Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Europe performing in 21st Century by Hatto Fischer

Poster for Conference


Let me begin with a simple story.

My parents decided in 1957 to immigrate to Ottawa, Canada. They did not want their son to serve again in any military. They took serious the key promise after 1945: 'never again war!' When Adenauer created the Bundeswehr and entered NATO, that was the beginning of an endless series of broken promises. After the fall of the Berlin wall, Genscher, then still Germany's foreign minister, broke international ranks and recognized

Croatia as the only state as if to show to the world Germany is again a power to be reckoned with. What followed we all know when Kosovo was bombed in 1999 and Europe experienced again war. The Greens in Germany under Joschka Fischer had been transformed from a peace movement into real pragmatist. The Schroeder-

Fischer government endorsed also the so-called peace mission in Afghanistan. Today German soldiers are fighting there even though no one wants to speak about broken promises and about the futility of war as it entails a reckless behaviour fore mostly towards innocent civilians. Canada is itself involved as well in this war in Afghanistan.

A good friend with whom I went to Lisgar Collegiate and later on to Carleton University saw his son serve there.

The novelty of sending soldiers abroad to fight on foreign soils is not that new. We had at Lisgar Collegiate in Ottawa a fantastic teacher of physics, Mr. Meng. Often he would push aside all the equipment meant to be used for experimentation purposes and instead he would sit on the lab table to talk with us about why the school had on its fourth floor a shooting range. It was used to train cadets for serving in First World War. He himself was there, at Vimy Ridge. He told us how during the Christmas months the soldiers came out of their trenches to celebrate together. The absurdity of war was underlined by enemies eating jointly turkey and playing cards. But on the third day mistrust crept in the conversations: "you will shoot first!" "No, you!". When they left then by going back slowly and always keeping the others under observations.

A lot can be said to this in terms of political iconography: the study of war memorials as to whether or not they celebrate war as if a matter of heroes with veterans gathering around every year to mark with red poppies the many soldiers left behind on the battle fields as the case around the war memorial in Ottawa. When studying philosophy at the

University of Heidelberg 1972 - 75, I took a course on political iconography given by the historian Kosselek. We went to Verdun as part of a field trip and in so doing passed by to see as well war memorials of 1871 and the ones marking the 1914-18 period of First World War.

At the sight of the battle scars in the landscape around Verdun our thoughts went out immediately then to Viet Nam and what beating both man and nature must take there from napalm bombs. The senseless destruction was described by Solshenitzyn in August 1914 with generals ordering the soldiers to walk besides the train tracks towards the border with Finland in order to see if they were fit while the high command dined in special war tents. The slaughter of First World War was horrific but in Europe it took a different turn as we shall see not only in Germany with the Versailles Treaty, but also how Northern Ireland became a divided country within itself with the Loyalists, the Protestants linking violence to serving as loyal soldiers the king in the war while the Catholics and therefore the beginning of the IRA considered violence to be legitimate as weapon of freeing themselves from the British yoke.

No wonder when the student movement took shape, then around certain cultural icons. The film 'Jules and Jim' became an out-standing example of attempting to examine the puzzle close up. For how come two students both in love with the same woman could end up on different sides of the trenches? Of interest is that she married the German guy who searched for the feelings he had experienced during those tense moments in the trenches. He searched in between all the letters he had written and forgot to live with his wife standing beside him. We know how that film ended with her and her French Jim committing suicide as apparently the only way out.

Indeed, if feelings are lost, then soldiers sent home as poetic representative of their feelings poems by Rilke who himself was wondering about technology. Bertrand Russell had said all alone First World War allowed many to discover what power technology could have over millions of people. It set off a frantic path of research and discoveries once the war was over but not the desire for war. The film 'What a lovely game war is' underlines in the stark colours of an aloof aristocracy thinking it has its own identity and independency as to whoever was in power. That illusion cost dearly for it allowed Hitler to ascend to power and is repeated again nowadays insofar there are many who believe they can play with power without getting corrupted by it.

Out of this follows naturally the question what would keep power honest and the spirits of people so free that a natural outcome would be a civil society certain of its democratic practices and values.

I mentioned beforehand Solshenitzyn as a lesson to be taken out of First World War with August 1914. There are also the interviews with Andre Breton, the author of the Surrealist manifest. He would describe how soldiers were not discharged right away in order to gag their mouths as it was in the interest of those in power that anger over the senseless loss of lives in the trenches would not spill over from the battle to the political fields even though generals would position themselves for a post in the political machine by making sure their soldiers would rotate more quickly while others were left endlessly in the trenches to fight it out all alone and therefore were literally abandoned.

We can jump to the Second World War and begin with reflections as to what sets in Germany apart after 1945. There is the split brought about by the Four Powers. In Berlin one has the best example with the West and East sector divided. Finally in 1961 it becomes the city with a wall. The East German government would call it a protection wall against Fascism. It meant for those living in the East, in that other reality, a growing desire not only to look over the wall while taking the street car past the Jewish cemetery but also to travel to the West in order to just verify and validate what they imagine but could not know whether it was propaganda or reality.

Something more should be said about German unification. It goes along with a misunderstanding once the Monday demonstrations in Leipzig were re-phrased from 'we are the people' in order to tell to the police not to arrest them to the political slogan 'we are one people'. The latter was a prerequisite for West German politicians, fore mostly those linked to H. Kohl and the CDU. They wished to topple the East German state for that was a historical opportunity too good to be missed. Subsequently the East German state was dissolved and the Laender formed who joined then the Bundesrepublic or West Germany as it was known till then. By doing so they circumvented the necessity to rewrite the constitution or rather make a new constitution in reflection of the new political reality necessary. That is important to note for 15 million East Germans joined without the 60 million citizens of West Germany being asked if they wanted this reunification as 'fait accompli'!

Because no new constitution was written, there was wasted yet another chance for Germany to come together from below rather than something being imposed from above. That was already the case in 1871 when Bismarck used a brutally the threat of an external war to pacify the different Laender into submission and therefore to accept Prussian rulership over Germany as a fake unification of the Laender. If anything can be said about 'unity', this has never been self-understood in German development. All the more caution should prevail when linking German unification to a pretence that this can still be compatible with European integration. It is definitely not.

After 1989 there have been only few flash backs when the capital of West Germany was still Bonn and everyone could laugh about it due to its provincial character. By contrast Berlin has and always shall be monumental despite all the architectural renovations made when it became again the capital of reunited Germany. No one laughs about the monumental existence of a Germany not to be seen at the level where people move about, but in its mystical and supernatural being it casts already many heavy shadows upon Europe and its own citizens.

Rather than moving the capital from Bonn to Berlin, if Germans had meant their European integration more serious, they would have stayed with a decentralized concept of their own governance while devoting more time, energies and resources to build up Europe. The latter should be understood as a community and not as it has become known an union. The latter is like the union train which forged a path from the East to the West coast in the United States and about which the writer Colin Wagner warns not to imitate.

Indeed another Europe becomes visible the moment the transport infrastructure is perceived as a map of maximum exploitation of every remote corner, Hochtief and its reliance upon European infrastructures as part of its own assets an example thereof. At the same time the urge to continue the expansion as replacement of inner social and economic cohesion reminds of what Hegel said about bourgeoisie society as being only able to exist by expansion. Like companies which get credits from the bank if they expand, real costs and savings in such a case are no longer accountable. All payments for debts incurred are deferred to a still unknown future. This is where the lie about re-investments of the money by expanding functions to cover ever new purchases. It gives only seeming rise to a new and rapidly expanding market.

An economic illusion based on growth to increase the purchasing power is not exactly what others had in mind when for the sake of sustainability made a strong case out of zero growth as did the Club of Rome. Yet after the failure of Johannesburg in 2002 we know no politician is willing to commit himself to measurable indicators unless he can affect them in such a way as to make his policies appear to be highly successful. By 2003 and in the wake of 911 we have entered the era of not only the Rumsfeld doctrine of the 'permanent war' but that of Rowe's successful strategy as key advisor to President Bush when it comes to making the spin doctors the highest paid in all societies, the European and the North American.

It seems strange but can be linked to this saga of spin doctors that Germans do not wish to call their engagement in Afghanistan a war mission, but instead speak about civilian building programmes and humanitarian actions. Leading politicians pretend that this would help mask more effectively what they are doing there with all their guns and technical intelligence.

European performing under daily changing global conditions is like a never ending nightmare which Kafka could not have even imagined. Elections are won by staying silent like Merkel did if only to proclaim once elected that the times ahead shall get much tougher in 2010. She meant deficit spending has to come down in a very hard way while tax cuts as promoted by the pro liberal market are not completely ruled out, but used as bargaining tool to keep this particular coalition government in place.

Greece is facing in 2010 a financial crisis due to cheating not merely in statistics but by having a defence budget of up to 12% with Germans, French, Swedes etc. all pressing Athens to purchase their weapons. On top of it all politicians pride themselves like Sarkozy to be successful supporters of the war economy by helping that their particular brand of weapons, nuclear power stations and war ships included, are purchased by the governments they visit.

Europe has lost all its bearing due to this trade in weapons. It explains why the economy is becoming increasingly unproductive since weapons are not produced for a demand articulated by a free market but by states doing business deals in secret. In what has made Europe originally so dynamic, exciting and open, that is before Kosovo and 911, was an attempt to bring about integration by internal means. Europe had put a lot of emphasis on soft power and still does when it comes to persuading governments to conform to directives and regulations it has set out itself by making these decisions of the Council of Ministers. It had till 1999 pursued a policy of economic and social cohesion with military and foreign affairs of relative little importance on how Europeans would come together. It was a time when the Commission was still active in dialogue with its numerous projects and engaged in an ongoing learning process. It meant the European Commission as prime political administration was much more efficient and open than any national one. But then came the re-nationalization of EU programmes and at the same time the focus on a Rapid Intervention Force. That came after Kosovo and was ever more a dominant topic after 911.

Nowadays the ill fated EU Constitutional Treaty has been rescued by the now in effect Lisbon Treaty. It means next to the President for the Council there shall be a Foreign Minister for all of Europe. The latter shall represent the new performers on the international floor. Yet social and economic cohesion is ever more left behind while security threats, whether real like the bombing in the London tube in 2005 or unreal like the missile shields Bush wanted to implant and now taken back by Barack Obama have not brought Europe closer together. Unforgettable is the letter by Czech President Havel who endorsed with other leaders of former Communist ruled countries in Eastern Europe the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Remarkable is that a country like Poland which has suffered the consequences of so many different kinds and indeed brutal occupations does something similar to Germany after reunification, namely to send troops to Iraq as if now a sovereign nation it can make mistakes in terms of even its own history.

If sovereignty means the freedom to make such mistakes as going to war, then the unproductive side of that is the silence it earns in the progress. Come to the theatre and what kind of performance European stages will show? Polish theatre was very good at creating a time line of actors who would transfer within one and the same stage design through different time modes and still arrive at a synthesis of time. The question is where and when does this coincidence come about in time to be of historical significance as then change means not something imposed, but the audience till then passive becoming now active and determining their own future. Adorno said a society without coincidence is dictatorship. If so, it means the coming together within Europe should be given this freedom to create opportunities for such coincidences so that togetherness is both fruitful and convincing because not being enforced from above. But will the localities, regions and nation states really let go of their shepherd roles?

There is another way of identifying this ill fated permission to make mistakes. Heidegger justified this with regards to leaders for only they are innovative by taking risks while the masses of people would not be willing to take such risks. Clearly he endorsed someone like Hitler and thereby gave him the freedom to make mistakes but then he did not specify the kind of mistake but linked everything else to preparing for war in order to pose the question of being as if only answerable in a fight i.e. war. Clearly Heidegger had not perceived his understanding of heroes as being a futile exercise in being heroic when it is not. That tragedy of leaders who fail to realize their dependencies upon the people who wait for their words has only been thematised by Hoelderlin in his treatment of Empedocles. When the latter is called back by the Polis after reversing its ruling he should go into exile, Empedocles replied that the people of the Polis can govern themselves better without him. Such an endorsement of people is important but also badly missing in not only Europe but elsewhere in the world as well.

How then to perform when the mistrust in people reinforces institutions which cannot evoke trust by people in the European integration process? Some thought a good debate would lead out of the impasse but then the failure of the EU Constitutional Treaty in 2005 meant that the European institutions have lost their moral legitimacy. The European Parliament is being reduced to recycling politicians. Berlusconi was protected by Parliamentary immunity from prosecution by a Spanish judge and which set the stage for his return to Italy when he could pass there his own laws regardless of European law in order to protect himself against further court cases. Europe performs well when no one wishes to be responsible for the misuse of such institutions as the European Parliament. It means a moral deficit cannot be performed without a penny being made available for European culture. That penny is, however, retractable insofar as European cultural programs lead on to success stories like in the good old days of Communism when everyone had to prove the Party is right, but the individual is wrong.

Hatto Fischer

Athens 12.11.2009

Note: this paper was presented at the conference "Europe performing after the fall of the wall" held at the University of Toronto, Nov. 20 - 22, 2009. See as well


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