Cultural Identities in Europe -  - ebook

Cultural Identities in Europe ebook

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R. Nate / V. Gutsche: „Introduction“ – O. Berezenska / A. L. Borgstedt / C. Engelhardt / P. Franz / E.-M. Kocher: “Europe - A Collective Identity?” – K. Farrell: “Beyond Multiculturalism” – K. Kazzazi: “On ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ Kinds of Multilingualism: The Influence of Language Prestige on Multilingual Identity” – K. Luttermann: “Languages in Dialogue for European Identity” – P. Ruspini: “The European Migration System and the Development of the EU External Migration Policy: A Critical Review” – S. Schieren: “’Independence in Europe’? The Scottish Quest for Independence after the Elections of 2011” – R. Nate: “National and International Orientations in Twentieth Century German Youth Movements” – J. S. Partington: “Wales Strikes Back: British Media Coverage of Cardiff City Football Club’s Victory in the English F. A. Cup, 1927” – K. Fia³kowska: “German Washing Powder Versus Polish Sausage: An Analysis of Practices of Polish Seasonal Workers in Germany and Their Impact on Identity” – B. Isenberg: “Assimilitis - The Realities of Joseph Roth” – V. Shamina: “The Loss of National Identity as a Theme in Recent Russian Literature” – B. B. Becker: “To Write is to Return”: Alexandria in the Western Mind”

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Gutsche / Nate (Eds.)

Cultural Identities in Europe

Nations and Regions, Migration and Minorities


Band 4

Cultural Identities in Europe

Nations and Regions, Migration and Minorities

Edited by

Verena Gutsche

Richard Nate

Königshausen & Neumann

Gedruckt mit freundlicher Unterstützung durch die

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, das Dekanat der Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt und die Eichstätter Universitätsgesellschaft

Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek

Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der DeutschenNationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internetüber abrufbar.

© Verlag Königshausen & Neumann GmbH, Würzburg 2014

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ISBN 978-3-8260-5287-3




I. Concepts of Identity


Europe – A Collective Identity?


Beyond Multiculturalism


On “Right” and “Wrong” Kinds of Multilingualism: The Influence of Language Prestige on Multilingual Identity

II. EU Implications


Languages in Dialogue for European Identity


The European Migration System and the Development of the EU External Migration Policy: A Critical Review


“Short Track Out, Long Way In!” The Separation from England Will Cost Scotland Its EU Membership

III. Area Studies


Between Nationalism and Internationalism: Reflections on Twentieth-Century German Youth Movements


Wales Strikes Back: British Media Coverage of Cardiff City Football Club’s Victory in the English F. A. Cup, 1927


German Washing Powder Versus Polish Sausage: An Analysis of the Experiences of Seasonal Workers in Germany and Their Impact on Identity

IV. Reflections in Literature


Assimilitis – The Realities of Joseph Roth


The Loss of National Identity as a Theme in Recent Russian Literature


To Write Is to Return, to Write Is to Erase: Alexandria in the Western Mind from E. M. Forster to Today’s New York Times

Notes on Contributors


The articles of this volume originate in presentations given at the “Eichstätter Europatag 2011”, an international conference on “Cultural Identities: Nations and Regions, Migration and Minorities”, organised by the European Studies programme of the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt in June 2011. As its title suggests, this conference did not only focus on the relationship between concepts such as “nation” or “region” within a supranational framework, but also on processes, such as migration, and relationships, such as the one between minorities and majorities. By comprising various approaches from the fields of sociology, linguistics, as well as political, historical, literary, and cultural studies, it met with the interdisciplinary demands of the European Studies programme.

We would like to express our gratitude to the sponsors, without whose support the conference could not have been held: the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the Eichstätter Universitätsstiftung, the Maximilian-Bickhoff-Universitätsstiftung and the Eichstätter Universitätsgesellschaft e.V. For the funding of the proceedings we would like to thank the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, and the Eichstätter Universitätsgesellschaft e.V. Furthermore, we also appreciate the donations from the 2012 graduate class of the European Studies Master’s programme.

Our profound thanks go to Sonja Becker for supervising the Academic Project within the European Studies programme, in which students did not only organise the conference, but also contributed to its proceedings with an article on concepts of European identity. At this point, we would also like to thank the organising team, Olesia Berezenska, Anna Lena Borgstedt, Cornelia Engelhardt, Martina Fees, Patricia Franz, Eva-Maria Kocher, Julia Kotschenreuther, and Judith Meier. Our further thanks go to Bea Klüsener and Norma Berr, who took a critical look at the texts and made some very helpful comments, to Jonas Bodensohn for his careful reading and editing assistance, and to Franziska Brielbeck for formatting the articles as well as checking and completing the bibliographies. Last but not least, we would like to thank the publishing house Königshausen & Neumann for accepting this anthology as the fourth volume of the series Eichstätter Europastudien.

Eichstätt, January 2014

Verena Gutsche / Richard Nate



It is commonly agreed that theories of cultural identity underwent a major change in the second half of the twentieth century. While political and cultural discussions of the early twentieth century were based on ideas which would later be branded as “essentialist”, postmodern thinkers have stressed the constructive character of all forms of identity, personal as well as collective ones. In this context, earlier attempts at defining the “natural” basis of collective identities have been revealed as misconceptions.1 In order to get an idea of the impact this shift in perspective has had on cultural studies, it is worthwhile to reconsider earlier quests for cultural authenticity. When the nineteenth-century sociologist, Alfred Tönnies, distinguished between community (Gemeinschaft) and society (Gesellschaft), he did so in order to suggest that the former was a more “natural” concept than the latter. A look at writings from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reveals that many of the abstract terms which theorists relied on in order to define collectives were thought to be natural rather than culturally determined categories.2 Thinking of twentieth-century totalitarian ideologies, for instance, we find that National Socialists tried to legitimize their aggressive politics by pointing to the seemingly natural qualities of “races”, while their opponents in the Soviet Union defended their violations of human rights with the claim to defend the interests of an abstract entity they called the “proletariat”.

Of the various collective categories which have been misused for ideological purposes, the nation is one whose impact can be felt up to this day.3 In contrast to Ernest Renan, who was supposedly the first writer to point out that nations existed in nothing else but the imagination of those who believed in them,4 many nineteenth-century historians regarded them as fixed entities whose characteristics had been shaped by some kind of higher authority. Whether this was defined in theological terms, as “God’s will”, in terms of nineteenth-century Romanticism, as the “national spirit”, or, biologically, as “the English race” or “the social organism”, the shared assumption was that there existed something like an “objective correlative” to what people believed to be their collective identity.

Undoubtedly, the idea of the nation state is central for a study of the perception of cultural identities in modern Europe. It may be argued that in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the nation was sometimes worshipped in a way that had hitherto been reserved for religious purposes. The creation of specific myths, rituals, monuments, and holidays testifies to this.5 What the nationalist rhetoric concealed, however, was the fact that the newly established nation states of the nineteenth century were anything but homogeneous. Germany, for instance, had not even standardized its orthography when it achieved political unity in 1871, despite its claims to represent a Kulturnation deeply rooted in history. Only after the establishment of the nation state would conferences be held in order to reduce the influence of regional varieties.

During the age of European nationalism, cultural identities were often defined through strategies of inclusion and exclusion. Not only were cultural or ethnic minorities viewed with suspicion, even foreign words could be branded as “alien intruders” which infected and corrupted the so-called “body” of a language.6 The fact that “foreign” linguistic elements were often far more common than people wanted to believe was tacitly ignored. Thus, only a handful of the Kaiser’s subjects would have been aware, for instance, that their newly established national capital bore a Slavic name: “Berlin”, which literally translates as “place in the swamp”.

It was not least because of the experience of two World Wars that the glorification of national identities came to be viewed critically and that European nationalism itself was analysed in historical terms. Among the many authors who could be cited in this context, Benedict Anderson is one who has questioned the alleged naturalness of national communities by demonstrating their purely imaginative quality.7 Equally, when Eric Hobsbawm reconsidered the strategies of nation-building in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he stressed the fact that the national traditions to which earlier historians had regularly referred were merely “invented”.8

As the title of this volume suggests, the following essays will focus on how concepts such as “nation” or “region” are related to each other within a supranational framework. The fact that the relationship between the two terms is anything but fixed can be gathered from historical examples as well as from current political discussions. A century ago, the question whether Austria should be considered as a region of Germany or rather regarded as a nation in its own right was intensively debated; after World War Two, however, this does no longer represent a political issue. On the other hand, current debates on the political status of Scotland or the Basque Provinces demonstrate that controversies over particular nations and regions are still carried on in other parts of Europe. Since the end of the Cold War, some of these have been solved peacefully, as in the case of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, while others have led to violent conflicts, as in the areas of former Yugoslavia.

If nations and regions are to be viewed as historical constructs, Europe is no exception. Whichever idea of Europe one may subscribe to, one has to acknowledge that its definition has varied throughout the ages.9 Geographical, political, and cultural criteria have often been mixed. Earlier attempts at defining European culture have sometimes rested on metonymical definitions in which certain traits were stressed and others marginalized, or even excluded altogether. For the German poet, Novalis, for instance, it was medieval Christianity which made up the “true” spirit of Europe, although he lamented that its beneficial influence had already been diminished by the rise of Protestantism.10 His contemporary, the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, tried to win over his compatriots against Napoleon by pointing to Germany’s allegedly privileged position within Europe. Taking his own country as a metonymical representation of the entire continent, he argued that if Germany fell, this would mean the end of Europe, if not the whole world as well.11

As far as Europe’s geographical extension is concerned, definitions have also varied. The British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, may have coined an influential metaphor in 1945 when he spoke of an “iron curtain” that had descended over Europe, but this did not necessarily mean that he would include his own country into the picture.12 When, on the other hand, the Russian politician, Mikhail Gorbachev, spoke of a “common European home” four decades later,13 he left little doubt that he considered Russia a part of this entity, despite the fact that Russia’s European status had been debated at times. It seems that calls for at a scientifically based definition of the borders of the European continent are of little help in this respect, considering that most geographers refuse to regard Europe as an independent continent anyway and prefer to speak of an Asian peninsula instead.14

In the sphere of politics, the term “Europe” has increasingly been used to designate the European Union, regardless of the fact that its present territory covers only a part of what many people still regard as the “European continent”. Since the EU represents a political organization which is based on the idea of a continuously progressing European integration, it is no wonder that its territorial extension has undergone several changes. Its provisional character has characterised the EU right from the start. Since 1957, its member states have increased from the six countries which signed the Treaty of Rome to the twenty-eight countries which constitute the European Union today. While some critics warn against a further enlargement, others argue that it is its very openness which constitutes the EU’s distinguishing quality and that this openness should be seen as an asset rather than a defect.15 It is true that an open quality characterises the EU in more than one respect. While the nation states of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries aimed at a cultural, sometimes even biological, standardization,16 the EU’s motto, “Unity in Diversity”, expresses an entirely different view, namely that integration can be achieved without suppressing the divergent cultural traditions of its members. In contrast to older ideals of cultural and ethnic homogeneity, the EU’s motto indicates that cultural diversity need not be a hindrance to the process of political integration.

This is not to deny the fact that populist political parties which try to revive the traditional rhetoric of cultural homogeneity have gained momentum in recent years. While they are considered a case of political extremism in some countries, in others they have managed to gain a foothold in the centre of society. Even if the secular religion of the nation state represents a thing of the past, the success of political populism seems to indicate a desire for a stronger sense of belonging among many European citizens. Starting from this observation, it has been argued that the EU’s deficit in master narratives puts it in a weak position when set against the well-established rhetoric of the nation state.17 However, whether the process of European integration would really require a more explicit rhetoric of cultural identity in order to be successful, or whether it should proceed in its present manner of stressing the advantages of cultural diversity, is a question which remains as yet unsolved.

In order to illustrate the historical nature of nations and regions, it is worthwhile also to include categories into the picture which are of a more dynamic nature. Thus, the articles in this volume concentrate not only on container categories, such as “nation” or “region”, but also on processes (“migration”) and relationships (“minorities” and “majorities”). Since “migration” signifies a process, and not a state, it questions the stability which geographically defined categories often suggest. By directing our attention to the dynamics of history, it undermines the idea that politically or culturally defined territories require a more or less homogeneous population, whether this be defined in terms of ethnicity, religious denomination, or political orientation. Furthermore, a focus on processes of migration may lead to the insight that it is changeability rather than stability which constitutes the cultural history of Europe.

While “migration” signifies a process, “minority” implies a relationship. Minorities can result from processes of migration, but they are also tied to the transitory character of nations and regions. Historical examples prove that with the rearrangement of political borders minorities may quickly turn into majorities and vice versa. Thus, after the end of the Cold War, the Russian population of the Baltic territories, which had enjoyed a majority status within the territory of the Soviet Union, became an ethnic minority within the newly established Baltic States. It is also worth remembering in this context that some nation states which were founded in the nineteenth century, e.g. Italy and Greece, had their beginnings in separatist movements which sprang up in multiethnic states such as Austria-Hungary or the Ottoman Empire.

The plural form in the title of this volume has been chosen with care. Rather than seeking to determine what might constitute a common European identity, the following essays concentrate on the manifold traditions which make up the European experience. They include contributions from history, literary studies, linguistics, political science, and sociology. Of the four sections of the book, the first is concerned with identity concepts. Olesia Berezenska, Anna Lena Borgstedt, Cornelia Engelhardt, Patricia Franz, and Eva-Maria Kocher discuss the extent to which categories such as territory, religion, culture, symbols, values, and history may contribute to an understanding of cultural identities in Europe. In his committed and in parts controversial essay, Kirby Farrell questions the cherished concept of multiculturalism by redirecting the readers’ attention to those creaturely conditions which are shared by all human beings, regardless of their cultural background. In her discussion of multilingualism, Kerstin Kazzazi points to the fact that, linguistically, an individual may share more than one identity. As she demonstrates, however, not all forms of multilingualism are generally endowed with the same social prestige. In the case of children coming from migrant families, multilingualism is often seen as a defect rather than an asset.

The second part comprises articles related to current EU issues. Karin Luttermann highlights the linguistic aspects of European identities by suggesting a model in which languages can enter into a dialogical relationship with two reference languages. Paolo Ruspini concentrates on the European migration system, focusing in particular on the development of the EU policy relating to the issue of external migration. In his article “Short Track Out, Long Way In!”, Stefan Schieren discusses the political and legal implications of the Scottish quest for independence. A separation from the rest of the UK, he argues, may at least temporarily cost the country its EU membership.

The essays of the third part focus on specific areas. Richard Nate recapitulates the history of twentieth-century German youth movements by concentrating on different attitudes towards supranationalism. Although there were efforts to arrive at a reconciliation with Germany’s former enemies in the interwar period, it was only after World War Two that racially defined boundaries were rejected altogether. John S. Partington investigates the coverage of Welsh football in British newpapers during the F. A. Cup of 1927, finding that its categorization underwent significant changes corresponding to the eventual success of Cardiff City’s Football Club. Kamila Fiałkowska concludes the section by giving a first-hand account of the working situation in seasonal workers’ camps in Germany. Drawing from her experience as participant observer, she focuses on the perception of Germany among Polish seasonal workers.

The articles in section four illustrate the different ways in which the problem of cultural identities is reflected in twentieth-century literary works. Bo Isenberg reflects on the several identities adopted by the Jewish writer Joseph Roth in the interwar period and interprets them as an attempt to cope with the feeling of uprootedness, which is regarded as typical of the modern consciousness. Concentrating on post-Soviet Russia, Vera Shamina describes in what ways the experience of a loss of cultural identity has become a theme in recent Russian literature. Balthazar Becker’s article closes the book by reflecting on how the city of Alexandria has been conceptualized as a part of European cultural history allegedly threatened by cultural “Otherness”.


Anderson, Benedict (2006). Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London / New York: Verso.

Barthes, Roland (1964). Mythen des Alltags. Trans. Helmut Scheffel. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.

Boer, Pim den (2012). “Konzept Europa”, in: Boer, Pim den et al. (eds.). Europäische Erinnerungsorte 1: Mythen und Grundbegriffe des europäischen Selbstverständnisses. Munich: Oldenbourg, 59–74.

Fichte, Johann Gottlieb (1978). Reden an die deutsche Nation. Ed. Reinhard Lauth. Hamburg: Meiner.

Flacke, Monika (ed.) (2001). Mythen der Nationen: Ein europäisches Panorama. 2nd ed. Munich / Berlin: Koehler & Amelang.

Gorbachev, Mikhail (1987). Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World. New York [et al.]: Harper & Row.

Hobsbawm, Eric / Ranger, Terence (eds.) (1983). The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Köpke, Wulf (1999). “Was ist Europa, wer Europäer?”, in: Köpke, Wulf / Schmelz, Bernd (eds.). Das gemeinsame Haus Europa: Handbuch zur europäischen Kulturgeschichte. Munich: dtv, 18–29.

Krupa, Matthias (2013). “Wo endet Europa?”, Die Zeit, 27 June 2013.

Nate, Richard (2009). “Wahrnehmungen sprachlicher Vielfalt: Ein historischer Rückblick”, in: Ronneberger-Sibold, Elke / Nate, Richard (eds.). Europäische Sprachenvielfalt und Globalisierungsprozess. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 189–221.

Novalis [i.e. Friedrich von Hardenberg] (1996). Die Christenheit oder Europa und andere philosophische Schriften. Köln: Könemann.

Renan, Ernest (1996). Was ist eine Nation? Rede am 11. März 1882 an der Sorbonne. Hamburg: Europäische Verlagsanstalt.

Straub, Jürgen (2002). “Personal and Collective Identity: A Conceptual Analysis”, in: Friese, Heidrun (ed.). Identities: Time, Difference and Boundaries. New York / Oxford: Berghahn, 56–76.

Wagner, Hartmut (2006). Bezugspunkte europäischer Identität: Territorium, Geschichte, Sprache, Werte, Symbole, Öffentlichkeit – Worauf kann sich das Wir-Gefühl der Europäer beziehen? Münster: Lit.

Wagner, Peter (2005). “Hat Europa eine kulturelle Identität?”, in: Joas, Hans et al. (eds.). Die kulturellen Werte Europas. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 494–511.

Wehrs, Klaus (1999). “Geographie und Ökologie Europas heute”, in: Köpke, Wulf / Schmelz, Bernd (eds.). Das gemeinsame Haus Europa: Handbuch zur europäischen Kulturgeschichte. Munich: dtv, 49–61.


1 On the constructed quality of identity concepts see Straub (2002).

2 Cf. Roland Barthes’ concept of myth as a mode of thinking in which historically determined phenomena are perceived as “natural”, i.e. timeless (1964: 113).

3 Cf. den Boer (2012: 73).

4 Renan (1996).

5 Cf. the essays in Flacke (2001).

6 Cf. Nate (2009: 200 ff.).

7 Anderson (1983).

8 Hobsbawm / Ranger (1983).

9 Cf. Köpke (1999).

10 Novalis (1996). Interestingly enough, Novalis was not a Catholic but a Protestant who was dissatisfied with his own cultural heritage.

11 Cf. Fichte (1978: 246).

12 Cf. Köpke (1999: 19).

13 Gorbachev (1987: 194 f.).

14 Wehrs (1999: 49).

15 Cf. Krupa (2013: 5).

16 Wagner (2005: 511) also stresses this point.

17 Wagner (2006: 95).


Concepts of Identity

Europe – A Collective Identity?


When the European Union extended to the east in 2005 and 2007, its institutions and citizens were confronted with challenges and uncertainties. Even today, some doubts may persist, and it remains to be seen if they will be solved in the near future. It is obvious that an extension of the European Union is not only related to administrative problems but includes the cultural sphere as well. If the formation of a collective identity is regarded as the basis for a successful political integration, cultural aspects cannot be ignored. The different opinions concerning a possible entry of the Balkan states or Turkey show that these aspects play an important role in political discussions. The same holds true for considerations about the position Europe should take as a global player among other world powers, such as the United States or China. If one attempts to define Europe’s place in the world, reflections on what constitutes a common European identity can hardly be avoided. The current financial crisis, which has produced a loss of confidence in the effectiveness of European institutions among many citizens, has also shown that short-term economic benefits may not be sufficient to create a feeling of mutual responsibility among the member states of the EU. Thus, when we talk about Europe, it seems important to reflect also on those matters which reach beyond economic concerns.1

1. Europe and the EU: A Merging of Two Different Concepts?

What do people have in mind when they refer to “Europe”? The fact that, in everyday speech, one often encounters a tacit equation of the European Union with Europe as a whole may be taken as an indication that the relevant categories are not as clearly defined as one might think. What exactly is meant if one speaks about “Europe” does not always seem entirely clear. On some occasions the term is used in a geographical sense, on others it is meant to represent a certain set of ideas or values.

In the media, “Europe” is often employed to represent the European Union. But although the meanings of the two terms overlap, they cannot be regarded as identical. “Europe” is, first of all, a geographical concept denoting a continent, whereas the EU represents a political idea and includes a particular group of countries. Still, the two categories are not as clearly distinguishable as appears at first sight. Thus, in contrast to a widely held view, there are many geographers for whom Europe does not represent an independent entity but rather forms a part of the larger Eurasian landmass. Similarly, the current borders of the EU may be clearly defined in legal terms, but it cannot be said that they are fixed once and for all. The debate concerning which countries should be allowed into the Union and which criteria should be fulfilled for their admission centres on many different aspects, not only political and economic ones but cultural ones as well. Thus, in discussions about the EU, general ideas about what defines “Europe” often play a role.

Due to the fact that a synonymous use of the two concepts has become customary, problems may arise.2 First, it should not be forgotten that there are several states on the European continent, e.g. Switzerland and Norway, which are not part of the EU. Therefore, an equation of “Europe” with the “EU” may be perceived as a form of discriminatory treatment by the citizens of these countries. Second, there is the problem of misunderstandings. Given the inconsistent usage of the two terms, how can one be sure if a certain statement relates to the countries of the EU or to those of the entire continent? This problem has led the editors of the Eurobarometer, for instance, to revise their questionnaires. Having for a long time referred to “Europe” when only the EU was meant, they now aim at a greater precision.3

It has become clear that, even though the two terms may share a number of semantic features, they should not be confused with each other. “Europe” and the EU are not the same. The process of integration which takes place within the EU may have much to do with the cultural heritage of Europe, but it is, above all, a politically defined process. On the other hand, it can be observed that a tacit equation of the two concepts is supported by the EU itself. After all, one of its aims is to create a common European identity by establishing or reinforcing symbols and cultural values which have been associated with the continent for a long time.4 According to Kiran Klaus Patel, the idea of being a “European” has increasingly been associated with the EU because a shared European identity is generally regarded as a prerequisite for any further success in the process of political unification.5

Such efforts, however, cannot conceal the fact that “Europe” and the EU represent two different matters. In order to see how the two terms are related to each other, it seems worthwhile to look at some parameters which often play a role in attempts at defining a “European identity”. They are related to geography, religion, the question of cultural diversity, the use of common symbols, a shared set of values, and, last but not least, history. In addition to what scholars have to say on these issues, some results of the Eurobarometer will be considered in order to find out how EU citizens reflect on the question of what may constitute a European identity.

2. The Question of Borders

One attempt to define Europe has been to think of it in geographical terms. However, even if there are many people who would spontaneously subscribe to such a definition, the question remains whether it is really feasible. A glance into history reveals that the geographical borders of Europe have been described in various ways. Anthony Pagden stresses the fact that “Europe” has always been a construct. Ever since antiquity, he states, people have pointed to the problem “that no one could establish with any precision where Europe stopped and Asia and Africa began”.6 During some periods, the idea of a European territory was of minor importance anyway. Throughout the time of the late Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, it was the Christian religion rather than a geographically defined territory which formed a major point of reference. In their book, The European Mosaic: Contemporary Politics, Economics and Culture (2006), David Gowland, Richard Dunphy and Charlotte Lythe point out that “the term ‘Europe’ was rarely used in the medieval period and had little geopolitical significance compared to the idea of ‘Christendom’”.7 As the authors demonstrate, it was only during the Renaissance period that the “idea of ‘Europe’ as a secularly defined continent emerged to displace the older notion of ‘Christendom’, although Christianity remained important in the development of the continent thereafter”.8 From then on, we encounter reflections on an area called “Europe” and attempts to define its territory and its borders.

Hartmut Wagner states that territory will always represent a problematic point of reference, since a clear delimitation of what defines Europe in geographical terms does not exist. Not only do the political borders of the EU cover merely one part of what is commonly referred to as the European continent, but the extension of the latter cannot be fixed either.9 As a consequence, territorial categories appear highly problematic as markers of identity.

Despite, or because of, such uncertainties, “Europe” has been defined in more than one way. What is included when one speaks about “Europe” very often seems to depend on the circumstances. Thus, Israel regularly partakes in the “Eurovision Song Contest” or the “European Champions League”, although its territory is generally not regarded as belonging to the European continent.10 While no one would possibly interpret this practice as an attempt to extend the European borders, in other contexts geographical aspects are taken more seriously. Relying on a traditional concept, according to which the continent of Europe stretches from the West Coast of Ireland to the Urals, it has been claimed, for instance, that the Lithuanian village Purnuškés is located at the centre of Europe.11 This is noteworthy since Purnuškés lies not far from the Russian border and Russia itself has not always been seen as belonging to the European countries.12

While, despite such divergent views, geographical borders are often viewed as “natural”, it should be obvious that political ones rest on human decisions and are deliberately established. The EU is a case in point. But even here, it seems, political and geographical categories are often not clearly kept apart from each other. Thus, in 1987, Morocco’s admission to the Union was declined on the basis that its territory did not belong to the European continent,13 whereas Cyprus, which is often considered as being part of the Asian continent, was accepted into the Community in 2004.

The Schengen Agreement, which allows the citizens of signatory states to travel freely and to study and work without a visa, represents still another concept of European significance. According to Gowland, Dunphy and Lythe, such an agreement may even serve to initiate “new patterns of ‘transnational’ belonging” in which “a new concept of Europe” emerges, namely one which defines itself as an “interconnected set of networks”.14 It is possible that such patterns may also contribute to entirely new ways of experiencing a “European identity”.

3. Religion

Although religion may have had a stronger influence on European societies in earlier centuries than today, religious beliefs are still considered an important factor in defining a European identity. Since there are several religious denominations in the various countries of Europe, however, they also bear a potential of creating conflicts. This is the case, for instance, if religious denominations are associated with social or national orientations, as was the case in Northern Ireland and on the Balkans in the late twentieth century. In order to avoid conflicts like these, EU politicians have been eager to introduce only those symbols into their documents which are considered to have a “neutral” quality.

Still, it is generally agreed that religion has been one consistent factor in the formation of what could be called a European frame of mind. This holds true particularly for the Christian religion. In their book Contrasting Values in Western Europe (1986), Stephen Harding, David Phillips and M. Fogarty state:

Both in historical and geographical terms, religion – or more specifically, the Christian religion – provides an example [of how] to create a commonality of values and beliefs across Europe, and elsewhere. A shared religious heritage based on Christian values, therefore, may be seen as one formative cultural influence at the heart of and giving substance to “European” civilization.15

Apart from the dominant influence of Christian traditions, however, it should not be forgotten that religious minorities have also played their part in forming the cultural landscapes of Europe. One may think of the long history of Jewish minorities in many parts of Europe, but also of Islamic influences, which have left their traces, for instance, in the architecture of South Spain. Today, Islamic communities constitute a part of the population of non-EU countries such as Bosnia and Albania, and in the course of recent migration processes they have become increasingly important in countries such as France, Germany or the United Kingdom. Due to an increasing mobility and social changes, Europe’s religious landscape is becoming more and more diverse. Sikh and Hindu communities have been established in Great Britain, for example, and even new religious movements are emerging.16 The European Constitution draft of 2004 paid tribute to these developments by referring not to one dominant European religion but highlighting religious freedom and the protection of minorities as central European values.17

In view of the fact that modern societies have not only become more and more diversified in their religious orientations but also look back on a long process of secularization, it is interesting to note that the Christian roots of European civilization have been emphasized in recent discussions. According to Matthias Belafi, this phenomenon may be attributed to three factors. First, there was the debate whether a reference to God should be inserted into the draft of the European Constitution; second, there is the ongoing discussion on whether Turkey as an Islamic country should become a member of the EU; and third, there is a renewed interest in religion in general.18

Drawing from the theories of French sociologist Danièle Hervieu-Léger, Grace Davie, in her book Religion in Modern Europe (2000), characterizes Europe as a predominantly secular society, but she also points out that religion still constitutes an important part in the collective memory.19 Its lasting influence can be seen in literature and music, as well as in architecture and the visual arts. She also points out that in modern secular societies there exists something like a “utopian space”, i.e. a longing for answers which can only be given by religion. This is demonstrated, for instance, by the attractiveness of new religious centres, such as Taizé in the south of France, or by the revival of religious traditions, such as going on a pilgrimage to Lourdes or Santiago de Compostela.20

Matthias Belafi maintains that Christianity must be regarded a constitutive factor in the shaping of a European identity. Not only do more than three quarters of the EU citizens belong to one of the Christian denominations, but public ways of thinking and commonly shared values have also been influenced by the Christian religion for centuries.21 However, even if this view makes sense in historical terms, it does not correspond to the findings of recent opinion polls. Thus, a look at the Eurobarometer of autumn 2010 reveals that only six percent of the respondents regard “religion” as a key value for European citizens,22 and only three percent think of it as a key value for the EU.23 These figures demonstrate that religion is a rather controversial issue when it comes to reflecting on what may constitute a European cultural identity.

The results of the Eurobarometer show that general aspects of culture are obviously regarded as more relevant by European citizens than religious concerns. In matters relating to the EU, the principles of pluralism and mutual respect are viewed as most important. Eighteen percent of the respondents hold that paying respect to other cultures represents an important European value, and more than twenty percent see the EU as inextricably bound to the ideal of cultural diversity.24

4. Cultural Diversity and Cultural Heritage

While the EU slogan, “United in Diversity”, stresses the idea of political unification, it also acknowledges that Europe is a heterogeneous rather than a homogeneous entity. Historically, the emphasis on harmonization, rather than homogenization, can be explained by the negative experiences with totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century.25 In contrast to the processes of nation-building in the nineteenth century, cultural diversity is no longer seen as something which must be overcome but rather as an asset which should be preserved. It manifests itself not only in the continuous influence of various national traditions but also in the fact that a European lingua franca, which could lead to a linguistic standardization comparable to that in the national languages, does not exist.26 There is little doubt that the recent enlargements of the EU have further increased this diversity.

That cultural diversity need not be experienced as a hindrance but may also be perceived as strengthening the European idea is demonstrated by results of the Eurobarometer cited above. It states that twenty-three percent of the EU citizens regard cultural diversity as one of the EU’s main characteristics.27 In an article on European values, Jörg Jacobs also argues that cultural diversity is an advantage rather than a problem. “This very diversity”, he writes, “can be considered a driving force which leads to a dynamic development within the European societies and which also has caused Europe’s rapid development in the past”.28 Since European cultures have common historical roots, a friendly competition between them ultimately does more good than harm. Jacobs concludes that “competition between the European societies, the heterogeneous character of the European countries, together with a homogenous European inheritance, will lead to a strengthening of Europe within the process of worldwide competition.”29

Official documents reflect this view. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union defines the cultural principle of the EU as follows: “The community shall contribute to the flowering of the cultures of the member states, while respecting their national and regional diversity and at the same time bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore.”30 It is obvious, however, that these lines also imply a certain tension. While, on the one hand, the idea of a cultural diversity is celebrated, on the other, the existence of “common cultural heritage” is also presupposed. What the text seems to suggest is that a “common cultural heritage” should not be determined in any ideological manner but can only gradually reveal itself as long as the idea of diversity is given free play within an established framework. Still, one may wonder what historical phenomena are considered as possible candidates for a “common cultural heritage”.

Looking at history, there are several periods which lend themselves as possible points of reference. One may think, for instance, of the cultural legacies of classical antiquity. Thus, the Greek idea of polis has been described as the starting point for modern ideas of democracy, the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle have initiated a process of philosophical speculation extending over more than two millennia, and the Roman Empire has not only moulded many areas of the Continent into a relatively homogeneous unit but has also demonstrated a lasting influence, for example, in the still current system of civil law. Apart from antiquity, one could refer to the Middle Ages, when Christianity, together with Latin as a lingua franca, provided an important frame of identification. The revival of classical ideas and forms of artistic expression during the Renaissance period, which affected most parts of Europe, can be cited as a third example. It should not be forgotten, however, that all of these traditions have not only shaped the countries of Europe but have also influenced large parts of the non-European world. Thus, Gowland, Dunphy and Lythe maintain that, since classical philosophies and Christian denominations have spread throughout the entire “Western” world, they can hardly be regarded as exclusively European.31 On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the EU as a political organisation rests on principles which have their origins in European intellectual history. Freedom of thought and freedom of religion as well as the principle of equality before the law are legacies of the European Enlightenment. They may have extended to other countries of the Western world, but they are of European origin.

The phenomenon of cultural diversity is probably experienced most palpably in the various languages of Europe. Language policies are generally regarded as very important when the issue of preserving cultural identities within the process of European integration is at stake. When applied to linguistic matters, the slogan “United in Diversity” expresses the idea that all languages within the Union enjoy an equal status. In line with this principle, the official EU language policy seeks to enable every child to learn at least two languages beside his or her native tongue.32 There are some who argue that English has long since gained the status of a commonly shared second language and thus already functions as an unofficial lingua franca, which might even have the potential to further a sense of togetherness among the peoples of Europe. Others, however, hold that no language within the EU must be privileged in this way in order not to violate the principle of cultural diversity.33

5. The Search for Symbols

One component which leads citizens to identify with their specific countries is the symbols which are connected with them. These symbols can fulfil various functions. As Michael Bruter observed in an article of 2003, they may not only “help make citizens feel more clearly a part of a given system”, but they may also be “used to enhance the acceptance of ethnic or cultural minorities in countries affected by integration problems”.34 Accordingly, symbols may be regarded as strong forces in the creation of a common identity. Gowland, Dunphy and Lythe have applied this phenomenon to a European level. In their opinion, the establishment of European symbols is important because they serve to make Europe “more visible, more proud of itself, more a part of people’s everyday consciousness.”35 Hartmut Wagner adds that European symbols are “capable of demarcating a European collective identity from others, because they are shaped to refer to the member states of the European Union and its citizens exclusively.”36

It seems that EU politicians are aware of the power of symbols. In order to allow citizens to identify with the idea of Europe, they have endeavoured to establish a number of European symbols. How seriously they take these attempts can be seen in the fact that the establishment of symbols is also mentioned in several official documents of the EU.37 Thus, the constitution draft of 2004 states in Art. I-8 that “European symbols” include the flag, with a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background, the “Ode to Joy” from Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth symphony as a European anthem, the motto “United in Diversity”, the Euro as a valid currency, and May 9 as “Europe Day”,38 which commemorates the Schuman Declaration of 9 May 1950.

It is conspicuous that these symbols are very similar to the ones which are employed in national contexts. Still, their impact differs significantly from these. Birgit Schwelling notes that European symbols are not as deeply rooted in the consciousness of EU citizens as the national ones and are therefore hardly suitable for the formation of a shared identity.39 Anthony Pagden also expresses his doubts about the effectiveness of European symbols: “How many people know the words of the European ‘national’ anthem, or even that such a thing exists? Nearly all the symbols of European unity are forced to compete with the much more familiar national versions.”40 Birgit Schwelling acknowledges the fact that there is one notable exception, namely the Euro, which, during the last few years, has become an important element in the everyday life of many citizens.41 The Eurobarometer of 2010 supports this argument when it emphasizes the fact that the Euro represents the idea of the EU as “an area of mobility and freedom”.42 Even though such a statement does not refer to members of the EU which do not have the Euro as a currency, e.g. Denmark, Sweden or the United Kingdom, it may be concluded that symbols, if applied in such a way that citizens become aware of them, may contribute to the formation of a collective identity.

6. Values and History

“Community of shared values” is a phrase that has repeatedly been used to describe the EU. The values which are stated in the Constitution draft of 2004 include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law and the preservation of human rights.43 Jörg Jacobs views these values as an expression of the social, political and economic achievements of Europe and holds that they may also serve to create a homogenous image of the continent for non-Europeans. This presupposes, of course, that EU citizens are willing to accept and respect them.44 In this context it is comforting to note that the Eurobarometer surveys of 2009 and 2010 reveal that Europeans do regard human rights, peace, respect for human life, democracy and freedom as extremely important.45

However, there are also writers who express their doubts on whether values provide a sufficient basis for a common European identity. Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde, for instance, argues that there is hardly any need for a transnational community of shared values since each member state already possesses its own set of values.46 Johannes Feichtinger, on the other hand, warns against the promotion of any values as exclusively European. Such a fixation, he fears, could contribute to a devaluation of other communities and could also lead to an exclusion of minorities. In this way, it would resemble nineteenth-century ideals of a homogeneous society, which, from a present point of view, appear to be rather problematic. Instead of running the risk of a new kind of Eurocentrism,47 he argues, lessons should be learned from Europe’s history. The common experiences and memories of Europeans are regarded as more significant than seeking a consensus about a certain set of values.48

The idea that some values are exclusively European has also been criticized by Jacques Derrida and Jürgen Habermas. Secularization, democracy, human rights and the Code Napoléon may once have been exclusively European phenomena but have meanwhile spread to other continents as well. For this reason, they can hardly serve as a distinguishing mark of European identity. Derrida and Habermas also point to European history and the collective memory of European citizens as primary forces shaping the European mentality. The experience of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes and the Holocaust, they argue, have made Europeans more sensitive to violations of human rights and have also been responsible for their rejection of the death penalty.49 It is to be noted that in membership negotiations, these issues play a decisive role.

The idea of values forming a sufficient basis for a common European identity is thus a rather controversial issue. Indeed, a look into history soon reveals that many of the values which are today promoted as “typically European” were often violated in the past. Thus, it may appear that historical memory, rather than values, could provide a more suitable foundation for a common European identity than a seemingly timeless set of European values. Heinrich August Winkler states that it is, above all, an increased awareness of common historical experiences which will enable European citizens to grow closer together and to develop a kind of communal spirit (“Wir-Gefühl”).50

Regarding Europe’s historical foundations, however, authors express diverging views. Historian Klaus Schönhoven holds that the strength of Europe lies in the very diversity of its national histories. “This diversity of memories and the ensemble of multi-dimensional views of history”, he argues, “are also part of Europe’s historical capital”.51 For Johannes Fried, on the other hand, a common identity can only be achieved through a merging of the various national memories.52 Finally, Hartmut Wagner is convinced that the diversity of European national memories could impede rather than foster a new understanding of history which all European citizens can share.53

There can be no doubt that European history has its darker sides and that European citizens are called upon to cope with these in one way or another. Referring to such instances as the two World Wars and the Holocaust, British historian Mark Mazower even goes so far as to characterize Europe as the “dark continent”,54 thus inverting an old European stereotype about Africa. Chiara Bottici points to the highly ambivalent nature of collective memories of war. Although the common experience of the devastating wars of the twentieth century is sometimes regarded as the source from which the process of political integration has sprung, the fact remains that individuals or communities often find themselves unable “to overcome personal and collective trauma”.55 Therefore, the experience of war may not only serve as a negative founding myth of a united Europe but may also contribute to reinforcing divisions among European citizens.

Other authors warn against a levelling of historical events. Thus, Dan Diner points out that the Second World War was not related to Europeans alone but that it represented, as its very name suggests, a global phenomenon. It is only the Holocaust which was restricted to the European continent and could thus be regarded as a point of departure in the formation of a common European identity.56 In contrast, historian Stefan Troebst holds that it was the consequences of the Second World War which were responsible for a radical division of Europe into East and West, each of them creating its own forms of historical remembrance. While the successor states of the former Soviet Union tend to concentrate on crimes of the Communist regime, western nations tend to focus on the Holocaust. Thus, the latter can hardly be considered a part of collective European memory.57

In a more optimistic manner, Ute Frevert has suggested that, while the darker sides of European history cannot be ignored, they might be used as a starting point for the creation of a new kind of historical awareness which could form the basis for visions of a “better Europe” or a “European Dream”.58 Such a view seems to correspond with Jacques LeGoff’s observation that meaningful visions of the future can only be created by taking into account the historical past. “A Europe without history would have neither origin nor future”, he writes. “Today has its roots in yesterday, and tomorrow can only be created from the past.”59

Despite these different opinions concerning the impact of history, there seems to be a general agreement that history cannot be excluded from reflections about a European identity. Concerning the question whether values or history should be regarded as more important in the formation of such an identity, it should be noted that both factors may turn out to be interdependent. Jacques Derrida and Jürgen Habermas argue that it is historical experience which determines and shapes the values of a society.60 At the same time, as Chiara Bottici has observed, the ways in which individuals and communities perceive their past and the lessons they draw from it depend, to a considerable degree, upon the very values they share.61

7. Conclusion

As has been demonstrated, categories such as territory, religion, culture, symbols, values and history must be regarded as complex cornerstones for the formation of a common European identity. Depending on the perspective taken, these dimensions can either be seen as supporting or as impeding elements within this process. Since approximately 70 % of the countries on the European continent do not belong to the EU, a confusion of the terms “Europe” and the EU should be avoided.62 Tacitly equating the two categories could lead to the impression that non-EU countries are generally excluded from discussions about a common European identity. In order to achieve a high level of terminological transparency, one should clarify what is being referred to in concrete discussions – the whole of Europe or EU members only. When, in the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev used the metaphor of a “common European home”,63 he referred to the former meaning; when EU officials speak about “Europe”, they usually imply the latter. Political measures of the future will certainly depend on how this issue is addressed.

The problem of a common European identity is also related to two other problems. On the one hand, there are continuing discussions about what executive powers should be attributed to the EU in relation to national governments. On the other hand, fears that the formation of a common European identity would necessarily involve a loss of national identities are still present among many citizens, even though scholarly investigations point into a different direction. Victoria Kaina, in her book Wir in Europa: Kollektive Identität und Demokratie in der Europäischen Union (We in Europe: Collective Identity and Democracy in the European Union), has refuted the idea that collective identities must necessarily exclude each other. Instead, she has demonstrated that a coexistence is generally possible.64 There is one precondition, however, which must be fulfilled. Multiple identities can only be developed if belonging to one group does not imply a disloyalty to another. As a consequence, local, regional, national or supranational identities may be dominant only within specific contexts.

If Kaina’s observations are true, the notion of being a European does not exclude a feeling of national belonging and for this reason does not constitute a threat to national identity. The question, however, remains how such an insight can be communicated to a public in which national and supranational orientations still tend to be regarded as mutually exclusive options. Heinrich August Winkler has argued that a common European identity may already exist, even if it is not yet firmly rooted in the public consciousness.65 It is within the responsibility of the citizens of Europe to develop a feeling of sharing a “common European home” which comprises more than the confines of traditional national borders.


Assmann, Aleida (2010). “The Holocaust – A Global Memory?”, in: Assmann, Aleida / Conrad, Sebastian (eds.).