Do As I Say Not As I Do – On European Political Actorness

Nikolai Markov

Oh tempora, oh mores! Where time and tradition have led us! A world that was at war twice, ubiquitous fear, hatred and destruction. From the ashes of this world, a new Eu-rope was supposed to rise and without a doubt, we did learn from history. We started building on a new sense of Europeanness that is based on cooperation through the project of European integration: First a trade union, then a political union on top, to make a European Union. For the latter, the only guiding maxim that matters, is formulated in the slogan: ‘United in Diversity.’

This is European Union: A tautology. ‘United in Diversity’ sounds extremely appealing but essentially, in itself, it does not carry any explanatory meaning. It even denies to do so. As Joep Leerssen has called it, the definition of Europeanness to be based on this slo-gan is ‘ramshackle, of course’. Maybe that is also representative of why the thought of European Unity to be based on a factor of division, namely that of diversity, makes for people too easily to lose their heads and jump at Europe. Keeping in mind the root of European integration itself, namely the Cold War context and blossoming of capitalism and free trade in the West vs. socialism and planned economy in the East, a lot of critique was voiced as to whether the East-West divide could actually be overcome. In that context the opening of the Iron Curtain was felt as a phenomenon that enabled the possibility for the suffering East to be embraced by a new notion of European union. The only place that kept fighting this enlightenment appeared to be the Balkans. Turning the lessons drawn from European history on its head, our embracing notion of European Union became an impossibility once the long lost nightmare became reality again: Seemingly unsolvable and graphically brutal conflict based on the perception of diversity. The whole world was watching; we were locked to screens in disbelief of the horrid violence that was the reality “over there”. Shaking our heads in this time of blossoming, we looked to the edge of Europe, baffled and confused. Somebody tame these beasts! We need the whole world to pay attention and come to this place to figure it out! It has always smelled of blood and now it is being freshened up again! As Europeans, we cannot have that.

Dealing with this savagery made for many questionable positions, a lot of confusion as to how to act and what to do to end the bloodshed. However, all acts of intervention only made the mess worse than it already was. Again, our dream was turned on its head. Everything that could be fathomed by the world community at large, failed. It was so unforeseen and yet so familiar. All the symbols to remind us of our central trauma emerged: Mockery on grounds of heritage that escalated into violence with the endgame of systematic eradication – towards a new order. And as aware as unaware we could be, everyone was under its spell.

Even though the symbols are so loaded and make us connect it with our central trauma, namely the remembrance of mass killing, hatred and destruction, we were clearly unable to step in at the moment and resolve this new tenacious hatred. Fortunately enough, the killing has become a thing of the past, however our horror compels us to stick to searching for a continuity of the tensions that rose up to it. And even where it does not, it compels us to assess in terms of the recipes we have made to escape the trauma we are reminded of. It encroaches our vision onto the Balkans so much that we cannot re-solve the fundamental displacement we feel about the region. It is locked within Europe.

Why? Why are the Balkans upside down to us? Antiparallel developments keep convincing us that the Balkans do not belong but yet we see how they do in the mistakes that are made there. Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, making use of Lacanian psychoanalytics, has fortunately developed the tools necessary to resolve our cluelessness. His work on ideology has revolutionized the way we understand it, and introduced the Lacanian Real into the realms of political philosophy. The entire lead up to the point of the bloody Balkan shows not a schism but a two-way street, on which the travellers always seem to find themselves at opposite ends. No matter whether they are coming from Europe or the Balkans: Antiparallelity persists; an antiparallelity of ideology and identity. ‘The Balkans is structured like the unconscious of Europe, das Unbewusste Europas.

Europe puts, projects all of its dirty secrets, obscenities and so on into the Balkans, which is why my formula for what is going on in [the Balkans] is not as people usually say, they are caught in their old dreams … they can’t face people here … ordinary, modern, post-modern … whatever reality. No, I would say they are caught into dreams but not into their own dreams, into European dreams. A French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, had a wonderful saying – maybe you know it – where he says, “Si vous êtes pris dans le rêve de l’autre, vous êtes foutu” If you are caught into another person’s dreams you are fucked, finished.’ (Quote Žižek on the Balkan).

Is European actorness not exactly defined in this moment? In the moment of, out of needing the truth for itself that it indeed has learned in order to maintain the fulfillment of its dream, it outsources the projection of catastrophe onto this (or any other) ever-backward region? Now before we speak of ‘othering’ and ‘orientalism’, Europe’s go-to explanations to claim that we know better because we see the injustice done to a self, I claim that it rarely helps the issue at heart. As Hegel has said, evil sits in the gaze of the one seeing it, and we must think as much as act to overcome it, not just explain it and satisfy ourselves in the same old European spirit.

The point in the end is simple. The dream to maintain European acting can only function in dependence on an outliving of the dirty, of the wrong somewhere, so that we are a-ware of what is wrong. It is locked in our gaze. What better place to project horror and head-shaking onto than the powder keg of the Balkan? Or any other kind of conflict we ‘cannot understand’ for we are too good to do so? It is not our fault because, as of now, it has never been and it will never be, for “we have learned”. We do not act to break out of our fortress and so we can fetishise our actorness. Word and deed smear into a gulp of satisfaction that enables as much as it disables. So for new European actorness it is: ‘Do as I say not as I do.’, for it only perpetuates the sustainment of a fetish, not a free act of itself. This is by no means coming even close to the embrace of agency that would define actorness up to today’s understanding of it, nor to an addressing of the issue at heart.

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