Europe and its Greek Legacy

Europe is a continent with somewhat unclear borders and with a historic tendency to decompose itself into various National, ethnic or religious elements. The present situation, with a European Union of 27 states and a Council of Europe with 47 member states is unique in history. We are all aware that this splendid idea of a Europe in peace and cooperation and with far-going ambitions of integration was born out of the ruins of World War II. The European idea was conceived by the chock of the most disastrous war in history. The positive vision was born out of a nightmare.

The recent – or still ongoing – financial crisis has revived several old tendencies and gut reactions of Nationalism in the financial markets, in the labour market, in the car industry and in several other fields, including “the man in the street”.  The latest Eurobarometer indicates clearly that European citizens have less confidence in the EU than a few years ago. We have all been reminded of the fragility of the “European House”.

The reason for this fragility is of course that Europe is an Idea rather than a strong physical reality. This idea was also not very distinctly formulated by our Greek ancestors and their mythology. As you all know, “Europe” first was a Phoenician princess who was kidnapped by Zeus in the disguise of a bull. But “Europe” for the ancient Greeks also became all countries to the West and to the North of Greece, just like all countries to the East were named “Asia”.

So, whatever geopolitical developments the continent has gone through in the last 2500 years, Europe owes its very name to the Greeks. That is already an important reason to celebrate our Greek legacy. But more important is that so much of what we would today call European Civilisation, European Culture and European Heritage has its roots in ancient Greece.

The concept “Europe” has been hijacked during many periods of history – for a very long time by the Catholic Church (“Europe” = Christianity with Rome at the centre), later even by persons like Napoleon and Hitler. But Europe as an Idea of Democracy and Human Rights was revived in the Enlightenment and now, after the terrors of World Wars and the fall of 20th Century dictatorships, represents the ideological basis for the European Union. To many citizens it may not be very attractive to have a bureaucracy in Brussels as the carrier of these strong and noble values but if we wish Democracy, we will have to accept a certain amount of bureaucratic structures implementing democratic decisions.

Although ancient Greek Democracy 2500 years ago did not last long – only about one generation – and although women and slaves were not included in the democratic procedures, this experiment remains a strong and relevant model. The great philosophers had diverse opinions. For instance Aristoteles was an advocate of a Democracy as opposed to Monarchy, whereas Plato was more sceptical towards the experiment which had been tried in various cities just before his lifetime. But their comments on these events, on governance and on Society have guided us until today.

The philosophers and mathematicians, the architects, the artists and sculptors, the authors and playwrights, the actors and singers are all immortal and have presented us with inexhaustible sources of wisdom and creativity. This enormous cultural heritage – material as well as non-material – is what ancient Greece gave Europe and the rest of the world. It is worth noting that, particularly through the long Byzantine period, Greek law, Greek music and arts and the Greek language survived millenniums of political turbulence and foreign rule and that Greek culture today is a continuation of classic Greece. In a historic perspective the values and the cultural heritage is what remains, not the political intrigues and economic calculations. This is probably still true for Europe today.

The European Cultural Parliament, ECP, gives priority to ethical and aesthetic values as   essence of the European society. It was important for members last year to discuss quality in arts and media in a period when many politicians tend to see culture as an instrument rather than the heart of society. The ECP always tries to look forward. Our  members (everybody representing only himself/herself) are  inspiring each other and people back home in their “constituencies” or in their International networks to “think European” in their creative work.

We are aware that the ECP is promoting two different European visions:

- The European Union as a strong global “Soft Power”, defending not only political cooperation and economic and ecologic development, but above all human rights, democracy and free movement of people and ideas,

- Europe (with the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe) as not only a geographical concept but also a common cultural heritage and a common market for creativity. Culture cannot make stop at the border of the EU. For Europe in this broader sense Culture may be the strongest comparative advantage.

Both these European visions are important for the ECP members. Our Greek legacy is not only a reminder of a glorious past but should also inspire us to discuss the future of Europe in a deeper philosophical, democratic, artistic and human perspective. The importance of Culture is increasing in European life. Even the EU Commission has realised that and produced relevant statistics to this effect. When we gather at Pnyka (“the hill of the nymphs”) for our concluding declaration on Sunday 19 September, we will stand on the place which was the principal assembly of Democracy in ancient Athens.

In these postmodern times there is no harm in reminding ourselves and reminding young scholars that perhaps there was a European debate, a European discussion, a European discourse even before Michel Foucault. But the question remains: “Is Europe just a museum?” Are we jeopardizing dynamics, innovation and creativity in Europe through paying exaggerated attention to our cultural heritage? Is Europe lagging behind or are we in the forefront? The classical environment offered by Athens should inspire participants to reflect seriously on such issues.

“Europe and its Greek Legacy” will be the theme for five plenary debates during the 9th Session. It will be discussed both in the perspective of “European ideas” and in the perspective of “European arts”. There will be key-note speeches, panels and general debate. Members are encouraged to take an active part and contribute to the debate. On Sunday 19 September, after a final plenary session, the ECP might wish to make a declaration on the findings of the debates and the four workshops.

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