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Thursday, 18 October 2012

What does it mean to be European?

Since the European Union has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year, I would like to take this as an opportunity to think about what being European actually means. I’ve been pondering on this even before I started this blog, but until now I couldn’t put my thoughts into words. So since now seems to be the right time, I’ll try to do just that.

Even though I have benefitted tremendously from Poland’s membership in the EU, being European means much more than just the EU. For me, how I feel about Europe seems to change wherever I am. When I was in Canada, I worked in a beautiful shop with Polish products, among them pralines, amber jewellery and stained glass that Poland is actually quite famous for. The text on the display said: “European glass”, even though the glass was specifically from Poland. However, I could identify with this description, because it actually counted Poland as a European country on par with France Germany- something that is not obvious in Europe where Poland is often considered a worse kind of Europe.

On the other hand, I often browse American websites in search for parenting articles, blogs and some advice. There, I often see arguments like: “In Europe, women do this or that”, when it is obvious that this “this or that” only applies to one or more countries in Europe and even though there are similarities, each country has their own way of dealing with parenting- or basically everything.

When I am in Poland, I feel very European. When I am abroad, I become more “Polish”. This sounds schizophrenic, but it really isn’t. Europeans often wonder whether the EU is taking away their own national identity, and trying to substitute it with a homogenous European one. This is not exactly true. When I was at university, I worked as a part of a research project team that analysed the emergence of a European public sphere over time. One of the factors analysed was European identity.

It turned out that such a public sphere already exists. And, if you look at articles and studies concerned with identity (or rather the multitude of them), you’ll see that far from having a fixed identity, people tend to identify with many roles: the child, the parent, the sibling, the colleague or the boss, the spouse, the friend. You say you don’t feel European but you feel let’s say, Polish? Great, but you probably identify with your city (I most certainly do), and/or your region- most Germans would agree with this! I often identify as a person speaking a Slavic language, which connects me to people from Russia to the Balkans! The cool thing about identity is that it’s in a great part your choice!

So why not feel European? After all, just as fulfilling the many roles in our lives, and identifying with various geographical entities, feeling European doesn’t automatically make you less Polish/German/French, etc. People of course might decide not to feel that way, and that’s fine.

I decided to feel European. I think my husband did as well. I hope that my girls will, too.

How about you? Do you feel European? And if you’re not from Europe, how do you feel about living here? If you don’t live in Europe, what are your impressions about it?

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  1. Ah, the topic I've spending the last three years on :) And to be honest, I'm not sure yet what Europe means for me. But from the data I'm working with it seems that over the years the national identities in the EU (well, with the exception of the UK...) have acquired I a 'European' element and it has become an integral part of what it means to be German, Swedish or even Latvian. Most of my respondents would call themselves 'European' without much hesitance, after all they are Latvian and Latvia is in Europe!

    1. Yes, it's similar to the research project we used to work on- and my MA thesis. I am not sure what it means to me, either, that's why I only tried to described my feelings about this. But the European component is a good way to describe this-I think in Poland there used to be this huge discussion whether the EU is trying to take our national identity away, and Poland is rather critical in that aspect- maybe there are national differences in the identity aspect as well- while the EU seems to be a threat to some of the countries but not to others. Interesting :)

    2. Oh the threat thing is definitely there in most countries and people fear losing their culture and identity. A trend I find more interesting though(in a purely scientific way...) is the "Europe for Europeans" idea that is anti non-EU migration and seems to function quite well alongside the right-wing nationalist ideas. Its basically the same thing, just on a European level. Who would've ever thought that to be possible...

    3. You are so right- if you're a member of the EU, you're treated well, more or less. But if you aren't, you're just treated as if you're a worse kind of human...And even in Europe, not all countries, and not languages are created equal...such a shame.


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