The Slovenia Times

In first Letter to Europe Stefan Hertmans sees hope for the Continent


In his address, Hertmans invokes the image of the Phoenician princess in a Greek myth that gave Europe her name, regretting that such stories are no longer taught at schools as they used to be, "because one can learn a great deal from the founding narratives of one's own civilization".

In the story, Europa is carried off by the supreme Hellenic deity Zeus in the guise of a bull. Considering that she was from Phoenicia, situated on the borders of the present-day Middle East, Europe came from Lebanon.
"So a bull from Greece carried off an Oriental princess to the island of Crete, situated in the west, where he proceeded to rape her... By way of northern Greece, your name then spread throughout our continent."
This story gives the author plenty of food for thought, especially at the time of refugee crisis "when some European countries bluntly refuse you entry. Worse still, they imprison you behind barbed wire or allow you to drown in the sea that united us."
Hertmans also notes that Lebanon, Europe's long-suffering country of origin, offers asylum to more refugees than any country in Europe.
He says that globalization and the enormous migrations that have accompanied it have led to a crisis in the mode of relationships and hospitality in Europe.
The continent "has not only become the direct victim of American cultural and political gaffes, but is also confronted with a crisis around the issue of universal human rights, which was the great achievement of the European Enlightenment."
Hertmans goes on to say that globalization clearly does not automatically bring universal values with it; "in fact, the dissolution of borders tends to undermine the will to universalism, because relations
do not progress symmetrically. This is a paradox that the 'old' Europe had not anticipated any more than did the rulers of the European Union, who were not exactly free of postcolonial reflexes."
Nevertheless, the Flemish author does see hope in a new generation of people in many EU countries that has reclaimed the initiative. "In ecological, social and political matters, as well as economic ones, there is a growing awareness that we cannot wait passively until they get a chance to choose the umpteenth generation of impotent politicians in the next election.
Increasingly people are prepared to take things into their own hands. Citizen initiatives are "demonstrating every day that ordinary people can make a genuine difference".
"The West has provided the whole world with the technology for global mobility, but apparently it never occurred to them that this could never be a one-way street," says Hertmans, who puts his hope in a renaissance of the cultural memory and self-respect of the continent.
The Letter to Europe is a project of the Days of Poetry and Wine in cooperation with the Berlin-based Allianz Kulturstiftung. Each year, the festival's curators will pick a prominent poet and give her or him an opportunity to address Europe and shine a spotlight on the most pressing problems.


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