“European Identities: Constructs and Conflicts”
Report from the International Workshop,
Austrian Academy of Sciences/Diplomatic Academy
Vienna, December 13–15, 2001

Alexandra Vasak

The workshop was opened by Werner Welzig, president of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Paul Michael Lützeler (George Washington University in St. Louis) started off with a paper on the construction of multicultural identity in Europe, taking Paris and Vienna as examples. At the center of his paper was the basic conflict of power politics, which has been in existence for centuries – a conflict resulting from the European claim to leadership and dominance. Lützeler traced this claim back by describing the historical development of Austria and France, two powers whose antagonism was replaced in 1806 by the Paris-Berlin conflict and finally in 1945 by the new superpowers and other important protagonists in the debate on Europe.

Ernst Sucharipa (Diplomatic Academy) opened the Saturday block on identity construction. He elaborated on mythology as important to the development of processes of memory and thus of hegemonial discourses. Herwig Wolfram (Medieval History, University of Vienna) gave a vivid account of the ethnography of and the emergence of new ethnic identities in the early Middle Ages. His starting point were the “speakers” of several groups. These mainly clerical authors were responsible for creating medieval European identities by processing oral traditions, which consisted of pre-ethnographic data on ethnographic facts, which Wolfram illustrated with numerous examples.

Historian Heidemarie Uhl’s paper dealt with the various dimensions of memory: political, cultural and epistemic. She pointed out the transnational structural features of European historical policies and cultures of memory, taking the Austrian case as an example. After discussing the major concepts of memory (Gedächtnis), Uhl expanded on Austrian historical memory and its many intertwining layers, especially the Opferthese (i.e. the thesis that Austria was the first victim of Nazi Germany) and a certain kind of double-speak consisting of two separate narratives, one of which emphasized Austrian resistance and the other memorializing KIAs/ military casualties.

Monika Mokre of the Academy of Sciences was concerned with gender-specific constructions of political identities. In the political context, the invention of woman includes several cultural and social constructs of female identity. The starting point of this discussion was the differentiation of sex and gender in the early seventies. Mokre concentrated on the democratic systems of modern nation-states and detailed how women had historically been excluded from the political field. The initial invention of woman in politics thus consisted of constructing her alleged inherent inability and illegitimacy. Proceeding from the struggle for the right to vote to the more recent policy of quotas and finally to the perceptible political backlash most recently, she presented the decades of equality politics and policies as a failure. Mokre explained this failure applying Sandra Lipsitz Bem’s concept of cultural “lenses” through which our worldview is influenced by the concept of gender differences: androcentrism, gender polarization, and biological essentialism.

Linguist Rudolf de Cillia spoke about the foundations of and tendencies in European language policies. The foundations he sketched at the level of national (state-) languages: the linguistic situation in Europe, the significance of the European languages in the international and European contexts, principles or declared intentions of such language policies, and the actual practice of European language policy. Finally, he outlined two possible scenarios: the models of Leitsprachen and of linguistic diversification, which is the current European model of a pluralistic language policy.

The second block’s topic was the EU’s political identity. Alexander Somek of the University of Vienna Law Faculty lectured on collective identity and European law. His basic thesis was that EU law is based on a notion of collective identity, a concept it simultaneously helps to produce. To prove his point he referred to the following examples: the right to equality, which requires the existence of identity to be applicable; supra-nationality and its dominant interpretation of the principle of mobility, which is not restricted to spatial boundaries — for Somek, subscribers to supra-nationality are those who take advantage of the right to mobility and move freely. In terms of European law, there are employees/workers, who have been programmed for flexibility and life-long learning and perceive themselves as managers of their own life-planning. He concluded that the collective identity of Europeans shows an important additional feature – the mutual acknowledgement of national identities.

Johannes Pollak and Peter Slominski of the Austrian Academy of Sciences talked about constitutional and representative democracy in the EU. For them European integration is an elite project, and ordinary European citizens have been reluctant to show any enthusiasm for it, despite a recent flood of programmatic speeches on the future of the Union. Pollak and Slominski see the reasons for this development in the widespread disappointment with the Nice European Council, the need for far-reaching reforms of the structure of the EU in view of enlargement, which is still in principle based on its six founding members, increasing disorientation with regard to political utopias and the ever increasing responsibilities of the EU. For a constitution to be the organizing force of political power, it needs the legitimization and the backing of politically active citizens. This political freedom is closely tied to representative democracy, with the firm establishment of the liberal rights in a European constitution securing this system of representation. According to the two presenters, it is the question of who is granted certain rights with the help of a constitution that has created the myth of a collective identity. The task of a constitution is not, they surmised, to create identity but to prepare the groundwork for the development of citizens’ loyalty.

Gilbert Weiss, also of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, spoke about the many souls of Europe in an analysis of recent speeches on Europe. With a main focus on France and Germany, he looked at speeches by Romano Prodi, Jacques Chirac, Lionel Jospin, Joschka Fischer, Gerhard Schroeder, and Tony Blair, amongst others. Common characteristics of these speeches are their ideal and organizational dimensions, two categories that are necessarily always invoked in speeches on Europe: space and time, or territory and history respectively. There are two strategies concerning these categories: territorialization and temporalization. A comparison of France and Germany shows that in French speeches Europe is always a civilization project to be realized in a distant future — i.e. the strategy of temporalization. Europe is given ideal legitimacy. In German speeches, on the other hand, Europe is legitimized through mere process, and the operative concept is the European constitution. German speeches tend to territorialize Europe.

Margaret Canovan, Professor at Keele University, closed the second day’s session with her evening lecture “Flying the Flag.” Departing from observations about the ubiquity of the US flag in the months following September 11, and the notion of a new struggle with a new enemy, Canovan mused about nationalism and national conflict. Taking Northern Ireland as an example, whose flag is a symbol of national mobilization, she sketched the dynamics of nationalism – comprising, on the one hand, the dynamics of mobilization for conflict and, on the other, the dynamics of mobility and change. Canovan asked for whom the flags fly in Belfast and in the US; her answer, of course, pointed towards collective mobilization rather than individual identity. She characterized this form of mobilization as a mass event and traced in it the potential to generate power and strength. Two symbols of this mobilization are the military and the image of the nation as an army or a social movement. Both symbols ignore important points but are relevant for national conflicts. She concluded that since September 11, religious mobilization has taken the stage as a new force opposing national loyalty and thus influences national conflict.

On the third day Montserrat Guibernau from the Open University opened the block on “multinational democracies” with a paper on “Between Autonomy and Secession: the Assimilation of Minority Nationalism in Western Europe.” The starting point of this paper were national minorities which have developed a strong national identity, such as Scotland, Pays Basque or Catalonia – “nations without states”. The history of these nations is closely linked to two factors: increasingly intensive globalization processes and the transformation of nation-states. At present, the nation-state seems no longer able to fulfill the needs of its citizens, who for this reason turn to alternative solutions. The nationalism of these “nations without state” is developing from socio-political movements committed to creating and promoting a specific language and culture. Official recognition of this culture, political autonomy and federations are three possible solutions to the issue of “nationalism without a state.” Political scientist Rainer Bauböck from the Austrian Academy of Sciences talked about asymmetry in multi-national federations, which he sees as undermining equality and cohesion. In his paper he posed the question of how a federation can survive if its citizens do not approve of the federation’s composition. Almost all forms of multi-national policy which transfer power to nation-based entities face the problem of asymmetry. After presenting arguments in favor of symmetry, he went on to outline the origins of asymmetry with the help of a number of examples.

The next block on “Minority Rights” started off with a paper by Elizabeth Kiss from Duke University, who talked about integration and the strategies that linguistic and religious minorities in Western and Central Europe employ to get by. Michael Geistlinger, Professor of Law at the University of Salzburg, went on to discuss human rights and minority rights. He dealt with the tradition of minority rights as human rights, the establishment of minority rights in the Human Rights Declaration of 1948, and available instruments, such as Article 27 of the UN Convention. In conclusion, he outlined the practical difficulties in providing for minority rights by means of examples from Estonia and Croatia.

In the final block on “Prevention and Reconciliation,” Joseph Marko from Karl-Franzens University in Graz dealt with constitutional jurisdiction in ethnically divided states, using the example of Bosnia-Hercegovina. He first gave an overview of the Dayton Peace Treaty, the founding of joint institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the establishment and activities of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s constitutional court. John Packer, Director of the Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, provided some insights into his field of activities. During the ensuing discussion on “National Minority Conflicts and European Integration,” which rounded off the event, Montserrat Guibernau, John Packer, Michael Geistlinger and Michael Koessler answered questions on whether EU enlargement would entail further minority conflicts; whether a Europe of regions and a Europe without internal borders might provide additional opportunities for national minority autonomy if EU standards and policies were to be created that deal with minority issues; which organizations – EU, European Court of Law, OSCE and NATO – would take on which tasks; and which forms of bilateral cooperation could be expected with regard to minority conflicts.

In all, the great variety of topics and speakers from widely different professional backgrounds was quite impressive, underlining the workshop’s interdisciplinary character and the organizers’ ambition to look at the issue of “European Identities” from as many different angles as possible. The quality of the individual papers varied widely, however: thus the EU papers on Day 1 failed to provide much new information while the paper on the invention of woman – the construction of gender-specific political identity – remained captivating to the very end. The blocks on “Minority Rights” and “Prevention and Reconciliation” provided a number of interesting informative details. Although interdisciplinarity was the overall aim, some of the presentations did not really fit in with the overall topic of European identities – in her paper on “The Dimensions of Memory: Politics –Culture – Knowledge”, Heidemarie Uhl, for example, exclusively focused on memory in Austria and Austrian memory politics. In view of the workshop title, one might have expected at least a few references to memory and memory politics in other European countries, or a brief outline of how Austria is different. In general, the workshop could have benefited from more continuity and a more consistent reference to the term of “European identity.”