In the past, I’ve said that if I could draw the map of contemporary Europe, I would not show sharp lines dividing nation states, but dotted lines that reveal commerce over borders and shaded areas where cultural and economic exchange has intensified. So much attention is given to the diplomatic aspects of European politics–most recently, negotiations between executives in the Lisbon process–that it seems national differences are still insurmountable. Yet change occurs; just a scratch on the surface reveals “Europe” transforming nations and cultures in unpredictable ways.

That’s why I welcome essays like Gerard Delanty’s “Peripheries and borders in post-western Europe.” It’s a thoughtful piece that tackles how integration of eastern (or east central) Europe into the union has changed the nature of boundaries, minorities, and peripheries.

…Rather than look for a European level of identity over and beyond national identities or see the latter as resisting a top-down supranational European identity, attention should be focused on the mixed or hybrid nature of national identities, which have been transformed in numerous ways by Europeanization. For this reason, the logic of Europeanization has tended towards the Europeanization of national identities rather than the demise of national identity. This is evident in many spheres: in communication, lifestyles, and the many areas in which the EU has gained legal competences, such as education and citizenship. … there is now a changed relation between the periphery and the core, with the periphery emerging from marginalization to become a site of cosmopolitan re-bordering. However, the true significance of the relation of core to periphery is more inter-civilizational than can be seen in terms of interstate relations and defined in terms of state-EU dynamics.

Delanty argues that the old concept of a “Rhine-based” Europe, a civilization defined by Latin Christianity and early industrialization, and so central to the early movements for Europeanization, have been displaced in favor of a “three Europe” model, where different, interrelated civilizations link together. Consequently, Europe is turning from its Atlanticism to the eastern hemisphere. Moreover, the single Europe model, with free flow of labor and goods, has contributed to a reevaluation of what makes for national differences while situating them in a continental network.

Most interesting, and perhaps a little disturbing, is that key notions about minority and diversity are being challenged by the inclusion of eastern European states.

A new understanding of diversity is emerging in which the concern with diversity is excluding recognition of minorities. Kevin Robbins[23] has argued that there has generally been a discursive shift in Europe whereby the language of “minorities” has been replaced by a new emphasis on diversity.[24] To an extent, as he notes, this is positive in that the equation of “otherness” with minorities is reduced and a more generalizable notion of diversity relevant to the vast range of social and cultural differences can be more readily applied. As Robbins points out, the notion of diversity normalizes difference and facilitates a broadening of the horizons beyond ethnic categorization, working towards the “de-ethnicization of difference” and invoking a more positive understanding of difference. However, the centrality of “diversity” today is not unproblematic since it is predominantly being interpreted in much of central and eastern Europe as a way to relate to national autochthonous minorities. What had begun as an attempt to replace the language of minority/majority culture in order to take account of a wider range of diversities is in danger of being reduced to ethnic categories. In the discursive shift, what is lost is recognition of forms of diversity that are not related to national minorities.

Taking nations as the measure of diversity really undermines a great deal of the cultural federalism that has developed in Europe. Originally cultural hegemony by the majority was taken as a huge problem in the post-war, post-nationalist Europe. The celebration of diversity–ethnic, religious, regional, cultural–was taken as a firewall to the types of politics that led to fascism. Perhaps that was an ideal outlook. The notion that every ethnicity should aspire to its own nation was fraught with peril. The notion that the state owed its obligations to the national majority created discriminatory politics. I’ve expressed great misgivings about the direction that Poland followed under the Kaczynski brothers. Potentially the ideology of the nation-state could develop in the exact opposite of what is happening on the ground: emphasizing difference even though Europeans in different countries interact rather peacefully with each other.

On a similar topic, the European  Institute of Cultural Routes offers a report by two French grad students on memory and the Schengen borders.  Good reading, if you know French.

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