2017 is a year of anniversaries. In the face of current crises, Europe will do well to remember its previous responses to challenges, says the new JESC director, Peter Rožič SJ.
As the EU confronts one of its deepest crises, Europe also commemorates a series of significant anniversaries this year: the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the centenary of the Russian Revolutions, the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and 25 years since the Maastricht Treaty was signed. Europe also recalls a decade since the onset of the global financial crisis which exposed divisions in the European project across the continent. These bring to mind that extraordinary crises, despite their irreversible losses, have contributed to the EU as we know today. As a newcomer to Brussels and to JESC, I believe that when Europe is sensitive to its past and present crises – and their resolution, there is strong hope for contemporary divisions to be overcome.
Crisis and Memory
Since Europe’s current state of affairs is perceived to be a state of permanent crisis we must ask why our social and political engagement with memory becomes crucial. Perceptions of ongoing crises are based on a powerful fear that is haunting Europe: a spectre of seductive and divisive disenchantment. This disenchantment has led Britain to opt for an exit and has reverberated in France, the Netherlands and elsewhere on the Atlantic side of the continent. This spectre of often naive and poorly understood self-determination has also shown its teeth on the Mediterranean and Continental sides of Europe. In the last weeks, worrying situations have arisen out of the Catalan crisis as well as the anti-establishment-driven elections in Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany, adding to similar popular sentiments in Hungary and Poland. This is more than simply an East-West divide. It is a trend across Europe. Yet, had there been prior reforms which responded to the fears of the European populace, and had Europe possessed selfless and genuine leaders, European citizens would be more passionate about uniting.
Memory as (Potentially) Healing Divisions
The quincentenary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses can help us to see that while it has taken Europe 500 years to come to terms with the need for reform on both political and spiritual planes, the tools already exist to allow emergence from the present multi-layered present crisis, which is also political and spiritual. Beyond the necessary recognition of our internal polarities of hope and despair, we need not only cope and react to crises, but to be proactive in crisis-resolution and engage in ongoing dialogue to pre-empt or at least avoid costly damage. What if we engaged in listening to those desiring reform and responded to their often legitimate concerns? Memory can either resolve or exacerbate crises. If coupled with hurried passions and fake news, memory, or memory politics, will bring about further disunity. St Augustine writes that memory as “an inner chamber large and boundless” needs to be cleansed by unearthing memories and repairing the guilt, hurt, and pain they represent.
A Renewed Passion for Europe
We lack a genuine and educated passion for Europe and its common and hence greater, good. Passions fuelled by memories will never die. Yet, passions – assisted, trained and measured by healed memories – will give us the energy to embrace both our ideals and our frailties in order to help us welcome those who make us grow as a community. Until then, the populist will exploit the prophetic voice of the ordinary, sometimes indignant European citizen, further disintegrating the body and demonstrating its initial yet still reversible social decline.
Let us then re-think Europe in a way that will make us more invigorated in building a community semper reformanda. As Pope Francis stated at the conferral of the Charlemagne Prize: “Creativity, genius and a capacity for rebirth and renewal are part of the soul of Europe.” Let us become passionate about our common European home: reformed, reborn and renewed.