The anti-European tradition of Europe

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Engaged as we East Europeans were in the process of re-entering the European community, we were unaware of, or overlooked, the old and lasting tensions of continental history, its constituent polychrome nature. Europe has a long tradition of self-segregation, of multi-dimensionality, of debates on national identity that can go as far as internal conflict. The first failure of our ‘common home’ was the fracturing of the Roman Empire into a western and an eastern segment. Rome broke away from Byzantium, Catholicism from Orthodoxy, Protestantism from Catholicism, the Empire from the Papacy, East from West, North from South, the Germanic from the Latin, communism from capitalism, Britain from the rest of the continent. The spectre of division is what the Belgian philosopher Jacques Dewitte (admiringly) called the ‘European exception’. We easily perceive the differences that make up our identity; we are able at any time to distance ourselves from ourselves. We invented both colonialism and anti-colonialism; we invented Eurocentrism and the relativisation of Europeanism. The world wars of the last century began as intra-European wars; the European West and East were for decades kept apart by a ‘cold war’. An impossible ‘conjugal’ triangle has constantly inflamed spirits: the German, the Latin and the Slavic worlds. An increasingly acute irritation is taking hold between the European Union and Europe in the wider sense, between central administration and national sovereignty, between the Eurozone countries and those with their own currencies, between the Schengen countries and those excluded from the treaty. All seasoned with the noble rhetoric of ‘unity’, a ‘common house,’ and continental solidarity. Where were we, the newcomers, to place ourselves in a landscape that by no means erred towards monotony? In the following, I shall choose three of the front-lines that marked and still mark the family portrait of Europe’s complicated fabric: 1) the North–South division; 2) the East–West division; and 3) the centre–periphery division.

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