Can a culture have universal values?
A culture of European values
Disasters and crises have always been enormous drivers for cultural developments and top artistic achievements. There seems to be a strong connection between suffering and creativity. However, the lockdown measures hit European cultural workers particularly hard, deprived many cultural institutions of their livelihoods and plunged large numbers of freelance artists into dire straits.
The street art work by the artist Banksy, which honors the nurses as Corona heroines, is certainly iconic for the pandemic. In the meantime, however, it is no longer just about the sick, the deceased and the admirable medical staff. It has long been clear that this crisis claims many victims, including among the survivors.
The awareness of the massive economic slump and the loss of prosperity is now very high everywhere. Relaxation appears to be the order of the day. But a return to full normalcy is still a long way off. Because the virus is still there and a second wave is imminent.
While rescue packages are being put together all over Europe, and the European Parliament and its Culture Committee are trying to get European support, targeted aid for artists often comes very late and its effectiveness varies greatly between the individual EU countries.
The lockdown hit culture to the core. After all, those who work in culture are dependent on open spaces in which they can play, present and exhibit. Assembly bans, even curfews, but also closed European internal borders mean a de facto professional ban for most of them.
Hardly any other sector of economic and social life is as large as cultural with all its facets. But is it also "systemically relevant"? With their artistic work, many millions of Europeans at least contribute to the fact that we can transcend our sometimes very narrow everyday life, the disdainful world and its gray reality, in happy hours and, if we dare, leave our caves.
Open horizons, vast distances, but also incomprehensible depth, which can be experienced in the play of words and sounds, in colors and shapes, meaningless and profound, are an indispensable part of our human existence.
When the cultural landscape of Europe gets poorer because stages are no longer used, museums and exhibition rooms no longer open, screens no longer serve as projection surfaces for visions, dreams and nightmares, music can only be experienced digitally in chopped up and dialogue only via an activated microphone on digital platforms becomes possible, then Huxley's dystopia threatens to become reality, condensed into a multitude of regulations, commands and prohibitions.
Art and culture are central factors in our societies' resilience against bondage and authoritarian temptation. They are unpredictable and therefore not in the interests of those who want to control everyone and everything. That is what makes culture so highly political.
It is certainly a great challenge to help cultural workers quickly and unbureaucratically and not to take away from them the air they need to be creative. It will also be important not only to ensure the survival of the large state theaters and cultural centers. Just as small and medium-sized companies in particular ensure innovative strength and competitiveness in the economy, it is the many freelance artists who repeatedly break the chains that threaten to oppress our societies.
Culture is relevant to the system, and culture is extremely political, even where its legitimate claim is to be distant from politics. For a non-partisan association like the Europa-Union Deutschland, which has been campaigning for the European idea as a civic force in our cities and communities since 1946, European culture is the ideal starting point and at the same time a programmatic goal.
The Europa-Union Deutschland stands up for European values, first and foremost for peace, human rights and democracy. These values are the result of cultural - or, to put it less in German - civilizational feats, which, however, fall under a heavy shadow as long as not all people on earth can participate equally. The European idea is the antithesis of nationalism, chauvinism and racism. It goes beyond the borders of Europe without it, that would be a fatal misunderstanding, that it has an imperial dimension.
The Europa-Union Deutschland promotes a culture in which the European values are reflected, and it stands in the ideal tradition of the world federalists who strive for a world order of peace for a humanity united in freedom and diversity.
Culture speaks a universal language, even if local customs are reflected in it. Colors and sounds, gestures and facial expressions follow universal laws. They cannot be stopped by closing borders, but refer to common primal reasons of being.
The pandemic is putting many supposed certainties to the test. It induces national reflexes, but more than ever requires common European solutions. Our civilization is certainly at a crossroads. National egoism and selective cultural funding, which can quickly lead to folklore paralysis, contrast with the spirit of European cooperation and the openness to shared creative freedom, which should be generously designed. Which way the politicians will decide remains open for the time being.
The European federalists, who are organized in Germany in the Europa-Union and its youth association JEF, have always loved dreams and lived bold visions. You want open spaces, free thinking and humanity. They are therefore natural allies of all freedom-loving cultural workers.
This text first appeared in Politics & Culture 07-08 / 2020.
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