In the beginning of September the foundation Finnish Roman Institute organised an international seminar in Villa Lante, near Rome with the main topic the European history and its consequences in the present. The idea of the organisers is scientists, journalists and artistic people to discuss European roots as reasons for the present concept of Europe as well as to try and look in the future. As the issue is very important to the Europeans and the possibilities of such a seminar to gather so many people are limited, that is why the Finnish foreign ministry, together with the Institute, published a book "Europe 2050 - the challenges of the future, the heritage from the past". Some of the most significant presentations in Villa Lante are included in the book. In the preface to the book the former Finnish prime minister and now president of the EP Paavo Lipponen says that learning history and its lessons is a way to see the future. According to Lipponen, if we go back in time to the Roman empire, thorn by conflicts, we will see that it was the Roman Empire that evolved into European cultural area that spread much later its dominant influence across the globe.
And if Europe wants its history to continue to be successful in the future, it is very important top learn from the past. Further the Italian professor Giuseppe Burgio writes that quite often Europe is perceived as a religious concept, as a bosom of Christianity. Of course Christian heritage in Europe is real and it is an important element of its cultural identity. Reminding the schism of the Christian Church the professor sates that it is very hard for Europe to be perceived as the place of "clash of civilizations". Aristotle and stoicism are also mentioned by the next authors in the book as a major part of formation of the European cultural identity.
According to Miroslav Chrosh, professor at the University of Prague, the starting point of deliberations should be that Europe is not just a great idea, just some kind of project but a real existing part of the world, a continent whose people share common destiny from some historical time onward, and the countries on this continent have always been for closer binding, the Czech professor states. Another author in the book is its editor Dr. Tuomas Heikilla from the University of Helsinki, a specialist of Middle age history. I asked him first of all why 2050? Is there something special about that year?
TUOMAS HEIKILLA: The idea came to life because what has happened 50 years ago, during the 50-ies of the last century, when the EU has made its first steps. Then it was totally different than today and that's why we have decided to see how would the Union and continent as a whole look in another 50 years. Of course, during our meeting in Rome it was almost impossible to foresee what exactly might happen after 50 years but some very interesting suggestions were presented like, for example, the road the EU is taking, the processes which are taking place right now.
- Europe at the moment is in something of a crisis and it seems it is on a cross road with regard to its future. What do you think are the reasons for this and do you have any proposals this crisis to be solved?
TUOMAS HEIKILLA: Let me tell you first of all that I speak in my capacity as a historian, a specialist in Middle age history. I'm not a politician and my answer would therefore be different. It's true that the EU is in difficult times, even the most difficult from since its creation. This has been recognized by the participants in the seminar too. The Constitutional treaty, rejected by France and the Netherlands was the drop that provoked the crisis. It is extremely important for the EU to achieve some agreement on that treaty, maybe not under the name Constitution but there must be something like this. In the meantime it is very hard to say what Europe means, what it means to be a European, which was also one of the very discussed issues.
- And have reached common idea what Europe is and what a European is?
TUOMAS HEIKILLA: Very often Europe has been perceived as a religious concept, especially in the Middle Ages, in other words a territory, inhabited by a Christian community, notwithstanding if they are Catholics or Orthodox Christians. But this position has been defined in Rome as old because it no longer corresponds to the image of Europe. First of all I think that Europeanism is perceived as a phenomenon, based upon religion too but mainly on different types of behaviour, manners and traditions. The Europeanism is multiculturalism, multilingualism. I myself accept a little bit reluctantly the borders of Europe because it is clear for everyone that Bulgaria in some sense has been a part of Europe much before Finland for example which joined the Latin culture and Christian faith much later than the Bulgarians. That is why the people at the seminar were not very inclined to look at the Eu as to an entity and to put geographic or cultural borders. In other words the European borders are not the borders of the EU.
You're saying that it's still difficult to define what exactly Europe is, is that right?
TUOMAS HEIKILLA: At least from a historical point of view it will be difficult in the future too. Of course, there's the economic side which unifies countries and nations in the EU, but I think that the idea for an entity and a common cultural heritage of the European states is much more important than the economic aspect.
So we should leave borders to the politicians?
TUOMAS HEIKILLA: I think this will be very dangerous. At least politicians should base their decisions on scientific and objective information, received after a thorough research. That is why I think that we, the historians and the scientists of social sciences, as well as media, have our role in this big play of Europe. We shouldn't leave it only to politicians.