I recently launched PhDelicious, a collaborative blog mainly aimed at an attempt to create a sense of community among (PhD) researchers at the European University Institute (EUI), where I’m currently working on my PhD dissertation. To try and give a first stimulus to the site, I also contributed a blog post of my own, based on some unexpected feelings I personally had when the Euro was introduced here in Estonia (I’m from the Netherlands myself, which is relevant information for the following). I tried to keep it light-hearted and didn’t go into too much detail. My goal was to write a short, ironic, and slightly provocative blog post.
Interestingly, within the first few hours after publishing it, I received a comment from a guy named Ricardo, who passionately disagreed with me and took issue with some particular sentences I wrote. He replied with a comment and a blog post of his own. If you’re interested, I suggest you read both my original post and his reply. To me, Ricardo’s response is an interesting example of how these topics can be so emotionally laden, and how little people tend to challenge their own conceptions of ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeanness’ (even when they are accusing others of doing the same). Below is my reply back to him.
Thanks for your response to my blog post. I’ll go beyond being called an ignorant Western-European centred nationalist for the first time in my life under the guise of your contribution not being a ‘personal attack’. I think the topic and your response to my ironically and provocatively intended post are much to interesting to waste space on such petty accusations.
First of all, though you seem not to notice, we are largely on the same page regarding this topic. In fact, if you would have read my entire post instead of ripping one or two sentences out of their context, you could have appreciated the irony I intended (but to be sure, I’ve added a disclaimer in the original post for you).
I’ll summarize it for you. The general point of my post was absolutely not to argue that the Euro makes any country any more or less ‘European’ in any sense of the word. Actually, as I literally wrote: “I’m interested in Europe as a social construction […], and that goes beyond ‘just’ the political integration of large parts of the continent”, and: “I have been downplaying […] just how important […] political (and in this case monetary) integration has been to people’s conceptualization of ‘Europe’”. I also mentioned several times that I’m interested in people’s ‘vague’ conceptions of Europe, and not primarily in their political evaluations of the integration projects and/or the Euro.
However, to deny any importance of those projects to shaping people’s ideas of what Europe is would be very naïve. My point in the blog post was precisely that even someone like myself, who has done all of his limited research so far in Central and Eastern Europe, who is very much aware of the socially constructed nature of ‘Europe’ (or any nation for that matter), and who – when in his country of origin – consistently ‘defends’ non-Western European perspectives from the hegemonic perspectives from the West, is affected by institutions like the European Union, Schengen and the Euro. They matter to people’s perceptions of space, territory, and identity, whether we want to or not. Denying that I am also personally affected by such dynamics (as you suggest) would be truly arrogant, and would moreover lead to bad research.
I have news for you Ricardo, ‘Europe’ in any objective sense does not exist. Therefore, to speak of a “European essence” that was “washed away” makes no sense at all. Things like ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeanness’ are obviously social constructs without an objective basis to ground them on. And I fully agree with you when you say that no country is objectively more or less European than any other country. The thing is: (most) other people disagree with us, Ricardo. Some people strangely claim that Kazakhstan is not a European country (or ‘less’ European). Some also say that Russia is outside of Europe. Or Turkey. Or Georgia. And what about countries that fall outside of the conventional (but somewhat arbitrary) geographic definition of the continent? And why do we consider only countries as units of analysis here? The point is that different people (not only in different countries but also in different social classes, regions, ethnic groups, etc.) conceptualize those things differently. If you’re serious about discussing the topic, this should go without saying, I think.
Anyway, on a political level I really do share your frustration with the hegemonic Western-European definition of Europe(anness). In that sense you’re barking up the wrong tree. On a social scientific level, I feel that these are just very interesting, open questions. You’re absolutely right that people in general will respond differently to Sweden adopting the Euro than to Estonia adopting it. But the interesting question to me is not whether that is ‘correct’ or not (there’s no answer to that question), but why that is so.
In that sense your post is a very interesting observation to me. While you accuse me of being an ‘ignorant Western European’ (and while I’m ignorant in many ways, I think this isn’t one of them), your own implicit conceptualization of ‘Europeanness’ or ‘Europe’ appears to be a country’s degree of modernisation or level of certain economic indicators. I never claimed that Estonia is in any way ‘backward’, and I absolutely never would, yet somehow you assume that this is what I’m talking about when I’m discussing the concept of Europe. To me personally, ‘Europe’ does not equate with modernisation, ‘Westernness’, or economic development, and I never claimed that.
And thanks; your final (substantive) paragraph is exactly the kind of research I’m doing. If you’re interested, you can read more about the project on www.Imagining.eu (see www.imagining.eu/plan.html for a brief overview of the research design). Your comments on it are very welcome, and if you want to meet for a coffee in Tallinn (I’m in Tartu right now) or Florence some time I would be very interested in getting together! Also, I very much welcome another reply from you either in the comments on this page or on my original post.