Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Mr. C. Costa: Europe and Culture

Mr. C. Costa from the Cabinet of Pinheiro, the European Commissioner in charge of cultural affairs, spoke also about the relationship between Europe and culture. There is a need to take stock as to what is necessary for Europe. This means taking into account the meaning of 'cultural dimension'. To increase incentives in that direction, Article 128 makes provisions on the basis of the 'subsidiary' principle. It is designed to respect and to satisfy the need that diverse cultures flourish within Europe, by letting 'one' culture to be known within Europe.

There is, however, a wish on the part of the Community to be relieved from the need to take actions when it comes to cultural matters. Indeed, the Community will not take actions on crucial matters involving culture. This is a sovereign affair of each member. For example, Portugal tries to bring about respect for diversity and subsidiary by improving the knowledge people have about the rest of Europe.

Cultural goods should not be part of the commercial exchange; rather, it ought to be a part of the effort to improve artistic and literary expressions. Nevertheless, there are two types of Community Actions. One is with regards to regions when very aware of their cultural identity; the other one is investment in cultural areas so that they can produce wealth. Indeed, culture must be looked upon as producing wealth.

He went on to discuss how culture can be preserved within a local economy by not letting ownership get out of control. At the same time, international competitiveness and large movements of capital make it necessary to consider how economic and hence also cultural inequality can be overcome. Two risks are involved when it comes to handling that question of inequality: there is the risk of fragmentation, for example, of a cultural framework, so that cohesion is lost and hence a reduction in shared values, when it comes to dealing with issues affecting the ways of living and working; and there is the possible loss of cultural value, when something needs to be done to make things profitable for everyone.


Both risks underline a crucial problem for any culture: for one, how to face economic necessity and equally financial constraints, at the risk that they are not the right kind of investments needed to support and to enhance a cultural infrastructure due to short-sighted economic thinking (i.e. neglect of good libraries, too expensive studios for artists, no artistic education at school throughout all levels, lack of publication resources, not enough exhibitions to keep up with recent developments in the arts, etc.); the other is related to the benefit for the whole, that is, when things are done in a certain belief, while the distribution of the overall profit takes time or is made on the basis that it does not really reach everyone even though the initial terms were made on equality in all respects.

Cultural equality is difficult to achieve, but it ought to be a prime goal of the European Union. It is worth the effort even though it means going through a lot of failures. Culture has been built upon many failures, or, as James Joyce would put it, really too late insights into 'lost causes'. To give, therefore, culture a determining function in the creation of wealth it may strike one as a bit odd. In reality, the rich owner may experience culture when a local inhabitant still knows how to weld a beautiful Spanish staircase, but the hierarchical differentiation remains: here the owner of culture, there the real carrier of a kind of knowledge which oscillates between handicraft/craftsmanship and artistic capabilities. Culture does not begin with already recognised forms; it tries to find recognition through forms which are both human and artistic. That is the true difference to other forms of expressions, including those pushed only by economic interests.

If the Community or more accurately the European Union uses culture to define sovereignty, then this sensitivity when not to encroach upon rights of the member states has to be made more explicit. Given the fact that C. Costa comes from Pinheiro's cabinet, it could be expected that culture would be a form of how to work together within Europe; that is, a means of understanding and of learning out of cultural differences, and not something to be delegated back to the member states. Instead there enters this notion of 'culturally' determined ownership of economic enterprise, and if it needs to be, one company only operating in a region for the sake of retaining the 'cultural identity'. This would mean in economic terms monopoly positions would be effectively created and socially speaking, all working there had to buy the goods from the company store. This is said in the light of much discussion about increased competition and the difficulties of many firms survive on the world market. Yet this one-to-one relationship like in the past between Krupp and Germany, or Volkswagen for a while in Germany has very serious implications for future political developments and options. In other words, there seems to be an overt confusion between ownership and cultural identity, the difference not to be bridged simply by belonging to one company. This makes the Commission's approach to cultural matters highly pragmatic and equally subservient to economic interests. Since it does not approach culture as an internal logical form of questions by which contents can take on new forms of existence, it is highly dubious. The increase of wealth is all what seems to matter, yet that is an unlikely definition of arts: a force to bring about just that, wealth for Europe, especially if there is a wish for no involvement. That reflects more the wish to stay out of political controversies. Often compensations of these kinds try to satisfy illusions of 'sovereignty ' when in fact reality comes crushing down: the stock market reports from London, New York, Frankfurt and Tokyo tell more about 'world sensitivity', than the need to uphold some local identity. It was a traumatic experience of Germans 1928 when the New York stock market crash reminded them of international dependencies never thought about especially by those bureaucrats with a safe income. In other words, what is really disturbing about the Commission's approach to cultural matters is the highly pragmatic attitude being justified by a sense for reality, when in fact it is completely subservient to economic interests combined with political ones wishing to safeguard their provincial sovereignties. It does not come at all close to any kind of culture conveyed by an internal logical form of questioning inhuman practices; rather matters of interest are related to keeping this contradiction between integration and staying unscathed as it were from integration outside any main concern of the European Union. Yet if not this contradiction is dealt with, then what kind of integration is intended, if at all? It could be expected that a representative of the cabinet in charge of cultural matters at European level shows at least some kind of hesitation, before suggesting that economic ownership should be linked to 'cultural identity'.

Complacency can make forget the distinction between cultural preservation and cultural perseverance. While the former can exhaust itself in monumental protection, restorations of old buildings as part of the 'heritage industry', without having really reflected the political iconography languages embedded in monuments (i.e. which ones glorify wars, which bring about contemplation - an interesting comparison of monuments dedicated to the unknown soldiers and how this can be translated into people's response to tragic events circumscribed by James Joyce as 'lost causes'), the latter may very well demonstrate itself as being able to carry through with an attitude 'damn the world': the refusal to be self-defeated. This is an important attitude linked to what Bruno Kartheuser expressed in his reflections about the relationship between poetry and mythology; for his 'An undefeatable Summer' says the Greek light cannot be driven out of us even in the darkest hours of human history. It underlines that Europeans need to go through quite a few disappointments before they can gain really authentic relationships to each other by showing perseverance when it comes to upholding the idea of European integration. That is neither a belief nor an ideal, but a practical attitude, the outcome of which will shape the various structures that artists usually try to ignore and yet come into contact with in an indirect manner. Adorno pointed out in his lecture about 'poetry and society', that even the most spontaneous, subjective poetic expression contains objective structures of society. 1 In other words, novels, poems, art works in general created since the fifties and the beginnings of the European integration process ought to be examined for these specific European structures that are where this perseverance is beginning to express itself as a unique structure. As long as there is no evidence of its existence, the 'Europe of Cultures' will remain to be but a mere conglomeration of interests to obtain money from Brussels, thus not convincing enough for artists to take on identity in that direction.

The best example for perseverance has been the Polish culture suffering under German occupation, but surviving in the underground through the 'Flying University' and other forms of resistance. It might be therefore useful to compare different forms of cultural developments during and more so after periods of extreme suppression or crisis, i.e. Spanish culture after the reign of Franco, Germany after the Second World War, Italy after Mussolini, etc... There is the Greek case of having experienced four hundred years of Turkish rule, a fact that is still used nowadays by Greeks to explain in part their 'strange' behaviour to the 'outside world' which seems to have difficulties in understanding modern Greece. Such comparison ought to focus on inherent qualities of the various European cultures, drawing out of these examples of Cultural History insights into strengths and weaknesses, before trying to bring about an European quilt or mosaic (in reference to the type of cultural integration in Canada as opposed to the United States: the former does not apply the 'melting pot' method to forge a single identity, the American one, but has left immigrants their own identities while at the official level French and English are recognised as official languages; civil servants must be able to speak both languages). There might be some other, more powerful metaphor in the offering to describe adequately what kind of interaction between the European cultures can contribute to a European culture oriented around an identity which retains both: tension to the overall sense of being European and 'cultural linkages' to the own diverse characters in every society and shaped by life, education, communication, language, work, friends and forms of experiences, etc.. As Michael Longley points out in his reflections as arts counsellor working for the Arts Council in Belfast, cultural policy should be directed towards maintaining 'cultural diversity' as much between regions as within one and the same region. 2 Given the example of culture during Ancient Greece's greatest achievements, the European culture ought to be open to outside influence and remain interested not only in events taking place beyond its borders, but also in the kinds of ideas discussed and experiences made in other parts of the world. For any active culture is equally receptive, that is not egocentric, disposed only to see itself. 3

How ideas and events are commented upon, reflects itself the level of cultural sophistication and the degree to which it is acknowledged that only realistic perceptions will provide one's own or for that matter the European culture with the strength to see its own weaknesses.

One of the cultural weaknesses is not to recognise the strength of others. If afraid to be considered inferior, culture succumbs not only to the commercial level of being a status symbol to be upheld at whatever costs, but also be conducive to give way to xenophobic reactions when these symbolised collective identities are threatened by nothing else but by internalised, equally silenced fears of change. Nothing in culture is static, thus the political burden to be put upon culture is not to allow that it be abused by anyone for the sake of power over others. The continuity of culture is not given; it has to be renewed every day along that line of thought that much of the frustrations encountered is not only about the 'continuity of discontinuity' (Agrafiotis), but about loss of 'human substance' in the mainstream thought and therefore in need to return to the periphery, in order to let in a fresh breeze of air. Cultural revolutions in the style of Mao are terrible mistakes, even though they too may be directed at first against false complacency; cultural renewal is rather a subtle process and requires a fine tuning in with honest efforts to retain authenticity at all levels, in personal relationships as well as in the work one is doing.

This is the best guarantee that something real comes into existence, independent of artificial or wished-for measures provided by politicians to entice only the Sunday artists to show their art works to an apparently interested public, when in fact it is merely a decorative element which is needed for the opening of a train station or the commemoration of national independence day. However, when President Clinton asked the poetess Maya to read her poetry during his inauguration as president, he not only followed the example of Robert Frost reading his poem in the wind for J.F. Kennedy, but Clinton made at that moment a long-term intellectual commitment which goes way beyond daily political practices, namely a commitment to overcome the black-white or other racial partitions in the United States. By this alone his presidency will be judged: whether or not he can affect a change in the 'culture' of America. In the long run, that will be more important than whether or not he manages to implement a reform of the health service systems and provide universal coverage to everyone.

As Prof. Baeck said in his paper, 'social' has been replaced by 'culture', hence the linkage of culture to social considerations must become all the stronger, if perseverance manifests itself independent of a common thinking claiming only money counts. Unfortunately this assumption is upheld by prevailing cynical attitudes believing no one is interested in culture, but merely in buying and getting things. For instance, German businessmen active in Greece would express at dinner parties in flat one-sided statements that the 'Greeks do not care about culture nor their own heritage, see how they take care of their temples; all what they want is new cars and more money without having to work for it'. Stereotypical images seem to dominate in conversations between diplomats and business people alike as if they wish to demonstrate superiority over the land that hosts them currently. This is where the perseverance of national labels sets in as a cover-up of true analysis and cultural understanding of the other culture(s). In the end, it will influence talks at the bargaining table even in Brussels, if 'the Germans will do that, the French this and the British will again try avoiding the question....’ If Brussels does not heed the need for cultural exchange programmes for diplomats how can European Commissioners from one country really perceive the cultural needs of the other member states? Or else, as in this series of seminars, to what extent do they contribute towards the cultural dimension of the presidency of a particular country when much is demonstrated, but not 'accommodated', then projections upon others will encourage a fall back to attitudes and opinions of the past especially when extreme forms of nationalism nourished hatred between the peoples of Europe.

Politically speaking, it would mean the European Commission, especially with regards to 'culture' would have failed tremendously in this respect: culture is not at its best, if it can be merely misused to keep the economic machine from running smoothly, to act as flower decoration and yet be ignored in substance at the same time, for the kind of life imposed by these economies is not the life envisioned nor the Europe people wish to live in, if given really a chance to articulate themselves. Culture(s) of Europe must ensure primarily that there is reached a point of no return: away from nationalism and towards an open civil society encompassing the whole of Europe. Falling back would imply trying to unravel the entire civilisation process and to unlearn the hard lessons many seem to have learned after two terrible wars during the first half of this century. Something must be done to make the falling back into primitive stages of barbarism impossible. The failure of Europe with regards to Yugoslavia is, therefore, anything but an encouraging sign.

1 Th.W. Adorno, "Rede ueber Lyrik und Gesellschaft" in: Noten zur Literatur I, Frankfurt a. Main, 1969
2 See here the appendix of Workshop 10: 'Cultural Exchange and Cultural Evaluation' where he gives a vivid description of what crucial decisions and simple, rational steps towards truth can mean in the relationship between a bureaucrat and artists.
3 Appendix of Workshop 10 includes also reflections about the Flemish culture, what role it can play, by Bart Verschaffel, 'Antwerp 93: A Tricky Shot' printed first in ARCHIS 93 - 3.

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