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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


European Culture, an Ambivalent Heritage

Alexei Miller

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1If you ask people who are involved in cultural production where to look for solutions to the problems of integration of the enlarged EU, you should not be surprised if they point at culture. Culture, indeed, should be part of solution. An awareness of some pitfalls that loom in this area is also desirable, however, because culture itself is also part of the problem.

2It is indeed impossible to define, once and for all, what European culture is. However it is possible (and necessary) to pinpoint those elements of the European cultural tradition that should be perceived as potential sources of danger. One of these features, for example, is the drive for domination, deeply imbedded in the European tradition. When, as now, the enlarged and, hopefully, stronger EU strives to obtain new power for political action, this danger should be remembered.

3Stressing the democratic elements of the European tradition, we should also remember that the word chauvinism has its roots in the name of a European. Europe will shortly and inevitably face immigration on even larger scale, and this danger to her cultural heritage should be kept in mind.

4If we say that it is a common European culture that must provide new energies for cohesion and the shaping of a common political identity, we must admit that, as with any enterprise of identity formation, this one must inevitably involve the practices of “othering” in shaping a “we.” European culture has a centuries-old tradition of using different “others” for identity formation. As a Russian, I know that this tradition has very little to do with caring about the other. (Others on the peripheries of Europe will probably share my view.) All that I know about the concept of Central Europe, so popular in recent decades with some of the new members of EU, does not provide me with much hope that the attitude towards the other and the way the other is treated will change significantly.

5The effort to mobilize culture as an instrument for cohesion and unity should begin, not with the construction of a European myth (which is well under way) and practices of othering, but with such values as compassion, self-restraint and recognition, not only of diversity, but also of conflicts in cultural heritage and values. We should remember that when a system of values or a culture are impossible to define, when they are “open,” they are also open to diverse manipulations, particularly on the part of those who are engaged in cultural production and equipped for such manipulations. For this reason, I continue to have greater confidence in material interests and in practical politics, where people are more subject to verification and responsibility.


Alexei Miller is Research Fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences as well as of the Institute for Russian History at the Russian State University, and is Professor of History at Central European University in Budapest. Recently author of Imperial Authorities, Russian Public Opinion and Ukrainian Nationalism in the Reign of Alexander II, Moscow, 2000.

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