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N 13 / 1998 (Ukr.)


Oleksandr Hrytsenko

The World, Europe And We

A few years ago, the book entitled The Black Athena became kind of popular among numerous but quite unimportant milieu of American intelligentsia. The book offered an attempt of deconstruction of the myth of the Ancient Greek civilisation as the starting point and, at the same time, the highest peak of the global civilisation. The author of The Black Athena has disclosed quite convincingly the tremendous impact North African and Middle Eastern cultures of those distant ages have had on Ancient Greece hereby questioning the very ‘originality‘ and, more to our point, the ‘European-ness‘ of the Ancient Greek culture.

So what, one might ask. In modern globalized world, everybody influences everybody else, and no one, save for a handful of fervent ethnonationalisus, would call influences of this kind ‘alien‘ or ‘evil‘ .

But it wasn‘t always like this. Even now, there is abundant evidence that the spirit of multiculturalism and ‘politically correct‘ demythologisation has not yet taken control over the whole of humanity. It‘s no wonder, since the idea of Europe as the cradle of the modern world civilisation and as some special ‘spiritual community‘ with its special mission, became one of the pillars of several national ideologies (or, rather, national mythologies) of contemporary European nations.

Actually, there are several versions of the above-mentioned special mission: one may chose between, for instance, R.Kipling‘s ‘White Man‘s Burden‘ and E.Husserl‘s ‘proto-phenomenon of spiritual Europe‘, that is, some quite special European attitude to the world defined by Husserl as ‘theoretical, philosophically universal attitude based of the idea of reason and on passion of exploring and explaining the world‘.

Husserl believed this attitude, conceived in the community of Athenian philosophers and intellectuals in the 5th century B.C., is essentially different from all other attitudes offered by non-European so-called ‘philosophies‘ (Indian, Chinese etc.) which he dismissed as ‘mythical ones‘. Apparently, this concept of ‘Spiritual Europe‘ is itself based not on historical facts but on deliberately distorted and, as it were, strongly mythologized interpretation of the role and place of philosophy and philosophers in Ancient Greek civilisation, as well as the role and mission of intellectuals in contemporary European culture. It seems, unfortunately, that Husserl didn‘t realise the mythicality of his notion of European-ness. Still worse, many a European (especially Eastern European) intellectual of our time doesn‘t seem to notice, not to mention understand the mythicality of ‘Spiritual Europe‘ as well.

It is quite natural for a nation and even for a member of the nation‘s so-called elites, to regard one‘s own country as the hub of the world and one‘s own culture as humanity‘s greatest achievement while, on the other hand, regarding the rest of the world as ‘barbarians‘. Or, rather, it is natural for a big nation and strong state: China used to be The Empire of the Middle; Russia the Third Rome (and there will be no Fourth Rome, apparently); Louis XVI‘s France was indeed the highest peak of human history according to Voltaire etc. Still, when you are not a Voltaire or a Dostojevsky but a Milan Kundera, it is not so easy to believe your country is a great one and your nation is the collective Messiah of the world or, at least, of a remarkable part of it.

And this is exactly where The Great European Culture, created by the Husserlian ‘spiritual Europe‘ (or, for that matter, by Mykola Khvylovy‘s ‘psychological Europe‘) comes to rescue. No wonder, by the way, that it was in the Western part of our continent that ‘European idea‘ has revived in the Post-WWII time as a quite positive and unmythical politico-economical project: the once-superpowers of the West, like Britain, Germany and France, realized suddenly that, against the background of the two super-powers, the US and the USSR, they are no world powers anymore but merely medium-size regional nation-states, and the only way to feel great again is to transform their region, Europe, into a superpower itself.

But this is exactly where basic differences between different notions of Europe and European-ness become obvious. For contemporary Western Europeans, especially for younger generations, integrated Europe is a project of what may be defined with an oxumoronic term of ‘local globalisation‘, to be achieved by Europeans all by themselves, on their own cultural and economic base, before the ‘global globalisation‘ from overseas moves in for good. No wonder this New Europe looks very much like a replica of North America, with the EURO, The European daily, The Eurodisney, as well as the Sky News and ViVa a TV channels (which look like clones of CNN and MTV) as its symbols.

This new Europe project also has its own equivalents of such North American fads as multiculturalism and ‘political correctness‘, in which Native Americans and Eskimos are replaced by Romas as main objects of multiculturalistic efforts while Turks and Algerians play roles of ‘European Blacks‘. Unsurprisingly, old-style ‘spiritual Europeans‘, intellectual heirs of Husserl, Mathew Arnold and Ortega y Gasset, wound up at the margins of this new Europe and sometimes are even openly opposed to it.

However, just this millennial European cultural tradition remains the essence of the idea of Europe as a specific civilisation community for East European intellectuals. For them, the antithesis of Europe was not this home conservative elitism or ”old fashioned” nationalism. Rather, it was half Asian, barbarian, bolshevik and post-bolshevik Russia, that divided them from Europe, to which they belong from the beginning. On the other hand, they do not understand a new, globalized, multicultural (to their mind - Americanised) Western Europe, and together with half extinct Paris elitists scold Hollywood, Disneyland, and McDonalds.

Finally, there is mythologized Europe even in Russian cultural tradition, more precisely, there are two European myths. First, ”high myth”, is about ”rotten West” (see Danilevskiy, Blok, and Zhyrinovskiy), who were opposed by highly spiritual Russ. Second, ”low myth”, which is not highly intellectual but widely accepted in masses, is about Europe as earth paradise, where all people live affluently, safely, and tidily, about Europe, where liberty, order, prosperity rein. Often an eclectic mixture of both mythological conceptions could be found. They say, indeed, prosperity and order rein in Europe, but deep compassionate feelings and high spiritual values are extinct, as mammoths. Although we are in dirt and poverty, but we still have our immortal Russian souls.

So, what about Ukrainians? What is Europe for them, and how do they see their place in Europe (if they see)?

The most brief answer is maybe the following: Ukrainians know so little about contemporary Europe, that they are ready to accept any of the above mentioned myths and stereotypes depending on mood and circumstances. Ghost of old ”the augustest tzisar”, which is the symbol of mythologized Galytchyna happy life of the beginning of twentieth century, or doctor Faust, who is passioned for cognition and actions (the symbol of sacramental ”psychological Europe” of Mykola Khvylioviy), or Kyiv sitting of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, for which dear Kyiv people are preparing as peasants of ”Bolshie Pyatki” village were preparing for the visit of Swedish ”morzhy” in the comedy ”Praznik Neptuna” by Yuriy Mamin, become the symbols of Europe.

Especially, one could clearly see this jumble of notions in the heads of Ukrainians, speaking about Europe, when one tries to define Ukrainian antithesises of Europe. It is easy to guess that there are many of them, and these antithesises contradict one other to a certain degree.

First of all, it is the oldest antithesis of Europe - Russia. This antithesis formed by ethnical Ukrainian Danilevskiy, in those times when the majority of ”malorossy” regarded themselves, together with ”velykorossy-moskali”, as members of one, Russian Orthodox community, and people of Galytchyna simply called themselves ”Russ”. In this antithesis catholic and protestant Europe was unfriendly, even hostile terrain. This interpretation was changed to the opposite one in twenties century, when ideologies, which were formed by the old confessional identities, where completely superseded by the national ideologies and identities. Then, Ukrainians, at least ”aware” ones, already started to identify themselves with Europe, whereas all those negative connotations, what were early ascribed to Muslims Turks and Catholics Poles, started gradually to be used for Russia.

This process of transformation of national coordinates was summarised by Mykola Khvylioviy, who renewed the antithesis of Danilevskiy. Khvylioviy was trying to explain all those numerous obstacles, which will be on this new way to Europe by another antithesis (once again by mythical antithesis): ”Europe - Renaissance”. If one tries to interpere this antithesis rationally and constructively, then one will get approximately the following: our place is in the Europe, but in order to hold it, first of all, we will have to stop being ourselves, and become the nation of ”doctors Faust”. Modern variant of this Khvylioviy antithesis is following: we are the great European nation, but in order for all Europeans to accept us in this status, we should reform everything radically according to the wide advice of IMF, EBRD, and European Council. Everyone, who does not agree with this, is pitiful Asian, or what is worse - ”sovok” (inhabitant of former unique state of USSR).

Finally, numerous negative consequences of social and cultural transformations of recent years were projected to the biased attitude of Soviet epoch to ”Heartless West” in general, and to the America in particular. They stirred in the part of our society the new antithesis about ”cultural Europe” and ”totally commercialised America”, which in fact was adopted from our Central European neighbours. According to this antithesis, although we are not completely Europeans, we saved our old spiritual values. For instance, how incomparable our beautiful songs! Maybe there are no other European nation, that managed to do this. Therefore, we should not transform and reform, we just have to meticulously protect and elaborate our above mentioned spirituality.

Here, we approached one more European problem, which is the role of nation and nationality. What is nation and nationality to the modern Europeans? There is no one definite answer to this question. On one side, there is very dynamic process of development of European governmental and economical institutions, and at the same time, diminishing role of their analogies in the national states of Western Europe. We already mentioned the cultural, and ideological integration of Western Europe, and it is no need to mention economic integration here, since its results could be noticed even in Ukraine.

On the other side, there is disintegration of federative, multinational states, such as USSR, CSSR, Yugoslavia, autonomization of Spain and Belgium, and now Scotland and Wales have their own, so to say, republican Supreme Councils. Thus, the process of national self-determination is still the important issue. However, at the same time, appearances of ”historic”, ”state” nations and their cultures are transforming through the change of millions of ”culturally alien” immigrants to the important element of those societies, where they assimilated. Whose writer is Salaman Rudsi - British or Pakistanian? Whose singer is Shade - British or Nigerian? Forward of Munich ”Bavaria” is German or Turkish? The answer to this question was provided by the Edward Sayid in the book ”Culture and Imperialism”: ”... to find out whether certain piece of Art belongs to the certain culture is the most destabilising thing which I could imagine”.

There is one thing that seems to be clear - it is impossible to integrate into a real Europe, not the mythical one, and to build a national state on the ethnolinguistic principles of nation, inherited from Gerder. It is impossible to assert one’s own identity, and at the same time to deny the right of someone else to be European. It does not matter whether it is the right of the constant offender, northern neighbour, or Gipsy’s, Tatar’s, or Vietnamese”

In general, if the notion of Ukraine integration to the Europe (or the notion of return, in case someone likes this more) has any constructive, not mythical sense, I think, it is identical with the idea of establishing full-fledged civil society and market economy in our country. I see no need in any other europeanization.