Anna Punsoda

Anna Punsoda Ricart és llicenciada en periodisme i en filosofia. Va cursar el màster de 'Filosofia i Estudis clàssics' a la UB, on va presentar la seva tesina El pensament social i polític de Joan Maragall -becada per la fundació Joan Maragall. Actualment és professora i traductora de l'alemany i col·labora en diversos mitjans de comunicació com a crítica d'assaig. És ponent de Filosofia de l'Ateneu Barcelonès.

Pedro Olalla: “Political mindsets have much more to do with the life experiences of each generation than with age”

May 25th, 2017 No Comments
Pedro Olalla

Pedro Olalla. © CCCB, 2017. Author: Miquel Taverna.

Writer Pedro Olalla has profound knowledge of Greece. In recent years, he has been a reporter on the life of Greek citizens, who are impacted by the economic crisis and the drastic financial decisions of the European Union. For that reason, and for his background as a Hellenist, which makes him well acquainted with the culture and politics of ancient Greece, Olalla is one of the most informed interlocutors to discuss the meaning of Europe and of democracy. Pedro Olalla visited the CCCB to give a talk titled “The Old Future of Democracy“, and journalist Anna Punsoda interviewed him. In this talk, they comment on the future of an aged continent, on the credibility of European bureaucrats, and on the ability and the responsibility to make decisions that we all have in a democracy.

Anna Punsoda: You believe that direct citizen participation is key to improve the quality of a democracy. In a parliamentary democracy like ours, do I not have the right to delegate my voice on the representatives and forget about public affairs?

Pedro Olalla: [Laughs] Not only do you have the right, but it is virtually the only thing you can do. However, if we give up our involvement in public affairs, we are giving up democracy altogether. You are right that our democracies are representative, but to a dubious extent. Who are our alleged representatives really representing? Democracy, deontologically understood, is based on a high degree of identification between the governors and the governed. And this premise is not met: the distancing between them and us keeps increasing.

Anna Punsoda: Identification? Doesn’t Plato distinguish between three kinds of men, among which the governors would be those in whom the influence of reason is predominant?

Pedro Olalla: In his Republic, Plato was describing an ideal model, not portraying what Athenian democracy was like. Democracy, as a system, is based on engagement, because it aims to bring political power as close as possible to the citizens. If the citizen does not want to exercise that power, if the citizenry as a whole gives up its sovereignty, there will always be someone willing to take over, and possibly they will not be pursuing the general interest. Given that we will not be able to have the full administration of common affairs, if we want to improve our democratic health, we must demand a greater degree of control over what our representatives do. We must demand that our democracies establish mechanisms so that citizens can, through the citizens themselves (and not through professional politicians with party affiliations), fulfil their role of controlling their representatives, following them and removing them from office if they are not working for the general interest.

Anna Punsoda: Isn’t defending your own party the best way to defend democracy?

Pedro Olalla: I don’t think so. For the most part, parties defend sectorial interests, which, to a large extent, condition their existence. In its origins, democracy did not have parties, but our current democracies did not genetically evolve from the original model, the Athenian (which is the one we know the best, thanks to the historical records of Aristotle, Demosthenes, Isocrates and so on). Our democracies stemmed from Roman republicanism, which already in its early days was a representative system, a res publica, a management system to regulate common affairs based on the cursus honorum (course of offices), in which patricians had a considerable privilege. The responsibilities that in Athenian democracy belonged to the Assembly, in Rome fell under the Senate, the consuls and the magistrates —the system was more similar to the current one.

The liberal tradition, which starts with Locke and influences the republic models created after the French and the American revolutions, was a good foundation. That modern republicanism has a promising start, because liberalism back then was a struggle against absolutism, a struggle that sought to give sovereignty back to the people, to respect individual freedoms in the face of the abuses of absolutist power —inherited by bloodline— that monarchic empires represented. But, during a second stage, these new republics shifted towards a defence of the emerging bourgeoisie’s class interests. That is why they came to be known as “bourgeois republics”. From its initial humanist and political spirit, liberalism took a turn towards a sense of economic protectionism, defending the interests of one social class. Political parties were born in that context, during that republicanism, because they are the adequate expression to defend class interests. Our current democracies have inherited this “neorepublican” model. That is why we think parties are the only way to have popular representation. We find them to be natural components of democracy, but they are not, they are a part of its history and, if we are a bit rigorous about it, of its recent history.

Parties have shown that they have certain internal hierarchies, certain promotion mechanisms, which are funded by lobbying groups and serve opaque interests. They block the political scene, avoiding the entrance of smaller groups and adopting a set of attitudes that are obstacles to a true democracy. In order to revitalize democracy, we must demand alternative paths of participation in the decision-making processes.

Pedro Olalla

Pedro Olalla. © CCCB, 2017. Autor: Miquel Taverna.

Anna Punsoda: To what extent is it possible for modern nation states to organise themselves like the Athens of Demosthenes?

Pedro Olalla: Well, it’s not about copying —which is obviously not possible, because Athens had a population of 200,000 people at that point in time. But we must be aware that, back then, it was possible to develop formulas and models that managed to provide the citizens with a political weight that they have not had ever since in history. And they reached that scenario with the means at their disposal, without references from the past, from scratch. How is it, then, that we are not able to regulate formulas to achieve a greater degree of involvement? If we can vote for Eurovision’s winning song in real time, how can we not have a referendum, no matter how large the electorate is? Demography should not hinder the development of formulas that allow for greater citizen participation. That does not mean that a nation state of today has to act with the same tools and parameters that were used in Athenian democracy. However, it is a mistake to think that back then democracy simply came to be in a natural way and that today something similar cannot happen because it would be unnatural. To think that way is to deprive us of a more decent democracy. There are no natural obstacles that make it impossible for us to organise public life differently.

Anna Punsoda: You also speak in negative terms about the professionalisation of politics. When I look for a job, however, they analyse every single detail of my work experience. Why would public affairs require less professionalism than business affairs?

Pedro Olalla: You see, a sort of fallacy has become widespread according to which technical experience equates to political will. Through this fallacy, the population is denied the right to exercise their political will under the argument that they lack the technical experience. Well, do our political representatives have technical experience in all the fields over which they must make decisions? Do they not have their teams of consultants? Can they have an informed opinion on solar energy, geostrategic matters and school programmes? Obviously not, that is why they have their teams and consultants, but their actions are always moved by a political will (which, at times, is not even their own). In the Protagoras, Plato defined political will as a gift distributed across the whole of society. Therefore, we can either defend that it belongs to the whole of society, or we can accept that we lack political will and renounce our self-governance ambitions. If we believe that society as a whole can generate a degree of political will, we have to enable it to do so. It’s not right that, because on an individual level we lack the technical knowledge to make decisions across all the fields at stake, we have to delegate our political will on representatives who do not have that knowledge either and who, all too often, do not take the general interest into consideration in their decision-making. Most of the decisions that must be taken to govern a society are, in essence, ethical decisions —not merely technical—, and the citizenry as a whole is equipped to make them.

Anna Punsoda: Let’s move on to the European project. How is it possible to update it with a generation that has forgotten about the war and the need to find peace through union?

Pedro Olalla: War memory is one of the factors we should consider to assess the success of the European project’s consolidation, but it is not the most relevant one. The current European Union is an attempt to create de iure institutions to consolidate the political and financial power that, de facto, already belongs to certain instances. In reality, the Union’s bureaucrats are not fighting against the possibility of a future war, but rather to consolidate their oligarchic interests, which are opposed to the political and monetary sovereignty of the member states. They are also fighting to move the decision-making centres from national parliaments to supranational instances that are far from democratic. The European Parliament is nothing but the fig leave of the entire project, because the true decisions are not made by democratic institutions —the Commission itself is not a democratic institution, and it is very much subject to the pressure of lobbies. The political and economic group that was created cannot fulfil the old aspirations of Adenauer or Jean Monnet, because it follows other directions.

The Union has lost credibility, even though it is trying to maintain it by all means. When the perverse effects of the financial crises and the financial dependencies hit, we began to rethink the convenience of such a structure. We began to see how certain lobbies and political sectors —the neoliberal hard core— had progressively appropriated the project to grant themselves a de iure power that they had always been exercising de facto. This goes against our fundamental rights. The memoranda that these institutions forced Greece to sign over the last few years go against the Union’s original right, against International Law, against Human Rights (decent work, housing, health…), and against major social achievements (social security, collective agreements, eight-hour workdays, etc.). They are incompatible with the rule according to a higher law and with democracy.

Anna Punsoda: Is it a theft, rather than a collapse of the system?

Pedro Olalla: It has been an intentional act. The idea that things degenerate spontaneously and impersonally is false, but it has been the method devised to dilute concrete responsibilities into a collective responsibility. When certain laws are signed, when certain institutions are created, and when a treaty with Canada or the United States is signed, there are specific people to be held accountable; we cannot simply say, “That is how history goes”. The truth is that the western capitalist system has been triggering the two phenomena that humanity must avoid if it wants to survive: the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few, and the accumulation of political power in the hands of a small minority. There are specific people, with names and surnames, who can be held accountable for that process.

Anna Punsoda: Another issue you talk about is how the system promotes a negative view of the old age.

Pedro Olalla: That’s correct. The terms in which the system of world domination expresses itself are still those of productivity. And the old age is seen as a marginal, subsidiary collective, a parasite of the State that is increasingly becoming a problem because it exists and grows. If we take this stance, we assume a position of weakness towards the system, because we will end up feeling guilty for living too long or for retiring. Politics should be something that stems from society to achieve happiness, and not an external system imposed to society and demanding that everyone adapt to serve it. If society changes —it grows older—, politics and the way we tackle problems will have to change as well. Guilt makes it impossible for us to evolve towards a political system that allows the elderly to live decently and as a part of society.

Anna Punsoda: It is often said that we grow more conservatives with time and that, as a consequence, certain parties have given up the possibility of politically addressing the old age.

Pedro Olalla: The notion that we become more conservatives and fearful with time has been induced by the system and must be reconsidered. Political mind-sets have much more to do with the life experiences of each generation than with age. The grandmothers at the Plaza de Mayo embody a progressive political view. And, conversely, neo-Nazi parties are filled with young people. We must leave aside age-related stereotypes to have a fairer view of each age group. And we must also put an end to the feelings of guilt and resignation. Elderly people must stop seeing themselves as a collective that hopes for the State’s mercy.

Anna Punsoda: A guilt that we inherited from the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Pedro Olalla: I am just saying that it is an induced feeling. Tremendous, “Goebbelian” efforts have been made to transfer a sense of political accountability to the people. In Greece, for instance, the State has systematically fostered a sense of guilt —”We all made a mess”— with the aim of diluting the individual responsibility of decision-makers into an allegedly collective responsibility. Given that everyone has something to hide, it is really easy to induce that conscience, which keeps people from analysing concrete responsibilities. The discourse that claims that “We lived beyond our means”, “We drained public services” and so on, seeks to conceal many accountabilities, and creates a submissive population that is willing to accept whatever punishment. How can it be that, having put us through a rescue plan with a debt that was 120% the size of our GDP, and escalated to 185% in six years despite so many material and personal sacrifices, we still keep our heads down and say that we must resist, because “There is no other way”? They have succeeded in thoroughly neutralising the population’s spirit of protest, the right to demand true accountability to those who hold it. If they are representatives, they must answer to society. It is unacceptable that some became representatives in order to benefit from the privileges and then, as soon as things went wrong, they diluted their responsibility.

Marta Segarra: “We want to possess the other and end up dispossessing ourselves”

March 2nd, 2017 No Comments

To what extent is desire—which, at first sight, seems to be a phenomenon of the impulses connecting humans with animality—culturally conditioned? How do clichés about femininity affect a woman’s attitude to life and the decisions she makes? How much room have women had to discover their desire in a cultural and sexual history written by men? We speak with Marta Segarra, Professor of French Literature and Gender Studies at the University of Barcelona and director of the Women and Literature Centre.

Marta Segarra a la conferència Desig i subversió © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2017

Marta Segarra in the lecture Desire and Subversion © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2017

Desire in accordance with cultural patterns, and not only those which shape education and reading but everything we absorb on a daily basis, more or less unconsciously.

Anna Punsoda: Love is cultural and desire is natural.

Marta Segarra: Yes, love is a cultural construct. Of course it’s not understood the same way now as it was five hundred years ago, or in Barcelona as it is in Dakar. But desire isn’t natural either. We tend to think that it’s instinctive, impulse-driven, or natural, as you say. But we also desire in accordance with cultural patterns, and not only those which shape education and reading but everything we absorb on a daily basis, more or less unconsciously.

For me, the most obvious cultural pattern is that which pushes us towards heterosexuality. We think it’s natural for men to desire women, and for women to desire men when, in fact, things aren’t always like that. Obviously. Culture pushes us into a kind of heterosexuality which some theorists have called “obligatory heterosexuality”. Affections, but also sexuality, are marked by cultural patterns which nowadays are mainly conveyed by audiovisual stories, in films, television, advertising and the new social networks.

AP: Speaking of patterns, in your essay Políticas del deseo (Politics of Desire) you contrast two archetypical women, the biblical Mary and Eve. What do these archetypes represent and who do they serve?

MS: To begin with, they are a clear example of how, in the West, our thought has always been constructed in a binary fashion. Good and Evil. Body and Soul. Pure Love and Sexual Love. Hence, two models have been promoted in the gender of “woman”: the good woman—mother and, moreover, virgin or, in other words, bearer of life without ever having felt sexual desire—and Eve, who would be the first femme fatale in history, the woman who entices the man into materialism, who leads him to damnation through the power of her attraction. Eve is temptation and death because expulsion from paradise symbolises the introduction of mortality into the history of humankind. This pattern, which takes conceptual shape in the nineteenth century, is very old. And it has a very clear message: desire brings disaster. This is the legend of Carmen, the woman who doesn’t fall in love but is so attractive to a whole range of men that she ends up spreading death and pain.

AP: And this idea of the seductive, manipulative woman who is well aware of the effect of her charms, doesn’t it contradict the cliché that presents us with woman as a childish creature dominated by telluric forces?

MS: It certainly does. This latter idea is a commonplace which paradoxically gained ground in the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment. We are told that, because of her body, her anatomy, woman is closer to what is natural and this is because femininity is bound to maternity. According to this idea, man is exempt from this and he can therefore sublimate the link with nature through reason and rise above material contingency. 

“The female artist has often been presented as the archetypical bad mother because she devotes herself to art—or her job, or whatever—going beyond the bounds of the role that nature has allegedly assigned her.”

AP: So woman has always been represented the eternal element, the basis of things and man the complement, namely progress.

MS: Yes, and precisely in this sense we have the classical conceptual opposition between procreation and creation. Maria Àngels Anglada deals with this in a poem called “Una resposta” (An Answer). These two activities have been seen as mutually exclusive for many centuries. A lot of women have internalised it and are convinced that their role in the world is first and foremost one of transmission, continuity and family care. The female artist has often been presented as the archetypical bad mother because she devotes herself to art—or her job, or whatever—going beyond the bounds of the role that nature has allegedly assigned her.

Marta Segarra i Merri Torras a la conferència Desig i subversió © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2017

Marta Segarra and Merri Torras in the lecture Desire and Subversion © CCCB, Miquel Taverna, 2017

AP: And aren’t there clichés, like the one that presents the woman as “she who receives (man, children, etc.)” based on biology?

MS: Well, that depends what you want to emphasise. The woman can also be “she who expels”. In fact, Marguerite Duras has a whole theory about giving birth (the first expulsion) as primordial movement. Think about how the social structure would be affected if, instead of having imposed the story of the “body that receives”, it had instituted the one of the “body that expels”.

AP: What space has woman had to discover her desire?

MS: For centuries the dominant discourse has claimed that man desires and woman is the object of desire. Freudian psychoanalysis reinforced this idea. The only role that women could have was passive. In Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century some women—still only a few—demonstrated, through the way they lived, the possibilities of breaking bounds, of living their desire according to their own parameters. But we begin to discover ourselves with the feminist movements of the 1970s. “Our body is ours” is a demand that has to be understood in this sense, as a possibility of shunning stereotypes of femininity with the aim of discovering our own desire.

AP: Unlike love, which has been seen as a means of transcendence, desire tends to be presented as a state of anxiety and yearning to possess.

MS: Yes, but it’s not so simple. Sometimes desire becomes the desire to possess but, then again, since it pushes us into a state of crisis as subjects, it shakes us up profoundly and it is our “undoing”. We want to possess the other and end up dispossessing ourselves. In this regard, the effects of desire are interesting because they lead to a crisis in the autonomy and self-sufficiency of the subject whose limits become problematic.

AP: There is ethical desire.

MS: That’s one way of putting it. For example, in Undoing Gender Judith Butler presents sexuality as one of the ways or one of the human domains in which it is easier to “undo oneself”, to break through the limits that isolate us as individuals. We open up to the other, to our difference from the other, which is to say difference in the broad sense.

AP: And the sexualisation of everything, the constant presence of stimuli, how does that affect desire?

MSHypersexualisation is a way of channelling desire within very specific constraints. Yes, we emerged from centuries of repression as European society was very puritan in centuries of the past. But present-day “sexualisation” doesn’t necessarily means that the possibilities of desire are opened up. The 1970s feminist discourse on liberation has been reabsorbed by power and the logic of capitalism in order to boost consumption. Liberation per se is not subversive. Desire per se is not subversive. In fact, it’s possible, too, as we are seeing in many cases, that “liberation” and desire are not causing any crisis in the structures of power but, rather, are reinforcing them.

Marta Segarra collaborates in several debates and CCCB programmes about the role of women in society. You can consult all the contents related to the author on the CCCB website.

Joan-Francesc Mira: “The Mediterranean isn’t a zone of harmony. It’s a zone of conflict”

February 1st, 2017 No Comments

I tell Joan-Francesc Mira that the 2017 “Barcelona Debate”, “Old Europe, New Utopias” discusses, among other matters, whether there is a relationship between the ageing of the European population and the ageing of the European project. He gives me a severe look and says that the correlation might work intuitively but, on paper, it’s not so clear. We talk about identities, of clean people and people who defile, of cities that triumph and fail, of Napoleon, Adenauer and the feats and villainy of Mitterrand.

Joan Francesc Mira al CCCB © CCCB, 2016, Glòria Solsona

Joan Francesc Mira at CCCB © CCCB, 2016, Glòria Solsona

AP: Lyon, Avignon, Ravenna and Montpellier, the cities you mentioned in your lecture “Dante and Llull: Cultures, Languages and Worlds”, citing them as important urban centres in the lives of these two thinkers, now play no role in Europe. Do the political splendour and cultural splendour of cities go together? 

Joan Francesc Mira: On the one hand, they do. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, London was only relatively important on the European scale, and more in dynastic than economic or cultural terms. Hamburg, Amsterdam and Vienna didn’t have the importance they would later attain. Berlin, needless to say, only began to figure towards the end of the eighteenth century. Munich was something else. So was Prague. The more you move down, the more important the urban centres were. Milan began its rise with that of the Visconti family. Venice, yes, was important in every domain, especially in trade with the East. And Florence was a great centre of finance.

The European cities of the north didn’t yet have the power they would acquire after the industrial revolution. But, on the other hand, I also cited Paris, which was an extremely important centre in the ninth and tenth centuries. The French dynasty wielded so much power that it even began to overshadow the papacy. Moreover, with its university, Paris was a great centre of philosophical and theological authority.

Vista de la universitat de la Sorbona en 1550. CC Edward August, Fourquemin, Nousveaux

University of the Sorbonne view in 1550. CC Edward August, Fourquemin, Nousveaux

You need to remember that neither Llull nor Dante thought in global terms, as we do now. For Dante, Naples was something remote. His itinerary took him to Rome, which was important but, demographically speaking, it only had 30,000 inhabitants. Valencia, by the time the Borjas arrived, already had twice as many inhabitants.

So, the answer is yes and no. It’s not that the cities of Ramon Llull and Dante were very important, though they had a lot of autonomy in the political realm and this made them stand out with their intrigues, military pacts and trade agreements. But the active life of these cities isn’t the same as their real significance.

AP: What kind of relations did these Mediterranean cities have?

JFM: Conflict. The Mediterranean isn’t a zone of harmony. It’s a zone of conflict. It was only under the Roman Empire that there was unity among the Mediterranean peoples. The territorial unity came to an end with the barbarian invasions and the expansion of Islam with its religious unity. We are still living in a duality, with a south—North Africa and the Middle East —of Semitic, Islamised origins, and a European, Christian north.

But we need to be careful about Christian Europe. Recall that the Turks reached the gates of Vienna at the end of the seventeenth century and that Hungary, which is now part of Central Europe, belonged to the Turkish Empire for centuries.

“Europe is an ideological product of the Enlightenment and romanticism”

AP: There is no millenarian European Christian identity.

JFM: Well, the Turks and the “Europeans” thought in terms of Christendom rather than Europe. Europe was then a geographical reference, as America was to become. Europe is an ideological product of the Enlightenment and romanticism and, above all, of the twentieth century when attempts were made to reinterpret history in terms of the identity of an old project that never existed.

The old project which certainly was important was that resulting from the breakup of the Roman Empire. In the eastern Empire, where Constantine built the new capital in Constantinople—the ancient Byzantium which was later to become Istanbul—they still spoke Greek and had a Christianised Greek culture, which then became part of the Slavic world. This Greek Empire developed a kind of Caesaropapism, a structure in which civil authority—the Byzantine emperor—was also the religious authority. In the Western Empire there was no unified civil authority. This was only recovered with Charlemagne but then it fell apart again.

AP: And this means…

JFM: An eastern Christendom and a western Christendom with totally different characteristics. It’s also explained by the evolution of cities, as you mentioned. In the east there were no urban communes in the style of Florence or Barcelona with, for example the community councils, autonomy, codes of law, statutes, regulated trade and universities. There were no medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment or bourgeois universities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Although they were frequently ruled by a king, the autonomous Mediterranean communes were the forerunners of representative democracy. Or culturally speaking, Dante was a pre-humanist and was interested in the ancient Roman model, an ethical, ideological and aesthetic model which is independent from the Christian model. Here, there is an independence of thought and aesthetics vis-à-vis sacred doctrine, an autonomy which never existed in eastern Christianity.

«Putin ha reactivado la hostilidad oriental contra el occidentalismo»

AP: And where does this western Christianity begin and end?

JFM: Well, wherever there’s a gothic cathedral, there’s been this whole kind of western culture and society. Take, for example, the idea of studying law or medicine at the university. The university gives you a licence to teach, or it recognises you as a doctor or, in other words, it endows you with the capacity to establish doctrine. All of this represents a very specific mentality, kind of politics, artistic expressions and way of living extending from Finland to Venice, and including the Croatian coast (indeed, what is now Dubrovnik was the Republic of Ragusa in Italian culture).

Putin is bringing about a revival of this difference between the two worlds and the Orthodox Church is recognising him as a kind of tsar, as the authority over the church. He is the great backer of universal reactionism. He finances Marine Le Pen, Hungarian reactionism, the adversaries of the European Union and the restoration of the monasteries on Mount Athos. He has reignited eastern hostility against Occidentalism.

AP: Occidentalism is also a strange concept. For many centuries—and, in fact, it seems like a cyclical phenomenon—it was believed that there was a gulf between Latin and Anglo-Saxon cultures which was impossible to bridge.

JFM: This has a real basis. In the beginning it was an ethnic contrast: Romans versus Germanic “barbarians”. But the peoples were slowly mixing and, by the Late Middle Ages, the division no longer mattered. But what happened is that there was a resurgence because the two peoples embarked on different forms of economic evolution. The people of the north began to prosper and modernise more quickly. There is a kind of mercantile capitalism that works better there because there is more economic freedom. In the protestant zone, in particular, the activation of an advanced urban culture was faster, with cleaner, tidier and better organised cities. And after the eighteenth century, this gave rise to different ways of life and forms of collective consciousness. Nevertheless, a citizen of Hamburg, or Rotterdam or London or Edinburgh will mistakenly still keep seeing us as a backward people.

AP: And, despite these differences, there has been an attempt to construct a European identity.

JFM: The first to try it was Napoleon but, naturally, not out of any ideological conviction regarding some kind of European culture. What he wanted was to give a historical or cultural veneer to his military empire. After him the Nazis tried it, mainly because of their opposition to the Soviet Union which, for them, represented Asian peoples. During the Second World War, this opposition you noted between north and south was superseded by an opposition between east and west.

The idea of Europe as a political structure built by communal agreement between different peoples made its appearance after the Second World War. Since the eighteenth century with its Thirty Years’ War, we have never stopped killing each other. Europe is sixty years old and it was designed to bring peace.

.

Quadre Entry of Napoleon I into Berlin, 27th October 1806. CC C. Meynie, 1810

Entry of Napoleon I into Berlin, 27th October 1806. CC C. Meynie, 1810

AP: Also, maybe, so that its countries could play a role in the global world. 

JFM: No. You have to see it from within. In 1945, for the first time in two centuries, Germany was totally destroyed and occupied. Only then could it be submitted to a union which—or so the other countries believed—would lessen its power. In fact, the first attempt was the European Cole and Steel Community. Why? Because if you control the production and use of steel, you control the war industry. Without that control, you can’t deploy your own heavy weapons. Hence, this was the definitive proof of Germany’s good faith: steel production had to be submitted to the scrutiny of a supranational authority.

Remember that in 1946 and 1947 the Germans lost more than a third of their territory. That means fourteen or fifteen million Germans expelled from what is now Poland or the Czech Republic or the Königsberg zone—which is now Russian—and subsequently taken in by East Germany. Now we are scandalised by the 400,000 Palestinians uprooted by the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, but the neighbouring Arab countries were never able to take them in.

«The three great ideological and political fathers of the Union were Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman»

AP: Let’s go back to Germany’s weakness? Who benefits?

JFM: Who indeed! The ones who joined the Union as a dominant power were the French who, despite the myth of the resistance and de Gaulle, had lost the war. By means of the Union, they tried to control the Germans and, moreover, gratify their craving for historic grandeur.

The three great ideological and political fathers of the Union were Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman, all three of them from borderlands, or of mixed origins, and all German speakers. By this I mean that Adenauer came from the most French-influenced part of Germany, De Gasperi was a northern Italian born in the old Austria-Hungary, and Schuman was a Frenchman of German origin. Forty years on, Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand would represent the spiritual European reconciliation. Mitterrand was a great politician and also a great crook who protected French war criminals who had worked with the Nazis. But he was a great politician who was able to see that the time had come to consolidate the project.

AP: ¿Quo vadis, Europa?

JFM: Well look, first of all, since the end of the communist era there has been an impressive resurrection of the Christian faith right across orthodox Europe. And not just in Putin’s Russia. Don’t forget that Tsipras is in power thanks to an ultra-nationalist, ultra-religious and ultra-Greek party supported by both the military and the church.

In our Europe everything is more uncertain. I wouldn’t say that there is a revival of Catholic religious practice here. There’s a permanent need for some kind of religion but religion has been replaced by absurd esoteric beliefs. And there’s also a wave of evangelical Protestantism coming from South America and the United States. This is very reactionary, totally literal in its interpretation of the Bible, completely divorced from the original Protestantism, and increasingly visible. Then again, there are 45 million Muslims in Europe with beliefs akin to those of the most rigorous Christians centuries ago. And this has a potential for mobilisation that is lacking the values on which our democracies are founded, as is demonstrated by the way we have to confront jihadist attacks. I don’t know about the future, but this will be the linchpin. I don’t like having to say it. But that’s the way things are.

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August 31st, 2016 No Comments

(Català) Jordi Puntí al Ritz de les lletres

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