Dear Europe,

I have never written to absentees — to those who do not care about being called upon, to those who do not care about ever answering. 

I have constructed myself, politically, at a time when your name was synonymous with many hopes. I still remember the enthusiasm of my secondary school History professor ; he did not hesitate to turn his platform into a forum. One had to vote ‘yes’ in the Maastricht Treaty referendum! I know what this ‘yes’ meant to him. Not consenting to a vision of Europe that already outlined some neoliberal preferences — such was the tide of History, we would eventually succeed in combatting this vision — , but the end of nationalism, of far-right politics. 

About a decade later, in 2005, the peoples of the continent were, once again, called to the polls. In public debates, your name stood out as disappointment and, in order to restore your vigour, your ambition, a majority called for a ‘no’ vote. That year, a collection of posthumous essays by writer Susan Sontag, ‘Where The Stress Falls’, was published, including texts and thoughts on literature, photography, war, and the role of the writer. I discovered, above all, a long meditation on what the idea of Europe evoked, published in 1988. An elegy… the art of writing to those who are dead or absent.

The American expatriate writer consistently emphasised her attachment to the imaginary that you carry. This imaginary triggered in her an entire folklore: ‘The diversity, seriousness, fastidiousness, density of European culture’, which was nothing compared to what the United States could offer her. 

But the ghosts of death stir up the viscera of your history. Beyond the game and the cultural passions, the idea of Europe, Sontag states, has perhaps, ‘been thoroughly discredited, first by imperialism and racism, and then by the imperatives of multi-national capitalism’.

She wrote this text before Sarajevo, before Bosnia. Before the plague that is getting hold of you today, spreading all over  — Central, Eastern and Western— Europe. She keeps telling the long litany of race and its sick desires for purification and pogroms. A pan-European ideal arises again, as the coalition of extremes praising blood, whiteness, walls and jaws closing. 

Evoking your name, nowadays, probably only allows one exercice, as Sontag says, that of ‘nostalgia’. Nostalgia, as we well know, is groundless. What is believed to have been lost has in fact never existed. The dream country is never the real country. While studying philosophy, the utopia of the well-read, cosmopolitan and travelling society of early 20th century Europe really inspired me: no border could stop the mind. But this is merely a myth ; it was shattered by two filthy wars. Moreover, the world of culture and intelligence has rarely paid much attention to the violence hitting non-European lands, beyond the Mediterranean, the Urals, the Atlantic ocean. This world even believed in ‘civilisation’, which means, above all, believing in the inferiority of that which is different from oneself. 

Dear Europe, we like to say that you are dead. This is an idle idea. We must be more serious: you are not dead for, as an ideal, you are ‘yet to come into being’. Susan Sontag finally wrote, in 1995, that ‘Bosnia is [your] voluntary abortion’. Like her, I believe that there are two Europes. The Europe that you embody, in which I live and that fails to fulfill, pushing away its walls, its borders towards Africa. And a second Europe, which is constantly being postponed, only existing on the hypothetical mode of what is yet to come. In between them, what remains: the intimate ferocity of the political fight. 

This text has been published by Nouvel Obs, on the occasion of the European elections, May 2019.  https://www.nouvelobs.com/debat/20190512.OBS12808/lettre-a-l-europe-de-nadia-yala-kisukidi-en-tant-qu-ideal-tu-es-encore-a-naitre.html

Translated by Callisto Mc Nulty

Photo credit: Mohamed Bourouissa