In the hearts and minds of Europeans

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Europe 

GEOMETR.IT  Falling Walls Foundation

* In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.  George Orwell

The face of Europe is changing. How many faces and what kind of faces does Europe have? Or is Europe faceless?

For intellectuals, Europe’s face is shaped more by the ideas of its thinkers or by the culture of its nations.

For travelers, Europe is portrayed through its landscape and historical monuments. The image of Europe, for people around the world, is influenced by the goods it produces. And for its citizens, Europe is represented by its institutions, primarily those of the European Union. Do European institutions properly reflect Europe’s face?

Do they connect with the hearts and minds of Europeans? And what about European political leaders? European history clearly demonstrates how the longing for the single face of a leader, endowed with unchallenged authority, has always paved the road to serfdom. Plurality in political leadership, in contrast, prevents the risk of hegemony and preserves liberty.

  • The ongoing struggle for public attention makes it impossible for anyone to become “the face of Europe.” There is no single Mr. or Mrs. Europe. The days are over when large parts of Europe were in the shadow of giant portraits of Hitler and Stalin.
  • Europe’s freedom is secured by ongoing dialogue concerning values involving multiple face Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Jean Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Viktor Orbán and Sebastian Kurz.
  • Today’s face of Europe seems more like a Cubist portrait painted by Emil Filla or Pablo Picasso. In this issue of Aspen Review Central Europe, we present a mosaic of views and attitudes toward today’s European challenges. In an interview, former Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda addresses both the questions of EU rules and institutions and the lack of political leadership among the members of the club.
  • Thematic articles cover the tension between liberty and control, efficiency and accountability, the EU budget and the eurozone. The reviews of Ivan Krastev’s After Europe and Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom, two seminal books dealing with challenges to liberal democracy in Europe, place these challenges into more of a historical and global perspective. We will continue to examine political leadership style along with the values of the free world and an open and democratic society. Stay tuned for Aspen Institute’s events and publications!

One of the attractions of the Hanse Museum in Lübeck is an interactive map showing the development of cities in mediaeval Europe. With each passing century the number of flashing points on the map is growing, the colorful patchwork is getting systematically denser and extends from West to East. And yet, there is a constantly visible (although not marked) dividing line separating the East from the West of Europe.

The West is dense, the East less so; both today and 800 years ago, when the daredevils from Lübeck, in their incredibly small boats—not much larger than today’s yachts—loaded with wares up to the mast, sailed across the Baltic on their way to the fabulous treasures of Great Novgorod, joining the Euro-Asian far West (that is Europe) with the Eastern empires of the basileis, caliphs, and khans. This is the most enduring internal border of the continent—it runs roughly along the 20th meridian and south of the Baltic it crosses the territory of Poland and Hungary.

It is not only a border of wealth but also of political culture. In The Origins of Political Order Francis Fukuyama explores one of the greatest mysteries of European history: why did serfdom lose its validity in the West, but became highly profitable in the East?

In the late Middle Ages, peasants enjoyed much greater liberty in Poland than in Hungary or in France, but in just a few years “legislative heralds of ‘secondary serfdom’ appeared with uncannily synchronized timing in Brandenburg (1494), Poland (1496), Bohemia (1497), Hungary (1492 and 1498) and Russia (1497).” While in the West peasants were becoming landowners (on the eve of the 1789 revolution in France they possessed 50 percent of all land), in the East the serfs retained only minimal rights, which distinguished them from slaves.

“In practice the difference was not very big,” says Fukuyama. The key to solving this mystery is the demographic advantage of the western part of the continent. Western Europe was much more densely populated; in 1300, its population was three times that of the East. It allowed for more rapid development of cities, which took advantage of the weakness of feudal state structures and in just a couple of centuries a significant part of the continent, from northern Italy to Flanders, was covered with a network of autonomous trade centers.

It was the cities which recovered most rapidly after the demographic collapse which ravaged the West in the middle of the 14th century (the Black Death); it is in the cities that the peasants, escaping from the plague, famine, and feudal oppression, took shelter. And it was in the cities that monarchs, aiming at centralization of power and building strong absolutist states, saw their most important ally against the barons.

The problem of food shortages was solved by way of trading with the East. Ships bearing grain sailed to Lübeck, Amsterdam, or London and returned to Gdańsk loaded with sophisticated products of West European crafts, and luxuries, coveted by East European landowners and their spouses—aristocracy and nobility without exception.

YOUTUBE: How Politicial Analysis Shapes the Future of Europe and the World | JAN ZIELONKA

The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at:  Falling Walls Foundation

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