Can Europe Make It?

The limits of Europe

openDemocracy is partnering with European Alternatives to explore the Transeuropa festival. Here, the Co-President of European Alternatives tells us what he hopes to find at Transeuropa.

Niccoló Milanese
30 September 2015

In the Greek myth of Europa, the beautiful Phoenician woman of that name, born in Tyre (now in Lebanon), is abducted and raped by Zeus, perhaps on the island of Crete. Her three brothers go out searching for her, each in a different direction. While searching for Europa Cilix founded Cilicia (now Anatolia); Cadmus founded Thebes in Greece, bringing the alphabet with him, and Phoenix went into North Africa and founded Phoenicia. None of them found Europa.

If we were looking for abducted Europa today, where might we find her? In a refugee camp in Lebanon, close to where she was born? On a dangerous boat traversing the Mediterranean or stuck at the Hungarian border? In Greece, protesting on Syntagma square? Fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine? Or perhaps in Kobane on the border between Turkey and Syria? Or maybe she would be much closer to the centre, in the European capitals, held hostage in the Chancellery in Berlin? In a grey corridor of the European Council building Justus Lipsius in Brussels? So many places to look, so many new cities we could found, so many brothers we would need to send out.

If the European situation in many ways appalls us at the moment – whether it be the dysfunctional and discriminatory policies responsible for creating a refugee/migrant crisis; the increasing poverty gap exacerbated by austerity policies; the exploiting of the financial crisis to perpetuate forms of rent seeking; or Europe’s failure to live up to its promises in Ukraine or elsewhere in the world – we cannot say this European picture is unfamiliar to us.

However beautiful the ‘idea’ of Europe is, we also know its violent, unjust potential and we know its historical deficiencies when it comes to democracy and emancipation. We should, therefore, be accustomed to the ambivalence of Europe.

The ambivalence of Europe’ is another way of saying that its limits are internal, however much we try to pretend they are imposed from outside or that they are strangers to Europe.

We have seen the ‘reemergence’ of ‘internal borders’ in the geographical Schengen space over the last summer. This is perhaps better understood as the continuation of a multiplication of borders throughout the European space, which took place at the same time as other borders were dismantled.

Border control regulates people’s mobility and privileges through discriminating against different statuses of persons. This discrimination starts with undocumented people who have no mobility or access to social services at one end of the spectrum. It moves through to classically discriminated against groups such as the Roma, third country nationals, nationals of ‘newer’ member states, ‘older’ member states all the way through to the frequent flyer businessman at the other who can effectively travel, operate and have access to state services anywhere in the EU based on his superior documentation and capacity to prove resources.

We have also seen limits in the idea of Europe itself, Europe is not a pure universal, it is not pure reason, nor is it human rights in the abstract. This is perhaps another way of saying it is a historical notion. A notion which cannot escape its past and which constantly calls into play our own responsibilities: it is a task, at times a dangerous one, which can turn against itself and must be conducted with care as well as cunning.


Belgrade. Wikimedia. Public Domain.Organising Transeuropa festival in Belgrade this year is a way of trying to put ourselves directly in front of the ambivalences, and the internal limits of Europe that are inescapable but often ignored. By organising a festival promoting European alternatives in a space currently outside the European Union, in the capital of the former Yugoslavia, we are inviting artists, activists, thinkers and other citizens from throughout Europe to relate their own experiences and action to this particular border zone. This is a place where the ravages of borders, as well as religious and ethnic discrimination, are still in living memory. It is now also a crucial geographical area in the transit of migrants and refugees.

We are, therefore, putting people in front of the responsibility, but also the inescapable difficulty, of being European. It is not an easy festival to organise or to attend. It is not a festival to be consumed: it is a festival to be attempted. It is a festival formed as an ethical, political and artistic challenge.

We will not find Europa, of that we can be almost sure. We may, however, for a few days at least, open up a new city amongst us for imagining, demanding and enacting another Europe and continue to lay the foundations for alternatives at a transnational scale.

See here for more information on the festival, and click here for more of openDemocracy's coverage of the event.

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