The Crisis of Europe

International conference at the Centre for Modern European Studies (CEMES)
University of Copenhagen, 14-16 May 2009

See the conference programme here

Read the presentation abstracts here

For registration and further information, please contact Morten Dyssel Mortensen,

The Crisis of Europe and European Self-reflection 1914-1991

Building on the German cultural analyst Siegfried Kracauer, the Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg operates with various optical perspectives: Close ups and long shots. Employing this complex and differentiated lens technique, the conference suggests shifting between micro- and macro-culture-historical approaches to the period 1914-1991, which – with two world wars and a cold war – marked a paradigm shift decisively changing Europe’s attitudes and ways of relating to the world. In order to wholly understand the range of the actual cultural- and identity-historical changes rushing so rapidly and with such tragical concequences through Europe between 1914 and 1991, it will be most relevant to bring into play some of the central identity constituent factors, which from around 1500 turned Europe into a global-historical event.

It is characteristic of Europe that, far from being formed by a one-track development in the prosecution of a single idea, it has followed several tracks, not to mention fault lines, thereby leading to a number of dualities and contrasts in the European self-perception as, for example, those between secularisation and religion, Europe and ‘the Others’ and between democratic and authoritarian forms of government. The European identity construct is internally flexible, stratified and hybrid in the sense that the history of European identity and culture has divided the continent into different languages, cultures, religions and nations – and at the same time its history has been key to modern transnational efforts within the EEC and EU to overcome those divisions.

Outwardly, this process of identity construction, determined by time and place, has been accompanied by clashes and meetings of cultures. Throughout its long history, the modern Europe combines a state and economic model that has brought significant growth opportunities, but which is also characterised by a marked propensity for violence and a built-in Machiavellianism, which under the auspices of modernisation has led to the dissolution of traditional ways of life, both inside and outside Europe. However, since the Renaissance’s ‘civil humanism’ and the Enlightenment, Europe has also fostered a concept of universal human rights, which has become increasingly important in Europe’s dialogue with itself and with others. Most recently, in the Berlin Declaration from 2007, it says of Europe as a community of values: “In the European Union, we are turning our common ideals into reality: for us the individual is paramount. The individual is inviolable. The individual’s rights are inalienable. Women and men enjoy equal rights”.

In the period from 1914 to 1991 an exceptional number of intense conflicts arose revolving round the question what Europe should be, and what European identity is, including conflicts concerning the political systems and values supposed to carry forward this European identity, and the role of the nation states in the new supranational structures. Present-day Europe attempts to reflect on itself, its past and the surrounding world on a basis, which is strongly coloured by the devastating experiences of the 20th century.

Religion and politics
The history of Europe is closely connected to the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Throughout history the intertwinement between religion and politics has served as a vehicle for the distribution of power as well as for the emergence of cultures and societies in Europe. This session explores ways in which the subsequent crises of Europe in the 20th century lead to reinterpretations and reformulations of the religious heritage and traditions, and the relations between divine and secular authority. Between 1914 and 1991, the fundamental task became that of formulating adequate, theological answers to the following paradoxical question: Can religion, one way or the other, form a corrective to secular and democratic society – while at the same time being wholly integrated into such society, and even seeking to advance it?
(Keynote speaker: Dietrich Korsch)
Dictatorship and democracy
The history of Europe in the 20th century also became a conflict about values, centered around the antagonism democracy versus dictatorship. Modern democracy carried through in most old and new European states after the Great War. However, what looked like the victory of democracy as form of government and standards of value developed into a period, in which democratic government got under heavy pressure from left and right: from Bolshevism, Fascism, Nazism and from other authoritarian tendencies. How is the success of dictatorship to be explained, and what forms of discourse were used to emphasize its advantages towards democratic government that was considered ineffective? And ineffective in regard to which objectives? The Second World War is often claimed to be a victory for democracy with reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948, and especially the brutality of the war strengthened democratic values. But to what extent is it valid, when democratic states needed help from the Stalinist dictatorship in order to defeat Nazism and Fascism and soon became subject to the double standards of the Cold War? To what extent does it apply to the settlement with and the working up of the authoritarian past? And to what extent does it even apply to the period since 1990, when the East European ‘People’s Democracy’, which in reality was a one-party system, broke down and was integrated in the EU?
(Keynote speaker: Jan-Werner Müller)

Visions of Europe
What is Europe? A geographical well-defined space? A community of values based on a shared history and culture? Or is it merely an economic-political project, which is not really anchored in the populations of Europe? Is there a certain European identity? How do the Europeans differ from ’the Others’? And who are, after all, the Europeans and who are the Others? These and many other controversial identity-political questions have been addressed several times during the 20th century. Perhaps, it is even characteristic of ’the Europeans’ that they never stop reflecting on what is actually European? Anyhow, throughout the past century there is a hybrid and versatiled discourse on Europe – from artistic-intellectual visions to large-scaled political projects and not least to the most pragmatic agreements on, for example, coal, steel and agricultural policy. With special reference to the identity- and cultural-historical themes, this session wants to pinpoint some of the numerous concepts and visions of Europe, which – depending, of course, on the contextual circumstances – historically have resulted in either disappointed hopes, in fatal power politics or in successfull co-operation.
(Keynote speaker: Gerard Delanty)