Debate: We, the lost European people

6 March 2013 – The New York Times (New York)

More Europe could help our continent out of the crisis, but we would still have to create the Europeans. We must encourage education, cultural exchanges and political initiatives to recover the sense of common destiny that we lost last century, argues a French journalist.

So Greece didn’t collapse, and Europe began breathing easier. But not for long. Italy’s rebellious voters, who opted for a flamboyant billionaire and a clown, reminded us how deeply in crisis the continent is. Meanwhile, France is going it virtually alone in Mali, and Britain talks openly of jumping the European ship altogether. This is a crisis not just of Europe’s currency, but of its soul.

If there ever was an emerging vision of a united Europe, it is falling apart for lack of support from its various peoples. Each has its own resentments or suspicions of its partners. But all suffer the same lack: very few of their citizens think of themselves first as Europeans.

How could this be? The history of Europe’s past half-century is usually depicted as step after step toward a common future. But maybe, to understand where we are now, the story should start earlier — not with the coalescing of France and Germany in the 1960s but with the model of Europe in the decade before the calamity of 1914.

In important ways, the Europe of 1913 was more cosmopolitan and European than the Europe of today. Ideas and nationalities mingled and converged in a hotbed of creativity. That year saw the height of Futurism, the beginnings of abstraction in Picasso and Braque, the debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, the publication of Swann’s Way by Proust. Collaborations to uncover science’s deepest secrets jumped borders easily. The architecture of imperial Austria and republican France found imitators in smaller gems of cities throughout central and southern Europe; they were called Little Vienna or Little Paris.

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