Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The current state of affairs in Europe and Greece – Hatto Fischer


The European Network Les Rencontres asked of me to address the following thematic complex:

"The 'European social and political situation today', by explaining which are the positions of Bruxelles regarding the crisis and how Europe is managing it, the social and political situation in Europe (you can use the example of Greece, since you know very well the whole situation) and eventually give us some advises about how a network like ours could intervene in these matters, in order face the European institutions."

Given the wish to hear above all some practical suggestions what a European network like Les Rencontres can do to alter the situation of culture, I propose to present my reflections in the form of ten points. You can imagine yourself to be like a blind man who reaches out with both hands to let the ten fingers do all the talking, or more precisely to sense what lies ahead. This is said with a practical wish that something true to mankind shall become in Europe reality, namely to be governed by a 'sober truth'.


1. Europe faces huge challenges

  • Europe faces multiple challenges, while threats to the existence of Europe would have to take on quite other dimensions than what Europe has to cope with at the moment
  • for sure, there is a difference between threat and challenge (Brendan Kennelly, Bart Verschaffel)
  • for instance, it does make a difference not to speak about refugees being such a threatening problem that Europe shall be overwhelmed but to view it as a challenge for Europe to respond in a humane way, and therefore not to become a fortress with 'sharp borders' with people being shoot if they would try to cross it, as was the case on the East side of the Berlin wall
  • obviously those who claim to be threatened are governed by a fear which can easily lead to a tremendous over exageration (Thomas Bernhard), but for sure the refugees do pose many problems and not all solutions are acceptable even though the conditions for good solutions need to be created e.g. better co-operation and coordination between volunteer organisations and political authorities
  • a network like Les Rencontres can set constraints under which challenges can be met by European institutions and this by making sure culture is not sidelined by exclusive commercial and economic interests
  • all of this depends to a large extent that a European network succeeds to create such cultural spaces which are needed for sharing of trust (Michael D. Higgins) and which are alive due to positive tensions between the genders (Klaus Heinrich)
  • culture can become a true search for truth (Michael D. Higgins) once no longer subject to probablity calculations
  • a good solution is found when the incomplete / uncomplete remains evident (Michel Angelo) and real problems not covered up by false success models as these serve merely those in power while those who fail or fall on the wayside become victims of a double silence: their own fear of power and power knowing how to silence people.



2. New kind of war

  • since WWI and WWII the term 'war' has changed within and outside of Europe, while Kosovo 1999 was a turning point in European history when someone like Germany's foreign minister Joschka Fischer tried to sell war as if a humanitarian act to prevent genocide, when in fact peace negotiations were made to appear as a failure in order to justify the going to war
  • war is a refusal to talk with the other, yet the lingering question since WWI is if the other is really an enemy or a friend?
  • now people are living and experiencing a 'schizophrenia of war': on one side of the street a disco plays music for teenagers, on the other side bombs explode
  • already 911 showed war had become asymmetrical, the extension of which is a fragmentation of war into countless skirmishes best called the global spread of 'civil wasr' (Enzensberger)
  • in such a context 'terror' becomes an arbitrary use of violence to kill innocent by-standers with the aim to rule by fear of death and thus needs to be re-defined as a radical, equally hopeless demand to know the truth but which has been lost by society being adrift due to being without conviction (Enzensberger) and culture knowing what is truth (Robert Musil)
  • ending of war shall require a redefinition of peace to be sustained by dialogue based on imagination making possible empathy for others, but it will require a realistic outlet for those energies creating conflicts and therefore a need for instiutions capable to transform conflicts into peaceful engagements or competitions (Juan Gutierrez).
  • it would make already sense if the Olympic Truce would be kept when the Olympic Games take place


3. Practice of mendacity (Martin Jay)

  • the practice of the use of the public lie has led to war as was the case when Colin Powell used a lie to claim in front of the Security Council of the United Nations that the USA had definite proof that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, and thereby it justified the going to war in Iraq in 2003 with disasterous consequences till today
  • it leads to a loss of ethics and morality in public life, and not only there as it affects all institution whether public or private
  • nowadays corruption as general term is being used by the public to denounce anything having to do with politics and thus the term has replaced any kind of differentiated political analysis and as a result has made any critical but fair discussion about policy options nearly impossible
  • this anti-politics has fueled distrust in politics and prompted a strong anti-Europe attitude
  • populist movements can unite people more easily by utilizing these anti-positions becoming easily hate orientations in which the lie functions best by suggesting there is a simple answer when in fact things a bit more complex than what it seems as first impression
  • unfortunately for people all kinds of artists, activists, drop-outs etc. all believe they are becoming really political by denouncing all politicians or anything having to do with government and governance as being corrupt.
  • this has led as well to despising the media as if no longer serving the purpose of informing the public but merely following a pattern of opinions dictated by certain interests and which ends reproducing a 'pathology of communication' (Habermas)
  • The real question for a network is how can Les Rencontres help artists avoid making the same mistakes as did those who were active between WWI and WWII e.g. Pound supporting Mussolini, Eliot becoming a Right Wing Christian and Yeats becoming a nationalist steeped in cultural heritage mythology and all becoming a part of the 'national narrative' as if the source and inspiration of authentic identity
  • The network Les Rencontres could facilitate implementation of cultural policy by providing local and regional authorities with a much clearer approach (filter) as to real needs when it comes to the promotion of artists and development of culture


4. European debate

  • has lost its capacity to inspire, and even more so, is not able to bridge the gap between content and legal form
  • Michael D. Higgins would add the ethical dimension is missing and therefore a relationship to European values
  • since culture is shut out and therefore the human values play no longer any role in the inner decision making process, not all voices are heard
  • a network can ask where shall its voice be heard at European level especially if it requires formal recognition. Lessons can be drawn from successful campaigns e.g. by Prime Minister of Flandern Van de Brande to create the Committee of the Region
  • a critical question is if the role of networks in Europe has altered so much because it is no longer self understood especially if European integration seems no longer to rely on networking principles but on something else not as of yet clearly defined


5. Cultural identity is most difficult in global times

  • Adorno's "identity as entailing as well non identity" could well become a principle for European identity
  • European philosophical principles apply especially to those who live in Europe, but as long as they are not represented by the current political structures, they are still confined to national representation e.g. what happens to British people living in France or a child of an Irish mother and a Greek father living in Italy?
  • Sasken Sassen when speaking about global pressure upon local settings and cities, she speaks about corporate parking: speculative money used to buy up property but which is not being used. She says as well those who work for corporations are without identity. Hence the only way to gain an identity is to step out of the system by making history at the local level.


6. The national narratives versus the European narrative

  • narratives of nations are still more dominant than narratives about all coming together in Europe
  • injustices inflicted will provoke counter reactions until new structures of power assert themselves, as this is the thesis of Benedict Anderson, “Imagined Communities”, hence the need for new pilgrimages to find people with a similar idea about Europe and an appreciation of history becoming evident by visiting special local places e.g. Cees Noteboom, Detour to Santiago de Compostela
  • efforts are made to collect stories or narratives of a moral nature which make explicit examples of civil disobedience
  • story telling as part of knowing the history of Europe


7. Informal learning – life long learning – no learning


  • there existed a difference between informal learning in the street "as the best school" (Spyros Mercouris) versus school with Louis Armstrong singing about what you don't learn at school. It was often a magic opposition even though educatio matters but the European Union has made out of both aspects 'life long learning'
  • learning differs, however, greatly in a digital culture with almost all communicating daily in virtual reality even when attending lectures and only waiting for the professor to give a link to a specific website containing all the relevant information
  • still the question exists since Piaget what differences prevail when it comes to developing moral concepts
  • learning within the set-up of a European Capital of Culture programme pre-supposes no longer mere citizen participation, but requires now engagement of specific groups e.g. in Leeuwarden farmers (Bob Palmer)
  • cultural innovation is a willingness to invest in especially intangible meanings with the aim to realize long-term results)                                                       
  • investing in a network like Les Rencontres means to support bottom-up processes involving local and regional authorities so as to give shape to the cultural agenda at European level.
  • If done in reference to local and regional authorities, the question is if it enhances the chances of artists, cultural operators, cultural institutions being supported in a more substantial way than what is possible right now through a) Creative Europe programme and b) indirect through the Structural Fund?
  • Already evaluations of the Creative Europe Programme show that much of real cultural work is being neglected due to a higher priority being given to media related forms of cultural expressions e.g. film.
  • The critical question is if Les Rencontres can reverse the shift away from culture to media?
  • especially if culture means reflections at different levels, including the local, regional and national ones, can a network make substantial contributions to an overall policy coordiation within Europe? It would require that Les Rencontres can mediate between these different levels, in order to bring about a much more coherent cultural policy.


8. Culture and the economy

  • Mediterranean and the Atlantic tradition, the latter leads to strict separation of culture and economy, out of which follows that only what is measurable is accepted and this poses an explicit problem for culture if only quantitative methods of evaluation are applied
  • the strengthening of the position of Culture in European politics has to mean to give a voice to culture, not confining it to measurable indicators

9. Greece

  • ever since the financial crisis has intensified, the demand for reform has been imposed as precondition for obtaining funds to bail out the state, yet this concept of reform is highly misunderstood or else geared to served only particular neo-liberal interests
  • a large part of the Greek population has experienced reforms since 2009 merely as severe austerity measures
  • no one is really clear as to what would bring the entire Greek society into a different position with regards to Europe insofar an obvious contradiction is Europe basing its strength on cultural diversity while forcing Greek society into a conformity with so called neutral financial and market rules e.g. the demand for privatization versus values of common good or the reduction of the public sector rather than strengthening the role of the bureaucracy vis a vis vested interests
  • the Memorandum of Understanding demands commitments to harsh measures when in fact the entire population did not participate in the negotiations, and therefore one should not wonder that there exists a huge discrepancy between real or seeming implementation
  • a major problem is 'morality of payment' which is at the same time a cultural matter based on values, attitudes, ways of living and appraising risks etc. and therefore cannot be dealt with by adopting solely economic measures
  • Germany gains out of export surpluses while Greece has been reduced all along to be a mere consumer of German goods
  • The real question about governance within Europe became during the crisis one of political accountability of decisions if taken solely by the European Central Bank and by the Financial Ministers, and thereby sidelining the European Parliament and even the European Commission.
  • countless discussions about the failure of austerity policy have not altered the neo liberal positions dictating the handling of the crisis e.g. handling of European Finance ministers of the Greek crisis


10. A poetic remark about the influx of refugees to Europe

  • Yiorgos Chouliaras: Refugees – as the one who no longer is the same person as depicted by the photo in his passport (in memory of Brecht: the passport and not the human being counts)
  • what policy should be exercised, what attitude we (Les Rencontres) should have?
  • alteration in the cultural model but can culture be a guide for the right decisions?


If these ten fingers are allowed to reach out and touch, then what impulses shall activate our senses about the current state of affairs in Greece and Europe?


10. A poetic remark about the influx of refugees to Europe

Γιώργος Χουλιάρας


Από την άλλη πλευρά

της φωτογραφίας γράφω για να θυμάμαι

όχι το πού και πότε αλλά ποιος


Δεν είμαι εγώ στη φωτογραφία


Τίποτε δεν μας άφησαν

να πάρουμε μαζί μας

Μόνον αυτή τη φωτογραφία


Αν τη γυρίσετε από την άλλη θα με δείτε


Εσύ είσαι στη φωτογραφία, με ρωτούν

Δεν ξέρω τι να σας πω

Yiorgos Chouliaras


On the other side

of the photograph I write to remind myself

not where and when but who


I am not in the photograph


They left us nothing

to take with us

Only this photograph


If you turn it over you will see me


Is that you in the photograph, they ask me

I don’t know what to tell you


                       Translated by David Mason & the author




Hatto Fischer

Milano 2 October 2015

updated: 19.1.2016

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