A Brief Study of Utopia and the European project, written last week, in Brussels 03/06/16

I am sitting in a café just outside the European Parliament in Brussels. A circular walkway connects the various buildings of the parliament.  Its exterior presents a series of images of people from many countries working together and co-operating.  It is this spirit of co-operation (and in respect of our Welcome in Utopia research project – co-production) that sparks a number of thoughts for me around Utopia, Europe and our project about welcoming refugees.

Firstly, a little background…

Faceless Arts and TLANG is using creativity to research ‘What is the role of ‘welcome’ in contemporary utopia?’ with specific reference to the current refugee crisis. Taking the starting point of ‘utopia’ as deriving from the Greek ‘ou topos’, meaning ‘no place’ or ‘no where’, this interdisciplinary, collaborative project combines language research methodologies with visual arts and performance. Visual arts, oral history and song sharing workshops have been conducted with refugee and asylum seeker communities at local third sector organisations and we are now producing an outdoor production called Driftwood, which will be performed at the Utopia Fair at Somerset House on 25th and 26th June.

Now back to Brussels …

There are two major topics of conversation here in Brussels– The imminent British referendum of whether the UK wants to be “In or Out of the EU” in three weeks’ time and the refugee crisis.

Having just visited the Parlamentarium which is an interactive museum documenting the formation of the EU, what struck me was the Utopian vision of the EU founders, their desire to collaborate and co-operate by firstly co-owning  and co-managing commodities such as iron and coal in order that, post World War 2, we would cease fighting each other.

500 years ago Thomas More wrote Utopia, short book about a Utopian system of democracy, which is the starting point of our project and we are celebrating it through our Arts and Humanities Research Council funded work.  Thomas More observes that those in power are “more interested in (a) the science of war; (b) to acquire new kingdoms than to govern them properly (c) and too wise and conceited to take advice from anyone else” p8.  This is the counter-essence of the co-operative working principals of European Union, which closely fits More’s imaginary democracy of Utopia. However critical we are of the EU’s bureaucracy, its democratic (or non-democratic as critics would say) structures, or its perceived legislative power over nation states, its intention is that 28 countries at various stages of development, speaking 24 different languages, sit in cross-national groups to peacefully debate, learn, collaborate and share power to co-organise a united Europe that fairly represents national interests whilst building stronger economies, communities and a cleaner environment for all its EU citizens.

13392234_10156881935290005_166292585449030363_o

My tour of the Parlamentarium concluded with a stunning photographic exhibition called “Displaced” about the plight of female refugees.  This is inspiring and emotive imagery for our Driftwood performance.  Thomas More observed 500 years ago that “There is never any shortage of horrible creatures who prey on human beings, snatch away their food or devour whole populations: but examples of wise social planning are not so easy to find” p6.  The EU is working together with its member states to provide necessary resources to alleviate the pressures of so many new arrivals on countries of Greece, Turkey and the Baltics.  Whilst many criticise the Shengen agreement as adding to the problem, it is the existence of Shengen which allows Europe to offer safe passage to many fleeing persecution.  The EU is coordinating a response, trying to “wisely plan” a social and economic solution to one of the major human catastrophes of our century and the need is great with the arrival of one million refugees and migrants last year – requiring basic provisions, health care, accommodation and education.  A fragmented Europe of independent nation states, each fighting to maintain their own sovereignty (and possibly fighting each other in the process),  would not be able to co-ordinate as an effective response.

The European Union does need to evolve, as all major organisations do from time to time.  It may need a root and branch review, a pruning here and there, but we must not forget what it has achieved – peace between European countries for nearly 60 years.

Advertisements