Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

European Culture and Dialogue between Cultures - Dusan Sidjanski

International Symposium - “The need for a constructive dialogue between peoples and cultures and the Olympic idea”

1-7 September 2015, Ancient Olympia

European Culture and Dialogue between Cultures

Presentation by Professor Dusan Sidjanski

During the long history of human evolution, one of the main turning points gave birth to our European culture, with Ancient Greece at its core. It reached its height during the Age of Pericles (5th century B.C.) This is the period characterised by democracy (limited to the citizens of Athens, not the case for barbarians or slaves), philosophy (Socrates and Plato), pluralism, the worship of gods and the concept of the individual (sculptures of Phidias), science and technology through architectural masterpieces were flourishing (the Acropolis and the Parthenon); the navy and army were all-powerful (wars against Sparta and Persian Empire, Amphictyonic League of Delos). There was a global approach to man and nature, connection between human creations : cultures and civilisations. Definition of cultural heritage (cf. Denis de Rougemont).

From despotism to democracy

The community was organised, to which a fundamental contribution was made by Stoicism, founded by Zeno (335 – 264 B.C.) in the 3rd century B.C. Stoicism recognises the dignity of the human being. It was a philosophy expanded and disseminated by Alexander the Great and later on by the Roman Empire and, indirectly, through Christianity. Yet slavery, the enemy of human dignity, continued until the 19th century !

The main characteristics of European culture appeared during the Greek hellenic period : plurality of origins, doctrines and philosophy ; critical thinking, complexity and diversity founded on common ground ; tensions within opposite poles ; search for objective truth through science and research ; the quest for freedom and the responsibility of the individual and of the community. Dialogue is the main feature, but it is not unique.

The second pillar on which European culture is based is the Roman Empire, which contributed to the creation and management of administrations, legislation and armies ; and finally comes Christianity (Jerusalem) which spread the concept of the person. At the very core of European culture is a willingness to embrace other cultures, such as for example the Slavic culture, and in particular Russian culture which made an enormous contribution to European culture (literature, painting, music and science etc.) ; or Islamic culture which, through its influence in Spain and in the Balkans, influenced the evolution and rich diversity of European culture.

Dictatorships and authoritarian regimes create static communities with no movement. On the other hand, democracy inspires dynamic movement through artistic creation. Borders are broken down, with universites attracting students from different countries (e.g. Sorbonne in the Middle Ages).

New styles of literature are created : the novel, theatre through the works of Molière and Shakespeare ; new styles of music : symphonies and opera etc. This dynamic cross-fertilization process led to an acceleration of change, as seen throughout the period of the Enlightenment, culminating in the French Revolution and the advent of citizenship, republics and constitutional monarchies.

Internal dynamics and the assimilation of other cultures lead to external expansion : discovery of the world, colonisation, nation-building, globalisation based on regional integration and international organisations.

In recent times the European Union was created for peace and development in a global world, and rapidly advanced regional integration. The squaring of the circle : guarantee diversity while building a Union, which resulted in the spirit, method and design of the federal approach.

All attempts to create a single party system, a single doctrine in a totalitarian and authoritarian regime have failed. Marxism led to Stalinism, nationalism led to Hitlerism. The 1st and 2nd World Wars led to the creation of the EU. Its values and principles and federative approach are to be found to a certain degree in the Swiss experience. Its framework is its democratic structure and functioning. Its rich diversity founded on common ground is manifested through the federal motto United in Diversity .

Examples of some federative principles :

  1. Free association (Denis de Rougemont)

  2. Participation in the decision-making process

  3. No hegemony (Germany ?)

  4. Privileges attributed to small and medium-sized Member States

  5. Multilevel representations

  6. Subsidiarity etc.

But in reality the Lisbon Treaty is opposed to the Eurozone. It functions according to the community method, which means proposals formulated by the Commission and transmitted to the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. Together they take co-decisions, the Council by qualified majority and the EP by simple majority vote.

In the case of the Eurozone, the intergovernmental method is not based on a coherent proposal but on divergent initiatives, and the decisions are expected to be taken in unanimous agreement. In reality, this means domination by the large Member States, and in particular by Germany.

Infantile disorders of the EU

Since 1954 with the failure of the European Defence Community (EDC) and the European Political Community (EPC), the EU has been deprived of a political dimension. According to Jean Monnet, developments in the economy, finance, scientific research and commercial policy, sector by sector, was supposed to produce a spillover effect, thereby almost automatically attaining political Union. However there is still a gap between economic integration and cooperation in the areas of foreign, security and defence policy since we are torn between the federal and intergovernmental methods. The EU is an incomplete community, a work in progress.

Single currency : the Euro

Following the single market, Jacques Delors launched the single currency accompanied by the creation of the European Central Bank and the Economic and Monetary Union. The currency, like the Eurozone, were open to all Members who had the capacity and the desire to be associated. The philosophy behind this corresponded to Jean Monnet’s sector by sector strategy, and it was Delor’s intention to revive spillover. Simultaneously, the Treaty of Maastricht imposed strict limits on budget deficits to -3%, and the relation between public debt and GDP was capped at 60%. Curiously, no instruments for mutual aid and solidarity were provided by the Lisbon Treaty, which surprisingly came into force at the same time as the crisis broke out. This crisis which had been imported from the United States struck a fragile EMU, weakened in its early stages by the budget deficit of Germany and France, while the members of the Eurozone showed reluctance to establish an economic union parallel to the monetary union. Faced with the finacial crisis, the monetary union was disarmed. Finally, the President of the European Council created a Task Force composed unofficially of the Eurozone Ministers of Finance, one representative of the Commission and the President of the ECB. This strategy was supplemented by several intergovernmental organs such as the European Stability Pact, and by directives introduced by the Commission. The general result was confusion and inefficiency. This move ignored social and cultural basic principles and tried to follow the German model in finance and economics.

Dialogue between cultures and civilisations

Dialogue between cultures was initially developed inside Europe and within different member states. Today, the concept of dialogue between great cultures and civilisations, invented by Denis de Rougemont, is indispensable if we wish to guarantee understanding between peoples and global peace. With this principle in mind, it is possible to develop meaningful and sustainable cooperation between political units, economies and peoples. Based on mutual respect, dialogue between cultures safeguards the identity of these great cultures and civilisations without trying to impose any one culture on another.

To conclude, in order to reestablish external cultural dialogue, the EU has to define itself as a whole and not as a heterogeneous unit. In this way it would be easier to engage in cultural dialogue with partners based on reciprocal knowledge of one another. This would facilitate negotiations in various sectors, such as regarding peace or economics. Moreover, deeper cultural understanding can guarantee a better interpretation of concepts and interests. I believe that economic, social and political relations would be more stable if placed within the general framework of cooperative institutions. In certain cases, within an aggressive political context you can have excellent cultural cooperation. Therefore efforts should be made at all levels and, if possible, within an efficient institutional framework.

What is most impressive when we analyse our Ancient Greek heritage is the global view which it promoted through philosophy and democracy, especially in Athens. Not only did Ancient Greeks study society and nature, but they also attempted to complement their intellectual development through the practice of sports and the Olympic Games.

DS2015/Textes DS/European Culture and Dialogue between Cultures_19.08.2015/DS/pvg



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