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<nettime> Transeuropean Picnic
Felix Stalder on Mon, 3 May 2004 19:19:25 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Transeuropean Picnic



Transeuropean Picnic

Historic events are odd things, mostly disappointing. They feel either like 
empty routines of calendarial arbitrariness (200 years French Revolution, the 
millennium) or utterly imposed (9/11, war in Iraq). Either way, they usually 
render one passive, through boredom or powerlessness. History, it seems, is 
always made by others. The EU enlargement, somehow, doesn't really fit this 
pattern, eventhough it had plenty of both in it.

Yet, it is also, or perhaps primarily, an unfinished event, one whose actual 
meaning goes far beyond the "overcoming the divisions of the cold war" or any 
other of the standard themes trotted out by celebratory speakers on market 
squares across the continent. Its meaning, really, will only slowly emerge, 
through the accumulation of everyday practice. The EU, after all, famously 
lacks a vision.

How could such a practice look like from the point-of-view of open media 
cultures? To think about this, kuda.org, together with v2, issued an 
invitation to gather in Novi Sad, Serbia for a transeuropean pic-nic on the 
weekend of the enlargement [1].

Of course, being in Serbia, one cannot help but be reminded that this great 
process of unification is also a process of creating new boundaries, of 
establishing new visa regimes, border controls and barriers to mobilities 
(which my spell checker insists to render as 'nobilities'). Yet, bringing 
together a hundred people from some 20 countries between the Netherland and 
Georgia on a shoe-string budget and have them picnic on the porch of Tito's 
hunting cabin in the midst of a pristine national park, one felt equally that 
new possibilities were opening up, in the cracks of the major narrative.

This, as became more clear to me during the discussions, has to do with the 
particular character of this thing, the EU, that is growing before our eyes. 
Most importantly, the EU is not a state. It doesn't raise taxes, doesn't have 
a military or a police force, doesn't create laws (only directives to be made 
into laws at the national level), or issue passports. It doesn't even have a 
sports team. Yet, it is also not a meaningless exercise of an out-of-control 
bureaucracy issuing 'symbols' and creating well-intentioned but freefloating 
'discourses'. Rather, the best way to think of the EU, it seems to me, is as 
a gigantic coordination mechanism. It has a relatively small hub 
('Brussels'), trying to get others nodes in a network -- some bigger, others 
smaller than itself -- to behave in a way that things can flow between them 
more easily. The enlargement just added a lot of nodes to this network. The 
coordinating hub's main function is to issue pointers that help to direct 
these massive material and immaterial flows.

The strange thing about these pointers is their consistency. They are hard and 
soft at the same time. By directing flows, they create new pools of 
opportunities, while draining others off their resources. For example, many 
educational institutions in Europe are going through painfull restructuring 
processes at the moment, not just because of funding problems, but because of 
attempts to reorient themselves according to EU pointers ('Bologna reform') 
hoping to then profit from the new opportunities created by the flows of 
people, projects and money being pumped through a somewhat more standardized 
European educational landscape. Of course, no institution is forced to do 
that -- that's the soft part. However, not doing it will amount to a 
self-marginalization virtually nobody is willing to accept -- that's the hard 
part.

The EU, then, is a myriad of such circulation systems whose main power rests 
on its ability to include or exclude nodes. The main difference between 
inside and outside of a network is that opportunities are created exclusively 
inside the network (through the circulation of flows of all kinds) whereas 
outside, marginality is structurally re-enforced all the time (by being 
bypassed).

The important thing is that the EU is not one but a myriad of circulation 
systems. Many overlap and reinforce one another -- the enlargement is also a 
process of accelerating such consolidation -- but the degree of overlap is 
much smaller than in a traditional nation state (say, the US). And this, it 
seems to me, is where independent cultural practices come in. They can 
contribute that this consolidation of the patterns of inclusion / exclusion 
do not become absolute. They can extend the networks to include nodes other 
than the officially sanctioned ones, thus making sure that not only 
opportunities flows beyond the borders (if there is one aspect of the EU that 
is state-like, then it's the Schengen Treaty), but that new opportunities are 
created precisely because the cultural micro-networks are different from the 
official ones.

This is not an 'Anti-EU' strategy, which was made clear by many is picnickers 
is luxury that only those who inside the EU can afford. Rather, it's a 
question of creatively redirecting flows, something one can only do if one is 
connected to them. The definition of what Europe is up for grabs, like it 
hasn't been in a long time. This strikes me as the true meaning of the EU 
enlargement. And if this 'new Europe' continues to include picnics in the 
villas of former autocrats or plutocrats, there's definitively something to 
look forward to.



[1] http://www.transeuropicnic.org/index.htm


 
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