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The statues of Europe

by ace
The statues of Europe

It was 2004, when George Steiner was invited to give the tenth Nexus Conference at the Nexus Institute in the Netherlands. This conference resulted in a short essay: The Idea of Europe, published in the same year, and which featured a preface by Barroso. Sixteen years after Steiner presented what, for him, would be the five pillars of the ideology of European thought, the author dies on 3 February 2020, just one month before he can see Europe begin to lose consciousness of itself.

The truth is that the anti-racism movements triggered by the death of George Floyd are making quite visible a problem that is historical and that is inserted in Western society in such a way that it goes increasingly unnoticed; racism and discrimination. That is why it is found in the destruction and removal of statues, or in the alteration of the toponymy of streets and squares, a form of alertness and combat to this problem. It is not surprising to me that in the USA the sculptures that celebrate all the evil caused to thousands of natives and foreigners for centuries are being put down, nor would Steiner be amazed since, for the author, “in American sensitivity and language the strongest memories are those of the promise” (Steiner, 2004) and not memento mori as 9/11 or the Vietnam War. What is in sight is the sympathetic mimicry of European protesters as well as various european institutions and governments, from France to England. Europe is shaped not only by the passage of time and by the ideas of progress, it has inscribed in its streets and buildings the mark of “time as a lived process”, “the aura (of) authentic time”, which cannot be forgotten or erased.

Let’s take a short tour of the city of Coimbra and we will continue to have as neighbors Miguel Torga, Zeca Afonso, Eça de Queirós, at the same time that we all know where is the Pateo of the Inquisition. “There is a dark side to this sovereignty of remembrance, in the self-definition of Europe as lieu de la mémoire. (…) The plaques affixed to so many European houses do not only allude to artistic eminence (…). They also commemorate centuries of massacre and suffering, hatred and human sacrifice.” (Steiner, 2004). If so, then what happened to european activist citizens, governments and institutions to give in? What causes contributed to this loss of relationship with ‘the idea of Europe’?

Byun-Chul Han presents us with a possible answer to these questions in Die Austreibung des Anderen. For the South Korean author, “we speak a lot today in authenticity”, “as happens in all the publicity of neoliberalism, (authenticity) is presented to us as a prop of emancipation” (Han, 2016), which leads us to an egóic search for being, which only falls on each one in a singular way, unrelated to space or to the other as another. Hence, deluded by the idea of self-production of oneself, we constantly fall into a struggle devoid of values other than the values of the neoliberal market. Such values turn the fight against racism and other forms of oppression and discrimination into a battle that is no longer the individual’s search for authenticity. In this way, it is possible to explain how one can sit at a coffee table taking selfies before a demonstration, and how one quietly returns to the everyday selves after raising our fists next to, but not next to, the other protesters, how they vandalize and remove statues and street names, just as the photographs are retouched to take the grain.

I do not say that we do not fight, in every possible way, against everything that oppresses and discriminates the human, we should not let our action fall into a reaction much closer to the laws of the market than to the forms of recognition and respect of the other as another, under the danger of not realizing that , like our ancestors, we continue to enslave but, this time, without whipping.

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