Can Europe Make It?

Europe and me: imagining community

Nikolay Nikolov
17 January 2014

My name is Nikolay Nikolov. I am currently pursuing a PhD in Politics at University College London, blog for and, as a journalist, am preoccupied right now with the protest movement in Bulgaria.

For the last six years when I have lived and studied in the United Kingdom, the focus of my studies has slowly progressed from political science towards social theory and philosophy. One of my core theoretical values is to negate linear histories, causality and predetermined paths of progress. Yet I see a clear pattern in my own biography: both my parents have taught at universities; they are politically outspoken, strictly anti-communist (and thus right-wing, in the eastern European, post-socialist sense of right wing). It is no wonder then that my own gaze would be turned towards the political.

When I came to the United Kingdom, I became fascinated by modern philosophy and the notion of Enlightenment. I wanted to understand how nations such as Poland, having been frozen in time during their totalitarian regimes, have managed to ‘return’ to history, to Europe, and reorient their national identity and their historical consciousness back to the core values of the unfinished project of modernity.

Essentially, the notion of European identity became my primary academic interest, and more specifically, how that applies and moulds itself in post-socialist societies. For Central European nations, questions of national identity must be directly linked to Europe vis-à-vis ‘The West’ as history and culture. It is a matter of civilization.

But this is not so for a country like Bulgaria, for example – and this distinction can be clearly recognized in the kind of protest movement that is forming there today.

The question in Bulgaria, despite 24 years of democratization, remains whether to look East or West for the normative foundations of the meaning of its democracy. Post-socialism and democratization, freedom and European integration seem hollowed out symbols of identification; national identity is almost non-existent and social atomization and public passivity are more than prevalent.

That is why I got involved in the protest movement – the direct link between my academic interests and an actual, real-time, opportunity for affecting change. The protests, beyond all else, are a force for societal consolidation and the signifier for a growing active community, which shares a normative outlook and a language. That force of social engagement was not present in Bulgaria in 1989 – something that differentiated it from its Central European neighbours. They rectify and reorient the progress of democracy.

The current political crisis in Bulgaria has also brought me closer to a strictly European identity. What I mean by that is – an identity centered on the values of democracy, solidarity, and integration. I believe in these, and associate with them on a personal, as well as on a political level.

As such, and to conclude, I would like to touch upon one terrain where I would like to see more action on a European level – the supranational expansion of political culture and civic solidarity.

After four years of economic and political crisis, the European Union is shrinking and becoming isolated. It is becoming a two-tier supranational institution: on the one hand, you have an increasing monopolization of the EU by political elites; on the other you have the growing indifference, and apathy of citizens with regards to decisions made by their parliaments in Brussels. False nationalism, fueled by economic crises, still seems to obscure the constellation of the vantage points of member states.

The answer is a learning process where the public spheres of nations open up to each other, foster dialogue, and build a common discourse. What is essential is to expand the individual citizens’ notion of the public beyond the imagined borders of a given nation, a long-term programme of educating people, bridging the gap between decisions made at a EU level and their everyday lives. This is a process of creating an ‘imagined community’ among all Europeans, and of fostering a transnational political culture.

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