• Liza Saris

Where is Europe?

Bijgewerkt: 20 feb 2019

On the edge of Europe, Georgia, I felt truly European. And because I am an optimistic person, I want to start this article smiling.

Before I started travelling I have been thinking about the past and the future of Europe. I arranged interviews, did my research and read books to understand the history and the modern age of Europe with all it's Nation-States. The further I went on my trip and the more people I spoke, the more I realized that my story about Europe is not about its past, it's about the future. The things I have been told, the stories I have listened to, the people I met, shared the subject on how we ended up here but mostly how we can move on from this point.

With the rise and shine of nationalist populism in Europe, we as Europeans have to worry about powers within Europe that will turn against its own citizens, once again. Because when nationalism is used as a tool to bind people, it has the power to mobilize against each other. The real threat of Europe is the mobilization of nationalism in times of institutionalized neo-liberalism. This is a combination that threatens the social welfare states in Europe and has the power to start a continental war. National citizens are deceived with the nationalistic security narrative by their populist and nationalistic politicians. They claim to secure the welfare state by promoting cultural and ethnic homogeneity, fake state sovereignty opposed to rules from Brussels and economic sustainability that is based on national growth. Citizens are not actually benefiting from these nationalistic policies while at the same time multinationals are.

Because of this there was no better place for me to end my trip than at a conference about a transnational Europe organized by European Alternatives, where a progressive future for Europe was discussed. A Europe of the future, which would be based on solidarity, where the people are at its center and not money or capitalism, which fights against climate change and offers a secure and equal life to all its citizens. A very idealistic version of our future. In order to reach this Europe, we need to move beyond the idea of a Europe that is divided by Nation-States and a Europe that puts all its trust and power in the governments of these Nation-States. We need to work together cross border, transnational and at the same time regional. Only when progressive movements and parties start being transnationally connected, we will be able to stop the mobilization of nationalism and change the neo-liberalist institutions.

'What's the plan when the monster leaves the stage'

Beautiful train station in Austria. Let's put Nationalism on the train out of Europe.

This was one of the questions that was asked during the conference. A fair question, because claiming that nationalism is our greatest enemy and that we need to move beyond that is easy to say. But even when we move beyond the form of the Nation-State, we will still need a form of a state. How will this state be different from a Nation-State? The first panel discussion tried to answer precisely this question. With arguments of Ulrike Guérot, who argues that the EU and Europe need to transform into a federalist state and Maya Goodwell, who reminded us that in order to move beyond we also need to discuss our colonialist history. If we do not put the discussion of underrepresented citizens at its core, we will create another monster instead of a new system.

On the other side of the same debate we have the activists, the politicians, the policymakers and the engaged citizens, who have more practical and fast solutions to move beyond the Nation-State. It is for example the municipialist movement of the transformative and fearless cities, the FreeInterrail, the Unions network, the activists against the climate change, cultural entrepreneurs or the feminists network. These movements within the EU and Europe which have been organized on a transnational level, because their specific themes are binding more than their nationality is. During my journey I mostly encountered this second group who have told me so many inspiring stories and visions about their future of Europe.


Two Swedish guys being Fearless cheering for Croatia during the World Cup of 2018.

So the municipialists movement has been rising for a while, but gained real political influence when Ada Colau became mayor in Barcelona and Barcelona En Comú held a Fearless cities conference. The idea is that municipalities have the power to implement progressive policies within their cities and regions. By implementing these policies they create a progressive movement within their jurisdiction. This is especially important in policy areas for the undocumented refugees, healthcare, debts, housing and tourism. Policy areas that municipalities can influence and have much experience with. Another advantage of the municipalities is the opportunity to participative democracy. The citizens and activists can more easily be connected and activated in the policymaking. These progressive municipalities are starting to get organized on a transnational level to exchange good practices and make the movement stronger. This is an example of the power of regional activism and politics combined with transnationality.

A problem within Europe and the EU is that there is no real functioning public sphere or space. That complicates the transnational movements and networks. As I wrote in the article about Mittel-Europa, the cultural sector and progressive movement is very fragmented which makes the exchange of information a difficult process. I'm glad that due to the conference in Berlin I met people from 'The European Moment' who are working to set up a transnational organization named 'European May'. This organization has as goal to connect progressive movements, activists etc. and organize from the 1st till the 9th of May a week of events all over Europe. Two weeks later, I sat down together with like-minded people in Berlin, to brainstorm about how to set up this transnational movement/campaign/organization. Though it is a very grand plan, that will encounter a lot of struggles and disappointments they decided to invest their energy to what is seen by many as impossible. To me personally it has been really inspirational to meet people who push forward instead of give up when a plan sounds so complicated that you do not know where to start.

My project 'Where is Europe' won't end by me being back in Amsterdam. There are more than enough stories that I have not yet shared with you. There are more than enough thoughts that keep popping up in my head. I met so many nice and inspirational people, old and young, that I want to introduce to you all. People who have been trough a lot and people who have been really privileged, who all shared with me their experience with being European. But most of all I have to share the optimistic and beautiful stories that will make you realize that we need each other and that we need to oppose the devastating force of the mobilization and categorization of nationalism.

I hope I can also become fearless and enjoy my second journey, the one that starts after you come home from traveling in Europe.


Contact :

Liza Saris 



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