“Scholar Gypsies” and the Stateless European Ideal
We went to open the door and the doorknob came off in our hands.
People keep asking me about the recent eruption of the crisis in Cyprus. But for me, the crisis wasn’t something sudden. On the contrary, it’s something I’ve been living with for about five years now. So I’ll speak instead of my own crisis, of myself as a side effect of European policies since the ’90s, as a product (or remnant) of a period that appears to be breathing its last.
In his essay “The European Void” (2007), Dutch sociologist Abram de Swaan, pointing to the existence of a “democratic deficit” in the European project, argues that the European Union failed to create a concomitant European public sphere: there are virtually no European universities, European media, or European intellectuals, or even conversations taking place on a European level. In my view, however, de Swaan overlooks a significant trend that took shape—particularly in the zones of the “European fringe”—during the ’90s and that, though perhaps now on its last legs, still limps on today.
I’m referring to the twin poles of “European identity” and “community of knowledge.” If the first phase of European integration focused on creating and strengthening institutions, during the ’90s interest shifted to the foundation of a common European identity. The cultivation of a pan-European identity distinct from the national identities of citizens in member states was considered a precondition for a healthy European democracy and for the future of the European Union. At the same time, we witnessed heavy investment in theories regarding the creation of a community of knowledge, which would replace industrial society and would help make Europe more competitive by developing cognitive skills across the union. This all translated into concrete policies: research and educational programs (Erasmus, Marie Curie Training Programs), funding organizations (the European Research Council, the European Regional Development Fund), European educational institutions (the European University Institute) and doctoral programs (European Doctorate).
Toward the end of the ’90s and in the first years of the new century, Europe was considered a safe investment, a promising prospect: when we students worried over what topic to pursue in our graduate studies, our professors at the University of Athens advised us to turn our faces toward Europe, to study European issues. That, they said, was where the future was. And in those days European Studies departments were in fact beginning to open, the European ideal was taking shape, its history was being forged.
But it wasn’t just academic disciplines that were being formed: people were formed, too, a breed we might call Homo europeus. These individuals live and move outside their narrow national context; they have studied in three or four different academic environments, they speak several European languages and work on topics that are transnational, cross-cultural, comparative. This class of people belong not to their individual nation-states, but to the hypothetical Europe of tomorrow. Programs supporting intra-European mobility were in fact extremely successful in creating a new European community of researchers, an intellectual elite capable of building a cultural foundation for the Europe of the future. These people were, you might say, the first citizens of that future Europe.
And yet while these citizens were created, the European state that would be their home never was; the context that might accept them failed to materialize. The third stage of European integration failed to create the society they had prepared us for; instead, it followed an economic path. The continued absence of the missing link between the Europe of markets and the Europe of the social order, as well as between markets and democracy, overturned all prospects of a European future. From the beginning of the new millennium and beyond, political austerity led to the shrinking of the welfare state and the undervaluation of full employment, social security and collective goods. The plan for the development and expansion of the universities was sacrificed on the altar of economic competitiveness and reduced spending. Job insecurity and “flexibility” became the new rules governing labor. As historian Chris Lorenz writes, “in the risky neoliberal world, jobs and social security for faculty are definitely passé.” Universities now operate with fewer permanent faculty members than adjuncts, who often work in a labor environment characterized by low wages, overwork, the need to work multiple jobs, transience, insecurity and rampant flexibility. These “scholar gypsies,” as Lorenz aptly calls them, belong to a European “precariat”; they are, in other words, the academic version of the lost generation of the European crisis.
So what happened to this former intellectual elite of the future Europe? These individuals are the artifacts of a process that remained incomplete. They are products of a European ideal that was never realized, human remnants of the failure of Europeanism. In other words, a new social group of stateless Europeans was formed: young men and women who gussied themselves up for a wedding that never took place. And now they drag themselves from project to project, country to country, suitcase always in hand, with the ultimate goal of perhaps one day leaving for some other “future Europe”. . . .
In the end, though, perhaps I do at least see the crisis from the particular viewpoint of a Cypriot born immediately after the war, to parents who were refugees. As a member of a generation that embodied the dream of a solution to the Cyprus problem and the need for peace, security and wellbeing, I can’t help but observe a sad genealogy, as refugee life continues into our day, in other ways.
(Translation from Greek: Karen Emmerich)
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