Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Brussels, or the political culture of Europe

In Belgium, there exists the capital of Europe: Brussels. Perhaps most significant of that status is an empty building at Rue de Loi. It used to be the symbol of European integration and was seat of the European Commission: a three-winged building made of glass, so that everyone from street level could apparently look into every office - an expression of bureaucratic transparency? Whatever the architectural value of that building, it had to be abandoned due to the dangers of asbestos. Environmental protection had caught up with the Commission. Now in 1993 the building stands there unused in the middle of Brussels.

There are many other reasons for a somewhat forlorn feeling in Brussels, the capital of the European entity. Everywhere in the streets there are groups having just adjourned some meeting in one of the DGs and who are heading towards the old market where in the midst of nostalgic surroundings, they will eat in one of the many restaurants. Despite of being highly expensive, these eating places add to the touch of being an exclusive capital. It is reflected in the fact that these groups of European technocrats seem to be able to afford the prices (there is a saying about the well-paid civil servants of the European Commission). Still there is as well much decadence in the air. Many empty houses seem to just stand around. Once entering the ones still inhabited, they have deplorable stair cases. Even in streets with expensive shops there is directly beside them much evidence of urban poverty. Derilect areas offset the image of Brussels being the home of the rich bourgeoisie class. As always the case, there is a high standard in certain areas like Uccle while others are just dismal. In a dirty side-street, three poorly dressed children can stand staring at a dead cat lying amidst horrible debris. The squalor of the nearby houses bite as much into the eyes as the November coldness into the entire body. People rush early to work. Once they emerge out of the train stations they grab a quick bun and coffee as breakfast in one of the numeries street bakeries. All this reinforces only this dismal picture. It is evident that that they can afford much; health wise their faces show clearly years of toil and despair.

Use the word 'decadence' reminds what Francis Bacon said when entering Berlin for the first time in the 1930's; it had a deep impact upon him, traces of which are reflected in his paintings.

While heading by train from Brussels to Bruges, there was time to read some newspapers. The ride takes an hour and a half. The newspapers covered extensively around that time the first round of local elections held in Italy. Special attention was given to the rise of the Neo-Fascistic parties in Naples, Rome and elsewhere. Their slogans and attempts to utilise public mistrust in established parties and political decision making processes are a reminder that the terrible lesson to be drawn out of Fascism has not been learned very well. Instead of being outraged by the flagrant abuse of truth when it comes to respect other human beings and human lives, especially with regards to foreigners, minorities, etc., people seem ready to give in to 'fear'.

It is as if Europe is once again at risk to be gripped by a deathly kind of terror making possible the exploitation of people. It is possible due to their own weakness. When faced by forces willing to use violent means to get their way, they hide or flee out of fear rather than resist. Rarely have they learned to stand up for themselves. Even fewer have learned it does not pay to give in to the 'logic of coercion': the institutionalised version of violence. All of this is underlined usually by a fear of loss of identity, as if their identity in the past meant something to them when they were slaves, indeed  extremely exploited people. Equally it is true that insecurity in identity is accompanied by the wish to climb the social ladder and be recognised by others up higher rather than be recognized by those with whom one had associated until recently. That explains many loves lost to the winds if the man fails to support the ambitions of the woman and vice versa. Like the German philosopher Kant who had his servant dressed in a soldier's uniform to distinguish himself from someone of lower origin, racialist attitudes begin already at the simple level of prejudices becoming artificial barriers between oneself and the others. The wish to be better than those others can easily be exploited politically speaking. It reaffirms also working within hierarchies needed by the system to function without people able to challenge abuse of power.

In that sense it is crucial to keep in mind two political thoughts about Fascism. The first one has been expressed by Klaus Heinrich at the Free University of Berlin who after having researched with students for five years the phenomena of Fascism came to the bitter conclusion, that 'Fascism had not been defeated in 1945; rather it has learned since then to mask itself better'. The other is a crucial to understand the present on the verge of 'ethnic cleansing'. Adorno and Horkheimer wrote already in 1944 while in exile in the United States about the reasons of the failure of Enlightenment in 'Dialectic of Enlightenment' :

" In Germany Fascism won the day with a crassly xenophobic, collectivist ideology which was hostile to culture. Now that it is laying the whole world waste, the nations must fight against it; there is no way out. But when all is over there is nothing to prove that a spirit of freedom will spread across Europe; its nations may become just as xenophobic, pseudo collectivistic and hostile to culture as Fascism once was when they had to fight against it." (1)

This far reaching perception beyond Fascism itself attests to the analytical qualities of the Frankfurt School of Philosophy, or 'Critical Theory'. Indeed Adorno cautioned not to get stuck in the 'Jargon of Actuality' glued together only by issues of the day. His criticism was directed especially at Heidegger whose metaphysical speculations about 'being' led him to endorse Hitler in 1933. (2) As then the case, Europe faces nowadays again pseudo collectivistic, xenophobic tendencies ready to attack individual integrity for the sake of ethnical claims that survival is only ensured if the pluralistic, multi-cultural aspect of modern democratic states is done away and replaced by 'cultural assertiveness' (3).

In short, the discussions about possible loss of cultural identity relates at times in a dangerous manner to those who are not only filled with more than fear, namely 'panic', but who are ready to sacrifice the 'will to freedom' for the sake of a 'blind' survival, i.e. free of worries at daily level. They tend to behave to their identities like owners of property who do not wish that others trespass 'their' territory. That they are completely hostile to 'culture' escapes them. Everything which is effective in conveying powerful images to the masses is already to them culture, although one of 'manipulation'. (4) It is difficult to discover amidst all forms of manipulation authentic impulses encouraging to understand others in freedom and respect for not only different opinions, but also other cultural orientations. 

Obviously the 'will to freedom' becomes ever more questionable the longer the horrible war in former Yugoslavia continues. It inflicts a terrible failure upon Europe, the United States and especially upon the United Nations. If violence linked to ethnic cleansing implies cannot be stopped immediately by non-violent means, it is not the offenders who will be convicted but those international institutions standing supposedly for peace and security. Thus a discussion about culture cannot forget both the forces hostile to culture and to a non violent way to resolve conflicts. The set-back to democratic aspirations as advocated during the Cold War by the Western World, especially if it comes to a failure to respond in a non violent way (diplomacy without military solutions) to these challenges as posed by former Yugoslavia, will have many political implications.

This failure becomes apparent in the misunderstanding of European integration in the direction of Eastern Europe. It leads only to a further covering up of merely nationalistic assertions tending in the same direction but only not as extreme. Cultural articulation and ethnic assertiveness should be clearly distinguished and responded to quite differently. By directing money only along ethnical lines, i.e. German investment in areas where supposedly German speaking minorities live in Romania, 'cultural assertiveness' is reinforced. Since Germany's recognition of Croatia meant breaking-out of a consensus seeking foreign policy upheld by all member states of the European Union, the diplomatic failure of Europe has become even more apparent at all levels. The loss of many lives continues in former Yugoslavia. The recent NATO air strikes in late November '94 adds to that dilemma; not the values of Havel as president of Czech are important, but much more the expansion of the weapons industry. Thus the loss of so many civilian lives while the rest of the world looks on, this fact can be linked easily, politically speaking, to the atrocities of the Nazis committed in the concentration camps. The extinction of the Jews and other minorities like the Gypsies of Europe during the Holocaust years had motives which continue to be expressed in slogans like 'Auslaender rauss'. At the same time, the political games being played at the bargaining table leads but in one direction: the disenchantment in politics. Europe of the past was known for its political debates, intense controversies at high intellectual levels and people taking serious their political responsibilities. Today they have become cynical participants knowingly or unwillingly involved due to their half heartiness. They do not see that they are very close to the very game which leads to all overt atrocities to be named as genoicide. It has an immediate impact upon the 'political culture' of the European Union and the rest of the world.

1 Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), trans. by Cumming, New York 1993,
p. 221.
2 This refers to Heidegger's opening speech as Dean of the University of Freiburg in 1933.
3 This term is taken from the excellent and far reaching contributions made by Prof. L. Baeck to both the Fourth Plenary Session and to Workshop 5: 'Culture driven Economy' at the Fifth Seminar. In his analysis whether or not, for example, the former Soviet Union and now Russia along with the many different republics striving towards independence can achieve a 'moral base' for economic survival, this 'cultural assertiveness' has become a dominant force leading to internal strive and lack of any social cohesion. The final outcome of that is really 'loss of values' and thus violence leading to war.
4 In the final evaluation of the Fifth Seminar, Dominique Danau speaks about the two kind of options in how to create effectively 'cultural movements'; there is the 'top down' model and then the 'bottom up' effort to create sincerely a cultural consensus. In other words, top down models risk of not being only merely superficial, but also of becoming a very manipulative, hence not to be trusted political attempt to achieve something. Without considerations and reflections playing any role, such superficial means conjoin with what is the aim of the 'culture industry', namely 'manipulation' and misses thus out that authentic culture has to do with being just and creative at the same time, in order to make possible a redemption between the past and the future. Life is only possible in the present, an ongoing change and yet impeded if the past and the future start to conspire against the present. In individual cases that leads to suicide, something that the poet Jean Baptiste Marray refers to in Workshop 10 when he suggests that places of exile near estranged borders, that is places where writers like Walter Benjamin committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Gestapo, ought to become cultural reference points of remembering just as much as Auschwitz has become already openness, criticism and redemption.

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