An essay by Ella Hindriks
Before the question Am I a European can be answered, a definition is required. What defines Europe? Its geographical borders? Its religion? The past or the present? And what about one uniform European culture, is that idealistic, reality or both? Is it possible to identify yourself, myself, as European? Is that who I am?
Part one: The borders of Europe
So for the first question, “what defines Europe?”, more than one explanation can be given.
There is the geographical definition of Europe. With the sea as a continental border in the north, west and south and as learned Turkey and Russia in the east. If you live in between these borders, you are a European citizen.
But one can also say that the border in the east is more or less a religious border: (Orthodox) Christianity. With a religious border to define Europe, again Turkey is a difficulty: its inhabitants are mainly muslim, though it is a secular state since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. And Turkey has been a christian state in the past, with Constantinople, Istanbul, as the religious centre of the (Byzantine) world.
In Europe her case you could also speak of a political border, being the European Union. Defined by collaborations on economical level, shared laws and regulations and idealism from the 20th century: Never war again. A collaboration based on peace treaties.
And then, when looking at the history, those two empires which still can be found: the Western and Eastern Roman Empire. Nowadays you still see the separation in churches. And while on a national level Dutch (but put in any other country) history differs so much from other countries, in the Roman Empire all Europeans found their roots.
And what about language? European languages originate from a few different language families, the Indo-European language family is by far the biggest of them. But there are so many language groups that differ from each other: Germanic, Romanic, Slavic, Celtic, Baltic, Iranian, (Greek, Albanian, Armenian), Semetic, Basque, Caucasian, Finno-Permian, Ugric, Turkic and Mongolic.1 I could learn Germanic languages without having a lot of trouble, Romanic takes some time but will be fine… and the others? This definitely sets more borders and does not define one big Europe.
Influence of borders
Am I a European is a question about identity. In my opinion identity is more culture based than based on national borders. Although a geographical border, like a group of mountains or rivers and oceans, will cause groups to develop their own culture over a period of time.
“It seems pretty clear that organic beings must be exposed during several generations to the new conditions of life to cause any appreciable amount of variation; and that when the organisation has once begun to vary, it generally continues to vary for many generations.” (Source: Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species)2
As I am now looking for a cultural border of Europe I find religion the best fitting border of the three types described above when looking for one Europe. So Europe is the continent as separated from the other continents by its religion, being Christianity. You could define religion as an aspect of shared European values. As I will explain in the following paragraphs.
Part two: A European culture
So are there shared European values? If so, what are these? Does Europe have a shared culture? In this essay the following definition is being used to define ‘culture’: The overall of views, knowledge and values of people who transfer and acquire this through learning. 3
Why is religion a shared European aspect when it comes to culture?
I defined religion as a shared aspect for it gives people a shared set of values and beliefs as well on a (inter)national as on a personal level. (Look after the poor, do not steal, murder or envy another, equality of human beings) But it can also give people a shared purpose in life, a shared worldview.
Christianity in Europe
Over time Europe has been Christian for centuries. Christianity began and spread through the cities and through Europe during the last centuries of the Roman Empire. But also a different kind of Christianity developed; the Eastern Roman Empire versus the Western Roman Empire. Later on the Roman Catholic Church in the west versus the Orthodox Church in the east. Around the 16th century the Protestants and Calvinists separated from the Roman Catholic Church, The Anglican Church began after a separation from the Roman Catholic Church. And much more variations of Christianity can be found in Europe. Each with their own theological arguments to stand out from the other. Almost every country in Europe has a strong history with the Christian faith.
And though Christianity is a constant factor in history, it was also a factor that divided people, as already can be seen in the paragraph above. On the continent of Europe a lot of wars have been fought. A lot of rulers ‘overruled’ others, power of state/royalty and church seemed to be in conflict most of the time. And if it weren’t state and church, then it would be countries against each other. With a third country as an ally. And who your ally was, that changed from time to time. In times of war you always go look for an ally. So maybe that is a remarkable thing, that Europe is united in the European Union, a big group of allies. At least from an economical perspective and with the shared goal: never war again, a shared value.
Science in Europe
Christianity did have a big impact on the early science. We tend to see science as spread through Europe by the influence of the Greeks, it actually were the Ottomans, Phoenicians and others from the Middle East, especially from the Persian empire, that brought knowledge into predeveloped Europe. Where Persian writers wrote poems, in Europe we were pagans.
But the Greeks (got) educated in Maths, Philosophy, Astronomy and the Arts.
Through the ages we see that education was for monarchs and for clergies. Monks copied books and so the knowledge could spread. The early universities were developed by the Catholic Church. And when we learned to print the distribution of (scientific) knowledge increased.
In my opinion religion is the biggest cultural similarity that is lived in Europe. On a lot of values we tend to be quite nationalistic; we used our high culture (the arts) to distinguish ourselves from our neighbours and learned different political systems with other values. These ‘new conditions’ as Darwin says about the organic beings, I took the liberty to say it about culture, change us over time. But as would your brother, ‘evolve’ differently than you, if he moved to another city/nation/empire. But he would still be your brother, by blood. And it is a choice to give more weight to the differences or the similarities. As I believe is for values.
Part 3: How I identify myself
In my life I have moved 7 or 8 times and in lived in three different regions in the Netherlands. I learned the most about life and who I was in the second city, so I identify the most with that region. But my roots are somewhere else and I am planning my future somewhere else. So in the end, I do not call myself a citizen of one of these places.
Am I Dutch? When I compare my own values and behaviour with the cultural dimension scale of Geert Hofstede, I believe so. Although there is an increasing group of Dutch people with whom I do not want to be associated with. When it comes to intolerant behaviour or thinking towards others, minority or not. I call my brothers Dutchman, so therefore so am I. And I call European citizens Europeans, so I am probably a European as well.
My family roots are in Fryslan, Switzerland, the Netherlands and France. But all were Christian and had European roots. Therefore I could say I identify as European.
I have not visited countries outside the European Union, but did meet quite a lot of cultures that were from outside Europe. So am I a world citizen? I do not think so. There was a time that Europeans ruled the world. But I do not identify with the world. But I do identify with these Europeans, even though from my perspective I feel guilt about the wrongs they have done.
While one of my brothers has his masters degree, another brother is a truck driver. They have different opinions, behaviour, religions, and they aspire different things. But they are my brothers even though we live in different subcultures. My point: you do not have to be the same or in the same (sub)culture to be family. So you do not have to be in the same subculture to call yourself European. As a French would value hierarchy very high and I would less. And an Roman Catholic can pray to Mary while I do not, but we both call ourselves Christians.
But what identifies me the most, is the combination of being Dutch and being a Christian. Religion. By behaviour and by worldview. Maybe as a Christian you should be more of a world citizen, because we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord and all equal. But in that perspective I think we should, all together, start as behaving and thinking and believing like we are all equal. It almost sounds like liberté, fraternité, égalité. A European idea.
So am I a European? At least I am a European citizen. For I live within the borders and have grown up there. I am a European because I am a Dutch citizen and the Dutch are part of the European Union. I may not have chosen for this directly, I do profit from it and share the benefits with so many other European citizens.
I am a European, because I have a Christian worldview and because my roots are Christian. I am a European because of my values and believing in equality and working together. And maybe I am European because I want to get to know not only the European history, but also the current and future Europeans. For these people are not my brothers by blood, they can be by choice.
And I want to put weight on what we have in common: a European history, in a globalized but individual and national but European culture. I am not sure if ‘a European identity’ is something that will exist in the future. But I do believe that that is a choice.
Dit essay is geschreven als opdracht voor de CHE-minor European Cultures, september-november 2016.
- Abe360 (2009). Languages of Europe. Downloaded from https://abe360.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/languages_en3.png on october 25th 2016
- Darwin, Charles. (1859). On the Origin of Life: By means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. New York: D. Appleton and company.
- Hoeksema, Klaas J., & Van der Werf, Siep. (2010). Sociologie voor de Praktijk (2e druk). Bussum: Coutinho