I realised again in the end of last week how much fun it is to spend 3 days with people who are passionate about what they do and what they believe in. Official sessions and plenaries in conferences like Network Effect are all nice but the most invigorating moments happen over lunch, dinner or in the bar table.
The Network Effect in Budapest gathered some 60 opinion makers from all across Europe with a strong Eastern European presence. It seemed to come as a surprise for some of the Western European participants that the East-West division was so present. This was most obvious in the discussion on the role of the nation and on ethnic diversity. This experience made me again wonder whose Europe are we talking about when we talk about common history and shared values.
When Western Europeans (myself included) were questioning the nation state, the Kosovar representatives were presenting their pictures from the independence celebrations some weeks back. When we (Brits, French, Dutch and some Nordics) got tangled into the Islam discussion, many of the participants could not really link it to their realities. And as we complained about the lack of energy in NGOs, the Russian and Ukrainian colleagues shared stories of personal excitement, engagement and risk-taking for things you believe in. It also felt that many people from the great old European powers tend to forget that for some of us independence is
1. rather recent
2. been contested rather recently
I sometimes wonder whether we could get further by recognising the differences out in the open rather than by pretending that we are all the same. I don't mean united in diversity, I mean saying things how they are, attempting to be precise and allowing confrontation. And above it all, asking questions rather than assuming. I caught myself assuming that a lot of people shared my Nordic ideals of parenthood only, to my surprise, finding myself defending equal parenthood alone in a group of five. And in the same way many people made great generalisations on the Nordic countries without recognising for instance the violent history of Finland.
I become more and more confident after experiences like this that the most powerful way to peace on the European level is to keep identity on hold and focus on areas such as common market, consumer protection, freedom of movement and environmental policy. Europe has to make sense, there are quite a few things already making us passionately believing in us and them.
p.s. Talking about image and reality: Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ilkka Kanerva admitted today that he has sent over 200 flirtatious text messages to a woman half his age described in the Finnish media as an erotic dancer. It is not the first time he has been caught from this sort of behaviour. Before he was appointed as minister, he was caught promising position to young women in the Sports Word Championships. Then he promised to his parliamentary group to stop this sort of behaviour. This in the country which takes so much pride as a beacon of gender equality.
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