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Symbol of Cultural identity or Delusions of Grandeur? Symbol of Cultural identity or Delusions of Grandeur?
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2012-07-30 09:47:07
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Symbol of Cultural Idendity or Delusions of Grandeur?

Reflections on the Games of the XXX Olympiad vis a vis Europe

“O Ancient immortal Spirit, pure father of beauty, of greatness and of truth, descend, reveal your flash-like-lightning here, within the glory of your own earth and sky…”

                                                  --From the ancient opening invocation for the Olympic games

On July 27, 2012, the day of the opening ceremonies of the XXX Olympiads, the editor of this magazine Thanos Kalamidas wrote a perceptive reflection on the modern Olympics titled “O Tempora o Olympic Mores.” He quotes the beautiful and majestic opening hymn (translated from the Greek) of the ancient Greek Olympics.

As I watched on TV the opening ceremonies in London that ancient hymn kept resonating in my mind. It opens with an address to the Great Spirit. The modern Olympics in contrast has no invocation or appeal to any kind of higher spiritual power whatsoever. It’s as if everything is immanent here on earth and it all depends on man’s efforts. Thus, in comparison those opening ceremonies appear rather inane, devoid of meaning. One is consequently brought back to the critique of the pervasive corruptive influence of money and rampant nationalism of the modern Olympics mentioned in Kalamidas’ piece.

But there is more. The one billion people who watched the parade of nations must have surely noticed that the flag, or the symbol of each nation, preceded each contingent, beginning with Greece where the ancient Olympic began and ending with the host country Great Britain. Of course there was also the Olympic flag ceremoniously carried by world dignitaries among whom the President of the United Nations. It then occurred to me that this event was taking place in the European Union proper. But where was its flag? Nowhere to be seen. This is rather puzzling given that many intellectuals in the EU are now loudly advocating the concept of United States of Europe.

The EU was established in the early 50s but of course Europe as an idea, as Western Civilization, goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, Dante, Petrarch, Humanism, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Christopher Dawson, Husserl, Derrida, Schumann, Monet, De Gasperi, Adenauer, just to mention a few visionaries and eras. Hard to remember all that historical precedent, I suppose, in the midst of a chaotic euro-zone and what some Euro-skeptics consider a crashing Euro project.

Some of the more optimistic intellectuals are now touting Europe as a sporting powerhouse. To their mind, it’s ok to throw out the window unifying phenomena such as religion and spiritual intellectual values since their role as a powerful integrative force can well be substituted by sports. That is to say, soccer games and sports galore shall make us all Europeans. First one forms a union and then one searches for the reasons which brought us together and for the best way to project one’s power, be it soft or hard. The political and the economic are placed before the cultural. That, I have proposed before and I continue to reiterate, is like putting the cart before the horse.

To be sure, I have repeatedly addressed this issue in the pages of Ovi magazine, so let us stay with sports and the EU. There is no doubt that many of today’s best known sports originated in Europe, that the continent is the cradle of the ancient Olympics as well as the modern day Olympic movement which uses athletics as an opportunity to promote peace and understanding among nations and cultures, solidarity, tolerance, fair play, common spiritual and cultural values, team spirit, what is often referred to as “soft power.”  Of course one can hardly propose common values if one forgets what they actually are, as spelled out by the EU founding fathers who conceived this new polity as one emphasizing soft power.

It is also an empirical indisputable fact that had the athletes from the 27 nations of the EU been considered part of the same team belonging to a super-nation, they would have collectively hauled 82 gold medals in 2004; they would certainly have taken the lead in the 2008 Beijing Olympics where the EU’s member states' performance was the best in history both in amount of gold medals and all medals in total won; moreover, in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the EU team would have dominated the competition,” with 31 Gold medals and 108 medals in total.

It is expected that the EU with a total of 27 states will now win some 90 gold medals and about 300 total medals. Will that collective achievement be enough to confirm the EU as a major soft power in the world despite its present financial difficulties? In a larger global context will the London games be seen as a transatlantic response of Western Civilization to the Asian challenge and rise to prominence? Is this even possible, given a lack of pan-European cultural identity and solidarity? The answer is problematic at best, even if the president of the EU Herman Van Rompuy sends congratulatory letters to all the European gold medalists, which indeed he ought to do.

Finally, the question that naturally arises is this: why does not the EU present itself at the Olympic games as the United States of Europe? What has it got to lose? The answer, I am afraid, could be this: good old nationalism! It would in effect be the rejection of nationalism and the acceptance of a transcendent not well understood and badly conceived supra-nationalism. Athletes would no longer be competing for a traditional Queen and country but for a transcendent future idea called European Union. I suppose the likes of Rompuy and Barroso and the other unelected cohorts fail to give much confidence to most EU citizens who fear making  such a leap in the dark that necessitates giving up not only national sovereignty but also a beloved national identity for what they perceive to be a meaningless EU cause.

The myopic politicians and leaders of the EU have not so far explained to the people how one can remain a good Englishman, or French or Italian or Greek proud of one’s regional culture and at the same time be a good European; how the two need not be mutually exclusive. So the people are not buying the idea of a New Europe and a New European.  And that may be the real problem that remains to be explored and debated: the lack of an all encompassing vision on the part of the present leaders of the EU; a vision for which the people are starving and for which circuses and games galore are no substitution.

 


    
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Emanuel Paparella2012-07-30 10:51:27
Footnote: a footnote may be in order here. In the sixties a book came out titled “Eros and Civilization” by Herbert Marcuse. It was read enthusiastically by many college students. One of its proposals was that the Freudian repression of animal instincts and to sublimation which every civilization requires would give way in our times to liberation from all kinds of repressions including that of organized religion; that violent competitions like war would give way to more peaceful competitions via sports. Beautiful utopian ideal indeed, but what happened in reality was the establishment of hippy communes galore where the motto seemed to be “love and do what you wish.” Everybody did what they wished but somehow love did not follow. What followed were aberrations such as Charles Manson’s commune. With all due respect to Marcuse, I think he was rather misguided in his assessment as history has more than confirmed. More on track, I would say was Teilhard de Chardin who proclaimed in his Divine Milieu that the era of nationalism was over and done with, at least if we wished to survive as the human species.


Emanuel Paparella2012-07-30 16:13:15
Errata: the word idendity in the title is mispelled: it should be Identity.


Martin LeFevre 2012-07-30 19:31:18
The global society, and not merely moribund America and Europe, do indeed "lack an all encompassing vision." But "cultural identity and solidarity," offered once again as the solution to Europe's morass (without mention of America's morass) is a mirage made from staring into the mists of the past. It not only no longer exists, it no longer can exist as the glue of our de facto global culture, society, and degenerating civilization.

The United States of Europe' is a straw man. The urgent necessity during this unprecedented challenge is to think anew and have genuine insight, not reach into the grab bag of the past.


Francesco Tampoia 2012-08-01 12:22:01
Dear Emanuel
The European Monnet’s dream seems in contrast to the current and sad reality of today, apparently punctuated by indifference- if not outright opposition- of European citizens to the Union’s political project.
Your contribution, nevertheless, invites me to reflect once more on European identity. The issue has been widely debated. Surely you remember the manifesto appeal for the European Constitution we together wrote about ten years ago, a manifesto-chart of the fundamental rights for the New Europe, a project of a plural identity, a stained identity, a multi-cultural, multifaceted European identity.
Why does not the EU present itself at the Olympic Games as the United States of Europe? What has it got to lose? The answer, I am afraid, could be this: good old nationalism! I fully agree with you. There is today a European identity? What is it the personal identity? What the collective identity? There is still a long way to go.
Francesco


Emanuel Paparella2012-08-01 12:58:40
Dear Francesco,
thank your for this thoughtful reply which continues our ongoing dialogue about the EU; a dialogue we have carried on in Ovi and elsewhere for at least a decade now.

You'd probably concur that whatever solution is found to the present impass of the EU, they will never be reached by neglecting history understood not as archeology (what Henry Ford misguidedly characterized as "bunk')but in a Vichian sense that combines the old and the new as a novantiqua. Without it I am afraid that there will be no Neuropean nor a uber mensch or a for that matter a "new man" either. Stammi bene


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