This word of German origin (Mitteleurope ‘Central Europe’, made up of mittel ‘central’ and Europe) is now universally used and has a magic and undefined meaning. Nobody can precisely state with confidence what Mitteleurope is from a geographical viewpoint, even less from a political, historical, cultural or simply human point of view.
Milan Kundera (Bohemian) said: “Mitteleurope is not a State. It is a culture and a destiny. It has fictitious borders, which must be redesigned every time a new historical situation develops”.
Robert Musil (Austrian) stated: “The man from Mitteleurope can be defined only by subtraction”.
Alexander Geysztor (Hungarian) had a romantic vision: “Mitteleurope is the place where you find the names of Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar written on the walls, you sleep under duvets and you give an odd number of flowers to women as a present”.
To Ferenc Feijtö (also Hungarian), Mitteleurope is the European region where French revolution theories on nation principles and the birth of national states could not be applied; when imposed they caused a total disaster disrupting the European order.
Jacques Le Rider (French) wrote: “Mitteleurope is a community sharing a destiny in periods of crisis” (“Mitteleuropa” published by Il Mulino, 1995).
Some years ago a musician from Trieste said to our president: “Mitteleurope is the place where both Verdi and Wagner can be understood”. To which one may add: Mitteleurope means:
- living at home or in a café rather than in the streets;
- using butter instead of oil;
- celebrating Christmas on the night of 24th December instead of 25th;
- or simply it is, as we put it, a life style.
For each definition one thing is certain: there are not real borders but horizons, which can be perceived in different ways depending on the observer’s cultural background and sensitivity.
In some German schools Mitteleurope is the area where German is used as a lingua franca. As Naumann said, Mitteleurope is everything that is German or is culturally dependent on or replacing German culture.
However, does this concept have a meaning to an old man from Mukacevo (in the Ukrainian Carpathians) who, without moving, had his nationality changed five times in only 80 years? He first was Austro-Hungarian, then Czechoslovakian, then Hungarian, Soviet and finally Ukrainian. The old man would probably not care about belonging to one country only, nor about being influenced by a dogmatic cultural world. Most likely he would suffer from an identity crisis, not a fatherhood crisis.
Experts and scholars should focus their analysis on this identity crisis. Giving a sensible, credible and above all straightforward answer to this dilemma would have an extraordinary impact to the benefit of Europe as a whole.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was to a large extent the socio-political factor uniting Mitteleuropean peoples. This is at least one point everybody agrees upon.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire’s role was vital to our western civilisation. It defended Europe and diluted pressures from Asian peoples by gradually converting them to Christianity and getting them closer to European culture; it defended Europe against the Turks and ensured the balance between Russian Pan-Slavism and Pan-Germanism. This single state was also unified by a single religion, strongly influenced by the Jewish component. Over the centuries it developed and produced a common cultural matrix, which is the undisputed heritage of the former Empire’s peoples.
Hence, we do not agree with those considering the Empire as if it was something unreal transcending history, something orderly and unchangeable, paternal and eternal at the same time. This Empire laid the basis for a common Mitteleuropean - that is European - identity. There is nothing to regret, to celebrate or to be nostalgic about. This is only a fact, a reality that made us real. We are the result of several generations of ancestors who laid the basis for our conscience. It is impossible to live without conscience, and through conscience we feel a sense of uneasiness that - thanks to our education and upbringing - turns into suffering, not contempt. Indeed, the latest Mitteleuropean literature is pervaded with strong suffering, loneliness and search for identity.
Zweig (from “World of Yesterday”): “...This was Europe, we were Europe” and “it was sweet to live here, in this atmosphere of spiritual conciliation, and subconsciously every citizen became supranational, cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world”.
Roth, who had been against the old Emperor, went down to the “Capuchin Crypt” to ask his forgiveness. He fled Nazi Austria and died alcoholic in Paris.
Musil became a “man without qualities”.
Werfel: “Political systems in the world may change. But what is orderly, governed and administered, be it a country, a people or an individual, can survive all the turmoil by its own nature”.
The list goes on and on. Michelstaedter committed suicide, and Magris in his book “Un Altro Mare” described the daily pain in the troubled search for “another sea” and the ongoing escape from “this sea”.
Even in this case there are two currents of thought: one is German and the other one is Anglo-American.
- According to the first current of thought, Mitteleurope covers the geographical area, the outer boundaries of which are located in the cities of Munich, Dresden, Cracow, Budapest, Zagreb, Trieste and Vienna;
- according to the second one, Mitteleurope stretches along the axis Trieste-Tallinn (the old Amber Route).
However, borders are changing and unstable, and national frontiers do not coincide with real ones. Hence, a permanent identity crisis has developed.
Both assumptions have their own rationale, but in both cases Feijtö’s words are true: after the fall of the Empire, the worst came out with nazism, communism, fascism, anti-Semitism and tribal totalitarianism.
These tragedies were mainly caused by one common factor: nationalism. This idea developed in people’s irrational minds and turned into a para-religious movement, a sort of widespread “apartheid” (Menschen und Untermenschen). It was a cultural and spiritual decay that finally got out of control and overwhelmed even those who, shrewdly and cynically, made up its theory.
Indeed, at the end of the last century, many people thought it was necessary to destroy the Empire to destroy the evil, as the evil resulted from the super-national structure of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Nobody thought that the evil was already inborn in us: that was nationalism.
Today, what is the influence and potential of this nineteenth-century virus, and to what extent can it have an impact? Its life cycle is far from being over if we look at what is happening inside and outside Europe. This issue would be worth an in-depth analysis; therefore, the main concepts will be outlined.
|Nationalism and nationalities
There are as many theories on nationalism as many types of nationalism.
The simplest (and perhaps most beautiful) definition was given by a Carnic priest many years ago. Here is the translation of what he said in Friulian: “The nationalist is the one kicking the others in the bottom, and certainly not the one getting the kicks.” In other words, the nationalist always needs an enemy. Therefore, nationalism is based on conflict.
Nationality (from natio = birth) has a purely ethnic and certainly not political meaning. The nation is first and foremost the expression of a sovereign ethnic group. This concept is mentioned in Article III of the Declaration of the rights of Man and of the Citizen: “The principle of any sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation”. Therefore, the nation is a close entity for citizens; it is the collective entity they belong to, with no mediation of other bodies (that is States, which are a totally different thing). In this context, other people’s identity is no longer a threat to one’s own identity; if citizens defend their own nation, they do it because they are ready to fight to defend other people’s nation, too.
In short, the following equation may apply: nationalism : offence = nation : defence.
The nation is therefore the national right of a “tribe”. In order to thrive, nationalism needs a community where to work out a real or alleged identity theory, and impose a real or alleged threat. The promoters of such theories act like mind-blowers for people and foster the nationalistic spirit. Once the mind-blowing effect is over, the cynicism that is typical of hangovers prevails: “Degeneration in the modern age is something similar to the hangover of the next day” (Michael Walker).
Nationalistic conflicts have almost destroyed us, but a dry world with no tribal loyalties would plunge us into a boring and distressing standardisation.
Nationalism was one of the causes leading to the collapse of the Danubian Confederation. As the Polish writer Jerzy Lec wrote, the white spots disappeared from maps and blood spots appeared.
In the past eighty years we got used to everything. The old man from Munkacevo, as well as Julko from Dobrovo and Furio from Trieste changed their nationality three or four times. We had our “official” languages, names, passports, toponymy and monuments, State emblems and officials, bureaucracy and tax collectors changed over and over again. We were worn out by dull and blind hostility, replacing the power of right by the right of power. Merchants and criminals signed treaties and abused peoples and history by simply drawing borders on a map. They changed the political geography resulting from century-long social, cultural and ethnic processes by creating artificial States and turning long-standing situations upside down.
This is what happened in many countries (e.g. Bohemia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Moldova, Ukraine etc.). These peoples’ ambitions have nothing to do with nationalism; they are simply a historical fact. They are characterised by a strong identity and are now reappearing and taking back their role in Europe.
Article 5 of the Mitteleurope Cultural Association Statute reads: “The preservation of our ethnical, historical and cultural identities; a pre-requisite to build a free and united Europe, while respecting the history of all its peoples, and to overcome any current division”.
As mentioned, preservation and respect are just the opposite of nationalism. What is now happening in Europe is just a nemesis of history, which according to some would have stopped with the Iron Curtain. The more this process will develop undisturbed, the more peaceful and civilised it will be.
The events in ex Yugoslavia should be a warning to us all.
That will lead to a new European order ensuring peace, union and stability, where economy will make Europe stronger and more competitive to stand up to the other big world powers.
|Mitteleurope and Europe
The conditions leading to the creation of nineteenth-century States have undergone a radical social and political change. Undoubtedly, their disappearance has implied shortcomings and left gaps that have not yet been filled by new values, which are slowly developing in modern society.
We are all somewhat cynical and bewildered (the so-called “hangover effect”), as we see everything around is changing:
- the family structure
- the population structure
- the environment
- the sociological environment
- the legal framework and laws
- economy “rules”.
This is an era of radical change, to which very few people are prepared.
- The Jacobin principle of centralism has collapsed. All modern States are provided with a decentralised, federal or confederative structure.
- The State order has been replaced by the world order. The global market has required States to comply with common international rules and regulations. Organisations, Charters, Conventions, Directives, Agreements and international treaties are increasingly applied and increasingly tie single State autonomies to the world order. In other words, a State can exist or remain as such as long as it is accepted by the world Community. Therefore, it must fulfil all its duties and obligations and comply with all the rules and agreements which are required and imposed.
- The nineteenth-century concept of independence has also disappeared (note that independence, in this case, is not meant as a value). The end of self-governing States has jeopardised this concept once and for all. We are all interdependent today, as we depend on the dollar, oil, energy sources, raw materials (that are necessary for industry), the freedom of movement, food supplies, international finance, terrorism, religious fundamentalism; we even depend on a lunatic that may cause a crash on the world Stock Exchanges.
In the light of such a radical turmoil, it is vital and reasonable to build Europe upon the idea that economic integration can certainly not - just by alchemy - turn into a union of peoples. That is why it is necessary to re-establish values and principles enhancing and fostering the new European man’s central role.
What role can Mitteleuropean countries play in this context? They can play a fundamental role thanks to their dignity and humanity resulting from the trials and sufferings of the recent past. Let us not forget that they are the heirs of a supranational structure, and therefore they know the “sacrificium nationis” principle. In other words, they are ready to accept general rules, principles and sacrifices in the name of a common higher ideal, that is Europe, “our” Europe.
Mitteleuropean countries have learnt all this over centuries of coexistence under the Holy Roman Empire, whose traditions and existence were connected to ancient Rome. Paradoxically enough, the aggregation of central European countries can give new momentum and encourage the development of a new European house.
It would not be the first time. Caesar’s legions were European by origin and culture. With those legions, Caesar crossed the Rubicon not to destroy the capital of the Empire but to save it, to save the Empire and to save Europe.