Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Concept for the Fifth Seminar – six value premises


Prof. Bekemans of the 'College of Europe' and organiser of the Fourth Seminar, “Culture, Building Stone for Europe 2002” intended to find a definite approach to not only the question, how to link culture with the search for 'identity', but also how to fulfil the hopes of the Flemish government wishing to initiate through these seminars a new orientation within Europe. According to the Flemish government under van de Brande not only culture, but also culturally defined regions ought to be building stones for the Europe of the future.

The previous three seminars in Brussels, Edinburgh and Copenhagen were held on the same subject matter. 'Europe of Cultures' had set the premise. As Prof. Bekemans stressed in his opening remarks of the fourth seminar, this time it was organised in such a way, that it may become possible to raise the level and hence quality of the discussion. He did that in the belief that by giving space to different approaches to the questions pertaining to European Integration, that the outcome would be an explicit theoretical framework within which the impact of European Integration upon 'culture' could be evaluated more consciously.

In answer to that need for concrete outcomes the Fifth Seminar diversified the linkages of culture to special fields of knowledge in order to establish what ‘cultural actions for Europe’ are needed. Besides four plenary sessions, there were conceived ten workshops all of which gave an opportunity to each speaker to elaborate within sufficient time on his or her specific thesis. The ten workshops underlined the need to diversify knowledge on the subject of how relevant is culture for Europe as people seek to understand themselves the world they live and work in.

Concept of the Fourth Seminar – six value premises

The Fourth Seminar with its interaction of plenary sessions before and after the workshops was also reflected upon whether or not it is a useful model for the Fifth Seminar to be held in Athens, June 3rd - 5th 1994. Given the wish for continuity, while expecting that the Athens seminar has more of an emphasis on 'action programmes', it was clear that the character of the workshops has to involve more the participants in a substantial manner. In other words, they have to avoid being large in size and not repeat the panel discussions in the plenary context by having many speakers. For the workshops at Bruges were organised in such a way, that again many speakers (up to six) would contribute, while delegates themselves felt that they had heard enough speeches by now. There was more a general wish to become active, rather than sit passively and listen to another 'approach'. For instance, fortunately or not, only two of the designated six speakers showed up in the workshop 'culture and identity' and gave their papers. Hence there was unintentionally much more time available for all to get involved at personal levels, there where free associations make discussions become interesting and the sharing of 'experiences' something to which everyone can relate to. Such discussions can and should reach the quality of true dialogues.

This is not always easy to attain; hence the underlying concept for such workshop discussions is that of creating a culture of dialogue. Theoretical reflections of complex issues need personal engagements and good questions before becoming practical. It is also not given that the communication between all participants begins to flow. This is indicated when participants add suddenly extra experiences until then not known certainly to the others, but also perhaps not even to the speaker, for he or she had never considered the issue in such a light of 'critical awareness'. That means, the mental bloc of what is considered to be relevant or not, has been overcome, and reactions of the other participants become productive and creative. It makes things become alive and democratic when everyone has access to what is being discussed, for then, what seemed to be a silly question, not worthwhile mentioning, becomes all of a sudden an important issue due to being considered seriously in a 'friendly atmosphere'.

The reason for saying this relates to the very question, 'what is culture about'. It is not possible to come anywhere close to a meaningful understanding of 'culture', if the very practice contradicts any effort to attain such a critical discussion by which the relationship between theory and practice can be evaluated. By discussing something at a personal and equally objective level, this means things are then not only explained, that is rationalised, but they have to be understood in terms of one's own and that of the others' subject positions. Meaningful reference points are created in the process.

1. Making a seminar become a reference point for future discussions

The very culture of these kinds of seminars undergoes changes once such precious moments of real dialogues come about. Once ideas are articulated, then new connections can be made and each contribution allows also extra memories of other important experiences to enter the discussion. It widens unexpectedly the scope of the discussion and opens up the horizon. If ideas begin to be anticipated as becoming practical, then this determines as well the creation of an understandable context. The surest sign of its existence is when participants begin to include elements outside of their own cultural background and experiences in their specific considerations and reflections.

Once people open up to new possibilities to see things, this means the issues are being addressed at a substantial level. By becoming unlocked, changes are possible. As a general philosophical principle, each workshop should be formed by such an articulation basis giving everyone a chance to speak, in order to create altogether a positive working atmosphere. This is itself an indication that the fear of the unknown is overcome positively. The fear that things are becoming too complex in both form and content, subsides because along with the discussion there is developed a 'theory' out of the 'logic of questions' creating connecting elements. Once that fear is overcome, ideas can develop and take on new shapes of complexities; at the same time, it is important that everyone is able to integrate and to accommodate new information. This is most important especially since behind these seminars there is a definite political initiative which can make participants at times most apprehensive about what they are getting into or for what purpose these seminars are used for, but which cannot be controlled at the immediate, individual level. All this explains why the concept has to be shaped out of a position of independence from any possible political influence. Signs of becoming and remaining free can be seen when people become not only active, that is involved, but also trust what they are doing and saying. Simone Weil said there is no better rootedness than in one's own honesty. True openness between people means just that. Once that becomes noticeable, time goes by almost unnoticed. Interesting contents fill the time and the room becomes alive with many voices. Energy is created by doing something meaningful that is less and less arbitrariness hinders that the lawfulness behind the 'logic of the question' becomes known and the overall result will be a substantial contribution towards the 'systematisation' of knowledge around the subject matter.

By contrast, a person being bored would demonstrate both in judgements and attitudes a passive resistance against still more information; in such a case, the person would be tight lipid, while working hard inside to keep up. The pace would then be no longer determined by his or her sense for time and space within which the content could be discussed, but by fears and unknown factors. There would be no conscious interaction with what influences that person negatively. It would make impossible to neither retain a sense of understanding nor allow the resolving conflicts once self-understanding has become problematic. The person would only feel the contradiction between subject matter and group; rather then participating, withdrawal and silence, but not an engagement for dialogue would be the answer.

Culture begins with dialogue. As Robert Picht mentioned in the panel discussion, dialogue is an essential element of not only European culture, but also essential for the evaluation of theories, especially if it is more difficult to make out their value premises. The latter are more often implicitly connected with something rather than explicitly stated. Dialogue is also a means to break down the complexity of a theory into understandable parts, while still retaining a sense for how things are or else can be connected. This means 'critical reflection' is essential when it comes to relate to reality without thereby having to deconstruct as post-modern philosophies suggest the texts needed for such an understanding. There is rather a concern for finding answers to real needs.

2. Work in-between the fourth and fifth seminars

How to prepare morally the ground for such dialogues? What input is needed? The idea of networking already in advance the various participants through letting them interact with the chairpersons of their specific workshops is like a different approach to a general call for papers. Here interaction is needed to explain; neither everyone nor everybody knows what the initiative of the Flemish government is really. Equally, if such a seminar is to give advice to not only the Flemish government, but also to the European Commission, then the prerequisites have to be created, so that the workshops become organs of policy formulations. It is clear that this means involving extensive evaluations of what has been done up to now by the European Commission, the various DGs and how effective these programmes have been implemented, with what kind of monitoring or whatever accompanying form of judgement or evaluation. It seems best to speak about the need for a new cultural policy to be adopted by the European Union as a part of the continual learning process the participants must enter into, if they want to keep up with all the changes between awareness of the problem and adaptation of certain policy options. That takes the discussion to the high levels of political thinking in practical terms. Advice is asked for; it must be given independently from any kind of wishful thinking, including the desire of the Flemish government to find answers for what it seeks in these seminars.

These seminars should not be misused by the Flemish government just to make their appearance at the plenary without substantial interaction with the participants. That would degrade the latter to foot soldiers of an idea and would make it possible, that these seminars are misused as a kind of legitimization for the policy of the Flemish government. This was the case in Bruges when only at the end of the Seminar, the Minister President van den Brande appeared and made his 'Bruges' declaration without any prior consultation with the participants, even though a body of highly intelligent people and respectable statue in the academic and professional worlds. That should not be repeated in Athens; much more would be preferred a political plenary session at the final end during which political options could be discussed. However, it was a strange experience to have someone read out a speech which supposed to speak in the name of the Fourth Seminar and yet was a political policy statement to which none of the participants could say anything afterwards. The organised silence was taken as a tacit endorsement of what had been just declared and thus both sides, participants and politicians left empty handed for there had been no exchange of opinion, no critical feed-back given. At the same time, the opportunity was missed to have still a closer look at political initiatives and to follow by means of the issues they wish to address the changing reality of the European Union. This means that the political independence of the seminar is not the only thing; the seminar must itself become active in a way, that it becomes an acknowledged body for policy formulations. The working out of options is just as important as the anticipation of possible mistakes, the ramifications of which would be disastrous to the cultures of Europe and hence to the political intention behind these series of seminars.

Political pressures and conflicting interests start with the policy governing the invitation of people. It can be handled by listening to the advice of others and in respecting certain key interests such as continuity between the seminars, considerations of the Flemish Government's interest and especially what Prof. Bekemans from the College of Europe recommends. It was most useful that he tied me in, structurally speaking, by asking me to chair the workshop on 'Culture and Identity', and followed many of my suggestions to invite certain people who I considered to be important for the Fifth Seminar. Since the seminar was to take place in Athens, Greece, certain local or Greek conditions had to be considered at all time. A foreign event in another country can lead to unexpected political and diplomatic controversies. At the beginning the American college in Athens, LaVerne, was asked to co-host the Fifth Seminar, but they pulled out due to the fear of a political involvement with something that could lead to difficulties for them with the Greek authorities. In the background loomed the Macedonian issue, but also potential misunderstanding of the Flemish initiative. Positively interpreted, it is a wish to emphasize not only Flemish interests in maintaining their own cultural identity, but equally a way of finding alliances with other cultural regions as defined by the Van den Brande government. According to that political concept Greece is, for example, one and the same, both a cultural region but equally a state and hence a full member of the European Union; the same does not apply for Flanders, Wales or Catalonia, to name but a few examples and reasons of contention. This is why the attitude was adopted to translate all issues which could become political controversies, potentially speaking, into analytic approachable questions and have them discuss within the theoretical framework which had evolved out of the Fourth Seminar.

All along it must be said, these political pressures were mild; the Flemish government was not only 'correct' in leaving all the freedom with the organiser, myself, but also made available without any further questions or control the money for the seminar as announced by the Minister President himself. That money (1.8 Mill. BFR) as resource allocation is part of the Flemish foreign policy announcement related to the budget year 1994.

Invitations of people finally should correspond also to the needs of the chairperson to have substantial people in their respective workshops. In some cases, the chairperson invited in consultation with me as co-ordinator almost entirely all participants (maximum ten for each workshop, which made it by ten workshops a minimum amount of 100 participants at the Fifth Seminar); in others, they were selected in a combination of half and half, while still others - and especially those lacking an active chairperson for a long time - had to be located according to the overall organisational principle in specific interest fields or workshops.

Three major groups of participants were involved: Flemish Community, Greeks and Germans, a reflection of the European Presidency rotation principle which lets especially in matters of foreign affairs the three Presidency holders work together, that is the past, present and future ones. This is done to ensure continuity. If cultural policy matters become a true concern at the highest European level, then this concept of the Flemish initiative to hold a seminar on 'Culture as a Building Stone for Europe' every six months in the country that holds the presidency has to be used to create a 'consensus' around the major cultural principles of Europe. It means perceiving the respective cultural needs of each member state and to re-evaluate continuously what the European Union has done so far for culture. There is a broad agreement that this is not only an important issue, but equally a crucial one if the self-defining powers of the past are now to contribute constructively towards European integration. This is even more so the fact since until recently the search for 'cultural identity' was equally a question of sovereignty of the individual members, i.e. within the defining power of the nation states of Europe.

3. Bringing together people to discuss culture for Europe

The organisational concept for the Fifth Seminar can be truly understood as a search for the best way how to respond to the Flemish idea to use culture as building stone for Europe. The full consequences of these series of seminars are not known fully within a short term, but they certainly can contribute towards a broadening of the European Cultural movement by becoming aware of the 'cultural diversity' in Europe and the rich diversity in life itself when approached openly. It is almost assured that if good people are brought together, then something good will come out of it. They only need the opportunity and the freedom to do so.

All this is said because chairperson and participants of that workshop must know the overall intention of the seminar, i.e. proposals for cultural actions, while time must be given too many kinds of interactions, explanations, reformulations of questions, before some mature answers, that are policy recommendations can be expected. There is a degree of difference between what can be expected of these kinds of seminars and what retains a sense for 'just' expectations. Naturally this evokes a political debate, the context of which must, however, be governed by a search for objectivity. That is most important. Independent information, evaluation and proposals worked out in a context that gives feed-back to the individual participant, can make the overall seminar into a valuable, i.e. cultural orientation. It is then a matter of a qualitative follow-up (publication, correspondence, further networking) so that everyone knows what is going on by being informed both in terms of evaluation and consequences for future actions.

Another item seemed in Bruges to preoccupy the delegates. There was a common feeling, that the concept 'culture' had not been really clarified. As an impression it may be revised once that what was presented, is made available in written form. For example, Conlin Wagner had to cut down his already worked out speech to three or four pages, so that many of his complex references to different cultural issues escaped most of the listeners' attention. There is the difference between reading a text and listening to an abstraction thereof. Nevertheless everyone took very seriously the subject matter of culture as being a key term for evaluating the European integration process.

Needless to say, critical points are in need to be followed-up; that is why it is an advantage to have such seminars every six months. What could not be handled at one seminar, that can be easily taken up by the next one, provided the person organising it is known in advance and can be already involved in the preceding one. This kind of continuity is all the more important since these seminars are a huge intellectual investment and demands a great deal of commitment on behalf of the participants, for aside from flight, hotel and food costs being covered, the justification for participating must come from the involvement itself.

4. To be rooted locally

Still one more remark about seminars like these. Even if one does not want to get involved with Lem's description of delegates having computer numbers and at the most five minutes for interventions, there is always a feeling of being cut off from reality when things happen too quickly: arrival, stay in a hotel, next day start of the seminar immediately after breakfast and all while not having had the time to make some contact with the locality, the place where all takes place. This is a bit disorientating and makes one repeatedly wonder on how those who attend continuously conferences or seminars can retain their sense of orientation. That wonder relates to both human reality and culture.

If these seminars want to come to terms with culture, then they have to be serious in their intention. This means also including the questions and concerns of the country in which the seminar takes place. That must be reflected in not only who participates and what specific themes are dealt with, but also be on the agenda of the next seminar. The seminars must become an accumulative process. Culture and reality are such diverse fields; hence much more is needed than symbolic actions, if the underlying issues are to be comprehended in a way that improves upon the cultural understanding of all Europeans. Such discussions about culture are not to be driven towards overt images, but must be allowed to go into depth and into fields characterised by cross-cultural awareness. After all, what are the differences in cultures so as to know how to recognise 'cultural diversity' in Europe? It requires an active, ongoing sense of cultures beginning to unfold as they are becoming known outside their own borders. The need to be understood is not only a need of every citizen, but also of the Flemish government representing people living in a country which is hardly known, for example, in Greece. Yet culture means learning to work together by understanding each other, including such differences as having the window open towards the outside rather than inside (Bart Verschaffel).

5. Valorize the potential of the seminar by creating premises for cultural actions for Europe the EU

Of course, it is never easy to organise such conferences, let alone to describe their patters adequately. And then what interests the delegates really? For instance, there is a description of the German writer Ingeborg Bachmann on how a woman and a man fall in love at first sight at the periphery of a conference: an interesting and very important by-product of what was perhaps not at all intended in the overall context, but which is there at the human level.

Small details are, however, important to any keen observer, especially if a writer or artist is able to pick up those details which signal already a transition of meaning in the overall culture even before it is realised by all at that level. Indeed, some elements can transform the overall context into quite something else. As an example, while people mingle around the table where coffee or tee with some biscuits are served, bits and pieces of small conversations can suddenly flare up very much like some fireworks. That was especially the case in Bruges, for many important people were attracted to the seminar partly by the prestige of the College of Europe, but also due to the importance of the topic. Furthermore Brussels is close enough, so that people working in the various Commissions can step outside of their administrative context and into an academic environment giving them the opportunity to reflect on wider and broader issues - a real need if constantly under pressure to react to ongoing activities within the European Union. The latter is not a Kafka like mirage of a never ending bureaucracy, but a real living network of different institutions made of many people interacting. Already the stress of the need for concrete actions can change that context; the concepts used become, therefore, crucial. Delors' wish to do something about the unemployed of Europe is but one outstanding example of the kind of attitude conveyed to anyone once having become more exposed to what Europe is all about: the making of the future within an integrating entity called 'European Union'.

One comment made while drinking coffee prior to the start of the workshops is worthwhile repeating. Conlin Wagner said visibly relieved that his speech was behind him, that he was glad someone else mentioned aside from him the concept of 'spirit', namely the BP manager Mr. Lenssen. He added it makes him feel good, for he no longer feels being alone in such a large seminar. Indeed, this indicated already one possible direction the intertwining of culture and economy can take. Both of them became chair persons at the Fifth Seminar, Mr. Lenssen for workshop 5: 'Culture driven Economy' and Conlin Wagner for workshop 8: 'Literature, Discourse and Identity'.

Such connections in terms of awareness are important ingredients of any good seminar. The exposure to the crucial questions Europe is facing in the near future, that is but an added opportunity for everyone to participate in the shaping of human destiny, itself a stimulating experience of being present.

6. Heed the 'unspoken' text of the Fourth Seminar: the Bruges context

Sometimes there is a need for reflections away from the hectic of everyday life. For example, as the delegates started to arrive the previous evening in the dining room of their hotel, there was some commotion outside. Police gathered up a woman gone astray. She was old and dressed only in her night gown. Despite freezing weather conditions, she tried to find something. Her random gestures gave emphasis to a kind of wild search, as if she could no longer recall what she was missing. Soon the ambulance arrived and a small crowd gathered around her outside the restaurant's window. Not much could be seen except this now frightened figure in her thin night gown and white hair, the skinny fingers pointing helplessly up to the sky above the people closing in on her, including the two ambulance men.

Inside a luxury hotel, the evening prior to a scientific conference with well provided texts, with good friends and food, it is easy to forget that Europe has something to do with this search of people to escape their forlorn feelings. That is not only expressed in the novel of Proust, but also in paintings by Vincent Van Gogh, in particular his night cafe picture. As Robert Picht stated during the Fourth Seminar, there are many disturbed identities within Europe nowadays and which have to be faced with understanding. In the case of that lonely woman, it reflects not only the kind of negative individuation taking place, that is isolation as Durkheim described it already when talking about suicidal motives, but even more so what happens to people at old age. Having lived in England and Germany, but now in Greece, there is a remarkable cultural difference on how Northern to Southern Europe deals with those having grown old. In Greece, it is the grandmother who keeps actively the family together even at an immeasurable old age, while the aged of the Northern European countries are expelled from active life and put in expensive pensions for the old and where they vegetate precious moments of life away until they die because the so-called younger generations want to get on with their life and not be bothered by those having to go a slower pace. Disintegrated, functional living space marks then as a consequence the sterility of many European cities and no one feels safe not only at night in the streets, but also within the very possibilities of existence. No one is strong enough to face all of social reality; some support and understanding must come from somewhere, and if not from the immediate family, then from friends and others close-by, including 'good neighbours' mutually supporting and helping each other. Why talk of community structures or the informal market sector in Greece, if not to notice the difference between being integrated into society or else isolated from it. Culture has a lot to do with these differences as facts of life are faced and dealt with differently in various places. They may not at all be the same even within one city or rural location.

While on this topic of age and cultural differences when it comes to deal with the fact that children grow up while parents grow old, there is furthermore the fact that some grow old even before their age. As a young pop star stated it in an interview, he is frightened by the prospect of having a long life in front of him, for everyday he must overcome that lack of knowledge what to do with the rest of the time when not absorbed by earning money, eating and doing things with friends, etc. In other words, the difference between what is desired as real life and the desires experienced when in real living situations outlines circumstances, lost battles and plights, in short substantial fears to waste time without having really lived. In that sense, culture means 'rich times' due to being filled with human experiences and chances to develop the potentialities of becoming a concrete human being.

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