“Europe” in the Minds of Eastern European Intellectuals

    • Cover Porto 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Anamaria Remete, Murdoch University, Australia


    The idea of ‘Europe’ seems to hold competing parallel meanings for intellectuals in western and eastern Europe: to the great dismay of east European intellectuals, the idea of ‘Europe’ as an integrative space of culture had lost many followers among western intellectuals. The postmodernist and post-colonialist critiques that have changed significantly ideas on ‘Europe’ as a grand narrative had not gained much currency in eastern Europe. This is a much-needed conversation that never happened in the intellectual environment in Europe. This lack of intellectual dialogue, in conjunction with other factors, produced a feeling of isolation and, strangely so, exceptionality among many east-European intellectuals coming out of communism, instilling in them a sense of having safeguarded the true essence of what ‘Europe’ truly stands for, that is, a temple of culture, of the true essence of what ‘Europe’ is. The memory of the communist experience together with an established taste for nostalgia over the idea of ‘Europe’ have created an idealised vision of what ‘Europe’ means in the intellectual circles of eastern Europe. To this day, divergent interpretations of what the idea of ‘Europe’ signifies continue to significantly shape and split the two intellectual milieux. There certainly seems to be a reluctance to abandon modernist grand narratives and deconstructing them in eastern Europe and more a tendency to defend ‘European values’ and hold on to an idealized vision of ‘Europe’. Quite an interesting and intriguing intellectual attitude considering the strong critique of ideology and the distaste for totalizing visions that the communist experience has produced in this part of the continent. What exactly makes this obsession with the idea of ‘Europe’ as an ideal so long-lasting and so enduring? Why would intellectuals coming from a post – dependency area in Europe be so reluctant to resonate with the type of investigation that postmodernist and postcolonialist streams are engaged with? What do these preoccupations indicate and how do they contribute to the discussions of domination, dependency, western-produced epistemology over eastern European cultures and societies? I argue that they reveal the contested and enduring relationship that east European intellectuals have had with the idea of ‘Europe’. More so, these accounts complicate the image of a neatly divided Europe, the image of a monolithic and challenge the picture of a coherent and stable East and West. As such, they have something more complex and nuanced to say about the perceptions, imaginations, relationship, interactions engagements and entangled histories of the intellectual spaces of Europe, alternative narratives to the essentialist or reductionist ones that have been told so far. The paper seeks to problematize the image of a stable, monolithic, essentialist understanding of the notion of “Europe”. By looking into its many discursive incarnations present in the visions of East European writers, intellectuals and dissidents, I wish to offer a perspective on the idea of “Europe” that is not self-celebratory and self-evident. I argue that scholarly engagements with the notion of “Europe” need to integrate historical phenomena and episodes that are usually marginalized and are more in favor of “discovering” the “true essence” of Europe in an uncritical manner. In my paper, I focus on four intellectual discourses of ‘Europe’ that can offer a more complicated, nuanced and historically accurate image of what “Europe” has stood for in various contexts and how it was discursively used by its many agents.