Euro kitsch

Cartoon by Steve Bell

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with an old friend that asked me: “So, now that you have been in Brussels for two years, are you less of a eurosceptic?” The question came as a huge shock, as I have always been more or less in favor of the European project, and have never identified myself with euroscepticism. Her perception came from a few critical comments I had made about democratic legitimacy and the handling of the crisis. “I am skeptical about the current situation in Europe, but I am not a eurosceptic,” I explained. If you want, I’m a disappointed europeanist.

The idea that questioning certain decisions will put anyone on the same group as those that oppose the whole process of integration was extreme. After five years of economic crisis, and amidst rising populist movements, doubting the efficiency of current strategies is the least any rational mind can do.

But in a city that is so immersed in the building of the EU, not everything is rational. After that conversation with my friend, I started noticing a trend of arguments that are easily dismissed for smelling eurosceptic. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a eurosceptic” is sometimes a compulsory line to be taken seriously in certain Brussels circles.

While the periphery has always complained about the lack of elements to build a common European identity, there definitely is an identity to the eurobubble. And it is a strong one. Even when people come from tens of different countries and speak different languages, many share similar degrees, work related jobs, and have matching life experiences. This lack of diversity can sometimes result in a monoculture that isolates Brussels from the rest of Europe.

At the bottom of it, is the idea of the Euro KItsch.

In “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Milan Kundera defines kitsch as “the absolute denial of shit.” He goes on to say that the denial is necessary for the “categorical agreement with being,” name it faxism, democracy, communism or… Europeanism? In a way, this means that ideologies and parties that feel threatened deny all problems or “shit” in order to survive. Under the current circumstances, that is what many Europeanists are doing in Brussels. Justifying past bad decisions like the handling of the crisis in Cyprus, or shutting up to the possibility of questioning options like decentralization perfectly match Kundera’s denial of shit.

In the book, one of the characters travels to Cambodia to be part of a Grand March. “The fantasy of the Grand March,” Kundera says, “is the political kitsch joining leftists of all times and tendencies. The Grand March is the splendid march on the road to brotherhood, equality, justice, happiness; it goes on and on, obstacles notwithstanding, for obstacles there must be if the march is to be the Grand March.” The Grand March of the eurobubble is the idea of an EU federation.

What repelled me in the discussions with my old friend wasn’t her idea of an EU federation, but the mask of beauty she tried to put on it. In other words – the euro kitsch. By concealing Europe’s problems and avoiding debate under the premise that controversial ideas pose a risk to the EU project, Brussels is playing a dangerous game. In the book Sabina, a friend of Franz, says her enemy is kitsch, not communism. Following that premise, Brussels should be aware that while citizens are not against the EU, they are increasingly turning themselves against a strategy that systematically denies wrongdoing and repeats that there is never an alternative to the decisions taken.

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