L’EUROPE EN LISTE: A la recherche d’une culture européenne

Ene Ergmaen

Ene Ergma © Goethe-Institut Estland

Ene Ergma © Goethe-Institut Estland

What Europeans are like

This is a sentence that summarises answers to the questions that the Goethe Institute asked thousands of people in thirty countries.

While answering the question: "How strongly do you feel European?", the majority of respondents seemed to agree that they did feel European. We, Estonians, remember the wish articulated by the writer Gustav Suits at the beginning of the last century: "Let us be Estonians, but also become Europeans!", and I hope that all the respondents would feel that there should be a balance between national identity and wider cultural experience. While being Europeans, let us also be Norwegians, Latvians, Germans, etc. I hope that we would not lose our cultural identity in the melting pot of globalisation, thus becoming faceless and nameless people, simply Europeans. Europe should be a cultivated garden where each flower and plant has a place – this would be the guarantee for the persistence of local identities.

The answers to the questions about culture were remarkable in that that most of the respondents connected the motion picture art with the present moment. The respondents did not usually mention great films by Fellini or Italian neorealists or Tarkovsky, Wajda, or other famous filmmakers from the second half of the 20th century.

Don Quijote turned out to be the best-known literary figure, which probably indicates that Cervantes is still widely taught in European schools. Regrettably, some authors, such as Shakespeare and Goethe were also listed as literary figures. Sherlock Holmes and The Little Prince happened to be on this list probably not because they are part of the school curricula but because these characters have become popular in their own right.

The first place of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the list of influential European politicians did not come as a surprise, but, then again, it shows the influence of the present moment in politics as well. The second place won by Churchill should perhaps be seen as an indication of wider intellectual horizons; he was an active politician and influenced world politics half a century ago. I was astonished to find several German chancellors among the most influential politicians in Europe. Hitler also featured in the results, but the respondents neglected to mention two Communist perpetrators – Lenin ja Stalin. Have their crimes against humanity been forgotten or are they falling into oblivion?

To my amazement, Berlin was named as the most attractive city in Europe. I do not know what to say as Berlin would not be among the first ten most attractive European cities on my list. Is it because of Germany's leading position in Europe or is it for some other reason that Berlin won such a high place, I would not know.

It is true that before the First World War Berlin, alongside Paris, was Europe's cultural centre, especially in the field of theatre. The world-famous stage director Max Reinhardt worked in Berlin, Marlene Dietrich attracted attention here. The First World War, the German Revolution, the rise of Hitler, the Second World War and the division of Germany practically erased Berlin from the world map as a city we would like to visit. By now it seems that Berlin has regained the charm of the early 20th century and has become a leading city again.

On reflection, too many answers seem to be dominated by Germany, so my guess is that the majority of respondents were among friends of the Goethe Institute. This is not bad in itself, but it is quite difficult to draw generalisations on the basis of these answers.

What does Europe personally mean to people who took part in the survey? The results showed that it is not easy to find an answer to this question. "Culture" was one of the answers and it is definitelylike a flower to be cultivated in the garden of Europe. The flowers of local cultures may be ruined by globalisation and the spread of mass culture. However, I am convinced that this will not be the case, Personally, I do not understand why the participants in the Eurovision song contest prefer English, although words in English may be better understood. You need not understand French while listening to Edith Piaf's songs to feel that she had the touch of a genius.

What is the most important European discovery? The answers to this question were very interesting. The discovery of antibiotics was mentioned together with the discovery of euro. How can a currency be discovered remains a mystery to me. The printing press (19) came first in the results, which is very good. There are of course many more discoveries including those that have had major influence on the world, but which a modern person would take for granted. Perhaps the best example is the experiments made by Michael Faraday. When Faraday demonstrated a dynamo, the First Lord of the Treasury Sir Robert Peel asked him of what use it was. Faraday gave an historical answer: "I know not, but I wager that one day your government will tax it!"

Of the most significant European artists the painters were mentioned most often, and Leonardo da Vinci won the first place (25). Leonardo is definitely one of the great painters and he has been popularised by means of numerous books, films and exhibitions.

While I have no doubts about the role of great European artists in world art, the results about the best sportsperson were controversial. Sporting events, similarly to stage productions, happen in the current moment and it is difficult to draw comparisons. Although I am a tennis fan the high places given to tennis players and the first place won by Novak Djokovic came as a surprise to me. It seems as if the popularity of sportspeople depends on how much they earn and this is what makes them so attractive. The list features tennis players and footballers and Michael Schumacher. On the other hand, I would like to quote Rafael Nadal ( Rafael Nadal with John Carlin Rafa: My Story): " I understand better than ever just how privileged we professional tennis players are, and how unjust is the predicament of so many Olympic athletes.... These people train with the discipline of monks over a period of four years in preparation for the one competition that stands out above all others, the Olympics, yet the vast majority of them receive very little support relative to the effort they invest." I think that the observations of this young man are quite noteworthy and the greatest sportspeople should be those who have proved themselves during the Olympic Games.

I think that Italy has rightly won the first place for its cuisine, to be followed by French cuisine.

In the answers to the questions about the country that most embodies the future of Europe or a country for living in other than their own or a language other than the native tongue that should be learnt, Germany and the German language were on top of the list.

Another surprising thing was that Russia was completely left out of the survey. In world culture Russian literature, and Russian drama in particular, have played a significant role. And Russia is definitely one of the countries that affects Europe's future as well.

Prof. Ene Ergma, astrophysicist, President of Estonian Parliament