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Visions of Europe: Conversations on the Legacy and Future of Europe.

This series of talks on Irish television was conceived and conducted on epic lines under the acute questioning by Richard Kearney of a galaxy of gurus, poets, politicians and historians. The questions are not so much about politics and economics, or the changing of old flags and frontiers but rather they go to the very heart of what is meant by Europe. In so doing fundamental questions are raised about sovereignty, subsidiarity, nationalism, federalism, cultural and linguistic diversity within European unity, in a word a debate which searches for the soul of Europe.

In the classical legend Europa was borne by her father across the Mediterranean to Greece. Hence in a real sense she has never quite forgotten her non-European origins, or the basic principe of a European civilization, a legacy from the Greek and Judaeo-Christian traditions which in turn had already accepted 'the stranger' as part of its self-understanding. Here is one vision of Europe admirably put forward by at least two of the contributors, Jacques Darras, the French poet and BBC Reith Lecturer for 1989 and the equally celebrated Italian novelist, Umberto Eco. Both see the alternative to pluralism and polyphony in the new Europe as uniformity and intolerance.

Neal Ascherson, European correspondent for the Sunday Independent, and author of Games with Shadows likewise abhors increasing centralising authority, pleads for a Europe of the regions, and is very much in agreement with what Mary Robinson, President of Ireland, said about the Irish ideal of hospitality; opening doors to strangers as a new hope for Europe. Indeed, hers is the final contribution in the book in which she elegantly shows that the Celtic heritage of so many central and eastern European countries is in effect pan-European. Therefore a full-hearted acceptance of Europe need not entail any sacrifice of cultural diversity.

Marina Warner, novelist and cultural historian and herself of mixed European origins, draws much on personal experiences of a scattered European and Catholic upbringing to illustrate the theme of women's legacy through the various nationalistic images of the Virgin Mary; for example, the Mater Misericordiae of the Greek and Russian Orthodox Church, Our Lady of Czestochowa, the national figurehead for the Solidarity movement in Poland and the frightening image of Le Pen marching with the Virgin Mary in one hand and Joan of Arc in the other! This contribution ends with a discussion of how one of the great legacies of European social culture is the handshake, the sign of a pact in Roman law, a symbol symbol for Europe.

Two key debates on the nature of European culture, and of nations and Federations are here given by George Steiner, the cultural historian, and Charles Taylor, the political philosopher; their replies to Kearney are among the most acute and interesting in the book. Vladimir Voinovich and Mirsolav Holub, Soviet and Czech respectively, are fascinating on the East European experience since the fall of the Berlin wall. Julia Kristeva, a psychiatrist, searches for a substitute for the lost God in the dehumanization of culture. Paul Ricoeur, a philosopher, sees sovereignty in the people, speaks of the Utopian vision of a world republic where the sharing of pain and responsibilities will become the cement of unity.

In a world of mass media where we are daily bludgeoned by talks of currencies, economics and politics it is refreshing to listen to these major international figures discuss the deeper and wider visions of what Europe thinks of itself thereby helping all of us towards some understanding of the multi-cultural European ideal.
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Author:McGurk, John
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
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