ARTICLE by MAXENCE SALENDRE
First published on LE JOURNAL INTERNATIONAL, OCTOBRE 4th 2013
From October 4 to October 27, European Alternatives organises the Transeuropa Festival, a cultural Festival organised simultaneously in 13 European cities to celebrate Europe, its citizens and promote new alternatives to the current European construction process. Zoom on the Festival and its organisers.
Niccolò Milanese, co-president at European Alternatives answered our questions.
Le Journal International: A Festival to connect culture, European-ness and the European Union. How did this idea come to you?
Niccolò Milanese: It was born out of frustration (as most political acts are): frustration at what we felt was a staleness in culture and philosophy in Europe, frustration at a lack of political ambition and a lack of real political and cultural alternatives. Our motivation wasn’t primarily about the European Union, but we think that Europe is the last remaining utopia for those of us that live in this part of the world, that all interesting cultural and political experimentation will be at least on a European level. So we wanted to try to recover the utopian potential of Europe from the European institutions (Europe was a poet’s dream before a politicians’ project) and to try to open up the discursive space in debates about ‘Europe’. We tried to do this by inviting artists, writers, philosophers to create a festival about Europe, and also involving European citizens themselves in creating a festival about their own future.
JI: About the mix between a cultural event and the European Union, is that a simple strategy to attract citizens who are more and more Eurosceptic or is it a way to promote a more cultural and more transnational Europe?
NM: We believe that Europe and the idea of the European project are very important to our collective destiny, and if we let these ideas be torn down, they will be replaced by regressive, nationalistic and xenophobic alternatives; but nevertheless, we are not in the business of trying to ‘sell’ the idea of Europe to anyone. Indeed, the kind of attitude we would think it would be desirable for citizens to have in the European Union would be a ‘Euro-critical’ one: and encouraging people to question democratically the institutions governing Europe is one of the roles of the festival.
The cultural component of our activity is about promoting the emergence of a European subjectivity, or series of European imaginaries, which are question and go-beyond the national borders which still largely govern our social, political and artistic interactions: political alternatives can be opened up by questioning the paradigm of the nation state in all the ways it influences our lives together.
JI: The Festival is also a moment to shed light on the local groups of European Alternatives. How did they get to participate in its organisation?
NM: The festival would not exist without our local groups! We organised our festival for the first time in 2007, in London: at that time it had the surprising name ‘London Festival of Europe’. From the first edition we were contacted by many people across Europe who wanted to get involved in our activities and somehow help. This was in-fact how we started the organisation European Alternatives (at first we had just thought to organise the festival). We involved many of these people in organising our festival each year in London, and in running campaigns and other projects throughout the year. By 2010, we were sufficiently developed to run the festival in several places simultaneously (which is not easy!). In 2010 we organised it in 4 cities, then in 12 cities in 2011, 14 in 2012 and in 13 cities this year. People can join European Alternatives wherever they are in the world, and when there are at least 4 members in one locality we can think about doing the festival there. The members meet regularly throughout the year to decide what should be in the festival, and we work together to find funding, advertise etc.
JI: Only 34 %1 of EU citizens who judge positively the EU, the growing anti-Europe sentiment, can the Festival be a way to develop new alternatives to austerity? Which one?
NM: We can understand why only a minority of EU citizens would judge the current EU positively – there are many things to dislike. We think that it is possible to reform the EU by adopting a radically different approach from the ‘top-down’ approach which has dominated up until now: a bottom-up, citizen-led approach. We see ourselves as trying to show as many people as possible that it is possible to have an impact as citizens in Europe, and that we can change things. Secondly, we don’t think the future of Europe is all about the official institutions, it is also about the ways citizens relate to one another on a horizontal level: we can change attitudes from one of competition, fear, or loathing between peoples to one of cooperation and trust if we put in place occasions for this to happen and be shown. The festival is one such place.
When it comes to alternatives to austerity, there are a number of very concrete proposals in our citizens manifesto for this – from banking reform to introducing bankruptcy legislation for sovereign debtors. The solutions are out there, the political will has to be built amongst the population to show cooperation is possible. Our political leaders are failing dramatically at that.
JI: European Alternatives also works on a Citizens Pact for Democracy which will be proposed to candidates in the 2014 EU Parliamentarian elections. These propositions which are available online will be discussed again during the Festival. How do you intend to make sure candidates will commit to them?
NM: Several candidates and current MEPs will be attending the festival, and later this year we will present the manifesto in the European Parliament. Next year we will have many events throughout the continent to try to get the candidates to support the proposals, and also after the elections we will continue to try to persuade the newly elected members of parliament and the new commission.
JI: 13 European cities, numerous cities located in new entrant countries. Is the Festival a way to promote integration of these countries within the EU?
NM: We are interested in bringing people together to create new political, social and artistic situations. There is a great enthusiasm in many of the ‘newer’ EU countries to participate in such a project because ours is amongst the first generations to be able to do this, and because Europe has been divided in many ways for so long in its history.
JI: Ideas for the future? Any plan to stop in Athens despite the strong anti-Europe sentiment existing in Greece?
NM: We are working on plans to be more active in Greece and to have the festival there in the coming years, for the reasons of rising anti-migrant and neo-fascist sentiments, and also because it is one of the most symbolic locations of the failure of current European policies. More importantly though, we are also eager to work with the many people in Greece who have a huge amount to offer to the rest of Europe, in terms of alternative political, cultural, social and artistic proposals. Greece has throughout its history been a crucible of civilisation in Europe, so of course we are eager to be there.
For an interview of Ségolène Pruvot, coordinator of the Festival, click here
For more information on the Transeuropa Festival, please visit : transeuropafestival.eu