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We share a European heritage, we do not own parts of it
by Christos Mouzeviris
2015-03-06 10:52:23
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When we are trying to discuss or explain national identity or its negative side-nationalism- we tend to focus on the things that separate us from other nations. Like our ancestors' achievements, our art, cuisine and language, as well as events that marked our country's history.

But when we try to analyze what means to be Polish, Greek, German of a Spaniard and what makes us so special or different than others, there are often disagreements.

The reason of course is that our continent has been divided and partially united so many times, that the ethnic and cultural lines are blurred after all these centuries. Many great civilizations and empires on our continent clashed in its long history, and from their shatters new nations were born.

Europe's borders were ever shifting and its people were also constantly on the move. And as it is in human nature to copy others and exchange ideas, Europe has created a unique mosaic of cultures that are so different, yet so similar to each other.

In fact, Europe's cultural richness and diversity derives from the constant moving, meddling and mixing of its peoples and cultures. And today it is one of our advantages, when compared to other regions.

If we try to analyze each nation's cultural or genealogical elements, we will realize that our modern nations are the result of this everlasting mixing, mingling and intermarrying of our ancestors.

heri01_400It is this cultural diversity that created all of the ancient civilizations that we know. There was simply no "pure" ethnic group or culture in human history whatsoever, apart perhaps the ever wondering tribes-people.

For example Ancient Greece, which was the result of the migration and mixing of the Greek tribes, that conquered and assimilated the previous inhabitants of the southern Balkan peninsula, was not a homogeneous nation as we understand it today.

It was since then debated who was of Greek origin and if a city state or kingdom was agreed to be one, then in was allowed to participate in the Olympic games. Back then these games was an agreed reference of "Greekness," just as today we are trying to define our "Europeaness" by identifying a common set of values.

Similar debates are taking place today. For example about how European Turkey or the nations of the Caucasus region are and if they should join the European Union. Many identify a nation as "European", if it is located in what is perceived to be the geographical region of Europe, plus if it is a Christian nation.

Others have a different point of view. For some, "European" is not necessarily Western or Christian, as there are European Muslims in the Balkans. Besides, the region of Anatolia, used to be part of the Hellenistic and Roman Empires and was heavily colonized by their people.

Thus for many individuals these nations have undoubtedly inherited European heritage, through their historic links with the rest of the continent.

It is not uncommon to encounter many other disputes in Europe too, over names, products, customs, historic sites, cuisine or beverages. That is partially understandable given the number of times Europeans had to fight against each other, while keep redefining their identity each time an empire collapsed.

If only we could see things through a different perspective. Bringing as an example the region I originally come from-the Balkans- the most underdeveloped region of Europe and the most volatile, we could see how misled our nationalism is.

The richest region of Europe historically, is the poorest financially. And the reason is because its inhabitants haven't managed yet to overcome their complexes and settle old disputes.

If only every Turk, Bulgarian, Albanian, Greek, Serb, or Slavomacedonian realized that they share a common Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Slavic and Ottoman heritage and instead of fighting over it, they should be proudly promoting it to the rest of the world.

Instead of that, each nation is entering a never-ending debate over absurd "ownership rights" of the region's greatest exports and achievements.

The Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires, were multinational and multicultural melting pots. There might have been a dominant ethnic group in most of them, but their achievements can never be limited or monopolized by one nation.

The influences that created the heritage of these empires, were extracted by every single ethnic group living within their borders.

And so now we have the same type of food or beverage, being popular across this region, yet in every country is being served as a national dish.

The ancient ruins of the former civilizations that existed in this part of Europe, can be undoubtedly classified as Greek, Roman, or of any other culture of the antiquity. However they should not be a hot-spot of debate or dispute.

Anyone can recognize artifacts of the Greco-Roman civilizations, yet they do not solely belong to the heritage of the modern states of Greece or Italy; but also to the countries that they are discovered within.

They are part of the collective heritage of the whole region of the Balkans and the Middle East. The Ancient Greeks and Romans, left their mark and influence throughout these lands, thus these artifacts are only a manifestation of this fact.

As long of course the nations in which their discovery takes place, do not try to alter historic facts by presenting them as their own, to serve their nationalist propaganda in an effort of national self determination.

I would be very proud to see one day other nations like Turkey and FYROM, proudly exhibiting their Greek heritage and not necessarily be intimidated by the fact that Greeks inhabited their lands in the past. The whole of Europe claims Greek heritage and Greece's neighbors have been exposed obviously the most to it.

Equally so, the Greeks should accept and be proud of their Ottoman heritage. The fact that they were subjects to an empire dominated by a different ethnic group, does not take away from their "Greekness". It actually contributes and enhances the country's cultural and historic diversity.

We were all part of four very rich, powerful and influential empires, that defined Europe and its history for thousands of years. That is a fact that should be uniting us, not dividing us. If we think about it, we got more things in common that we want to believe.

Of course such issues do not affect the Balkans only, but they can be found throughout Europe; especially in regions that old powerful empires have been established, like the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Yet other nations have been a bit more successful in dealing with their common heritage. No one disputes for example that the Vikings originated from Scandinavia and who they were.

So while today the Scandinavian nations claim Viking ancestry, other regions like Ireland claim their heritage too, without entering into any disputes.

Ireland has been colonized by the Vikings, as well as many other regions like Britain, Northern France and Russia. While these countries are including and promoting their Viking heritage, they do not try to claim it as their own, alter it or the historic facts that are evident from the Viking colonization of their lands.

Similarly, many nations that share a Celtic heritage (like Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Britain) instead of fighting over it, they have created numerous heritage events, celebrating their common music and culture.

These cultural events should be promoted in every region with common historic and cultural links, but also throughout Europe. If something ever is going to unite the European continent, it definitely won't be a single currency or market.

All Europe's regions have inherited more than one heritage. We are a continent with a very rich history and culture, but that should not stand in the way of creating a diverse and competitive continent. We should be including these elements in the creation of the Europe of the future.

Besides, we Europeans love our history and heritage so much and it is evident in our folklore, the movies that we watch and every corner of our cities and countryside. We could never have a Europe without them.

They are also very attractive to so many tourists from all over the world, making our tourism industry vital to our overall economy.

To conclude, more needs to be done to promote our shared European heritage. It can be used to end disputes across the continent, unite all nations and regions and provide a vital life-line to our economy through tourism. How could we exclude or overlook our true wealth from our future?

It can also be a reference of inspiration instead of promoting nationalism and bigotry, if we study it with our eyes open. Our nations were created, prospered and developed, because of the constant cultural exchanges and ethnic mixing, not because of the absolute exclusion of anything "foreign".


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Emanuel Paparella2015-03-06 15:06:46
Indeed, as we have found out the hard way in the USA (which has a heavy component of European immigrants and European culture) that the metaphor of the mosaic or the symphony works much better than that of the melting pot in identifying and/or building a culture; that diversity is integral part of any democratic polity. On the other hand, one must also identify the centripetal forces that keep a culture together and give it a unique identity, Language and religion seem to be essential as cultural glue. A common language (while respecting and retaining the regional dialects and sub-languages) goes a long way in explaining the unity that exists in several hyper-nations. When it is missing, all the more religion assumes importance. The mistake of secularism (so called laicitè) aided by positivism is to think that religion can be easily dispensed with from the public square, or at the very least relegated to the private sphere: one hour of worship in a church on Sunday. The founding fathers of the EU knew better, such a stance was a cultural mistake and would ensure neither unity nor solidarity. One wonders if today’s Europeans are in any way aware of the ancient and traditional principles on which the EU founding fathers built the idea of Europe. I’d like to think so, but the phenomenological evidence to the contrary is too massive makes me a skeptic at times. In any case Western culture (which is evidenced in various parts of the world) is one characterized by various intermittent Renaissances: hope springs eternal as the resurrection paradigm would suggest…

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