October 23, 2005


The identity crisis facing Europe (Chris Morris, 10/22/05, BBC)

There is a resolutely glum mood in Europe at the moment. Economies have stagnated, the EU has hit the institutional buffers, and change often seems to be regarded more as threat than as opportunity.

Lest we forget though we have been living through a time of extraordinary success.

To travel to the great cities of central Europe in the last few years, to Prague, to Warsaw and to Budapest, has been to witness the rebirth of confident European roots which had been suppressed for nearly half a century under Communism.

Europe has grown wider at the same time that it has struggled to go deeper.

But where will it all end?

What, today, does it mean to be a European?

Thoughts of that glass tower in the woods have come back to me in the last few weeks as we have seen fierce debates about Turkey starting talks on EU membership, and about the flood of migrants from Africa and Asia trying to get into Europe, and about the migrant communities who are already here.

It is all about who is a European and who is not.

It is rather different on the other side of the Atlantic.

Anyone can be an American. It does not matter where you are from.

There are Japanese Americans, Lithuanian Americans, Arab Americans and so on.

When we lived in Washington we used to buy our precious stocks of Marmite, rather unexpectedly, from the El Salvadorian shop on 17th Street.

"I'm not an El Salvadorian any more," the owner used to say, "I'm an El Salvadorian American."

Quite a mouthful, but there was no denying what it meant to him. Not a minority, but part of the mainstream.

In Europe we have British Asians, German Turks.

But note the difference.

In the US the emphasis is the other way around, they are not American Poles but Polish Americans.

Americans first and foremost, implying a sense of belonging and of acceptance which Europe sometimes struggles to emulate. I think it is because we live in a continent still trying to define its identity.

You mean you can't build a common culture around secular rational individualism?

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2005 9:09 AM

It means you can't assimilate immigrants when your nation is defined by race.

Posted by: Brandon at October 23, 2005 10:04 AM

They've already defined themselves by what they aren't - Americans.

Posted by: Sandy P at October 23, 2005 11:44 AM

Down with hyphens! We're all Americans here.

Posted by: tefta at October 23, 2005 12:45 PM

"I think it is because we live in a continent still trying to define its identity."
They've only been working on it for 2500+ years. What's the rush?

Posted by: jd watson [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 23, 2005 1:48 PM

Not only that, but everytime someone tries to impose a single identity on Europe, a lot of people die. (Napolean, various Germans from Frederick Barbarosa on, or even Joe Stalin.)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 23, 2005 3:09 PM

Well, you certainly can't build a common culture around secular rational socialism, which I'd say is a more accurate description of most of Europe.

Posted by: PapayaSF at October 23, 2005 5:55 PM


The one follows from the others.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2005 6:36 PM


Constantine succeeded admirably. Europe's comkmon culture is Christian and Grecco-Roman.

Posted by: oj at October 23, 2005 6:41 PM

Charlemagne did pretty well, but he wasn't relying on secular arguments or secular power.

Posted by: ratbert at October 23, 2005 11:14 PM