Europe in desperate need of a soul

“Europe has a heart, but not a soul.” Ferenc Miszlivetz, professor at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and one of the speakers at the Istanbul Forum of the ‘A Soul for Europe‘ initiative, is convinced that Europe is soulless. “The political institutions of the European Union may form its heart, but that’s all there is. Europe doesn’t have any substantial content”, Mislivetz believes. Is that a problem? According to most participants at the Istanbul Forum, the answer would probably be a fullhearted ‘yes’.

How to tackle this problem then? The keynote speakers addressing this issue at the Forum have different opionions. Mislivetz thinks Europe needs its own civil society to develop a soul. Yolanda Onghena, coordinator of the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs says it needs its own shared public space. Niccolo Milanese, the director of ‘European Alternatives’ in turn claims that Europeans need to express their support for universal values to develop more ‘soul’.

Very diverse ideas, very diverse angles. And who or what is going to provide the input for them?

“Arts and culture…”

Arts and culture? Yes. At least that is the general belief at the Forum. Many European governments do not appear to agree though. In the past few years many countries and cities have seen dramatic decreases in public expenditure on culture. The financial crisis led (local) governments to believe that investments should be prioritised in other, ‘more urgent’policy areas. The European Parliament may want to mainstream culture in European policy, as Doris Pack, Chair of the EP Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) indicated during her speech, but on the ground, not many (local) governments support this line of thought. Even private businesses are losing interest in arts and culture, and artists, curators and other cultural workers are getting worried.

“We don’t know how to convince the government or investors of the use of arts and culture anymore”, Javor Gardev, a Bulgarian theatre and film director sighs. “I sometimes wonder if our European values have already been reduced to pure economic value, at least that seems to be all that counts”, he complains. Professor Pier Luigi Sacco from the University IUAV of Venice counters Gardev’s pessimistic point of view. He believes we shouldn’t think in terms of either being against or completely for the arts anymore. He optimistically states that “we should acknowledge the role of arts and culture in innovation, in the creation of sustainability, integration, welfare and entrepreneurialism”. Sacco has a strong conviction that arts and culture are more than economic value, but also more than artistic value. They can be the solution to many problems that modern towns, cities, regions, countries or whole continents, in the case of Europe, are dealing with…

But then the question remains – who will believe that? (except from those who don’t need to be convinced anymore) In today’s age of continuous monitoring, evaluation and benchmarking, supporting the positive effects of investments in arts and culture may not be the easiest thing to do. After all, results are almost never directly visible, and possibly not even measurable in the terms normally used to evaluate investment and policies. It seems to be a vicious circle – how to get out of it? That question will need to answered at the Berlin Conference of the ‘A Soul for Europe’ initiative on 20 November…

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