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Europe debates united culture

"If Europe is anything, it is a cultural concept, characterised by the paradox called 'university in diversity'. Europeans collectively define their culture uncollectively and anyone wanting more information is usually treated to negative formulation: Europe is not America, not the Orient, and not North Africa," said Michael Zeeman.
So, what then is Europe, in the cultural sense?

"If Europe is anything, it is a cultural concept, characterised by the paradox called 'university in diversity'. Europeans collectively define their culture uncollectively and anyone wanting more information is usually treated to negative formulation: Europe is not America, not the Orient, and not North Africa," said Michael Zeeman.

So, what then is Europe, in the cultural sense? Can it be collectively defined? How and where can the countries of the European Union take part in creating it?

These were the questions that artists, politicians, and thinkers from the Netherlands and Slovakia brought up during a "literary dinner" held on September 7 at the Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum near Bratislava.

Under the title Mind Europe, the event was organised by the Netherlands embassy within the scope of the Netherlands cultural concept of the presidency of the European Union, under the umbrella title Thinking Forward. Slovakia was the first to hold this event for all Netherlands embassies in the 10 new member states that are involved in the project.

The Dutch writer and journalist Michael Zeeman opened the discussion, attempting to identify the complex issue largely sidelined by the EU's mainly political and economic orientation. Two Slovak writers, Pavel Vilikovský and Mila Haugová, added their views on the subject, and the three speeches stirred a very lengthy debate around the table.

"We are not used to discussing culture," said political analyst Samuel Abraham, remarking on the absence of such topics on the European scene. The politician and analyst František Šebej suggested that Europe should forge a constitutional identity like the US, making the states a single cultural entity, since "we have maybe much more in common in cultural identity than political experience." Artist Boris Ondreička remarked that the discussion was being carried in macro-terms, while people are more interested in individual, personal achievements.

The participants analysed individual diversity versus global unity through the topics of identity and history, while broaching new matters for debate.

To best illustrate the prognosis on the cultural integration of the European countries, Zeeman selected the example of Germany - a once unified state before separation, now reunited again after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"We are still very much aware of whether an artist or an everyday person was originally an 'easterner' or westerner'. And if two states and cultures so linked to one another are unable to merge, to become one in a short period of time, how far will we need to lower our expectations for a cultural osmosis to take place between Debrecen in Hungary and Cardiff in Wales?"

The speeches that comprised these discussions will be published in book form and sold throughout Europe.

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