Pan Drakopoulos: What is the European civilization?
Speech to the Association of European Journalists (Greek section) in the Hall of European Parliament, Athens, Greece, 31 January 2012
Once we decide to reflect on what the European civilization is, we immediately find ourselves before a number of questions:
What does civilization mean?
What defines it?
What is a European, except and beyond a statement on a passport?
Why should we study and support the European civilization?
What is particularly important about it?
How much does the European Union express the European civilization?
Is it possible -or even meaningful-, in our technotronic and globalized times, for the European civilization to be understood?
Speaking to you today, I will attempt to move past the whirl of questions and present the subject as a whole.
The term civilization derives from the Latin root of Europe (civilis) and expresses the right frame of a citizen’s life; however, as a term, civilization was created to convey the system of values which the Great French Revolution derived from. The term was introduced by Mirabeau, the excellent orator and statesman who participated in the writing of the first Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen – the text that was recognized as “the Credo of the new age” by the 19th-century historian Jules Michelet.”
Anthropology expanded the term so that it could express more or less the total of material and spiritual achievements, as well as all people’s institutions and ways of life. This generalization, however, has not downgraded European civilization by putting it as one among others. Instead, it showed off its uniqueness.
Nowadays we see people talk about the right in democracy of Mongolia or Thailand or Burkina Faso’s people, which means that generalization made known the substance of European civilization as a universal demand. People that never thought of what is the meaning of a human right in their history, today they demand it even when they are unable to define it.
In any case, speaking of European civilization we mean a certain frame of values of not simply people but of citizens, that is people who constitute a state, whose the ruler is the civil liberties, in which they decisively participate, keeping always the individual freedom as their base.
The characteristic of historical space-time in European civilization is the absence of long duration. This defines a central characteristic of European civilization: the possibility to carry on the discussion continually and, of course, to utterly change the institutional structure of the society, and the philosophical and artistic individual creation as well.
Egypt, since it was constituted as a united state until the end of its independence, which is from 3100 B.C. until 525 B.C., had the same Pharaonic regime. The Great Wall of China was built to protect the Chinese people from Mongolians, and went on doing so until the 16th century, that is more than 2.000 years.
There isn’t such long duration in European history; there is neither a regime that lasted for thousand of years, nor a fortress that functioned for many centuries.
We see the stability of other civilizations in arts too. We at once recognize the Chinese music regardless of the century it has been written, and the Indian sculpture is also recognizable regardless of the age of a certain statue. But if Vivaldi listened to Olivier Messiaen he could by no means understand that he was listening to music, and if Michelangelo looked at a Henry Moore’s work he would not understand that he was looking at a statue.
However the abolition of harmony or form, although it constitutes a rebellion in the field of aesthetics, they didn’t provoke the opposition of the European Man. The same rule is also in force in politics: the European civilization is the only one that admits and respects the overturning of its institutional frame, either with reform or revolution, if only the basic axis on which the freedom of individual turns round continues to exist.
Europeans created, with their blood, fighting for long centuries to form and impose that quite decisive axis. A crowning battle for him was the Great French Revolution. At this moment, as you see, there is a fierce effort from the Moslem immigrants to refuse the equality and liberty of women, and the establishment of Islamic saria in Europe. It’s not accidental that Moslems buy Catholic churches from municipalities and transform them into mosques. Nor is it accidental that in many cases they have managed to share the school of lower rank in boys and girls’ ones, or prohibited the consumption of sandwich with ham in tuck-shop. Let it not go at that. I would like, however, to stress that European states are asked, in the name of Human Rights, to respect the refusal of those rights to a part of their population – the Muslim women.