Prague Spring, saying: “The May movement in Paris wanted to put culture and the universities at the service of a political project. In Czechoslovakia, however, the 1960s stood for a process of freeing culture (albeit provisionally) from the shackles of the existing political structures and were a prelude to the upheavals of 1968. The distancing of culture from the ideology of the ruling powers had an impact that was actually highly political.”[7]

The differences between these two movements are important, after all, not only because, in the East, there was an actual demand for breaking the centralised and censorship driven control of art practices protecting ideological party interests, but also because this demand did not want to submit to market pressure, that is, economic interests.[8] We can say that perhaps the East nurtured a utopian idea on the deideologization of art practices, which can today represent a reference point in the question of fighting contemporary ideological interests, even if we name them economic, which we will unavoidably have to face if we wish to think about alternative models of society and the autonomy of art practices, which are a legitimate field of social action.

If we agree with the thesis by Kaufman and Raunig that there is no implicitly positive culture as such and that examining the political functions of culture does not imply abandoning all concepts of the autonomy of the field of culture, then this means that “the actors in the cultural field need a clear vision about what the functions of culture and cultural politics are and will be, in order to defend its autonomy against inroads from neoliberal globalization and its catchwords and categories like cultural/creative industries, cultural entrepreneurs and the eternal promise of bread and spectacles.”[9] Or in other words, “the respective resources, actors, institutions and initiatives of the cultural field are to be mobilized and supported for a continuous critical reflection on more general ideas about Europe, as well as for the constant expansion of participation in the debates and critique of the structures and discourses of the ‘official’ Europe. The cultural field is the perfect ground for debates, disputes and conflicts, it is a ground for difference and diversity, it is a ground for people's permanent becoming. This means also that, ‘culture’ should neither be used as the last resort in constructing and reproducing national identities, nor should it be instrumentalized in the attempt to systematically construct a European identity. Rather it should be understood as a laboratory of exemplary models for the processual, constructive dynamisation of differences.” [10]

Published in: Maska no 115-116, http://www.maska.si/


[1] Therese Kaufmann and Gerald Raunig, “Position Paper on European Cultural Policies”, Anticipating European Cultural Policies, eipcp , 11/2002, http://eipcp.net/policies/aecp/kaufmannraunig/en (27 August 2008)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Branka Ćurčić, “Desire to Own. Property Issue around Creative Industries”, in: Critique of Creative Industries, transversal, 02/2007,  source: http://eipcp.net/policies/cci/curcic/en (27 August 2008)

[7] Jacques Rupnik, “1968: The year of two springs”, in: Transit, no. 35 (Summer 2008); source: http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2008-05-16-rupnik-en.html#footNoteNUM9 

[8] Cf. Boris Groys, "Privatisations, or The Artificial Paradises of Post-Communism", Privatisation, Contemporary Art from Eastern Europe (The Post-Communist Condition), Revolver 2005 in: Ćuričić, 2008, op. cit.

[9] Kaufman, Raunig, 2002, op. cit.

[10] Ibid.

Notes and Remarks on the Category of Europe