Mittel-Europa and the fragmentation of the social and cultural European institutions.
From the Czech Republic and the border of the Soviet I was ready for Vienna, as Geert Mak calls it, the centrum of Europe, as both geographically and historically Vienna is connected with most of the rest of Europe. The city felt very comfortable and I experienced a very friendly and welcome atmosphere, also because I had some friendly faces to meet up with. I spend the first day with a fellow traveller I met in Wroclaw, with whom I discovered the airdefence towers that Hitler built in Vienna during the war. We sat down at the river and enjoyed the lively ambiance of the riverbanks. The other days I was so lucky to be able to stay with Zilla and Ming. They walked me along the city, showed me some nightlife of Vienna and I met some of their friends. When you get that feeling from a city you also experience the city in a different way than you would just being a tourist. The last morning in Vienna I had a long and very interesting talk with Katharina Moser, founder of the company Mosaik, agency for European communication, that definietly added to my experience in Vienna. It was the second city, after Vilnius, that I would consider as a great place to live and move after my travels. I walked upon and heard so many stories of great projects going on in Vienna, like many free festivals, free film screenings but most certainly also the projects started by Katharina Moser.
Connecting people by meeting people
I came into contact with Katharina Moser because of her project Routes Vienna. Once a year they organise a day to bring Europe to the people of Vienna. People can subscribe online for free and decide which tour they want to take. The tours are organised along themes, for example for the whole family or language themed and the route always guides you along three different stations, each representing another European country. The locations differ from a pub to a cooking studio or outside locations like the MuseumsQuartier. The tours all begin and end at the same place as a mosaic that with all the lose pieces makes a whole in the end. Katharina explained that she started the Routes project because if people don't have the means or possibility to discover Europe, they want to bring Europe to them, by displaying all the different nationalities and different things that they are famous for or form their identity.
Katharina Moser did an exchange in Madrid where she lived with 7 different nationalities. This international experience did not let her go anymore and now she is ambassador for the Free Interrail project. A project that just launched this year with its first trial in which the EU gives out free interrail passes to 18 year olds to travel through Europe for a month. This project aims to facilitate for less priviliged youngsters to experience Europe, make new friends and experience other cultures. As being confronted with other cultures, the discrepancies but also the similarities, can lead to a better understanding of what Europe means and that Europe is also beautifull, fun and interesting. Identity is not only built on visible similarities between people, but also needs a space to meet in person or digital, to interact and discuss to form a public sphere to form the identity that binds. To have the same identity there needs to be a form of interaction to create a form of understanding between people. It is this interaction, meetings and experiences that the project aims to bring to the people that would not experience this otherwise.
But it does not stop with these two projects. Together with a partner she developed a cardgame, called 'Come on over' based on facts of the different EU memberstates that you probably did not yet knew. The goal of the game is to convince the others to come on over to your country. You convince them with the facts on your card and some extra information. The traveller can choose who is the most convincing and afterwards all the players have to guess which country the fact belongs to. The goal of the game is to foster personal and positive debate about Europe which is not staged by an institution or organisation. I tried the game a couple of times in the hostels I've been and I experienced that it was quite difficult to get people to play it. Probably because youngsters in hostels want to play drinking games or just cards. So after I came up with a way to make it a drinking game, people did like the game. Most of the plays I did ended up in debates about the cards and other random facts that people knew about the countries where they have been. People were also suprised about the things that they found out and I think there was an allover positive experience. The question is though how you get the card game to be spread around. As Katharina Moser also told me it was a very intense period to launch the game and get it to different places for selling or give away. I think the game may not be able to reach the people who are not already interested in a way in other cultures, countries or travelling.
What are the next steps?
At the moment she is working to stimulate the exchange of privat funds to pay for the social and cultural organisations in Europe that want to promote European identity. As at the moment the funds available for these kind of organisations are mostly either from the EU or the governments. The problem with this is that the process of the funding is complicated, bureauratic and unstable. The EU does not have one strong form of cultural policy. The one they have is very diversed in different disciplines and the cultural infrastructure of the nationstate plays a big role in the process to get your funding. As young and beginnning project it is very time consuming to get into the process especially if you are not trained in the EU cultural policy or the office of your nationstate is not that well organised. Another complication is that there is not much incentive for the nationstates to promote European identity which makes it countereffective to place cultural policy in their hands. As I argued in my article about my meeting with Emilia Paloomen, the governments of the nationstates have no benefit or direct win in promoting European solidarity or identity. Especially with the rise of populism in Europe, it would be naive to think that the nationstates are the ones to bear this responsibility.
There are a lot of projects that can only find funding for one year, resulting in a very unstable and fragmented scene. We agreed that there should be a central network funding of these projects that is not necessarily governmental or EU related. Normally you would say that the more projects foster European identity on different levels and different places throughout Europe, the better. But I also think that at the moment so many people are doing the same thing at the same time, which makes it a completely inefficient and chaotic process. As European there are so many projects that seek your attention and most of them do not even lign up in their message. Can it be that without cohesion and coöperation in the scene, the projects don't stimulate each other but actually make each others message less strong?
But not only the fragmented scene also the way the organisations plan their projects is in some ways very problematic. Her projects deliberately have Europe at the center and not the EU, she has her office in Vienna and not Brussels. As she also agrees that the EU and Europe should be communicated as two different things and this should not be confused, especially not by official organisations. As the EU is associated with bureaucracy, complicated politics, economics, solidarity and immigration crisis it does not do good to the European cohesion to make Europe and the EU substitutes. For this reason it is very complicated for the EU to invest in European identity without making it it's instrument and substitute. It is also the responsibility of the European citizens, companies, institutions and organisations to also invest in projects to find solidarity and cohesion within Europe.
Let me end by saying the following. If we could find a way to connect the people working on this theme and getting them to exchange ideas and form a regulated discourse about the direction to take, then a clear message could be send out. If the field starts combining their experiences, strategies and knowledge that would really stimulate European solidarity, cohesion and identity. The EU is not the institution which is going to make this happen, but the private institutions, the social and cultural institutions, the storytellers, the travellers and maybe some ideologists. People like Katharina Moser and her collagues are therefore so important for the future of the solidarity in Europe, which in my eyes is one of the most important problems that we have to tackle now.