“Never count out Europe”
Filmmaker Georg Stefan Troller calls for more cooperation among European states
Interviewer: Klaus Pokatzky, Deutschlandradio Kultur
Writer and documentary filmmaker Georg Stefan Troller believes Europe has offered the greatest overall contribution to worldwide democracy. For this to continue in the future, single countries need to overcome their national pride – a task for generations, says Troller.
Klaus Pokatzky: More than 22,000 people cast their vote when the Goethe-Institut asked for a European cultural canon in 30 European and several Arab countries. What connects us? What makes Europe Europe? According to the survey, Leonardo da Vinci is the greatest artist and Don Quixote is the most captivating literary figure. And Europe's greatest contribution to global culture is democracy. Every Monday, we take a moment to talk to a European about his Europe. First up is writer and filmmaker Georg Stefan Troller, whom I am meeting in Paris. Bonjour!
Georg Stefan Troller: Bonjour, Monsieur!
Pokatzky: Mr Troller, who is the most enrapturing European literary figure?
Troller: For me, having studied English abroad in California, it must be Shakespeare – the most significant European poet by far.
Pokatzky: Great! That means we're syncing up with the list, which places Hamlet very far up. But let's go from Hamlet, the fictitious statesman, to the ten greatest European politicians, as chosen by participants in the survey. We have Angela Merkel on first place, but then we also see Napoleon and Hitler placing high – what did you feel when you saw this?
Troller: I'm totally surprised, both happy and befuddled, that Angela Merkel made first place in front of great European heroes like Napoleon or Willy Brandt or de Gaulle and so on. But after all, it only shows that a real European – de Gaulle's mentality wasn't really all that European and neither was Churchill's – that a European will garner first place in a European survey.
Pokatzky: Which politician would you have voted for?
Troller: Well, Churchill only barely trails Angela Merkel. I would have placed Churchill first, because it was only due to the diplomatic relations he forged that Europe could exist at all after World War II, even if he wasn't much of a European in that sense. Churchill would have been my number one.
Pokatzky: Conspicuously, five of the top ten politicians are Germans. Does Germany really play such a central role in Europe, for good or for evil?
Troller: Well, at the moment it's probably partly due to the world financial crisis, because Germany, along with Austria and only very few others, seems to be weathering this crisis fairly well, which doesn't go for most other countries. At another point in time, Germany may not have placed first, but rather France or the UK.
Pokatzky: As a filmmaker yourself, you must have read the results of the best European film poll with particular interest. Roberto Benigni's "Life is Beautiful" was placed first. What's your opinion?
Troller: An entirely ridiculous choice. I found the movie perfectly atrocious. I find it quite astounding that such giants as Polanski or Fellini place far lower, whereas this film, this most questionable of films, is awarded first place. I'm glad, however, to spot Wim Wenders in the top ten, as well as "The Lives of Others" which was a great movie, although a very specifically German one, not really a film of global scope. But then, spying and phone-tapping may be becoming a worldwide problem, after all, following recent events.
Pokatzky: What would have been your choice for first place?
Troller: Sorry, I didn't get that.
Pokatzky: Which film would you have picked as Europe's best?
Troller: Probably "La Dolce Vita" or "8 ½," also by Fellini. Or perhaps "La Strada," a film I particularly liked, Fellini again; or "Rome, Open City" by Rossellini. All films that I think had worldwide significance, even if they seemed to focus on local issues at the time. But they were heavily concerned with the common good in people./p>
Pokatzky: Georg Stefan Troller on Deutschlandradio Kultur at the start of our series "Europe List." Mr Troller, democracy and classical music are Europe's most significant contributions, according to our results. You were born in Vienna in 1921 and fled first to Czechoslovakia, then to France at the age of 16, escaping from Hitler's death squads. Have we Europeans really made a contribution to democracy after World War II?
Troller: Never count out Europe. I believe that Europe has definitely contributed most to global culture, which, of course, is not necessarily identical to worldwide democracy. And I also believe that Europe is still capable of contributing much more, if only it succeeds in becoming integrated – not just a mismatched pell-mell of countries, but a truly united global region.
Pokatzky: So what are we lacking in our quest for true integration?
Troller: First and foremost, relinquishing national pride. If we concerned ourselves more with European history than with the stories of single nations, which usually come first in textbooks and novels, such integration would truly become possible. But as so much relies on the economy today, additional economic integration is necessary. And I think they are definitely working on it in over in Brussels, but people have to be willing to give up their patriotic doubts – and that is always a task for generations to come.
Pokatzky: Relinquishing national pride. Haven't we Germans and the French achieved an exemplary transition from hereditary enmity to a truly stable friendship? Is this one of the great accomplishments in a unified Europe?
Troller: Well, for someone like me, who has experienced all this first-hand, it really is incredible that the French have learned to no longer view their German neighbours as a constant menace or even a cultural ignominy, but as equals or perhaps at the moment even as superiors. Since World War II, France has been exemplifying a type of inferiority complex in relation to Germany, which it frequently attempts to compensate. But I think it should be possible, as long as real statesmen are at work, to accomplish absolute equality. The partnership between the two nations – though it may wax and wane at times – is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened in my lifetime.
Pokatzky: One of the questions on the list was: what does Europe mean to you, personally. This yielded answers such as culture, community, freedom of travel, diversity, peace. What do you personally associate Europe with, Georg Stefan Troller?
Troller: Well, a man of my age tends to identify culture with high culture. What Europe was capable of contributing and what brought forth such paragons as Shakespeare and Goethe, that, what other countries do not have, is exactly what culture means to us. And that is not freedom of travel. It is self-awareness, the ability to dig deeper and deeper into what makes a human being and learning to employ all one's talents and to live a good life. Cultivation rather than education. For us, high culture is represented by Athens and Rome and not the Eiffel Tower. And there is a certain threat that, with economic advances in other parts of the world, I hesitate to name China or India, this culture may waver and dissipate. To quote the philosopher Lichtenberg: "Man sagt noch Seele wie man sagt Taler, nachdem man lang aufgehört hat, die Taler zu prägen." [One says "soul" as one says "Taler," long after one has stopped minting the Taler. [referring to an outdated German currency; translator's note]]
Pokatzky: And which European language would you like me to say "thank you" in now?
Troller: Three of them at least, German, English, French – whichever ones you wish.
Pokatzky: Danke, thank you very much, merci beaucoup.
Troller: Merci à vous, au revoir!