Chapter Six / evrop’a / research
„Europa, and one can’t repeat this often enough, isn’t a place, but an idea. Europe isn’t a category of existence, but rather of spirit.” Bernard-Henri Levy/Le Point/1995
“It is part of the modus operandi of ROOMS TO LET to map out, to transform and to mould into specific forms the boundaries, particular stories, details, atmospheres and struggles of a place. We illuminate the space from the perspective of our work and pose new questions from oblique points of view.” MANIFESTO, ROOMS TO LET, 2017
In its next chapter, ROOMS TO LET will examine spaces in evrop’a.
For us, evrop’a stands for a space that is difficult to fathom, for an idea, a conglomerate that is inconsistent and vibrant, solidified in many places, frayed in others, which looks very different depending on whether it is viewed from the middle or the sides.
ROOMS TO LET is searching – not for a Europe of shiny surfaces, but for unstable places, open, fleeting and fragile places, for fractures and changes. We are interested in places that are shedding their skin, that are growing or faltering, that are repeatedly reinventing themselves.
These places form evrop’a – we are looking for their stories, details, atmospheres and struggles.
A central part of the research will be the development of an “atlas of unstable places” with the participation of many people.
The central questions in this context are:
– Do you think there are any unstable places in Europe?
– Why are these places unstable in your opinion?
The answers we got develop a very varied impression of Europe, political and personal, –
evrop’a // An atlas of unstable places.
So we often went to Belgium. My aunt has been living in Brussels for more than 50 years; she and her long-time companion have an apartment by the sea at Oostduinkerke which we could use. Oostduinkerke is within easy reach of Cologne, and we came to love it very much. This coastline is regarded as rather built up, with many high-rise blocks, and my aunt’s apartment is on the seventh floor in one of these. The view from the apartment is wonderful: the tides being extreme in that area, you only see sea and sand. The sea is very far away at times, and then at others quite close. There is a lot of space, it is never overcrowded.
Until recently, the apartment itself looked like it did in the 1970s, including the sand and the salt that had become lodged into the carpet.
Taking a stroll along the promenade last summer, I noticed that the blocks had since reached an age when they could be considered quite attractive again, so that in a way they even reminded you a little of Bauhaus buildings.
And what I found interesting is that our view of things that always remain the same can change. That simply with the passage of time a new aspect and a new sense of their value can arise. This is what I would answer as an opposite to your question. For me it is not the places that are unstable, but our looking at them – that is what can change and mutate. Even though the places stay the same.
Victoria del Valle
No question that there is much instability all over Europe. A nice, multi-layered word, by the way. I immediately thought of the Ruhr area, perhaps for biographical reasons. Specifically of Steeler Street. This is what it looks like – I copied the image from the Internet: https://www.nts-plan.de/de/projekte/strassen–und-verkehrsplanung/?showProjectDetails154=85 (27.04.2020)
The only stable thing on this street is the Eulenspiegel, an art movie cinema. I was once a pretty frequent visitor there. My favourite cinema.
And why is this place unstable? …
Well, this place is incredibly lively. It changes pretty much all the time.
In the past there were aliens on this street. That sounds politically incorrect now, but it isn’t. I do not use the well-meaning term “migrants” on purpose, because the people who lived on and around Steeler Street, as I did too, once, were just classical aliens. That is what we were called in those days. Most of them are now older or have died.
There were cowboys and cowgirls. They lived on Steeler Street. They were always there. Whenever you went down the street.
There they were. With or without hats. With or without horses. Mostly dead drunk of course, and often involved in saloon fights. Those days there were still bars and casinos on Steeler Street.
Nowadays there are hairdressing salons. At least a thousand of them. From Alissa to Freshcut. All there. Only, they do not last long. Of course. All except Gabi. She has her regulars, all the grannies from the south side.
Now there are endless bakeries. This could be the bakery Mecca of Essen. From the Turkish pastry shop to Baker Peter to Arabian bread. Everything!
And pharmacies without end.
Yes, and cars. Far too many.
And gangs, imagine that! There are rumours of Lebanese and Albanian crime families. They probably don’t like each other much. Once there was even some shooting. In the middle of Steeler Street, can you imagine! But the Steeler Boys, they are there too, and they see that order is maintained. On Steeler Street. There you have it. “Glück auf!”
Instability as change on Steeler Street can fill one with nostalgic feelings on the inside and is a little frightening. When one looks at instability from the outside, as I’m doing from Hanover where I am at this moment writing this text, it somehow arouses curiosity and lights up the colours. (There is so much grey!) The distance (temporal and spatial) seems to create fine distinctions.
Reality seems to have overtaken the sharpness of the question. Suddenly everything is pure fragility. Instability as consensus. The nice quiet life seems to be over.
Except for Scandinavia (why ever), I feel that all European countries are unstable because society and community are in a relationship of tension with each other, in which the bowstrings are stretched to snapping point – along with the underestimated and mostly uncontrolled digitalisation that the economists and engineers have botched.
We are too tired by now and lack resilience. And Europe will not be able to forego the notion of growth.
At the moment the most insecure and unstable places in Europe are the refugee camps in Greece. For me they represent complete and utter failure. Countries like Germany actually enrich themselves on the construct of Europe without the least consideration for, solidarity with, and on the backs of the most vulnerable people.
So all in all, what I think of with regard to instability is mental attitudes rather than places. Mentalities such as right-wing populism and right-wing extremism, and rampant turbocapitalism that make Europe less a place of communal solidarity than a fortress against the outside other that can be exploited and where arms can be exported, from which one can profit without giving the consequences as much as a thought, even though the solution is simple enough.
A rather brutal, inhumane matter, as you can see.
Something like that.
Zorten is a tiny village in Graubünden. It is situated 1214 m above sea level.
Between the upper and the lower part of the village, the hillside is slipping. The old guesthouse Sternen is in this slipping zone. It has long cracks in its facade. Many people in the village have a history that connects them with the restaurant: they have lived, worked, dined here, listened to music from its jukebox. When asked what is to be done with this cracked building, they all agree: demolish! (Further up new buildings are being erected, with long cables driven into the mountainside to secure them.)
For me the Low German language area is an unstable place.
It is thought that about two million people are still able to speak the Low German language (“Plattdeutsch”, “Platt”); whether actively however is questionable. In the 20th century this language was still considered to be inferior and provincial. Mother-tongue children were switched to High German before they started school in order to avoid any disadvantages in the classroom.
My parents’ generation was forbidden to speak Plattdeutsch at school.
This was not necessary for my generation anymore because our parents strictly insisted that we speak High German, and that not only at school, but throughout the day.
That led to some bizarre situations, especially at communal meal times. The grandparents were addressed in Platt, the children in High German, and the parents used now this, now that language, so that often general confusion ensued.
Nowadays the language is not even spoken anymore in villages situated in that language area. Half-hearted attempts at teaching Plattdeutsch in nursery and primary schools came to nothing. The old stigma of conservatism and provincialism clings to the language and is unlikely to be overcome.
Low German was the official language of the Hanseatic League and the whole Baltic region. In addition it was spoken from North Germany all along the coast to Belgium.
There are many unstable places, for so many different reasons.
Economically “unstable” is very often connected to one-sidedness.
A striking but topical example: Mallorca.
There the service industries with their emphasis on tourism make up over 70% of gross domestic product.
Industry and agriculture do not account for even 10%.
In the past years there was continuous growth in the service sector. But after less than a year of restrictions on tourism through the corona virus pandemic, the social fabric is breaking down rapidly. Poverty has risen by 90% so that, as in many developing countries, queues are forming at food banks, and that in a previously wealthy country – a typical sign of a grave social emergency, of an unstable foundation.
Then there are those places that in my view are of extreme ideological onesidedness, places of oppression or communities of instability, that only temporarily hide this through extreme violence against and control of the population, thus creating pseudo-stability. They are centrally organised and at present characterised by religious or unreflected nationalistic extremism.
In contrast: those societies based on the values of the Enlightenment, laic or secular communities which may be many-faceted and diverse, but throughout the left and the right have common values, democratic and perhaps especially stable federally organised societies.
And then there is perhaps another contemporary aspect: unstable places in the view of the epidemiologists – be they ecologists, farmers or medical doctors – are always places with too high density of individuals equally sensitive to a specific pathogen or disease, for example monocultures of cultivated plants, an old-age home, crowded living conditions in problem neighbourhoods or even a village in the East where only old people are left – there is considered spatially always too much crowding and/or too little diversity ultimately producing fragile systems.
My most unstable experience of Europe awaited me on Iceland right at the edge of the continent, but, to take up a formulation by Bernard-Henri Lévy, certainly not at the edge of its idea. On a surprisingly rain-free morning we visited fiingvellir, the “fields of the people’s assembly”, a level piece of land with bright green grass and moss which contrasted in sharp relief against the deep blue of an adjacent lake and the Arctic summer sky. Here the ground is cut through with cracks that only appear to gape immovably in front of your feet when you get closer to them. In reality they open up wider by a few more millimeters year by year, because the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart. You stare into a chasm that digs itself into the ground like time itself. And you realise that every eternity imaginable by humankind must remain finite. We are not responsible for those longer and longest periods of time, we can and must entrust ourselves only to the shorter ones. Also by remaining unerringly committed to the idea of Europe. After all, we find ourselves in fiingvellir, a place where every June, century after century the people’s representatives, in direct negotiations, assembled in order to dispense justice, settle disputes and strive towards unity.
There is currently one place that I perceive as very unstable: Wroclav in Poland. For two years I had been planning a German-Polish theatre project in collaboration with a local company, TEATRE POLSKI W PODZIEMIU, with the theme of work biographies and political attitudes.
During interviews with Polish women workers, their disdain for the “European Idea” perplexed me. It was not a value worth fighting for; what is it supposed to mean? Yes, the freedom to travel is good, we don’t want to lose it, one woman said, but she has never been abroad since no-one would understand her there. Yes, they want the freedom to travel to be kept, but the EU governments should not interfere in Polish domestic politics. The freedom to travel was not seen as an opportunity to holiday, but as the possibility of finding work in the West, in the case of women, mostly in caring and nursing.
And now, as the freedom to travel has been severely restricted because of the pandemic, the theatre project cannot take place. But the virus knows no national borders, it restricts everybody’s movement.
Closed borders are not a problem for the Polish government, our Polish colleagues say.
But actually I prefer thinking of instances where Europe on a small scale proves to be very concretely stable.
Gitti L. Ost
Hmmm … unstable places.
In Europe … I am thinking for example of Tomba Tomba (37 Brzozowa Street). That was – perhaps still is – this hetero-friendly nightclub in Warsaw that I used to frequent years ago. It was managed by this funny guy, a homosexual Black man who, as people described him to me, wore no underwear. Tomba Tomba was a small six storey building in the inner city.
In the cellar there was a pool, and in the attic a huge bed. The people who danced here came from all sectors of Warsaw society because here they could be whatever they liked. I for instance tried “ugly dance”. Very liberating. Since then Warsaw, which was already very suppressive, has become even worse. I think the people who stayed there have in the meantime built better hiding places for themselves.
Otherwise I can only think of Neubrandenburg … As an almost new town established in the 1970s, it was once the youngest city in the still young Republic; but it has since become demographically over aged because people like me have simply left.
A planned city, right in the middle … hmmm … in the middle of nowhere seemingly. There are no raw materials here, there is nothing close by. Perhaps it is a place where you can stop over when your car breaks down. Except that not even a highway runs through it. I find that Neubrandenburg is a very romantic town, not because it was painted from the distance by David Caspar Friedrich, but because its expansion after the war was an idea that didn’t quite succeed.
But I wonder what it would have looked like had the turning point of 1989 not happened.
Everything in my life is unstable. Day by day I have to work up a sort of stability. It starts when I get up and in those moments I have for myself, during which I have to find my own rhythm, my own language (through reading and writing). From there I achieve stability which perhaps lasts the day.
Why is my space unstable?
Because everyday starts anew, nothing is given, and I have to work at attaining peace and quiet. Because nothing proceeds in a straight line; because the pieces always arrange themselves anew; because there are so many noisy people.
Because everything is in flux; ever changing; because movement is the soul of all things.
I am not yet sure what I can write because I find it difficult to label places as unstable.
They surely do exist, but often for political reasons. I would like to visit some places but precisely for those political reasons I am not sure whether it would be the best idea.
I shall now make a list and see what comes up afterwards…
Unstable places for political reasons (Europe, geographically):
Istanbul or rather Turkey
Budapest or rather Hungary
Lesbos/Moria (refugee camps)
Border regions or areas bordering the sea, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Turkey (unstable human rights situation)
Unstable places (Europe, changes in nature through climate change):
Unstable places (small-scale, personally experienced places which cause suffering from emotional instability):
Freedom of Press and opinion
That’s it from me.
Hille von Seggern
I push aside the many politically unstable places.
But no, I think that the whole Mediterranean area and the whole Mediterranean Sea, this huge space between worlds, has actually become unstable.
And then, strangely enough, I remember the place that is the most stable in the whole world for me personally: a small village in the North Italian Alps where I’ve had a house for 20 years now. It is unstable because it keeps on shrinking, and the villagers and the visitors do not get around to ideas and actions that could stabilise the village’s livelihood – and in spite of this the place/the valley reinvents itself time and again (like many of these isolated Alpine spots). ROOMS TO LET is not organised professionally enough there to bring economic salvation. But the village and the valley have been quietly shrinking for a century already, “stable-unstable”, and it is very beautiful there.
This element of instability – does it actually go on? – is perhaps what I find attractive.
My affection, and the inspiration that is alive there for me, are the stable element.
For me something is unstable that I cannot hold on to because it falls to pieces when I hold it.
I can observe it.I cannot influence it. I cannot hold onto it.
For example: there is a place that I remember, that is unstable. It is an indeterminate state. It is the place where I have been, and it still is there, but at the same time it is already not there anymore. Banal perhaps. My grandparents’ place in the Harz was always a stable place. Grannie was there, chubby (plump?) and jovial and always busy cooking or sewing or tidying up. Grandpa was there too, always a little grumpy, always working. They were always there, it always smelled the same, the everyday routines were always the same, and that was good.
Then Grannie died and Grandpa lived alone. Grandpa became older, Grannie didn’t. Then Grandpa left something on the stove, and there was a fire, and the whole ground floor of the house had to be renovated.
Whenever I visited there afterwards, I always went through the rooms with half-closed eyes because I was scared that the present would rob me of my memories of the past.
Then Grandpa died too. My parents wanted to sell the house. I drove there only once more; I wanted to take something to touch, a tangible memory. Again I walked through the ground floor with half-closed eyes where at least it smelled like it did in the past. I went looking for Grannie in her sewing room.
I took a few things. After that the key was handed in and the house was sold. Except that the things I took did not survive the journey. What I took into my apartment had nothing to do with what I had packed into my bag two hours ago. As soon as they left the house, they lost their magic.
One can probably only keep some places and things if you respect their instability. And if one doesn’t try to hold onto them.
Where does Europe become unstable for me and why?
When I look more closely at the partner cities of Hanover where I’m intensively at work, I find tendencies of instability in almost all European city partnerships. But also – probably precise because of that – many counter-movements.
Bristol, U.K. – the city that has been connected with Hanover since 1947, in one of the oldest partnerships in Europe –, because through Brexit the U.K. does not belong to Europe anymore. Through its exit from this joint political project, the U.K. is clearly against the idea of a closer connection between the European countries, of joint political decision making, and of acting according to common rules – and has made Europe more unstable in the process.
However, the majority of Bristol’s population has voted FOR remaining in the EU, and the city has an excellent mayor, Marvin Rees, who strongly supports social and diversity projects and who upholds international co-operation as represented for example by the Global Parliament of Mayors. It is clear at the moment that we want to strengthen our partnership precisely because of Brexit.
Poznań, Poland – because the country’s populist-nationalist government is withdrawing more and more from the EU and ignoring the decrees of the EU Court of Justice, in order to subject Poland’s justice system increasingly to the control of the PiS and to place ever greater restrictions on the human rights of its citizens, especially those of the LGBTIQ community. But here too the city itself does not support the government’s course; the city president Jacek Jaskowiak belongs to the Liberal Party PO and was, for instance, the sponsor of Poznań Pride Week. The city’s administration also supports work for gender justice and stands up against discrimination. So here too we can use our city partnership connection FOR a stronger Europe and European citizens’ rights.
Perpignan in the South of France voted in a new mayor in the local elections of June 2020, Louis Aliot, who is a member of the right-wing populist party Rassemblement National (RN, previously Front National). So Perpignan is the only city in France with a population over 100 000 that has an RN mayor. It means that Perpignan is not expected to be interested anymore in European co-operation and the basic goals of city partnerships – international understanding and solidarity, acceptance of and interest in diversity and exchange. It is also questionable whether, under these conditions, Hanover would be interested in pursuing co-operation with Perpignan. It is a very sad development when you consider that city partnerships arose so that people in France and Germany could work together to prevent a repetition of the Second World War.
In addition to these developments, the places on the borders of Europe where there are refugee camps worry me especially – the immeasurable human suffering in Moria, Lesbos and many more camps which do not seem to cause concern in Europe. Could it be that human rights are only for people within Europe? Here Europe crumbles for me, and words and explanations become hollow…
I live in the U.K., which for the moment is still Europe, just about. But soon this situation will become more ambiguous. This island has always liked to set itself apart from the Continent: affectionately mocking its neighbours and itself in a constant back and forth. Here you can get a “Continental breakfast” (coffee, bread roll and jam, perhaps even a croissant), and occasionally I’m told “you’re so European!” Usually that expression is more or less equivalent to ‘unconventional’ and contains a certain admiration for a direct and uninhibited attitude – but this admiration is always mixed with an amused disdain for the barbaric mainland by the subtle, self-conscious Brits, who refuse to take anything too seriously.
With Brexit, this delicate balance is lost. Contrary to the insight of one of her greatest writers that “No man is an island”, this island becomes even more of an island. The trenches become deeper, the distances further, the differences more pronounced. The events of the last few months have made this even clearer the difference between rich and poor, between light skin and dark skin, is indicated by the local rates of infections and deaths, the highest in the whole of Europe. Instability is growing. However, in the wake of this instability, statues are toppled, the narrative of the glorious British Empire is beginning to wobble, and perhaps this new insecurity will lead to an open confrontation with the country’s own colonial history.
Meanwhile I am going for daily walks in my South-East London neighbourhood. I walk to the river with its hints of the sea, to the cemetery overgrown with ivy and its Victorian graves, to the hill over which the sun rises and then to the other hill from where you have the best view of the sunset over the city. The river, death, life, the course of the sun, all of them are moving, and I walk back and forth between them: my own small atlas of unstable places, which through their constant change afford me certainty.
For me the airport grandstand with its entrance building represents such a place. Belonging to the airport and thus being a place with an influence beyond Germany, for me as a child this airport was the gateway to Europe. The grandstand is dilapidated and an architectural monument, but it cannot be restored and preserved because of the protected nature that has spread on top of it. It is a place in between man-made and natural. A place that has reinvented itself: after serving for human pleasure now it is a nature reserve. Now it is unstable due to its dilapidated condition.
Just like Europe: between the idea (man-made) and the continent (natural). The whole grandstand is surrounded by a fence that seals it off. Just as Europe tries to seal itself off.
Ok then, I will think about my own unstable place.
Actually at this moment due to ‚the virus‘ I would say that all of Europe, maybe the whole world as we know it, somehow is one big unstable place.
Solstice sweat lodge ritual with twenty-four men, somewhere in the Frisian Swamps. Unstable place because it only exists as long as participants of the ritual are present. Or is it stable but immaterial because what I experience has an almost monumental impact on my life?
Warm intestines of my lover as an unstable place that only exists when / if he relaxes in such a way that he can admit my fist in his warm, slippery, flowing organ.
The rented transporter I take on a high speed ride from Amsterdam to Berlin. It contains thirtytwo years of my Amsterdam life in twentysix boxes. A place (Amsterdam) in a place (boxes) in a place (car).
At present there are very many unstable places in Europe, something we would not have thought possible until a few years ago. The reason is the emergence of questionable political tendencies that we thought we had overcome. But there are also instances of collective failure in the European Community that cause this instability: one only has to mention the islands Lampedusa and Lesbos to realize what this failure looks like. These place names have in the meanwhile become synonymous with the political silence of Europe. Instability and uncertainty can be felt in many places in Europe where they express themselves either as fear, anger, violence or political incidents [Pegida demonstrations, political developments in Eastern Europe, the resurgence of racial prejudice (in football stadia)]. These tendencies have crept into our everyday lives and crystallize especially at the edges of the European continent where this new thinking expresses itself in morally reprehensible dealings with the most vulnerable (refugees). In the final effect, the inhumane conditions in the refugee camps and the tragic deaths show the lack of agreement among the EU countries, as well as their inability to speak up in one voice against these conditions and to act accordingly. In this situation, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been rampant for the past year, regrettably appears to be an accelerant of these recent social and political developments.
Kristina Müller-Eberhard und Tomek Lamprecht
If you mean “places” being countries, there are more unstable ones than not. Out of a total of about 40, perhaps 5 or 6 could be considered relatively stable. Arguably and depending on criteria.
These places are in our opinion unstable because of: Desire (power, avarice, survival, space). Resentment (inequity, advantage, difference, envy). Culture (religion, geography, history).
…just to elaborate and to answer your question more in depth, who knows what will happen to poverty, integrity, democratic freedom, inequality here in America… as I’ve said many times, we have an idiot of a president (2020), getting rid of him is the most important thing that will enable America to move forward. Otherwise we have to wait and see…
I will answer this from a conventionally political perspective with regard to states.
1) Hungary, Czechia and Poland I consider to be unstable places as far as it concerns the idea of Europe. Serbia, Montenegro and in part also Albania are places in which I could imagine a resurgence of civil war.
2) One can establish that in all these places there are partial doubts with regard to basic human values such as tolerance, social solidarity and freedom of thought. In my view Europe should not smooth over its diversity but decidedly hold on to its human rights.
As a woman from Georgia who experienced the collapse of the Soviet system, I am very familiar with instability and recognize it when I see it. After Georgia became independent of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, I could see first hand how a state fell apart completely. Connected with this: war, economic, political, religious and national crises.
Tbilisi is not the same as in the 1990s, but it has lagged behind in many areas. Mentalities from the past still persist or have been rediscovered. Tbilisi may be a unique case vis a vis Europe, being Eurasian geographically but culturally definitely European. However, throughout its 80 years in the Soviet Union, many of its (West-) European ideals and insights made way for the then prevailing ideological realities. Before its (involuntary) annexation to the Soviet Union, Georgia had a very European orientation.
Back to the present: There are political and social struggles within the country because Russia not only desires a strong influence on the country and its people but has attained it too. The older generations are used to a paternalistic and authoritarian state, and in times of instability, long back to those times. Nepotism, corruption and factionalism shake the foundations of social cohesion and have a polarising effect.
I have been to many countries and cities in Europe (Athens, Rome, Madrid, Paris, Prague, Brussels, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Kopenhagen, London, Warsaw, Istanbul, for example). A shared experience of instability is the level of crime in the big cities. I have often been the witness (or victim) of theft, especially in Rome and Berlin. This is a global problem in big cities, but in my opinion a sign of inadequacy of places that are the origin of, and heirs to a rich culture.
I observe the instability of Europe mainly in the lack of true cohesion and a (Pan-)European mindset, without disregarding the particularities of its individual peoples. (This is more easily said than done and may sound contradictory; however, instead of attempting to harmonise solidarity without compromise with absolute respect for different peoples’ individual cultures, action motives are often informed by a certain political and economic opportunism. In this sense, particularities are ignored or subjected to the economic goals of the powerful in Europe. Solidarity is in a sense “calculated” and practised according to their own political – sometimes even populist – agenda.)
The economically weak countries of Europe – I focus here on Greece because of my origins – are centres of instability and danger for a Pan-European way of thinking, as we have experienced especially in the last ten to fifteen years. A society whose fragile economy has been in crisis for a decade is left to manage on its own the additional geopolitical challenges posed by the aggressive intentions of its Eastern neighbour with its regular contestation of the border areas (especially the sea borders).
Add to this a high refugee and migration influx which is not satisfactorily addressed by the Pan-European community. To be exact: Greece is still mainly left on its own to cope with these problems, even though they clearly concern Europe as a whole. Unfortunately, such challenges fuel populist, nationalist and similar dangerous thinking and are a threat to the stability of the country and the whole of Europe. The devastating conditions in Greek refugee camps are a manifestation of this instability.
When I think of Europe, I think of Europe in crisis. The biggest expression of this crisis is that there is no joint immigration policy. This results in places that are in every respect unstable: politically, humanly and health-wise. It is the Mediterranean islands like Lampedusa in Italy or Lesbos, Kos and others in Greece where there are camps for refugees that are hopelessly overcrowded. There are also camps beyond the borders of Europe, in North Africa (Libya) or in the South of Turkey – in these places too, the attention is directed at Europe. All these camps are transition points, places of poverty and lack of all life’s necessities. They are places that shame us. Places that have arisen because the conditions in the countries of origin are so difficult and Europe is a desirable destination. They are places of longing – unfulfilled.
For me there are definitely unstable places in Europe. I am thinking especially of the two places where I stayed for longer periods: Greece – particularly the islands – and Albania and its capital Tirana. I think little needs to be said about the unstable situation on some of the Greek Islands, about the helplessness of the refugees and the inhabitants, and about Europe’s role in this terrible scenario.
In Tirana one encounters the country’s wish to join the EU on the streets, you notice it in the construction projects taking place, and you hear it everywhere in the conversations between young people, in their hopes and wishes. In my travels through the country, through left-overs of a socialist dictatorship, traditional agricultural regions, dying villages, modern architecture, staged wealth and strip malls, I kept on asking myself whether joining the EU would be right for this country. It is exactly this indecision – what step would mean what benefit or harm, would cause what, for whom – has made me think about this construct “Europe”, and nationalism and identity, very often.
a little hodgepodge of fragments.
europe in fact…?
europe is probably the most unstable place in europe.
the question then arises whether instability does not lead, through the effect of many unstable forces, to a special sort of stability, at least in form of a great slowness of the whole with marginal movement of the part.
europe as a giant amoeba: the ever changing form of an unchanging and for the most part indestructible body.
this, in any case, is the optimistic view.
the pessimistic one I do not find useful.
is what survives stable, or what does not change its shape?
unstable then, as quasi the negative of a united europe, are the micronations. I do not mean luxemburg, the vatican, san marino and monaco (funny that the smallest are the richest), but for example sealand https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sealand
or all the rest on this list, if they still exist:
… as a matter of fact the contrast between europe and these dwarves shows quite clearly that in the texture of nations, large size seems to present a darwinian advantage which can deal well even with the occasional secession. (Umgestellt)
perhaps it even needs this?
is largeness stable?
is smallness unstable?
the question remains: do you mean places in europe or of europe?
which would be Europe’s places?
must we in the final effect perhaps think of an island in the mozambique channel? or jupiter’s moon?
the home of many eponymous statues …
and what does it mean that zeus swam with the kidnapped europa to crete?
who swims to crete nowadays?
and what, if you please, is not shaky, breakable, fragile about that?
Indeed there are, for me, unstable places in Europe.
- the outer borders of Europe
- “inner-European solidarity”
- nationalistic tendencies
- Physically they are actually not unstable, but as borders they are completely hardened and rigid. Starting with the difficulties the EU has with taking up refugees, it shows, in my opinion, how strongly the “idea of Europe” is anchored in exclusivity. Rather have thousands of people drown or have them live in the worst possible conditions in camps, than move away from this position. And then let ourselves be celebrated occasionally, when we “let in” an ever decreasing number of people after months of discussion. In this case I would wish for rather more instability, but against the background of the actual political situation and the developments of the last few years, I have little hope. I certainly find it more than dubious and unstable to call the idea of Europe a pluralistic (multilateral?) peace project. However, it is quite possible that this contradiction has always been part of the arrangement in that it has always perfidiously smoothed over these aspects – in capitalism peace for the privileged few cannot function without excluding “the others”; and this equation is unfortunately very stable, whether it applies to individual states or confederations…
- In the course of the economic crisis of 2008/2009 the infrastructures of Southern European countries were destructively privatised and destroyed through forced austerity by first and foremost Germany. During the Corona Virus pandemic the effect is even more devastating because the health systems have not been spared either. In my opinion that is just one example of many, that makes one doubt that there is sincere transnational solidarity.
- There is a growing threat in almost every European country of nationalistic tendencies. Some want to maintain their “stable” place of privilege in this way, but for “the others” mentioned above, this leads to a life- and livelihood-threatening situation that seems to be completely played down with the word “unstable”. Of course the phenomenon of right-wing violence is not new in Europe; it has never completely disappeared. But its resurgence in parliamentary structures and its strong base in the middle classes gives it a terrifying impetus. For those who are thought “inappropriate” by right-wingers, this has, as a result, changed once relatively stable images of home into unstable ones. Possibly, but as a matter of fact probably, it was not much better earlier, and the naïve view of those not involved has simply dominated the discourse. The main thing for them is: no armed conflict in Europe, but it does not matter what racist assaults happen on one’s doorstep – these only concern “the others” anyway. In a sense it is good that this view is becoming more precarious. But not precarious enough, apparently.
All this is of course not really “personal”. But I simply have to say that anger – and fear too – are the feelings that dominate when I think of what Europe means at this stage.
I have for a long time procrastinated replying to your questions about Europe, simply because I cannot answer it. So much seems fragile to me; the sadness that beautiful, pleasant, or even just familiar phenomena of whatever kind are transitory, has been accompanying me more than ever over the last few years. When it happens at an accelerated pace, grief mingles with fear more and more. If I had to apply this to a place, it is enough for me to notice it in my immediate surroundings, for instance in the garden where things continuously change. At the moment I am happy that the grass is not yet brown in spite of the drought, also that poppies obviously love the dry weather, because they have appeared in masses this year; and the peonies, despite the sandy soil and lack of water, are blossoming in an obscene pink that really looks indecent in its abundance. When I am elsewhere, like recently in Venice, I often think: this I have perhaps seen for the last time, for whatever reason.
The hotel rooms in which you work are such a pretty mixture of alien and familiar intimacy, and in my view, the interventions play with the yearning to linger and leave traces, the creation of closeness to the other through a hinted at revelation of something intimate. For me this is a very romantic approach. And no, it is not displacement behaviour, but an invitation to a game in which, detached from adverse circumstances, a sort of non-committal closeness can be created that still contains distance. Playing is not serious and at times that is a good thing and an opportunity.
“One cannot repeat often enough that Europe is not a place, but an idea. Europe is not a category of being, but one of mind.” Bernard-Henri Lévy /Le Point/1995.
In answering the questions of the “whether” or the “why” of unstable places in Europe, I refer to the above quotation of Bernard-Henri Lévy who regards Europe not as a place but an idea. The perception of Europe as a “category of mind” is highly fragile because as an integrated creation it has idealistic contours. It is dialectically in opposition to reality. Europe as a construction of mind is in itself unstable.
This however should not prevent us from creating stability in Europe. How can that be brought about? Only by making Europe truly united in a political, economic, and juristic respect. This means continuing along the path followed in the second half of the previous century, through the EEC, EC, and EU, to a federation of states for example, according to the North American pattern. As long as this does not happen, there is a threat that the EU could fall apart. The UK provided an inglorious instance of this through Brexit.
Particularistic and nationalistic interests have time and again involved Europe in disastrous wars, from Antiquity to the present. Only the states that are connected through the European community have in recent times been spared disasters of this sort. For this glorious project of exemplary peace-making to continue, all nationalistic and particularistic temptations have to be resisted.
That means that the ideals of the French Revolution, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity which were conceived of as universal values, must be realised in the EU. Not as lip-service or festival speeches, but as deeds and actions. Here the political project gets cultural and artistic features. For as William Blake wrote: “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” It must be understood that individual identity and self-fulfilment must go hand in hand with the struggle and responsibility for all people. Solidarity with the vulnerable is the strength of such a Europe.
What can we expect…?
Both as a place and as a quality of being, Europe seems to me to be unstable. The differently orientated political-economic interests of all the nations within and outside Europe cause something much more threatening than only an unstable Europe.
– What can we expect of European nations who are organised in a military alliance that seems not to shy away from repeatedly engaging in aggressive wars internationally without being threatened in their own territories?
– What can we expect of nations who repeatedly ignore article 2/paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter which they themselves drew up and signed:
All members shall refrain in their international relations from threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.
– What can we expect from a German Government policy which, 54 years after the end of the Second World War, in alliance with other nations, bombarded a European neighbor like in a war of aggression?
– What can we expect of some in our population who are prepared zealously and without criticism to follow the dangerous chatter of populists?
– What can we expect of those for whom political and legal “correctness” is more important than saving the lives of drowning people?
– What can we expect of economic professionals who subscribe to aggressive, extreme profit-seeking and who at the same time ignore its social and ecological consequences?
What, indeed, can we expect?
According to the United Nation’s index of human development, Moldavia is the poorest country in Europe.
When I imagine unstable places in Europe, I do not really think of certain geographic areas that are regarded in the EU as “losers” or “problem children”. I think instead of various “population groups” that make up different European countries and which are visible in the bigger cities like Brussels or Paris, but in principle exist in every large city. The problems of a neoliberal and increasingly populistic Europe are very noticeable where there are local bottlenecks: think for example of a district in which the poorest are housed, with bad education, little access to or knowledge of good nutrition, high rates of unemployment, a “shadow economy”, and much illiteracy and crime. The settlements of the Roma people in Europe are an example of this: they have the “possibility” of moving around Europe freely, but barely or not at all the possibility to profit from the advantages and (economic) stability of Europe. I think here of the very problematic settlements close to Paris which are often flattened by bulldozers. Read this article for example: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/23/no-voice-no-future-roma-ignored-as-europe-goes-to-polls
and this excellent piece:
These are in my view the unstable places in Europe, places that are ‘managed’ counter-productively by an increasingly populist politics with no support for the local people or improvement of their living conditions.
I would find it interesting if ROOMS TO LET were to spend longer periods in places where there is little or no room at all, where there exists a huge lack of space in the truest sense of the word, because people have hardly any access to the housing market, which includes in a figurative sense a non-existent space for good education, work, and humaneness.
The most unstable place I know is Berlin. That might be because I have been observing this place and it´s changes for thirty years now. For me this instability has much to do with a constant change. The old Prussian city, the capital of the German Reich, the divided city, the new Berlin. The changes in population, gentrification, the insecurity that accompanies change.
The instability manifests itself in buildings, in architecture, in the degree of permanent renovation – Berlin turned into an attractive place during the last thirty years. It has become expensive, a myth, the “Cool Berlin”. Before that, the place was “poor but sexy”. Many people have exploited that. Rents are rising, buildings become very expensive. Therefore, life changes, as do the inhabitants and their attitude towards their own city. The certainty of always finding a niche has disappeared.
Berlin was spacious, there was much vacant land. These empty spaces vanished like someone soaked it up.
What was previously known as East Berlin seems to me more unstable than the Western part. The East, the whole of Eastern Europe, is more vulnerable to capitalistic changes. In the wealthy areas of Western Europe, ownership of real estate is already regulated.
During the last 30 years I could literally see these changes happen in front of my eyes.
The instability in Germany’s East is bigger than it is in the West.
And in Eastern Europe it is bigger than in Western Europe.
A unique place comes to my mind: Küstrin on the Oder River. The Polish name is Kostryzn. This former German town is situated right on the German-Polish border. In earlier times Küstrin was an important Prussian garrison town. It was here that Friedrich II of Prussia changed from a sensitive adolescent into an absolute monarch who engaged in power politics. Here the future king was forced to witness the execution of his childhood friend Katte in front of his eyes. It was meant to be an educational measure of his father. Friedrich, the sensitive boy, became Friedrich The Great who violently changed Prussian, German and European history.
In 1945 Hitler declared Küstrin a stronghold, and accordingly it was “pulverised” by the Red Army. Today, the town which only a few years ago was a thriving place, is an excavation field. It is the “Prussian Pompeii”. The German-Polish border is next to the former old town. At times it is an impenetrable border, at others it is open and in the center of Europe. My father came here in 1945 on a children’s trek to the West, adventurously crossing the river Oder with the assistance of Soviet soldiers.
It is one of those places where I felt what Europe once used to be – and what it actually can be.
The Mediterranean is clearly an unstable place. The outer borders of Europe are unstable. The relationship of the countries with each other becomes more brittle at the edges.
Instability is evident at Europe’s borders: countries in the East, such as Poland and Hungary with Orban … Domination seems to be important there; dominant men rule there. Central Europe does not seem to have this problem with domination quite as much.
Perhaps those countries want to fence themselves off against the outside within Europe because they feel that they may not be strong enough otherwise.
Solidarity is often claimed – but when action is called for, things are not that easy.
I see Europe 1) politically, in the EU, and 2) as a cultural area.
Cultures also have edges and crossings. When the borders were still closed, these edges were sharper.
Now there is a fluidity of exchange.
Sometimes people let themselves be inspired by other ways of life.
Sometimes it causes anxiety and therefore the wish for barriers.
Traditions emphasise community and close a group off to the outside.
I understand the reason for the increase in mental illness to be socially created by pressure in everyday life, not by the instability of Europe.
Michael v. Lüdinghausen
History is unstable in itself. East Prussia / Königsberg and Berlin. These places belong to the unstable German and Eastern European areas. They are unstable because of German / Prussian history, and also because of my own to-and-from history. History has of course not ended, because it is unstable.
I want to name two place that seem unstable to me. But they are wide apart – or perhaps not?
The first of these places is the heart, because it seems to me that the Idea of Europe is also born of the heart. I like to think so. Times of multiple threats have dawned. The new Chauvinism is gaining influence. And fears – of domination by alien influences, loss of cultural meaning, death by corona virus. Chimeras arise and become noticeably stronger, and they become powerful allies. Fears eat up the courage to transcend national identities, they make hearts sway and despair; they become an unstable place.
Gibraltar is an unstable place too. Once a region within the EU, now an outer border. Falling back into nationalistic thinking – those who at this border were fellow Europeans just the other day, are now foreigners. In Gibraltar, precisely because it is far away from the fake democracies of Eastern Europe and not as affected by the refugee problem, the instability becomes apparent in the centre of Europe. In its core.
Albania. In my opinion next to nothing has been reported about this country for years. I know nothing about Albania. It is a country in Europe that seems mysterious and unreachable. I cannot trust something I know nothing about. Something I do not trust, fluctuates in my eyes. Something that fluctuates is unstable. For me, Albania is an unstable place in Europe
I do feel that Europe is unstable, as a matter of fact, but the feeling is not restricted to locality, because it refers to circumstances and developments that concern both the whole of Europe and the world at large.
I will try to summarise and describe these circumstances as succinctly as possible:
For one thing there is the increasing concentration of economic power in a few large corporations, which goes hand in hand with the creation of purely virtual profits that have absolutely no basis in a real increase of value. This in turn creates a degree of abstraction and depersonalisation that separates economy and profit more and more from real people and their real lives. Resulting from this is a bigger divide between rich and poor societies – within individual states as well as in global power structures.
Even in the rich countries of the Global West the disposal of social structures and their exploitation as economic factors (health systems, education, culture, also employees’ rights and much more) become massively palpable.
Further consequences such as climate change, become obvious – but in spite of this, we hold onto the idea of unlimited growth as the only valid social model.
A quasi schizophrenic perceptual situation arises, of which the consequences are obvious. But we still try to convince ourselves with half-hearted pretend solutions (abandoning the use of fossil fuels by such and such a date, corona virus bonuses for nursing personnel, questionable seals of approval on food stuffs), that we live in the best of all possible worlds.
This perception however, matches the actual lives of fewer and fewer people, and thus they are pushed to the margins. This in turn gives rise to fear, rage, and insecurity which bubble beneath the surface and search for diverse safety valves (outlets?) and substitute arenas (from strengthening right-wing radicalism to quasi-religious fitness and nutrition theories).
For me it seems as though we collectively avoid naming realities and – paradoxically – join the dots of connections that have long been known.
Instead we act reflexively and push the blame for smaller and bigger issues to and fro (see also safety valves (outlets? NEIN) and substitute arenas), and are incapable of listening to each other.
Which would be necessary for productive ideas to arise from conflicts, in order that concepts may arise which address the burning questions of our time (in what kind of world do we want to live???).
All this, in my view, produces great instability which results precisely from the attempt to avoid having to move at any cost.
I can think of many unstable places in Europe. A reduction to one or a few would probably be an affront.
Like a physical discomfort that cannot quite be localised.
Moving, unstable places which at first sight are dots on a radar device which scans the Mediterranean, the Atlantic or the Channel. They represent boats. Rubber dinghies, unseaworthy boats, Soul Reaper tubs, in the space between Europe and Not-Europe. After contact with agents of Europe, the refugees get thin, silver-golden crackling thin foils for their bodies. Like glamorously wrapped presents human beings sit hour after hour and day after day in the boats, accompanied by the sound of crackling and the waves.
Hiddensee. Brittle place. Transition.
Long, thin, endangered shape. Coastal erosion. In January 2012 the German Press inquired whether Hiddensee would fall apart. Experts suspect that the cause is the heavy rains of the 2011 summer, and the storm surges at the foot of the cliffs in that winter. In addition, the frost.
The floor of the island is groaning.
1) Space for headstrong thinking (artists’ colony).
2) Starting point for the escape to the West in GDR times: on the horizon the blurred outlines of freedom; there at a distance lies the Danish island Møn. Many escape attempts started out from Hiddensee; many were unsuccessful. Even within the borders nearly extra-territorial. A day excursion to Hiddensee created the illusion that one had left behind the GDR.